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Vision Sunday

Vision Sunday

This post is a summary of Sunday’s message at Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship, given as we look forward to our next year of ministry.

In today’s parlance, when we speak of a “vision”, especially of an organization, we mean, specifically, a vision for the future. In this post, however, I’m not only concerned with imagining our future, but with understanding our past and present as well. Our task as a church depends first and foremost on what God has done for in the past and what he will do for us in the future. Between these two poles – our justification already won through the gospel and our glorification promised by the gospel – lies our work in the present, our response to the gospel, Christ working in us.

In the Old Testament God often encouraged Israel by reminding them of His past deeds, His future promise, and His present commands. He rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. He promised to bring them into the Promised Land. Their present response to His past work and their future hope? Be strong and courageous and obey His word.

In the New Testament we see something similar. God has saved us through Jesus’ death and resurrection (past). He promises us eternal life with Him (future) – and in the shorter term that he will transform us more into the people he desires us to be. Our proper response? Be strong and courageous and obey His word.

The first two elements of this formula – past and future – are the gospel, that Jesus died for our sins, that He rose again, and that He will return to make all things new. The third – the present – is our response to the gospel.

The call to our church is to receive the gospel and respond to the gospel.

Receive

The gospel is first something which we must receive.

We were once far from God, but we have been “brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph 2:13). His sacrificial death on the cross destroyed the wall of hostility built up by our sin (Eph 2:14-15). In demolishing that wall he has formed those who believed into one body, the church, and has reconciled that one body to Himself (Eph 2:15-16). We as a church stand now as a people who have access to the Creator and Preserver of the universe, the Father, through the Spirit (Eph 2:18).

We receive this gospel through faith. We do not bring ourselves near. We do not reconcile ourselves to God. We do not barge into his presence. We are brought in by God Himself. We are saved by grace.

Respond

Having received this gospel, we respond.

This response is what it means to be a follower – a disciple – of Jesus. To the extent that our response as a church – what we value, how we think, what we do – is faithful to God, we will be “successful” as a church. By “successful” we mean “found faithful in his sight.” So what is a faithful response to the gospel?

This list is not definitive, but we believe it encompasses the major aspects of discipleship: we respond in worship, in fellowship, in growing knowledge (cognitive and applied) of His Word, and in mission.

Worship: Like the leper who returned to Jesus after he had been healed to bow down and worship him, we, having been healed from a disease worse than leprosy, lay down our lives to him. Worship is a whole life posture. But it is experienced and given in the act of praise – singing and declaring out loud the goodness of God. This is why we gather on Sunday mornings not, first of all, for our benefit, but to declare the praises of Him who saved us.

Fellowship: There is a spiritual unity within the body of Christ that exists whether we participate in it our not. Yet Paul sees this spiritual unity as calling us to a practical unity. The body is built up only insofar as “each part does its work.” Achieving spiritual maturity is something we do alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ. To respond to the gospel is to love the family of believers. To love the family of believers is to know and respond to their needs – physical, spiritual, emotional.

Knowing God’s Word: We need more than mere knowledge. Knowledge without love puffs up. It gives us a dangerous self-confidence. But we do need to be transformed by the renewing of our mind and that renewing of the mind comes through consistent meditation on the Word of God. By the Spirit of God, the word planted in us grows and bears fruit. That fruit is virtue informed by the likeness of Christ: his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.

Mission: Our mission is to make disciples and we do that by “letting our light shine” before the world in the hopes that the world will see it and glorify God. In the context of Jesus’ teaching that light is our good deeds; our acts of service and love. But, when Jesus sent out his disciples he sent them out not only with good deeds, but with a message: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” We bear that same mission – acts of love combined with the proclamation of God’s love. His kingdom is near and accessible by faith through the works of Jesus.

If we do these things well, we will be well on our way toward a faithful response to the gospel:

If in our worship we become continually aware of the presence of God, if in our fellowship we encourage and build each other up,
if in our application of the Word we grow into the image of Christ, if in our works of service we demonstrate Christ’s love to our neighbors, then we cannot help but become the light of the world and fulfill our purpose as a church

Having these broad principles in mind, how do we, Wyoming Park Bible Fellowship, properly respond to the gospel? How do we do these things at 2260 Porter St in the year 2018?

Below are a few specific goals for the next year:

Worship: Increase worship attendance. We could do this with a poor motive, to make ourselves look great, but it is nevertheless a good end to seek. Why? Because God is worthy of our worship. This increased attendance can come from two sources: (1) those who attend already, attend more regularly or (2) new attenders. Studies have shown that frequency of church attendance has dropped steadily in recent years and this is impacting church attendance numbers. This is a problem because other studies have shown that frequency of church attendance correlates to other measures of spiritual maturity.

What you can do: Come. Invite friends and family. Help make Sunday morning awesome, especially for newcomers.

Fellowship: Potlucks. You know what’s hard for new people to join? Small groups. Small groups are key to spiritual development, but they’re also awkward for a lot of people. It turns out that mid-sized groups can be a lot more conducive to socialization. Hence: potlucks. On the first Sunday of each month we’ll be holding potlucks after church along with BFG classes specifically for new attenders. The idea is to remove the awkwardness of the small groups for new people, while still providing them to take a “next step” in getting to know our church. (And eventual incorporation into Bible Fellowship Groups is still the ultimate goal). And, if there are no visitors, we still get the bonus of good food and fellowship around the table.

What you can do: Bring delicious food. Sit with someone new. Invite friends, specifically on the first week of the month.

Growing in knowledge: Helping people in individual and coordinated studies. One of the key “inputs” for spiritual growth is regular Bible reading. Yet, this remains one of those things which people struggle with the most. Our goal is to find ways to encourage and equip people to grow in that discipline.

What you can do: Recommend devotional material or practices that you find helpful.

Mission: Evaluate and (maybe) launch Safe Families for Children at WPBF. Safe Families for Children is a para-church ministry associated with Bethany Christian Services that places children in homes when there is an urgent and temporary family need. It is designed to head off the need for foster care, which is often extremely disruptive to children. We are evaluating to what extent we as a church should be involved. The extent we’re involved depends a lot on whether God is calling individuals and families in our church to participate – and whether those called are willing to respond.

What you can do: Pray about possible participation in Safe Families for Children. Let leaders know if you’re interested in helping out in some way.

Hope in the Lord

Our aim is to be faithful to God. We don’t know the end result of that faithfulness. The fruit of our labors, and the timing of that fruit, is up to God. Still, we can and should pray to see the fruit of the gospel and, even, to dream about what it might look like.

Here is what I am envisioning: Sunday morning we have a sanctuary filled with people, from every age group, from all kinds of backgrounds, some new believers, some seasoned, all worshipping God in Spirit and in truth. Our songs bring glory to God and our sermons faithfully expound the word of God and equip his people for life throughout the week.

During our BFG hour small – but expanding – groups encourage one another, pray for one another, and actively invite new people in. On potluck Sundays new attenders learn about church and stay to enjoy food and fellowship.

Throughout the week individuals put into practice the fruit of the Spirit, encouraged by regular time in the word and prayer. They function as the salt of the earth in their homes, in their leisure time, in their studies, and in their jobs. They are filled with peace and joy and love. In the times when they are alone, they act with integrity. All consider ways they can serve others, though each will have their own way of doing this. As a church, we have a team of people practicing true religion – caring for children in need – either through Safe Families, Attic After School, or by simply and organically caring for the needs we become aware of around us.

These acts of service and this palpable love shown by our congregation – combined with a willingness to share the good news of the gospel – invites others to receive and respond to the gospel, then to join us at the table, then to grow in maturity, and then to reach out in love.

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Sermon Summary: Stand

Note: As part of my sermon  preparation, I’m going to be condensing the main points of the sermon into a 500 or less word blog post. This is my first attempt.

Text: Ephesians 6:10-13

“Put on the full armor of God.”

In the Christian life we find security and rest. God has saved us by grace through faith apart from works. We rest in that reality. But the Christian life is also a battle. We fight, not for the grace of God, but from the grace of God. Jesus has already won the war, but as we wait for his return we must fight individual skirmishes. How do we win them?

In their fight believers are prone to three errors: We ignore the battle and grow complacent. We misidentify the enemy. We fight out of our own strength. If we’re going to win, we must recognize the battle, identify the enemy and his tactics, and fight from God’s strength.

Let’s first examine the battle. Our enemy is “not against flesh and blood.” Our enemy is the devil and evil spiritual forces. The Bible has plenty of examples of human enemies. Paul himself could have pointed to the Romans, Jewish religious leaders, pagan cult leaders, and even false teachers within the church. Yet, we must recognize the spiritual enemy behind the human enemy.

Jesus calls us to love our human enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Our battle is not, ultimately, against them, but against the spiritual powers standing behind their actions. The devil himself wants us to direct our hatred against other humans. In doing so, we step off the path on which Jesus leads us.

How does the enemy attack? God calls us to stand against his “schemes” and to raise our shield of faith against his “fiery arrows”. His primary weapon is deception. He lies. His influence can lead to persecution and the temptation to deny the faith, or pressure which by which he leads us to compromise our faith. He brings fear and discouragement to stop us from acting out of faith. And finally, his most common attack, is to tempt us into sin.

Each of these situations presents us with a battle. We can decide to follow God or give in to the devil’s schemes. God calls us to stand, to be firm and undefeated, to have a godly resolve, to resist, and to prevail. We prevail when we hold true to the faith in the face of persecution or pressure, when we persevere through fear and discouragement, and when we resist temptation by submitting to God.

We put ourselves in a position to win when we first surrender ourselves to God. We gain life by losing it. We’re strong when we recognize our own weakness and trust only in God for our strength. “Submit yourselves, resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Is God’s judgment passive or active?

One of the questions that plagued me in my early Christian life was whether God’s acts of judgment were just. I was thinking particularly of Israel’s conquest of Canaan and, of course, hell. If I’m honest, I’ll admit that these still bother me, though to a different degree and in a different way.

One common way that apologists handle the question of God’s just judgment is by emphasizing its passive nature. That is, they emphasize that in God’s judgments He is simply giving us over to our own desires. For example, C.S. Lewis says the following:

“There are only two kinds of people – those who say, “Thy will be done” to God or those to whom God in the end says, “Thy will be done.” All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice it wouldn’t be Hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it.”

Is the passive description of God’s judgment biblical?

This idea of God’s passive judgment certainly seems to get God off the hook. He doesn’t so much “send” people to hell as He lets them go there. It’s hard to find fault with such a God. The question, then, is whether this conception of his judgment is biblical.

Let’s begin with Proverbs 26:27 as an example: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.” The person is digging a pit as an act of evil. They are setting a snare; a trap designed to bring harm. The irony is that the very way in which they intend to do harm comes back to harm them. God’s judgment here – this is not mere Karma – is indirect. We see something similar in Proverbs 29:6: “evildoers are snared by their own sin.”

Next, we can turn to Romans. In chapter 1 Paul declares “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of the people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness” (1:18). But part of this wrath that is being displayed is God simply allowing sin to progress to its natural end: “Therefore, God gave them over in their sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (1:24). And then again, “God gave them over to shameful lusts” (1:25). In other words, God’s judgment in this case is primarily seen as him allowing sin to take its natural course – rejection of God which leads to disobedience which leads to a more corrupt self, and ultimately to death.

Aside from proof texts, this idea that judgment is God’s “giving over” of people to their rejection of him matches a systematic way of looking at the Bible: God is the source of life. Sin separates us from God. Therefore, sin separates us from the Source of life. The natural course of sin is death. Extrapolate that out eternally, and you have Hell: Eternal death as eternal separation from God.

I think, then, that this view of God’s judgment is a helpful way of looking at the “natural” consequences of sin. Sin, by its nature, is destructive. And, for the person who holds onto it, it is eternally­ self-destructive.

But, I think this view of judgment is also incomplete.

God’s active judgment

God’s judgment is also described in more active terms. God is seen not only as giving people or nations over to their rebellion, but as punishing those people and nations.

God judged Adam and Eve through the curse. He sent the flood. He sent plagues on Egypt. He directed Israel to take over the land of Canaan. He summoned the Babylonians and Assyrians as agents of his judgment against Israel. He is often described as a warrior, fighting against the wicked and the oppressors. These images cannot be viewed simply through the lens of “giving over.” I’m not sure fire coming down from heaven – a common description of God’s judgment (i.e., 2 Kings 1:14) is ever a “natural” result of sin.

The same thing is true when it comes to the words of judgment in the New Testament. A number of Jesus’ parables end in a description of judgment. Matthew 25:28-30 is illustrative: The master replies, “take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags… And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Or Jude says, referring to God’s active judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah as an example, “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7).

God’s judgment as active punishment against wrongdoers also matches a systematic way of reading the Bible: God is holy and just. Our sin is an offense to his holiness and justice. God is obligated by his justice to punish wrongdoing. Extrapolate this out eternally and you have hell.

So which way of looking at God’s judgment is correct? Should we view it as passive or active? Well, I don’t think the two are mutually exclusive. The Bible supports both. They are two sides to the same coin. The one shows us the self-destructive nature, the insanity, of sin. The other shows us that sin is worthy of just punishment.

So, what about the justice of God’s judgment?

The idea of God’s judgment as a “giving over” of humanity to its rebellion would answer my objection, but only if it were a comprehensive picture of God’s judgment. It’s not. The Christian still needs an answer for God’s active judgment.

It’s hard to find fault with God’s justice in general. It’s clear that justice includes punishment for wrongdoing. But what makes God’s judgment seem unfair to so many is that it doesn’t seem to be proportional to the crime. How could anybody really deserve the sort of torments described by Jesus?

I think we get hung up on this for two reasons. We downplay the holiness of God and we downplay the seriousness of sin. We forget that God is infinitely holy – so a sin against Him is of infinite offense – and we think of sin as a small matter – as a weakness or a mistake – when in reality it is a conscious rebellion against the One who gives us life and breath. I think that if I had a clearer understanding of those realities, I would be less scandalized by God’s judgment.

Trusting in the goodness and love of God

As I wrestled with these doctrines I continued to ask God for wisdom. He led me to some of the answers above, but the intellectual answers could only get me so far. I came to a place where I could understand it, but I was yet to the place where I could accept it. For that I needed to lean on God.

I came to the following conclusion: I do not understand (at a deeper level) the judgment of God. But I do understand (at the level of trust) that God is good and loving. He will not, in the end, do anything that violates perfect justice. I can trust Him that He will act justly, even if I cannot fully comprehend that justice. He is good and loving, He is patient and kind, He is gracious and merciful. I know that through the cross. And, because I can know those things through the cross, I can also trust that He will continue to act with justice, love, and mercy.

Guest Post: Emanuel “God With Us”

A reflection my Dad, John Kopp, wrote while contemplating Good Friday. Posted with permission:

Emanuel “God With Us”
Betrayed, arrested, abandoned, denied,
Mocked, beaten, scourged.

Emanuel “God With Us”
Questioned, lied to, lied about. Condemned for what?
For telling the truth.

Emanuel “God With Us”
Hanging on a cross. Crucified as a criminal,
Blood dripping from His head, His hands, His feet,
The wounds from the whip make His back raw with pain.
And still he forgives His tormentors.

Emanuel “God With Us”
Rejected by the Father,
Willing dying in our place,
The punishment for our sins falling on Him,
The stripes on His back are for our healing.

Emanuel “God With Us”
Lying in the grave, sealed with a stone, guarded by solders,
Sadness, grief, despair, OUR LORD IS GONE.

Emanuel “God With Us”
The stone is rolled away, the grave is EMPTY!
Death has been defeated by death,
He is ALIVE!
Sadness, grief, despair, vanished. Surprise, wonder, joy, in its place.

Emanuel “God With Us”
Gone now to the Father,
The Spirit is now with us.
To teach us how to be His disciples,
To do His work with His power, His strength.

Emanuel “God With Us” FOREVER!

Evaluating alternative theories to the Resurrection

In On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision and Reasonable Faith William Lane Craig presents the historical case for the resurrection. He outlines three pieces of evidence which historians need to wrestle with: The empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances, and the disciples’ beliefs.

After building the case for this evidence, Craig refutes several alternative theories presented for explaining the evidence. Here’s his discussion in a nutshell:

Conspiracy Hypothesis: This theory states that the disciples stole the body and lied about the appearances. There are numerous problems with this hypothesis.

1.       There would be no reason for the disciples to say that women were the first witnesses to the empty tomb. In that culture, this would have made their story considerably less credible because of the role that women played in society. Jewish men would simply not invent that story.

2.       Why didn’t the disciples do more to strengthen their case like including descriptions of fulfilled prophecy, descriptions of the resurrection itself, or the guard story (included only in Matthew) in all four gospel accounts? In other words, if they went through the trouble of a conspiracy, they could have done a more convincing job.

3.       And, most importantly, why would the disciples go through all the trouble of the work of the conspiracy for a story that they knew would get them killed? When other “Messiahs” died, their followers scattered. What made this one unique?

Apparent Death Hypothesis: This theory states that Jesus didn’t die on the cross but that he was buried alive. He then revived and exited the tomb, possibly with the help of the disciples. Again, problems arise:

1.       If the disciples helped, then this hypothesis suffers the same problems as the conspiracy hypothesis.

2.       If the disciples weren’t “in on it” then this flies in the face of everything we know about Roman crucifixion. The guards could be counted on to ensure the prisoner’s death. Especially given the beatings that Jesus endured prior to the actual crucifixion, there is simply no way he could have survived, let alone revived to the degree that his disciples would have concluded that he rose from the dead.

3.       This theory also doesn’t explain why Jesus did not continue on with his disciples. If it is because he died, then it doesn’t explain the disciples’ beliefs or experience.

Displaced Body Hypothesis: This theory is that either Jesus’ body was moved with the disciples’ knowledge or they went to the wrong tomb. In either version, the disciples saw the empty tomb and concluded that Jesus rose from the dead.

1.       This theory doesn’t provide any explanation for the post-resurrection appearances.

2.       This theory doesn’t explain the disciples’ belief, since it’s extremely unlikely that they would have concluded that he rose from the dead. The idea of a resurrected Messiah was still outside of their understanding of what the Messiah would be like. They would certainly simply have tracked down the actual tomb.

3.       If the disciples hadn’t tracked down the tomb, their opponents certainly would have to refute the disciples’ story.

4.       Tombs were well noted so this theory is disconfirmed by what we know about Jewish cultural practices.

Hallucination Hypothesis: This theory is that, overcome by grief, the disciples had hallucinations of Jesus after his death and concluded that Jesus rose from the dead.

1.       This theory doesn’t provide any explanation for the empty tomb. The disciples or their opponents would have produced a body to show that the disciples were merely seeing things.

2.       In a Jewish context, a vision of a deceased person wouldn’t tell the person seeing the vision that the person was alive, but dead. There were others who experienced such visions and they confirmed that the person was dead and in heaven, not that they were raised from the dead.

3.       The bodily nature of the appearances makes such hallucinations extremely unlikely. Jesus didn’t appear as a ghost but interacted bodily with those who saw him.

4.       The sheer number of people who witnessed Jesus – including the 500 described in 1 Corinthians 15, many of whom were still alive to be interviewed, basically disproves this hypothesis.

If you take the philosophical position that miracles cannot happen than you may be forced into one of these implausible theories. But, even if you only accept the possibility of miracles, then an actual historical resurrection is the best fit for all the historical evidence available to us.

Book Recommendation: 

Almost all the books that I’ve read in defense of the resurrection cite N.T. Wright’s book The Resurrection of the Son of God

The Resurrection: Does it matter?

A Christian friend once asked me, “Does it really matter if Jesus was raised from the dead?” Can we still have the Christian faith without the resurrection?

Let’s see what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. There was apparently a group of teachers in Corinth who were teaching against a final resurrection. But, says Paul, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised” (1 Cor 12:13). But if Christ has not been raised then “our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor 12:14).

If Christ was not raised:

  • The apostles were “false witnesses of God” (1 Cor 12:15) since they made the resurrection the foundation of their faith. And if they are false witnesses about the resurrection then we cannot trust any of their testimony.
  • “Your faith is futile; you are still in your sins” (1 Cor 12:17). Jesus took the penalty for our sins on the cross, but it was His resurrection that proved Christ’s divinity. And His divinity is necessary for his sacrifice to be sufficient to cover the sins of the entire world. If he was not divine, his sacrifice could not cover the sins of the world, nor my sins, nor yours.
  • “Those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost” (1 Cor 15:18). Without the resurrection we don’t have a foundation for hope after death. Those who die are lost forever.
  • “We are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). Christians are called to daily take up their cross and follow Jesus. The Christian life is one of sacrifice, which Paul knew first hand: “I face death every day… If I fought wild beasts in Ephesus with no more than human hopes, what have I gained” (1 Cor 15:31,32). Indeed, if Christ has not been raised then we should be hedonists: “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” Or, to put in another way: YOLO.

But, since Christ has been raised:

  • Not only has Christ been raised, but his bodily resurrection is available to those who put their faith in him. Why? Because He is “the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” (1 Cor 15:20)
  • The reign of death which came through Adam has been overcome by the resurrection, ushered in by Christ. “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” Christians are not merely children of Adam and inheritors of sin and death, but children of God, living now with his resurrection life (1 Cor 15:22).
  • Christ has defeated every enemy. In his death he disarms Satan by paying for our sins. In his resurrection he proves his power over death itself (1 Cor 15:23-26).
  • Our mortal, perishable, dishonorable, and weak bodies will be clothed with immortality, glory, and power (1 Cor 15:42-44).
  • Our “labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:59). What we do on this earth matters because it matters for eternity.

Must it be a bodily resurrection? Can’t we have the same sort of hopes with a mere spiritual resurrection? No. The Christian hope is not only a hope of being rescued from a fallen world (though it is), but of the redemption of the physical world, including the redemption of our physical bodies. Our final hope is not that our spirits will go to heaven to live with God, but that God will dwell with us on a new earth. We don’t have this final hope, though, if we don’t have the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Tim Keller’s three barriers to faith

In his introduction to The Reason for God Tim Keller shares some of his own spiritual journey and describes three “barriers” to embracing an orthodox Christian faith. I found his categorization especially helpful because these barriers resonate with many of the same barriers I see others experiencing today.

Keller’s religious upbringing vacillated between conservative and liberal forms of Christianity. The conservative side of his upbringing emphasized traditional Christian doctrines and the liberal side expressed doubts about those doctrines and emphasized social activism. Keller thought he saw something wrong in both of these camps:

“The people most passionate about social justice were moral relativists, while the morally upright didn’t seem to care about the oppression going on all over the world. I was emotionally drawn to the former path… But I kept asking the question, ‘If morality is relative, why isn’t social justice as well?’… [Yet] How could I turn back to the kind of orthodox Christianity that supported segregation in the South and apartheid in South Africa? Christianity began to seem very unreal to me…”

This “unreality” stemmed from three barriers that lay across his path; an intellectual barrier, a personal barrier, and a social barrier.

The intellectual barrier came from tough questions posed against Christianity: What about other religions? What about evil and suffering? What about God’s judgement? This barrier was overcome in part through reading books and examining arguments.

The personal, interior barrier, came from the transition from an inherited faith that rested on the authority of others, to a personal faith. This barrier couldn’t be overcome intellectually, but through Keller coming to grips with his own needs, flaws, and problems, and by developing a personal relationship with God.

The social barrier stemmed from his search for a group of Christians who cared about both justice and objective truth about God. Finding this group was an essential turning point for Keller.

These three barriers were intertwined and dependent upon each other. He didn’t work through them one at a time, but together.

I can especially relate to the first two barriers – the intellectual and the personal. My intellectual doubts were bound up with my personal struggles. And, as I worked out my relationship with God, some of my intellectual doubts became less difficult as I learned to simply trust God without knowing all the answers. Yet, the intellectual answers gave me more confidence that I was trusting in an objective reality, and not my own wishful thinking.

I was blessed with never having a major struggle with the social barrier. I have always been able to be part of a community of faith that, while always far from perfect, encouraged me and aided my spiritual journey.

Yet I see that many others either separate from a faith community because of the intellectual or personal barriers, which only makes those barriers more formidable, or the separation from the faith community precedes intellectual and personal barriers. In other words, the social barrier for many is tied inextricably to the personal and intellectual side of faith.

As a pastor concerned with helping people overcome barriers it’s important for me to see and properly diagnose these three barriers. Not every barrier is intellectual, or internal, or social. Intellectual answers won’t help everybody, at least not in the same way they did for me. Nor should we dismiss all intellectual questions as ways of avoiding the commands of God. And, we should see the importance of community, which give the context in which those struggling can overcome their personal and intellectual barriers.

Book Recommendation


The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism