Why Should I Believe Christianity? by James N. Anderson

It goes without saying that I’ll recommend pretty much anything written by James N. Anderson of Reformed Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.

Here’s my summary of his most recent book, Why Should I Believe Christianity?, available to members of Books At a Glance.

(You may also be interested in the summary of A New Kind of Apologist edited by Sean McDowell.)

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Millennials, Music, and a Myth that Needs to Die

‘Millennials’ are those born somewhere between the late 1970’s and the mid-1990’s. Researchers are often perplexed regarding what makes millennials ‘tick,’ and churches often wonder how they might better attract millennials to their churches and make them feel welcome.

Although I am no expert on the aforementioned topic, I am considered a millennial. The greater portion of my life was spent surrounded by millennials. Several churches where I was a member were filled with millennials. My entire educational career was spent around millennials. So I have noticed some trends with millennials which generally hold true regardless of their geographical or educational background.

__________

Here are three things I have noticed about millennials when it comes to worshiping God through song:

1. Millennials care more about the lyrical content of songs than they do about the music.

Millennials are quick to set aside their musical preferences. Most have been forced to do so because the older members of the church have always ‘called the shots’ regarding song selection in worship. So, as a trade off, millennials began focusing more upon the actual words of the songs than they did on the music.

Unfortunately, churches often elevate the importance of a particular tune over the importance of a song’s words. So they end up singing songs like In the Garden, a ‘favorite’ that has virtually nothing to do with biblical truth. In fact, the song mentions the ‘Son of God’ only one time and is apparently about an extra-biblical, mystical experience in a garden.

Contrast that with the millennial favorite Behold Our God, a song that speaks clearly of the greatness of our God and the sacrifice of King Jesus in actual biblical terms. The music is good too.

2. Millennials desire to sing to God more than they desire to sing about ‘churchy’ themes.

Many of the songs we sing in worship are about God rather than to God. There’s nothing wrong with that. The song above, Behold Our God, is an example of a song that is about God. When we sing God’s truth about God, we are caught up into his greatness and glory through the grace of the gospel. Our hearts are moved to worship through reflection upon his character.

However, in many churches we sing songs that lack doctrinal substance and are not directed toward God at all. Most songs about heaven fit into this category. Certainly there is nothing wrong with singing songs about heaven, but when we spend more time and effort singing nice things about ourselves, and never actually sing to God, what are we worshiping?

Consider the popular song Sweet Hour of Prayer. The song speaks of a believer’s joyous experience of prayer. Not really bad, in and of itself. But if prayer is so sweet, why do we focus on talking – or in this case singing – so much about it instead of actually doing it? When we sing songs directed toward God we are actually praying to him!

3. Millennials are drawn to the authenticity of ancient faith and practice.

One of the biggest myths out there is that older church folk like the ‘old hymns’ and ‘this younger generation’ likes ‘contemporary’ songs. Lots of people are quick to point out that every song was, at some point, considered ‘contemporary.’ Fair enough, but I want to make a slightly different point.

Three of my favorite hymns are And Can it Be?, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, and Be Thou My Vision. We sang these songs in two of the churches where I used to be a member. Both of those churches were made up of a significant number of millennials. In fact, we sang these songs rather frequently. We had A Mighty Fortress is Our God sung at our wedding. A page from an old hymn book with Be Thou My Vision printed on it hangs on the wall in my study. You should realize that I really love these songs. But it’s not just me. Other millennials do as well, and…

I haven’t sung a single one of them in almost four years…at two different churches.

In fact, I’ve learned that many people in my ministry context have never even heard of these songs. Think about that for a minute. Three of my favorite hymns…hymns that many other millennials love as well…are completely unknown to many older church members.

Look, music is not the sum and substance of worship by any means, but it’s no wonder we are watching our churches grow older and smaller. The generations of worshipers in our churches are radically, and I would say even sinfully, disconnected from one another. The oversimplified myth that older people prefer ‘the old hymns’ and younger people prefer ‘contemporary worship songs’ needs to die. It’s simply not true.

And Can it Be? was written in 1738.

A Mighty Fortress is Our God was written in 1529.

Be Thou My Vision was written in the 8th century.

When I attended churches that were full of younger people, we sang older songs like the ones mentioned above. When I moved my membership to churches where millennials are by far a minority in the church, I learned very quickly that we mostly sing songs written between the 1890’s and 1990’s. Those aren’t old hymns. They’re modern gospel songs.

Millennials are looking for something authentic. When we limit our worship to songs that were written in our grandparents’ generation, we don’t get that authenticity. The 1900’s, with its big industry, mass marketing, church growth movement, and phony televangelists was anything but authentic. The ancient Church has much more to offer. Christians have written hymns and spiritual songs for over 2,000 years now, and before that we had the Psalms.

Not that a hymns needs to be old to be good.

So What Do We Do?

People usually want to blame all the world’s ills on their song leaders. God bless those men and women! Your song leader is probably not the problem.

The congregation must change. Not theologically, not demographically, but organically.

Millennials in churches made up of predominantly older folks often feel like they’re invisible. Most people do not know, and sometimes do not care, about the preferences of millennials at all. When millennials do speak up, it’s seen as rebellious, whiny, offensive, or even ungodly. The preferences of older folks usually take precedence. Millennials must be ready to sacrifice their preferences on the altar of loving their older neighbors who may prefer a different type of music. They may even need to overlook the theologically anemic lyrics of some of the ‘favorites’ of older members for the sake of Christian unity.

But older members should genuinely consider if millennials may be onto something in their longing for meaningful, biblically-saturated, Christ-centered songs in worship, songs that are directed toward God, and have stood the test of time. Millennials want to know that you genuinely love them. Don’t be surprised when they’re turned off by people who want them to sing In the Garden, but complain if it’s even suggested that you try to learn some hymns that were written well before your time. We had to learn every other song we know now. Laziness isn’t an excuse for failing to love other people.

For Christ’s Sake, Stop It

Folks, whom you vote for and why is your business, but when you say that trying to have sex with a married woman (while being married for the third time yourself) and grabbing women between their legs is normal, justifiable behavior, then it becomes my business. Adultery and abortion are both the results of sexual idolatry. This nation is under the judgment of God because of its sexual idolatry. I’ve never been so discouraged as a Christian and a pastor to see people I love and care about acting like serial adultery and unwanted sexual advances and vile thoughts and filthy speech are “normal.” That ain’t normal. That’s perverted. That’s sin. God will judge both it and those who speak out in its defense. Defending such things tells us much more about you than you realize. If you are a believer and you struggle with understanding why such things are wrong or you are having difficulty with sexual temptation in your own life then I am available to counsel with you or I can find you another Christian pastor with whom you can talk. I am telling you this because I love you, and frankly because I’m terrified for my wife and daughters if this is what they are going to hear and see in the behavior of people who claim the name of Christ. You cannot be a Christian and a spokesperson for adultery. God hates it so much he killed his own Son over it. Those who refuse that sacrifice for sins are not forgiven. They remain in their sins. This is called “the gospel.” It’s the only way people will escape the judgment of God. Not political candidates or Supreme Court Justices. So for Christ’s sake, stop it.

The Virtue of Rebellion

“The problem with cultural Christians and compromising Christians is not so much the vice of rebellion as it is the comfort of conformity.

Rebellion, in other words, should now be thought of as a virtue. If you are a conservative Christian, and by that I mean a theologically conservative Christian, then you must rebel. You must rebel against society. You must accomplish this while being gracious and truthful. You must be clear and consistent in your convictions. You must stand out. And you must do so without compromise.

Christianity is no friend of comfort. If you are to remain faithful to Christ, you must redeem the virtue of rebellion. You will no longer be thought of as popular. You will no longer be thought of as pleasant. You will be hated and called hateful. These are probably a young person’s two worst fears. But God has given us a spirit of love, and power, and a sound mind.

So I am calling you out. Come be foolish with me. Now is the time to stop playing Christian and actually be one. Really believe what you say you believe. Be the rebel who lovingly sacrifices yourself for the sake of others.”

– From “The Vice and Virtue of Rebellion: An Open Letter to My Students

Why Andy Stanley is Right and Wrong

Russell Moore invited Andy Stanley into a discussion at the 2016 National Conference for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Of all the lectures and panels at that conference, this one was probably my favorite. This post is based off my memory of what transpired during the exchange between Moore and Stanley. I did not take notes. I have not watched the video. I have not read any other reactions to the discussion with the exception of this excellent post by David Prince. This post offers some thoughts on the exchange, not an exhaustive critique of Stanley’s methodology.

Value Debate

Witnessing theological and philosophical give and take through discussion and debate provides me with the greatest opportunity for learning. Some (probably more sanctified) believers favor more biblical and/or postmodern approaches to articulating disagreements than what the old, cold, clearly two-sided debate can accommodate, but I genuinely benefit from seeing different viewpoints placed in strongest opposition to one another. In terms of learning, nothing helps me more, and I suspect others learn better this way as well.

In seminary a professor would often commence with the ax-grinding during a lecture and leave me profoundly frustrated as I tried to discern what the “other side” was saying. Good views are strengthened and more easily comprehended when they’re presented as distinct from their opposites. (“Teach the controversy.”) The best systematic theologies are set up so as to interact with opposing viewpoints and grant the learner something closer to 360 vision concerning a topic. Understanding falsehoods grants clarity for discerning where truth begins and ends. So, I was grateful Dr. Moore arranged this exchange even though it certainly was not any sort of traditional debate (nor was it intended to be), and even though some have questioned his wisdom in doing so. The exchange helpfully highlighted disagreements between Moore and Stanley and thereby served as a catalyst for understanding methodological concerns in preaching and, I would argue, in apologetics, as Stanley’s approach to preaching is little more than consistent evidentialism.

Preach the Word

Knowing very little about Stanley, I was immediately impressed with how well he analyzed the topics of discussion and articulated his points. But as his conversation with Moore continued, my feelings grew closer to horror as Stanley described preaching “sermons” that never appeal to the text of Scripture and intentionally avoid the gospel.

Stanley calmly spoke of two-week-long sermon introductions that never ‘get to’ Scripture or the gospel. His comments brought to mind the story about D. L. Moody and the night of October 8, 1871. That night, Moody preached to his largest audience up to that point and asked his audience to contemplate what they might do with Jesus. The plan, if I’m not mistaken, was to offer a more evangelistic sermon and invitation the following week, but before the worship service was over, the tragic Chicago fire of 1871 had begun.

From the standpoint of loving lost people, denying them the gospel is anything but loving. On a more fundamental level, if we are not preaching the Word of God, then we are not actually preaching.

Stanley’s approach is God-honoring and right insofar as it attempts to focus on Jesus and the resurrection (τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν). We have the gospel, the good news of a crucified and risen Savior, so yes and amen, preach the gospel. Stanley’s appeals to the evidences of the resurrection, eyewitness testimony, early beliefs of the Church, and the like have a rightful place (we need to hear this) in the preacher’s repertoire as much as in the apologist’s. Presenting such evidences adds to the persuasive force of the preaching of the gospel. We are rational creatures, and historic Christianity is rich with evidences which appeal to the intellect. We must keep the flesh on our faith. Unfortunately, Stanley wants the flesh of the faith without its biblical bones.

Revisit Van Til

Who is Jesus? What is sin? What does a resurrection have to do with anything? Stanley’s Scripture-less gospel is not merely methodologically problematic, it’s no more persuasive than any other claim that’s based on a less-than explicitly biblical worldview. Stanley finds the historical evidence for the resurrection persuasive because Stanley is a believer, but Bart Ehrman would have a field day with his arguments.

Paul’s preaching of τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν on Mars Hill is hardly devoid of Scriptural authority. Paul explicitly appeals to sweeping claims about God from the Old Testament while engaging with . . . pagan philosophers. Mind you, Paul’s explicit methodology matches his ubiquitous underlying authority, the Word of God. For example, in 1 Corinthians 15 Paul bases his entire argument concerning the resurrection of Jesus Christ not upon the mere testimony of men (as important as that testimony may be), but upon the very Word of God, as his claims are “according to Scripture.” The problem for Stanley is that the preaching of τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν is not actually τὸν Ἰησοῦν καὶ τὴν ἀνάστασιν if it’s preached from a contextual void. Contrary to the evidentialist’s implicit claim, stripping away authoritative revelation doesn’t leave us with a historical point by which to reenter the Christian worldview. Instead, we are left with nothing.

It’s only through the Bible we even know Jesus. The Bible isn’t merely the biography of Jesus, it’s the redemptive Word of God. It’s impossible to begin with a historical figure quite apart from supernatural, authoritative revelation and inductively reconstruct the authority and inerrancy of Scripture.

But let’s assume it’s not impossible to reason inductively from Jesus to the authoritative revelation of God. If the brute fact of Jesus Christ of Nazareth somehow entails theological conservatism with respect to the doctrine of Scripture – as evidentialists claim in response to those concerned about theological liberalism – then why are we patronizing unbelievers by saying there’s no need for us to defend the Bible against their objections to it? Of course there is.

Evidentialists seek to set the authority of Scripture aside when engaging with unbelievers, and rush to pick it back up when defending against charges that their methodology implies the worst sort of theological liberalism. Can’t we just be straightforward about this? Stop trying to be cute. Preach the Word as the Word. Jesus didn’t apologize for the Bible, and neither should we.

Takeaway

The exchange between Moore and Stanley puts a number of points in stark contrast and brings clarity to the relationship between apologetic methodology and preaching. Stanley rightfully applies consistent evidentialist apologetics to the persuasive element of his preaching. Note well Stanley has rejected the tendency to atomize theology, apologetics, and preaching. He should be commended for this, even if we disagree with where it leads him. Stanley is right to be so consistent. In doing so, he reminds us of the importance of presenting and defending the gospel first and foremost, and of the crucial practice of presenting rational evidences as outlined above. However, we are to preach and defend the gospel upon the basis of the authority of the Word of God. The authoritative nature of the Word of God should not lead Christians to blush, it should lead us to be bold.

On Young Pastors and Churches

Russell Moore of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention writes the following insightful passage regarding young pastors and churches made up of younger people on pages 21-22 of his book Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel:

The Christian religion isn’t an ideology, like socialism or libertarianism, tracked by self-identification. The Christian religion is a Body. A lot of people saying to a pollster that they identify as Christians hardly represents a movement. The question is, “Who goes to church?” And, congregationally speaking, Protestant liberalism is deader than Henry VIII. If adapting to the culture were the key to ecclesial success, then where are the Presbyterian Church (USA) church-planting movements, the Unitarian megachurches?

That said, the older generations are mistaken if they assume the next generation will be more of the same, just with even more prayer for “revival” and “Great Awakening” in the land. The typical younger pastor is less partisan than his predecessor, less likely to speak from the pulpit about “mobilizing” voters and “reclaiming Judeo-Christian values” through political action and economic boycotts. This is not because he is evolving leftward. It is because he wants to keep Christianity Christian. As a matter of fact, the center of evangelical Christianity today is, theologically speaking, well to the right of the old Religious Right. It’s true that the typical younger pastor of a growing urban or suburban church doesn’t look like his cuff-linked or golf-shirted forefather. But that doesn’t mean he’s a liberal. He might have tattoos, yes, but they aren’t of Che Guevara. They’re of Hebrew passages from Deuteronomy.

His congregation’s statement of faith isn’t the generic sloganeering of the last generations’ doctrinally oozy consumerist evangelical movements, but is likely a lengthy manifesto with points and subpoints and footnotes rooted in one of the great theological traditions of the historic church. This pastor might preach forty-five minutes to an hour, sometimes calling out backsliding Christians from the pulpit with all the force of hellfire-and-brimstone revivalists of yesteryear. He is pro-life and pro-marriage, although he is likely to speak of issues like homosexuality in theological and pastoral terms rather than in rhetoric warning of “the gay agenda.”

Unlike the typical Bible Belt congregation of the twentieth century, the new kind of evangelical church has strict membership requirements, both in terms of what it takes to enter the believing community and what it takes to stay there. There aren’t likely to be four-year-olds baptized after repeating sinner’s prayers in a backyard Bible club, and the unrepentant often face what their parents never seemed to notice in their red-and-black lettered Bibles: excommunication. If this is liberalism, let’s have more of it.

These churches are often deeply culturally engaged, in terms of music and the arts, with often a more theologically-rich understanding of how to analyze common grace in cultural artifacts than the Christian subcultures of Bible Belt past, which too often replicated contemporary popular culture, at a lower level of quality, affixing Jesus at the end of it all. But they are often unsure of how to think of political engagement. Again, this is not due to liberalism but to theological conservatism. They have seen social gospels of the Left and the Right try to package a transcendent message for decidedly this-worldly, and sometimes downright cynical, purposes of pulling the levers of political power.

Five Creative Uses for a Disc Golf Course

Some people believe disc golf courses are designed for disc golf. They don’t want to wander onto a course because they don’t want to come across as rude or risk physical injury.

But why think a disc golf course should be used for disc golf? Here are five other creative ways to use a disc golf course.

1. Putting Practice

Want to try out disc golf, but just don’t have what it takes to play a full hole? That’s okay! Stand five to ten feet away from a random hole and practice your short range shot for half an hour or so. This will allow you to develop your putt and approach while the group patiently waiting on the tee pad behind you gets to relax in the middle of a game. Everybody wins!

2. Childcare

Bring your kids to the course and let them run around! Children are especially skilled at retrieving discs from those hard to reach places like the center of the fairway. A disc golfer never has to worry about having his or her disc returned after that perfect set up for a birdie. There’s nothing quite like having a caring eight-year-old nearby to track down and return that disc you accidentally landed on the ground right next to the basket.

3. Photography Business

Disc golf courses make some of the most beautiful backgrounds around! Consider taking your photography business to a disc golf course. You’ll find the tee pads are a perfect place to set up your equipment. Tee pads also give you and your clientele a nice spot to stand and chat for an hour or so. Say “Cheese!” Your customer never looked so good as she did right before that disc fell from the sky and took out some teeth.

4. Dog Run

The “Keep Your Pet On A Leash” sign is more of a suggestion than a rule. Give your dog some space to run on a disc golf course! It’s a little known fact that disc golfers pay an extra $15 or so on top of the typical $10 for a disc to get a higher quality, more rubbery chew toy for your pooch. Teeth marks around the edges of a disc actually make it lighter, saving on the disc golfer’s arm and allowing the disc to be seen more clearly as it wobbles through the air on a drive. That loud yelp is doggy for “I love you” and has nothing to do with a tomahawk severing your pet’s spinal cord.

5. Picnic

By all means, bring your entire family out with a quilt and basket for a nice lunch on hole four!

We hope you have a fabulous time with these creative uses for a disc golf course. Our list works even better for regular golf courses, baseball diamonds, and racetracks. Make sure to show up when tournaments, games, and races are in progress!