Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible


Bible-openAccording to Roger Wolsey, author of “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he, like other Progressive Christians, “employs a ‘canon within a canon’ lens” when studying the Bible, meaning that some books are more important and all others should be understood based on those.

For Mr. Wolsey, his “canon within a canon” consists of the gospels, though he clarifies that not all are equal. John, apparently, is the least of the gospels, with Mark, Luke, and Matthew coming in first, second, and third respectively.

What I don’t understand is how Mr. Wolsey can use the gospels and yet say things like this:

The hermeneutic of love seeks to see the forest for the trees and that allows the spirit of the law to trump the letter of the law (which Jesus modeled). (Emphasis in the original.)

In fact, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:17-18)

I understand that Matthew is only third in importance to Mr. Wolsey, but Luke also records a similar statement.

Perhaps Mr. Wolsey is thinking of Jesus’s refusal to follow the traditions the Pharisees added to the law, such as certain ceremonial washings for lay people and their definitions of work.

I’d think Mr. Wolsey would have realized Jesus’s dismissal of Pharisaical tradition was not Jesus choosing the spirit of the law over the letter since he claims Progressives believe in “interpreting Scripture with Scripture.” However, he apparently missed the fact that the Law recorded in Leviticus and Numbers spells out the specifics the Jews were to follow, and what the Pharisees tried to make Jesus do simply isn’t found in the Law.

More than that, Jesus Himself made clear His view of the Law when He rebuked the Pharisees: “But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Luke 11:42, emphasis added). In other words, Jesus was not blowing off the Law in order to serve the spirit of the Law. Rather, He was clearly saying religious activity does not replace what that religious activity was supposed to express.

Mr. Wolsey also said

We follow Jesus’ example in being willing to reject certain passages & theologies in the Bible and to affirm other ones. (He did it a lot) [emphasis in the original].

Because no specific passages or theologies are listed, the point is clearly unsubstantiated. But I suggest it suffers from something greater—it clashes with what is known from Scripture about Jesus and the Old Testament and the theology it contains.

Jesus made clear what He thought about Old Testament Scripture on more than one occasion. For instance He said after His resurrection,

Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (Luke 24:44)

Earlier, in Matthew He said

And He said to him, “ ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

In fact, the New American Standard Version, from which these quotes come, puts Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament in all caps. It’s easy to tell, therefore, that with some frequency, Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, as did the gospel writers. (In fact, the gospel of Mark, the one Mr. Wolsey thinks is most important, begins with a quote from Isaiah.)

Here’s one passage from Mark in which Jesus quoted from the Old Testament:

And He was saying to them, “To you [His disciples] has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God, but those who are outside get everything in parables, so that WHILE SEEING, THEY MAY SEE AND NOT PERCEIVE, AND WHILE HEARING, THEY MAY HEAR AND NOT UNDERSTAND, OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT RETURN AND BE FORGIVEN.” (Mark 4:11-12)

I’d think this indication that God gave something to His followers that He didn’t give everyone else would be one of the theologies that the Progressives would think Jesus rejected. But here it is, quoted from the Old Testament right there in Mark.

I could go on—Jesus referenced “certain passages” such as Genesis 2-3, the account of Adam and Eve in the garden; or Jonah 1-4, the account of Jonah running from God only to be swallowed by a big fish which God appointed; or in Exodus, containing the accounts in which Moses encountered God in the burning bush, in which God gave His people manna from heaven, in which He cured them when they looked on the bronze serpent lifted up.

All these are passages Jesus clearly did NOT reject.

There’s one other passage Jesus quoted from the Old Testament which I think pertains to Progressives—this one also from the book of Mark:

And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,
BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.
‘BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,
TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’
Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men
.” (7:6-8, emphasis added)

In short, there’s not much in Jesus’s teaching that squares with what Mr. Wolsey said in his article, and yet, since it was published six months ago, nearly 57,000 people shared the post on Facebook.

I suppose the purpose of sharing it might be to help Christians understand what Progressives believe. It is instructive, but what it says about the Bible and Jesus isn’t remotely true. I hate to think anyone would read that article and think Progressives have come up with the right way of approaching the Bible.

From this short look at what Mr. Wolsey said, it’s clear that he, at least, must not even know what the gospel says which he believes to be the most important. And that, I think, is the critical issue. It’s easy to say the Bible is important and “we” approach studying it in these sixteen ways, but how many of the “we” are actually reading it?

In fact, how many of the “we Evangelicals” are reading it?

CSFF Blog Tour – Dream Treaders by Wayne Thomas Batson, Day 2


DreamtreadersCover3Yes, I’m running a day behind the blog tour. For whatever reason, I’ve been having trouble posting. First it appeared to be a problem with my server . . . or possibly with my computer. But today everything seems to be working except for my access to WordPress. Well, I can open WP blogs just fine, but it’s connecting to the back end where you write and edit posts that I’m having trouble with. But at least today I can put up an article. Which may or may not be good, depending on what you think of what I have to say. ;-)

And what I have to say today has to do with Dream Treaders, the middle grade/young adult contemporary fantasy by Wayne Thomas Batson. I want to pick up on one of the concepts rising from this story about a young boy put in charge of a territory in the world of Dream. Archer Keaton’s primary responsibility, at least now, is to patch the breaches in the fabric between the temporal world and Dream.

The danger, readers come to understand, is that people in the Temporal will lose the ability to tell what is real and what is a dream—or nightmare. One other important point: the person who seems to be behind these breaches and the potential rifts that will allow Dream to break through into the Temporal, is the Nightmare Lord.

Now it’s clear that the Nightmare Lord himself has someone else he answers to, so there is no effort on Wayne Batson’s part to create an allegory. And yet, by painting an evil antagonist, there are necessary parallels to the true adversary of the human heart—the devil who prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.

Except, in this instance, the Nightmare Lord seems more closely related to another name for Satan—the Father of Lies. I couldn’t help but think how the false ideas prevalent in society and in the church stem from the great liar and render it harder and harder for people to discern what is true. That’s what lies do—they mask the truth.

In Dream Treaders, this confusion between what is and what is false is depicted by this threat that Dream and the Temporal will merge so that people will be confused and will think something is happening that is nothing but a dream.

As I see it, that picture properly reveals the confusion of our day. How is it that our good and perfect God is accused of being a wrathful tyrant—by people who claim to be Christians, no less? How is it that the Bible, God’s holy word, is looked down upon as a box which people try to paint around God and in which they want to keep Him?

How is it that a manuscript depicting a young man’s wedding vow to care for and protect his soon-to-be wife can be considered misogynist by an editor (true story)? How is it that abortion, ending the life of a fetus, is considered good in society because it preserves the right of a woman to control her own body, but killing an endangered frog is criminal?

The point is, in my life time, I’ve seen green become red and red become blue. When I was in middle school, a college psychology textbook listed homosexuality as deviant behavior. Today an athlete who reacted with shock at a man kissing his male partner when he received news that he’d been drafted into the NFL, was immediately reprimanded and slated for “sensitivity training.” The individual who thought the homosexual behavior repellent is now the one considered deviant.

Something has happened in the last twenty, thirty, forty years—a ripping of the fabric separating what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is false.

Consequently, I find the Dream Treader quotable quote, which Wayne Batson is so good at creating, to be so important: “Anchor first; anchor deep.” In the world of Dream the dreamtreaders needed to anchor before they did anything else so that they could find the way back to the real, waking world. But Archer learned those in living in the real world also needed anchors.

This is not merely a story truth. This is a truth for all people in all times. It actually reminds me of an old gospel song, “The Solid Rock” by Ruth C. Jones:

In times like these, we need a Savior
In times like these, we need an anchor
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

This Rock is Jesus, Yes, He’s the one
This Rock is Jesus, The only One
Be very sure, be very sure
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock

So, yes, anchor first and anchor deep, my friends. :-D

- – - – -

You might also want to read what Wayne Batson himself had to say about this book and other matters. He kindly agreed to interviews for the tour and you can find one with Shannon McDermott and another with Jeff Chapman.

Christ, The Mediator Between God And Man


Communion_TableBecause author and friend Mike Duran has been exploring a theological position termed inclusivism, I’ve been reading Scripture with this view in mind. As a review, inclusivism agrees with the traditional view of salvation—that Christ’s sacrificial death paid the price for sin and that salvation is only through His atoning work.

Where inclusivism departs from the established evangelical position, is that actual belief in Jesus is not necessary. Rather, a person, particularly someone who has not heard the gospel of Christ, may be covered by His blood without knowing it, if he lives according to the light he’s been given through general revelation.

With this idea in mind, then, verses such as John 14:6 in which Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me,” are explained as applicable to the means by which a person is saved and not how that person must come to God.

As I said, now that I’m fully aware of this theological position, I’m reading Scripture anew. I can see how a person holding the inclusive view can then interpret many of the clear statements of Scripture in that light—not stating what a person must do to be saved but what God will do (apply the blood of Christ to him on the bases of his following to the best of his ability the light he has been given).

The problem as I see it is that a person must arrive at the position of inclusivism apart from Scripture in order to interpret certain passages in this way. Scripture itself, as a meta-narrative, points to Christ and Christ alone.

In fact, Jesus is the Light and therefore the means by which a person is reconciled to God. Scripture states this plainly more than once.

For instance, after John introduces Jesus as the True Light, he said,

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name. (John 1:12, emphasis here and in the verses to follow are mine)

Then towards the end of his book John gives the purpose for recounting the details about Jesus’s life and ministry:

these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name (John 20:31).

Shortly after feeding the five thousand with a few loaves of bread, when Jesus was teaching about eternal life, the people asked him the key question: what do we have to do? Jesus’s answer was clear:

Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29)

When Peter first preached on the Day of Pentecost, the people responded with a question to which Peter also gave a clear answer:

Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brethren, what shall we do?” Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)

Paul and Silas had someone ask almost the exact same question:

After [the jailer] brought them out, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Interestingly, the only thing the latter two answers have in common is Jesus. But the sum of the two is clear: to be saved a person must believe in Jesus, repent, and be baptized in Jesus’s name.

Many evangelicals today understand baptism to be the public profession of faith in Christ, not a work that earns salvation. But even those who don’t adhere to “believer’s baptism” nevertheless correlate baptism and the saving work of Jesus. In other words, baptism is not a work that earns a person favor in God’s eyes, nor is it a service that indentures God to save. Rather, it is an identifying act enjoining the work of Christ on behalf of the person being baptized.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he clarifies his answer:

if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10)

Peter clarifies his in the first epistle bearing his name:

knowing that you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ. For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you who through Him are believers in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

Jesus also expanded on His statement:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world.”

Then they said to Him, “Lord, always give us this bread.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst. (John 6:32-35)

The significance here is that inclusivism lacks any such clear scriptural basis. At best those who hold this position apply a reinterpretation to passages pointing to Christ’s redemptive work, removing the “belief component” which is so clear in the scriptures above.

Further, Jesus, the gospel writers, and those who penned the epistles identify Jesus as the unique link between God and humankind. For instance, John states, “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him” (John 1:18).

Jesus made that same point:

Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.”

Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? (John 14:8-9)

Paul states emphatically in 1 Timothy 2:5, “For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”

Peter says, “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18).

The point then is that Christ, as the perfect High Priest, brings reconciliation between God and those He saves.

The inclusivist view, however, inverts this work of Christ so that God, through general revelation, brings sinners to Christ in order to cover them with His blood.

It’s true that God has chosen those who are His and that He has called His children, and yet salvation—the work that justifies a sinner before God—is Christ’s work. To say that God draws sinners in order to apply Christ’s blood without them knowing it is to ignore Christ’s purpose—to explain God, to show us the Father, to mediate, to serve as the High Priest.

The inclusivist view has no place for this part of Jesus’s work. In so truncating Christ’s role, it reduces His glory, and in the end, God’s glory, because it is through Christ that He is glorified:

. . . so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:11b)

Published in: on May 16, 2014 at 2:55 pm  Comments (12)  
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Addressing Christian Agnosticism


Your first impression might be that I’ve made a mistake in my title because there’s a contradiction in terms. How can Christians be agnostic?

I wish the problem were nothing more than a slip of the tongue, but sadly I think agnosticism is creeping into the Church. More and more frequently I hear people who claim to love Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord, who believe the Bible to be God’s Word, turn around and say incongruous things that come from postmodern thought.

I’ve already addressed, in several posts (here, here, and here), one of the issues that lead to agnostic thought—that God is mystery (as opposed to transcendent).

Another issue is the idea that we humans, being so fallible and so restricted by our limited experience can’t begin to get God right. We can know some things, such as Christ dying on the cross for our sins, but we’re bound to get a lot wrong.

As proof for this position, those holding it often point to denominationalism and the split between Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants.

I tend to think this view stems from good motives. One charge against Christians has been a prideful, know-it-all attitude. This we-don’t-know-everything position seems initially to be a more humble approach. The problem is, a well-intended position can still be completely wrong.

Mind you, I’m not saying we should revert to a prideful stance. The fact is, however, taking a we-don’t-know/we-can’t-know” position still puts Man in the forefront. It may sound humble, but it’s still all about us.

The truth is far different.

Since the Fall, knowing God has never been about what Man can or cannot know.

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hid His face from you so that He does not hear (Is. 59:1-2).

In other words, unless God intervened and removed our sin, we would have no way of knowing Him beyond what we could see in creation. Since He did intervene, however, we’ve had a game-change.

Even in the Old Testament, before Christ, God said to His chosen people

“But let him who boasts, boast of this, that understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord (Jer. 9:24 – emphasis added).

When Jesus came, He made it abundantly clear that He was here to make known the Father.

“If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.” Philip said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father (John 14:7-9).

Paul confirmed this numerous times, none more clearly than the simple statement in Colossians 1:15 – “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” [Emphasis mine.]

If we know Christ, then, we know God.

What’s more, we not only know Christ if we are His, but Scripture says we have His mind.

For who has known or understood the mind (the counsels and purposes) of the Lord so as to guide and instruct Him and give Him knowledge? But we have the mind of Christ (the Messiah) and do hold the thoughts (feelings and purposes) of His heart. (I Cor. 2:16, Amplified Bible, emphasis mine)

Have I yet mentioned the Holy Spirit? He who lives in every believer:

But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. (John 16:13)

Part of the Holy Spirit’s work was also to inspire Scripture. Consequently we know that its revelation is true. Hence, everything it says about God is true.

The problems that those advocating for agnosticism point to are a reflection of us not believing the revelation that is before us. Some dismiss portions of the Bible, while others say they believe it but twist it to their own purposes (Harold Camping comes to mind as an example). Others take a particular passage and interpret the rest of Scripture in light of that truth, rather than taking all of Scripture and interpreting particular passages in light of the totality. Still others chose one over another of truths that seem contradictory.

What we need is the faith of Abraham who believed God even when His command seemed to contradict His promise.

Seriously, agnosticism falls away if we take God at His word. What don’t we know about Him that we need to know?

And yet God, like any other person (but more so) has a depth we will never plumb fully.

So what am I saying? Can we or can’t we know God? We can, absolutely. James says, when we draw near, He in turn draws near to us. But in knowing Him, we discover there is more to know.

If we sit on the sidelines, however, saying how impossible it is to know God, if we succumb to the agnosticism of the age, we will end up like the Pharisees—staring Jesus in the face and not recognizing Him.

This article was originally posted here in August 2011 under the same title. It is one of a group of posts that are part of the Less-Than-3-Stars club. ;-)

Words Have Meaning, Or Do They?


Deconstruction _ LEGO PhilosophyWords have meaning. Of course they do, or people would never be able to understand each other. If I say, Thanks for visiting my blog, no one is going to mistakenly think I’m saying you’ve stopped by my home. My blog address is one of my online locations, but it’s not where I reside physically. It doesn’t take any special level of language acumen to understand this.

And yet we are living in a time in which the meaning of language is up for grabs. Postmodern philosophy has played a role in the deconstruction of language.

Here’s a brief summary of what was and what is replacing it:

Western philosophy is in this sense logocentrist, committed to the idea that words are capable of communicating unambiguously meanings that are present in the individuals mind.

Words are capable of communicating unambiguously. Sounds similar to words have meanings.

For the postmodern thinker, however, there’s deconstruction:

deconstruction, a method of textual analysis . . . which by means of a series of highly controversial strategies seeks to reveal the inherent instability and indeterminacy of meaning. . . . Deconstruction is best approached as a form of radical scepticism and antifoundationalism. (quotes from “Postmodernism”)

And why deconstruction?

Postmodernists believe that people are trapped behind something in the attempt to get to the external world. However, for them the wall between people and reality is not composed of sensations as it was for Descartes; rather, it is constituted by one’s community and its linguistic categories and practices. One’s language serves as a sort of distorting and, indeed, creative filter. (from “Truth, Contemporary Philosophy, and the Postmodern Turn”)

If language is distorting reality, then it needs to be deconstructed.

And so, we have a culture–Christians and non-Christians alike–that systematically goes about redefining words. I’ll mention some of the hot-button issues by way of illustration, not to make a point about them necessarily, other than to say, deconstruction is effective.

First, the Mormon church has for years effectively deconstructed a number of terms from the Bible: Son of God, Father, atonement, redemption, salvation, and Christian to name a few. The apparent intent is to shake the identification of cult. Rather than trying to deconstruct the meaning of that word, Mormons instead have couched their doctrines in terminology that means something very different to Evangelical Christians than it does to Mormons.

So in the Mormon community “Jesus Christ” refers to a god, not a member of the Trinity.

Words have meanings, until someone deconstructs them.

For centuries now here in the US, marriage has meant “the formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.” For the last fifteen, twenty years, however, this definition is being deconstructed. Consequently, same-sex relationships now claim marriage, though clearly the traditional definition contradicts the concept.

Other words have undergone a similar deconstruction: the concept of glorifying God, for example, and even the meaning of worship.

Most recently “natural” took a hit in order to explain away Romans 1:26-27. The thinking of the author of a recently published book roughly states that God said in Genesis, it is not good for Man to be alone. God then saw there was not a fitting partner for Man, so He gave him one.

For the gay man, the only fitting partner is another man, so this means what is natural for him is a male partner, not a female partner. Therefore when he is joined in “marriage” to his partner, that is good in the same way that Adam and Eve’s union was good.

Extrapolate that then to the Romans passage and you see that in reality for the gay person, same sex activity actually is what is natural.

I undoubtedly have mangled the explanation, but it serves as a good illustration. According to postmodernism, language takes on meaning from within a culture or community. So within the gay community, “natural” has come to mean the opposite of what it means to the rest of society. Or should I say, what it had meant to the rest of society.

The thing is, words actually do have meaning, so society at large either accepts the deconstruction of marriage and natural and Christian or it rejects those re-definitions.

If it accepts them, then the words will have come to mean a new thing.

Living languages, in fact, do change the meanings of words, so there’s no shock there. But the fact is, this manner of deconstructing language seems to carry with it intention. It would seem there are those who wish to a) destabilize culture and/or b) reverse meanings.

What I find so fascinating in all this is that the Bible told us we’d be right where we are:

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

A Master Demon’s Advice


Facebook_logo_(square)With a nod to C. S. Lewis, I am once again revisiting a Master Demon’s advice to his young lieutenant:

Wormbottom, er, Tonguetape is it, or Tapeworm—whatever you’re called—I’ve had some additional thoughts about our fight against the Enemy.

You’ve done a credible job of late suggesting to your charges that the Enemy is nothing but their fan, standing on the sidelines cheering them on to greatness.

His highest goal is their success, you’ve told them. Bravo! I heard three or four of the weaklings repeating that line at work, and one posted it on Facebook. With any luck we can get several of them to share it on Twitter, too, where someone is bound to retweet it.

Be that as it may, the next phase of your work is to shift your charges’ focus so they begin to think it their responsibility to evaluate the Enemy. You can prompt them to ask such questions as, Is He really as kind as they are? Is His plan for Humankind fair? Don’t all people everywhere deserve better?

256px-JUDGE_PARKER'S_COURTROOMOnce they start asking such questions, they have slid toward the role of judge.

Above all, keep them away from the Enemy’s playbook because there are some clear statements that will ruin this plan—things like, “There is one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and to destroy.”

Our Master claims the line is written about him, but of course the Enemy says otherwise, and it is His playbook. At any rate, if any of your charges are thinking at all, they’ll realize that line is not talking about them, that in fact they are not the judge, and therefore they are wrong to usurp that role.

You must not let them consider the possibility they are wrong. Rather, encourage them, Bottomtape, er, Tongueworm, whatever, to think that they deserve to know and understand the Enemy’s every move.

Once they have reached this conviction, move them to the next phase: they deserve to approve of what the Enemy is doing. Of course you must also convince them that the Enemy’s plans are not up to the standards of today.

Tell them morality has improved over time, that people everywhere now know slavery is wrong, for example, or that prejudice is intolerable. Tread carefully here, though. You must lead them to a prejudiced opinion without realizing that they are condemning the thing which they have embraced.

Once you have appealed to their pride, the rest should be easy. They will see their advanced state and the Enemy’s archaic standards, and conclude it is only right for them to make corrections of His plan, and even reinterpret His handbook. The net result will be that they end up saying the opposite of what the Enemy intended.

narrow_pathFor example, when He said, the way is narrow, they’ll think it’s too narrow and can’t possibly be an accurate picture of the way the world is unfolding. In fact the Enemy either was mistaken or His followers who wrote those words were exaggerating for effect.

Granted. That will be a hard one, but I have faith in you, and and foot soldiers in the past have had some success with this plan of attack.

You might try another tact in these postmodern times. Get them to think the narrow way is for people today who have copies of the handbook. Those who embrace its philosophy are on the narrow way—which actually is true. But here’s the key. Get your charges to adopt a second narrow way and a third, if you want to, maybe even a fourth.

For example, the weaklings the Enemy created can be sincere about what they believe and that will put them on another narrow way. Or they can do their best with what they had, and that will put them one a third narrow way.

Only don’t let your charges think these are actually separate ways. Convince them that they are different manifestations of the same path.

And whatever you do, don’t let them realize they are standing in disapproval of the Enemy. Rather, convince them that He came up with the “many narrow ways which are simply different manifestations of the same path” idea. Let them think they are actually ferreting out His meanings and intentions, because, after all, He would certainly be fair.

Fair, of course, in their understanding means giving everyone, no matter what they think of the Enemy, the same chance to live with Him forever.

What nonsense! As if most of your charges can even stomach to talk with the Enemy for five minutes, let alone offer Him praise throughout eternity.

More ridiculous still is their false belief that they deserve to live with Him, since He’s the king and all, and they are surely good company for a king to keep.

You’ve made a good start, Wormbottom. But there’s lots yet to do. Nevertheless, I’m confident you can sway your charges to hold the Enemy in contempt for His exclusivist views and bigoted plans. You’ll have them working for you then. So keep at it.

Published in: on May 5, 2014 at 6:31 pm  Comments (7)  
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Christians And Unity


Crowds_in_the_Big_TentOne thing evangelical Christians in particular get dinged about, especially by atheists and liberal or progressive “Christians”–Big Tent advocates–is our lack of unity. If your god was real, the implication seems to be, you’d all be one big happy family, not a bunch of squabbling, self-interested nay-sayers.

There’s some truth in this accusation. Jesus told His followers that their love for one another would be the thing that would draw others to them. And still, the early church was fraught with division.

Some problems were personal. Take, for example, Paul’s rift with Barnabas. We know Paul didn’t want to take John Mark along on what would have been their second missionary journey after he deserted them during the first one. Barnabas insisted. And Paul refused, so they parted ways.

Or what about the two women in Philippi–fellow workers with Paul–who had some disagreement with each other that required the apostle to tell them to knock it off.

James wrote to all the Jewish Christians scattered beyond the borders of Judea, and he addressed the problem of “fights and quarrels among you.”

Besides personal discord, the Church also faced disunity because of personal sin. Corinth is the most obvious example. That body of believers was tolerating a man who paraded his incestuous relationships in the church. A faction apparently was patting their backs for their tolerant attitude toward him, thinking their acceptance was a demonstration of grace.

On top of this kind of personal sin, there was also false teaching. Peter said there would be false teachers who would introduce “destructive heresies” (2 Peter 2:1).

Jude referred to people who

are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. (1:12-13)

Later he said they are ones “who cause divisions,” are “worldly minded,” and “devoid of the Spirit” (v. 19).

I think it’s significant that in the first two instances, personal squabbles and personal sin, the Church was instructed to take steps to correct the situation. The fighting fellow workers were to stop, those lacking unity were admonished to be of the same mind, to look out for the interests of others, to bear with one another, forgive each other. Brethren were instructed not to judge each other or complain against one another.

At the same time, the Church received instruction not to tolerate sin. The brother living like a non-Christian was not to enjoy the fellowship of the Church, but the purpose was to draw him into repentance and restoration. The “disunity” then, was purposefully and temporary.

The situation with false teachers was different. Jesus Himself warned of “false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15). Paul went so far as to say those who were “rebellious men, empty talkers and deceivers,” needed to be silenced because they were “teaching things they should not teach for the sake of sordid gain” (Titus 1:11b).

In other words, there is no plea for unity with these divisive false teachers. They, in fact, were the cause of disunity, disrupting and scattering and devouring the sheep, as wolves are wont to do.

The mistake, I believe, evangelicals have made is trying for a false peace. We are in danger of becoming like those Jeremiah spoke of:

They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially,
Saying, ‘Peace, peace,’
But there is no peace.

For some reason, we have no desire to pretend unity with a hateful group like the Westboro Baptist cult, but we turn around and gloss over the blatant misuse of Scripture from any number of others. Who are we to judge? we say.

But the fact is, universalists like Paul Young (The Shack) or Rob Bell (Love Wins) can’t be right if Jesus said the things the New Testament recorded about separating sheep from goats and sending wicked slaves into outer darkness.

I don’t think we need to be unkind or snarky or offensive. I mean, the point of silencing false teachers in the church is not to come out looking superior or more knowledgeable or highly spiritual. It’s to keep their teaching from gaining traction and spreading. We’re not standing in God’s place to judge them. At best we can pray, “The Lord rebuke you.”

Nevertheless, we ought not seek unity with those who say they are Christians, but who do not believe what the Bible teaches about God, His Son Jesus, and what He did at the cross in order to make a way for humankind to be reconciled with the Father.

So why is there disunity among evangelicals? First because we are sinners–saved by grace, yes, but prone to wander, and in our wandering we do disruptive things that require discipline and forgiveness and restoration.

Second, there’s disunity because people who aren’t believers say they are. They believe something, surely, but it is a different gospel, a result of “taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind” (Col. 2:18b).

rose-1441525-mAre we to pursue unity with these wolves in sheep’s clothing? Not while they are trafficking in heresy. But that judging question comes up again. Who are we to judge?

We aren’t judging when we call a spade, a spade or a rose, a rose or false teaching, false.

Discernment and judging are two different things.

It’s Not About Us


beach umbrella-1-1288990-mFalse teaching seems to be increasing. More people are buying into old lies and new lies are popping up at an alarming rate. There is an ever growing number of people who want to camp under the umbrella of Christianity but who don’t hold to some of the most basic tenets of the faith–such as, God exists.

I don’t mean to be snarky here, but I don’t see the rationale behind the idea that a person is an “agnostic Christian.” The Christian faith is centered on Jesus Christ and His work to reconcile us to God, so how can a person be a Christian if he’s uncertain about God’s existence?

But those who identify as agnostic Christians have lots of company when it comes to people who claim the name of Christ while ignoring what He said. My point here isn’t to start a list of false teachings. Rather, I want to focus on what those false teachings seem to have in common.

In a word, I think all false teaching is self centered. It’s more important to those believing a false teaching that they are comfortable or tolerant or intellectually satisfied or rich or right or inclusive or whatever else different people set ahead of God.

Some will even say, in essence, If God is like the Old Testament describes Him, then I don’t want anything to do with Him. God, in other words, has to conform to their wishes. He must be made in their likeness, as opposed to they made in His.

The truth is, Christianity is not about what we wish God were or what we’d like Him to do. We don’t get to tell Him how He should deal with suffering or sin. We don’t get to exclude Him from creation or salvation. Any attempts to change Him and what He’s said or done are actually forms of rejecting Him.

That’s not to say we can’t question. Those who embrace a false teaching often say people who cling to the God of the Bible are unwilling to search for answers. But that’s simply not true.

Job asked more questions than a good many people ever will, and God didn’t scold him for asking. He confronted him about his accusations against God, and Job agreed that he was wrong. God “in person” showed Job what sovereignty and omnipotence and wisdom really meant, and Job repented in dust and ashes.

Gideon questioned God, over and over. He wanted to be sure he’d understood that he was to be a part of the great victory God had planned. He wanted to be sure he got it right that he was supposed to decrease the size of his army. He wanted to be sure he was supposed to go forward in the face of his fear.

David asked questions, too. Why do the wicked prosper; how long, O LORD; why have You forsaken me; what is Man; why do You hide Yourself, and many others.

Abraham was another one who entertained doubts. He, and Sarah, weren’t sure they’d got it right. God was going to make a great nation from his descendants? God must have meant heir, or, if descendant, then birthed by a surrogate, not Abraham’s barren wife.

No, and no. God corrected him and repeated His promise.

Mary questioned. Me? A virgin? How could that possibly happen?

Moses doubted which lead to such despair he asked at one point for God to simply kill him then and there because he couldn’t continue leading an angry and rebellious people.

I could go on, but the point is this: asking questions is not wrong–it’s thinking that our answers are better than God’s that is wrong.

And that’s what all false teaching has in common. Man has secret knowledge of God, or can earn his own way into God’s good graces, or can come to God however he pleases, or can worship the god of his own choosing, or can manipulate God to do his bidding–all of those and a host of other false ideas put self ahead of God, as if it’s all about us.

But it’s not.

Martyr’s Fire by Sigmund Brouwer – CSFF Blog Tour, Day 1


"The Achievement of the Grail" (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

“The Achievement of the Grail” (1891-4) Tapestry by Edward Burne-Jones, Museum and Art Gallery of Birmingham

How gullible are people? How willing to believe a newcomer capable of working marvelous deeds? These questions are central to Martyr’s Fire, third in the Merlin’s Immortals series by Sigmund Brouwer.

Part of me would like to say, people are skeptical enough and wary enough that they wouldn’t be swayed from truth to falsehood by magic tricks. On the other hand, I’m well aware of a general desire for “signs” as proof of the truth of a thing.

For example, people in Jesus’s day were asking Him for signs that would prove He was the Messiah. And today isn’t so very different. How many news accounts have aired about people lining up for blocks to pray before a window stain in the shape of Christ or a tortilla chip in the form of the Virgin Mary?

It would seem that people are inclined to believe signs that align with their already held beliefs. Consequently, the people in Jesus’s day were looking for signs suited to an all powerful conquering king. They were looking for someone who would bring an end to Rome’s rule over Israel.

People praying to a stain or a bit of tortilla already believe in praying to images. For them, the appearance of the image in an unexpected place and time is a miracle, an evidence of God’s presence and willingness to hear and answer prayer.

The opposite also seems to be true–people without a prior inclination to believe will be hard to convince. When Moses stood before Pharaoh and first asked him to let the people of Israel go to worship their God, he performed several signs–the ones God had implemented when He told Moses he was to free Israel. Rather than responding with belief, however, Pharaoh was skeptical and hard-hearted.

In fact, he had his own magicians replicate a number of Moses’s signs. He was not quick to believe because Moses was producing signs to verify something Pharaoh did not believe. He did not believe the God of Israel was the one true God, and he did not believe his slaves should be allowed to walk free, even for a short period to worship this God.

In Martyr’s Fire, and in Book 2, Fortress of Mist, Sigmund Brouwer capitalizes on this general inclination people have of embracing signs consistent with already held beliefs. In one instance, the people embrace the hero of the story, and in the other they embrace his enemies.

When I first read that the people of Magnus, the city Thomas freed and began to rule, made an about-face and wished to imprison him, I thought it was too unbelievable. But I was forgetting how a mob might be swayed–how a crowd can shout “Hosanna,” one day and “Crucify him,” the next.

Brouwer skillfully portrays the power of expectations and belief in the miraculous to sway a people, and within pages, those who once embraced Thomas as their king now realistically are turning against him.

Upon this point, the entire story of Martyr’s Fire hangs. If this change of loyalty is not believable, the idea that Thomas must run for his life and hide and scheme is meaningless. The book would fail. Happily, in my opinion, it did not.

Here’s the critical turning point. Hugh de Gainfort, one of the Priests of the Holy Grail claiming to be a sect representing the one and only true church, is addressing a crowd in Magnus–a crowd he has ensured will be as large as possible. He holds up a statue of the Madonna. Then this:

“She blessed this statue for our own priests, thirteen centuries ago. Our own priests, who already held the sacred Holy Grail. Thus, she established us as the one true church!” [said Hugh.]

A voice from the entrance to the church interrupted Hugh. “This is not a story to be believed! This is blasphemy against the holy pope and the church of Rome!”

Hugh turned slowly to face his challenger.

The thin man at the church entrance wore a loose black robe. His face was pale with anger, his fists clenched at his sides.

“Ah!” Hugh proclaimed loudly for his large audience. “A representative of the oppressors of the people!”

This shift startled the priest. “Oppressors?”

“Oppressors!” Hugh’s voice gained in resonance, as if he were a trained actor. “You have set the rules according to a religion of convenience! A religion designed to give priests and kings control over the people!”

The priest stood on his toes in rage. “This . . . is . . . vile!” he said in a strained scream. “Someone call the Lord of Magnus!”

One of Hugh’s men slipped through the crowd and placed a hand on the priest’s shoulder and squeezed the priest into silence.

No one else moved.

Hugh’s smile did not reach his cold black eyes. “The truth shall speak for itself,” Hugh said gravely. He turned back to the people. “Shall we put truth to the test?”

“Yes!” came the shout. “Truth to the test!”

Hugh then performed his miracle, the second the Priests of the Holy Grail had shown the people, and the turning of Magnus had begun. Thomas’s good friend and counselor tries to warn him:

Gervaise shook his head and pursed his lips in a frown. “Thomas, these new priests carry powerful weapons! The weeping Madonna. The blood of St. Thomas. And the promise of the Holy Grail.”

Gervaise paused, then added. “Thomas, tell me: Should the Priests of the Holy Grail become your enemy, how would you fight them?”

Thomas opened his mouth to retort, then slowly shut it as he realized the implications.

“Yes,” Gervaise said, “pray these men do not seek your power, for they cannot be fought by sword. Every man, woman, and child within Magnus would turn against you.”

The swaying of a crowd. On the surface, such a dramatic change might seem unbelievable, but by utilizing the beliefs and expectations, the fears and frustrations already existent, a few well-placed signs and “miracles” can do the trick.

At least Sigmund Brouwer has me believing it is possible.

Others in CSFF are also interacting with Martyr’s Fire this week, so I encourage you to check out their posts. Tell them Becky sent you. ;-)

Is It Really God’s Fault?


Camping_billboardJust under two years ago, the Western world was reeling at Harold Camping’s prediction of the end of the world–reeling with laughter, that is. Once again the professing Bible believer had calculated the date of Christ’s return, a date which obviously came and went without a single Camping follower meeting Jesus in the air or a single coal of fire igniting an all consuming fire.

To make matters worse, that latest was a re-calibration of an earlier May 21 failed prediction which was a re-calibration of the one he made in 1988. When the third prophetic pronouncement yielded nothing but scorn, Camping admitted he had been wrong. Some even said he apologized since a number of his followers had reportedly sold their possessions to help fund the ad campaign to get the word out.

Others like myself didn’t see an apology in what he said, but perhaps his “I was wrong” actually meant “I’m sorry I led so many astray with my sinful, prideful, false prophecies.”

The 90-year-old broadcaster told his listeners that the Rapture did not occur October 21 because it was ultimately God’s will. “He could have stopped everything if He had wanted to,” he said. (“Camping Apologizes”)

What goaded me then and what has stuck with me for the past two years is this implication that God was at fault for not stopping him. His “confession,” in my opinion, was akin to Adam’s: “The woman YOU gave me handed me the fruit and I ate” (OK, I admit, my paraphrase and my emphasis).

This thinking, however, actually mirrors some of the reasoning of those who reject God. If He was all powerful, they say, He could stop wars and gang violence and cure cancer and pretty much all forms of suffering, sickness, pain, and death.

Except, God told Adam not to eat of that tree because if he did, if he so much as touched it, he would die.

So Adam sinned, but it’s God’s fault.

On the flip side are Christians who take the “let go and let God approach.” I don’t want to misrepresent this position because I know godly Christians who genuinely believe that they must only wait on God, and He will stir them to action.

My problem with that centers on the fact that every believer who has a nine-to-five job seems stirred to action when the alarm goes off at six each morning. Why would it be wrong for someone not under a time requirement to be stirred by the same godly motivation–responsibility?

We should be obedient to love our neighbors. No one makes us, though. We won’t get fired if we don’t welcome someone new or share with the person in need or pray for the one in the hospital. So we wait for God to prompt us, to give us the nudge by His Spirit.

However, I submit, it is sinful for us to wait for God to move us to do what He’s already told us to take care of.

It’s as sinful for Harold Camping to say, God didn’t stop me as it is for other Christians to say, God didn’t start me.

The truth is, God did stop Mr. Camping. Matthew 24:36 and Mark 13:32 tell us that no one knows the day or the hour of Christ’s return. Yet Mr. Camping felt compelled to do his special calculations to figure out the day, at least, if not the hour. Why would he say God didn’t stop him when he clearly ran right through God’s stop sign?

And those who are waiting on God’s special nudge to do what He’s told us to do–whether it’s to love our neighbor or honor our parents or work with our hands or season our speech with grace or forgive our enemies or a host of things–these folks, it seems to me, are sitting at a green light with their engines running and a full tank of gas, waiting for God’s special invitation above and beyond that green light He gave in Scripture.

Go into all the world and preach the gospel, He says in Mark 16:15. Preach with our lives, with our speech, with our writing, with our good deeds even, Peter says. So why are we waiting for a special invitation from the Holy Spirit, to do what God told us to do in His Word?

Published in: on September 9, 2013 at 6:52 pm  Comments (12)  
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