Is the Church A Cruise Ship Or A Rescue Boat?

When describing the difficulty in creating a more thoughtful version of Christianity in America, I sometimes describe the Church as a large ocean liner. If we, as Christian Case Makers, hope to have a significant impact on what appears to be a sometimes uninformed (or apathetic) Christian culture, we must turn this large ship one degree at a time. The Church is not a jet ski we can turn on a dime; it is a large, established institution requiring gentle nudging from the tugboats amongst us who want to change its direction. I love the Church. I’ve been a pastor and church leader myself, and I’ve come to respect the role of pastors and shepherds. It’s an incredibly difficult job, requiring special gifts. As Paul says in Ephesians Chapter 4 (verse 11), only some of us have been given by God to be pastors. Most of us are not gifted in this way, and the more I work with local churches, the more I respect those who are in a position of leadership, especially those pastors who recognize the importance of Christian Case Making. As I visit with these pastors around the country, I’ve heard them describe how difficult it is to raise up congregations who are capable and ready to defend what they believe, especially in a hedonistic culture such as ours. When they describe the Church at large, it sounds a lot more like a cruise ship than a rescue boat.

I’m using this analogy to help us think about the nature of the Church in America so we can be more focused in our efforts to make it better. I believe the Church is our best and last hope. It has been the often unrecognized foundation of our culture, the unsung (and maligned) hero responsible for much of what we take for granted as a nation and a people. As skepticism, hedonism and nihilism grow in our country, Christianity has the opportunity to meet the challenge or shrink from the fight. I believe we must renew the life and role of the mind in Christendom if we expect to have a continuing impact on our culture. And that’s where I think my analogy may illustrate the nature of the challenge we face. Let me describe two kinds of ocean vessels and you tell me which one sounds more like the Church today:

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Tips for Studying the Bible

As Christians, we have a lot of questions that we don’t always know how to investigate on our own, and we’re grateful when somebody will come in and give us the quick answer. But if you’ve raised kids, you know that when your kids have a question and ask you to sort something out for them, they come away with one kind of knowledge. When you allow your kids to work through, and find, and research the answer for themselves, they come away with a completely different kind of understanding. I can remember when I first came to Christianity out of atheism, I really needed to examine the issues for myself. And let’s face it, there are lots of times when it’s not so much an understanding of the truth; it’s not so much that the truth is out there and I just can’t grasp it; it’s that I hold some type of prerequisite, presupposition, that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly.
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The Importance (and Early Use) of Creeds

Creeds (formal statements of Christian belief) have fallen on hard times. Many Christians are uncomfortable with such objection proclamations of the exclusive Christian truth claims. But, the Christian worldview has always been a “confessional” worldview. It has been grounded in the reliable record of eyewitnesses who confessed what they saw related to the person of Jesus Christ, advanced by believers who repeated the testimony of the apostles, and continues to flourish based on the confession of those who believe. Christian Scripture reiterates the importance of confessing the truth about God and the truth about Jesus:

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Has the Church Surrendered Its Responsibility to the Academy?

Last night I had the opportunity to train 80 high school students at Crossline Church here in southern California. My ministry partners (Brett Kunkle, Alan Shlemon) and I will spend a month with these students (just like last year), training them once a week to help them navigate the evidences for God’s existence and develop a Biblical worldview. After the session, I got on the phone with Brett (he’s training students at Capital Christian School in Sacramento this week), and we talked about how blessed we are to be involved in this important work. These students are capable and willing to engage the tough issues at a high level, and their churches and Christian high schools have embraced the mission. During my conversation with Brett, we talked about the growing number of opportunities students have to continue their education in Christian Case Making (Apologetics) at the University level, should they choose to do so. The number of degree programs in apologetics, Christian philosophy or Christian thought is growing every year. Students who begin training with us in high school can continue this training at the university level. While this is certainly encouraging, Brett made an important observation: The academy will never replace the Church.

We are definitely experiencing a renaissance in Christian apologetics, as evidenced by the number of programs emerging around the country. But I can’t help but wonder if Christian universities have simply recognized an important failing of the Church. These apologetics and philosophy programs aren’t, by and large, professional degree programs, after all. Few, if any, of the graduates from these programs become professional apologists (I’ve met many graduates from these universities who are working as tent-makers in other professions). The degrees they earn in apologetics will help them to think critically and develop a grounded Biblical worldview, but they probably won’t help them pay the bills. In this sense, apologetics programs are often more about personal growth than professional preparation.

Men and women often seek programs of this nature because there simply isn’t any other place where the case for Christianity is robustly studied, discussed, and evaluated. They are keenly interested in knowing more, digging deeper, and becoming more articulate so they can share what they believe with others. Gee, doesn’t this sound like something the Church should be offering? I can’t help but wonder if the explosion of apologetics programs at the university level is inversely proportional to the disinterest the Church seems to have in apologetics. As the Church continues to relinquish its responsibility to train Christians, universities are stepping in the gap. The less people receive in the Church, the more they are seeking at the Academy.

But here’s my concern. The church ought to be the place where we equip “the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13). The university ought to be a place where we can also prepare vocationally. Sadly, many of us graduate from apologetics programs, equipped with the knowledge and wisdom we should be getting in our churches. It’s not too late to reverse the trend. It’s time for the Church to take back its responsibility to equip the saints. It’s time for pastors to recognize their responsibilities as trainers and case makers. While the academy may certainly continue to offer these important and valuable programs to those who want to reach higher levels of understanding, every church member ought to receive his or her “BA in Christian Case Making (Apologetics)” while training in the pews. The Academy shouldn’t replace the Church in this mission. It’s time for the Church to embrace its responsibility to train the family of God so we can all become good Christian Case Makers.

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Ten Reasons “Tent Makers” Make Great Christian “Case Makers”

People often ask me, “How can I make a living as a full-time Christian apologist (aka: Christian Case Maker) like you?” Even though I’m semi-retired from my career as a Cold-Case Detective (I still have one case pending this year), I’ll never be a vocational Christian Case Maker. My income continues to come from my law enforcement employment, and it always will. For many years, I juggled my vocational employment as a detective with my avocational calling as an apologist. It wasn’t always easy. There were years when I worked full-time, drove 12-15 hours a week, served 25 hours a week (or more) as a volunteer Youth Pastor, and attended seminary while dodging homicide callouts! My wife, Susie, was incredibly patient and supportive.  We eventually church-planted (after I graduated from seminary), and things got even crazier. I bet many of the “One Dollar Apologists” who read this blog have similarly hectic lives.

We are “tent-makers”. Like the Apostle Paul, we draw our income from conventional careers (Paul was described as a tent-maker in Acts 18:1-3), so we can evangelize, preach, make a case or serve as we have been called by God. There may have been times when you wished there was a way to make a living doing what God has called you to do as an apologist, but be careful what you wish for. God has you exactly where He wants you, because tent-makers make great Christian Case Makers:

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It’s a Starbucks Sunday: Are you Ready to Order?

Here's a re-post just to remind myself.  

It’s Sunday.

Not only will 11.7 million people visit a Starbucks and ask for something extraordinarily specific like a “non-fat soy sugar-free caramel macchiato with a shot of espresso,” but a whole lot of us will shop for churches with the same self-absorbed specificity.

“I’m looking for a youthful, semi-charismatic service with a hint of reformed theology and a Donald Miller vibe.” 

“Can you help me find a progressive Presbyterian congregation for my mother—one that has a robed choir, snacks between services, and a penchant for homeless missions?

“We’re visiting a new church today. It’s slightly Willow Creek with a touch of old-school Calvary Chapel. It caters to single parents, disenfranchised boomers, and men who don’t want to hold hands. And you gotta love the stadium seating.”

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What's New? The Lausanne Global Analysis Publication

“To deliver strategic and credible information and insight from an international network of evangelical analysts so that Christian leaders will be equipped for the task of world evangelization.”

A new publication was released today from the Lausanne Movement with the underlying purpose of the statement above. Some of the titles found in the first issue include Where Next for the Arab Spring?, People and Their Religions on the Move and Choosing to be Salt & Light: Can the Church in India be a Model in the Fight for Anti-Corruption?

The Lausanne Global Analysis will be released every other month. Publisher of the LGA and Chairman of the Lausanne Movement Doug Birdsall writes that the LGA is the result of a “gap between the massive amount of information that surrounds us 24/7, and the ability to process that information and access credible analysis from an evangelical perspective.” You can read more about Dr. Birdsall’s publisher’s note here.

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Religious Artifacts and and the Twinkie: Why Some Bad Ideas Aren’t Worth Saving

After an acrimonious standoff between Hostess executives and the bakery labor union, our worst apocalyptic fears might be realized: Twinkies might disappear forever. Eighty-three years of children’s lunchboxes and Texas Fair fryers might not be enough to rescue the golden little fella from spongecake oblivion. 

But just because Twinkies have always been around isn’t reason enough to keep them there. Nostalgia shouldn’t hijack common sense. 

The church has had its own share of bad products which, like the the Twinkie, have been unhealthy, strangely enjoyable, and made on the cheap. I say it’s time to retire all those evangelical products that made us so happy at the time. Here’s a start:

  • Children’s flannel boards with all those Caucasian Bible characters
  • Pyramid-shaped photo arrangements of church staff (pastor on top, with his wing men in dark suits in descending order according to seminary degrees and paychecks)
  • Padded, mauve sky-box chairs
  • The badly-proofed collection of typed praise songs with the plastic curlicue binding
  • Round, plasticized communion wafers
  • The dual-handled pouch-bag-offering-thingie (passed down the aisle with choreographed wonder)
  • My Texas pastor’s clear plexiglass pulpit with the laser-cut cross cutout
  • The 3-D silver dove for my bumper
  • Big screens that disappear into the big slit in the ceiling
  • Hand-made banners with silk tassels
  • Powerpoint slideshows (golden wheat stalks blowing? Multi-racial families smiling? Clouds billowing?)
  • Black electric keyboards from Wal-Mart with pre-set beats “for the young people”
  • Four Words: Bob. Tomato. Larry. Cucumber
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Church Is Useless

“Church is useless.”

I might have expected such a comment from my 24-year-old nephew who insists that living with his parents in the room he’s occupied since birth, whose passion is playing FPS (First Person Shooter) games and whose sole means of gainful employment is a part-time job at a local restaurant. But my nephew, as far as I know, has never said that. Though he was “raised in the church,” he doesn’t attend with any regularity. But as far as I know, he’s never said the church is useless.

Instead, the quote came from a 28-year-old—let’s call him Michael—who has a really good job, is married to a very successful marketing executive and who has nothing in common with my nephew except that he was also raised in the church.

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