How Not To Handle Doubters

What do you not do with a doubter in your congregation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Last week, I came down with a virus and was experiencing extreme fatigue. I’m fine for the most part, but I do have a lasting cough that will probably stick with me for awhile. There have been a few nights I have got up in the middle of the night and just sucked on a cough drop until it was done and then I returned to sleep.

So during the week, I also saw someone share this on their post that a pastor shared. Granted, we don’t know all that went on before. The pastor claims there were several cordial DMs that he had with this person, and then decided to share this as something that you just have to do some time. Again, I don’t know all the context, but I am going on what the pastor shared, not the person he was dialoguing with.

Pastors. Please please please don’t do this.

I can see myself easily as the young man in this picture. If someone you trust sees a message and doesn’t say anything, it’s hard to know what’s going on on the other end. He feels ignored. Now is that a potshot possibly taken at the end? Perhaps, but hurt people hurt people, and I do suspect this man has been deeply hurt.

You all know I don’t think God speaking today is normative, but if you do and God seems to be silent and you look to the person you think best represents him and that person lets you down, what else is to be thought? God has totally abandoned you. It’s an easy conclusion to make.

So let’s look at this unnamed pastor for now. I know who he is and where he pastors, but I’m not going to share it. I want to note one thing he says.

He has a church with 400+ people in it.

Could you not find a man among one of them who can help you out? Is there not someone who understands enough apologetics to help this person? If there is not, then pastor, your biggest problem is not this person coming and taking “your time.” Your problem is that you haven’t prepared your flock. If you are teaching the flock the truths of the gospel, finding one person who can do this should be simple.

By the way, I also say a man because I think a man experiencing doubt like this who is going to be spoken to on a personal level needs it to be another man. Forming an emotional connection like that with a woman could easily lead to forming other connections. It is not to say women aren’t needed in apologetics. They definitely are.

This pastor has instead told me more about himself. I know more about what this pastor does, but I don’t know what is going on with the person who is asking for help. I know more about how important what this person does is.

Or rather, how important he thinks it is.

Instead, all I see given back are a bunch of cliches. These sound good, but they don’t work with a doubter. Could some of the claims be true? Possibly. Could it be that this person thinks the world revolves around them? Possibly. Still, the pastor shared this photo and shared it as an example of what to do.

It is exactly the opposite. It is a failure of leadership. It is someone who didn’t delegate and let someone else answer the questions. I hope this young man isn’t a casualty of what you did.

And if the young man who was in dialogue sees this, reach out to me. I’ll answer your questions the best I can and if I can’t answer a question, well, I don’t have a problem reaching out to people I trust to be experts in those fields to answer such questions.

It’s not about me and my time after all.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Just Give A Good Sermon Please

Is God behind your sermon? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

During this past week, I caused a controversy on my Facebook page over this idea I am writing about. My friend Brian Chilton over at Bellator Christi disagreed with me on this. My stance is the idea of Christians hearing from God is not normative. He disagrees. We’re planning on having a written debate on this. While we do disagree, we disagree as fellow Christians and want to build up one another’s ministries still.

As a seminary student, I hear several sermons. As a Christian, I have heard them all my life. I am also often on the lookout for evangelical catchphrases as it were. These are things we say that can make us sound spiritual, but I think do more harm than good.

One such statement I hear from many pastors is in some way attributing their sermons to God. They will say that God laid this on their heart or that God revealed this to them in the Bible or any number of things. The idea strikes me as saying “This isn’t just me saying this. This is God. You’d better pay attention.”

I don’t think many would be so brazen, but if that’s not what the words mean, then what do they mean?

Now suppose one of you says “Well, there was one time someone gave me a specific word of knowledge that I am certain came from God as no one else could have known X about my life.”

I am not saying that cannot happen. God will do what He wants. I am saying it is not normative. I have a number of concerns with this kind of talking.

For one thing, I think we wind up treating God too casually. I have no reason to think God will fill in for pastors when they don’t do the work of preparing a good sermon. It often treats God as if He were on speed-dial or something.

Second, consider Pastor A is at a church that is heavily Calvinistic. He’s preaching today on the sovereignty of God and God gave Him a message about how He universally selected the elect to be saved and we need to get rid of this idea that our free-will is what saves us. It is all God from beginning to end.

Pastor B is at another church that is heavily Arminian. He’s preaching on the role of God in evangelism and saying God gave Him a message on how we need to appeal to the free-will of people we are evangelizing to. We need to let them know they have a choice.

At least one of these two people is wrong.

Third, if we have young Christians in the audience, they can think something is wrong with them if they’re not hearing from God when everyone around them seems to be doing so. What is wrong with me? Why am I not having this experience? Does God not really love me? Maybe I’m not really a Christian.

Fourth, we tend to become very egotistical with this kind of approach. It’s all about what God has for me. How about what we have for God? It can lead to so many people trying to interpret every event in their life as if it is a coded message from God. I remember my ex-wife would used to get so caught up in wondering what a dream she had meant.

I would tell her, “Honey. If you spent as much time trying to interpret Scripture, which you know is from God, as you do these dreams, which you don’t know are from God, you would be far better off.” I stand by that today. People often read personal events or sometimes global events trying to find a hidden message from God.

Remember the talk about the blood moons years ago? What happened? Nothing. There was also the fear over Rosh Hashanah that one year. What happened? Nothing.

If only Christians got as excited about reading their Bibles as they did this stuff.

This brings us to the fifth concern. For my readers who are Protestants, we often say we are Sola Scriptura. The Bible is the final authority. We don’t go with a Pope who claims to speak for God ex Cathedra.

Except many of us claim to do just that. We claim we have something that God has told us. The end result often is we neglect the study of the Scriptures to pay more attention to what God has for us today.

A sixth concern is people can make foolish and major decisions because they think God is telling them something. How many of us have heard stories about a couple getting married not knowing what they were doing because God told one of them they were to be married? It happens. Meanwhile, I still remember back in the days of chat rooms seeing a girl once who talked about all her life how she wanted to be a missionary. When asked why she didn’t go, she said “I wasn’t called.”

This was a woman then who had a heart for the lost and wanted to serve people and yet didn’t go out and try because she didn’t receive some “call.” Never mind that when Paul tells Timothy the criteria for deacons in the church, being called is not one of them. When he goes on his second missionary journey, there’s no indication that Silas was called to join Paul. There’s not even a word from God to go on the journey! Paul just suggests they do so!

So pastors out there, when you claim God has shown you something or told you something, I immediately get skeptical. (And 1 Kings 13 gives me good grounds for that!) You see, if your message is good and if it is true, does that change somehow if you say “God gave it to me?”

On the other hand, if your message has problems in it and you attribute it to God, then you have attributed error to God. You have said that God has revealed, shown, spoken, etc., when He has done none of those things. That is dangerous territory.

The solution is really simple. Just work on your sermon and give it. Be hesitant to claim to speak for God. If you are right, it doesn’t change the truth content. If you are wrong, then you can be making false attribution to God and/or leading people into error with divine authority.

It’s not worth the risk.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)


So How Do You Apply A Sermon?

What role does application play? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, I wrote on problems with sermons. I do want to respond to some objections and concerns that I saw expressed online about this. So let’s begin.

First off, I hope we can all agree on something. Sermons should present God in Christ to the people. If a passage is about what Jesus did, such as calming the storm, we should emphasize that first. If we jump straight to “Jesus can calm the storms in your life” we miss the revelation of God in Christ and we miss more importantly how we can know Jesus can do that.

Our great danger today often is we seek to apply the text to us immediately. The question often pops up of “What does this text mean to you?” The first question is simply “What does this text mean?” We don’t spend enough time with the text trying to understand it and the situation it was written in.

It is a mistake to make the sermon be entirely application. Do that, and all you’re giving is advice and Jesus is secondary to that. It is also just as much a mistake to say that there is no mention of personal application. However, as one reader simply put it in a forum I’m on, you give the message of Jesus and then say “Therefore….”

Consider Romans. When do you get in to a lot of matter dealing with how one should live life? It starts largely around chapter 12. What were the first 11 chapters doing? Explaining Paul’s theology and doctrine. What about 1 Cor. 15? We have a glorious chapter on the resurrection and how death has no hold on us. Then what follows? Paul says “Now there’s an offering we need to gather for the people in Jerusalem.” There’s a reason he waited until after talking about the resurrection.

I am also not saying stories can never be used. What I am against though is pastors that seem to talk more about themselves and their experiences than they do about Jesus. This is a danger since so many of us love to talk about ourselves. There is a time and place for that. When talking about Jesus, put Him primary though. He must become greater. We must become less.

Stories can be a great way to draw people in if done right. If you can tell a story that relates to something many people have experienced, that will reach more people. I will have more luck talking to the average crowd about say, The Princess Bride, than I will about Final Fantasy IV. Now if I was at a gaming event, Final Fantasy IV could be a much better usage then.

Let’s consider a favorite misused passage. Jeremiah 29:11. No. This is not about you. Stop putting it on graduation cards and everything else. However, can this passage have a personal application? Yes. Let’s suppose I was preaching a message on this text. I might say something like this.

“Judah had been called to be the people of God. They had seen Samaria go into exile judged by God, and yet they persisted. Now Jeremiah was telling them they were next. They would go into Babylon. The people of Judah could think that was it. Their story was done. What about the covenant promises? Had God abandoned His people?

No. God tells them to work and live and have families in the city of Babylon and pray for its success. They would continue to be a people there. Their story was not done. God had not forsaken the covenant, but He was enforcing the punishment of it, but when the time was ready, the people would come back.

God assures them He has plans for them. He will give them hope and a future. He is in charge of the story still. It is not Babylon. It is God.

Friends. We don’t know the plans of God either, but we do know as Christians, His goal is to conform us to the likeness of Christ. What God does as Romans 8 tells us will work for our good if we love Him. We too can go through times in our lives when it seems like we are abandoned by God, but we must be faithful and live our lives for Christ wherever we have been placed. The story is never out of God’s control. All will be made right in the end.”

In doing this, I have presented the historical context of what has happened. I have also presented a theology. God is the God of covenants. He is also the one in charge who knows the future. We also know from the text that God does love us still and wants to conform us to the likeness of Christ. When we are in trying circumstances, we need to hold on in trust too because God is a God who keeps His covenant. If He keeps it even when the people are unfaithful, how much more will He when we strive to live in faith?

Note also that none of this was highly in-depth. I doubt it would really go over your heads if you heard it in a sermon, but odds are you don’t. You need to.

The danger is that if all we have is application without a basis, that won’t be enough to act faithfully. Lauren Winner in her book Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity said that when a boy and a girl dating are on a couch together and the hormones start screaming, a few verses from Paul won’t work. You need a whole theology that tells you why you save sex for marriage.

There are a number of churches that are wanting to bless same-sex unions and say homosexual practice is fine. Why have so many Christians bought into this? A lot of them don’t have a theological backing. They don’t understand the Bible, how we got it, how to read it, or theology and ethics. These are things that we should not be teaching just the academics in our churches. We should be teaching this to everyone. Sure, some people will excel at this, but everyone needs at LEAST the basics.

Pastors. There is plenty of meat in the Scripture for your congregation. Share it with them.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Do Women Need Theology?

Is it wrong for a woman to study theology? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Alyssa Poblete has written a piece at The Gospel Coalition on why women need good theology. I find this piece very important and inspirational, but at the same time, I find it puzzling. Poblete starts somewhere, but I don’t really see the connection in her argument with where she starts. She starts with talking about studying theology and remarking about starting a blog for women on theology to a pastor who told her,

“Just be careful. You don’t want women becoming spiritual leaders in the home or, even worse, wanting to become pastors.”

Now notice the pastor never condemned the blog. The pastor never condemned the study of theology. If he did, Poblete makes no mention of it. What he said was he didn’t want women usurping the role of men in the home or becoming pastors.

Now I happen to be a complementarian and Poblete says she has no problem with complementarianism. In fact, she says that she loves it. I also agree with her that the feminist movement wanted equality in some areas where women should have had equality, but it has gone too far with an effort to eliminate all distinctions between the sexes. This is simply just a denial of the simple reality we see all around us that men and women are different. Yet, I want to point out that I can easily hold to the following beliefs.

Women need to study theology.

Men should lead the household.

Women should not be pastors of churches.

Now could I be wrong about those last two? Sure. I could be. The point is that there is no necessary contradiction between those and a woman studying theology. In fact, Poblete herself says that she holds to those. As she herself says.

So I do not think women should be pastors or spiritual leaders in the home, and I would be devastated if anyone used this article to argue such points.

So since we all agree on that, I cannot help but wonder what the problem is. Perhaps it should be important to state that the reason for the stance that I hold in this regard is that it is a respect issue. Biblically, if a man is meant to lead his household, if the wife usurps on the spiritual matters, that is a lack of respect to her husband, and that is a lack of respect that will burn at his soul and eat away at his notions of his masculinity. A woman can be a great help however even if she has more spiritual knowledge and she can give her viewpoint to her husband, but the respect issue is letting him have the final say.

I definitely however do want to highlight that I agree with Poblete. Women should study and her reasons are excellent. Jesus did encourage women studying and that was something revolutionary about him. He not only traveled with male disciples, but He also traveled with female disciples.

Poblete is also right that it’s for the joy of women. What greater joy can there be for a Christian woman (Or any woman for that matter.) than knowing God? For those who think doctrine and theology should be no part of our study, then what is the point of worship? How can you really worship God if you do not know who He is? Will not having a full and rich doctrine of God lead you to a greater worship and appreciation. Having a greater knowledge of God will help you when difficult times come in your life and it will help you when it comes to raising your own children as well and being the supportive wife you need to be.

Finally, I agree that it is for the glory of God. Our goal in life is to know God and we should be seeking to get started on that. God is glorified when we glory in Him and we can do that more and more if we come to know Him as He is. Men are not the only sex created to give glory to God. Women are as well. Women also give glory to God through ways other than having sex with their husbands, making babies, and raising children. A woman can be single all her life and give glory to God based on how she lives her life. All women, married or single, should be seeking to embrace the reality of God and know Him better.

So in the end, I think Poblete has made some excellent points, yet I wonder why she is upset over what the pastor said. The pastor was not at all condemning the study of theology by women. If he was, I would have had a problem with him as well. The pastor was simply giving a good complementarian viewpoint. Now again, he could be wrong in his viewpoint, but that does not mean that he is being inconsistent.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

A Response to Clergy on Amendment One

Should restricting abortion be seen as a violation of faith? Let’s dive into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday, my wife and I were catching up on some of the shows we’d recorded and missed. In the midst of fast-forwarding through commercials, I see one that has clergy speaking in favor of Amendment One. For those who don’t know, Amendment One is an amendment in Tennessee, where we live, that is wanting to have tougher restrictions on abortion.

These include:

  • Informed consent to provide accurate information related to women’s health issues and fetal development,
  • 24-hour waiting period to avoid coercion and reduce the likelihood of an ill-considered decision,
  • Inspection and regulation of abortion facilities, and
  • Hospitalization requirement for riskier late-term abortions.

Now these clergy are speaking out against this. So what do they say? The first is that Tennesseans try to live lives of faith, particularly in the most difficult times. Now I really don’t like the term “lives of faith” since faith is so badly misunderstood, but I’ll go with it for now. For the most part, I’d also agree with the sentiment. Most Tennesseans are probably Bible-believing Christians. In fact, I have been told that Knoxville, where I live, is the most Bible-believing city in the nation.

We also do value this in the most difficult times of our lives. For many people, their faith is a comfort and solace when they are in need. I don’t want to say that this has anything to do with their position being true at this point. For now, I am simply agreeing to the fact that yes, if you are a person of faith, you will value your faith when life is hard.

So the ad starts on a positive note, but then here comes a cloud. Amendment one will lead to government interference in the midst of our most personal and private decisions. Now this might sound like something that is supposed to appeal to those of us of a more conservative bent. After all, don’t we want government to stay out of our lives? In many areas, I’d agree, but then there’s this one question that keeps popping up?

What is abortion?

You see, when it comes to health insurance, I do want government to stay out of it. When it comes to what I’m to eat and not eat, I want the government to stay out of it. When it comes to how I worship, as long as I’m not doing anything such as murder, I want the government to stay out of it. These are areas the government has no invested area in.

But what if we’re right on abortion? What if abortion is the killing of an innocent child?

Let’s put it this way. Suppose the amendment was about an amendment forbidding parents the right to murder their toddlers if they want to. Would it work to say “Amendment One will interfere with our most personal and private decisions.”? Not at all. Hopefully none of us would say “I’m personally against you killing your toddlers, but it’s not my place to interfere.” (And if you would say that, please seek help immediately.)

Before we decide on if the government should interfere in an area, we need to know what it is that we’re talking about, and no one is saying anything about that in the commercial. No one is really asking about what abortion does to the child. For that matter, are we even dealing with a child? I think that’s a good question to raise up, but it’s a horrible question to ignore!

From there we move on to what to do if a woman has been raped, but there is nothing on Amendment One banning abortion in the case of rape. Naturally, most of us oppose that, and as a married man I can say if someone raped my wife (Something I don’t even want to think about) then yes, it would be extremely difficult to watch what happens.

But you know what? The rapist is the sinner in this case.

Why should the baby be punished for what the rapist did? The baby is no less human in this case. If we don’t want a reminder, there is always adoption. The reality is that when we talk about unwanted children, we really mean unwanted often by biological parents. There are parents who will be thrilled to take in most any child.

And what about if a woman has cancer? Again, abortion isn’t being banned. This is a question medical professionals can answer. In fact, if we were talking about abortion to save the life of a mother if the baby would die also, most pro-life people I know I suspect would agree that in this extreme scenario, it is allowable to have this done.

We are told that in truth, only families can make these decisions. In essence, yes. No one can force a decision for you, but you should have an informed decision. Furthermore, there are some decisions the government does not allow you to make. You are not allowed to give a sick child an illegal drug if you think it will make them feel better. You are not allowed to rob from the grocery store to feed your family. You are not allowed to murder someone who is your competition in getting a job.

So how about children? Are you allowed to kill your own children? Once again, before someone says I’m assuming an argument, by all means we should discuss if the unborn are children or not. Why doesn’t this ad do that?

We are also told that these people make decisions in alignment with their own faith. At this point, the term faith becomes problematic. Does your faith say anything about reality? If you’re a Christian, you sure say it does. You say that you think the claim that God(The second person of the Trinity to be specific) came and lived among us, died on a cross, and rose again. Maybe for the sake of argument, that’s wrong. There cannot be the denial of the claim that the person who believes it thinks it’s right.

So does your faith really say anything about reality? Of course it does. What does it say about the unborn?

Do we really want to say that reality is different for people of faith? If you think Islam is true, then the world is really different for you. If you think atheism is true, then the world really is a world without God? With claims like these, someone is right and someone is wrong. People will try to live consistently with their faith, but the question we have to ask is what is the world really like? We would not allow someone to murder their toddlers because their faith said it was okay.

Naturally, we come to one pastor who says “And who are we to judge?”

Tell me, if you’re a pastor, what message are you preaching? Are you preaching that anything is sin? Jesus did. That’s a judgment. Are you preaching Jesus is at least a revelation from God even if you don’t think He’s the only way? If you are making any claims about reality whatsoever, then you are judging. Judging is unavoidable.

After all, if I go to your church and I pay tithes, do you decide where the money goes? Isn’t that a judgment. Do you decide what you’re going to preach your sermon on? Do you decide what is going to be in the curriculum for your church? Everyday you make decisions that will affect the lives of your congregations.

And of course, the Bible tells us to judge. John 7:24 says to stop judging by mere appearances and make a right judgment. 1 Cor. 6 says that we saints will judge the world and we will judge angels. It in fact tells us that we must be qualified to make judgments among ourselves. So who are we to judge? People who take seriously what the Scripture says.

In fact, saying you’re not judging is itself making a judgment. It is making a judgment that what is in the womb is something that is not necessary to defend. It is saying that your tradition has nothing to say about those who could very well be the least among us. It is saying your tradition has nothing to say about matters of right and wrong in these areas and in fact, that right and wrong are entirely subjective.

Of course, I already had enough reason to know not to attend such a church.

Finally, we are told the amendment goes too far.

How far is too far if it comes to saving the lives of kids? Of course, there are some actions we would not condone, but isn’t this a question worth considering? Note also we are not talking about a ban on abortions. We are simply talking about a restriction on abortion such as making sure facilities are places that are not dangerous (Although they are for the baby) and to have a waiting period.

It’s a shame that people like this are often leaders of the churches. If abortion is indeed the killing of innocent children like myself and other Christians think, then that means that people who support this and encourage us to not do all we can to lessen it are going to have blood on their hands because of their actions.

And if they claim to believe in a holy God, then they should realize that he is a holy one who is the one to judge and that He will judge if they went too far in their actions in not restricting abortion.

They should think about that, as should all of us.

After all, if we believe that abortion kills an innocent child and we do nothing about it, are we not just as guilty?

In Christ,

Nick Peters