Why Christian Discipleship Is Critical to Christian Survival

DiscipleshipJust before leaving the disciples, Jesus gathered them together and commissioned them with an important task. He told them, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you…” (Matthew 28:18-20). Jesus understood the importance of discipleship (the process of making disciples). In fact, it was so important, He made sure it was His last directive to those who followed Him. What precisely is discipleship and why is it so important? Is it simply a matter of making converts? No, it’s much more. The process of making disciples is often misunderstood and neglected in the Church today, and as a result, we are in danger of losing our identity as Christians. Christian discipleship is critical to Christian survival.

Even secular dictionaries recognize discipleship as something more than simply creating “members” or “converts”. Dictionary.com describes a disciple as “a person who is a pupil or an adherent of the doctrines of another.” Webster’s online dictionary defines a disciple as “one who accepts and assists in spreading the doctrines of another.” At least one aspect of discipleship involves learning the doctrines of a particular system or teacher. This intellectual aspect of being a disciple is affirmed in the Bible. The Greek word used for “disciple” in the New Testament is “mathētḗs” and its root, “math-“, means the “mental effort needed to think something through“. Disciples are “learners”, “scholars” and followers of Christ who “learn the doctrines of Scripture and the lifestyle they require”. There is an important connection between doctrine and behavior. It’s not enough to simply follow Jesus’ moral teaching related to behavior, true disciples must understand the doctrines of Christianity. What does our worldview teach, theologically or philosophically? How are we to make a defense (1 Peter 3:15), hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with this teaching (Titus 1:9), recognize a heresy when we see one (Titus 3:10), and guard the treasure which has been entrusted to us (2 Timothy 1:14)? Becoming a disciple means becoming a learner.

Sadly, many in the Church have neglected this important aspect of discipleship, and their hesitancy to celebrate the life of the mind continues to put the Church in great peril. History demonstrates the importance of discipleship and the life of the mind. In the early 19th Century, the lack of discipleship resulted in the rise of several heretical religious worldviews. From the 1790’s to the 1840’s the movement known as the “Second Great Awakening” spread through the young American nation. This Protestant movement was wildly successful in gaining converts, but not nearly as successful in discipling new believers. The Second Great Awakening was facilitated by a number of charismatic preachers (Charles Finney was perhaps the most famous). These preachers were excellent communicators and their camp-style revivals were designed to solicit responses from the people who heard them. These same preachers, however, were less than effective in establishing a discipleship process for the new Christian converts. In the wake of the revival meetings, new converts were left largely on their own; local churches were not ready to teach and mentor those who were now interested in learning the truth about Jesus. As a result, a number of groups emerged simultaneously: The Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), The Evangelical Christian Church in Canada, The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Seventh-day Adventist Church (from which Jehovah’s Witnesses eventually appeared), and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church were all the result of rapid growth followed by inadequate discipleship. Continue reading Why Christian Discipleship Is Critical to Christian Survival

What the Earliest Non-Biblical Authors Say About Jesus (Free Bible Insert)

Church Fathers Say About JesusWhat would we know about Jesus if we lost every Biblical manuscript on the planet? Could we have any certainty Jesus actually lived, and would we be able to re-capture any of the details of his life or nature? As it turns out, there are several ancient sources of information about Jesus. Some of these are from pagan, non-Christian authors (I’ve written about these sources here at Cold-Case Christianity). But there are even more compelling early non-Biblical accounts we can reference in an effort to understand who Jesus is (and was). We can still read the accounts of those early Christians who learned directly from the Biblical authors. Ignatius and Polycarp were direct students of the Apostle John; Clement was a direct student of the Apostle Paul. These students later became leaders in the early Christian Church and wrote their own letters to local congregations. Seven letters from Ignatius still survive, along with one letter from Polycarp and Clement. These are the earliest non-Biblical accounts we have describing the life and nature of Jesus. They are not in your Bible, but the information provided by these students of the Biblical authors is compelling. It provides us with the earliest snapshot of Jesus, and demonstrates the story of Jesus was not distorted or modified in the centuries between Jesus’ ministry and the first Church Councils. Here is a brief summary of what we can know about Jesus from the earliest Non-Biblical authors: Continue reading What the Earliest Non-Biblical Authors Say About Jesus (Free Bible Insert)

What Was the Shape of Jesus’ Cross?

Cross-of-JesusLast weekend, after speaking at the NRB National Apologetics Conference, I was approached by a man who asked a question about the shape of crucifixion cross of Jesus. He’d been approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses who challenged the traditional shape of the cross. They argued the Greek word for “cross” (stauros) simply meant an “upright pole”, “upright stake” or “torture stake”. His Jehovah’s Witness visitors claimed Jesus was actually nailed to a straight stake with a single spike through his hands and another through his feet. In my experience with Jehovah’s Witnesses, I’ve also heard them argue the traditional Christian shape of the cross was borrowed from pagan sources and, as a result, it is un-Christian to acknowledge the traditional cross shape in church architecture, worship or adornment. While the Greek words used for the cross in the New Testament are not specific about its shape (“stauros” = stake / pole and “xulon” = timber / tree), there are several evidential clues offered in the scripture to help us understand the true shape of Jesus’ cross.

Before we look at the evidence related to the cross, we need to examine the many ways Roman executed criminals on wooden structures of one kind or another throughout history. Josephus, when writing about the siege of Jerusalem ion 70AD, acknowledged the fact Roman soldiers used a variety of methods and stake shapes to execute their prisoners: Continue reading What Was the Shape of Jesus’ Cross?

Tips For Studying The Bible

Tips-for-Studying-the-BibleAs Christians, we have a lot of questions that we don’t always know how to investigate on our own, and we’re grateful when somebody will come in and give us the quick answer. But if you’ve raised kids, you know that when your kids have a question and ask you to sort something out for them, they come away with one kind of knowledge. When you allow your kids to work through, and find, and research the answer for themselves, they come away with a completely different kind of understanding. I can remember when I first came to Christianity out of atheism, I really needed to examine the issues for myself. And let’s face it, there are lots of times when it’s not so much an understanding of the truth; it’s not so much that the truth is out there and I just can’t grasp it; it’s that I hold some type of prerequisite, presupposition, that prevents me from seeing the truth clearly.

That’s why for me, as a new Christian, apologetics websites were just as important as the skeptic sites I had been visiting. I wanted to get some balance and some clear thinking on the issues we know are inherent to the Christian worldview. I found myself applying the same skepticism I had as a detective, and an atheist, to my own examination of Scripture. Here is my approach to answering some of my own questions about Christian doctrine, and Christian evidence. These are principles and tools that may help you sort out the truth for yourself. To help you remember, each of them start with the letter “D”. First, some qualities I think are important as a student of the Bible:  Continue reading Tips For Studying The Bible

Parents: Don’t Train Your Kids On Your Own

The-AKs-1024x682I became a Christian when my first two children were very young. They have no memory of me prior to my conversion. But all four of my kids were raised in Christian community. I didn’t train, mentor or prepare them on my own, and you shouldn’t either. Young Christians are facing a formidable task as they get ready to enter an adult culture growingly hostile to the Christian worldview. While Christian leaders may disagree about the severity of the problem, the evidence of attrition amongst 17-30 year olds is well documented. If our kids aren’t trained and exposed to the challenges at an early age, they are far more likely to leave the Church. And while it is tempting to think we, as parents, are all our kids will ever need, this is simply untrue. Parents, don’t train your kids on your own. Continue reading Parents: Don’t Train Your Kids On Your Own

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree In Apologetics?

Why Would Anyone Get a Degree In ApologeticsI feel honored to be a very small part of the faculty at Biola University (where I serve as an Adjunct Professor in the Master’s Degree program in Christian Apologetics). Two weeks ago I taught a class covering the material in Cold-Case Christianity and began by asking the seventy-four students in my class why they wanted an advance degree in apologetics. Thirty of these students said they were taking the class to grow in their faith. The remaining forty-four said they were either teaching apologetics locally or planned on teaching apologetics in the future. This latter group saw the Biola graduate degree as an important step of preparation. Not everyone agrees.

In fact, some people in the Christian community think an advanced degree in apologetics is largely a waste of time. Two people I deeply admire have come out publicly with this assertion: Max Andrews (of the Sententias Blog) and Glenn Peoples (of the Right Reason Blog) both wrote blog posts this year entitled, “Don’t Get a Degree in Apologetics”. Andrews and Peoples believe an academic degree in an advanced, specific discipline (i.e. biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, chemistry, etc.) is a far better choice than a broad degree in apologetics. Andrews writes:

“My advice is to pick a discipline and excel in that discipline. All the greatest apologists have a discipline: Gary Habermas, Mike Licona, William Lane Craig, NT Wright. etc. Don’t be a jack of all trades. Be a master of one and be skilled in many.”

Peoples agrees:

Think about those who have reputations as being the best apologists out there (whether they use the word “apologetics” or not). Everyone’s list will be slightly different, but the list will probably include names like C. S. Lewis, Alvin Plantinga, Richard Swinburne, Ravi Zacharias, William Lane Craig, John Lennox, Peter Kreeft, Richard Bauckham and others. Do you want to be a great apologist? Great. Do you think these people are / were great apologists? I agree. OK, now ask yourself what all of these people – along with probably every other person you might add to this list – lack. They probably lack a whole lot of things, but one of the things they lack is a degree in apologetics.

Let me take a minute to respond to these statements and make an important distinction between expert witnesses and case makers. Both have been incredibly important in every criminal case I’ve ever seen presented in front of a jury. Expert witnesses are critical and foundational to jurors. Without these men and women, the evidential foundation for each case would be insufficient. I rely on expert witnesses to testify about DNA, fingerprint, behavioral and other forensic issues; these folks are often the centerpiece of my case. But there is another critical participant in every jury trial. I’ve seen great evidential cases ruined by poor case makers. A young, inexperienced (or simply ungifted) prosecutor can make a mess of a case in front of a jury. Case makers are the directors, authors, orchestrators and presenters for every case argued to a jury. They seam together the divergent testimonies and translate the experts so jurors understand their importance (and their role within the larger case).

Expert witnesses are narrowly focused and typically have difficulty relating to the lay-people who make up the jury; the attorneys stand in the gap, weaving the expert testimony into the overarching case and “throwing the ball” so jurors can “catch it”. You can have great expert witnesses and still lose at trial. In fact, in every case I’ve worked, the defense has also called equally qualified, educated and accomplished expert witnesses who have testified in opposition to the experts called by the prosecution. The case makers (the attorneys) were responsible for arguing why their experts were more relevant than those from the other side. In criminal trials, case makers are just as important as expert witnesses, and this is also true in the Christian community. Without a good case maker, expert testimony can sound a lot like, “blah, blah, blah”.

There are very few (and I mean very few) expert witnesses in the Christian community who are also popularly accessible case makers. Let’s be honest about that. Some of these great thinkers are friends of mine, and I think they would acknowledge their role quite happily. Richard Bauckham’s incredibly important work, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, has not been nearly as successful as Lee Strobel’sCase for Christ. In fact, many of these amazing expert witnesses would still be largely unread (and unknown) if they hadn’t appeared in Lee’s work. Case makers make expert testimony accessible and show how the limited evidence offered by these experts fits into the larger case. That’s what Lee has done so brilliantly over the years. It’s no coincidence we’re experiencing a renaissance in apologetics simultaneous with the success of Lee’s books. Great case makers amplify the work of great expert witnesses. In fact, you could take the book sales of everyone mentioned by Andrews and Peoples combined (with the obvious exception of C. S. Lewis and Ravi Zacharias) and they wouldn’t come close to the book sales of Lee Strobel or Josh McDowell alone. Lee and Josh are great case makers (neither has an advanced degree in a specialty area by the way); both are relying on the testimony of great expert witnesses.

Let me make one final observation. Courtroom dramas are incredibly popular in our culture. Think about your favorite book, television show or movie in this genre. Now let me ask you a question: Which characters are highlighted most in these dramas? Who are the protagonists or antagonists featured in each story? In most courtroom dramas, the primary characters are the attorneys and detectives: the case makers. Think about it. Whenever an investigative drama features an expert witness as the primary character (in shows like CSI or Quincy) the experts are actually mischaracterized and given investigative or case making roles they don’t actually possess in real life. The culture is far more interested in case makers and investigators than it is in expert witnesses. People are more interested in the total picture than the minutia; they want to hear the case in their own language, and they are far more likely to embrace people with whom they can relate. Case makers are just as important as expert witnesses (and perhaps more important when it comes to influencing a culture).

So take a hard look at your gifting and your interests. If you’re better suited as an expert witness, interested in specific fields of study and focused academically, get the degree in biblical studies, history, historiography, theology, philosophy, physics, or chemistry as Andrews and Peoples would suggest. God will use you powerfully to establish the foundation from which a case can be made. But if you’re more interested (and gifted) in communicating the overarching, cumulative case for Christianity (constructed from the testimony of many experts), feel free to pursue a degree in case making (apologetics). The church needs expert witnesses and case makers and these are usually two different sets of people. Great expert witnesses aren’t always great apologists, and great apologists (like Lee Strobel, Josh and Sean McDowell, Frank Turek, Greg Koukl and many others you know by name) don’t have to be expert witnesses.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity

Comment on this blog, Subscribe to J. Warner’s Daily Email, or download the Cold-Case Christianity App from the iTunes Store or Android Marketplace.

What Does the Bible Teach About the Nature of the Soul?

What Does the Bible Teach About the Nature of the SoulThe Biblical authors used two words currently translated as “soul”: “nephesh” (neh’-fesh) in the Old Testament and “psuche” (psoo-khay’) in the New Testament. These Hebrew and Greek words are used to describe many characteristics of animals and humans other than their soulish nature, so for the most part, they typically don’t tell us much about the nature of the soul. There are, however, two places in the New Testament where the word “psuche” does seem to be describing our dual nature as soulish creatures:

Matthew 10:28
“And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

2 Corinthians 5:1-8
For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven; inasmuch as we, having put it on, shall not be found naked. For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed, but to be clothed, in order that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge. Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord — for we walk by faith, not by sight — we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

In these two passages, a clear distinction is drawn between the body and the soul. In the Matthew passage, although the word for “soul” (psuche) can be translated in a number of ways, the most reasonable inference here is Paul’s use of the word to describe our dual nature as physical beings with immaterial, everlasting, “souls”. These souls cannot be destroyed by the death of the body. Paul calls the soul our “house” made by God; as soon as we are away from the body we are at home with the Lord. We can learn a lot from these (and other) passages describing the clear disembodied life of the soul (I’ve posted an entire section on the nature of the soul at the ColdCaseChristianity.com website). Here is a quick summary of what the Bible teaches about the nature of our souls: Continue reading What Does the Bible Teach About the Nature of the Soul?

Why Jesus Died So Quickly on the Cross

Why Jesus Died So Quickly on the CrossOf the many non-Christian explanations for the Resurrection, the “Swoon Theory” is amongst the most popular. If Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, His alleged “resurrection” is really nothing more than a remarkable “resuscitation”. Those who doubt Jesus’ death often point to the short amount of time Jesus spent on the cross prior to dying. Victims of crucifixion typically died slowly as a result of their pain, exposure to the environment, and lack of food or water. But Jesus only spent six hours on the cross; his rapid death was unusual given that some historical references to crucifixion describe it as lasting several days. Even the Biblical account describes Jesus early death as an exception. The Apostle John said the two criminals crucified alongside Jesus were still alive six hours after they were crucified so “the soldiers therefore came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and then those of the other” to make sure they would die before the Sabbath (John 19:31-34). Why then, did Jesus die so quickly on the cross? Can we be sure he died at all?

Jesus pre-crucifixion experience was unusual given His identity and claims. As we review the chronology prior to the crucifixion, we begin to understand why Jesus died so quickly on the cross:

They Struck Him in the Head
Remember that Jesus was delivered to the cross through the Jewish rulers who abused Him prior to the crucifixion. This wasn’t the case for every victim of crucifixion. Jesus’ treatment started with physical abuse from the onset. When he refused to answer the high priest in the manner they expected, Jesus was struck by an officer:

John 18:21-22
“Why do you question Me? Question those who have heard what I spoke to them; they know what I said.” When He had said this, one of the officers standing nearby struck Jesus, saying, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?”

They Beat Him With Their Fists and Slapped Him in the Face
The physical abuse of Jesus continued based on His claims of Deity. Not every prisoner made these kinds of assertions. Jesus’ claims caused His captors to treat him even more harshly, tormenting and mocking Him both verbally and physically: Continue reading Why Jesus Died So Quickly on the Cross

Four Reasons You Should Attend the 2014 CrossExamined Instructor Academy

6 Leadership Principles I Learned From My Trailblazing FatherThis past weekend I got to hang out with Frank Turek, a dear friend, co-laborer and mentor. Frank is the author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith To Be An Atheist, and he was here in our neck of the woods teaching several services at a large local church. Susie and I joined him afterward and we spent the better part of two days together. We ate some barbeque, ran through the local woods (we found out Frank runs faster than we do), and talked about our work and passion to train Christians to think critically about what they believe. Frank does more than train Christians, however. Frank trains trainers.

Frank’s been a teacher and cultural influencer for years, but if you want to impact your culture exponentially, you’ve got to multiply your own efforts by creating additional trainers. That’s exactly what Frank does every year at the CrossExamined Instructor Academy (CIA). Frank has assembled a team of speakers and thinkers to help him train up the next generation of Christian Case Makers. This three day experience isn’t for beginners. It’s for people who have already started to step out and teach apologetics in their local churches and communities.  CIA will teach you how to present I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, including four categories critical to Christian Case Making: Truth, God, Miracles and the New Testament. You’ll also learn how to answer questions about those topics in a hostile environment. During these three days, in addition to hearing lectures and participating in discussions, participants will be asked to present a portion of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist and answer questions from the instructors. Like last year, I am part of the CIA faculty, along with Frank, Greg Koukl, Dr. Richard Howe, Brett Kunkle and Ted Wright. Continue reading Four Reasons You Should Attend the 2014 CrossExamined Instructor Academy

How Can You Trust Christianity Is True When There Are So Many Unanswered Questions?

How Can You Trust Christianity Is True When There Are So Many Unanswered QuestionsAs a Christian, I have many unanswered questions. The more I study the Christian worldview, the larger my list seems to grow. While essential truths are easier to identify from scripture, there are many non-essential (and more ambiguous) features of Christianity. The unfathomable aspects of God’s nature typically leave us in awe and without adequate explanation. To make matters worse, the ancient claims and historical details described in the New Testament are sometimes too remote to accurately verify. As a result, I’m often left with questions in places where I would rather have clarity and evidential certainty. How can we trust Christianity is true when there are so many unanswered questions?

After a long career as a cold-case detective, I’ve learned to get comfortable with unanswered questions. In fact, I’ve never investigated or presented a case to a jury that wasn’t plagued with a number of mysteries. As much as I wish it wasn’t so, there is no such thing as a perfect case; every case has unanswered questions. In fact, when we seat a jury for a criminal trial, we often ask the prospective jurors if they are going to be comfortable making a decision without complete information. If potential jurors can’t envision themselves making a decision unless they can remove every possible doubt (and answer every possible question), we’ll do our best to make sure they don’t serve on our panel. Every case is imperfect; there are no cases devoid of unanswered questions. Every juror is asked to make a decision, even though the evidential case will be less than complete. As detectives and prosecutors, we do our best to be thorough and present enough evidence so jurors can arrive at the most reasonable inference. But, if you need “beyond a possible doubt,” rather than “beyond a reasonable doubt,” you’re not ready to sit on a jury. The standard of proof is “beyond a reasonable doubt” for a good reason; no case is evidentially complete; no case maker can eliminate every possible reservation. Continue reading How Can You Trust Christianity Is True When There Are So Many Unanswered Questions?