Partnership in mission

This past Sunday, Scott and Susan left us with a lot of great material to think about and work through in our conversation on missions.

The most challenging questions for me in the talk were: "What does it look like for missions to be personal as well as programatic? How can we engage the people we serve as partners rather than just as participants? How can we build something that lasts?"

In these questions, you really get a sense that the Dittmans love people more than ministry. And in loving Vincentians, I think that the Dittmans have provided us with an excellent glimpse of the effect that the gospel has on the way that we serve.

Have you ever taken time to ask how the gospel influences the way you serve people? It fills the Dittmans' above questions and runs all through the Epistles (especially Philippians). Check out Paul's prayer to the Philippians in Chapter 1 and see if you see any connections to the attitude the Dittmans talked about on Sunday.

Greensboro, Apology

I was so blessed to spend a large part of this week in Greensboro, NC with the InterVarsity Staff in our Region, doing an Urban Dip, talking about multi-ethnicity, and praying for our campuses. But, being in Greensboro meant no posting. Apologies again. Being in Greensboro was better than being in the ER, but the result is pretty much the same for you.

Text from Sunday

Here is the text from Augustine's On Christian Doctrine (Book II) that Professor Craun quoted in his talk on Sunday...

CHAP. 9.--HOW WE SHOULD PROCEED IN STUDYING SCRIPTURE.
14. In all these books those who fear God and are of a meek and pious disposition seek the will of God. And in pursuing this search the first rule to be observed is, as I said, to know these books, if not yet with the understanding, still to read them so as to commit them to memory, or at least so as not to remain wholly ignorant of them. Next, those matters that are plainly laid down in them, whether rules of life or rules of faith, are to be searched into more carefully and more diligently; and the more of these a man discovers, the more capacious does his understanding become. For among the things that are plainly laid down in Scripture are to be found all matters that concern faith and the manner of life,--to wit, hope and love, of which I have spoken in the previous book. After this, when we have made ourselves to a certain extent familiar with the language of Scripture, we may proceed to open up and investigate the obscure passages, and in doing so draw examples from the plainer expressions to throw light upon the more obscure, and use the evidence of passages about which there is no doubt to remove all hesitation in regard to the doubtful passages. And in this matter memory counts for a great deal; but if the memory be defective, no rules can supply the want.

Example

Here's an example of a faulty assumption that can cause communication to disconnect.

Let's look at a conversation about homosexuality. I've had people ask "How can God say that homosexuality is wrong if science has so much evidence that it is an innate orientation?" Have you ever had this conversation?

Our impulse might be to start quoting Scripture: we believe same-sex sexual relationships are not what God desires from us because the Bible tells us so.* On the other hand, if we're more scientifically inclined, we might attack the evidence that a homosexual orientation can be genetically linked to and present from birth and is, rather, an environmental or decisional orientation that can be reoriented by the (sadly) standard evangelical tools for life-transformaiton: change of scenery and willpower.

But both of these approaches ignore the underlying assumption. "Our innate desires are good." Now, is that true? Is God someone who denies us our good desires? No. Scripture presents us as a broken people before God, desiring darkness instead of light. Our innate desires are twisted, broken, corrupting. If this is true, then God's commands are not oppressive, but rather liberating.

How can God say that homosexuality is wrong? Because God loves homosexuals too much to stand silent and passive as they are twisted, broken and corrupted by their sin. How can God say that heterosexual lust is wrong? How can God say that drug abuse is wrong? How can God say that gluttony is wrong? How can God say that restlessness is wrong? Because God loves me too much to stand silent and passive as I am twisted, broken and corrupted by my sin.


*If you think differently on this, please pop a comment, give me a call or shoot me an e-mail before you write me off as a all-Christians-must-be-unthinkingly-party-line Republican. I don't consider myself one of those and would like a chance to explain myself further. :)

Intro to faulty dilemmas

"Yes or no: does your mother know that you're stupid?"

This is an example of a faulty dilemma (if you're not stupid).

These often come up in our conversations about the Hope that we have. We talked about this a little bit at the last Large Group. "If God is good, why is there evil?" can be rephrased "Is God powerful, but not good or good, but not powerful?"

In talking about our Hope, we want to serve people by answering meaningful questions. Occasionally, people will ask questions that they think are meaningful, but rest on faulty assumptions. An answer to the question, then, will have to connect at the level of the assumptions.

In other words, you can't just answer "Yes" or "No" (unless you are confident that you're stupid, in which case your answer may not be reliable); you have to ask something like "Why do you think I'm stupid?" or "I'll answer your question if you answer mine. Yes or no: does your mother know that you use philosophy to be a bully?"

Tomorrow morning, I'll put some stuff up on two contemporary examples of faulty dilemmas. G'night.

Questions for Reading Days

As you're enjoying Reading Days - resting, relaxing, and reading - it might be helpful to take this time to think through the following questions. Look at Mark chapter 1. How was Jesus' time of retreat (away from the crowds and the work) connected with his mission? Lucas talked about this some on Sunday.

I would encourage you, as you enjoy Reading Days, to think about this question and then turn it on yourself. How are your times of retreat (ie. Reading Days, breaks, weekends, early mornings...) connected with your mission on campus?

Quotes from Sunday

Below are the quotes that Lucas mentioned on Sunday...

Mark 1:32-39 / John 19:9-12a / Matt. 22:15-22

"Jesus concerns himself hardly at all with the solution of worldly problems. When he is asked to do so His answer is remarkably evasive (Matt 22:15ff; Luke 12:13). Indeed He scarcely ever replies to men's questions directly, but answers rather from a quite different plane. His word is not an answer to human questions and problems; it is the answer of God to the question of God to man." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer Ethics

"Who actually tells us that all worldly problems are to be and can be solved? Perhaps the unsolved state of these problems is of more importance to God than their solution, for it may serve to call attention to the fall of man and to the divine redemption." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer Ethics

"Most of us are not really approaching the subject in order to find out what Christianity says: we are approaching it in the hope of finding support from Christianity for the views of our own party. We are looking for an ally where we are offered either a Master or a Judge." - C.S. Lewis Mere Christianity

No pat answers

What a great talk Lucas brought on Sunday! It's been really great hearing people processing it.

One of the things Lucas mentioned that I've been thinking about this week is that Jesus didn't have pat answers to people's questions. Jesus may have repeated himself, but we know that he wasn't always repeating himself. He answered different questions in different ways. He answered the same question asked by different people in different ways. He always seemed to be paying attention to the specific question and the specific asker.

What would our gospel conversations look like if we made commitments to give no pat answers? I don't know, but I'd be excited to see.

What if no one's asking?

Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you...

But what if no one's asking?

If our conversation this week has you asking this question, there are two possibilities...
1) People are not asking
2) People are asking and you aren't recognizing it

These are two very different situations.

There are a variety of reasons why people may not be asking us questions about our faith.
1) We may not have set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts
2) We may not be living as if we have hope
3) We may be confined, disconnected from question-askers
4) People may be too afraid or hard-hearted to ask questions
5) The Lord may be lovingly giving us rest from questions
6) Any other reasons you can think of?

The Lord is calling us to live holy, hope-filled lives in the world. If we're doing this, we should reasonably expect people to be asking us for the reason for the hope that we have, asking us to talk about Jesus and the gospel.

Now, everyone won't ask and you probably won't be being asked at every moment of every day. That's ok. It's not all about you. You're a part of the process, but not the only part. Live a holy, hope-filled life in the world and always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have.

If no one's asking you, are you living a holy, hope-filled life in the world? If you're not, then do. If you are, then be patient and be watchful.

And if you're patient and watchful, you may find yourself noticing questions that you would have previously overlooked. I mean, what if people are asking and you're just not noticing?

The right answer to the wrong question...

...is always wrong.

Well...how can you guard against answering questions that no one is asking?

First, you can have deep relationships. When we think of apologetics, do we often think of deep relationships? Most of us don't. When I think of apologetics, I think of bow-tied professors behind podiums or contact evangelists working a crowd. But to be honest, the bulk of our apologetic work will take place in deep relationships - family members, lovers, friends, neighbors. And a foundation of deep relationship can give you excellent insight into the angle, the slant, the motive, the essence of the questions you're receiving.

For example, when Amy asks me why I think there's evil in the world if God is good, I know that she isn't just curious and she isn't trying to dodge some more uncomfortable issue. Her question's a question about trust. "There's so much evil and suffering...How can I trust God in the midst of it?" If a random person asks me the same question, I may not have a sense exactly what they're asking. Make sense?

Second, you can almost always ask a question to check. Few people expect you to be able to read their minds (and the ones who do should be paying you for the service) and most people will wait to flesh out their question until they're invited. Don't try to read minds (but if you do and you have success, please warn me) and don't be afraid to let people know you can't read minds. They might even take your interest in their question as a sign of respect.

How about an example of a check question? You can get a little more creative than "Why do you ask?" or "Could you explain what you're wondering about a little more?" If someone asks you if, as a Christian, you believe in the Theory of Evolution, you can ask if they're talking about a smooth Darwinian process or some sort of punctuated equilibrium theory. That's a check question. They may be really interested in talking about a specific scientific theory and how it intersects with faith or they may just be wondering generally if your faith prohibits you from thinking scientifically. The question creates a conversational wedge, allowing your friend to direct the conversation to where their interest lies.

Thirdly, you can watch and listen. What's that familiar saying about eyes, ears, and mouths? 2.2.1. Right. We should be watching and listening more than we should be speaking and smelling (unless you count nostrils separately). This is what distinguishes an answer from a lecture.

Someone may ask you a question to which you have a really snappy answer (like my answer to the problem of evil...to be revealed on Sunday). You start or even finish your answer and get a blank stare or a "What I meant was...". This is almost always a sign that you haven't really understood the question. Your temptation, however, is to believe that your friend hasn't really understood your answer and you must try harder. Don't try harder. Ask a check question.

If we're receiving questions in the context of relationship and are asking questions of the questions we're receiving and are paying attention to the people we're sharing with - if we do all that, we'll have taken huge, lunging strides toward answering the questions people are actually asking, rather than the questions we expect to hear.

Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you for the reason for the hope that you have, but do this with gentleness and respect

Notes on 1 Peter 3:15

Context
Whole church...persecuted church...holiness

Why we answer questions...
Because in our hearts we have set apart Christ as Lord.
Because we have prepared ourselves.
Because we can render an apologetic.
Because people we love are asking.

How we answer questions...
Peacefully, reflecting the Lordship of Christ
Thoughtfully, reflecting our preparation
Specifically, reflecting their real asking
Honestly, reflecting our limited knowledge
Gently, reflecting our love
Respectfully, reflecting our position

Hope this helps!

Sneak Preview

Would you trust God if He were evil?

Conversational Apologetics

As Christians, we have wonderful opportunities to talk to people about the reason for the hope that we have - Jesus Christ.

But often we miss these opportunities. Sometimes, we're too ashamed of our own conduct to share our reasons for trusting Jesus. Sometimes, we're just unprepared. Sometimes, we're too afraid. Sometimes, we're just uncompassionate. Sometimes, we're too busy. Sometime, we're just unaware.

I'd love for us to be able to communicate our faith to our friends in a way that's honoring to God and helpful to them. To help us do this, we're going to be touching on Conversational Apologetics tonight at Large Group.

I hope tonight is helpful, but I think we may be "eating the elephant this week." Do you know that expression? There's way too much material for us to cover in one sitting, so lets take lots of small bites. By the end of the week, it's my hope that you'd be better able to give the reason for the hope that you have to anyone who asks you. :)

If you surf on over tonight, can I recommed an audio resource for you? Check out Michael Ramsden's talk on Conversational Apologetics at: http://www.bethinking.org/resource.php?ID=114&TopicID=12&CategoryID=13.