My Position on Specific Issues, no. 1: English Bible Translations

June 9, 2017

bibleSince receiving my undergraduate degree from a school that took a specific position on English Bible translations, most have often wondered if I hold to the same position as that of my undergraduate alma mater. My graduate degree was received through a seminary that has a different position on the subject. My current professional studies are with the same seminary of which I received my graduate degree. As a result, an air of doubt has accrued to me by those on both sides of the issue. Therefore, some clarification is in order as to my personal position regarding English Bible translations and their underlying Hebrew and Greek texts. Therefore, my personal beliefs regarding English Bible translations are delineated in the following statements:

  1. I believe that the Authorized Version (AV) translation of the Bible, more commonly known as the King James Version (KJV) is God’s Divinely Preserved, Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible, Bible translation for the English-Speaking world [italics mine]. All other current English Bible translations are derived from questionable sources and translation techniques, thus making them mere facsimiles or approximations of the Original Scriptures and therefore do not maintain the Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible integrity of the Original Autographs of the Holy Scriptures.
  2. I believe the Textus Receptus (TR) of the Greek New Testament, from which the New Testament of the KJV is derived, is God’s Divinely Preserved, Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible, Greek New Testament and should be the only Greek New Testament used for formal equivalent translation into the other languages of the world.
  3. I believe the Masoretic Text (MT) of the Hebrew Scriptures, more commonly known as The Old Testament, is God’s Divinely Preserved, Inspired, Inerrant, Infallible, Hebrew text from which the Old Testament of the KJV is derived. As such, it should be the only Hebrew text for formal equivalent translation into the other languages of the world.
  4. I do not believe the KJV should “correct the Greek” as it pertains to the Textus Receptus, but can be used for discerning errors in translation in other English translations of the Bible.
  5. I do not believe that God “gave by inspiration” the KJV. The Holy Spirit superintended the translating process that produced the KJV in such a manner that the inspired, inerrant, infallible integrity of the Original Autographs was maintained. Thus, all other English Bible translations do not retain the inspired, inerrant, infallible integrity of the Original Autographs of the Scriptures.
  6. I believe that when I hold the KJV in my hand, I am literally holding the equivalent to the Original Autographs of the Scriptures as though, for example, the Apostle Paul or Peter had just handed me the autographs of their epistles moments after they finished writing them.
  7. The KJV is the very Word of God in English. Other English translations contain a modicum of the Word of God with an admixture of men’s thoughts or perceptions about what they think God originally communicated through His human authors.

The 21st Century Tower of Babel

June 4, 2017

NGM-0417-Cover-NewsIn recent years, a new trend is emerging in popular culture. Scientists are discussing theoretical ideas about the future. Now, with the advent of new and emerging technologies, these ideas are going from theoretical discussion in professional, peer-reviewed journals to a more practical discussion about implementation. The ramifications of implementing these new possibilities for humanity is only now entering serious debate and discussion among futurist thinkers in the fields of bioethics, medicine, computer science, and physics. Should these innovative ideas become reality, what will this portend for humanity? Will it be a blessing or a curse? Will they unite humanity or will they further divide humanity? Moreover, what will it mean to be human? These and other questions among scientists are only now coming to the attention of the public.

These theoretical ideas came into existence through an article by two research scientists in September 1960 entitled, “Cyborgs and Space”.[1] This article discusses the hypothesis that the human body should be altered by merging humans and machines as a solution for astronauts to survive extended space travel. Clynes and Kline set the tone for the on-going discussion among scientists when they write, “Space travel challenges mankind not only technologically but also spiritually, in that it invites man to take an active part in his own biological evolution.”[2] Now, fifty-seven years later, these ideas are now openly discussed in the market place. This discussion has emerged in the open forum as transhumanism. As Clynes and Kline predicted, this discussion is as much a spiritual matter as it is a physical concern. What are some basic ideas guiding and influencing the discussion regarding merging humanity with machines?

The first guiding principle that governs the transhumanism is that of enhancing human capability through biomechanics. The desired end for this goal is to give improved physical capabilities through prosthetic technology or exo-suits. The second guiding principle is enhancing humanity’s quality of life through nanotechnology and genetic engineering. The goal of this principle is to reduce the impacts of aging, inherited defects, and disease. The third guiding principle is moving humanity from a finite state to an immortal state by merging the human psyche with sentient androids. The goal of this principle is to move humanity beyond the current limitations of the human body to a resilient sentient android body that can theoretically last into infinity. This is theorized to be accomplished by merging the human mind with this android body through a process called mind-uploading.[3] This seems to be the real objective of transhumanism—change the imago Dei in humanity to gain immortality by merging the mind with artificially sentient android bodies and enter the divine realm. Yet, this aim is not without a biblical precedent.

The book of Genesis records how Satan tempted Eve to disobey God’s command by enticing her to eat the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen. 2:16-17; 3:1-6). How did he beguile Eve into sinning against God Almighty? He did it by appealing to the possibility of being able to attain divine knowledge (Gen. 3:4-5). This has been a common satanic modus operandi ever since—motivating humanity to attain a divine status, privilege, or attribute. Later, this same idiosyncrasy in humanity is illustrated at the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9). Here, a unified humanity is described as desiring to build a city and a tower that can reach unto heaven (Gen. 11:4). Heiser writes of this passage, “…gods were perceived to live on mountains…the nature of this structure makes it evident the purpose in building it—to bring the divine down to earth.”[4] Thus, the builders of the Tower of Babel were attempting to elevate themselves to the status of divinity by physically attempting to enter the divine realm by building a city on top of a tower. Is this not a similar theme promulgated by transhumanists—man attempting to physically enter the divine realm?

As transhumanists seek to change the image of God in humanity to that of a man-made machine, several questions arise. First, if it were possible, would these machines be considered as human as a flesh-and-blood organic body? Second, if it were possible, is the human psyche that has been uploaded into these bodies considered a soul or spirit? Third, since the uploaded mind in the android body in merely a digital copy of the original human mind, is this psyche tainted with sin and in need of salvation? Theoretically, could Joe Smith be saved multiple times if his mind were copied an infinite number of times? Fourth, does Christ’s atonement become limited or unlimited with regards to these sentient humanoids? Fifth, is the imago Dei transferred to humanoid machines with all the accompanying dignity, human rights, and respect inherent in human beings in their current bodies? Sixth, for Christian theologians, can a sentient humanoid be defined in terms of theological anthropology—the doctrine of Humanity? While these questions make for great contemplation in the halls of academia, God Almighty has declared the definitions and parameters germane to the goals of transhumanism.

The first area that God Almighty answers the aims of transhumanism relates to longevity. God declares that humanity has a limited lifespan. Regarding the human lifespan, God decrees that the average lifespan of humanity will be limited to a seventy to eighty-year range (Ps. 90:10). Thus, if one could add all the ages of the people who have passed on since Noah and divided that number by the number of people who have died, that average would fall between the number seventy and eighty. Some people live longer than eighty and some die before seventy. Longevity is a predetermined timeline for humanity. God Almighty told Adam, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.” (Gen. 3:19). Moreover, God Almighty reiterates the limited longevity of humanity when He declares, “…it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment…” (Heb. 9:27). The interesting aspect of this passage is that it implies and immediacy of judgment upon death. It would seem from Scripture that humanity is not going to circumvent the decrees of the Creator of the Universe on human longevity by up loading a person’s mind into a sentient humanoid body.

The next area where God Almighty answers the concerns of transhumanism is regarding the locality of the human spirit or psyche. God declares through the Apostle Paul that the locality of the human soul can never be in a state of flux (2 Cor. 5:6, 9). Matter has a limited locality. It is understood through quantum mechanics that particles loose locality and attain omnipresence at 10-33cm. However, the human spirit is not comprised of physical matter. It is incorporeal. Thus, for the human spirit to be containerized in a man-made object is akin to attempting to capture a shadow and place it in a clear box for observation. The irony and paradox are quite evident.

Moreover, the angels are involved in escorting the spirit of a dead person either into the presence of Christ or to be cast into the fires of Hell (Matt. 13:36-43; Lk. 16:22). The indication from the Scriptures is that all of this transpires instantaneously (the speed of light or faster). To copy the spirit of a person so that it can be uploaded into a humanoid robotic body would require a machine that operates faster than the speed of light and faster than God’s angels could work. Thus, for transhumanists to successfully achieve mind-uploading would be tantamount to interfering with the angels as they execute their Divinely mandated duties and responsibilities over the spirits of dead people (Jude 9). Therefore, is a battle with God’s angels really something that transhumanists want to fight in order to upload a person’s spirit into a body?

Contemplating the ramifications of transhumanism and the imago Dei is one that is only beginning in the academic arena. However, it would seem from an initial survey of the available information that the aims and goals of transhumanism are the end of an envelope that scientists are willing to push. Like the Tower of Babel, God Almighty perhaps sees the imaginations of the hearts of futuristic scientist thinkers and must repeat, “…this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do.” (Gen. 11:6). Seeking to improve the quality of our lives on earth is not a terrible thing. However, it seems that transhumanism is going about to solve a noble problem in an incorrect manner and for an immoral reason—attaining a divine state. Unfortunately, too many that are hoping to extend their longevity through biomechanics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetic engineering will find that it only hastens their inevitable date with death. We are reminded of the sobering words of the Holy Spirit spoken through the Apostle Paul, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.” (1 Cor. 15:50). Thus, it seems that transhumanism is the 21st century manifestation of the Tower of Babel.

[1] Manfred E. Clynes and Nathan S. Kline, “Cyborgs and Space”, Astronautics (September 1960): 26-27, 74-76. Accessed June 4, 2017. http://web.mit.edu/digitalapollo/Documents/Chapter1/cyborgs.pdf.

[2] Clynes and Kline, “Cyborgs and Space”, Astronautics, 26.

[3] Cameron Holmes. “Mind Uploading: Confronting the Privacy Challenges and Legal Ramifications of Inevitable Technological Advancements in the Context of the Fourth Amendment.” Tulane Journal of Technology & Intellectual Property 19, (Fall 2016): 191-206. Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost. Accessed June 4, 2017. http://web.b.ebscohost.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?vid=7&sid=057b7a13-e80a-4b15-9546-3733e83798db%40sessionmgr101&hid=116.

[4] Michael S. Heiser, The Unseen Realm: Rediscovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible, (Bellingham: Lexham Press, 2015), 114.

A Contemplation on the Human Dichotomy

 

June 1, 2017

 

4537265c6e672dfc98ae8bbda106fbb9People in every generation often wonder why human society works the way that it does. The great thinkers, philosophers, and theologians throughout human history have contemplated such phenomena. They have offered their own explanations and solutions to the dichotomy between human virtue and human vice. Some of their musings have metamorphosed into some of the great religious and political movements in recorded human history. Yet, all of humanity’s efforts to correct itself seem to have only worsened this ethical schizophrenia in our human experience. Technology, education, political enfranchisement, economic egalitarianism, and spiritual experimentation have all failed to produce the desired resolution to the human quandary.

 

God Almighty through the prophet Jeremiah declared that the human heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and rhetorically asked, “…who can know it?” (Jer. 17:9). Moreover, Jesus Christ echoed this same sentiment when He revealed that the evil behaviors of humanity originate in the heart (Matt. 15:18-19). It would seem, therefore, that the loci of humanity’s problems originate from deep within our kardia (heart-the center of the human spiritual life). This explains why a person can demonstrate acts of benevolence and charity and equally demonstrate acts of selfishness.

 

The story of Cain and Abel in Genesis illustrates this moral, ethical, and spiritual dilemma. Abel represents a virtuous person and Cain represents the vain person. Abel worships God in the proper way and his offering is accepted by God (Gen. 4:4). By contrast, Cain worships God in an unacceptable manner and his offering is rejected by God (Gen. 4:5). God implores Cain to repent of his attitude but instead he chooses to act out in the supreme act of hubris by murdering the perceived competition for God’s favor—his brother, Abel. Scarcely, nine generations pass before the entire human population is assessed by God Almighty as having a heart in which every imagination was only evil continually [emphasis mine] (Gen. 6:5). This continuously evil heart resulted in the social construct of global humanity as one that was corrupt, of great wickedness and filled with violence [emphasis mine] (Gen. 6:5, 11). The extent and scope of the insanity that characterized the antediluvian world is only now being understood in the twenty-first century through science and technology in the fields of paleontology and archeology.

 

Thus, in the twenty-one centuries since our Lord’s ministry on earth, we are witnessing similar chaotic circumstances in the global human experience and asking the same questions as the sages in previous centuries. The extrabiblical hope that secular humanism and social Darwinism has offered is now under great scrutiny and re-evaluation within academia. The mounting evidence being collected and analyzed by physicists, mathematicians, and biologists are causing professional scrutiny and re-evaluation of the staunchest foundations of the Enlightenment. It would seem that Christ is confounding the wisdom of the collective human mind (1 Cor. 1:27). Moreover, with the plethora of moral failings in Christian leadership, it would seem that the Lord is fulfilling His promise to begin the judgment of world by first starting with His church (1 Pet. 4:17).  Yet, the dilemma of the Human dichotomy remains contemplated, yet unresolved.

 

Could it be that this duality in the human heart, between virtue and vice, becomes the great unresolved conflict in human history? As the foreboding feelings of a coming human conflagration loom, what shall be said of this generation or the ones to come if the current trajectory remains constant? As the signs of the times crescendo and the resultant morose engulfs the global human mind like an air raid curtain, what shall be said of Christ’s people, who shine in a dark and uncertain hour? However, God Almighty does not leave us without a resolution.

 

As King Solomon of Israel concluded after all of his hedonistic pursuit in search of purpose, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” (Ecc. 12:13). The prophet Micah reinforces this thought when he declares rhetorically, “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (Mic. 6:8). Later, Christ would also echo these sentiments when he was asked, “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.” (Matt. 22:36-37).

 

However, being exhorted to do good to our fellow-man and love God does not seem to resolve the conflict between vice and virtue within the heart of humanity. It only means that virtue should be the focus or emphasis. Christ does not leave this question unresolved. He declares His resolution to the problem in His first public sermon, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” (Mk. 1:15). Thus, the Creator of the Universe, Emmanuel, God with Us, the Fullness of the Godhead Bodily, Christ Jesus, says the resolution to the dichotomy between the propensity in the human heart for virtue and vice is to repent and believe the gospel [emphasis mine]. Moreover, the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul provides the imperative, “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” (Gal. 5:16).

 

Therefore, what shall we say then? Shall humanity, in this generation, repent and believe the gospel? Shall those who identify themselves with Christ, as Christians, walk in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis in order to not let sin reign in their bodies? (Rom. 6:12). Is this spiritual standard too much to consider? Shall we heed the inquiry of Moses when he announced to erring Israel, “…Who is on the LORD’S side?” (Ex. 32:26). Yet, as the Apostle Paul reveals, even the creation is waiting for Christ to eradicate the curse of sin which facilitates this dichotomy in the human heart for vice and virtue (Rom. 8:22). Thus, it would seem that the resolution to this tension between vice and virtue in humanity is Christ’s redemption and its result will also solve the environmental problems championed by those who worship the creation rather than the Creator (Rom. 1:23).

 

An Alternative View of the Church

March 13, 2017

chapelbOver the last few years, I have been deluged with reading or hearing people discuss Christianity in America by making reference to “the Church”. They will use terminology that reflects a position regarding a definition of the doctrine of ecclesiology that has affinities with those of St. Augustine of Hippo. Furthermore, they take a theological position that is reflective of a view that has its roots in the Ecumenical Movement of post World War II. Trigger words and phrases of this particular position are “unity”, “we are all the body of Christ”, “all believers belong to the Church”, etc. Moreover, there also seems to be in their rhetoric a lilting whisper of the influences of Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy, where experience is the final authority on all things spiritual. Thus, a subtle definition emerges from the cacophony of voices and paper that resonates, “universalism and ecumenism are one and our unity is our common experience, not religious dogma.” As a result, Evangelicals move from one local church or denominational body with no real loyalty to either. Therefore, I would posit an alternative view of the Church.

First, I would argue that there always has been in existence only one, true universal, invisible body of believers (Matt. 16:18). This body of believers find their characteristics delineated in Acts 2:41-47 which are: they believe the Gospel (I Cor. 15:1-4); they are immersed (Acts 2:41); they congregate locally at an agreed upon place and time (Acts 2:46); they partake of communion (Acts 2:42), they continue steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine (i.e. they were unified in doctrine and practice); they willingly fellowship with other Christians in the congregation; they practice prayer; they practice benevolence among themselves (Acts 2:44-45); they regularly fellowshipped with other Christians in the community (Acts 2:46); they were evangelistic (Acts 2:47); they had an honorable reputation in the community at large (Acts 2:47).

Second, this one true universal, invisible church has as its head, Christ (Eph. 5:24-25; Col. 1:18). As such, this one true universal, invisible church reflects the characteristics of its head (Jn. 13:15; I Pet. 2:21). This church characterizes its head in the following ways: it is empowered with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:13-17); it is holy in manner of lifestyle (I Pet. 1:15); it is a suffering assembly (Jn. 15:18-23; Phil. 1:29; I Pet. 2:21); it is evangelistic (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk 16:15) and it is an obedient assembly (Jn. 14:15, 15:10). Now as we examine what is being taught as the body of Christ (the Church) today, we find some stark contrasts.

First, the current universal, invisible church is an admixture of error and truth (Matt. 13:24-30; Acts 20:29-30; II Tim. 4:3). We find that the current church’s aversion to biblical standards in orthodoxy and orthopraxy sets the conditions for humanistic relativism to infiltrate then subvert the authority of the Bible in order to make man-made traditions and academic knowledge the governing authority over ecclesiastical matters. Therefore, it is not steadfast in the Apostle’s doctrine (Acts 2:42). As a result, it teaches another gospel (Gal. 1:6-9). It teaches another Christ and another Holy Spirit (Matt. 24:24; II Cor. 11:4; I Jn. 2:22, 4:3; II Jn. 1:7). This results in the universal church turning the grace of God into lasciviousness (Jude 4).

Second, the current universal, invisible church does not follow Christ’s example in suffering. It is risk averse and image conscious. While, it seeks to aid other suffering saints in other parts of the world, western Christianity is intoxicated with affluence, materialism, and ease (Rev. 3:14-17). Therefore, individual Christians shy away from taking an ethical stand on the job site for fear of losing well-paying employment. Individual Christians are reticent to not be accepted in the larger, worldly and carnal community. I would dare any mega-church pastor to literally take a vow of poverty for 3 years and move their families into crime ridden neighborhoods and schools as they pastor their congregations. It would not surprise me to find those congregations relieving them of their pastoral duties. Why? It just does not look good, you know the optics of it all.

Third, the universal, invisible church has the blood of Christ’s martyrs on its hands. Down through the ages, since the second century, the members of the dissenting church, who took a stand on Bible morality, Biblical authority, the Gospel received by grace through faith alone, and a repentant life, have always found themselves on the receiving end of capital punishment by secular or ecclesiastical authorities. This was never so clear as we read of the plight of the Donatists, Bogomils, Paulicans, Waldensians, Anabaptists, and Baptists, et al. Because of the these stark differences between a biblical universal, invisible church and the actual universal, invisible church, I would postulate an alternate definition of the church:

The Church is a local assembly of saved and baptized believers. It has Christ as its head. The Bible is its final authority in determining all matters of belief and practice. It voluntarily meets at an agreed upon place and time. It is unified in doctrine and practice. It has only two ordained positions, Pastor and Deacon. It only practices two rites: Baptism and Communion. It practices both benevolence among its members and charity in the greater community beyond its membership. It practices personal holiness and separation from worldliness. It is actively involved in personal and corporate evangelism.

 

Book Review: A Wilderness of Mirrors

January 10, 2017

9200000041210087A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World by Mark Meynell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015, 223 pp., $18.99.

Cynicism and distrust within the context of modernity has given author Mark Meynell much to discuss within the pages of A Wilderness of Mirrors: Trusting Again in a Cynical World.  His personal battle with depression and cynical distrust after years of ministry, which culminated in a breakdown, provides the reader a unique ministerial perspective regarding the theme of this book. This work sets out to rehearse the various aspects in which cynicism and distrust are fostered within modern society and then offers three solutions which, “…offer our culture a viable escape from…a wilderness of mirrors.” (p.18).  Meynell has provided a counter-narrative to modernity’s cynical age which will generate a renewed trust in the person of Jesus Christ, community through the local church, and the story of God’s redemptive work culminating in the positive message of Christ’s redeeming love.

Mark Meynell is the associate director (Europe) for the Langham Preaching arm of Langham Partnership in London, England. He previously served as Academic Dean at the Kampala Evangelical School of Divinity in Uganda. His previous books include, Cross-Examined and The Resurrection: Encounters with the Risen Jesus. He is the author of a blog site, Quaerentia at markmeynell.net.

Wilderness of Mirrors is a social commentary on how the effects of modernity eroded trust in the traditional institutions of stability in society; namely, that of the civil government, the Church, and community. It then goes on to offer solutions by which individuals can recover that trust once again. The book is divided into three major sections: “Fracturing Trust: The Legacy of Our Age”, “Mourning Trust: Life After Losing It”, and “Regaining Trust: Hope for Our Age”. The first two sections outline a social-economic and political philosophical history of how people lost trust in the traditional institutions of social stability.  He also discusses the effects of cynicism and distrust in people brought on by the failings of social institutions.  The third section gives the reader a reasoned response from the pragmatic application of Scripture and theology from an Evangelical perspective.

The introduction to the first section functions as the introduction to the entire work. The author states that the book is “self-consciously optimistic.” (p. 15) in spite of the perceived cynicism of contemporary society. He offers a prognosis of the issue early by stating that society “seems afflicted by a deeper, more corrosive cultural mood than previously.” (p. 15). He delineates how the upheaval of the twentieth century undermined trust in what he terms, “…authoritative frameworks or ‘metanarratives.’” (p. 17). This sets the framework for the discussion in the first two major sections of the book that review the historical processes and outcomes that lead to the current cultural mood observed by the author.

The first section of the book, “Fracturing Trust: The Legacy of Our Age”, Meynell articulates how the failings of trusted political leadership contributed to the cynical mood of the age in chapter one. In chapter two, the reader is informed how society’s information networks through the mass media fostered distrust in people. He, then, discusses how caregivers undermined trust through failings in moral, ethical, and legal standards in chapter three. The key portions of chapter three that will be of interest to those in ministry are the subsections: “Power and the Center of Truth”, “Power and the Savior Complex”, “Power and the Cultic”, and “Power and Particular Theologies”. These subsections deal specifically with the influence that power can have to corrupt even good, noble, or benevolent motivations in the pursuit of ministry that result in spiritual abuses.  He asks, “So, under what circumstances can people drift into committing unwitting spiritual abuses?” (p.56). Meynell offers two indicators that set the conditions for enabling spiritual abuse. They are, “when religious leaders tightly control the interpretive boundaries of truth, or if they claim unique access to it…” (p. 56). The insights articulated in these subsections are important reading for those entering into professional ministry within context of the local church.

The subsections regarding ministry also reveal the author’s own perspectives on the matters discussed. For example, when he explains how those who “control the interpretive boundaries of truth”, foster spiritual abuse, he fails to be specific enough to allow the reader to understand his exact meaning regarding his understanding of both truth and interpretive boundaries. Are all attempts by ecclesiastical leadership to encourage or maintain consistent orthodoxy and orthopraxy within their creedal, confessional, or denominational bodies part of part of those who foster spiritual abuse? Is he referring to theological fundamentalism or those who practice separatism as those who foster spiritual abuse? Could he be referring to the debate going on within the Episcopal Church regarding the ordination of homosexuals and recognizing homosexual marriages? Nevertheless, the text of these sections seems to indicate that his intended audience will understand the meaning of his references without further explanation.

The second section of this book, “Mourning Trust: Life After Losing it”, discusses the psychological, emotional, and spiritual outcomes upon individuals when they become cynical and abandon trust due to the failings outlined in the first section of the book. In chapter four, the author discusses how the political, scientific, and social philosophies of the Enlightenment set the conditions for deconstructionism which inevitably led to Postmodernism. Postmodernism took away any anchors in a person’s life, leaving them to drift in the morass of relativism.  Chapter five reviews how the Cold War fostered social and political paranoia and an us-against-them mindset.  He reveals that this paranoia came about by the discovery of political intrigue through law enforcement investigations, espionage novels, and through mass media entertainment resulting the popularity of conspiracy theories. The resulting conspiracy movement fad only served to exacerbate the cynicism and distrust of the age.

The third section, “Rebuilding Trust: Hope for our Age”, finds the author transitioning from a narrative of melancholy social, political, and economic contemplation to a more hopeful tone. In chapter six, Meynell reminds the reader of the purpose and worthiness of each person because of his reflection of the imago Dei (i.e. the image of God).  He goes on to tackle a tough and perplexing problem in theology regarding the paradoxical nature of man regarding man’s propensity for good and evil deeds. Yet, he insightfully concludes, “Purpose and meaning in this barren universe are only ultimately possible if our existence has been granted purpose and meaning by being created.” (p. 114). Furthermore, he writes, “It is enough simply to state that because God created us, we matter.” (p. 114).  In chapter seven, the author reassures the reader that Jesus Christ’s love and servant disposition transcends the cynicism of the age to give hope to the hopeless and to give a vision of a positive potential for each person. Chapter eight demonstrates the therapeutic nature of the local community of Christians known as the local church. Meynell articulates his view of the church when he states, “In short, the church is a community of grace—-people drawn together by God’s bewildering kindness to live in a community characterized by unconditional kindness.” (p. 161). Chapter nine reminds the reader of the unifying power of narrative (i.e. stories). This culminates with helping the reader to understand that the greatest unifying story is the redemptive story of the Gospel narrative of God’s love, Jesus redemptive work on behalf of mankind, and God’s ultimate restitution of all things. He thus demonstrates that a way to overcome the cynicism of the age is to remember how the Gospel narrative provides the light of hope against the dark contrast of a cynical world.

The one observed weakness in the text of A Wilderness of Mirrors concerns the nature of sin. Mark Meynell writes in chapter four regarding how the abuses and excess brought on by economic and political philosophies such as Marxism and Capitalism enabled an attitude of cynicism. He states, “Even apart from blatant forms of government deceit, alienation and social fragmentation are the products of a common, inherited outlook on the world.” (p. 75). What are the “…products of a common, inherited outlook on the world”? Meynell does not address this.  Moreover, throughout the first two major sections of the book, the nature and extent of sin is not discussed as a possible mitigating factor in motivating the cynicism and distrust of the age. The author seems to view the cynicism and distrust of modern society as a passive reaction to the abuses and injustices of previously trusted institutions and philosophical metanarratives. However, could it not be also said that what is being observed and experienced in our modern age is a result of sin’s degenerative and debilitative nature as anticipated by Christ (Matt. 24:12)?

Overall, Mark Meynell brilliantly captures the atmosphere of the age of cynicism that characterizes our contemporary society. He offers cogent points and solutions through theological application to the problem of meaninglessness and hopelessness.  He successfully argues his thesis that, “the Christian framework continues to offer our culture a viable escape from what we shall see as a wilderness of mirrors.” (p. 18). A Wilderness of Mirrors demonstrates the author’s journey from cynicism to trust by offering a unique narrative on how Christians can successfully overcome the dark mood in which they find themselves. It also offers a way to engage a hurting and aimless culture with the positive message of the redemptive story of Christ’s redeeming love.  The message of Christ’s love is demonstrated in a community grace characterized by unconditional kindness.  Ultimately, the gospel of Christ is the counter-narrative to the dark metanarratives of modernity’s postmodern deconstructionism. Every pastor, missionary, and Christian educator should read and study this book. Moreover, this book should be owned and read by every Christian.

Why We Fail in Personal Evangelism

January 10, 2017

introduce-others-to-christ-465x280Over the last several years, I have been observing a trend within church life in America. This trend has been growing and has at its core some beliefs that are found in Reformed Theology. Yet, because of excesses, abuses, false promises, and false teaching, a vital and integral part of the Christian life has been rendered ineffective or non-existent. The trend to which I am referring is the trend away from what is known as Personal Evangelism.

Personal Evangelism is that part of Christ’s parting command to His disciples in which we, as individual believers in Christ, seek to share the Gospel with people within the sphere of influence to which Christ has placed us. Jesus Christ gave two clear commands in Scripture, commonly known as the Great Commission, that were to be the Christian’s marching orders (Matt. 28:18-20; Mk. 16:15). Christ not only gave these commands as His parting directive, He also exampled personal evangelism before His disciples during His earthly ministry (Matt. 4:14; Mk. 1:15; Lk. 19:9-10; Jn. 3:3-21; Jn. 4:1-32; Jn. 8:1-11). As such, individual Christians are to follow Christ’s example (Jn. 13:15-16; Jn. 14:15, 21, 24; Jn. 15:16, 27; I Pet. 2:21).

I was first exposed to the practice of personal evangelism in the church that I was attending as a young enlisted military service member. The pastor of this local church encouraged the members every week at the Wednesday evening service to participate in the church’s weekly outreach effort on Thursday evenings. He also encouraged us to be diligent to share the gospel with others throughout the week.  This was all new to me and quite frankly I initially thought this challenge from the pastor was a bunch of hooey. I considered confronting people with the gospel as badgering people with religion when they did not want to hear all of that.  Moreover, my reluctance and skepticism were illustrative of my ignorance and naivety about this vital part of the Christian experience, even though I was a believer in Christ.

Over time, my mind and my heart were changed about personal evangelism. One evening, I was reading my Bible in my barracks room for my personal devotions. Luke chapter 10 was the passage for this particular time of study. Here, Jesus sends out 70 of His followers in pairs to evangelize the villages of the surrounding area. Then it struck me, if going out to evangelize and visit was good enough for Christ, then why is it not good enough for me? The next time my pastor challenged the church to participate in outreach on Thursday evening, my hand was raised and I was present and accounted for to help spread the Good News that Jesus saves. Consequently, I learned after going out with my church for a couple of weeks that this society is in desperate need of the gospel, especially those who enjoy financial, social, and material prosperity (Rev. 3:17)

So all of this begs the question as to why personal evangelism fails. If personal evangelism is so important, then why is it not emphasized more vociferously within American Christianity? Moreover, if personal evangelism is supposed to be the most effective way to evangelize our world, then why are there not more people accepting Christ as their Savior? There are several reasons for this problem of failure in personal evangelism from both my observation and participation in church life.

Reason # 1: Lack of a Proper Biblical Understanding Regarding Personal Evangelism

The first reason that personal evangelism fails is a lack of a proper understanding about the biblical mandate regarding the Great Commission. As revealed earlier, this was my hurdle to overcome—­­­­lack of proper knowledge. The only exposure that the average Christian in America has regarding personal evangelism is when representatives from a particular non-evangelical group attempts to make a presentation or hand out their literature. Thus, when the topic of personal evangelism is addressed within evangelical churches, the minds of those listening hearken to those obnoxious days of being harassed at the front doors of  their homes by religious people.  Thus, they shudder at the thought of seeing themselves doing the very thing they ridiculed and condemned in others. Therefore, the thought of the potential of being laughed at or ridiculed by people in the community is abhorrent.

Moreover, with the publishing of Joseph Aldrich’s book, Lifestyle Evangelism, in 1981, American Christianity found the alternative they had been looking for in order to forsake the more confrontational methods that had characterized the 1970’s.  Now, the more introverted believers in Christ had a viable way to circumvent Christ’s command about personal evangelism. Now, pastors and denominational leadership could retool their outreach efforts and leave the less desirable evangelistic methods to other groups. This resulted in churches and denominations not teaching their members the Bible truth about Christ and personal evangelism.  Thus, personal evangelism fails because of ignorance due the absence of biblical truth.

Reason # 2: Possessing An Improper Attitude Toward Personal Evangelism

The second reason personal evangelism fails is due to possessing an improper attitude towards personal evangelism. What is our attitude about personal evangelism? When we are challenged to share the gospel, how do we respond? Moreover, what is our attitude about practicing evangelism within our community? Part of the failure in personal evangelism can be traced to attitude. Too many times personal evangelism is relegated to checking the block on a checklist of spiritual disciplines.  There have been several occasions, while accompanying a person in a position of spiritual leadership in a local church, that I have heard the lament of “I am not really into this door knocking stuff” or “I am only doing this because I am supposed to”.  From where does this fatalistic, going-through-the-motions attitude derive? It comes primarily from false expectations regarding the outcomes of personal evangelism.

When I went off to Bible College to prepare for the ministry, one of the first ministry requirements that I had to fulfill was to spend my first year serving in the Sunday School Bus ministry.  This method of outreach has fallen out of popularity in American Christianity but it is still utilized by a few churches, mainly Independent Baptist groups. The college emphasized personal soul-winning and visitation.  Incidentally, I like the term soul-winning. It is a Bible term and Proverbs tells us those that win souls are wise (Prov. 11:30). The bus ministry was utilized as an outreach method for our church’s Sunday school program.

The weekly requirements for the Bus Ministry workers were: visit our routes for a minimum of 3 hours on Saturdays, maintain attendance records on our riders, visit the regular riders every Saturday, actively seek new riders and share the gospel with others on our bus routes, and develop and execute a Bible teaching program on the bus. Thus, individual bus routes became in essence functional micro-churches before that term was ever coined.  The philosophy we operated under in the bus ministry was that if one could fill up a Sunday school bus every week and have people regularly saved and baptized, then one could do the same in a local church as a pastor. As a result, we thought everyone we talked to was supposed to drop to their knees and cry out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved!” We thought surely by the end of our first semester we would be utilizing 4 or 5 buses to bring all the people in from our efforts.  Hence, it was high energy and time-consuming work that effectively eliminated your weekend for doing other things.  I praise the Lord for that experience.

The reality of the matter was that we often experienced more disappointment and frustration than victory.  What a reality check on our enthusiasm when we went the entire Saturday visitation period just hanging the weekly flyers or gospel tracts on doors because no one was home. What a reality check on our misplaced pride when, more often than not, people slammed doors in our face or tried to waste our time in circular arguments. What a reality check on our success when we signed up ten new riders on Saturday, just to have none of them ride the bus on Sunday.  Then to discover on the subsequent Saturday that none those new riders could be reached because they moved away. It became quickly evident that we had some self-induced false expectations which resulted in developing a cynical and skeptical attitude.

One of the major lessons learned during my four years of serving in my church’s bus ministry was that you cannot be successful in outreach from week-to-week with a bad attitude. There were many times during my Bible College days when my attitude was not the greatest and I was not the most pleasant person to be around.  Yet, when I got out there in that hot, humid Jacksonville, Florida heat and began to visit and witness to people on my bus route, such as the middle-aged lady dying of AIDS, or the kids living in apartment complexes that were nothing more than Crack Houses, I quickly realized that I really did not have it as hard as I thought I did and my evangelistic vision and burden for the lost was rekindled.

One particular experience comes to mind when I accompanied another bus worker to visit one of his families in an apartment complex on a Thursday evening.  As we sat there, talking with these dear folks in their living room, cock roaches and water bugs were crawling everywhere. They were crawling up the walls, across the living room floor, up the furniture, etc.  Wow, and I thought my living conditions were austere as a college student.  It was not long before my perception of my circumstances was nothing more than a ruse and deception motivated by selfishness. Some of the people living in our communities are literally living in hell-on-earth minus the fire.  That pales to insignificance any problem that I might be going through.

In my years in church life since Bible College, it has become quite obvious that the failure of personal evangelism is due in part to Christians having an improper attitude about personal evangelism.  When the reality of personal evangelism runs counter to our false expectations, one begins to question the validity of personal evangelism as a method of outreach.  This discovery can lead to a sense of disillusionment that Satan can use to motivate us to quit being faithful in witnessing for Christ. We can begin to lament in our minds, “It never works for me!” or “What a waste of time!” or the classic comment that I have heard often, “No one ever gets saved.”  Then, we begin to make comparisons, “For all this is worth, I could be fishing or visiting Disney World with the family.” Afterwards, we begin to see personal evangelism as nothing more than an add-on to our daily or weekly routine that can be easily sacrificed on the altar of “something more important to do”.  Then, when we actually do attempt to witness for Christ, we wonder why we fail in the effort.

Reason # 3: Having An Improper Personal Motive for Conducting Personal Evangelism

A third reason that personal evangelism fails is that we have an improper personal motive for being obedient to the Lord’s command in sharing the Gospel with others. Why are we attempting to evangelize the lost? What is our personal motives for participating in the outreach efforts of our church? Why are we handing out Gospel tracts? Why are we attempting to invite someone to church? Motivation and attitude are complimentary characteristics that define purpose and commitment. We are exhorted in the Bible to examine ourselves (I Cor. 11:28; II Cor. 13:5).  The context of these verses are not addressing personal evangelism; however, it is the principle of examining yourself that I want to highlight. Too many times, we get frustrated with personal evangelism because we are motivated to do it for selfish reasons. The only biblical motivation for carrying out personal evangelism is our love for Christ, love for our fellow-man, and concern for his spiritual destiny (II Cor. 5:14; Gal. 5:14; I Jn. 4:19-21; I Jn. 5:3).

The reality is that some are attempting to practice personal evangelism for selfish reasons. Some see personal evangelism as a way to aggrandizement and notoriety. Others do it because they like to feel good about themselves because they see it as a benevolent humanitarian effort. Still, others are involved in personal evangelism because they like to obtain the notice and acknowledgment of their pastor or denominational leadership.  I have become a little weary over the years when at some fellowship meeting of preachers inevitably someone asks, “How many did you have in church on Sunday?” or “How many people did you see saved and baptized?”  We need to be reminded of Christ’s motivation for His work (Phil. 4:7). If our only motivation for practicing personal evangelism is so we can boast about winning people to Christ at the next fellowship meeting of our peers in the ministry or to gain the notice of the pastor of our church, then is it any wonder why we are not seeing more victories in our labors? Put another way, why should we expect Christ to bless our personal evangelism efforts if our core reason for involvement in carrying out the Great Commission is the plaudits of men?

Reason # 4: Lack of Holy Spirit Empowerment

The final reason that personal evangelism fails is that we are not empowered by the Holy Spirit. I recently heard a man involved in foreign missions work for several decades make the lament of how “back in my early days we all prayed for God’s Holy Spirit, we tried everything, but we did not see any fruit for our effort!”  He went on to inform that “we learned we were doing missions wrong”.  As I was listening to that testimony, the thought crossed my mind as to how interesting it was that this man saw the empowerment of the Holy Spirit as nothing more than a tool to be employed in order to see people come to Christ.  Thus, personal evangelism along with organized outreach efforts are relegated to process and program rather than conducted in the power of the Holy Spirit. Hence, the criticisms arising calling personal evangelism as easy believism or quick prayerism.

It must be remembered that Christ instructed His disciples after His resurrection that they would be “endued with power” (Lk. 24:29).  Earlier in the upper room, Christ told the disciples that they would receive the promise of the Holy Spirit (Jn. 14:16-17).  Without the Book of Acts and the Pauline Epistles, a Christian would not have an adequate understanding as to what Jesus was referring when He talked about this empowerment and promise of the Holy Spirit. We learn from these critical portions of the New Testament exactly what this power and promise of the Holy Spirit means and how the Holy Spirit was manifested in those first century Christians.

It must be noted that what is not being discussed is an interpretation that is promoted as fact regarding the empowerment and filling of the Holy Spirit. I am not referring to a second blessing or baptism that is evidenced by speaking in tongues. The Bible teaching regarding the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the initial conversion and ongoing work in the life of the believer is foreign to American Christianity.  As a result, the empowerment of the Holy Spirit is either ignored or minimized on one extreme or outlandishly and erroneously magnified on the opposite extreme.  Therefore, it is imperative that believers in Christ understand what the Bible actually teaches regarding the Holy Spirit and His work in our lives to fulfill Christ’s commands.

Those initial disciples were instructed to wait at Jerusalem for the fulfillment of this promise of the Holy Spirit and subsequent empowerment (Acts 1:8). Christ told them that this empowerment by the Holy Spirit would result in them being witnesses. Nowhere in Acts 1:8 can be found a promise of the gifts of speaking in tongues or the other spiritual gifts.  Have you ever wondered why that is? You would think that if speaking in tongues or exercising the other spiritual gifts were so important and vital to the Christian experience, that Christ would have at least mentioned them in connection with the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Yet, Christ is silent. What does Christ emphasize? He emphasizes truth, judgment, remembering, teaching, conviction, and witnessing (Jn. 14:15-17, 26; Jn. 15:26-27; Jn. 16:7-15; Acts 1:8).

Now since Jesus promised the disciples that they were to be witnesses of Him in all the world, He did not leave them without enablement. Therefore, what happened at the celebration of Pentecost? They proclaimed the Gospel with power (Acts 2:1-40).  Furthermore, they proclaimed the Gospel with boldness (Acts 4:31). Power and boldness characterized the evangelizing effort of the early Christians.  Could it be that our personal evangelism efforts seem dry and routine because we are lacking the power and boldness that only comes through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit? The only characteristic that matters to Christ regarding the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer is boldness and power in witnessing not the gifts of tongues, healing, or prophecy.

Now how are we to appropriate the promise of the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in our lives in order to have the power and boldness necessary to be an effective witness for Christ in presenting the Gospel? First, by realizing that Christ has promised the empowering or filling of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian (Lk 11:13). Second by understanding that being filled with the Holy Spirit is a command not an option (Eph. 5:18). Third, by realizing that unconfessed sin hinders the Holy Spirit from working liberally in our lives (Eph. 4:30; I Thes. 5:19; I Jn 1:9).  Forth, by asking for the filling or empowering of the Holy Spirit after confession of sin (Matt. 7:7; James 1:5-6; James 4:2-3; I Jn. 3:22; I Jn. 5:14-15).  Fifth, by trusting that Christ will fulfill His promise in your life (Matt. 21:22).

What of the testimony of famous people in Church History that claimed an experiential filling of the Holy Spirit? I have heard one particular prominent pulpit personality, who is in Heaven now, regularly give testimony of his experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit. It was a dramatic narrative to listen to and it engendered a desire in the hearer to have the same experience. Yet, if we study the biblical passages regarding the empowerment of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer, we realize that an existential and metaphysical “experience” is not an indicator of a genuine filling of the Holy Spirit.  Now, it is possible to have an experience upon being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but that is not what we are to be looking for in regards to this important aspect of our Christian lives.

Furthermore, you will know that you have been filled or empowered with the Holy Spirit when you have an insatiable desire to share the Gospel with others.  You will know that you have been filled by the Holy Spirit when you suddenly break out of your introverted nature and begin to talk to the stranger in line at Starbucks about their spiritual destiny.  You will now that you have been filled with the Holy Spirit when you stand up in the middle of a public place (i.e. the university lecture hall) occupied by people who are antagonistic to Christ and begin to declare the truth of Christ. The empowerment of the Holy Spirit results in boldness and power to witness for Christ in personal evangelism.

In conclusion, personal evangelism as well as the outreach efforts of the local church are frustrated on a number of levels. We consistently fail to be effective in our witness for Christ in the community because of a lack of biblical understanding about the Great Commission.  We fail to be effective in our witness for Christ because we have an improper attitude and improper motivation about personal evangelism.  The final reason we fail in personal evangelism is that we are attempting to witness in the power of the flesh and ingenuity of our own mind rather than being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.  Personal evangelism is not a method but a philosophy of life based on being obedient to the Great Commission. Let us therefore reexamine our lives before Christ in this area of personal evangelism.  Why are we trying to witness? Is there a personal benefit we are looking for in personal evangelism? Are we attempting to witness for Christ in the power of the flesh? May we become more effective in our personal evangelism by witnessing in the power of the Holy Spirit and thus bring glory and honor to Christ as we are being an effective instrument in His hands.