I met this week’s guest a few months back at the Ravi Zacharias Summer Institute for Apologetics. He’s a phenomenally talented singer / songwriter out of Texas, yet now he’s in the middle of earning his Masters Degree in Religious Studies and Apologetics, with aims toward Law School. Needless to say, he’s a lot more smarter than me. And in addition to all this, he’s a rancher who works at a rehab center, wrangling addicts like me while integrating philosophy with psychology.
Jeff Jackson is a stud!
Jeff went to an evangelism conference in 1998, where he heard the phrase, “We need to scrutinize these things that we consider holy and sacred more not less than everything else.” These words made a lasting impression on Jeff for years to come.
It was this type of thinking that made Ravi Zacharias stand out to Jeff, and opened up a lot of conversations and mental wrestling with what he believes, why he believes it, and what does the Bible and the world have to say about these beliefs.
But, one particular sermon that stood out to Jeff (and Tammy and myself as well), from his early years, was a lesson on hell. He remembers very clearly (even though he was only six-years-old) the four sermon points that described hell: Fiery, Filthy, Fierce and Final – which was all that was needed for young Jeff to start asking heavy questions. It was after discussing these questions that Jeff prayed to ask the Lord into his heart that very night. Looking back, though, he wonders if using fear to draw people to Jesus is really what the New Testament is all about. Today, he sees all throughout the Gospels, epistles and Revelation that people should be drawn to Jesus in order to be released and freed from their fears. In other words, Christianity isn’t just about escaping hell, but actually more about experiencing God. You see, when Jesus becomes secondary to heaven versus hell, we’ve gone down a bad road.
On a similar note, I’ve seen that almost every time I talk to someone who has walked away from their faith, they rarely ever have anything to say about being let down by Jesus – or anything about Jesus at all – but they almost always talk about being let down by people. Which makes me wonder what their faith was placed upon in the first place – God and His Word or the people who were teaching it.
Jeff sees this in his work with addicts, too. The toughest people to walk through the second and third steps – which deal with coming to believe in a power greater than oneself – are those with religious baggage.
You see, Jeff says that he’s heard it said too often that the world is no longer interested in truth. The truth is, while there are indeed many people who have lost a desire to seek truth, there are still so many who do desire truth – so many that it makes the pursuit necessary! Yet, if anything gets in the way on a regular basis, it’s the people, not Jesus. Or, as Jeff tells people who choose to refuse Jesus, “That’s fine with me. So long as you’re rejecting Jesus and not some caricature of Jesus that may have been presented to you.”
So, for the last several years, Jeff has worked at combining psychology and philosophy to help people heal their psychological wounds and come face-to-face with their moral relativity. Jeff has learned that people’s behaviors don’t run independent of their beliefs. Unfortunately, most psychologists and counselors aren’t equipped to discuss beliefs – just behaviors – so real healing and getting to the core of the matter just can’t happen.
So what, if anything, does this say about people who come to Jesus as a young child and never readdress the questions of why they accepted the Lord in the first place? I mean, when I was 14, my dad told me that there was no God. Meanwhile, at the same age, I didn’t know for certain if professional wrestling was real or not. So, I gotta wonder if it’s plausible for any kid to make a life-long commitment at such a young age.
Jeff explains it this way: God can use even the smallest ounce of repentance and faith to begin a process of changing someone’s life and drawing them toward Him – whether that small ounce comes from a child or from an adult.
Now, one mistake Jeff believes too many people (and churches) make is putting too much of an emphasis on “The Sinner’s Prayer”, and not enough emphasis on true discipleship. You see, the Church’s job isn’t just to win people for Christ, but as the Great Commission says: to make disciples.
Or, as Jeff puts it: Too many churches set their goals to go out and convert yet neglect to follow up in love. Yet, they would be surprised if they first set their goals to go out and love at the amazing number of people who would then be converted.
No greater example of this exists than that of my own life. I was a foul-mouthed, bitter, cynical, blasphemous wretch who was loved into the kingdom over the course of an entire year. Over that year, my friend was simply that: a loving friend who never made me feel like an evangelical notch on his belt, but just loved me. He stood his ground on a lot of issues, but he allowed Jesus to do the convincing while he simply did his job of being a steadfast friend.
Or, as Jeff puts it, it needs to be a priority to understand someone’s wounds as you listen, speak and relate to them. People need to know that you love them, no matter what conclusions they come to. Whether they agree with you regarding who Jesus is, or if they disagree with you, the question of your love should never waiver. It’s really simple, actually. The most succinct verse that shows God’s desire for us is John 3:16:
For God so loved the world (not just those who agree with Him)…
Or, if we look at John 13, Jesus says, “This is how the world will know you are my disciples, if you love one another” (not in the apologetic arguments you can offer regarding God’s existence, not in the size of church buildings that you build, or the congregation size that you tally up… just how you love one another)
So, bringing all this back to the question of integrating psychology and philosophy, Jeff believes that the reason why so many addicts relapse is because the core issues (what they believe NOT what their behaviors exhibit) are not truly addressed. Their psychology (behavior) is thoroughly dealt with, but their philosophy (theology and beliefs) isn’t because it’s politically incorrect to dive into these issues.
To illustrate this, Jeff often draws on a board: The Four Existential Layers of What It Means to Be Human. The first is the Surface Persona – the mask or projection that we exhibit to others based on what we want people to think about us (in other words, a decoy or attractive deception). The second layer is the Prideful Agenda for Protection. These two layers are the defense layers. The first is much more passive than the second. The second often reveals people’s vulnerability, and when exposed, it shows up appearing as anger. It’s a war defense. The third layer is Psychological Wounds, and then the fourth layer – the deep down layer – is the Philosophical Core Beliefs. This is where our behaviors are rooted. They’re the thoughts that we don’t ever want anyone to know that we are thinking. The problem is that layer one isn’t always in sync with layer four. This is why we see news stories where someone does something terrible and their neighbors can’t believe that they did it – they seemed so normal. You see, their mask that they portrayed for everyone was not the same as their Core Beliefs.
The dichotomy between these layers is often a result of an event or series of events that create emotional damage that influence and effect rational thinking (Psychological Wounds).
All this to say, most people actually hold their beliefs based on emotions, not evidence. That’s why people do what they do.
So, when we tie all this into apologetics, we need to remember that giving logical evidence for God’s existence doesn’t end there. It’s merely a tool to open the mind so that it can have influence on the heart.
This is all chiefly why Jeff believes that “wham-bam” evangelism isn’t as successful as it could be, because its very nature doesn’t include relationship, which is necessary for digging down into someone’s Psychological Wounds, finding healing, and addressing their Core Beliefs, then planting seeds, and watching them grow.
You can see all this clearly drawn out at Jeff’s website: CenterForChristianApologetics.com
To sum up, Jeff puts it this way: If Jesus is the Creator incarnate, then He’s in the business of restoring us back to our created identity – an identity that reflects God’s image.
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