Apologetics

Understanding the Faith Received from the Early Church Fathers

Dr. Nathan Jacobs has served as a professor at Calvin College and Seminary, Trinity College and Graduate School, and University of Kentucky. His specializations include modern philosophy and Eastern patristic thought. In addition, he is a fine arts painter and filmmaker. Nathan recently was a guest on Hank Unplugged. The following is an excerpt from their discussion on the faith handed to us from the early church fathers.

Hank Hanegraaff: What I love about the conversation thus far is you keep referring back to the fathers. Maybe some definitions are in order. So often we talk about the patristics. We even use the term “pope.” That is offsetting. We say, “priest.” Oftentimes, in Protestant context, that is an offsetting word as well. We hear the word “Father,” and people immediately say, “We are not supposed to call anybody Father.” Yet, we are saying, “Father Steve,” or “Father John,” or whoever. But, Protestants say, “Do not call anybody Father.” That is kind of the thinking. Sometimes it is helpful to recognize that there is a context. Obviously, when we are talking about the term “Father,” there is a context. There is more to the passage than “Do not call anyone on earth ‘father’” (Matthew 23:9 NIV). Jesus goes on to explicate that. So often when we hear these words, they are off-putting because we do not understand what they mean.

Nathan Jacobs: Right. When we are talking about the church fathers, this is a term that recognizes the fact that Paul identifies certain people as his spiritual children. He is identifying himself as their spiritual father (1 Corinthians 4:14; Galatians 4:19; 2 Timothy 1:2). John, when he is writing to people, he identifies this hierarchy of spiritual growth: some of them are little children and others are full grown (1 John 2:12–14).

One of the things that the church — the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Christian church historically — in the first millennium recognized was that there were certain people who went before us who were fully spiritually mature, who received and lived out the things handed down to them, and they were the ones who spiritually nurtured and cared for us, and we look to them as spiritual guides and spiritual fathers. When we look at that term “patristic,” this term is derived from patros (Greek) or pater (Latin), we are referring to those Christian writers who went before us, who received, lived out, and handed down to the next generation those things that they received in turn, which is what tradition refers to — that which is handed down.

When I am referring to the church fathers, I am referring to those folks, largely and usually, those from the first millennium. That is how church fathers is typically used. These are the folks who were early Christian writers, who defended core doctrines of the faith. Oftentimes this is related to people like those at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325), who received, defended, and upheld against heretics, the Arians,1 the doctrine of the Trinity. Church fathers at Constantinople defended Christology and the full humanity of Christ over and against the Apollinarian2 heresies. Church fathers defended the doctrine that He was truly incarnate. At Ephesus, church fathers defended over and against the Nestorian3 heresies, concluding that Christ is only one person and that there is only one Son of God, the one who is with the Father, and the one who dwelt among us.

These individuals who defended the faith and handed on to us the faith that they received, those are the church fathers. This is one of the things that I think is sometimes misunderstood. In the first millennium you had ecumenical councils. Ecumenical refers to the whole house. These councils happened only seven times in the first millennium prior to the Great Schism between the Western church and the Eastern church.

You had these seven ecumenical councils — and lots of folks are unaware that there were seven ecumenical councils (that’s seven times on seven core doctrines). The Church said this is the faith that was handed down to us. Those councils form the basis for what is typically called Nicaean Trinitarianism and Chalcedonian Christology, these core doctrines of the Trinity and Christology.

One of the things that is interesting is, for whatever reason, the presumption is when you hear the word “council,” it must have been a bunch of academics or something like that, or bishops sitting around hashing out what they thought was the best answer to a given question. But when you look at those councils and what they have to say, what is fascinating is that the question is never “What is the most philosophical savvy answer?” or “What is the latest trend in the academy?” The question is always “What is the faith we received?” “What did the apostles hand down?” That is why the declaration is always This is the faith of Peter. This is the faith that Cyril taught. They always deferred back to the prior generations who had received and handed down the faith. They never saw themselves as academics trying to solve riddles or come up with new, innovative, and creative insights. The question has always been “What have we received?” They were curators, which is the best way to put it.

Hank: By the way, just parenthetically, is not that exactly what the apostle Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15: “What I received I passed on to you as of first importance” (v. 3 NIV)?

Nathan: Absolutely! That is why he exhorts others to do the same. To hold on to what has been handed down. That is why in Jude 3 there is reference to the faith once given over to the saints. This is crucial as they saw it. Staying the course in Christianity ultimately meant sticking with and protecting and being a preserver of the faith that was handed down, which is why it was so crucial for the church fathers to look back at what was handed down to us because that is what we are entrusted with. This is the pearl of great price. What has been said about it? What is that pearl? It is our job to protect it, and to not innovate. Innovate is a very bad word among the church fathers because that is the epitome of what you are not supposed to be doing.

Hank: You are supposed to perpetuate — not innovate.

Nathan: That is right. That would be a great way of putting it. That is one of the reasons why with lots of issues, yes, I tend to go back. I look, and I say, “Well, what did the church fathers have to say on this topic? What did they hand down?” Because at the end of the day, if I am looking at a doctrine, and I cannot find it advocated by the church fathers, it is a medieval doctrine that emerges, say like from Anslem or someone like that, that is problematic theologically, since that would be prima facia, face value evidence, of an innovation, and it is not the faith that was handed down to us.

Listen to the full interview here.

Read Nathan’s article “Understanding Nicene Trinitarianism” in the Christian Research Journal volume 41, number 4 (2018). To subscribe to the Journal, click here.

We also recommend the movie Becoming Truly Human: Neither This Path Nor This Version of Me Is My Destination, directed by Nathan Jacobs, which is a documentary on the “nones” (religiously unaffiliated) and the search for spiritual wholeness.

A helpful overview on the false teachings about Christ and the Trinity, which the early church fathers addressed, can be found in Know the Truth: A Handbook of Christian Belief by Bruce Milne. For a more extensive and advanced treatment on this subject, please consult Heresies: Heresy and Orthodoxy in the History of the Church by Harold O. J. Brown. Both of these resources are available through the Christian Research Institute.

For further related reading, we recommend the following articles on equip.org:

Jesus as God in the Second Century” by Paul Hartog

Is the Son Eternally Submissive to the Father? An Egalitarian-Complementarian Debate” by Robert Letham and Kevin Giles

Jesus as ‘God’: Scriptural Fact or Scribal Fantasy?” by Brian J. Wright

Begotten of the Father before All Ages” by Charles Lee Irons

Deciding Who Jesus Was” by H. Wayne House


Notes:

  1. Arians were those embracing the false teaching of Arius of Alexandria (AD 246–336). Arius taught that the Son was created, and that there was a time when Christ was not. This was a denial of Christ’s full divinity.
  2. Apollinarian refers to the false teachings of Apollinarius or Apollinaris (AD 310–390). Apollinarius taught that the eternal Logos (Word), i.e., God the Son, replaced the human soul of Jesus. In other words, the Lord was the divine Word residing in a soulless human body. This was a denial of Christ’s full humanity.
  3. Nestorian refers to the false teaching of Nestorianism, which is the idea that the two natures in Christ were separate. In other words, the God-man was two persons as opposed to one. Nestorianism denied the unity of Christ, who is one person as opposed to two. Nestorianism is associated with Nestorius of Syria (386–450), Archbishop of Constantinople. While Nestorius was opposed to identifying Mary as the theotokos (bearer of God), preferring to use either anthropotokos (bearer of man) or Christotokos (bearer of Christ), it is debatable whether or not Nestorius affirmed and taught the radical dichotomy between Christ’s humanity and divinity identified as Nestorianism.
Apologetics

For me, life means Christ, and death is gain

 

 

The waters have risen and severe storms are upon us, but we do not fear drowning, for we stand firmly upon a rock. Let the sea rage, it cannot break the rock. Let the waves rise, they cannot sink the boat of Jesus. What are we to fear? Death? Life to me means Christ, and death is gain. Exile? The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord. The confiscation of goods? We brought nothing into this world, and we shall surely take nothing from it. I have only contempt for the world’s threats, I find its blessings laughable. I have no fear of poverty, no desire for wealth. I am not afraid of death nor do I long to live, except for your good. I concentrate therefore on the present situation, and I urge you, my friends, to have confidence.

Do you not hear the Lord saying: Where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in their midst? Will he be absent, then, when so many people united in love are gathered together? I have his promise; I am surely not going to rely on my own strength! I have what he has written; that is my staff, my security, my peaceful harbour. Let the world be in upheaval. I hold to his promise and read his message; that is my protecting wall and garrison. What message? Know that I am with you always, until the end of the world!

If Christ is with me, whom shall I fear? Though the waves and the sea and the anger of princes are roused against me, they are less to me than a spider’s web. Indeed, unless you, my brothers, had detained me, I would have left this very day. For I always say “Lord, your will be done”; not what this fellow or that would have me do, but what you want me to do. That is my strong tower, my immovable rock, my staff that never gives way. If God wants something, let it be done! If he wants me to stay here, I am grateful. But wherever he wants me to be, I am no less grateful.

Yet where I am, there you are too, and where you are, I am. For we are a single body, and the body cannot be separated from the head nor the head from the body. Distance separates us, but love unites us, and death itself cannot divide us. For though my body die, my soul will live and be mindful of my people.

You are my fellow citizens, my fathers, my brothers, my sons, my limbs, my body. You are my light, sweeter to me than the visible light. For what can the rays of the sun bestow on me that is comparable to your love? The sun’s light is useful in my earthly life, but your love is fashioning a crown for me in the life to come.

From a sermon by St John Chrysostom

Apologetics

Life-Defining Choices and Living for an Audience of One

Anne Graham Lotz was a recent guest on Hank Unplugged. Her father Billy Graham called her the best preacher in the family, and the New York Times labeled her as one of the five most influential evangelists of her generation. Hank and Anne had a conversation about The Daniel Key: 20 Choices That Make All the Difference. They discussed what we can learn from Daniel and the living Word of God. Here is a snapshot of their discussion on making life-defining choices and living our lives for an audience of one.

Hank Hanegraaff: It is the choices that one makes early on in life that make all the difference in the world. I mean, you made some choices when you were eight or nine years of age. You chose to read the Bible. You chose to be outspoken to use the talents that God has given you for His glory.

Anne Graham Lotz: Yes, I did. The first choice that was life defining was when I was eight or nine. I had been watching a film about Jesus on television; it came to the scene of the cross, and I knew that He had died for me and that had to be a work of the Holy Spirit. I got down on my knees, and I told God I was sorry. I knew it was my sin that was responsible for the death of His Son. I asked Him to forgive me and come into my heart. I claimed Jesus as my Savior. I can remember when I got up off my knees, I felt lighter. I did not even know I had been carrying a burden, but whatever it was, it was gone. I remember going down the steps to tell my mother the decision I had made, and that was a very critical choice that I made at a young age.

Then it followed, I do not remember it so much as a choice as just a deep desire to read God’s Word. By the time I was nine, I had read the Bible through, and I loved it. It began a life-long love affair with the Scriptures. I love God’s Word. That is a choice that I made, but it was a choice that flowed out of passion. It was a heartfelt choice.

When I was sixteen, I made the choice — and I cannot remember anything triggering this — it just occurred to me that when I stood before God, I would give an account to Him for my life, and the way I had lived it. I think up until then, I thought I was Billy Graham’s daughter, and Ruth Graham’s daughter, and you know I would get credit for what they had done. I realized that I would stand alone before God, and I could not ride upon anybody’s coattails. I remember kneeling down in that same room where I had given my life to Christ years earlier, and just surrendered my life to the Lord for service. I just told Him that He could have my life, and I wanted Him to use me so that when I stood before Him, I would have something to show for my life.

It was interesting that within that year, I led four of my friends to Christ. I met my husband not too long after that, married at a young age. At the time, I would think God had not really heard my prayer, but looking back, I can see how He withheld certain things from me in order to rivet my attention on Him and to prepare me to serve Him in really a remarkable way. It has been a lifelong service. He took me up on my surrender. There was not anything dramatic at that moment, it was a decision that I made, which let Him have my life and to use me for His glory. Now at my age, looking back, I can see the pattern that He has led me all the way.

Hank: You know, one of the things that I really liked about your books, and I love about you in general, is that you are transparent. You mentioned your late husband, the caregiving that you were involved in for so many years. The mental deterioration. The emotional pain. You share this, and I love that because for a lot of people they look at Christian leaders and think somehow or another they are walking on air. They do not have any problems. They do not live in the real world. But, when you transparently share what happened in your own life, particularly with your husband, it allows you to relate to people in a way that if you kept this to yourself you could not.

Anne: Well, you know, this is another choice I made. When I was seventeen years of age, I had people trying to force me into their mold. You know, everybody had an idea of what Billy Graham’s daughter ought to be like, look like, people who should be my friends, and I felt very bound by the opinions of other people. Somebody told me, “Anne, your looking at God, your relationship with God is colored, like looking though a prism. You know it is colored by all these people’s opinions, and you need to just look at Him directly.” I made the decision when I was seventeen to live my life to please God. I knew that if I pleased God, my parents and grandparents would be pleased. Some people would not understand the choices that I made, and what I did, but you cannot please everyone anyway. I made the choice when I was seventeen to live my life for an audience of one.

It was a life decision that has borne lots of fruit. I have been in some places, and on some platforms, where if you really just cared about the opinions of other people, and you cared about being popular, or you just — for me anyway — I would be tied in knots. Certainly, I can get nervous. You know you do when you get on a major platform. But, at the same time, my aim is not to please the audience, my aim is not to be invited back, my aim is to please the Lord, who put me in that place and has given me a message to deliver. That was a very freeing choice that I made.

Hank: It is so important. All too many people today are not giving a message for an audience of one, which is precisely what we have to do. It is not about being politically correct. It is not about being popular. It is not about having a bigger platform. At the end, you are going to account to God for what you did with your life.

Anne: That is right. That is a very solemn thing that stays with me every day. I know that I am going to stand before Him. It is what motivated me to surrender in the first place. At the age of sixteen, I know I am going to stand before Him, I know I am going to give an account for the way I not just lived my life personally but also how I served Him. With all my heart, I want to fulfill the purpose that He has for my life. I know He has a purpose for me. I want to fulfill it. In fact, one of the verses He gave to me is in Philippians 1. After my husband went to heaven, it says, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (v. 21 NIV). Then it says, you know, that I am left behind. I am not going to quote it outright, but I have been left here because there is still fruitful labor for me to do (cf. vv. 22–26). I have a strong sense that God has taken my mother, my father, and my husband. In a very real way, I am a widow and I am an orphan. But I have a strong sense of purpose. God has me here for a reason. I want to fulfill that reason, and fulfill the purpose that He has for my life before I see Him face-to-face.

Listen to the full interview here.

Get Ann’s book The Daniel Key: 20 Choices That Make All the Difference.

Apologetics

Talking about the Porn Myth

Matt Fradd is the host of the popular podcasts Love People Use Things and Pints with Aquinas, as well as the author of The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography, a nonreligious response to the commonly held belief that pornography is a harmless pastime. Hank Hanegraaff recently invited Matt onto the Hank Unplugged podcast to talk about The Porn Myth. Here is an edited brief snapshot of their talk.


Hank Hanegraaff: You say that the real problem with pornography is not that it shows too much but it shows too little of the human person. Expand on that.

Matt Fradd: Right. The problem with porn is not nudity. The human body. What is the human body? It expresses the mystery of the human person. It is not an animate provider of pleasure, like a steak or a keg of beer. We do not inhabit our bodies. We are our bodies. So, to exploit the body is to exploit the person. If the body was worthless, you could not degrade it. When you say, “You degraded her or him,” it presupposes that she or he had some grade to begin with. It is precisely because the body is good that porn is wicked.

The same thing with sex. Sex is good. If it were not, you could not make it ugly. You cannot make mud ugly. Sexual desire is good. Well, whose idea was it anyway? In God’s first commandment to humanity, Genesis 1:28, He says, “Be fruitful and multiply” (NKJV). I do not think He meant grow grapefruits and invent calculators. He meant have sex and fill the world. It is precisely because sex, sexual desires, and nudity are so powerful, beautiful, and good, which is why I love taking my children to museums. I want them to see beautiful naked art that expresses the mystery of the person.

Porn does not do that. For all of its exposure, porn always ends up suppressing and obfuscating the personhood of the performer. Porn says, “I don’t care about her thoughts, dreams, her past, or what happened to her when she was young. All of that would get in the way of what I am attempting to do here.” In a sense — this might sound a little hyperbolic, but I think there is a point here — porn does what death does. It separates with knife-like precision the mind, the person, the soul — however you want to put it — from the body. Think about a Playboy centerfold or something like that; she does not have to be alive. “It does not matter to me, I do not care about her,” says porn.

It seems to be that if there was ever a behavior in which you would engage with wherein the personhood of the other should be recognized and affirmed, it ought to be the marital embrace. That is precisely what is not affirmed in pornography. That is why it is so ghastly.

All of that said, I do not want people listening to think that I am coming down hard on them, because pornography feels great. It is very pleasurable. It makes me feel powerful, masculine, strong, and in control. Of course, many young women struggle with pornography, and they might say something like, “Well, it makes me feel desired, and pleasurable.” Sometimes we can only begin to overcome something when we admit we like doing it. I can remember hearing an alcoholic saying he was able to begin to break free of alcoholism only when he admitted he loved getting drunk but that it was killing him. So, he had to make a choice.

I think we have to be honest about the worm at the end of the hook, as it were, the thing we go after, the thing we get from it, but then very soberly admit that we do not want to be these sorts of people. Like, I do not want to be the kind of husband who has to creep away from my wife late at night to have an intimate encounter with my iPhone. I do not want to have to diligently delete my history files so my kids do not find out dad’s a porn addict. That is not the sort of person I want to be. I do not want to be remembered as the guy who consumed this much porn every day, even if the church had nothing to say on the matter, or Scripture had nothing to say on the matter. It is just not who I want to be. I want my life to be good, true, and beautiful. I want my sex life to be good, true, and beautiful.

It seems to me, and all the research seems to be backing this up, that if you want to be sexually dissatisfied, then pornography is the way to go. That is what leads to sexual ugliness and falseness. There you go. I am ranting now.

Hank: No, you are not. I love what you are talking about. I was thinking as you were talking, Matt, that my good friend, Joe Dallas, he lived a gay lifestyle for many, many years, and I do not know anyone on the planet today that knows more about that subject and delivers it in a more compassionate and compelling way than he does. I was thinking about some similarities with you, in that you are not talking about something that you do not know anything about; you have experienced this from an early age. You know precisely how it enslaves; therefore, there is a passion coming out in your speaking and writing. It not like you are ranting or rambling. You are passionate and for a good reason.

Matt: Thank you. I hope it is a coherent rant, if nothing else. I, like almost every male on the planet, have seen pornography. When I was twelve and thirteen years old, my best friend’s mom — he was a single-parent child, and she was not married — would buy us porn. She would drive us down to the movie store, she would buy us VHS tapes, and even buy us hard liquor. At the age of twelve, here we are drinking vodka, pretending to like it, watching porn. That was me twelve, thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen years old. My parents had no idea about it. This was before the time of the internet. That was the world I was immersed in. I never felt comfortable with it. I liked doing it. But, I always felt this was not particularly masculine behavior. It was not until I was seventeen years old that I encountered the person of Jesus Christ when I decided I did not want to live like this, and that I should not be living like this. Thus began the long road to recovery.

Of course, recovery is not something that happens in an instance. It is not something that happens to you. I think too often we treat recovery like that. When will I be free? But, as Christians, our goal is heaven, and sexual purity is part of the fuel that is going to help us get there, if you want to put it that way. But, it is better to think of recovery as a daily choice that I make by my actions.

Hank: I think when dealing with the Christian life, it is not just heaven at the end of the rainbow; rather, it is that Christ came to give us life that is life to the full in the present. If you are engaging in these behaviors, there is something that happens to your soul. There is something that is so dissatisfying and debilitating in the present that you cannot experience life that is life to the fullest.

Matt: I could not agree more. This is one of the reasons I am so passionate about this topic. I feel like one of the things that prevents the seed of the gospel to penetrate the hearts of men and women, part of that, is they are up to their eyeballs in degrading pornography. How long can one keep within one’s mind that the human person is good to which the only proper attitude is live while at the same time subject myself to body-punishing, women-hating porn? I am not going to be detailed here, but if people are listening and they have not seen pornography since the 1980s, it is something very different. Today, most porn sites have rape categories, shame categories, and this is the first thing children are exposed to. It is not the whole Playboy centerfold thing that we might remember from our youth. It is one of those obstacles to the reception of the gospel, and that is why I am passionate about it.

Hank: It really rewires the brain as well. I thought that was one of the great insights in The Porn Myth. It is not new, but you have certainly hammered home the point that there is neuroplasticity in the brain, and that pornography actually ends up, in a very real way, rewiring our anatomy.

Matt: Right! This is not scare tactics. This is not hyperbole. This is what the data shows. As I sit here, I believe there are thirty-nine peer-reviewed neuroscience-based studies on porn use, and everyone supports the addiction model. I know people, especially in the Christian community, might feel a bit uncomfortable with the term addiction, thinking it is a word people use to escape culpability, or it is overused, and I agree with that, but just because a word can be abused does not mean it cannot be used appropriately.

What we are seeing is all sorts of things; like there was a study that came out in 2014 at the Max Planck Institute in Germany — it is like the Harvard of Germany. They discovered that to the degree in which one was looking at pornography, there was smaller parts of the brain, the brain becomes desensitized so you feel that you have to continually watch more deviant forms of pornography to feel normal, which leads all sorts of things like anxiety, erectile dysfunction, and premature ejaculation.

With all of this, you have been wondering why you have been seeing more commercials for Viagra lately. There might be a good reason for that. Again, this is not a scare tactic thought up with by some Christian group. These are people like Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, who is the clinical urologist at Harvard Medical School, or Dr. Norman Doidge, who wrote the book The Brain That Changes Itself. These are not Christian people, but they are saying without a doubt we are seeing a huge spike in erectile dysfunction in young men because their brains have become so accustomed to pixels on a screen that they do not know how to interact with a real-life person.

You might get married one day only to discover that it is not working because you have burnt your brain out on this stuff. That is real. That is scary. It should be scary because it is bloody well true.

There is my friend Gary Wilson. He is an atheist. He runs the website yourbrainonporn.com. It is a great website that compiles all the data coming out of academia that you can go read for yourself. Again, not science fiction but science.

For this reason, more people are turning against porn. It is sort of like the tobacco apologist back in the 1990s who tried to tell us that there is no connection between smoking and cancer; you say that today, and any teenager is going to laugh at you or think you’re joking. Something similar is happening here. I think the culture is beginning to turn against porn because when everybody is either themselves addicted to porn, struggling with porn to some capacity and sees the negative effects, or loves somebody who does, it becomes more and more difficult to believe the worn-out mantra from the porn industry that this is just fine behavior for well-rounded adults, and do not get carried away, and so forth. It is just a joke.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

For further reading, please access the following articles:

What’s the Problem with Pornography?” by Hank Hanegraaff

Darkening our Minds: The Problem of Pornography among Christians” by Joe Dallas

Sexual Sanity for Women in a World Gone Mad” by Ellen Dykas

The Effects of Porn on the Male Brain” by William M. Struthers, PhD

Please also consider the following books:

The Porn Myth: Exposing the Reality Behind the Fantasy of Pornography by Matt Fradd

The Game Plan: The Men’s 30-Day Strategy for Attaining Sexual Integrity by Joe Dallas

Wired for Intimacy: How Pornography Hijacks the Male Brain by William M. Struthers

Apologetics

Three Levels of Prayer, the Shadow of Death, and Being an Ambassador for Christ

O.S. Hawkins, author of The Joshua Code, is the president and chief executive officer of GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was on a recent episode of Hank Unplugged. The following is a snapshot of Hank and O. S.’s conversation on the three levels of prayer, the shadow of death, and being an ambassador for Christ.

Hank Hanegraaff: There is so much in The Joshua Code. You talk about three levels of prayer. This caught my eye when I read the book — the presenting of a petition, the pressing of a petition, and the persisting in a petition. Cash that out.

O.S. Hawkins: Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).* These are three levels of prayer. When you know the will of God, you ask, and you receive. You know that God is not willing that we perish (1 Timothy 2:4). We ask Christ to save us, and we come in faith to Him. He will answer that prayer. If we know the will of God, we ask and we receive.

The second level of prayer is “seek and you will find.” If you do not know the will of God, you keep seeking in His Word, and you will find it. He does not want to veil His will to you.

Thirdly, if you do know the will of God but the door is closed, the verb tense says to keep on knocking; do not stop, just be persistent, keep on knocking and it will be open unto you. Most of us never get past that first level of just presenting a petition, but we need to move on to pressing it, and persisting in it.

Hank: Talk to me like you would talk to someone you are pastoring. I have an incurable disease from the human standpoint — it is mantel cell lymphoma. You can go into remission for long periods of time, but it is an incurable disease. There are lots of breakthroughs with the disease and so forth, so maybe that will change in the future, but right now, it is an incurable disease. Every single day, I do that, I persist in the petition. I ask the Lord to heal me in accordance with His will. Not my will but Thy will be done. But, every single day, I ask the Lord to heal me. It is as though I can picture myself touching the hem of His garment, and feel the healing virtue of Christ flow into my body. It is not as though, Pastor, — and I will call you Pastor because that is what you are in many ways to me and so many others — it is not that I fear death, or I feel like I have to grasp at life but I feel that there is so much more that I could be doing, and that urgency is continually pressed upon me. I pray this every single day. Give me some guidance.

O.S.: OK, Hank. I would pray exactly the same thing, understanding that even Paul prayed that. He talks about that physical infirmity that he had. Whether it was epilepsy or eye problems, what it was we do not know, but he had a thorn in his flesh. I believe it was a physical infirmity. He asked the Lord three times to take it from him, he kept persisting, asking God to heal him, but God did not do it. God came out on the other end and said that His grace was sufficient (2 Corinthians 12:1–10). It always is.

The Bible uses a word, as you know, Hank, mysterion; it is a mystery. It is a sacred secret. Paul left Trophimus at Meletus sick, the Bible says (2 Timothy 4:20). Why did not Paul heal him? This is all wrapped up in the mystery of God.

As it relates to death, I have a devotional in The Believer’s Code: 365 Devotions to Unlock the Blessings of God’s Word (Thomas Nelson, 2017). The unique thing about The Believer’s Code, a 365-day devotional, is that every day has a code word that we live by. For example, in one of the devotions on Psalm 23, the code word is shadow. We all know what a shadow is. We have all seen them. Well, this Psalmist said, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (v. 4). No believer ever walks through the valley of death. Christ did, three days and three nights, and He came out victorious on the other end of the grave. He resurrected, and He held up some keys, John the Revelator says, and Jesus said, “I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). The believer does not walk through the valley of death; rather, he only walks through the valley of the shadow of death.

A shadow might frighten you. You come home at night, put your key in the front door, the porch light casts a shadow, and you jump back. The shadow might frighten you, but it cannot hurt you. You can walk right through it. That is what the psalmist says we do with the shadow of death. Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil. Death is just a shadow. We use that code word shadow to think about during the day, to be reminded that the believer has no fear of death, that death has lost its sting, as Paul says for the believer in 1 Corinthians 15:55–57 because death is only a shadow.

Hank: Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

O.S.: Amen!

Hank: Talk about being an ambassador for Jesus Christ. This is something that has really been pressing on my heart as well, because we are called to be Christ’s ambassadors, though most of us are secret agents who have never blown our cover before the unregenerate world. We are called to be ambassadors. If we are not ambassadors, the culture is continually going to corrupt and corrode. I oftentimes think that people put the focus on the pagan world and say, “Look what the pagan world’s doing!” And I think there is a place for that, but oftentimes I think they fail to recognize that pagans are going to do what pagans do. The real problem is Christians are not doing what they are supposed to do, and as a result of that, the salt has lost its savor.

O.S.: Exactly. You know Paul says in 2 Corinthians, “We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God” (v. 20). We hear a lot about ambassadors being appointed today to Israel. We just appointed another one to Germany. To begin with the ambassadors, you have to look at their citizenship. It is obvious that an ambassador for the United States to a foreign nation has to be a citizen of America. No alien can ever represent our nation. A true ambassador of Christ is one, as Paul says in Philippians, whose “citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:20).

An ambassador has to be someone with character. Should an ambassador of the King of kings and Lord of lords be anyone else? A representative of Christ ought to have the highest moral standards, qualities, and values. A reputation that is spotless. Good conduct. Consistency. You know a good ambassador has to communicate. What good would it be to have an ambassador to another country that could not communicate and speak their language. The effective ambassadors for Christ need to have constant daily contact with headquarters — the Lord Jesus Christ. There is so much that is wrapped up in this, so many analogies and parallels to what Paul talked about being ambassadors for Christ.

To listen to the full interview, click here.

To order a copy of The Joshua Code, click here.

* New International Version (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) used throughout.

Apologetics

Understanding the Value of the Maker Thesis

Melissa Cain Travis is an assistant professor of apologetics at Houston Baptist University and a PhD candidate at Faulkner University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God (Harvest House, 2018). Hank Hanegraaff recently dialogued with Melissa on the Hank Unplugged podcast — concerning “Women in Apologetics.” The following is adapted from the discussion on the “Maker Thesis.”

Hank Hanegraaff: I want to talk a little bit about your new book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, subtitled What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God. In that book, you have a moniker called the “Maker Thesis.” What does that explain?

Melissa Cain Travis: I write about the Maker Thesis in the article, which just came out in the Christian Research Journal, entitled, “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker.” The idea behind the Maker Thesis is that the enormous success of the scientific enterprise that we have watched unlock many of nature’s secrets strongly implies the existence of a Maker. Not only does it strongly imply the existence of a Maker but it implies one who desires to share some of His mind with His creatures. We would say that because we are made in His image. This is the reason we are able to share in His mind. From what we observe, it looks very much as if one of the main goals of this development of the natural world was the existence of rational beings who can investigate its deep structure. As we investigate the deep structure, we thereby understand something of the mind that seems to be behind it all.

Turns out that there are features of the universe in general, and features of planet Earth in particular, that make man’s home incredibly hospitable to the scientific enterprise.

To go along with that, we have the kind of minds that are suited to carry out that kind of investigation. This coincides very well with the Christian doctrine of the imago Dei — the idea that mankind is not just a creation but he is the crown of creation, made in the image of God. As such, we are endowed with these cognitive faculties that allow us to have not just moral awareness but also higher rationality.

I think using resonance as I do in the Journal article is perfect for describing this crazy situation we find ourselves in.

There was a fourth century Alexandrian bishop named Athanasius, Saint Athanasius, and he is one of my absolute favorite Christian saints. I have loved reading his works. He used the analogy that always comes to my mind when I am thinking about the cosmic resonance behind the Maker Thesis. He said,

Like a musician who has tuned his lyre, and by the artistic blending of low and high and medium tones produces a single melody, so the Wisdom of God, holding the universe like a lyre, adapting things heavenly to things earthly, and earthly things to heavenly, harmonizes them all, and leading them by His will, makes one world and one world order in beauty and harmony (Contra Gentiles 31.4).

I just love that. I think it is so appropriate to the thesis of my book. When we observe the world and we observe our own nature, we see this incredible resonance that leads us to understand that there is a Maker whose mind we are able to tap into just a little bit when we carry out the natural sciences.

Hank: I love that you quoted Athanasius. It reminds me of the power of one. If you think about Athanasius in the forth century. It was “Athanasius contra mundum” — Athanasius against the world. He was willing to stand against Arianism, and his arguments ended up winning the day. I also love the fact that he overtly said what many have said throughout the centuries, that God became man so that man might become God. Now, he did not mean that man can become as God by nature. We are gods by grace. We participate, as Peter said, in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4), but he opened a door, which points out just how special we are. We are so special that God has invited us into fellowship within the Trinity. I mean it is incredible to think that the one who spoke and the universe leaped into existence wants that kind of relationship with us, a relationship that brings us into the fellowship with the Triune God.

Melissa: Yes, absolutely! Many of the church fathers talked about this very same thing. They talked about how nature is like this grand book and because we are made in the image of God, we can read that book. We can discern some of His wisdom and power in the things that He has made.

Hank: We think about the Bible, rightly so, I have spent a lifetime memorizing the Bible. But, there also — as you just pointed out, Melissa — is the book of nature, and we can see God’s imprimatur, we can see His fingerprints on the universe that He has created.

Melissa: Yes! These arguments actually go pretty far back. They even predate the existence of Christianity. We see roots of these ideas in ancient Greek philosophy, most particularly Plato. And then by first century BC to first century AD Judaism, we see these ideas about a Creator having resonance with the mind of man absorbed into or, I guess a better word would be, inspiring the writings of Judaism such that the extrinsic platonic forms that in Greek philosophy just kind of exist out there somewhere are now placed in the mind of a creator God, as the pattern that God used to create the universe.

Then our early church fathers come along, and we see the appearance of this wonderful metaphor about the book of nature — the idea that the creation is this communication vehicle by which God reveals Himself to mankind. They saw creation as a natural revelation that can be used in tandem with the special revelation that we find in Scripture. They saw these two in complete harmony and actually synergy because they thought by observing the world we better understand Scripture, and by reading Scripture we better understand what we are seeing in the world.

Then, of course, we see these ideas communicated in both the Old and New Testaments. Psalm 19 is famous one where we read, “The heavens declare the glory of God (NIV) and they send a message to all the earth. Then in Romans 1:20, Saint Paul tells us that God’s power and wisdom are so clearly seen in what has been made that mankind is without excuse when it comes to knowing and worshiping the Creator of all things.

In the book, Science and the Mind of the Maker, what I have tried to do is weave together this glorious intellectual history with the most up-to-date findings of science and the most up-to-date progress in philosophy, and show how these very ancient arguments have not been debunked by the rise of modern science. They have in fact been truly vindicated by modern science.

To listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode, click here.

Read the article “A Grand Cosmic Resonance: How the Structure and Comprehensibility of the Universe Reveal a Mindful Maker” in volume 40, number 1 of the Christian Research Journal.

To subscribe to the Christian Research Journal, click here.

Check out other Christian Research Journal articles from Melissa Cain Travis:

What the Size of the Cosmos Doesn’t Say about Mankind

Motherhood and the Life of the Mind

To request a copy of Science and the Mind of the Maker: What the Conversation between Faith and Science Reveals about God by Melissa Cain Travis, click here.

 

Apologetics

Songs of Extravagant Grace and Radical Discipleship for Union with Christ

Rankin Wilbourne grew up in Louisiana and was educated at the University of Mississippi and Princeton Theological Seminary. He is now the senior pastor of Pacific Crossroads Church in Los Angeles. Rankin believes that “union with Christ may be the most important doctrine you’ve never heard of.” In fact, he says that “nothing is more basic or more central to the Christian life than union with Christ.” If the latter is true, then the former must be addressed.

On a recent edition of Hank Unplugged, Hank and Rankin discuss the Gold Medallion–winning book Union with Christ. We truly believe that this conversation could change your life, and we pray that it leads you closer to union with Christ. Here is a snippet of their discussion on the two songs of Extravagant Grace and Radical Discipleship.

Hank Hanegraaff: Something very interesting in your conversation on Union with Christ is this metaphor of songs. We have these songs that are playing in our minds. One of the songs is one of radical discipleship and the other of extravagant grace. But, these are half-truths. Explain how these two work together? If it is radical discipleship, on the one hand, you get burnt out just thinking about it, but if it is extravagant grace, you can get into the corridor of cheap grace; yet, union with Christ gives you the power to be a radical disciple or a radical disciple-maker or a reproducing disciple-maker.

If you think about the problem that you have in church, and you probably understand this better than most, the church is bleeding out. There was a book that came out called The Great Evangelical Recession: 6 Factors That Will Crash the American Church…and How to Prepare by John S. Dickerson, and as I looked at this in macro terms, there is a bleeding out of the church in general. The millennial generation is walking away from the church by the time they go to college, and most of them, quite frankly, do not come back. You have this bleeding out of the church, and the church’s task is to make disciples, but when you think about making disciples, where does the energy come from for doing that very thing, unless you have union with the Vine?

Rankin Wilbourne: Exactly! Hank, you put your finger on why I got so interested in this idea, this biblical theme, twenty years ago. If you just stop and ask the big question: What is wrong? What do God’s people need to hear most today? Not just God’s people but what is the message that our culture most needs to hear today?

As a young seminarian, I started to see there were two different songs. One is what I call the song of extravagant grace. People really need to understand that the gospel is a gospel of grace. It is not about moralism. It is not about earning and working our way to God. It is not the good people are in and the bad people are out. It is the humble are in. The church really needs a message of grace. Brennan Manning and Henry Nouwen are wonderful expositors of this. Yes, that is true.

On the other hand, there are other writers just as pious and devout, who were putting the diagnosis in a different light. Dallas Willard and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were really saying very similar things — what is ailing the church today is not that we do not understand grace; rather, it is we do not understand discipleship.

My little mind was trying to put those voices together. We know biblically both voices are important. We know biblically that neither should cancel the other out.

Yet, experientially we tend to hear one song or the other. We tend to hear one song louder than the other. Even with many churches — this is just a generalization — it is either an extravagant grace church or a radical discipleship church. It is hard to find both voices. It is hard to find.

I got interested in the question: Why is that? How can I hold both of these truths together without compromising either? I want to be very careful here, Hank. I do not think there is anything original in my book. I am just excavating an old forgotten treasure. This old forgotten treasure is that the gospel is union with Christ. The Good News is that we are united to Jesus. One of the old theologians put it: from Jesus flows a double grace, a double grace of the biblical words justification and sanctification. We are declared right with God, and we can pursue holiness as we have been declared holy. These are distinct, and yet like light and heat from the sun, they are inseparable.

When I read that, I thought, “That’s it!” The gospel is union with Christ. It is what allows us to hold these songs together. Union with Christ allows us to sing of a grace that asks nothing of us to love us — amazing grace — but at the same time, demands everything from us — “Love so amazing, so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.” Union with Christ holds those songs together.

Listen to the full interview here.

To request your copy of Rankin Wilbourne’s Union with Christ, click here.

Apologetics

Apologetics to People with Imagination, Narrative, Story, and Image

Holly Ordway went from being a militant atheist to a cultural Christian apologist and joins Hank to tell the tale of her journey as well as share her powerful perspective on the role of imagination in apologetics. Dr. Ordway is an accomplished author and professor in the Department of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University.

The following is adapted from Hank’s conversation with Holly during the Hank Unplugged episode From Atheist to Apologist with Holly Ordway.

Hank Hanegraaff: You are teaching the significance of imagination in Christian apologetics, and that is an often-overlooked aspect. I have a son-in-law teaching philosophy at the Airforce Academy, and he talks about emotion in apologetics. There are missing elements in much apologetics such that people approach the task like a hammer and a nail — if all you have is a hammer, everything is a nail. It becomes, therefore, all about rational argumentation at the exclusion of other significant aspects vital for transforming the person. I think I got this metaphor from your book Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith.

Holly Ordway: Right. I think people typically have a very shallow and limited understanding of what the imagination is. They tend to think imagination equals imaginary things. They’ll say, “Oh, unicorns,” things like that, “well, how is that relevant?” But really, I am drawing on the work of, for instance, my colleague, Michael Ward, who does lots with imagination in apologetics and literature, and he has pointed out that it really is the imagination that constructs meaning. It is our reason that judges whether our meaning is true or false, but before we can have that judgment, we need to have it be meaningful.

For instance, often times we will have a discussion with a skeptic about the historicity of the Resurrection. We can go around and around in circles and get nowhere, putting all these great arguments for the historicity of the Resurrection forward, and the skeptic may even say, “Yeah, that’s convincing, but you know, no whatever, I’ll just go home and still not have my mind changed.” We might think that is because the skeptic’s heart is hardened, well maybe, but actually I think more often it is because the word “resurrection” is just jargon without actually having any real meaning or resonance. So, it is just an intellectual game, and we do not get anywhere until the words we are using, the concepts we are using, have real meaning. This is where the imagination is so critical. [See, for example, chapter on “Longing” in Apologetics and the Christian Imagination, especially the discussion on pp. 140-142 regarding stories which end with a “eucatastrophe” i.e. “good catastrophe,” spoken about by J.R.R. Tolkien.]

Hank: You know this is part and parcel of the discipline of hermeneutics as well — learning to read the Bible in the sense in which it is intended. One of the things you point out in your literature is that when you approach a writing, you have to first determine the genre you are reading, which is critical for understanding the meaning of the words.

Holly: Absolutely! We do this all the time as we normally read things. If I pick up a book of short stories versus a newspaper, I will come to it with a different set of expectations. Now, I may find deep profound truth in a short story, and I may end up deciding that some stories in the newspaper are not actually very well reported and that they are untrue, but I bring to the reading an understanding of the genre, and I have certain expectations of how I am going to interpret those texts. This is just second nature. This is the point I made in my article for the Christian Research Journal, “‘Your Word Is a Lamp to My Feet’: Metaphor and the Work of the Apologist,” from 46-6.

When we read children’s books to little kids, you might have a book about the first day of school, and it has got little bears and lions dressed up in clothes going to school. However, we do not think, “Oh no! We can’t read this book to our kids, they are going to be scared to go to kindergarten, thinking they will get eaten by a bear.” No! We realize that it is an anthropomorphic technique to make the story more engaging, and we get it. What is more, the child gets it, too! The child instinctively recognizes that this is a story world, and the expectations are different than for a realistic book about this is what your first day of school is going to be like.

We do that just naturally as readers of ordinary text. But, somehow, we turn to Holy Scripture and we kind of get freaked out. We think, “Oh no! It’s different.” And it is different, but it is still a literary text. God chose to inspire the human writers of Scripture to write in particular literary genres. He did not have to do that. He could have inspired all the writers to be uniform, but He did not. We, therefore, really have to approach the different parts of Scripture according to their genre.

Hank: Is it fair to say that kids are hardwired for grammar from birth?

Holly: I think so. I do not want to go into great detail on this because I am not a linguist, and I might say something that will make all the linguists listening to this just tear their hair out, but it certainly does seem to be the case. Kids have an intuitive understanding of grammar from the beginning, and an intuitive understanding of the way stories work. This comes up so early and so naturally that I really do think it has a lot to do with the imprint of the image of God in us.

If you think about it, God makes us in His image, He is a Creator, and He is also an Author and Artist, because again, He did not have to give His revelation to us through Holy Scripture; He could have done it in different ways. Ultimately, He gives His full self-revelation in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. But, He did not have to give us a written revelation too, yet He did, and He did it through narrative, poetry, and story, as well as through history and theology. If that is how God chooses to communicate with us, it must be pretty deeply ingrained. We are creatures of narrative, story, and image.

Listen to the full Hank Unplugged episode with Holly Ordway here.

More articles from Holly Ordway:

T. S. Eliot’s ‘The Journey of the Magi’ for the Apologist / What Has Poetry to do with Apologetics?

Once upon a Time: The Enduring Appeal of Fairy Tales

Confronting the Apologetics Challenges of a Secular Culture: Reflections on The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Truth in Darkness: The Hunger Games as an Unexpected Resource for Apologists

Check out this bookstore resource:

Apologetics and the Christian Imagination: An Integrated Approach to Defending the Faith

Apologetics

How God Transformed Lee Strobel to Make the Case for Christianity

Lee Strobel is a former investigative journalist for the Chicago Tribune, and his best-selling books, such as The Case for Christ (now a major motion picture), have reached millions of people and have had an enormous impact on the body of Christ. He has been a longtime guest on the Bible Answer Man broadcast, and recently was on the Hank Unplugged podcast. The following snapshot of their discussion highlights the way God has used the Case for books along with The Case for Christ film to advance the gospel. Lee also shares about how God transformed his own life and used his journalistic talents to impact the lives of many everyday people.

Hank Hanegraaff: We can talk about so many things, but The Case for Christ is an incredible book — a book that started, if you will, a franchise of books that have really been revolutionary within Christianity all over the world.

Lee Strobel: Well, when you say it started that revolution, you are the one that started the revolution going, because that book actually came out in September of 1998 or 1997, but it was not doing anything. Nobody was buying it, nobody was talking about it, and it was kind of languishing. Then you got a hold of a copy, invited me to come to California to be on your radio show, the Bible Answer Man, and that is what really launched that book. Because you got behind it, let people know about it, and all of a sudden people said, “Maybe I will give it a read.” So, I really owe you a debt of gratitude for getting behind that in an early way and exposing people to a book that otherwise they may not have read.

Hank: If that is true, even in a small degree, I am very grateful to have had a small part in the launch of that book, because it has been a book that has had such an incredible impact in the kingdom. So many people have come to faith in Christ. I mean just think about that. I am sure off the top of your head you can think of people burned into your memory who came to faith in Christ, they found a copy of the book, and it became life transformational.

Lee: There are so many amazing stories. I am so grateful for how God has used that book. Just yesterday, I got a video from a guy who lost his leg in Afghanistan, somebody gave him The Case for Christ, he came to faith, and today is in ministry.

We have some funny stories, too. Right after the book came out, there was an atheist who was interested in astronomy; he went to a bookstore to buy an astronomy magazine, sat down to look at it on a bench at the bookstore, felt something underneath, pulled it out, and it was The Case for Christ. He flipped through it and thought, “Wait a minute, I’m an atheist! I do not believe this stuff.” He threw it down but then something like a voice inside told him to read the book. He said, “I picked up the book, I bought it, I read it, and I came to faith in Christ.” It’s funny because I got a letter from him again a couple of months ago. He is now living in Kentucky, part of a Baptist church, and still following Christ wholeheartedly. All kinds of stories like that.

There is one atheist from China. His son, who was a kind of a spiritual seeker, ordered the Case for Christ off of an online retailer. When the package came the next day, the father went to the door, thought it was for him, opened it, saw the book, and said, “The Case for Christ? What is this all about?” He reads it and he comes to faith.

There are so many wonderful stories. Evel Knievel, the great motorcycle daredevil rider; The Case for Christ played a key role in his conversion.

I am so thankful that God has been using this book because a book can be read in China while you are asleep in North America, and God can be using it in someone’s life all around the planet. Now it is in like thirty or forty different languages.

Now the movie of The Case for Christ has really opened a lot of people’s eyes to the story of my journey from atheism to faith but also pointed them toward the book where they can get deeper information.

Hank: You know what is funny about that film. Obviously, I love you, you are a great friend, I love the books, but I thought when that movie comes out, it is going to be another example of a cheesy Christian movie. I actually thought that. Then I saw the movie. We were in fact together in Orlando, I think it was, I saw that movie, and I was absolutely mesmerized by it. I thought, well, this how a Christian movie ought to be made.

Lee: Thanks. You know, I am so proud of the work that Pure Flicks did on that film. Brian Bird the screenwriter, Jon Gunn the director, great actors like Mike Vogel, who played me, is a strong Christian. God’s hand was on that. Leslie and I showed up on the set, we prayed every morning with the cast and crew, though many were not believers but they wanted to participate as well, and we were able to use the movie as an outreach to the movie industry to people who were participating in production who may not have been followers of Christ. The film just turned out so powerfully. I do not take credit for it, it was not something I did; it was really Pure Flicks and the team that put it together. They were very kind to us. They wanted to make sure the film was accurate, and it is. It is about 85 percent accurate, which is much more than most based-on-a-true-story movies. They have to do some time shifting and some composite characters just to fit it all in ninety minutes, but overall, it is quite an accurate depiction of what took place. It has been all around the world, South Africa, South Korea, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, which only have three movie screens, and we were on one of them, Mexico, Brazil, and Australia. A church in Australia rented a movie theater, showed it to the community, and that night at the movie twenty-two people came to faith. We are just thrilled with how God has used that film.

Hank: When you were at the Chicago Tribune, you were an atheist, and you had quite a temper. I mean it is like a person I do not know, as depicted in the movie.

Lee: Yeah. You know, it is funny. I had a friend who watched the movie and said, “I did not know you were such a jerk.” It is a testament to God’s power to change lives.

Hank: I was not going to say that.

Lee:  Yeah. [laughs] But it is true! I was a narcissistic, drunken, profane, self-absorbed jerk. What people saw was me winning awards for investigative reporting, but they did not see the other side, which was me literally drunk and stoned in an ally on Saturday night. I was a skeptic, an atheist, hostile toward Christianity, and hostile toward believers. You can imagine when Leslie came to me and said that she had come to faith in Christ, the first word that went though my mind was divorce. I was going to walk out. But it was really a lot of positive changes in her character and values that encouraged me to check out the faith and try to find out whether there is any logical basis for it.

Hank: So many people use this tired, worn-out cliché “Behind every great man there is a great woman,” but in your case, it is absolutely true. I mean, Leslie is a saint.

Lee: She really is. That movie really shows it because the whole time she is a new believer and I am an ardent atheist, there was so much conflict in our marriage, mainly coming from me. It was disruptive. It was emotional. Lots of tears. But, you know, through it all, every single day, she got on her knees, and she prayed Ezekiel 36:26: “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (NASB). She said, “God, Lee’s heart is like granite. I cannot crack it open, I do not know what to do. It is only by your Spirit that he is ever going to open his eyes to the truth of who You are.” She prayed that for me everyday for that whole two years I was on that investigative journey. If you asked me, “What was the turning point? Was it the evidence?” Well, yeah, I am sure that was very important, but I do not discount the power of a praying spouse in that whole process.

Hank: Absolutely. What I mentioned earlier about The Case for Christ that I think is true, you have created a franchise out of that, and I mean in a very positive sense, because you went on to many other Case for books: The Case for a Creator, The Case for Faith, The Case for the Real Jesus, The Case for Grace, and so on, and now The Case for Miracles. You have really used the method. The method that informs the book The Case for Christ as a way of communicating the truth claims of the historic Christian faith.

Lee: You know, I go back to this amazing God we have. In a sense, He said, “You know, you spent the first part of your life as a journalist in a secular world as an atheist, doing lots of harm in many ways with what you wrote, and hurting a lot of folks along the way. I am going to take those skills that you have as a journalist, which I have implanted in you, the skills of research, interviewing, so forth, and I am going to use them for my glory.” God’s taken those research and writing skills, and you know I do not have to be the expert in these books because my approach as a person trained in journalism is to seek out experts, to seek out scholars with PhDs from Cambridge, Brandeis, Yale, and other major universities, and ask them the tough questions that I had when I was a skeptic and see if they provide cogent answers, then let the reader decide the verdict. That technique of taking the reader along with me to investigate in going to these people, I think, is powerful because the kind of questions I asked are the kind of questions everyday people have. Interestingly, these scholars, who generally communicate with each other, you know, and they write in these scholarly journals that nobody else reads, God’s given me a ministry to take that reservoir of wisdom and communicate it to an everyday world where people like me can understand it.

I have had just some amazing interviews as a result. When I interviewed Charles Templeton (1915–2001) — the former pulpit partner of Billy Graham, for The Case for Faith, a guy who professed faith, became an evangelist with Graham, then later turned into an agnostic, if not an atheist, wrote an ugly book called Farewell to God: My Reasons for Rejecting the Christian Faith — in the middle of that interview, I asked him, “Who do you think Jesus is?” and he began to weep because he said, “I miss Him.” That was one of the most powerful moments of my life. I have got that on tape, and sometimes I will play it just to remind myself what it sounds like to hear someone long for Jesus the way Templeton did. By the way, I think there is evidence that he did come to faith before he died after that book was written.

In my new book, The Case for Miracles, I went to the most famous skeptic in America, a doubter, Michael Shermer, the editor of Skeptic magazine, and I said, “Build a case against miracles.” And I let him spend three chapters in my book trying to build a case against the miraculous, then the rest of the book, showing that not only are there good answers to the kind of objections he raises but there is also a positive affirmative case that God is still involved divinely intervening in people’s lives today.

Listen to the full interview here.

Christian Research Journal articles by Lee Strobel:

Defending the New Testament Jesus

Experiencing Your Own Unexpected Adventures

Handling Christianity’s Toughest Challenges

Resources by Lee Strobel:

The Case for Christ film (DVD792)

The Case for Christ book movie edition (B2047)

The Case for Miracles (B2075)

Case for Christ/Case for Faith/Case for a Creator documentary film series 3 Pack (DVD953)

The Case for Faith (B583)

The Case for the Real Jesus (B973)

The Case for a Creator (B780)

Apologetics

What to Know about Urban Apologetics and Why It Matters

Black Hebrew Israelism is making significant inroads within America’s urban communities and is persistently one of the top five subjects visitors search on equip.org. Vocab Malone is one of a growing number of Christian apologists who seek to address many of the challenges faced by urban churches. His focus involves urban apologetics, worldview analysis, and pop culture. Vocab has done a number of debates and dialogues with Muslims, atheists, and Black Hebrew Israelites, and he has written for the Christian Research Journal. Hank Hanegraaff recently had a great discussion with Vocab Malone on the Hank Unplugged podcast. The following is a snapshot of that discussion.

Hank Hanegraaff: I have listened to some of the stuff you have done with Black Hebrew Israelism. This is a topic that is transcendently important, and we are going to cash that out, but I love the fact that you have a focus on urban apologetics. This is not apologetics proper; rather, this is a particular species of apologetics, and you have to get primed for this pump.

Vocab Malone: This is true. You know it has been around; Lemuel Haynes way back during the Revolutionary era was a Black pastor, actually, of a White congregation, which is substantial if you think about it back then in the United States, and he tackled universalism. He was doing apologetics in his context as a Black pastor. You’ve got guys who have come out with loud voices, like Tom Skinner, who have touched some of these issues, and Carl Ellis, Jr., who may not be a familiar name but should be to a lot of people. So, here I am just sort of on the train, but, here is the thing, a lot of these did not come to the forefront of other people’s attention outside of an urban context until the Internet, and now here we are in a new era. As far as specifically Hebrew Israelism within a context of urban apologetics, there has really been no Christian response, for the most part, for decades.

Hank: This is something that is really important. There is a whole segment of the American population that is being pulled into what I think you can rightly call a cult.

Vocab: I do. Let me tell you something real briefly, which I think you will find fascinating. One of the largest groups of this variety is called IUIC (Israel United in Christ), and they are the most successful organization out of all the camps — that’s what they call themselves, camps — they are starting to take a page from the playbook of the Church of Scientology. They won’t debate any of us. They won’t engage us on the streets for the most part. What they are doing though now is flagging YouTube videos and threatening legal action — sometimes veiled, other times not so much veiled — against the apologists who are starting to criticize their doctrine. I think you are going to see that type of behavior grow from some of the more successful camps. Basically, a lot of them play down and dirty, not all of them, but a lot of them do play that way.

Hank: This is not some kind of a fringe movement, either. I mean, if you think about the movement as a whole, there are some incredibly influential people who are involved, like Kendrick Lamar.

Vocab: Yes, Kendrick Lamar is a platinum rap artist. He is sort of the thinking millennial’s rapper. (You know, I’m a hip hop fan. I kind of cut my teeth listening to Christian hip hop.) There is an intellectual component to what Kendrick does, but he always had this kind of Christian glaze over it, which some people took as a hopeful sign, right? Well, he has taken a turn straight into the doctrine of Hebrew Israelism to the point where his last album title — which, again, we are talking a platinum album, right — this thing was titled DAMN. Its concept was that Black Americans are damned by God because they are not keeping the law, statutes, and commandments; therefore, they are suffering the curses according to Deuteronomy 28 because they are the true Israelites.

Hank: What I am really interested in, before we get into all of that, I’m interested in you. How did you get involved in the Christian faith? How did you get involved in urban apologetics? What spurred you on? What was the impetus for all this?

Vocab: Sorry, yeah, I jumped the gun.

Hank: No. Perfect. I do want to get back to this, but I think people really want to know who you are. You said you cut your teeth on hip hop, for example, I mean that was a passion for you?

Vocab: Yeah. When I was in the fourth grade, I got transferred to this different school. On the first day at the school, during show-and-tell, a kid stood up and did an acapella rap, and I was just floored. Ever since then, I was just floored, and the kids at school who were popular were not the athletes, believe it or not, it was the kids who could beatbox and rap.

Pretty early on, someone actually introduced me to Christian hip hop. Really, my main influences are actually Christian hip hop. I’ve got to tell you, you know, there is some silly stuff in it, but it was really saturated with the Word and a strong evangelistic impulse. So, of course, I had begun doing Christian hip hop myself (you know a very mediocre attempt) but what it led to were conversations in urban contexts, as I would be out and about rapping in different churches and on the block.

What does that lead to? Objections! These are not the objections that your average mainstream evangelical hears all the time. Because, all of a sudden, you hear, “Well, that is for White people.” “That’s a White people’s religion.” “Why do you have that picture of Jesus portrayed when He was not a White man?” “What do you say about the justification of slavery by Christians?” I got a slew of questions like that and even getting into the idea of Christianity is really a rip off of ancient African religion, which is an idea that is now resurgent. I was hearing all of this, and that led me to further study, because I did not want to just talk, I wanted to know. Believe it or not, the way I basically got into apologetics is by beginning off conversations rapping to people. It really began rapping to people, the conversations, to wanting to know what I was talking about, that is why I ended up in seminary, and now after being a retired rapper — I do not really do that anymore, except when the kids want to have some fun — now I am really trying to take all that and bring it to bear, realizing it is a huge field. My specialty is on one area of concern and need, out of many.

Hank: You know, I think this is one of the coolest things I have heard in a long time. You got into apologetics exactly how someone ought to get into apologetics. You got involved in rapping, rapping Christian stuff, then people hear the Christian stuff, as a result, they start asking questions, as a result of them asking questions, you start finding answers to the questions, and in the process, you become an apologist, an urban apologist at that!

Vocab: I never would have guessed when I was in the fourth grade and saw that kid stand up and do that acapella rap during show-and-tell that this was the journey that the Lord would lead me on, but here I am. The beauty of it is the Internet is bringing a lot of young Christian urban apologists together, and some of the churches are starting to wake up. There are starting to be conferences that specialize in urban apologetics. Now, it is still few and far between; by and large, the church is asleep to a lot this unfortunately, but they are starting to hemorrhage members. Yes, some of it is because of the secularization of the culture, but a lot of it has to do with these new alternative urban spiritualities that are populating the city landscape. I don’t really think the churches in those contexts by and large are paying attention. There are exceptions: Eric Mason in Philadelphia, and a number of other men I could name, and I do think it is increasing, but there is a bigger problem that is being recognized right now, because the millennials are extremely dissatisfied with the current state of the church and they are turning to these new alternative urban religions within a city context.

Hank: Yeah, I think this is really fantastic. I mean, you are hitting on a note that needs to be sung pretty loud and clear. It is a clarion call for the church. We are talking about the church being infiltrated, and in many ways, as you point out, people are leaving the church in droves, but the people in the church do not know what the heck is going on. They are whistling as they walk past the grave yard. There is a big attrition going on because we cannot answer the objections that have been raised. This is particularly significant in the urban church, and we know at the Christian Research Institute how significant it is because if you look at the interest in Black Hebrew Israelism, the interest is absolutely staggering. We are bombarded with requests for just one article that we wrote in the Christian Research Journal, and even that is just scratching the surface of a pandemic that is stripping the urban church of its Christian witness.

Vocab: This is correct. I mentioned IUIC earlier. They are what we in the field call a 1 West variety of Hebrew Israelism. That is a certain sect kind of along the lines of Salafi Islam (an ultra-conservative sect of Sunnis); however, there are also different mainstream varieties of Hebrew Israelism. There has actually been a number of churches (these would be traditional Black churches a lot of times, some small, others bigger) who are either grafting this theology into their ministry, and it is really changing the whole character and nature of their church, or there have even been a couple of cases, I thought it was a hoax at first, where pastors were actually handing over their keys to these camp leaders in these Hebrew Israelite cult groups and basically pledging allegiance to some of their leaders.

I will be very specific, one is called ISUPK (Israelite School of Universal Practical Knowledge). There is a video where the pastor hands over his keys and at the end of it, he stands in formation with the other “soldiers” and gives a salute to the commanding general Yahanna, who is the authority of ISUPK. Granted, that was a smaller church, but some of these bigger churches are sort of having a fusion of traditional Black church Christianity, evangelical theology, and Hebrew Israelism. The end result is not really Hebrew, Israelite, or Christian; rather, it is a mess. It is almost like some kind of modern mainstream version of the old-school Ebionite heresy. Some people may be listening and thinking, “Only a fool would get suckered into this based on what I know of it.” Don’t speak so quick, because the moral needs, the felt needs, is what I mean by that, and some of the existential crisis going on in the urban community are leading people to have open minds about ideas like Hebrew Israelism, and we’ve got to take that into account.

Hank: You mentioned this whole idea of someone falling back into the ranks of the soldiers. When you watch this on YouTube or on television, you can even listen to it on the radio, or if you are actually there in the urban communities hearing the rhetoric, this is very militant. This is martial stuff.

Vocab: Yes. The camps tend to be organized along those terms. If you noticed, I mentioned the leader of ISUPK, he calls himself General Yahanna. He is not an elder or pastor; he is a general. Then one of the main men under him is a man named Captain Tazaryach. They wear military black boots, cargo black pants, lots of times a black leather jacket, some kind of shirt with the Star of David all over it, then spikes and studs in gauntlets on their arms, and different types of headbands, which look like something from an old-school Bible movie or something. It looks wild, but it is a uniform to folks, and it is bringing order where people are seeing chaos, so people are gravitating toward it. They feel like it gives them meaning and purpose. Lots of people describe the process wherein they realize they are a “Hebrew Israelite,” and they call it waking up. That is the way they describe it.

Hank: Lots of people listening in are going to say, “What in the world is a Black Hebrew Israelite?” Give us some kind of an idea about the origins of this movement. It is obviously multifaceted, not monolithic, but share about some of the leaders like Frank Cherry and William S. Crowdy, along with how all this got started.

Vocab: Back in 1896, the first known for certain documented case of someone who would be called an African American saying that they are actually an Israelite was Crowdy. He was out chopping some wood, got this vision, and the vision said, “You know, you are actually an Israelite, and you are a descendent of Abraham.” He was scared, but basically, he went around the country preaching this, and his earliest followers were both Black and White. He did not have the exclusion aspect that some of the more modern groups have, where they not only say that African Americans are the true biblical Hebrew Israelites, and as a corollary, the Jews in Israel and whatnot, are all frauds, but lots of these modern groups say you can be saved only if your lineage can be found on their twelve tribes chart. So, the Chinese whom they call Moabites — I know it is ridiculous, I am just telling you what they say because they have their own table of nations chart — the Japanese whom they call Ammonites, White people or European descendants are Edomites, Arabs whom they call Ishmaelites, and Indians from India, all those folks are doomed to a lifelong eternal slavery when Yahawashi (that is what they call Jesus) returns. The only groups under this particular rubric of Hebrew Israelism who can be saved are Native Americans, Black Americans, and Hispanics. That is one particular brand. However, there are lots of other branches of Hebrew Israelites that believe you can be grafted in, but they still practice a form of ethnic hierarchy within their ecclesiastical structure. A great example of the more inclusive is Israel of God out of Chicago. They are probably one of the biggest churches of the Hebrew Israelite variety around; they have a 6,000-seat church, and they are moderate, believing that so-called Gentiles can be grafted in; however, they cannot teach Israelites, so there is still an ethnic hierarchy even among the nicer groups.

Listen to the full interview here.

For further related reading, please see:

The Origin and Insufficiency of the Black Hebrew Israelite Movement (Jimmy Butts)

Christian Hip-Hop: A Generation’s Words (John K. Wells)

Christianity and Black Slavery (Jeffrey B. Russell)

Putting Race in Biblical Perspective (Jemar Tisby)

Is Christian Orthodoxy Strong in the Black Church? (Jerry Buckner)

What’s Wrong with Black Theology? (La Shawn Barber)