Believers are often 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 are just some of the questions addressed during the
recent 20/20 Conference at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (SEBTS).
More than 800 college and high school students filled Binkley Chapel to hear
from Daniel Akin, president of SEBTS; Albert Mohler Jr., president of The
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; Michael Green, chaplain for the Oxford
Center for Christian Apologetics; Bruce Little, professor of philosophy and
director of the SEBTS L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture; as well as
numerous other professors and pastors who led nearly 20 different break out
Feb. 5 featured a panel discussion with the plenary
speakers. Bruce Ashford, dean of the College at Southeastern, moderated the
discussion. Ashford first asked the panel to speak on one or two key issues
Christians are faced with in a 21st century context.
Akin spoke about how 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. Akin believes the
“exclusivity of Christ will continue to be extremely offensive to a pluralistic
Akin described the continual growth of Islam in the United
States, as well as internationally, as an issue facing not only the church but
the wider American culture in general. Green also highlighted the issue of
Islam. He encouraged Christians to study the religion more in-depth and to
study missionary evangelism strategies seeing success in different parts of the
Islamic world in order to better engage Muslim neighbors in this country.
Mohler brought up the issue of gender as a noteworthy
influencing factor in the 21st century. He said culture today is beginning to
ask if gender even matters. Already in New York 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 into these issues, regardless of how
uncomfortable it may seem.
Akin then 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 has tragically 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. He 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.
In regards to engaging the culture on many of these issues,
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 began by saying that, “no matter how well we do this (engage the
culture around us) 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 then went on to list men like Mohler, C.S. Lewis and
Francis Schaeffer as good models.
Mohler answered the question by saying that the ambition of
Christians is not just to speak to the culture.
“Our goal is to be faithful to
the gospel,” he said.
However, Mohler went on to explain 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.
He 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.
Mohler also highlighted William Wilberforce and Jonathan
Edwards as great models of cultural engagement.
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