Conference instructs young people to engage, persuade culture for Christ

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by Lauren Crane

Learning to attractively share the gospel in a culture that does not understand is often largely a matter of getting out of your own way and allowing Scripture to speak, said Daniel Akin.

Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, was one of four plenary speakers during the institution’s annual 20/20 Collegiate Conference. This year’s conference, Conversing With the Culture, featured Akin, Michael Green, Bruce Little and Al Mohler. The men addressed the gathered students on the value of accurately assessing culture, accurately speaking to culture and accurately sharing the gospel.

One of the problems often encountered when trying to share the gospel, Akin said, is that Christians are their own worst enemy in how they present the good news of Jesus Christ. “We get in the way of people even before they hear the gospel,” he said, saying 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. He also said believers should be able to defend their faith and make a case for the hope they have found in Christ. “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 – and yet Peter was telling them they could be equipped.”

More than having the right skills or words to use, Akin said it is important to know why you have found hope in Jesus. “Why do you love him? Why do you treasure him more than you treasure anyone or anything else? 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.”

The work of God in Paul’s life is what enabled and motivated him to speak to the Areopagus in Acts 17:16-34, said Mohler, president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in his address. 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.”

Mohler said because Christ revealed himself to humanity, 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 had 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, who is the chaplain at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, addressed the students on the characteristics of their current generation (the millennials) and the challenges in sharing the gospel with them.

“Although the gospel doesn’t change, and although Jesus doesn’t change, the culture around us is changing at an unprecedented rate,” Green said. This culture values 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 worlds’ problems can be found in the church and in the gospel? Expose them to the real Jesus,” Green said, in arguing for the church’s commitment 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.

“Anyway, you don’t prove people – you meet them,” he said. Meeting Jesus is the only way millennials will be won to faith – apologetics and reasoning will not be enough, he added. “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 the director of the Bush Center for Faith and Culture at Southeastern, closed the conference by discussing the concept of “light,” as written about in Ephesians 5:2, and how this related 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. 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, then, 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,” he 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.”

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