Recently a Bara study was released called Many pastors wary of raising ‘controversy’. The article discussed some of the reasons why pastors are wary of controversial topics. While most of the article discussed the issue of politics, I will add my thoughts here. The reality is that as we look to the future, I think pastors and ministry leaders should be willing to preach, teach, and discuss some of these topics:
1.Homosexuality/The Same Sex Marriage Debate: Obviously, given the constant attention on this topic, pastors and ministry leaders do themselves no favors by avoiding it. The real issue is whether they are exhorting their congregation to be salt and light in the culture. If they are, their people should be reaching out and engaging the top issues out there. Last year, since I teach apologetics at our congregation, I along with our leadership decided to bring Michael Brown to our congregation to speak on this topic. Michael has written on the topic and is very knowledgeable. After he came, several of our congregants thanked me for bringing him to our congregation. They said they had felt so intimidated about the topic and felt that to speak up about it was going to lead to bullying by gay activists. So the lesson here is that if a pastor don’t feel equipped to handle this topic, bring in someone who is an expert. But for God sakes, don’t keep avoiding the topic!
2.Islam: A survey back in 2012 said “new survey reveals the dramatically changing face of religion in America, with the number of Muslims in the U.S. soaring 67% in the decade since the 9/11 attacks. Data released Tuesday from the 2010 U.S. Religion Census shows Islam was the fastest growing religion in America in the last 10 years, with 2.6 million living in the U.S. today, up from 1 million in 2000. With this in mind, there is a new evangelistic Muslim ministry called Ask a Muslim. I have talked to their members several times over the last few weeks in my downtown area. They walk right up to people and start talking to them about Islam. And sadly, since so many Christians can’t explain the deity of Jesus or the Trinity, these Muslims are active to jump all over it and convert people to their faith. If pastors think they have any chance of having their people engage the culture and make disciples (Matt 28:19), they can’t avoid Islam. Once again, if a pastor doesn’t have the time to discuss this issue or teach on it, they need to bring an expert in asap. See the website Answering Islam.
3. The Authority of the Bible: If pastors keep assuming that the average person in the culture thinks the Bible is authoritative, they are living in denial. This is not the 1950’s! When we as Christians assume everyone outside the four walls accepts our starting point, then we are kidding ourselves. I would love to see more pastors spend at least one month or more a year teaching their congregants on the reliability and authority of the Bible.
For example, let’s say we have thousands of seminary students who graduate who are very skilled at exegeting the text. However, the problems is that the majority of these people (and teachers) start with a set of presuppositions that a fairly large part of our culture rejects. Here are our starting points:
1. God’s existence: God exists because the Bible says so.
2. Epistemology (the study of knowledge): God gives us knowledge of Himself by revelation. The Bible tells us this as well.
3.Miracles: Christianity is a revelatory religion. Without miracles (such as the resurrection) being both possible and actual, our faith is really not very unique. What about other miracle claims in other religions? There is an overall skepticism towards miracles in the West. How do we answer these issues?
4.History: Is history knowable? What historical method are we teaching our students? And as far as miracles, can history evaluate a miracle claim such as the resurrection?
5. Hermeneutics: Can we arrive at objective meaning in the text?
6. Ethics: Is the Bible a source of ethics for us? How would we explain this to the world around us.
If we continue to start with the Bible itself without Prolegomena, we will end up causing thousands of Christians to beg the question to those we minister to. To beg the question is to take for granted or assume the truth of the very thing being questioned. My advice for seminaries is to make it mandatory for all students to take a class on Prolegomena.
One of the best resources out on this topic is In Defense of the Bible: A Comprehensive Apologetic for the Authority of Scripture by Steven B. Cowan and Terry L. Wilder, 2013, 512 pp. ISBN 978-1433676789
But what if your pastor refuses to discuss these topics?
Guess what ? It is not your job to wait to be spoon fed by your pastor. Once again, don’t let the clergy/laity divide hurt you. There are more than enough resources on these topics. How about taking the initiative to get educated about them? Also, parents are the first teachers of their children! Don’t wait for your church to educate your children!