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You Can Defend the Faith (But You Don't Have To Rant)

“But refuse foolish and ignorant speculations, knowing that they produce quarrels” (2 Timothy 2:23).

In Second Timothy 4, Paul’s final charge to his young protege is to “preach the word, be ready in season and out, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (4:2). After all, he says, in the end times, people are going to be clamoring for false teachers who will say what they want to hear, who will spread myths and will shape doctrine for their own purposes.

So, God’s people—and particularly His preachers—must hang tough and “endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (4:5).

However, no quarreling please.

That’s what he said. “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition … ” (2:24-25).

Tough assignment, to be sure.

Stand firm, preach the word, rebuke error and be nice about it.

And sometimes, you simply walk away from an argument.

—In 2:14, there is to be no word-wrangling. Why? It is “useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.”

—In 2:16, there is to be no “worldly and empty chatter.” Why? Because “it will lead to further ungodliness.”

—In 2:23, we are to avoid “foolish and ignorant speculations.” Why? Because “they produce quarrels.”

—In 4:4, try to stay away from those who “turn away their ears from the truth.” Why? They “will turn aside to myths.”

There are among us preachers and theologians who love a good fight. Some denominations put a high prize on their debates and even publish the accounts verbatim. Perhaps there’s some value to this, I don’t know.

Our New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary does something most unusual. Each winter, they sponsor what they call the Greer-Heard Debates, in which they invite in several well-known pastors and/or seminary professors to defend the faith in a series of conferences. In particular, they invite a prominent atheist or, shall we say, heretic to engage in a debate on the  subject for which he is notorious. In past debates, they’ve focused on whether the Bible is inerrant, evolution is plausible for Christians and Jesus Christ is divine. (Anyone wishing more information may google “Greer-Heard” or go to the campus website: www.nobts.edu. Dr. Bob Stewart directs the event each year.)

The fascinating thing about these debates, perhaps, is that they are conducted respectfully and intelligently. The prominent atheist gets a warm and gracious reception. No one attacks him, either publically in the services or privately in the dining hall.

More and more, the outside academic community across New Orleans is drawn to the seminary campus for these events. Humanist professors from secular schools have remarked that their respect for Christians in general and Baptists in particular has gone through the roof as a result.

Has an atheist been converted to orthodox Christianity as a result of these debates? Probably not, and I will venture to say that is not the point.

The greatest benefit, as far as I can see, comes to the men and women sitting in the pews across Leavell Chapel who are taking in all of this, hearing charge and defense, countercharge and comeback. Whether they follow the finer points of the debate or not, one thing is sure: These seminary students and pastors walk away with a stronger confidence that their faith is able to stand on its own feet and need not fear attack, questions or differing opinions.

After all, God has not given His preachers and missionaries and teachers the spirit of fear, timidity or cowardice. He is not pleased when His preachers shy away from controversial teachings that someone may find offensive. The preacher who pleases the Heavenly Father will preach the Word, will be ready in season and out of season, will reprove, rebuke, exhort and endure hardship.

To accomplish this—a big order to be sure—God has given to His children a spirit of power with which to face the enemy, a spirit of love with which to deal with people and a spirit of a disciplined mind with which to face all unknowns which lie ahead.

No one can do any of this in the flesh and by himself.

We will be needing the power of Christ within us and the people of God surrounding us. Preachers need to belong to a larger community of ministers of the same faith to encourage and assist one another.

Paul said, “I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and HIs kingdom, preach the Word!” (4:1-2).


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Joe McKeever has been a preacher for nearly 60 years, a pastor for 42 years, and a cartoonist/writer for Christian publications all his adult life. He lives in Ridgeland, Mississippi.