WAKE FOREST, N.C. (BP)–Learning to share the Gospel in a culture that does not understand often is largely a matter of getting out of the way and allowing Scripture to speak, Daniel Akin said.
Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of four plenary speakers during the seminary’s annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference. This year’s conference, “Conversing with the Culture,” featured Akin, Michael Green, Bruce Little and R. Albert Mohler Jr. The men addressed the value of accurately assessing and addressing culture and sharing the Gospel.
One of the problems people often encounter when trying to share the Gospel is that Christians are their own worst enemies in how they present the message, Akin said.
“We get in the way of people even before they hear the Gospel,” he said, adding that believers need to be ready for action by preceding any words with actions.
“Be zealous for what is right. Be active in doing that which is right. When believers are wholeheartedly following Jesus, they may be beyond the reach of harm, but they’re not beyond the reach of suffering,” Akin said during the Feb. 4-5 sessions at the Wake Forest, N.C., campus.
Believers also should be able to defend their faith and make a case for the hope they have found in Christ, Akin said, noting, “You don’t have to be a scholar or have a Ph.D. to defend your faith.
“Most of the people in 1 Peter were illiterate,” he said, referencing the New Testament book, “and yet Peter was telling them they could be equipped.”
More than having the right skills or words to use, it is important to know why there is hope in Jesus, Akin said.
“Why do you love Him? Why do you treasure Him more than you treasure anyone or anything else?” he asked. “Is it the incomparable greatness of His person and His work on the cross? There can be no other explanation than the supernatural work of God.”
Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, said the work of God in Paul’s life is what enabled and motivated him to speak to the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34. When Paul spoke to the intelligent and influential Greek leaders, he recognized that his confidence was not in his own intellect but in the truths revealed to him by God.
“There’s no way we can give a reason for the hope within us if all we can say is, ‘I don’t know,'” Mohler said. “Our epistemological humility comes down to the fact that God has revealed Himself to us. Our confidence must be in God and not in ourselves. We’re ready to give an answer for our hope not because we’re smarter or wiser than anyone else but because Christ has spoken to us.”
Because Christ revealed Himself to humanity, Mohler said, Paul and modern-day believers are able to give an answer for the hope they have found in Christ, although such a discourse must begin with a provoked spirit and a broken heart for those held captive, as Paul demonstrated in verse 16.
“We’re not out to win an argument. We’re out to win hearts and minds. There’s a misapprehension that the point of Christian apologetics is to win an argument. The point is not to win an argument. The point of Christian apologetics is to share the Gospel,” Mohler said.
Sharing the Gospel with a unique generation was the focus of Green’s message during the second day of the conference. Green, a chaplain at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, spoke about the challenges of sharing the Gospel with Millennials.
“Although the Gospel doesn’t change, and although Jesus doesn’t change, the culture around us is changing at an unprecedented rate,” Green said.
Millennials value community and transparency, as seen in the rise of Google, Green said, and have been unconvinced about God because they haven’t seen the Gospel’s effects in particular areas of culture in which they’re interested.
“Who can blame them for doubting the answers to the world’s problems can be found in the church and in the Gospel? Expose them to the real Jesus,” Green said, urging students to introduce people to “the Christ who valued the home and was always serving other people, the Jesus who brought joy and excitement wherever He went. … You don’t prove people. You meet them.”
Meeting Jesus is the only way Millennials will be won to faith, because apologetics and reasoning will not be enough, Green said.
“Your friend’s whole personality is involved, not just their minds. Reason isn’t enough. Most people are won when they see Jesus lovingly reaching out to the broken and torn places in their lives. We need to develop the skill of showing Jesus winsomely.”
Little, a professor of philosophy and director of the Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern, closed the conference by discussing the concept of light as mentioned in Ephesians 5:2 and how it relates to cultural engagement for modern-day believers.
“Many evangelicals talk about cultural engagement, but it is too often divorced from the life of the church,” Little said. “The church is to be salt and light, so faithful living is about ordering all of life according to the foundational principles of the Kingdom. It’s a way of living where God is our center.”
To understand how to properly do this, Little said people must understand the terms “church” and “world” and how the two should interact.
“We are the called-out ones, the separated ones. We are called out of the world but not called out of culture,” Little said. “Somehow we have the idea that church and culture are on opposite sides. To think this way shows a skewed view of culture and the church’s relationship to culture. We want to engage culture, but we’ve failed to be Christian culture-makers.
“Christian culture-making must give thought to producing things that are bursting forth, reflecting the beauty of God and showing the best of what it means to be a Christian. It will look very different from the culture-making of our current culture.”
Little said faithful culture-making is part of what it means to converse with culture.
“Our culture-making should be informed by the spirit of Christ. This is faithful cultural engagement. May He give us wisdom to know how to do it, strength to do it well, and grace.”
PANEL DISCUSSES CONVERSING WITH CULTURE — Believers often are confronted with hard questions: Why do you believe what you believe? Why does God allow suffering in the world? Is Christianity the only way to salvation? Why should I believe that God exists? What about homosexuality and abortion?
These were among the questions addressed during the 20/20 Collegiate Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in February. More than 800 college and high school students filled Binkley Chapel to hear such speakers as Daniel Akin, Southeastern’s president; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Michael Green, a chaplain at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics; and Bruce Little, professor of philosophy and director of the Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern.
The four men participated in a panel discussion moderated by Bruce Ashford, dean of the College at Southeastern. Ashford first asked the panel to speak on one or two key issues Christians face in the 21st Century.
Akin said Christians are making hard decisions concerning evolution and the practice of homosexuality. Unfortunately, many Christians in the academy and the church are giving ground on these issues instead of holding firm to the biblical position, he said. Akin said he believes the “exclusivity of Christ will continue to be extremely offensive to a pluralistic culture.”
Akin mentioned the growth of Islam in the United States and internationally as an issue facing not only the church but the wider American culture. Green also highlighted the issue of Islam and encouraged Christians to study the religion and study missionary evangelism strategies that have been successful in different parts of the Islamic world in order to better engage Muslims in this country.
Mohler said the issue of gender has influenced the 21st century, and culture today is beginning to ask if gender even matters. Already in New York, he said, people are allowed to change the sex on their birth certificate.
“We are living in a time where the whole issue of gender — male and female — is a liquid concept. It is becoming more and more acceptable to wear a beard to work one day and a dress the next,” Mohler said. “The issue of homosexuality is the prow of the ship, so to speak, but there are a host of other issues such as this right behind it.”
As Judeo-Christian morality continues to be thrown out of American culture, the church needs to learn how to speak with clarity and grace to these issues, regardless of how uncomfortable it may seem, the panel said.
Akin asked Green, an 80-year-old Englishman who has served in ministry on both sides of the Atlantic, if he thought the American church would follow the pattern of what tragically has happened to the church in Europe. Green said he does see the American church following in the footsteps of the now-nearly extinct European church.
Green pointed to the liberalism of American universities as one of the main factors in the slide toward becoming post-Christian. He also suggested that if the church does not address “the issues within as well as the issues on the outside,” such as gender and homosexuality, he fears for its demise.
Mohler encouraged the audience with three imperatives: “1. Think. Cultural engagement begins with thinking. How do the claims of Christ and the claims of the Bible lay claim on us as we consider these issues? 2. Read. We need to be very careful and avid consumers of the conversation of the culture around us. We need to know what is going on, especially in the larger intellectual culture. 3. Articulate. Speak, write, blog, tweet on the basis of Christian conviction. Cultural engagement is best seen by engaging with Christian truth. It helps us think through the issues ourselves as well as explain it to the culture around us.”
Ashford asked the panel to highlight a few models, either Christian theologians or public figures, who are exemplary at engaging the culture. Akin said that no matter how well believers engage the culture, there is always going to be a degree of rejection.
“By its very nature the Gospel is going to be offensive … but we do not need to be the ones who are doing the offending and thus keeping people from the Gospel,” Akin said, listing Mohler, C.S. Lewis and Francis Schaeffer as good models.
Mohler said the ambition of Christians is not just to speak to the culture. “Our goal is to be faithful to the Gospel,” he said, explaining that today’s society is one of culturally imbedded people who have a responsibility to speak the Gospel to the culture. Throughout the history of the church, each model has been mixed. There is no exact right way to do it.
Mohler pointed to Augustine and his book “City of God.” Augustine “set forth a Christian mode of cultural engagement that made clear that the Gospel is supreme over all cultures. But God loves people, and people are set in cultures, and therefore we are to pay attention to the city of man, even though our primary allegiance is to the city of God,” Mohler said, also highlighting William Wilberforce and Jonathan Edwards as models of cultural engagement.
NORMAL CHRISTIAN LIFE INVOLVES DEATH, AKIN SAYS — Daniel Akin said just as Jesus asked His disciples who people said He was, modern-day disciples must know who God is because it will determine how they live their lives.
Preaching from Mark 8:27-38 in chapel on Jan. 27, Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, urged Christians to know what they believe about Jesus because it will determine how they serve Him in ministry and with their lives. Unlike others who form a view of Christ based on who they desire Him to be, Akin said Scripture tells exactly who He is, and this picture should shape beliefs about God.
Based on the passage, Akin said, “Thus our Lord informs them and us what the normal Christian life looks like and what it means to follow and serve the King. … He’s a King who came to die and serve, a King who calls His followers to die and serve too.”
The question, “Who do you say I am?” is an inescapable question in the life of every follower of Christ, Akin said. The answers showed much about who the disciples believed Jesus to be, as well as many of the popular answers of the day. The given answers not only applauded Jesus but recognized Him as someone to be emulated. “They honor Him but misrepresent Him,” Akin said. “They applaud Him while denying Him for who He really is.”
The same attitude permeates modern society, Akin said. From the feminist gospel to the prosperity gospel, he said there are a number of examples of how Jesus is honored but misrepresented and therefore never makes sufficient impact on lives.
“At the center of Mark’s Gospel we have the one and only acceptable answer concerning the identity of Jesus. Peter and the 12 rejected the prevailing opinions of the crowds and religious leaders, and so must we,” Akin said. “Popular and trendy views of Jesus must always surrender to the clear and consistent witness of Scripture.”
Once the disciples publicly declared that they believed Jesus to be the Christ in verse 29, Akin said the passage turns from what believers profess to how they act. Like modern disciples, once Jesus began preaching on the implications of being the Christ, the disciples began to balk. Like Peter, the idea of the suffering and death of Christ is difficult for many to believe, Akin said.
“Jesus treats Peter like he was Satan,” Akin said. “It is harsh but justified and necessary. Like Satan at the temptation in the wilderness, he offers Jesus the crown without the cross. He has a better plan than God does. Like so many then and today, he wants a Jesus who fits his agenda. He wants a Christ on his terms.”
Akin said believers today are guilty of the same. Rather than trying to redefine God, though, they need to recognize and redefine themselves in light of Christ and the cross.
“You must understand and accept that Jesus calls you to deny yourself and die for His sake and the Gospel’s,” Akin said, noting Jesus’ words in Mark 8 that if any would follow Him they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.
“Did you come to Southeastern Seminary to die? When you came to Jesus, did you come to die?” Akin said. “Deciding to die is not normal or natural. However, it is necessary to be Christ’s disciple. It is not a quick death. It is a slow death, a painful death. The way may be hard. But the path and the end is glorious.”
Lauren Crane writes for Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C., and Thomas Crane writes for the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.