Tag Archives: evangelism

How cultural illiteracy hinders the gospel

Cultural literacy is nothing more than being aware of popular cultural references. It is not, contrary to popular opinion, the same thing as being intimately aware of all the current trends of culture. Why is it important to be at least minimally aware of current trends in culture? Well, as any good marketer knows, the timeliness of a message is just as important as the message itself. And as Christians, our goal is to tell others about the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. To do that we can and should use as many cultural references that we can.

Here’s a helpful story by way of illustration:

Whenever I go to back to my parent’s house to visit I generally try to go to their church if I’m going to be there on Sunday morning. One Sunday I went with them and decided to visit their young married Sunday School group. During the lesson the wife of the leader mentioned how they watched Twilight recently and how she regretted it somewhat because it was “a complete waste of time”. To that I responded that an underlying theme of Twilight is the refusal of one of the main characters, Edward Cullen, to marry or have sex with Bella, the love-sick (and stupid) teenager. Part of the culture’s fascination with this story is due to the illogical purity and deep and abiding love that is portrayed in the Twilight series. From that simple plot overview, it would be relatively easy to strike up a conversation with a Twilight fan and lead them rather quickly into a conversation about ethics, morality, and ultimately, Jesus Christ and His passion for His bride, the Church.

Cultural literacy is all about maximizing the communication surface for our message. And any attempt to artificially limit that surface is detrimental to the spread of the gospel.

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By grace, through faith

A common thorn in the side of most Calvinists is Ephesians 2:8 which reads

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

To keep with the reformed doctrine of irresistible grace (ie. men being robots) they prefer to make the case that faith is included in the gift given from God.

The problem with your interpretation is that if faith is included in what is gifted to us then it makes the through (διὰ) superfluous and unnecessary given the context.

Rather, πίστεως (faith) is the conduit διὰ (through) which χάριτί (grace) is actualized.

Word for word it is: τῇ The γὰρ for/reason χάριτί grace ἐστέ you σεσῳσμένοι are saved διὰ through πίστεως faith καὶ and τοῦτο this οὐκ not ἐξ out of ὑμῶν of yours θεοῦ God τὸ the δῶρον gift/sacrifice/offering.

Further, Robertson’s Word Pictures puts it this way:

Neuter, not feminine ταυτη, and so refers not to πιστις (feminine) or to χαρις (feminine also), but to the act of being saved by grace conditioned on faith on our part. Paul shows that salvation does not have its source (εξ υμων, out of you) in men, but from God. Besides, it is God’s gift (δωρον) and not the result of our work. (emphasis mine)

For more context, this verse is almost the same as verse 5 before it but with the addition of “through faith”. Verse 5 reads:

even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—

If faith is part of the gift and is indeed necessary for salvation, why was it omitted in verse 5?

It seems that only by making the illogical leap to thinking of faith as a work12 can a person sustain the notion that faith along with grace is not of ourselves.

  1. Which should be rejected anyway since such a view of faith as a work would make verse 9 incoherent. []
  2. Galatians 3:6 among other verses point to the fact that faith is not a work under the law. []
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On presuppositionalism

Here is an exchange I had recently with a brother in Christ on the topic of presuppositionalism and it’s possible pitfalls when it comes to being a basis for apologetics and evangelization:

They:

when the presuppositionalist claims there is no common ground, how duz the classical apologist respond?

Because one of my seminary buddies (he’s in seminary, I’m not) said that all we can do is deliver the Gospel and if God wants to save He will. Then my buddy quotes something from Romans 10 about how faith comes from the Gospel.

My response:

I think your friend needs to take a few courses or read a few good books on epistemology. Specifically, I would recommend Alvin Plantinga’s work as it is widely recognized as some of the best epistemological work in that area. I think Plantinga still comes down in the presupposionalist camp, but his exploration of the topic shows that there is a lot more there than Van Til (the father of presuppositionalism) thought.

As for faith, I don’t think it is accurate or logically valid to say that faith is given to us by something/someone else. I would contend that the Biblical view of faith is “to trust” and that it ultimately falls under the category of epistemology or how you know what you know. Faith is not an object and therefore cannot be given or taken away from anyone. Here is a piece I wrote on the dynamics of faith.

As for the common ground. Not all presupposionalists take that view. Some (like myself) will use presuppositionalism to point out that different sets of presuppositions lead one to different conclusions so that a philosophical naturalist and a theist will approach the subject of the resurrection differently. In that case presuppositionalism is used more as a line of argument in a cumulative case for the rationality of Christianity.

In that respect I find great value in presuppositionalism. However the other side, what you elude to, is the view that since we start off in different epistemological camps and since man cannot change his own mind (which entails the negation of limited freedom in any meaningful sense which is quite beyond the scope of this post), there is no use even attempting to change someone else’s mind through reason and evidence.

It is that view of presuppositionalism that I find quite unfortunate in the Christian community as it necessarily undercuts any sort of evangelism as it essentially requires the other person to come without any objections.

Since our culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity I also believe the second view of presuppositionalism is not only unwise and unhelpful but downright dangerous and detrimental to the Christian church as the clear message it sends to non-believers is “we will not engage you, you must just accept what we say on blind faith”.

I believe that persuasion is the center piece of evangelism. Therefore I think anything that hinders or nullifies our ability to persuade others (in an intellectually honest fashion) is unhelpful and wrong.

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