Letter to a European Church-Planter
I want to thank you so much for our conversation the other day! It was insightful to hear the challenges you have been having, after being a church-planter in Germany for the past seven years. I really admire your tenacity, for going back again now, even with the difficulty which you have faced!
In our classes a few days ago, they mentioned spiritual warfare. An aspect of spiritual warfare which we did not discuss – and, in fact, is rarely if ever discussed – is the intellectual aspect of Spiritual Warfare. As Norman Geisler has said, (to paraphrase), « We are engaged in a spiritual battle. And since demons are – as far as we know – disembodied minds, we are engaged in an intellectual battle. » This is not true for everybody – but it certainly has been how I have encountered the main power of the evil one. On the one hand, deceit and bad thinking have come close to destroying my faith at times. It was only in finding the powerful truths to break through these strongholds of the mind that I was able to enter into the place of freedom that I am in now.
I want to point out that many Christians today are defaulting to, « I don’t want to do apologetics, or argue with people. I just want to tell them about Jesus, and ask them how they feel about God. » However, if we do not conquer the strongholds of the mind, our « converts » (if we have any at all) will only allow Jesus into their emotions, and not into their minds and ultimately not into the center of their lives, or hearts.
Unfortunately, before we can defeat their minds, we must defeat our minds, in answering the important questions which rise in our own minds, against the Christian faith. This, I can tell you, is no small task! (You may at times feel just as I did in this post…)
I want to just mention a few resources that I think will be helpful for you, in your battle to understand and find a way around the very powerful Spirit of the Age, which is now operating in continental Europe.
First of all, you must read William Lane Craig’s « Advice to European Apologists. » If you do nothing else, read that! 🙂 (There used to be a way to listen to this talk, but I can’t find it now!)
Concerning Liberalism (which is the real spirit you are encountering) I would also recommend that you read my short article on this topic, as well as the two longer articles I wrote (originally they were research papers for school): Modernity and Classical Liberalism, and The Man who Wrote Christianity and Liberalism.
You absolutely must purchase and read Lee Strobel’s books, The Case for Christ, and The Case for the Creator. I am assuming that you have purchased and read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity? This book is the only one which I lent to a non-Christian seeker, and they returned to me excitedly saying, « Please tell me how to be a Christian! » It is still also a book I return to over and over to answer tough questions, and to provide invaluable illustrations in preaching and witnessing. You must read this book!
Now, I am about to link you to quite a few resources. I’m not meaning for you to read them all immediately, but I will leave this page up on my blog, and you can always come back to it and follow the links when and if you have the time, or feel the need. I have been driving a garbage truck, listening to 15-20 hours of lectures per week of sermons and audio books over the past six years. For this reason, I am a little bit of an expert on online audio resources – if you want a lecture, sermon or classic book on a topic, just ask and I probably know of one!
To begin, then, I would mention the four main sites I think you should bookmark for future reference:
William Lane Craig’s site, Reasonable Faith.org
Craig is an internationally renowned apologist and author. His specialty is debate, and he travels the world – including extensively in Europe – to debate experts in their field, as to the veracity of Christianity. You can either download audio or video of some of his debates, or read them online.
His particular specialties are:
1) Jesus Studies, especially the resurrection of Jesus
This is what he did his PhD in (he studied in Germany, by the way, under Plantinga). He argues that there are five facts which can be historically established concerning Jesus: 1) he died on a Roman cross, 2) he was honorably buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, 3) this tomb was discovered empty by some of his women followers three days later, 4) the disciples encountered post-death visions of Jesus, 5) the early Christian movement spread, with the disciples willing to die for their faith, which was based upon Jesus’ resurrection. These facts, taken together, provide compelling evidence which even a skeptic must take into consideration, to prove that Jesus really did rise from the dead.
You can hear him defend this thesis against Dr. Bert Ehrman.
2) The Origins of the Universe
Craig is not a six-day creationist. He is a theistic evolutionist whose theories are absolutely in step with current cosmology. He argues that current science should lead us to believe in a rational, all-powerful creator-being. Although he is careful to say that from creation alone, we cannot deduce that this creator-being is the God of the Bible.
He defends this argument often, such as against Dr. Michael Tooley.
3) The Existence of Moral Absolutes
This is the same argument which C.S. Lewis puts out in Mere Christianity. But here, Craig argues it with high-level philosophers and ethicist like Richard Taylor
I notice that at the bottom of the page, there is a link to translated work from Craig. I believe that some of his lectures were also delivered in German. Worth checking out! : )
BRUXY CAVEY www.themeetinghouse.com
Bruxy is the teaching pastor at a large church here in Toronto called the Meetinghouse. His church may be the fastest-growing church in the GTA, if not in Ontario, or all of Canada. I think his style, and also the content of his teaching will be far closer to what will work in Germany than much that you will experience from the USA. The best way to experience his content is to sign up for his podcast in iTunes (search for the MeetingHouse in iTunes, if you know how!) You can also search on the MeetingHouse site for audio and video, but that is clunky.
All of Bruxy’s sermons are very enjoyable to listen to, and would fit well into a time-slot dedicated to workout, or commuting. He’s worth getting addicted to – I did, and listened to six years worth of sermons. Don’t regret the time spent at all, and enjoyed every minute of it!
I think his strong point is that all of his sermons are aimed at non-Christians, who are even antagonistic against Christianity. He does very well at explaining the Truth in a way that makes sense to intellectuals in a place like Toronto (his target is the students and educated Torontonians).
Some especially good sermons to start with are the « The God Debate » sermons (where he debates atheism head-on), as well as « Beyond the Grave » (where he talks about hell and the afterlife), and « Don’t Drink the CoolAid » (where he talks about a Christian response to consumerism and materialism).
Bruxy is an egalitarian, which means he has no problem with women in leadership. He is conservative, however, on all the other topics like homosexuality. You can hear what he thinks on some of these topics by searching on his site for the topics. Look for the « hot potatoes » series (they’re too old to be in the podcast). In there, he has several podcasts on homosexuality, as well as other « burning » issues that most pastors don’t want to touch on. (I have also posted on the topic of homosexuality, as well as Christian gender roles).
I see that my battery is running low. I need to pick up the pace here, or I won’t get this done before I loose power!
JOHN PIPER www.desiringgod.org
Although you wouldn’t know it from his down-to-earth preaching, Piper has a PhD and is a world-class author. Go on his site and search for a topic, and you will find some very very good resources!!
You will find that Piper is the deepest of the authors I have mentioned, and will challenge your spiritual life more than the others. He also has some really great resources for engaging liberalism, however.
In the sermon, « The Pastor as Scholar, » he talks of his time studying in Germany, and how he wrestled with the spirit of Liberalism. (I see he has turned this sermon into a free book as well, see here)
In the sermon, « J. Gresham Machen’s response to Liberalism, » you’ll hear again the key thoughts for how to overcome Liberalism with a right reading of evangelical Christianity.
Piper’s sermon, “The Echo and Insufficiency of Hell, Part 1.” (Read transcript here) was very important in my own journey of understanding the doctrine of hell (see here), and sparked a lively discussion with a reader of my blog.
You can also sign up for his podcast in iTunes – his sermons are always powerful!
I think apologetics gets a bad reputation because many apologists have a real need to be right. This can be a sin and a real hindrance to one’s ministry (something I have had to repent of, see here). However, mastering some of the concepts in the resources below, it seems to me, will give you some real fire-power to do as Paul did – renting (metaphorically, of course!) the « Hall of Tyrrannus » and « Arguing » with the Ephesians until, « all in Asia heard of the Way. » (Acts 19:9).
As you mentioned, many Germans like to « discuss » things. Discussion has its limits – there comes a point where you need to stop questioning everything, and trust God. However, many intellectuals – and even non-intellectuals – in Western society need a significant number of good answers to tough questions before they can come close to trusting the Christian God.
I hope these resources are helpful to you in your journey!