Philemon 1:7

by zecqi at Re-Versing Verses


Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

Philemon 1:7 | NIV (1984) | Other Versions | Context


The book of Philemon is the shortest Pauline epistle in the Bible, and for quite a while I’ve been puzzled at the inherent difference between the epistles of Romans or Corinthians to this short, little letter. Even the Pauline letters addressed to Titus and Timothy (persons as compared to Churches) made a lot more sense than the book of Philemon to me. I’ve never really gotten anything out of the book of Philemon because it seemed to be nothing more than a regular letter, from Paul to his friend Philemon about a mutual friend. I’ve never really wondered what this book was about, I’ve never really wondered who Philemon was, and most importantly, I’ve never really wondered who Onesimus was.When I finally began to ponder about these three questions, suddenly, the book of Philemon became a rich and doctrine-filled book. However, in this study, we will put aside the theme of slavery and just focus on Paul’s letter-writing abilities. His numerous letters have been a great blessing to many for generations, and even in a short letter like the book of Philemon, we can clearly see how his encouragement to Philemon was direct and affirming. In today’s study, we will put aside the short but intriguing plot of Philemon and Onesimus, and instead draw some attention to how Paul’s encouragement to Philemon took the form of a few words in a letter.


There are 3 subjects in this verse alone, and it is based on these three subjects that I will analyse this verse today. Firstly, Philemon as the recipient, secondly, Paul as the author, and lastly, the saints, or the rest of their brothers and sisters in Christ.


you, brother – it is not rare for Paul to call someone intimately – brother – though the phrase used here can be seen as a higher level of intimacy than the usual ‘brothers’ that refers to Christians in general. Out of all his letters, only his letters to Timothy, Titus and Philemon were written to individuals – the rest were written to churches. He was perhaps a lot closer to Timothy and Titus than he was to Philemon – calling them his dear sons – [1 Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4], as he did regarding Onesimus –  that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains [Philemon 1:10]. Note the difference in intimacy – Philemon was a brother, Onesimus, Timothy and Titus were ‘son’s. For good reason of course, the three of them clearly had followed Paul for a significant amount of time and assisted in his mission trips. Philemon, on the other hand, while a fellow worker in Christ, was never directly mentored by Paul – or at least we have no inclination to believe that he ever was. The letter to Philemon is notably short, and it was arguably for Onesimus’ sake [the son] and not Philemon [the brother] that Paul wrote this letter.


Your love has given me great joy and encouragement – And Paul proceeds to talk about Philemon’s role in his life – we may not always play a major part in the lives of others, but when we show our concern to others, or when our good deeds spread to the ears of others, we are able to be an uplifting testimony and a source of encouragement to others. An example of this was given in Paul’s second letter to the Church of Corinth – He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever [2 Cor 7:7] – the he in this verse refers to Titus, who reported to Paul about the situation of the Church in Corinth. We see here a clear example of how the love and concern of the church of Corinth was a source joy to Paul – my joy was greater than ever. Indeed, when we feel the love and the concern of others, we will feel joy and we will be encouraged. Sometimes a little expression of concern from somebody is all it takes to give us the strength to live another day through our afflictions. Sometimes a little bit of love from somebody is all it takes for us to smile like a fool for the rest of the day.


have refreshed the hearts of the saints – Saints in general have referred to those who believe in Christ, and hence, Christians, or other brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ. The Church is a body of Christ, and members of the Church are akin to the parts of body – we are a collective, we are One. When a member of the Church encompasses the love of God and acts in love, there is a fresh breath of air in the entire collective. It empowers the entire community. Using the previous example in 2 Corinthians 7 – By all this we are encouraged. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was, because his spirit has been refreshed by all of you [2 Cor 7:13]. Titus was the one who delivered Paul’s letters to the church of Corinth, and the one who reported on the situation of the Church after receiving Paul’s first letter. By the good works and deeds of the Corinthians, Titus was influenced, his spiritual well refreshed, his faith strengthened.


I happen to enjoy writing letters and sending them out via, what we crudely and rudely term as ‘snail mail’ today. It’s sad, but in general, the term ‘mail’ today refers to email. You can’t even call them posts, for people will immediately think of blog posts or tweets or facebook posts. Often it is hard to write letters – especially now that letters become even more personal because of their rarity (that’s how I feel at least) – you don’t know if what you write will affect the recipient positively or negatively. Yet, letters are useless if they are not sent. The New Testament authors wrote letters and sent letters, and through their letters, impacted and encouraged generations of people. Our letters won’t be comparable, of course. But still, using Paul’s letter to Philemon as an example, we can learn how to honour our brothers-and-sisters in Christ and encourage them through words.

God bless,

Not the God of the Gaps, But the Whole Show

from a Christian Post article

Scientists are wrong to call the Higgs boson ‘more relevant than God’

  • A graphic showing a collision at full power is pictured at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience control room of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva March 30, 2010.
    (Photo: Reuters/Denis Balibouse)
    A graphic showing a collision at full power is pictured at the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experience control room of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Meyrin, near Geneva March 30, 2010.
By John C. Lennox , Christian Post Guest Contributor

The recent verification (to within a whisker) of Peter Higgs’s prediction made in the teeth of weighty skepticism is rightly celebrated as the inspiring stuff of which great science is made – the payoff for the intellectual commitment and scientific prowess of a dedicated international team of specialists working for many years.

The Higgs boson has been dubbed the “god particle” much to the dismay of many physicists, including Peter Higgs and Lawrence Krauss. Yet the latter, perhaps unintentionally, gives a new twist to the “god particle” epithet in his Newsweek article: “Humans, with their remarkable tools and their remarkable brains, may have just taken a giant step towards replacing metaphysical speculation with empirically verifiable knowledge. The Higgs particle is now arguably more relevant than God.” Krauss has not taken that giant step himself, since his statement, far from being a statement of science, is another metaphysical speculation – a mixture of hubris and an inadequate concept of God.

What does Krauss mean by “more relevant than God?” Relevant to what? Clearly the Higgs particle is more relevant than God to the question of how the universe works. But not to the question why there is a universe in which particle physics can be done. The internal combustion engine is arguably more relevant than Henry Ford to the question of how a car works, but not for why it exists in the first place. Confusing mechanism and/or law on the one hand and agency on the other, as Krauss does here, is a category mistake easily made by ignoring metaphysics.

Krauss does not seem to realize that his concept of God is one that no intelligent monotheist would accept. His “God” is the soft-target “God of the gaps” of the “I can’t understand it, therefore God did it” variety. As a result, Krauss, like Dawkins and Hawking, regards God as an explanation in competition with scientific explanation. That is as wrong-headed as thinking that an explanation of a Ford car in terms of Henry Ford as inventor and designer competes with an explanation in terms of mechanism and law. God is not a “God of the gaps”, he is God of the whole show.

Indeed, it was belief in an intelligent Creator that convinced the great pioneers, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Clerk Maxwell, Babbage and many others that science could be done. C. S. Lewis put it this way: “Men became scientific because they expected law in nature and they expected law in nature because they believed in a lawgiver.”

The Nobel prizewinner Melvin Calvin traces the rise of modern science to the conviction “that the universe is governed by a single God, and is not the product of the whims of many gods, each governing his own province according to his own laws. This monotheistic view seems to be the historical foundation for modern science.”

All this notwithstanding, Lawrence Krauss thinks that the Higgs boson “brings science closer to dispensing with the need for any supernatural shenanigans all the way back to the beginning of the universe”. Yet, even Isaac Newton did not imagine his discovery of the law of gravitation banished God like that. On the contrary, Newton was motivated by his magnificent discovery to write his magnum opus, the brilliant Principia Mathematica, expressing the hope that it would persuade the thinking person to believe in God.

The more Newton understood of the mathematical structure of the universe, the more he admired the creative genius of God, not the less. Surely it is obvious to all but the willfully blind that the more we understand of engineering, the more we admire the genius of a Rolls or a Royce, not the less. And the more we know about the Higgs boson . . . ?

Furthermore, dismissing God by pejoratively describing his activity as “supernatural shenanigans” is not perhaps the wisest approach for someone who appears to think, if I don’t misunderstand him, that the Higgs field is a “nothing” out of which the universe (self-contradictorily) creates itself by means of “a purposeless quantum burp”. Natural shenanigans?

Also, such reductionist analysis provides no more clue to the meaning of it all than an analysis in terms of particles of paint would help us understand the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel – to say nothing of the absurd idea that the paint particles created the painting in the first place. Analysis of particles of paint may help you create a new paint, but not a new painting.

If the universe, as Krauss alleges, is ultimately the product of a purposeless quantum burp, then so are we and so are our minds. Thus Krauss, in a delightful irony, gives us good reason to doubt the reliability of our human cognitive faculties and, consequently, to doubt the validity of any concepts, beliefs or arguments that they produce, including those involved in the Higgs boson, atheism – and, of course, shenanigans. It is Krauss’s atheism that is at war with his science – not God. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein pointed out that the meaning of a system will not be found within the system. The meaning of the universe will be found where Newton and Clerk Maxwell found it: in God. So what can we say about the Higgs boson? Simply this: God created it, Higgs predicted it and Cern found it. We rightly celebrate the last two – what about the first?

Clerk Maxwell’s answer is above the door of the most famous physics laboratory in the world: the Cavendish in Cambridge: “The works of the Lord are great, sought out by those who have pleasure in them.”


John C. Lennox is the Professor of Mathematics, Oxford, and Fellow in Mathematics and Philosophy of Science, Green Templeton College, Oxford. He is also Adjunct Professor at the Oxford Centre For Christian Apologetics.

Resurrection meets us in the person of the Lord Jesus

by Horatius Bonar:

It was henceforth with a risen Master that the disciples had to do. It was a risen Christ who was their companion on the way to Emmaus; it was a risen Christ who entered the upper chamber with ‘Peace be to you’ on His lips; it was a risen Christ who appeared to five hundred brethren at once; it was a risen Christ that saluted them by the sea of Galilee, and prepared for them their morning meal on the fire of coals; it was a risen Christ with whom they companied during the forty days when He went out and in among them.

And it is now with a risen Christ that we have to do in the pathways of our daily pilgrimage. At every turn of the way, resurrection meets us in the person of the Lord Jesus, and says to us, ‘Because I live, ye shall live also.’ For the life that is in Him is resurrection-life.

The Everlasting Righteousness: or How Shall a Man be Just with God?  1874)

Our vision is so limited

by Elisabeth Elliot

Our vision is so limited we can hardly imagine a love that does not show itself in protection from suffering…. The love of God did not protect His own Son…. He will not necessarily protect us – not from anything it takes to make us like His Son. A lot of hammering and chiseling and purifying by fire will have to go into the process.

Scripture Reading, Responsive Reading, and the Church Gathered

One pastor’s use of the Bible during his church service. By Erik Raymond at Ordinary Pastor blog

At Emmaus we have adopted a more historic, Reformed Liturgy for our worship gatherings. At several points throughout the service the Bible is read aloud. In some of these times we include a responsive reading of the Scriptures. In this post I want to answer two questions that I often receive:

1. Why do we read the Bible during worship?
2. Why do we do responsive reading?


Reading the Bible during the assembly is a historic practice among the people of God. We see it in the Old Testament as well as the New:

Then Moses wrote this law and gave it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, “At the end of every seven years, at the set time in the year of release, at the Feast of Booths, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Assemble the people, men, women, and little ones, and the sojourner within your towns, that they may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God, and be careful to do all the words of this law, (Deuteronomy 31:9–12)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. (1 Timothy 4:13)

As Bryan Chapel notes in his book Christ Centered Worship

…God now commands the repetition of a text as his immanent and permanent voice among his people. Thus, reading he Word of God becomes the very core of worship, affording each hearer an opportunity for ongoing, personal encounter with the divine. In essence, Scripture is God’s voice incarnate for the church in all ages. (Christ Centered Worship, p. 220)

In reading the Scripture we remind ourselves that we worship a God who has revealed himself in his Word and has specifically revealed how we come to him in worship. The reminder serves to refresh us with God’s worth and work. Little doubt why Paul, Moses, and others adamantly exhorted the public reading of Scripture.

We also read it responsively. If you are unfamiliar with the term it is when the leader reads a portion of Scripture and then the congregation joins him at a particular point. We display the Words of Scripture on our screen and underline the congregational portion. We might do Psalm 103:8–14and underline verses 11–12.

Why do this? The goal is to have people paying attention to, reading, and thinking about the Scripture. When people know they are going to have to read they pay attention. In one sense then it is pragmatic and in another it is pedagogical. It is also a terrific witness. We gather on Sunday mornings and have a room full of people saying that they believe, worship, and strive to honor this God. This is good.

So why do we read Scripture during worship? It is biblical, historical, practical, and helpful.

Best Practices for Understanding the Bible

by  Paul Adams at In Christ Jesus

When Reading Scripture: Seven Questions to Ask and Answer

  1. Who — Who is speaking? Who is the audience? Who is being spoken about?
  2. What — What is being said or not being said? What is the overall idea the author has in mind? Ask, “What is the passage talking about?” and “What is the passage saying about what it is talking about?”
  3. When — Are there any time references in the passage? Do the verb tenses give any idea as to when something has happened, is happening or will happen?
  4. Where — Where will an event or change take place? Is there a reference to a particular change in location?
  5. Why — Are there reasons given for an appeal the author is making? Does the author state his purpose for writing?
  6. How — Is there a means by which such and such will take place? If the text says I’m to do something, does it explain how it is to be done? Is there a basis upon which something has happened in the past?
  7. How much — Are there any references to quantity or quality?

When Interpreting Scripture: Do’s and Don’ts

  • Do look for the clear, straightforward statements of the passage. In other words, don’t get caught up in the details.
  • Do your best to keep personal, subjective meanings from interfering with your straightforward observations. God doesn’t need any help in inspiration.
  • Do remember that the Bible is first and foremost a book about God, not a book about you. Although there are wonderful and important things to learn and apply from the Bible, it is primarily God’s Word to us, not our word from us about us.
  • Do distinguish between what Scripture is teaching and what we can learn from it.
  • Don’t create some deep, far-reaching meaning from the passage. Scripture has enough profound ideas in the text. A passage can never mean what it never meant. It is the author who gives it the meaning, not the reader. Your quest is to discover the author’s meaning.
  • Don’t take a verse or passage out of its context. Content without context is pretext. Context is the primary tool to discover the meaning of a passage. Typically, within any given context there is a single idea or concept that the biblical author is seeking to communicate. Discovering the big idea will be the foundation of a correct interpretation. Remember: The main idea is what God is teaching us.
  • Do recognize that there are multiple genres or literary styles used in the Bible. For example, the Bible uses prose, poetry, prophecy, history, symbolic imagery, etc. While it’s more important to identify the purpose of a text than its literary style, the type of literature being used is key to an accurate understanding of a text’s intent and significance.
  • Don’t assume you have observed all there is. KEEP LOOKING! Set the study aside and come back another time for more discoveries.
  • Do pray before, during, and after your study. It is vital that you bathe your study in prayer asking God to illuminate his truth to your mind and heart.
  • Do know that authority is in the text, not in the interpretor (this includes the pastor or teacher as well as the reader). In so far as the interpretor has accurately understood the meaning of the text, then and only then do his/her words used to convey that meaning have authorial import.
  • Do understand that the personal significance of a passage/text is only present when you’ve properly understood and interpreted it. So don’t be hasty in application but take time to reflect on your findings before applying them on your life.


by  on the Parchement and Pen blog Check the  19 Comments

JCarrey-DumberHere is a common myth:  Intelligence has evolved over the centuries of recorded history, so we’re smarter than people were a thousand years ago. Just look at the remarkable advances in the sciences and especially technology, and it’s clear that our current generation is more intelligent than those of the past, right?  I hear it all the time, sometimes explicitly and sometimes not, but hardly a day passes that I don’t detect it in the background of people’s presuppositions. Think of the frequency of comparisons with the past that run along these lines – “Well once upon a time people used to think that (insert any number of prevailing views from bygone eras), but now we know better.” And much of the time the thing “people used to think” isn’t even accurate. I continue to hear, for example, about how all of the Europeans thought the world was flat right up until Columbus’ voyage.

There’s no disputing that people across history held wrong beliefs about lots of specific things at various times. That’s as obvious as anything I could say about any time period, including our own. The myth is that we now are better than everyone in bygone generations because we have somehow ‘evolved’ past their ignorance and cognitive limitations. Their age was dark, ours is enlightened; their time was harsh and cruel, ours is nice and friendly; their intelligence was not quite up to the task, but now we’ve arrived and know what it’s all about. They had biases and blind spots they did not realize, but we have overcome that and replaced their shortcomings with openness, tolerance, unbiased neutrality and understanding.

This is an especially beloved part of the received wisdom among contemporary anti-religionists whose motivation for propagating the mantra is rather obvious. After all, if nearly everyone in Western history’s past generations was more spiritual and theological in orientation toward the world (including their ethics, politics, family life, etc.), and if those same people from the past were not as ‘evolved’ in their thinking as we are, then it must follow that having a more religious worldview equals being less evolved. Very simple and very tidy. To be truly intellectually advanced must mean to be distanced from the old traditional ways of thinking such that you are largely ignorant of the Scriptures, the arguments, the theological categories and even basic terminology that were so familiar and important for so long. Full secularization is the trademark of progress.

Just ask the ‘sheeple’ who sit in Bill Maher’s audiences and cheer when he describes as stupid and outdated the kinds of beliefs held by the majority of important thinkers whose ideas formed the foundation of our whole civilization. I suspect they haven’t paused to consider that so many of the great poets (like Milton, Wordsworth, etc.), philosophers (like Aquinas, Locke, etc.), scientists (like Copernicus, Newton, etc.), Renaissance humanists (like Erasmus, More, etc.), political leaders (like Washington, Adams, etc.) theologians (like Calvin, Edwards, etc.) and social reformers (like Wilberforce, MLK, Jr., etc.) were adherents and advocates of the very sorts of beliefs being scoffed at by a pretentious comedian whose clever cynicism apparently convinces his dimwitted viewers that he’s super-smart, when in fact he is hardly worthy, intellectually speaking, to clean the latrines of any of these men.

Worse yet, when I talk about the impressive legacy of those long since gone, so many people today still suppose, without any knowledge about it, of course, that all of those people – no matter their contributions in whatever fields – still must have been nevertheless hampered by the deficiency of living in a time before ours. If this seems like blind prejudice, that’s because it is. C. S. Lewis described in Surprised by Joy how his friend and Oxford colleague Owen Barfield helped to cure him of what he called “chronological snobbery,” which Lewis defined as“the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.”  I’ve also heard it called “presentism” and “provincialism in time”, but I like the use of the word “snobbery.”

The thing people despise about snobs is that they look down their noses at other people for the shallowest of reasons. A snob, for example, will think himself better than other people on the basis of the clothes he wears. A snob will assume she should get preferential treatment in life on the basis of the zip code in which she resides. Lewis believed this to be at work in himself as a young, intellectually arrogant 20th Century man. He took it for granted that the prevailing attitudes of elite academics of his day were automatically to be favored above all who had gone before since, after all, those unfortunates did not live in contemporary (and thus superior) times.

How ironic, then, that Lewis went on to spend his entire Oxford and Cambridge career focused on past centuries, his favorite philosophers being long dead and his primary academic expertise centering on literature from the Middle Ages. He became convinced of the direct opposite view than the one he’d held in his younger days, for he came to value the treasures of wisdom and the depths of insight contained in the great volumes from the past. In his inaugural address to the Cambridge student body, he admitted to them that by that time in his life he belonged more to the old world than to theirs. He advised his readers regularly to live in the pages of history enough to gain perspective and not grow myopic and parochial. “It is not the remembered but the forgotten past that enslaves us,” he told the Cambridge students. In an introduction he wrote to an ancient work of Athanasius, Lewis advised, “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. … Keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through your mind.”

Again, this must sound like ancient Ugaritic to people today. Our lives have been shaped and guided by technology above all else, and in that realm, newer is always better, and older is quickly obsolete. We can punctuate the periods of our lives by rapid technological transitions, always from worse to better to better still. Little wonder, then, that we’ve come to see everything else in the same way. Add to that the vague notion people have of universal progress via “evolution” (which of course has nothing even to do with the much discussed biological theory by the same name), and the uncritical conviction that we’re simply smarter comes to rest securely in the presuppositions of an entire generation.

But what if we were to approach the question on purely empirical grounds? Is there hard evidence to suggest a steady advance of intellectual growth on the part of the human race over the centuries leading up to our own? Not according to Mark Bauerlein of Emory University, the one-time Dir. of Research and Analysis at the National Endowment for the Arts. He wrote in his 2009 book The Dumbest Generation that the age of hyper-entertainment and the internet has steadily “stupefied” young Americans and thus jeopardized our future. Citing copious amounts of data from the last decade or so on the part of numerous organizations like the National Assessment of Education Progress, Bauerlein demonstrates the startling results that one government analyst called “abysmal.”

Bauerlein’s fear regarding the future does not mean that he thinks there is a literal “de-evolution” taking place. His view is not the equally erroneous inverse of the common ‘newer is smarter’ idea. The intellectual deficit today is not intrinsic or inherent; human nature has not changed. The future he worries about is not exactly like the one pictured in the wacky cynical comedy Idiocracy, where the generations that come after us get steadily and hopelessly stupider until the world is filled with complete morons. But the future may well consist of people too distracted, too entertained, maybe too lazy to care about the truth. People may end up living far beneath their potential simply because they never developed their capacity for critical thinking, for careful reasoning, for discernment, problem-solving, creativity, spiritual depth and contemplation, wisdom and the communication of serious philosophical ideas.

People are basically the same, across time and across cultures. Just as European explorers once assumed they were fundamentally superior to the more tribal peoples they found in other parts of the world, so we tend to think we are superior to those who lived without electricity long ago. But many Europeans came to see in time that the “primitive” peoples they met in those faraway places were in possession of the same intellectual capacity as Westerners. Their technological disadvantages were owing to many factors stretching back through time, but one of those factors was not their being inferior by nature. Being less advanced in sciences and technology is not the same as (and does not entail) being less ‘evolved’ as human beings.

Anyone today who fancies contemporary people as smarter than our ancestors probably has not read much of what they wrote or taken careful note of what they accomplished. Are we, after all, better engineers than the Romans, considering the materials to which they had access? Are we more astute observers of the natural world than the ancient Greek astronomers, who carefully mapped the entire night sky and, using precise mathematics and uncanny insights in the absence of telescopes, theorized with impressive accuracy the workings of celestial bodies? Does anyone dare to claim that he or she employs “reason” more effectively than Plato & Aristotle? Who among you is prepared to measure your inherent mathematical prowess against that of Euclid? If you suppose that ancient people were earthy simpletons rather than abstract and existential questioners, have you ever read Ecclesiastes?

What we need to remember is that the great advances of which we have been the very fortunate recipients were a long, long time in coming.  The foolish thesis about us being more intelligent than people of the past is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of how and why progress in the sciences has come to pass over many generations. It has never been a matter of increasing intelligence over time on the part of individuals (as if IQs slowly climbed to the point where someone could finally “see” things better).  Advances in the natural sciences and in technology are the result of records kept and passed down. Since life-spans do not allow the best and brightest in a generation to spend 300 years working in a given field, someone in a future generation gets the opportunity to pick up where the previous genius left off.  Newton is still considered by many the greatest scientist (and some even say the greatest mind) in history. His famous line that he had “stood on the shoulders of giants” was a reference to something echoed by others since at least the Middle Ages, where we find it expressed by theologians and philosophers like Bernard of Chartres and John of Salisbury. The most noted version from these men reads:

We are like dwarfs sitting on the shoulders of giants. We see more, and things that are more distant, than they did, not because our sight is superior or because we are taller than they, but because they raise us up, and by their great stature add to ours.

The irony is amusing when you think about it. Centuries of great thinkers bequeath to us a world with so many more comforts, with less physical pain, with less daily inconvenience, with a rich intellectual tradition, with technological breakthroughs, with libraries of brilliant works in every area of human thought; and our response to all of this – from our easy chairs – is to virtually write them off while we consider ourselves so much smarter than they were.  It’s as if a relay team had a weak runner anchoring the foursome, but the previous runners put him so far ahead that he couldn’t help but win, only to see him then boast to the world about his athletic greatness. Progress in sciences & technology is a step-by-step group effort across generations, with the baton being handed off repeatedly. The unthinking nitwits who repeat the self-inflated theory that we are the smartest people who have ever lived only make themselves seem dumber than if they had remained silent on the issue.

And one last thing for the anti-religionist propagandists:  It might not be advantageous to continue fostering the implied if not overt argument that because people in past ages were more spiritual and religious in their worldviews, and because people have gotten smarter over time, therefore to become less spiritual (more secular) means to become smarter.  In light of the statistical trends today regarding the attention spans, historical literacy, critical thinking skills, and ability to put a coherent sentence together, the argument may end up running in the other direction.  Our culture has moved increasingly away from the biblical categories of thought that framed our worldview for so long, and the collective mind has not exactly flourished as a result.

How the Gospel Changes our Apologetics, Part 1 by Tim Keller

from By Tim Keller at Redeemer City to City Blog

Apologetics is an answer to the “why” question after you’ve already given people an answer to the “what” question. The what question, of course, is “What is the gospel?” But when you call people to believe in the gospel and they ask, “Why should I believe that?” —then you need apologetics.

I’ve heard plenty of Christians try to answer the why question by going back to the what. “You have to believe because Jesus is the Son of God.” But that’s answering the why with more what. Increasingly we live in a time in which you can’t avoid the why question. Just giving the what (for example, a vivid gospel presentation) worked in the days when the cultural institutions created an environment in which Christianity just felt true or at least honorable. But in a post-Christendom society, in the marketplace of ideas, you have to explain why this is true, or people will just dismiss it.

There are plenty of Christians today who nevertheless say: “Don’t do apologetics, just expound the Word of God—preach and the power of the Word will strike people.” Others argue that “belonging comes before believing.” They say apologetics is a rational, Enlightenment approach, not a biblical one. People need to be brought into a community where they can see our love and our deeds, experience worship, have their imaginations captured, and faith will become credible to them.

There is a certain merit to these arguments. It would indeed be overly rationalistic to say that we can prove Christianity so that any rational person would have to believe it. In fact, it dishonors the sovereignty of God by bowing to our autonomous human reason. Community and worship are important, because people come to conviction through a combination of heart and mind, a sense of need, thinking things out intellectually, and seeing it in community. But I have also seen many skeptics brought into a warm Christian community and yet still ask, “But why should I believe you and not an atheist or a Muslim?”

We need to be careful of saying “Just believe,” because what we’re really saying is, “Believe because I say so.” That sounds like a Nietzschean power play. That’s very different from Paul, who reasoned, argued, and proved in the book of Acts, and from Peter, who called us to give the reason for our hope in 2 Peter 3:15. If our response is, “Our beliefs may seem utterly irrational to you, but if you see how much we love one another then you’ll want to believe too,” then we’ll sound like a cult. So we do need to do apologetics and answer the why question.

However, the trouble with an exclusively rationalistic apologetic (“I’m going to prove to you that God exists, that Jesus is the Son of God, the Bible is true,” etc.) is that it does, in a sense, put God on trial before supposedly neutral, perfectly rational people sitting objectively on the throne of Reason. That doesn’t fit with what the Bible says about the reality of sin and the always prejudiced, distorted thinking produced by unbelief. On the other hand, an exclusively subjectivist apologetic (“Invite Jesus into your life and he’ll solve all your problems, but I can’t give you any good reasons, just trust with your heart”) also fails to bring conviction of real sin or of need.

There will be no joy in the Grace of Jesus unless the person sees they’re lost. Thus a gospel-shaped apologetic must not simply present Christianity, but it must also challenge the non-believer’s worldview and show where it, and they, have a real problem. This is what I usually try to do, and in my next post I’ll lay out what I would say if I had an hour to give the whole case for Christianity.

Are Knowing Facts about God Enough?

Too often we see believers who are satisfied with learning information about the Bible and God, singing a few songs and feel they have done their part  as a Christian. This blog by Bill Pratt at Tough Questions Answered addresses that.


Since I write an apologetics blog where we frequently discuss theology, doctrine, philosophy, science, and reasoning, it may seem like my view is that all a person needs is the facts about God, and that is all. Let me straighten this misconception out: I believe facts are not enough.

God, as a personal being, as THE personal being, is not satisfied with someone who knows a bunch of facts about him. That’s nice, but more is needed. If your spouse knew several important facts about you, but didn’t love you, would you be satisfied with that relationship?

David Baggett and Jerry Walls describe Paul Moser’s insightful views on this subject:

God both reveals and hides himself, and Moser argues, consistent with Christian theology, that the reason for this is that God’s purposes aren’t just to generate propositional knowledge of his existence, but a more deeply personal sort of knowledge. God is a loving Father who, in his filial love, speaks to us all but in different ways and at different times, in an effort to invite us into a loving personal relationship with himself.

Moser argues that a relational God of love is not content merely to provide discursive evidence of his existence in order to elicit cognitive assent or function as the conclusion of an argument; rather, God desires to be known for nothing less than this robust end: fellowship and morally perfect love between him and human beings.

So what are the implications for a person who believes that mere facts or evidence should suffice in their search for God?

Moser . . . suggests that evidence for God cannot be mere spectator evidence, but something both more authoritative and volitional than that. God, on Moser’s view, hides from those who do not desire a relationship or life-changing knowledge of him. God conceals himself from those who do not recognize the existential implications of belief in God, whereas he does reveal himself to those who recognize and desire to live with the implications of knowing God.

Baggett and Walls add:

A theistic conception of reality fundamentally alters everything. For if God is the ultimate reality, our quest for wisdom is a quest for him, a personal being, not just principles or platitudes. And if the context in which we find ourselves involves God drawing us into loving relationship with him, then a logic of relations more than a logic of propositions reigns.

As C. S. Lewis put it, “If human life is in fact ordered by a beneficent being whose knowledge of our real needs and of the way in which they can be satisfied infinitely exceeds our own, we must expect a priori that His operations will often appear to us far from beneficent and far from wise, and that it will be our highest prudence to give Him our confidence in spite of this.”

Your search for God must not only include facts about him, but a relationship. At the very least, while you’re collecting facts about God, you must be genuinely open to having a relationship with him. God will reveal himself to you if that is your approach. If not, he may stay hidden.

An Open Letter to Praise Bands

by  at Already Not Yet blog


Great post from Justin Taylor:

John Piper, writing in 2008:

Thirteen years ago we asked: What should be the defining sound of corporate worship at Bethlehem, besides the voice of biblical preaching?

We meant: Should it be pipe organ, piano, guitar, drums, choir, worship team, orchestra, etc. The answer we gave was “The people of Bethlehem singing.”

Some thought: That’s not much help in deciding which instruments should be used. Perhaps not. But it is massively helpful in clarifying the meaning of those moments.

If Bethlehem is not “singing and making melody to the Lord with [our] heart,” (Ephesians 5:19), it’s all over. We close up shop. This is no small commitment.

James K. A. Smith, writing last year, made a similar point. While there may be a few exceptions to what he says here, I think he’s exactly right with regard to the main thrurst of Christian congregational worship.

1. If we, the congregation, can’t hear ourselves, it’s not worship.

Christian worship is not a concert. In a concert (a particular “form of performance”), we often expect to be overwhelmed by sound, particularly in certain styles of music. In a concert, we come to expect that weird sort of sensory deprivation that happens from sensory overload, when the pounding of the bass on our chest and the wash of music over the crowd leaves us with the rush of a certain aural vertigo. And there’s nothing wrong with concerts! It’s just that Christian worship is not a concert. Christian worship is a collective, communal, congregational practice–and the gathered sound and harmony of a congregation singing as one is integral to the practice of worship. It is a way of “performing” the reality that, in Christ, we are one body. But that requires that we actually be able to hear ourselves, and hear our sisters and brothers singing alongside us. When the amped sound of the praise band overwhelms congregational voices, we can’t hear ourselves sing–so we lose that communal aspect of the congregation and are encouraged to effectively become “private,” passive worshipers.

2. If we, the congregation, can’t sing along, it’s not worship.

In other forms of musical performance, musicians and bands will want to improvise and “be creative,” offering new renditions and exhibiting their virtuosity with all sorts of different trills and pauses and improvisations on the received tune. Again, that can be a delightful aspect of a concert, but in Christian worship it just means that we, the congregation, can’t sing along. And so your virtuosity gives rise to our passivity; your creativity simply encourages our silence. And while you may be worshiping with your creativity, the same creativity actually shuts down congregational song.

3. If you, the praise band, are the center of attention, it’s not worship.

I know it’s generally not your fault that we’ve put you at the front of the church. And I know you want to model worship for us to imitate. But because we’ve encouraged you to basically import forms of performance from the concert venue into the sanctuary, we might not realize that we’ve also unwittingly encouraged a sense that you are the center of attention. And when your performance becomes a display of your virtuosity—even with the best of intentions—it’s difficult to counter the temptation to make the praise band the focus of our attention. When the praise band goes into long riffs that you might intend as “offerings to God,” we the congregation become utterly passive, and because we’ve adopted habits of relating to music from the Grammys and the concert venue, we unwittingly make you the center of attention. I wonder if there might be some intentional reflection on placement (to the side? leading from behind?) and performance that might help us counter these habits we bring with us to worship.

You can read the whole thing here.