This year this blog continued to grow, both in page views and in subscribers. Thank you for reading and sharing these articles with friends and on social media, and for submitting your questions and requests for topics!
These were the top 10 most read and shared articles of 2020:
Peter essentially gives two evidences for why we can trust the Bible:
Christianity is based on historical facts which had many eye-witnesses
The record of Messianic prophecies which Jesus fulfilled
The Test & the Evidence
The Book of the Prophet Isaiah contains an incredible claim: the Lord God is contrasting himself with the pagan gods which many people worshiped in the form of idols, and God says, Here is how you will know that I am the one true God, and those so-called ‘gods’ are nothing: I will tell you the end from the beginning; I will tell you what will happen before it happens, and then when those things come to pass, that will be the proof to you that I alone am God. See: Isaiah 44:6-8; 46:9-10; 48:5-6
So God himself challenges us to put him to the test, and he goes on record predicting things about the future which will come to pass. Roughly 1/3 of the Bible is made up of prophecies, including many about the promised Messiah, which predicted various things about his identity and actions.
According to one calculation, there are 332 Messianic prophecies from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), which Jesus fulfilled.
This is why the Dead Sea Scrolls are such a big deal: they date back to about 100 years before the birth of Jesus, which shows us that the prophecies which Jesus fulfilled were indeed written before his birth, and were not later redactions or additions. See: Why the Dead Sea Scrolls Matter for Christians
Peter Stoner’s Calculations
Professor Peter W. Stoner was Chairman of the Departments of Mathematics and Astronomy at Pasadena City College and Chairman of the science division at Westmont College. In his book, Science Speaks, Professor Stoner outlines the mathematical probability of one person in the first century fulfilling just eight of the most clear and straightforward Messianic prophecies.
We find that the chance that any man might have lived down to the present time and fulfilled all eight prophecies is 1 in 1017 (1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000).
In case you’re wondering, the Mega Millions had a $1.6 billon jackpot in October 2018, and the odds of winning it were merely 1 in 302,575,350. 
Stoner went on to calculate the probability of one person fulfilling 48 prophecies: 1 in 10157.
In case you’re questioning whether Professor Stoner’s math was wrong, H. Harold Hartzler, PhD, of the American Scientific Affiliation, Goshen College, writes in the forward of Stoner’s book:
The manuscript for Science Speaks has been carefully reviewed by a committee of the American Scientific Affiliation members and by the Executive Council of the same group and has been found, in general, to be dependable and accurate in regard to the scientific material presented. The mathematical analysis included is based upon principles of probability which are thoroughly sound and Professor Stoner has applied these principles in a proper and convincing way.
What Makes Christianity Unique
Along with eye-witness evidence of historical events (testimony for which people died, suffered imprisonment, torture, and the torture of their loved ones), and the prophetic record, something else that sets Christianity apart from all other religions and philosophies is the path of salvation it presents:
Whereas other religions offer ways to save yourself or endear yourself to God through doing actions, or keeping rules – the gospel message of the Bible is that you cannot save yourself, no matter how hard you try – but that God has done for you in Christ that which you could never do for yourself, in order to save you – because he already loves you.
That’s much better news, and a promise you can take to the bank.
Our church’s website was recently updated, including a major overhaul of the sermon archive, which now allows you to browse by series and books we have taught through. Check it out here: White Fields Community Church Sermons
If you haven’t done so yet, you can subscribe to our podcast here, or just search White Fields Community Church in whatever podcast app you use. If you like what you hear, please rate and review us, as that helps boost us in their algorithm, and helps other people discover us.
I recently switched to the Overcast app for listening to podcasts. I like that it cuts out pauses and regulates audio to a consistent level, and allows me to make playlists. Overcast is only available for iOS, but the best app for Android, which has many of the same features is Podcast Addict. My wife’s biggest hesitation with switching to an iPhone recently was that she would lose Podcast Addict.
These sermons I preached in 2019 were listened to and downloaded the most:
A few things pop out at me from this list. First of all, the fact that some of our more recent sermons are in the top ten means that listenership to our podcast is increasing.
Secondly our biographical look at the prophets, called “Remember the Prophets” was a lot of fun. Those books and their authors are often overlooked for various reasons, but their messages are very important.
Finally, our apologetics series “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…” was our second consecutive year doing a series like this, and clearly it struck a chord with a lot of people. These kinds of series are helpful both for engaging with those who might be skeptical about Christianity, and for teaching Christians how to respond well to those who ask questions. Oftentimes many of us who are Christians struggle with questions even though we choose to trust God and believe. As the church we engage with those issues and equip others to do so as well.
What Didn’t Make the List?
Leave me a comment below and let me know which sermon from this year made the biggest impact on you!
If need to refresh your memory, a list of our past sermons from this year can be found here: White Fields Sermons
“I’m my favorite rapper.” What Kanye West lacks in subtlety, he makes up for in honesty.
Kanye’s conversion to Christianity and his release of an album which reflects that faith, titled “Jesus is King”, is big news right now.
But to look at this and only see Kanye, is to miss the bigger picture.
Christianity is Not Collapsing in America
There has been much talk recently about the decline of Christianity in the United States. However, reports of decline are overstated. I have explained why the numbers alone do not tell the whole story in these posts:
Let’s put it this way: Christianity is much more widespread and influential than many would have you believe, and it is not going away any time soon.
Christianity is Thriving Amongst Minority Communities
Why are there fewer Christians were I live, near Boulder, Colorado, than there are in the American South? At least one reason is probably because of the relative homogeny of the population in this area, compared with the number of people of color in the South.
The type of person most likely to be an atheist in America – and in the entire world – are white males. According to Pew Research Group, 78% of atheists in America are white, and 68% are men, even though white males only make up just over 30% of the US population.
According to one study, for example, at historically black universities 85.2% of students identified as Christian, and 11.2% identified as atheist, agnostic, or none. This is contrasted with a national average in all universities of 60.2% of students identifying as Christian, and 30.9% identifying as atheist, agnostic, or none.
As the major Western countries, including the United States, continue to become more ethnically diverse, it is predicted that we will see the number of atheists and agnostics decline, not increase – due to the fact that atheism and agnosticism are overrepresented by white males. For more on this topic, read: Projections for Belief & Secularization Around the World
If you look at Kanye’s Sunday Services, you will notice many people of color. Christianity is not, nor ever has been, a white, Western religion. African American communities have a rich heritage of Christianity, including Christian music, and it should come as no surprise to see African American people making music with gospel themes; it’s nothing new.
Speaking of the gospel and gospel music, I loved this episode of Carpool Karaoke with James Corden and Kanye West – both what Kanye said, and the music the choir sang:
Of course one of the big topics of discussion has been whether Kanye’s conversion is for real. I really appreciated Greg Laurie’s comments on this:
There is a widely held assumption in Western society called the ‘secularization hypothesis,’ which basically supposes that as the world becomes more educated and more scientific, religious belief will decline. This did happen in Western Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and to a lesser degree in North America.
However, current trends are leading sociologists to predict that the world will become increasingly religious in the decades to come.
By 2060, Christianity and Islam are both projected to grow worldwide. Hinduism is expected to make a slight decline, and Buddhism is projected to decline by about 30 percent. Judaism is expected to hold steady at 0.2% of the world population.
Whereas the growth of Islam is mostly the result of birth rates in Muslim communities, Christianity far out-paces Islam when it comes to growth through conversion. In fact, the Christian population of China is growing so fast (mostly by conversion) that experts believe China could have more Christians that the United States by 2030, and that it could actually become a majority-Christian country by 2050.
Here’s what’s perhaps more surprising: by 2060, the percentage of the world population who identify as atheists, agnostics, or “none” is expected to decline from its current 16% down to 13% of the world’s population.
Secularization & Education
It turns out that the assumption that the more educated a person is, the more likely they are to become secular, is also pretty weak. Jews and Christians make up the majority of the most-educated people in the world. Christians also have the least amount of disparity when it comes to the education of women versus men.
While it is still common for nominally religious people in the United States to declare themselves non-religious if they are more educated, professing Christins with higher levels of education are just as religious as those with less schooling. In fact, highly educated Christians are more likely to attend church weekly than those Christians with less education.
The Likelihood of Becoming Religious vs. Becoming Non-religious
A recent study found that 40% of Americans raised non-religious become religious – typically Christian – as adults, whereas only 20% of those raised Protestant become non-religious. This means that secular families are twice as likely to raise children who become Christians as Christians families are to raise church who become non-religious.
Interestingly, it is “full-blooded” Christianity which is growing around the world, including in North America and Europe, and not a theologically liberal form.
What Do We Make of This?
Surely there is much work to be done, and projections do not guarantee that future outcome, but these numbers help us to see that there are many commonly-held assumptions about Christianity and society which are actually false. As Christians, we must keep our hand to the plow, endeavoring to preach the gospel, as we are called by Jesus to do.
A few weeks ago, I posted an anonymous poll here on the site, in which I asked the question: How would you, or others you know, finish this sentence: “I could never believe in a God who ________”? (click here for that post)
If you haven’t filled out that poll yet, you can access it here.
I got a good number of answers, but the bigger the sample size, the better for this sort of thing, so I would love it if you would go over and fill out the poll and send it to others who wouldn’t mind giving their voice.
This poll was done in preparation for a sermon series we will do at White Fields starting April 28, the week after Easter.
Here’s what the poll results have shown so far:
Theodicy is the biggest issue for those who took our poll
The top two responses were: “I could never believe in a God who:”
Sends people to Hell
Allows bad things to happen to good people
There were several write in answers which were related to these two, such as: “I could never believe in a God who:”
Can heal, but doesn’t heal all
Allows good people to die, but lets awful people live
Allowed the Sandy Hook massacre
Chooses some and not others
These issues all fall under the category of Theodicy, which essentially means “the defence of God’s goodness”
The Trilemma of Theodicy
Very famous in this regard is what is called the trilemma of theodicy. A trilemma is like a dilemma, only instead of two issues (di) that are at odds with each other, in a trilemma there are three (tri).
The trilemma of theodicy states that there are three things the Bible states are true about God, which cannot all be true at the same time:
God is loving
God is all-powerful
The argument goes that since evil exists, either: God must not really be loving, or God must not really be all-powerful. Either God is incapable of stopping evil, even though he’d like to – in which case he is not all-powerful, or God is capable of stopping evil, but chooses not to, in which case he must not be truly loving.
The logical flaw in the trilemma
The big flaw in this thinking is that it takes into account only two of God’s attributes: his love and his power.
But does God have only two attributes? Certainly not! God has a myriad of attributes, including that he is: all-knowing, providential, eternal, etc. Simply adding another attribute of God to the equation changes it fundamentally, and removes the “lemma” out of the tri-lemma!
For example, if we say that God is not only loving and all-powerful, but also all-knowing and/or providential, it changes things completely. It means that it is possible for God to allow bad things and use them for good purposes, and even for our ultimate benefit. The fact that God is eternal reminds us that comfort in this life is not the pinnacle of existence, therefore it is also possible for an eternal God to allow temporal hardship in order to work an eternal good purpose. The Bible says this explicitly in 2 Corinthians 4:17 – For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison.
An Unloving God Who Creates Unloving Followers?
Following closely behind in popularity were: “I could never believe in a God who:”
Doesn’t affirm some people’s sexuality
Creates hateful and hypocritical followers
To my surprise, the questions which seem to not be major issues in people’s minds are were:
The reliability of the Bible
Proof of the existence of God
I wonder if this is the result of much effort put into these areas by Christian apologists, including CS Lewis with Mere Christianity and Timothy Keller with The Reason for God, or if, on the other hand, Christians are putting a lot of effort into questions which people don’t currently perceive to be pressing questions which cause them to be skeptical of Christianity. Either way, these issues are certainly fundamental to Christian faith and belief, and speaking into them can hardly be said to be in vain.
Other lesser-issues, which I expected would receive more responses were:
Apparent genocides in the Old Testament
Suppression and subjugation of women and minorities
I wonder if the reason for this is because there are very well-known evidences that Christianity and the Bible have done more to encourage the uplifting of women and minorities around the world, evidenced by the fact that wherever Christianity has gone in the world, women and minorities have been empowered and there has been movement towards equal rights, equal pay, etc. Surely there is room for improvement in these areas, but the point is that the Bible provides the theology which empowers women and promotes equality for people of all races. How it is implemented is a human issue.
More to Come
I will write more on some of these issues in the weeks to come, and will address them in the upcoming sermon series.
In 2018, the Chinese government acted to crack down on unregistered Christian churches. These churches are sometimes called “house churches,” which is a misleading term, since many of these churches have hundreds, even thousands of members and own their own buildings.
Chinese law requires Christians to worship only in congregations registered with the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, a government-sanctioned organization which manages churches. Millions of Chinese Christians meet in unregistered churches which defy these government regulations, seeing them as compromising the church, especially considering the Communist government’s atheistic agenda.
Over the past few months, the Chinese government has stepped up their persecution of Christians by destroying crosses, burning Bibles, confiscating religious materials and closing churches, even demolishing their buildings, as can be seen in this video:
The pastor of that church, Wang Yi, a former human-rights lawyer and law professor, who has been an influential intellectual in China, issued a statement along with other Chinese Christian leaders titled: “My Declaration of Faithful Disobedience,” in which they stated that they would not cease gathering together for worship and studying the Bible.
Additionally, around 500 Chinese Christian leaders have signed a document called “A Declaration for the Sake of the Christian Faith,” in which they stated that they were prepared to bear all losses, even the loss of their freedom and their lives, for the sake of the gospel.
For Chinese Christians, gathering together for worship and Bible study is an act of resistance and social disobedience. It brings with it the possibility of arrest, punishment and persecution. And yet – believers are resolute: they will not stop gathering for public worship services, no matter what the cost.
At the same time, on the other side of the world, the American church is seeing a rising wave of apathy.
Two significant things that these infographics reveal: 1) Americans view Christianity as being important for the purpose of moral formation, 2) Americans tend to think that church is superfluous when it comes to Christian faith.
Comparing the Chinese situation with the American one, what we see is that the people who stand to lose the most from going to church (the Chinese) are the most resolute in doing so, even though doing so will likely hurt them financially, socially, and even physically. Conversely, those who have the most freedom and stand to lose nothing are the most apathetic about public worship.
Whereas many Chinese Christians see gathered worship as central to their faith, something they absolutely cannot give up or do without, and an act of resistance – many American Christians see it as extraneous.
Who is Right?
I believe that we in the West can afford to learn something from our brothers and sisters in the East.
Christianity was formed and grew in the crucible of persecution, and perhaps the worst thing for Christians is to experience such ease and comfort that we lose the understanding that following Jesus is a radical and subversive thing in this world.
Perhaps the greatest danger our faith can face is not direct persecution, but patronizing “pats on the head” and people thinking that Christianity is “nice”.
Sinclair Ferguson has put it this way:
“We are not saved individually and then choose to join the church as if it were some club or support group. Christ died for his people, and we are saved when by faith we become part of the people for whom Christ died.”
Recently I read an article by Simon Chan from the theological journal Pneuma, in which he very astutely wrote this:
[Western Christians] have a very weak sociological concept of the church. This has two negative consequences. First, the church tends to be seen as essentially a service provider catering to the needs of individual Christians. Rarely are individuals thought of as existing for the church. When the church is seen as existing for the individual, then the focus of ministry is on individuals: how individual needs can be met by the church. But when individuals are seen as existing for the church, the focus shifts from the individual needs to our common life in Christ: how we as the one people of God fulfill God’s ultimate purpose for the universe, namely, to glorify and enjoy God forever.
Chan is challenging us to ask the question: Contrary to our consumeristic mentality, isn’t it actually true that the church does not exist for us as much as we exist for the church, and the church exists for God?
I believe that we in the West can afford to look to the East and learn from our Christian brothers and sisters in China about the importance of gathered worship.
Thank you for taking the time to read and engage with this blog!
Our readership increased this year by 230% over last year, which itself was a 90% increase over the year before. At this point, the blog is being visited about 40,000 times a year by about 30,000 people.
The article cites research which shows that despite the fact that 80% of Americans believe in God, church attendance is decreasing. Americans aren’t necessarily giving up on God, they’re just not going to church like they once did.
Contributing factors are our American culture, which is radically individualistic. It’s not a stretch to say that our modern Western culture is the most individualistic culture which has ever existed in the history of the world.
Furthermore, the Bible has been placed in the hands of the people. No one has to go to church any more in order to hear what the Bible says. Sermons are available via podcast and there are more Christian books on the market than one could probably ever read in a lifetime. Thus, people are increasingly considering church to be optional rather than vital.
The author of this article, a pastor, argues that the church as a community is irreplaceable and meets a deep spiritual need.
I am currently reading Martyn Lloyd Jones’ classic Preaching & Preachers, based on a series of lectures he gave back in 1969. Interestingly, he mentions the same issue as having existed at that time as well; the availability of journals, books, radio and television broadcasts of sermons or other Christian content had led many people to opt out of church because they felt they could feed their souls and connect with God on their own via these mediums, apart from the local church.
Here’s his response:
“This is a wrong approach because it is too individualistic. The man sits on his own reading his book. That is too purely intellectual in its approach, it is a matter of intellectual interest. The man himself is too much in control. What I mean is that if you do not agree with the book you put it down, if you do not like what you are hearing on the television you switch it off. You are an isolated individual and you are in control of the situation. Or, to put it more positively, that whole approach lacks the vital element of the Church.
Now the Church is a missionary body, and we must recapture this notion that the whole Church is a part of this witness to the Gospel and its truth and its message. It is therefore most important that people should come together and listen in companies in the realm of the Church. That has an impact in and of itself. I have often been told this. The preacher after all is not speaking for himself, he is speaking for the Church, he is explaining what the Church is and what these people are, and why they are what they are.
Not only that, when a person comes into a church, to a body of people, he begins to get some idea of the fact that they are the people of God, and that they are the modern representatives of something that has been known in every age and generation throughout the centuries. This makes an impact. The person is not simply considering a new theory or a new teaching or a new idea. They are visiting or entering into something that has long history and tradition.
The person who thinks that all this can be done by reading, or by just looking at a television set, is missing the mysterious element in the life of the Church. What is this? It is what our Lord was suggesting when He said, ‘Where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst.’ It is not a mere gathering of people; Christ is present. This is the great mystery of the Church. There is something in the very atmosphere of Christian people meeting together to worship God and to listen to the preaching of the Gospel.”
He then goes on to tell the story of a woman who had been involved in occult practices, who one time entered one of his church services when he pastored a small fellowship in Wales. She continued coming and eventually converted. When asked what kept her coming when she first started attending, she said that she sensed a “clean power” in their midst.
“All I am contending for is that when you enter a church, a society, a company of God’s people, there is a factor which immediately comes into operation, which is reinforced still more by the preacher expounding the Word in the pulpit; and that is why preaching can never be replaced by either reading or by watching television or any one of these other activities.” (Lloyd-Jones, Preaching and Preachers, pp. 52-55.)
Let us not forsake the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but let us encourage one another all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10:25)