The Symposium


I have only been in my current chapter for a little over a year now, but I feel like what happened last night was something, by accounts of many former and current long standing members that at the very least was very new. Instead of having a bible study, testimony sharing bible symposium my pastor decided that we should do something to minister to non-believers, or sceptics. This was a key idea in Stephan Lutz’s book that was required reading for UBF leaders recently. The idea that book, of which I cannot recall the name, is that if only minister to the churched we are not really fulfilling the great commission. As followers of Christ we must take the message to the places that need it the most and this includes hostile arenas. In my experience colleges offer the most hostile arenas for the modern evangelist. I can recall just two days ago a pastor coming to SIUE to preach on the quad. He was assaulted by an atheist after affirming that Levitical Law was the word of God (to be fair to all involved, his wording could have been a little bit better in light of Galatians…) I was very inspired by the change I saw in my pastor’s move for this. Here are some things of note.

An Unrestricted Forum

As a teacher I know well the danger that comes with an unrestricted forum. It can lead to some major issues. If we allow for all opinions, it is very easy to run into situations where people’s emotions get the best of them. It also allows for people to make themselves looks vulnerable (read: stupid). The bonus is it allows for some major change in people. The degree in which is can be bad is also the degree in which it can be good. I was under the impression that the conversation would be more of a panel style. This would allow for no possibility of the above problems. When I arrived I found that it was more of an open forum. I also discovered we had ran out of room. We had so many students that half the missionaries moved to the hall to make room.

The bible answer men

We looked hard to find an authority to host the forum. Some more prominent UBF leaders such as Dr. Ben Toh were invited but regrettably could not make it. I was selected by default because I had lived for 4 years with an atheist in college. My former roommate’s father also joined me. The pastor made the 3rd but we still wanted a key note answer man. For this I invited Missionary Nirosh from Springfield UBF. He is fairly new to UBF in Springfield. Nirosh is quite a character. He is originally from Sri Lanka. He tried Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Rastafarianism before he came to Christianity. He has missioned in Papua New Guinea, India and Indonesia mostly dealing with tribal peoples. He is the most graceful man I know. In addition to runing a company that helps various groups improve their public image, he is also frequently called in when various Christian organizations need advice on changing their image. He was truly a God send. Nirosh is also the most graceful man I know and he delivers the message in Springfield UBF once a month.


Adam was the only actual atheist who was there. All the other students in attendance were Christian. I want to note two things from this. First I believe that many college Christians want answers to the challenges to Christianity. They don’t merely seek the basic gospel, for many growing up in church this has all been made known to them. Many college Christians fall away from faith because these lingering doubts grow and go unanswered. Adam had a list of questions to answer and instead of a panel style discussion it turned into Adam asking a list of questions he brought and the whole room answering him. I tried to directly answer him as best as I could. Nirosh’s answers would often times be so full of grace I felt as though they could not be possibly convincing but never the less this caused Adam to soften as the night went on. He was not so hostile by the end and I was thankful for his arrival. He was born and raised a Jew, so he actually had a very accurate knowledge of the Old Testament. Things became awkward when he said something that one of the missionary’s daughters took as an accusation. Her voice was calm but I could tell she was livid. He apologized and things moved along.

The Mormon

The last topic on the agenda was the exclusivity and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Adam quickly asked which Christianity we meant and I said that we meant traditional Christianity as affirmed by the Nicene Creed. I paused and then said “We must also add the Anathansian Creed. It gives the doctrine of the trinity. The word “trinitas” appears nowhere in the New Testament. We will exclude other Christian groups who do not hold this such as Mormonism.” This caused a Mormon to become very upset with me. She said I had no right or authority to claim Mormonism was not Christianity and she had known Christ all her life. She said she was unsure of where I heard such a claim. I remarked as such “I may be wrong, but my source is Ravi Zacharias. He is a well-known theologian who actually spoke at the Mormon tabernacle some years ago.” My pastor then asked her about the trinity. I was upset but then something remarkable happened. Paul started speaking to her about how God was coeternal and that only the sacrifice of Jesus was needed for salvation. “No!” he nearly yelled when she objected “Only the sacrifice of Jesus is necessary.” This was in stark contrast to the Mormon version of things which says that Jesus is not atonement but actually an example. That we must follow the law. Nirosh turned to the Adam and said “This is why we don’t bring these things up.” Adam smiled. This woman and my pastor had a discussion on the faith vs works and the trinity with my pastor citing On the Incarnation of the Word to refute her. At some point Nirosh calmed things down by saying that while she may not believe in those aspects of Mormonism he had spoken with Mormons who denied that God was triune.

Overall I felt like the conference was a great success despite the awkwardness I felt at times. I am unsure I want to be the answer man again because it was very frightening to me at times. With my friends who are unbelievers I can speak easily, but to total strangers it requires a lot more confidence that felt lacking in me at times.


  1. This sounds great, forests. I find that trying to share the gospel or Christian-related themes/worldviews with non-believers (atheists and people of other religious persuasions) reveals how emotionally charged these issues are. I greatly applaud you all for pulling this off.

    Reaching out to this demographic as you did here happens to coincide with how I carry out evangelism. Several years back, in order to engage non-believers, I made a survey which focuses on questions surrounding the problem of evil. I picked the topic of evil because it’s a ubiquitous issue that we all deal with and it also provides a kind of natural segue into presenting the gospel. It’s devoid of Christian lingo and requires you to know a bit of apologetics and reasoning tactics, but if you can pull it off it opens the door for even-handed and illuminating discussions. If/when time permits, I’ll post it as an article.

    But this article highlights a huge blindspot in, not just the religious-minded, but among nearly everyone’s way of relating to each other. And that is the importance of listening. You mention that this was an open forum, implying that all ideas would be welcomed and the discussions would be generous and amicable. But as you realized when worldview issues are on the line, so to speak, people began to posture in a defensive manner, and at times become disrespectful, dismissive, angry and even hostile. I used to love debating in these kinds of environments (and I still do to an extent) because it’s so much fun when you can clobber someone with a well-thought out point (I know that’s terrible). But more often than not, what happens is that the potential for eye-opening dialogue quickly takes a back seat to who’s right and who’s wrong and usually a stalemate is the end result.

    As I mature I’m beginning to, by the grace of God, take the route of reflective listening. This entails me putting all of my “right answers” on the shelf for the time being and simply listening to what others have to say about their worldviews and why what they believe matters to them. If someone says something that appears to me to be wrong, rather than acting in a reactionary manner and providing a corrective answer, I instead dig deeper and ask questions as to why they believe such and such a thing; this usually helps the both of us come to a better understanding of one another rather than going off into debates trying to prove who is correct or mistaken. But mainly when I speak it’s mainly to 1) reiterate what they have said so as to truly understand them and 2) if I have been asked to speak by the listener. I get the impression that this is similar to what God does with us; he invites us into dialogue with himself and he both genuinely listens and speaks wisely to us. I believe that his end goal is forming a genuine relationship with us. I have a lot to learn from him in this regard :)

    • forestsfailyou

      One of the missionary’s children said something that will stick with me forever. On the problem of evil she said
      “If I want to get rid of evil, I am asking God to get rid of m, because when I look in my heart I realize I am evil.”

    • Yes, that is one of the startling conclusions that people come to when they really grapple with the problem of evil. People will say that government, society, etc. is evil. But then what are these institutions made up of? God can rid the world of evil right now, but would you really want him to do that? In my conversations with others, when people come to this conclusion on their own, I find that this is a good starting place to begin talking about the gospel.

    • btw, did she state this at the forum and if so did this garner any type of response from others?

    • forestsfailyou

      Yes she did. She concluded saying she needed to walk in Jesus more. Adam then said “Or you could actually do something.” This caused her to say that she did not like his accusations and for Nirosh and Paul to say that for the Christians these go hand in hand.

    • I can understand the quip of someone like Adam because often times Christian lingo communicates real, nitty gritty issues in an overly simplistic and cliche-ish way. It sounds like the missionary’s daughter was very sincere in her answer, but perhaps it would be better to communicate that same sentiment in every day language, e.g. what does it practically look like to “walk in Jesus”? How are you going to communicate that real aspect of your life in the type of language that an atheist would understand? Can you present the truths of Christianity in a way that resonates with the people around you who may not share your same beliefs?

    • forestsfailyou

      Yes I think my response was we should pray as though everything depended on God and act as though everything depended on you, as St. Augustine said. I understood his sentiment. The person who does not know Christ can see it as an excuse to do nothing.

    • It seems what the atheists address is the problem of authenticity. People will not start to consider Christianity unless they see Christians being authentic.

      The answer that “for Christians these go hand in hand” should have been a starting point for discussion, not an ending point. Jesus said the highest thing is to love our neighbor. That means actively helping and caring. And often to help other, it’s necessary to fight evil.

      I remember how I met a young student at a UBF conference in Moscow. He told me he didn’t like the conference because it seemed to him the people were only talking, but doing something. That was obviously the same sentiment.

      Just yesterday, my atheist sister put me to shame. We brought somebody to a hospital and were sitting in the waiting room. While I only cared about ourselves and about how long we needed to wait, my sister saw a person who obviously couldn’t walk and was abandoned by her caregivers while she was waiting there for hours. So she went over and offered her to bring her a drink and asked whether she needed anything else. In the light of Mt 25:42, she actually was the Christian, not me.

    • forestsfailyou

      You are correct Chris. You know there is this passage in Mark where Jesus says “Why do you call me good? Nothing is good but God.” I think Jesus is forcing people to come to terms with their assumptions. For people who only speak with other Christians this an assumption often made, but for non believers it is a mystery.

      When I first became a Christian I really felt like the only way to be faithful to the bible was to do volunteer work for the homeless (in the same way that UBF teachers, either implicitly or explicitly, that the only way to be faithful to the gospel is by becoming a pastor or missionary. It took me a while to realize that UBF views these activities, conferences, fishing, as “good work”. In February I spent a whole day volunteering at a medical mission for Uganda. It was not even mentioned by UBF members. I spent 30 minutes fishing one day and I heard about it for a week. I think they are both commands, but to the unchurched the former seems like a “real work” the latter seems like a cop out. Stephan Lutz said in his book that until unbelievers see believers fulfilling the commands Jesus gives regarding the poor they will remain unbelievers.

    • forestsfailyou

      By “commands” I mean that Mat 28:19 is a command just as much as 1 John 3:17. Evangelism (which can take the form of a conference or fishing) and helping the poor are commands. I dont mean to imply that attending conferences or fishing is a command.

  2. I think that often Christians are more inclined to correct, criticize and judge others more than they are to be gracious, generous, gentle, merciful, forgiving, kind, etc. That’s true in both the OT and NT where God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of Christians/God’s people.

    This is what I just wrote in an email:

    “I explained the story of the Bible in 4 words:
    1) Creation
    2) Fall
    3) Redemption
    4) Consummation

    My primary emphasis was on redemption which was possible only and entirely by God’s mercy and grace. I stressed how God primarily wants to love us and forgive us (as Jesus did even toward Judas the betrayer, or as the father did toward his lost and broken prodigal son). However we Christians might be more inclined to point out and punish sin in others and to be more retributive and punitively inclined toward each other–more than we might be to being gracious, generous, forgiving and merciful toward them. Lord, have mercy on me.”

    • Perhaps it is because we, by nature, are not forgiving and merciful. In the absence of these qualities we are only left with things like behavior modification, retributive justice, excessive punishment, etc. When we experience God’s mercy toward us, we actually begin to change in how we view ourselves and others. We can extend mercy and forbearance only if we have first received these to ourselves.

  3. “I think that often Christians are more inclined to correct, criticize and judge others”

    Sure. One reason may be that they have stricter ethical or moral norms (some of which are Biblical, but many are not), and it’s usually easy to see when other people violate norms, much easier than seeing your own wrongdoings. Jesus spoke about this in Matthew 7:3.

    Another reason is that some Christians organizations like UBF are not only inclined to correct others, but believe it’s their actual business. We often talk about how the problem of UBF is the focus on mission only. But that’s not even quite true. UBF does not focus on mission, but on “raising disciples” (or “Jüngererziehung” in German) and “training disciples”. The self-conception of UBF is that they are a “disciple raising/training ministry” (“Jüngererziehungswerk”) (just google for these words, I did not make it up). Here, “raising” is meant as a “spiritual” analog of how parents raise their small children, sometimes even as an analog of training animals or soldiers – the word “training” is very important in UBF. So it’s no wonder UBFers are “inclined” to correct others.

    • Chris, I’m curious to know how you view these verses in light of being out of UBF and presumably in another church (I’m currently trying to grapple with these as well):

      “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” – 2 Tim 3:16-17


      “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.” – 2 Tim 4:2

    • David, discussing such verses should happen more often on UBFriends.

      In this case, it’s of utmost importance to note that the two verses you quoted have a different subject. In the first verse, the subject is Scripture (in a way, God Himself), while in the second verse, the subject is Timothy (bishop of the church in Ephesus).

      Thus, the verses talk about completely different things and need to be treated separately.

      If you look at the verbs used in the two verses, then two of them (correct and rebuke) seem to overlap. In reality, the verbs used are all different words in the Greek original. It is very important to look at the exact verb used in Greek language, and it’s connotations, or to read a verse in different translations.

      The word that NIV translates as “training” in the first verse (about Scripture), and KJV translates as “instruction”, is the Greek “paideia” and in its meaning close to how UBF understands training/raising disciples (i.e. has the connotation of “parenting”). The interesting thing is that this word is not used in the second verse (about the Timothy). Paul does not ask Timothey to “train” anybody.

      In fact, the German Luther translation has here in the first verse (about Scripture) the word “Erziehung” that UBF always applies to their own ministry. I remember that after leaving UBF studied the German Bible regarding the use of the word “Erziehung”. What I found is that in the whole Bible the word is exclusively used when God is the subject. Training, which can be sometimes humiliating, is the task of God, not of human teachers.

      Also note that in the second verse, a bishop is the subject, i.e. an appointed elder and teacher, not the average Christian. Still, even bishops do not have the task to “train” anybody.

    • Very interesting, Chris. It makes sense, from a contextual point of view, that Paul is speaking about Scriptures’ ability to teach/parent Timothy due to their divine inspiration. It’s as if he’s saying that those same Scriptures which were present from his infancy would be the key to his continued spiritual maturation even as a young adult. Perhaps Paul was contrasting the Scripture to the false teachers who twisted the Scriptures meaning for their own gain.

      And one of his qualifications as an elder was his outward and internal submission to the God of the Scriptures, rather than some idea/philosophy external to the them; he had intimate (or experiential) knowledge of God. In this way, he can be practically qualified as one who corrects others (doctrinally speaking, in terms of who God is/what he is like).

      And as for the matter of training, if he himself is trained by the God of the Scriptures and not man, then he should act as a facilitator in his congregation who can help others to know God through these same Scriptures so that ultimately they may be parented by God as well. In other words, he should not see himself as some kind of “trainer” imposed on the congregation by the will of God but rather someone who reveals the character and being of God to them that they may truly come under His sovereign wing as His dearly loved children.

    • And this ties in with what you and forests were discussing earlier about the importance of authenticity – an elder must not only teach about who God is through the Scriptures, but also through his life; he should vividly reflect the character of God.

    • Well put, David. That’s how I understand it, too.

  4. Chris, I love your explanation of 2 Tim 3:16; 4:2. I fully agree with you that such exegesis, discussions and explanations need to happen more on ubfriends. Please consider doing so by perhaps converting your above comment into a main article.

    When I considered “shepherding” and examined various scriptures in the NT, God helped me to completely change the way I mentor and disciple others:

    Jesus’ emphatic negation “Not so with you” is a stern warning to every church leader who is authoritarian. If Mark Driscoll had taken these words of Christ to heart, he would not be in the mess he presently is in. The same could be said about certain leaders in ubf. All they need to do is to “just obey” what Jesus said (Mt 20:25-26a; Mk 10:42-43a; Lk 22:25-26).

    • Ben, in your estimation, how do we fulfill the part of the great commission where Jesus says, “make disciples… teaching them everything I have commanded you to obey”?

    • My short, simplistic, spontaneous (incomplete) response, is Coram Deo in all areas and aspects of your life so that there is no inconsistency or hypocrisy (Ro 2:21, 23), which your loved ones (spouses, children), close friends and “sheep” can very easily notice without any effort.

    • You didn’t ask me, but my view is that UBF does not fulfill the great commission. Though it superficially looks like and many honestly believe it, they do something different instead.

      Regarding “make disciples”, they replaced “make” with “train” (we already discussed that), and interpreted “disciples” as disciples of a certain ministry, not disciples of Jesus. Christian mission does not mean to draw people to you or your group (that would be more like recruiting), much less making them dependent of you, but to draw people to Jesus and make them independent of you. John the Baptist understood this very well, when he said “He must become greater; I must become less.” Apostle Paul also exemplified this. He didn’t stay anywhere and became leader or director when people liked him; he always moved on and let local elders lead the church.

      Regarding “teaching them everything I have commanded you to obey” the question is what is this “everything”? It certainly isn’t sogam sharing sessions, establishing and following authoritarian structures, it’s not even attending SWS. It’s also not mission. Mission for the sake of mission is hollow nonsense. In view understanding, the one thing that Jesus commanded was written up in Joh 13:34-35 and John 15:12. And this command is already “everything”.

    • Ben, already gues that I like this message. Somewhere you wrote that I was mentioning Mt 23 too often and that there are so many other chapters. But in your own message you showed how authoritarianism is denounced and rejected in many more chapters of the Bible. Indeed, if UBF and other groups really took these passages just as seriously as their other favourite passages like the great commission (which they also misinterpreted), and obeyed them, then all that mess would not have happened.

    • Chris, I see your point and I would add that this is not a problem exclusive to UBF but is part of a larger issue in American Christianity. I have been hard-pressed to find interpretations of Matt 28:19 where John 13:34-35 and John 15:12 are given any significant importance or are even mentioned, for that matter.

      There is a very famous/popular minister who has a large congregation in the Southern Baptist Denomination. People devour his books and deem him as the next great thing in terms of teaching about disciple making. But one Christian commentator levied a critique against him which said that this preacher’s interpretation of Matt 28:19 is essentially this, “make disciples so that those disciples can then make disciples and on and on.” It’s very difficult for me to listen to or be compelled by his preaching because he has not indicated that he understands the great commission with any depth.

    • Sure, the whole shepherding and discipling movement has this problem.

      Yet, if you google for “Weltmissionsbefehl” (world mission command in German) the first results are UBF websites. Even among English speaking websites, if you google for world mission raising disciples, UBF is among the top results.

      Btw, here is another reason why I believe UBF is fulfilling the command badly, because the verse says to “go”, “baptize” and “teach”. However, in my 10 years of UBF I never saw a single baptism in UBF. Even though there were newly converts and children, they were not baptized. I know that Samuel Lee also didn’t care about baptism, so nobody else cared. Not sure how much this has changed in the current UBF. From the very beginnins, UBF was so obsessed with this verse, yet totally disregarded the one thing that is explicitly mentioned there.

    • Around 2006 or so, baptism was introduced, in chicago at least, and since then it has become more regular and celebrated.

  5. forestsfailyou
  6. I like that explanation and was not familiar with coram deo until now:


  7. Some helpful takeaways from forest’s article:

    On disciple-making by way of modeling –

    Because Richards and others use the verb “to disciple” and the gerund “discipling” to emphasize that modeling is not only a part of nurture but its basic element, these terms can easily be misunderstood as making modeling part of Jesus’ command “make disciples” in Matthew 28:19. This is an example of the fallacy of confusing concepts and terms. Though the concept of modeling is certainly scriptural, including this concept in the term μαθητεύω is not correct. So it is probably the better part of wisdom that we don’t speak about “discipling” people.

    The dual role of God and man in disciple making –

    However, the broad expression “make disciples” can easily be misunderstood. Therefore, when we use or explain these words, we always need to make sure that we clearly distinguish our part in carrying out Jesus’command from God’s part. Only God the Holy Spirit can turn people from unbelief to faith and constantly increase that faith. Only God the Holy Spirit can create a living faith that clings to and willingly does all that Christ commands. But we also have a part in this work because God has chosen to use us as his agents to proclaim the Word through which the Spirit does his work. Therefore, God does speak of human beings having a part in bringing people to faith (e.g., Acts 26:17 where Paul is described as opening people’s eyes and turning people from darkness to light, from Satan to God). But whenever we cite such passages we need to speak carefully so that the part we have in this action, what we do, is never confused with the Spirit’s work, with what he does.

    • forestsfailyou

      This was also very good.
      “The only book in the NT outside the Gospels where the word μαθητής is used is Acts. There it is used 28
      times. After chapter six it is regularly used as a synonym for “believer,” referring either to individual believers
      or the believers as a group in a certain city. Some people argue that Luke used this term for the very purpose of
      emphasizing that Christianity is not just a matter of learning some information but also a way of life (cf. Acts
      19:23 where Luke refers to Christianity as “the Way”). They point to Luke’s frequent use of this term and his
      remark in Acts 11:26 that “the disciples were called Christians first in Antioch” to claim that the word μαθητής
      is an extremely significant word. But this claim is not very convincing when we note that the Holy Spirit led no
      writer of any epistle (Paul, Peter, John, James, Jude, or the writer to the Hebrews) to use μαθητής even once.
      Instead, they all use the substantivized adjective πιστός or a participial of πιστεύω to refer to individual
      believers or the believers as a group.”