Posted by: Bro. Lawrence D. | July 24, 2008

Agonizing over Eschatology Debates and Apologetics in General

I Peter 3:15 reads: “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”. According to John MacArthur Jr. in the MacArthur Study bible: ‘The English word “apologetics” comes from the Greek word here translated “defense.” Peter is using the word in an informal sense and is insisting that the believer must understand what he believes and why one is a Christian, and then be able to articulate one’s beliefs humbly, thoughtfully, reasonably, and biblically.’

Now let’s say that we accept MacArthur’s explanation on this verse, then what of all the debates that we see in Christian circles today. Are all of these debates really centered around defending why one is a Christian? Is every subject being debated actually vital to the foundation of one’s belief in Christ? I realize that since most of the tenets of Christianity are arrived at systematically, at times we may find it necessary to cover a wide range of subjects. But what I’m basically asking is if the current culture of Apologetics has developed from taking this verse too far. Or, in other words, from not applying it strictly based on its intented purpose?

For instance what about the subject of Eschatology, which is the study of last things? I recently listened to two debates. Both of which were between a Preterist and a Futurist. (If you don’t know what these terms mean, look them up as I don’t have time or space to do either of them justice) Both sets of men professed to be devoted Christians. Both times it seems as though they regarded one another as fellow believers. But neither time did either of them seem to hinge the hope of their salvation on their eschatalogical views. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe that it’s okay for Christians to kick around their different views on other subjects in a debate format. I am even okay with the public being made privy to the conversation. However, since we’ve got their attention, what about mentioning the hope that is in us? What about taking the time to establish the common ground of Christ. I mean Paul even debated with others himself. And he did it publicly. But his aim always seemed to be to establish the truth claims of Christ and the gospel message. Why isn’t that our aim?

Maybe I missed something. Maybe eschatology is pertinent to the gospel. But if it is, then I need someone to show me how. What about you? Do you wonder about other debate subjects that don’t seem to have any impact for the gospel? Do you see any benefit other than believers being equipped to defend their faith? Do you believe that the non-believer can be impacted by vigorous theological debates, either with them or between two Christians? What do you think?

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Responses

  1. Good post, Brother L

    It seems like eschatology has become a major point of division in the church. Most people pay lip service to the fact that it’s not “essential” doctrine, but try challenging them on their rapture timing and quickly watch a brother become cold and unloving toward ya!

    Personally, I quit arguing. I didn’t stop speaking the truth, but I refuse to argue. I will discuss, I will teach, and I’ll ask pointed questions, but I won’t argue. Once it becomes the least bit heated, it’s my flesh, and I have yet to see the Holy Spirit work effectively through my striving.

    In the debate you mentioned, it sounds like these were mature believers who simply differed in their views, but did not allow their differences to come between them as brothers? To me, this is the way it should be when discussing non-essentials. Obviously, at least one of the men was wrong. It could even be that they were both wrong. If they are truly saved, the Holy Spirit will try to teach them the truth in the matter, if they are teachable.

    My point is that nothing has to be settled, today, on non-essentials. God will correct over time.

    On salvation issues, though – If one is wrong on essential doctrine, it’s probable he isn’t saved to begin with. Definitely worth a good conversation!

  2. Thanks for the comment brother.

    As far as the essentials go, I wish that in the Body we at least had consensus on this vital issue. Check out any of the major apologetics sites and you will see that we don’t. Even amongst the reformed community.

    Also, you say “if one is wrong on essential doctrine, it’s probable he isn’t saved to begin with”. I have a comment and two questions regarding this statement.

    I think we must be very careful to make such statements. How does such an assessment edify anyone? What I mean is, how do we approach someone that we see as being wrong? And what exactly do you mean by wrong? I’ve had many unnecessary arguments over someone being “wrong” on a certain doctrine. I found out later that we believed the same thing but were articulating it differently. Also, a person may be new to the faith but very clear on the Gospel. How much time would we allow for growth and maturity? These are just questions for clarity and my personal instruction.

  3. Hi Bro,

    Let me give an example – if my next door neighbor tells me that he believes in Jesus, but only that he was a great prophet, and not God, and even that Jesus did not die on the cross as a propitiation for our sins, then I can make a reasonable assumption that this man does not know the Christ of the bible.

    The thing is – if we are saved through faith, there has to be a valid object for our faith. If we acknowledge Jesus as a prophet, but put our faith in our own righteousness, then we have placed our faith in useless works which are no better than filthy rags – right?

    On the other hand – if a new believer has put his faith in the Jesus of the bible — but has fallen into the prosperity error…. we’d be way out of line to assume anything about the brother except that he was wrong about some things – still saved though.

    Your question regarding “How does such an assessment edify anyone?” is a great one. The answer is this:

    Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. We’ve been told as brothers to edify (feed) one another.

    Paul told us that some should be ready for meat but were still on milk.

    The point is that in order to feed anyone the correct food – a rough idea of where they are would be helpful. An unsaved person might need different food still. Of course, we need to rely on the Holy Spirit to guide our conversations as well.

    Hope this clarifies my last comment some. What I definitely DON’T mean is that we should be running around guessing everyone’s salvation status and clobbering them with it. That’s not it at all. We’re to be wise and led by The Spirit when sharing the gospel.

    By the way, read your story and was definitely edified by it. What a powerful testimony, bro.

    Larry

  4. Thanks again LAZ! You hit so many important points bro that I have nothing to add. Keep coming by, I have a feeling your presence will be helpful to many including myself.

  5. Good conversation going on over here brothers. It is real funny when we get into essentails here are some examples:

    1. A Christian denies the virgin birth. What if it is the first time he has ever heard it

    2. A Christian denies the Trinity it is the first time he has heard it and must wrestle through it.

    3. A Christian denies a literal 6 day creation.

    4. A Christian denies the Flood account. He doesn’t know how to come to terms with it.

    What do we do in those cases?

  6. Bro. Lionel,

    You know you coming with it brother.

    Let’s just take the Doctrine of the Trinity. Why do we in the Body pretend that this is an easily understood concept as long as an individual is regenerate?
    If someone wants to remain around the fellowship but they just struggle with a few admittedly difficult doctrines, then our hope should be that through the loving instruction of the Holy Spirit through another member of the Body, that person will continue to grow in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.


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