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Is Your Church Ready?Motivating Leaders to Live an Apologetic Life
By Ravi Zacharias Norman Geisler
ZondervanCopyright © 2003 Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Pastor as an Apologist
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An old limerick says:
There was a young student at Trinity,
Who cracked the square root of infinity.
But to work with the digits
Gave him such fidgets
He chucked math and took up divinity.
Whoever penned these words certainly communicated his or her prejudice successfully: that of all academic pursuits, the Christian ministry is the least engaging of the intellect. This is a most unfortunate caricature, but in a world given to stigmas, it is hard to shake. On a recent visit to France, as my wife and I were being escorted to the Bible college where I was to speak, the student driving us said, "Here in France, if I told my friends that my goal in life is to go to the moon, they would find it more credible than that I am a student at a Bible college." I listened with sadness. In the land of Pascal, Voltaire still sneers because nothing could be so "mindless" as one heading for a theological education.
Distortions are always discomforting, but we would do well to search for any fragment of truth in such sweeping castigations by critics of the Christian faith. To do so, however, we must ask ourselves some hard questions. When I say hard, I do not mean questions that are strenuous to the mind as much as I mean questions that are tough on the conscience. Has the communication of the most precious message of all been diminished or deemed bereft of any intellectual credibility because that is the way it really is, or because we have made it to be that way? For communication to be effective, especially in matters as life-defining as the gospel message, truth and relevance are the two indispensable wings on which it is borne. When these twin characteristics are combined, the message soars to its supreme height because it is deeply earthed in reality.
Yet if one were to talk to a typical skeptic today, the skeptic would question at least one of these characteristics. How often have we heard someone muse, "Ah! It just does not stand up to the test of truth." Or someone else may dismissively opine, "I just do not find it relevant." Anyone who knows the engaging nature of the biblical message knows full well that it is not that the message defies rationality, but that the critic has fled from reason or the communicator has failed in the demands of meaningfully carrying the message. As far as the critic is concerned, a careful examination of the cultural mood reveals that it is not just the message of Jesus Christ that has been evicted from reality in this postmodern world of ours, but truth as a category. The communicator of the gospel message can very easily demonstrate this. But the flip side, as far as the communicator is concerned, is that we have frequently made the costly mistake of assuming that if we speak the same language, we are readily understood.
FRAMING THE GOSPEL
The message of Jesus Christ is immensely profound precisely because it addresses life with the power of truth while recognizing why there is resistance to it. Properly presented, it lays bare the predicament of the heart that resists its claims. Thus the message goes beyond language, in terms of mere speech, and reveals language as a disposition of the imagination and culture. So while the language may be the same within a culture, what often changes is the filter through which it reaches the average listener's ears. Unless we understand the filter, we will be speaking in garbled terms to those caught in this mix of a high-paced life and a thinking that has become muddied by the instruments of the age.
Let me illustrate. When one looks at a television screen, regardless of its size, the picture is framed by the parameters of that screen. One may be looking at a twenty-eight-inch screen, a large thirty-six-inch screen, or what is now considered a wide-screen home theater model of more than sixty inches. Whatever the size of the screen, that, in effect, becomes the frame. But the viewer has involuntarily bought into something else that is happening-the circumscribing of his or her thinking, which is far more subtle and seductive than the physical size of the screen. Something in the very nature of the medium makes it a "truth bearer," even if the message is not actually true. Everyone knows that the medium itself is so cold that it takes extra "heat" to bring the needed effect. Everything has to move at a rapid pace. Humor has to be at the rate of a few jokes a minute. The drama has to exploit violence or sexuality, the reason being that it energizes a lifeless medium by shock or exaggeration. Now, one can even watch two programs at the same time so that there is at least one with some action going on. I marvel at the violence against the human mind itself that forces it to murder concentration with the eyes wide open. What has in effect happened is that fiction as a medium seems to have a greater impact as "truth" than a truthful medium, which is often seen as a bearer of fiction. This reversal may well be the most deadly slant of our time. Truth has been "framed" by a medium that distorts reality.
This distortion carries a world of conditioning that has shaped the modern mind. "Talking heads" now appear as a cold medium, and "something dramatic," we are told, is needed to bring life to the message we convey. How mundane it sounds to the modern listener to say, "In the beginning was the Word." How much more imaginative it would be for them had it been said, "In the beginning was video." Yet the Lord of heaven and earth has left us a message. This message is rooted in the Word, and we are to make this Word heard and felt to a generation such as this.
With such a challenge, one can safely say that the pastoral call may in fact be the most difficult call to fulfill today. It is at once an unenviable task and an easy target for anyone to hit, but I know of no more important role for the shepherding of the soul in a vagabond culture that ours has become. Properly understood and pursued, the calling and the gift are of pristine value in a society accustomed to counterfeit. Recognizing this challenge, let us take a look at the pastor as apologist.
A WORTHY CAUTION
Before I proceed, I would like to make one very pertinent observation. I make it at the outset because it is foundational, with everything else built on it. The famed pastor and preacher F.W. Boreham has a sobering essay called "A Baby's Funeral." In this essay he talks of a woman frantically walking up and down in front of his home one Saturday morning, and it was evident that she wanted to come in but was reticent to come to the door. Finally Pastor Boreham stepped out to load up his car for a day's picnic with his wife, hoping, of course, that his coming out would make it easier for the woman to approach him. The woman took her opportunity and went up to speak to him.
It didn't take long for her heartrending story to burst forth through her tears. Her baby had just died, she said. She did not belong to any church and desperately needed somebody to perform the funeral. Boreham got all the particulars, including the name of the father, which she rather hesitantly gave, and all the other information needed to arrange for the burial. He would call on her the next day. He sensed there was more to this story than she had let on. When he returned home that evening, she was outside his door waiting for him.
"I did not tell you the truth," she said. "I had to come back." The baby girl had been born out of wedlock and born terribly deformed, with only "half a face." She had lived a few fleeting minutes and died. "I just need somebody to help me give her a dignified burial. Will you do that for me, sir?"
Boreham's heart was deeply torn by the obvious pain of this story, and he offered any help he could.
In his essay Boreham describes the funeral, attended by only one friend. The baby was laid to rest in the midst of a terrible rainstorm in a brand-new cemetery. Everything about it spoke of desolation and death.
Excerpted from Is Your Church Ready? by Ravi Zacharias Norman Geisler Copyright © 2003 by Ravi Zacharias and Norman Geisler. Excerpted by permission.
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