An interview with the authors of the forthcoming book Things That Cannot Be Shaken, courtesy of Crossway Books. Watch for the arrival of this book in our New Arrivals section soon at wtsbooks.com.
K. SCOTT OLIPHINT is professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and has written three books and numerous scholarly articles.
ROD S. MAYS is the national coordinator of Reformed University Ministries, the campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America. He has also served as senior pastor of Presbyterian churches in South Carolina, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Crossway Books & Bibles (CBB): What are the issues that most often threaten to “shake” Christians on the secular campus, in the classroom, and in the workplace?
Scott Oliphint & Rod Mays (SO/RM): The issues all have their particular application, depending on the individual, but surrounding them all is the issue of authority. Though as old as Genesis 3, the crisis of authority is now expressing itself in a particularly virulent form today, personally, culturally, spiritually. On the secular campus, it is manifested in every kind of disparate view, as well as every doubt and criticism, being offered in the classroom; in the workplace, it focuses itself in questions of meaning and calling. Even within Christianity, there are “new” attacks on the authority and clarity of Scripture. These all combine to produce significant anomie in people, culture, and the church. The need of the hour, then, is that we recognize again that there are, because of who God is and what he has done, things that cannot be shaken, things that will anchor us in the confidence of Christ and his work.
CBB: How does this book equip Christians to face those challenges?
SO/RM: We thought the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken” was particularly suited to address some of the most basic problems that Christians seem to find themselves in these days. Using this hymn, we were able to address the issue of authority, of the work of Christ and of his Spirit, and of the promise of the future for those who are in Christ. We were able to highlight the fact that Christianity alone can offer “solid joys and lasting treasures.” It can do this because God has spoken in Christ and has come to earth to bring us to himself. It shouldn’t be ignored, either, that in using Newton’s hymn to address these issues, we’re also noting, implicitly at least, that the issues today are the same as they’ve always been. The “particulars” of the issues are different, but sin is sin in any culture, even if the means to the end might be different.
CBB: How can the fact that these struggles are not new to our times encourage Christians?
SO/RM: If, as doubts, uncertainties, and questions arise, we begin to believe they are new, then we might be tempted to think that the Bible is not equipped to address the problems that we go through. How many times have we heard the excuse, with respect to a particular sin, that we are simply ill-equipped to understand what has happened because it is unique to that person, or the person’s circumstances? The good news of the gospel is that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are (Heb. 4:14), and that there is no new temptation to be had by us (1 Cor. 10:12). So now the gospel, which may have seemed so archaic in the midst of our “postmodern” struggles, comes right to the heart of those struggles and addresses them head-on. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, the Lord alone is able to address and conquer whatever permutation of sin seems to oppress us at the moment.
CBB: You say that Christians have to not only acknowledge but “own” the truth of God’s Word. What do you mean?
SO/RM: James tells us that the demons themselves believe certain truths about who God is. Even those who are eternally condemned acknowledge who God is. So to “own” the truth of who God is and of what he has said is to possess it in such a way that it becomes ours—and becomes central to who we are, how we think, and how we live; it is not simply a group of propositions to be affirmed. If the Bible’s truths become central, then the uncertainties that will always surround those who are outside of Christ will not influence us in such a way as to cause us to question what God has said.
The first temptation subtly and craftily instilled doubt in that very thing (Gen. 3:1). Every temptation and sin following that first sin has the same question at its root. But if we “own” God’s Word, we do not doubt that he has spoken, nor do we doubt what he has said. This kind of doubt—of God and his Word—is, unfortunately, all the rage in some Christian circles today. But it is the polar opposite of what God requires of his people.
CBB: What motivated you to write Things That Cannot Be Shaken?
SO/RM: This book is written for both the convinced and the unconvinced. The purpose is to put an easy and concise read into the hands of young (or older) men and women struggling with the issues of authority and purpose, or who find themselves serving in an environment where questions about authority and purpose are prevalent in daily conversation and circumstances. Belief in the truth of the gospel—that human beings are sinners, that Jesus has satisfied God’s requirement for perfection and holiness for us, and that we can look forward to eternity with him—gives believers (the convinced) the courage to speak truth lovingly to the unconvinced. Perhaps this book will provide the basis for long relational conversations that span months or even years, engaging the unconvinced in loving, thoughtful, heart-level communication about the solid, unshakeable truth of Scripture.
CBB: In chapter 2, you talk about how our denial of the knowledge of God causes us to self-destruct as we seek to get our needs met. Will you give us an overview here?
SO/RM: John Calvin, in his monumental and pastoral work, the Institutes, begins by stating the inextricable relationship between the true knowledge of God and the true knowledge of ourselves. The two necessarily go hand in hand. We can think of it this way: Strip every superficial accoutrement away, and who are we really? There is only one answer: we are the image of God, and thus we find our only and ultimate rest in him. But that image has been twisted and distorted by sin, which produces a desire to hide from God and attempt to live on our own. What we often fail to understand, however, is that in trying to run from God we are at the same time running away from who we really are. Thus, to the extent that we are successful in denying God, to that extent we deny our true selves.
Perhaps this is best illustrated in the recent movie Into the Wild, a true story about a young man, Christopher McCandless, who wanted nothing more than to go online pokie games to Alaska, on his own, to explore the stark beauty of the wild country there. In spite of numerous opportunities to turn away from his goal, he would not. In the end, however, he recognized what he wrote in his journal: “Happiness is only real when shared.” His obsession to run away wound up destroying him, and it made him realize, too late, that he should have maintained the relationships he had. Our sinful obsession to run away from God will destroy us as well. It is important to realize this before it is too late.
CBB: What are some forms of darkness that are especially present in today’s cultural climate, and why are they so dangerous?
RM: Perhaps the most dangerous, pernicious, and persistent form of darkness in Western culture today is the Internet. This is not because the Internet is inherently evil. The problem is that this kind of technology tends to sneak up on us (and by “us” here, I mean primarily the church) such that we neglect to think through the proper use of it. The Internet has, for the first time, provided almost unlimited access to private, sinful behavior that caters to a Western, individualistic mind. If we can convince ourselves that when we are by ourselves we are really alone (i.e., that God is not there), it is a very short step to feeding our temptations in such a way that we can begin to “love the darkness” in a way that was unavailable before. This includes not only the obvious sexual perversions that can be so easily engaged on the Internet but also the kinds of discourse that happen there. As conversations become less and less personal—making it easy to lodge all kinds of malicious attacks against others as if they are objects to be used, abused, and discarded—so also does discourse between Christians take up the same patterns, if the church does not carefully and thoughtful remember our interactions in light of the image of God and what the Lord requires of those who follow him.
CBB: How does Christian joy factor in the book?
SO/RM: Christians often define the concept of joy by describing their hope and quest for personal happiness: “What outcome (from this current situation, illness, conflict) will make me happy? What will make me feel better?” But this definition is narrow and shallow and easily collapses. In the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken,” Newton wrote of “solid joys.” True joy is “solid” in that it covers every area of our lives. It is deep and runs through our hearts even when our minds and bodies are wracked with physical and emotional pain. True joy is built on the firm foundation of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, the Holy Spirit’s indwelling us, and God’s allowing us to come to him because his Son says it’s all right and His Spirit intercedes for us with “groaning too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26, ESV).
When the worst has happened, when it cannot be undone, how can you find joy? God has promised that everything will work together for our good. Everything? Yes. The resurrection of Jesus guarantees that real joy is at the end of betrayals, grief, physical and financial struggles, molestation, abuse, and the anger of others, for one day everything will be made new and restored. Our stories do not end in the “here and now.” There is one end, written by God, where is a sure thing because God has said it.
CBB: Why is it so necessary today for Christians to set their hearts and minds on things that cannot be shaken?
SO/RM: Even a casual observation of the current culture reveals that it is saturated with relativism and skepticism. There is a never-ending search for truth, yet no one really wants to find it. Any man or woman who expresses allegiance to a specific belief system is the immediate target of suspicion and ridicule. To be certain of anything is to invite criticism on the basis of arrogance and narrow-mindedness.
Though we are surrounded by people who are driven by their feelings and circumstances, Christians are to be people who live by faith, with their confident expectation founded on the certainty that God is there, that he is at work (even though we may not see it), and that he has revealed himself in his Word. There is no other grid by which we can measure the truthfulness of what we hear besides God’s Word. Yes, the holy Scriptures have been criticized. Yes, Christians have been marginalized in today’s philosophical climate. Yes, the political, financial, and educational arenas all seem to have banded together to extinguish Christianity. But the first-century church was not afraid to be ridiculed and pitied for its faith in God’s Word. The people believed that Jesus had died and had risen, according to the Scriptures. They believed that he had done this so that their eternal future with God was secure. Their souls were at peace with God, and this was the unshakeable foundation of their will to persevere in the face of persecution and ultimate martyrdom. In a time when there are so many competing voices and views, when philosophies are dismissed as quickly as they are embraced, Christians have the truth of God’s Word to rely on. Our heavenly Father has preserved the Scriptures. He has preserved his Church, the people of God, the city of Zion, and he will continue to do so.
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