Jesus, Progressive Christians, And The Bible—A Reprise


Some years ago a number of people began identifying as “Progressive Christians,” meaning, essentially that they were spiritual but didn’t believe the Bible to be infallible or inspired or authoritative. In fact, it’s hard to distinguish in what ways their view is different from atheists’. One such pastor who self-identifies as a Progressive Christian, Roger Wolsey, begins a definition of Progressives by saying,

What has come to pass as “conventional/popular Christianity” — isn’t what Christianity is actually about. Friends, Jesus isn’t God.* Jesus didn’t “die for our sins.” Jesus wasn’t killed “instead of us.” None of us living today killed Jesus. God didn’t “need” Jesus to be killed. God isn’t wrathful or vindictive. There isn’t a hell (other than ones that we create here on this earth). Going to heaven after we die isn’t what the faith is about. There isn’t going to be a “rapture.” And it isn’t particularly necessary for Jesus’ resurrection to have been a physical one for it to be a real and meaningful one. (“A Definition of Progressive Christianity“)

[By the way, the asterisk refers to this note:] *UPDATE: I do believe that Jesus was divine, and that he’s the 2nd person of the trinity. Christians rightfully honor and celebrate Jesus as a unique and fully incarnate manifestation of God. I don’t believe that he’s literally God (at least not what most people tend to mean by that word). We live and move and have our being in God, so did Jesus. The trinity as [sic?] a beloved Christian poem of who God is to us. But poems don’t literally define things. Like all art, and theology, they point to what is beyond them.

In his article “16 Ways Progressive Christians Interpret the Bible,” he explains how he looks at Scripture. As another Progressive Christian recently reminded me, these PCs are not united in their specific ideas about God and Jesus and the Bible. Nevertheless, some, including Wolsey, “employ 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 contrast to this notion, 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?

This article is a revised version of one that appeared here in July, 2014.

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A Different Gospel—A Reprise


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Apparently the Apostle Paul felt strongly about the message God had given him to preach. More than once, to several different audiences he wrote about the need to resist false teaching. Nowhere was he as exercised, however, as he was in the letter to the Galatians. After a typical, though relatively short, opening, he got right to the point:

I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed! (Gal 1:6-9)

Disturbing and distorting—sounds like the Liar at work. But what should we expect? OF COURSE, Satan wouldn’t want people understanding and believing the true gospel. So one way to dissuade them is to give them an alternative.

The true gospel is not complicated. Paul laid it out in 1 Cor. 15:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Cor 15:3-5)

In this short statement of faith we learn that we have sins, Christ died for those sins, the Scriptures revealed this before hand, Christ was buried–declaring for all time that His death was real—and was raised on the third day, something the Scriptures also revealed and the disciples witnessed.

A different gospel will distort those basics.

Some different gospels mythologize the resurrection. Others add human endeavor to Christ’s death in order to deal with sin. Some say sin isn’t the real problem–man simply needs to learn to be as loving as Jesus was.

Other different gospels downplay Christ’s accomplishment at the cross for Other Things, specifically, for what He can do for you NOW. Salvation’s good, but why wait for heaven to enjoy God’s best? We can have it now if we name it and claim it. In other words, this different gospel takes what Jesus and what Paul said were signs of the gospel, and elevates those as if they ARE the gospel, or at least a part of it.

There is a different gospel that says Christ died, but if you don’t believe it to be true—if you believe in the Hindu pantheism or personal enlightenment or some other sincerely held religious expression—you’re good. Apparently in this different gospel, sin isn’t really the problem. It’s hypocrisy or not going all out for what you believe or going all out for what you believe. The real problem Mankind faces isn’t really clear, but that it will be fixed no matter what each of us believes—that’s the different gospel.

Some distort the gospel by distorting the revelation in which it is contained. Consequently it becomes easier to dismiss if there is no authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that proclaims the gospel. If what we have are fables and fairytales instead, then we can glean whatever moral we want from them and dismiss the rest.

A radically different approach that also distorts the gospel is the idea that the authoritative, true, revealed Word of God that contains the gospel, lists out the rules and regulations by which a person can overcome sin.

People believing in this different gospel might even give lip service to the fact that Jesus died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. In practice, however, they live to toe the line, keep the rules, obey the do’s and avoid the don’ts—not because they love God and want to please Him, but because they want to impress God and earn His favor. That would be the unmerited favor He’s already extended to us through the plan of salvation.

Clearly there are many, many different gospels. In the first century, the Church leaders ran into those who didn’t believe in the resurrection, and others who thought Christ had returned a second time already. The leaders disciplined those who thought the forgiveness of sin gave them a license TO sin. They dealt with others who thought the body was evil and the spirit was good, and many more distortions of God’s truth.

The key here is this: if false teachings were not uncommon when the Church was in its infancy, why would we think things are different now? Why would we think that everyone who claims the name of Christ actually believes the gospel? It’s easy to say, Lord, Lord, but Jesus Himself made it clear that He would send away an untold number of people who called to him like that when He didn’t really know them.

Those folks had fallen prey to one of the false gospels floating around.

Paul closed his letter to the Corinthian church by saying, “If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed” (16:22). To the Galatians he said, the guy preaching a false doctrine is to be accursed.

There’s a principle of logic at work here:
if a = accursed and
b = accursed, then
a = b.

In this case, the one who preaches a different gospel does not love the Lord. So, why would we be inclined to hang out and hear someone preaching a different gospel?

This post originally appeared here in July 2013.

Jesus Is Coming Again


After Jesus rose from the dead, He stayed on earth for some 40 days. Lots of people saw Him. He spent time explaining the Scriptures—at the time, that meant what we now know as the Old Testament—to his disciples. He wanted them to see how the prophets, the poetry, and even Israel’s history, pointed to Him.

Then He left. But right after His ascension, angels informed the witnesses of this dramatic event, that He would return in the exact same way.

Seems like from that moment on, people have been asking, when’s He coming back?

A long list of people have come up with schemes and systems to figure out the day Christ will return. Clearly these predictions are not Biblical. Jesus Himself said that no one knows the day or hour of His return. He said He didn’t even know, which has scholars scrambling to understand how Jesus, who is God, doesn’t know something that God the Father knows. Try explaining that one. But I digress.

With Jesus telling us nobody has this piece of information about the future, I can’t help but wonder, why do people keep trying to figure it out? It seems like spitting in the wind.

In fact, I think it does far more damage, and who gets the black eye is the name of Christ and all of Christendom. Every time some misguided person, or false teacher, announces that he knows the date of Christ’s return, the jokes start to fly. And they get uglier with each false prediction. I pretty much want to say, if someone claims that Jesus is coming back March 10, 2020 (or whatever), we know for sure when He is NOT coming back, because nobody knows.

The sad thing is, with every failed prediction, not only do those who reject Jesus become entrenched in their unbelief, many others begin to question. Is He ever coming back? I mean, things have been going on the same as always for the last 2000 years. Why is He waiting so long?

Well, for one, He’s waiting for what the Bible refers to as “the fullness of time.” What that means, I’m not altogether sure. I don’t know what cosmic things have to align, what political powers have to fall or rise. One thing I know, God is waiting for the Church to be made complete. In other words, one reason for the delay was so that you and I, fellow Christians, would be born and would be saved. There might be decades or centuries of others who God will add to His family. We simply don’t know.

But we do know for certain that Jesus is coming again.

He said He is. The angels said He is. Scripture says He is.

There’s another strange belief that Jesus already has returned, and we’re in the era leading up to the end. I admit I don’t understand all that the proponents of this idea say. I think it’s not true. We know from Scripture that His return will be cosmic and universal and public. He will not come back in the manner He first came. Sure, there were angels then, but their announcement of His birth was localized. Everything else about His arrival was more in keeping with His role as the Suffering Savior. When He cones back it will be as the Conquering King.

The important aspects of Jesus’s return for us to know and remember are these: His return is sure. He will give the dead in Christ their new bodies. Our part is simply to be ready. Focusing on the “when” is not the way to get ready.

We’ve been given a mission, and the only way to be ready for Christ’s return is to be doing the job He gave us to do.

Imagine a military unit sent abroad to rescue a village trapped by a volcanic lava flow. Instead of carrying out their orders, though, they stop to take pictures and work feverishly to determine how long the villagers have before the lava overtakes their homes.

We Christians are a rescue unit. We have orders to bring out of dangers all who will come. So why would we spend one minute trying to calculate how long we have before tragedy strikes those who have yet to turn to Christ?

I understand that God will make a way of escape for any who want to come to Him. But what about any of us not doing our job?

In the story Jesus told about the ten virgins who awaited the coming of the bridegroom. Only five were prepared. The other five were turned away. Was Jesus telling us that doing the work He has set before us, is evidence that we do, in fact, believe in Him?

Jesus told other stories about His return. One had a servant taking what he was supposed to invest and burying it in the ground. The master in the story threw him out too. Sitting on what we’ve been given is not what “be ready” entails.

Good servants, I learned from Downtown Abbey, anticipate what their master wants. Well, we know what our Master wants: disciples. He wants us sharing the gospel; facilitating others who are going places we can’t go, to share the gospel; praying for those who are in strategic places to share the gospel. After all, we’re on a rescue mission. We need to bring in as many to safety as will come.

Are Catholics Christians?


Who is a Christian?

In our western, post-truth culture we tend to let people self-identify without calling into question the truth of their distinct personhood. So according to Saving Truth by Abdu Murray, “At the University of Washington students affirmed a white man’s self-identification as a young Chinese girl.” (p 53)

I mention this because the media, and consequently the public at large, thinks nothing of lumping anyone who self-identifies as a Christian all into one gigantic group.

The problem, of course, is that some identify as Christian because they live in a country that has been known as a Christian nation and where more Christians live than do Muslims or Buddhists or Hindus. But are they actually Christian?

Some people think being a Christian is holding to a certain list of do-this-and-not-thats. Others think that if they go to church once in a while, then they are Christians. Still others think that doing what their church leader says to do qualifies them as Christian. For Catholics that person might be their parish priest or a bishop or the pope.

None of those things define who is a Christian, however. Instead, a Christian is simply a follower of Jesus Christ. A disciple, if you will.

In the early years when the Church was just beginning, the disciples were known as those who followed The Way. Then in Antioch someone started calling them Christians.

They were Christians during those years of persecution, when Paul traveled from one city to another and declared, to the Jews first, and then to the Gentiles, that Jesus was God’s Son, crucified for the sins of the world, resurrected and ascended on high.

Tradition has it that Mark traveled to Egypt in the middle of the first century and began the group of believers that has come to be known as Coptic Christians, while Thomas traveled to India and brought the gospel to the southernmost part of the country.

During those years, there was no “catholic” church or protestant denomination. There were no “approved” list of doctrines. What defined a Christian? Simply one who believed what Jesus said and did. They were still nothing more than disciples, learning from the teaching of the Master.

But the Master had ascended into heaven. So how could they follow Him? By following what those who had been with Him said and wrote. By believing the testimony of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.

The problem was, almost at once people who claimed to be followers of Jesus started teaching things that Jesus had never said, things like, you have to be circumcised, and things like, since we have grace, we can commit whatever sin we want and it is forgiven.

To correct those errors, leaders like James and Peter and John and Paul wrote letters to individuals or churches to change their thinking and teach them what Jesus actually said and what He actually meant.

Some of these letters were at once recognized as God-breathed and were considered to be of equal value with the law of Moses, the psalms and proverbs, the prophetic writings, Eventually a Council of believers was held and Church leaders determined the canon or list of works that would be considered Scripture.

For about 250 years Christians endured persecution in the Roman Empire, sometimes severely so. In 64 the Emperor Nero scapedgoated Christians for the fire in Rome. The Emperor Domitian outlawed Christianity, making it a capital offense. In 303 the co-emperors Diocletian and Galerius instigated what came to be known as the Great Persecution.

Finally, in 313 Emperor Constantine lifted the ban on Christianity.

Nearly 70 years later Emperor Theodosius I declared Catholicism the state religion of the Roman Empire, and thus began the Roman Catholic Church, which soon spread and dominated Europe, most often by force. Were those converts actually Christians? Some undoubtedly were, but some were not, as literature shows.

The Catholic Church itself became entwined in politics and the economics of the day. The priests could be Godly spiritual counselors but they could just as easily be selfish and corrupt. In other words, they were just like every other person—some believing in God and some living for self.

In 1517 the first of the reformers started a movement to bring the Roman Catholic Church back into line with what the Bible taught, and the Protestant Reformation was born.

Not much has changed over these five hundred years. People still either believe God or they live for themselves. That includes Protestants and Catholics.

So the short answer: Are Catholics Christians? Some are, some are not.

Of course there are groups of Christians who point at Catholics and decry them as heretics. But I personally know Catholics who believe that Jesus Christ died for their sins. Their faith is in His shed blood.

But they worship Mary, some say, and the saints. They deify the Pope and believe they have certain things they must do in order to be saved.

Maybe.

Some do not “worship” Mary or the saints but they revere them. Some see the things they do as evidence of faith, not acts to earn salvation.

The actual doctrine of the Catholic Church contains things I don’t believe and I don’t think the Bible teaches, but not everyone who says they’re a Catholic even knows what their own doctrine is. Some believe what they themselves read in the Bible and some believe what they want to believe. So who among the Catholics is a Christian?

Well, the answer is the same as to the question, Who among the Lutherans is a Christian? Or, Who among the Presbyterians is a Christian? Or, Who among the Baptists is a Christian?

Only the person who puts his faith, hope, trust, belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as a means of salvation that brings him into the family of God.

Yes, family. We are one family, some worshiping with Catholics, some with Lutherans, some with Methodists, some with Evangelical Free. Some worshiping in Brazil, some in South Africa, some in Korea, some in France, some in Mexico, some in Nigeria.

Are Catholics Christians? Maybe. They can be Christians if they respond to the good news that Christ died for their sins, that He rose the third day, that He is now seated on high working as their Advocate with the Father.

It really is not a yes or no question because some self-identify as Christian when they aren’t. They want the approval of their community, perhaps, or of their family. They, in fact, don’t know enough about Christianity to say they don’t believe it, so they go along with everyone else they know.

Nowhere is “Christian” the default position. A person doesn’t get born a Christian. It’s actually an informed, thought-out, consciously chosen position. And it’s a life-changing decision because it marks the beginning of a life of discipleship, of following Jesus by paying attention to what He taught and what He explained to the very first disciples.

I guess the real question is not, are Catholics Christians, but am I a Christian.

Misunderstanding Scripture


Interpreting God’s word incorrectly is not a new thing. In fact it’s a very old thing and the number one method Satan uses to confound people so that we do not follow God. Remember his question to Eve in the Garden—Has God really said . . . ?

From then on, people have been in conflict about God’s word.

The same was true in the last years of Judah’s existence as a nation. Babylon had already defeated them and carried away the wealthiest, most influential people into exile, while installing a puppet-king in place of the boy-king they dethroned.

While Jeremiah continued to prophesy to the people in his homeland, Ezekiel proclaimed God’s word to the first-wave exiles in Babylon. Not surprisingly, their messages were the same: Judah will fall to the Babylonians.

The people in Jerusalem didn’t believe Jeremiah, and the people in Babylon didn’t believe Ezekiel. At one point when he proclaimed God’s word, the people said, He’s speaking in parables. But he wasn’t. He was delivering the message God gave him, but at one point he stopped God and said, ‘Then I said, “Ah Lord GOD! They are saying of me, ‘Is he not just speaking parables?’” ‘

That incident reminds me of the disciples’ confusion when Jesus told them he was going to Jerusalem where He’d be put to death, but that He would rise again on the third day. His men simply thought He was speaking metaphorically. They didn’t understand He meant He would literally die and literally rise again.

Too often that same confusion reigns today. People say the Bible doesn’t actually mean what it says. They say some passages don’t apply to our culture or that people have been misinterpreting them for centuries or that these five verses nullify the hundred or so that seem contradictory.

What is God actually telling us?

Of course Satan is still active in this process. He wants us to be uncertain about Scripture, and particularly how Scripture applies to us. I mean, he actually used Scripture against Jesus, trying to trap Him and trick Him by God’s words in Scripture.

I find it interesting that Jesus simply dismissed Satan’s bait. He didn’t explain what the verses actually meant or when the statements would be fulfilled. But He took the opposite approach with His disciples after His resurrection. Then He carefully explained the Law and the Prophets to them so that they could see how He was, in fact, the promised Messiah.

The fact that Jesus unfolded Scripture for them is encouraging, I think. It means that the truth is within the pages of the Bible, waiting for us to understand. And the cool thing is that God sent the Holy Spirit to us when Jesus left.

One of the “functions” of the Holy Spirit is to guide us in all truth, to bring to our remembrance what God has said. He doesn’t invent new truth. He doesn’t send golden tablets written in King James English. Rather, He clarifies the Bible. He brings the various points of history together. He shows how Scripture interprets Scripture.

The Bible, of course, is under attack by those who don’t believe in God. It’s full of errors, they say, and contradictions.

Well, it’s not. What it is, is the God-breathed writings of men of God. They wrote using their own style, to a contemporary audience, for a specific purpose. So of course the Bible doesn’t read like a textbook or a story book or a history book. It’s really like no other book every put together.

The main point is that the Bible as a unit is about God—His plan, His purpose, His person, and His work. Of course, Jesus stands at the center, along with the Father, and it was this truth that Jesus explained to His disciples.

Since Jesus rose from the grave, we’ve had over 2000 years of scholastic investigation of the Scriptures, analyzing, comparing, contrasting. Unless someone adds to the Bible (as the Mormons do by introducing a supposed later revelation known as the Book of Mormon) or subtracts from the Bible (as the higher critics do by nullifying the parts that contain miracles or other supernatural elements), it’s hard to miss what God has done and is doing in human history. The Old Testament foreshadows and promises and prophecies that God would send a Savior; the gospels recount the life, death, and resurrection of that Savior; the remainder of the Bible relates how the Savior affects our life, now and in the future.

There’s no longer any mystery. What God is doing has been fully disclosed. He’s even disclosed Himself by showing up in the likeness of us humans. We can see what God is like by seeing what Jesus was like.

Of course, doubters don’t want to listen to the accounts of Christ’s life. How can we possible know those are true?

Anyone interested in evidence might want to take a look at some of the work done by J. Warner Wallace. He is a cold-case detective who has used the skill set acquired on the job to look at Christianity. His latest book is called Forensic Faith.

Here’s one five-and-a-half minute video in which he addresses what some consider the contradictions of the gospel writers.

This is just one man adding his knowledge to the mountains of evidence that already exist for the truth of the Bible.

The Bible doesn’t really need to be defended, of course, because reading it brings verification of its veracity, but other fields of study agreeing, only makes the case stronger.

If the evidence is so strong, why don’t people believe it?

For the same reason the Jewish people in Babylon and in Jerusalem didn’t believe Ezekiel and Jeremiah: other voices spoke contradictory messages. People claiming to be prophets were telling those first wave exiles that they’d be back in Jerusalem in a few short years, that the exile would not last for any length of time. They were making stuff up. They were not speaking God’s word.

So too people today can listen to the wrong source and get the wrong worldview that will lead them to error, not truth. It’s all a matter of who you trust.

When The Roll Is Called—A Reprise


In 1893 a pastor named James Black wrote a simple chorus entitled “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” prompted by the absence of a girl named Bessie who was too sick to attend one of the youth meetings. For those who may be unfamiliar with the words, now in the public domain, I’ve copied them here:

1. When the trumpet of the Lord shall sound and time shall be no more
And the morning breaks eternal, bright and fair
When the saved of earth shall gather over on the other shore
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

2. On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise
And the glory of His resurrection share
When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

3. Let us labor for the Master from the dawn till setting sun,
Let us talk of all His wondrous love and care;
Then when all of life is over, and our work on earth is done
And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there!

Chorus:
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder,
When the roll, is called up yonder
When the roll is called up yonder I’ll be there!

Lyrics: James Milton Black
Music: James Milton Black

If you read the story behind the song, you learn that Pastor Black had a heart for the lost.

Sadly, there seems to be a growing belief today that there will be no “lost.” The ideas behind “universalism”—usually traced back to Origen of Alexandria (c.185-284), an influential early Church Father and writer who believed in the ultimate salvation and reconciliation with God of all moral beings, including Satan and his demons—seem to have gained more acceptance starting in the 1800s. Today it seems the majority of people, East or West, embrace some form of this view.

Some believe all religions are true (different rivers flowing into the same ocean) whereas some believe all are saved through Jesus Christ.

Chances are, if someone asks, “When the roll is called up yonder, will you be there?” the answer is most likely, “I hope so.”

I hope so? That answer is a pretty good indication that the person doesn’t know what is involved in getting there and they just don’t realize it.

The sad thing about this is that people who don’t know they’re lost have no particular interest in being found. And those who don’t believe anyone else is lost aren’t very concerned about mapping out the way back home.

For me there’s not a sadder scene in the Bible than Jesus weeping over Jerusalem, declaring that He would have gathered them to Him like a mother hen gathers her chicks, but they wouldn’t have it. They didn’t want to be gathered. They didn’t want to be found.

These are the people Paul was talking about when he said,

For many walk of whom I often told you and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.
– Phil. 3:18-19

At the heart of the deception that all are going to heaven (whatever you believe that to be for you – 🙄 ), is the denial that God is a righteous, just, sovereign Judge; that He makes the rules and He determines the consequences and He metes out equitable rewards or punishments.

Why is it so hard to believe that the One in charge gets to do that?

This post is a revised version of one that appeared here in February, 2011.

The Great Divide—A Reprise


As divided as the United States is politically between red states (conservative) and blue states (liberal), the great divide has nothing to do with politics. Nor is it about racial issues or gender. The thing that divides all humankind, not just Americans, is whether God is righteous or Man is righteous.

The people in the latter camp outnumber the former by a wide margin and fall into one of a number of categories. First there are the atheists who simply do not believe God exists. Consequently, by default, Man is the righteous one.

Even though there really is no choice from an atheist’s perspective, I don’t think many who hold to this position are unhappy with the idea that humans are righteous—or we might say, good. In fact, I suspect most agree with the atheists who argue that any “not good” or unrighteous behavior we observe in children, or in adults, for that matter, can be easily remedied by proper education and eventual acculturation. Good will prevail, according to this view, if given a chance.

Another sub-group in this Man-is-righteous camp consists of people who shape god into the image they want him in. These people say things like, My god wouldn’t do such a thing. They determine what they want from a god and dismiss any revelation to the contrary. Consequently they ignore large passages of the Bible which do not conform to the image they created for their god. Some dismiss the Bible altogether and simply decide without the benefit of any “restrictive” book, what they think god is like. Others mythologize the Bible and take from it principles they want their god to stand behind.

At first blush, this group may not appear to believe that Man is righteous, not God, but because Man is shaping god, any righteousness god may have is actually the righteousness of the one shaping him.

A third group most likely would claim to have little in common with the first two. These folk believe in the literal meaning and authoritative place of the Bible—so much so that they say God is required by His very words to act in a certain way. He must bless those who follow Him and curse those who turn from Him.

This is the position of Job’s friends. Here’s a sample of their conversation with the man who had lost his flocks and herds, his children, and his health:

“Behold, how happy is the man whom God reproves,
So do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
“For He inflicts pain, and gives relief;
He wounds, and His hands also heal.
“From six troubles He will deliver you,
Even in seven evil will not touch you.
“In famine He will redeem you from death,
And in war from the power of the sword.
“You will be hidden from the scourge of the tongue,
And you will not be afraid of violence when it comes.
“You will laugh at violence and famine,
And you will not be afraid of wild beasts.
“For you will be in league with the stones of the field,
And the beasts of the field will be at peace with you.
“You will know that your tent is secure,
For you will visit your abode and fear no loss.
“You will know also that your descendants will be many,
And your offspring as the grass of the earth. (Job 5:17-25)

This passage says the person who “does not despise the discipline of the Almighty” will find an end to suffering and hardship and trouble. Man simply has to do the right thing, and God will respond with unwavering provision and protection.

Another of Job’s friends, Bildad, spelled out this position clearly:

“If you would seek God
And implore the compassion of the Almighty,
If you are pure and upright,
Surely now He would rouse Himself for you
And restore your righteous estate. (Job 8:5-6)

In this view (though it’s unlikely any who believe this way would word it so) Man is pulling the strings, and God is simply reacting to Man’s actions. Man is really in control, then. God is the puppet, not the sovereign, and if the puppet, not the righteous one but rather, the manipulated one. Which leaves Man as righteous, though some fall short.

In contrast to the camp that views Man as righteous and god as either nonexistent, made in the image of the ones who admit he exists, or manipulated by those who believe in Him, those on the other side of the divide accept the fact that God is righteous.

Because God is righteous, He does not lie. Consequently His self-revelation is reliable, as is what He says about the rest of creation, including humans.

In a nutshell, what He says about humans is this:
* we are made in God’s image
* we are fearfully and wonderfully made
* we are made lower than Elohim—lower than God
BUT
* we have all sinned and all fall short of the glory of God
* we are deceived in our thoughts
* we are not righteous, no not one

Here’s one passage in Scripture that declares the last of these facts:

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God,”
They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice;
There is no one who does good.
God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men
To see if there is anyone who understands,
Who seeks after God.
Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
There is no one who does good, not even one. (Ps. 53:1-3)

“No one does good” does not mean there aren’t kind atheists or Hindus who work against slave trafficking or Muslims who stand against abortion. Rather, the “no one does good” aspect refers to the condition of our hearts, not the individual acts we perform. It refers to seeking God rather than turning aside.

The truth is, our hearts are bent toward self-interest, not the interest of others. We are proud, not humble; greedy, not generous; hateful, not loving; rebellious, not obedient. Those are our natural tendencies—which we may work to change, but which remain the state of our heart.

Not only do we have the numerous passages of Scripture that show us what we are, we have a world filled with evidence about mankind. Shall we consider crime or terrorism? Wars? Sex trafficking or perhaps child pornography? Prostitution? Corporate greed or government corruption? What areas of society are immune to the unrighteousness of the human heart? Are marriages free of self-interest? Are schools? The government? Churches?

Despite the evidence, the world will continue to be divided along the line of righteousness: Is Man righteous or is God? We can’t have it both ways because God has said Man is not righteous. So if God lies, He’s not righteous. It’s one or the other, Man or God. And that is the great divide.

This post is an edited version of one that appeared here December, 2014.

Re-imaging Jesus — A Reprise


If I post an article from the archives, I usually try to pull one from the “you-probably-haven’t-been-reading-this-blog-that-long” past so that most of the current visitors might not have seen it yet. This one is not so old, but I thought it worth re-posting as we approach Easter. After all, if we don’t have a clear understanding of who Jesus is, the sacrifice He paid for the sins of the world will likely lose meaning.

This one deals with the view of Jesus which people who consider themselves to be “Progressive Christians” popularize. It needs to be corrected by looking at what the Bible says instead. The following appeared here in July 2015.

– – – – –

Some years ago those in the emergent church started talking about “re-imaging” God, understanding him in ways that deviated from traditional theology. One classic conversation about looking at God differently developed from an article entitled, “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” I addressed the issues brought up in the article in “Attacks On God From Within.”

But as so often happens, teaching that clearly oversteps the bounds of true Christian thought, begins to seep into the Church as if it is orthodox and normative, as if it’s what the Bible actually says and has said all along.

One such twisting of Biblical intent is the image of Jesus so many are throwing around. I’ve read more than once that if He were here today, He’d be hanging out in gay bars and with druggies and prostitutes.

This view is such a skewered picture of Jesus, it really troubles me!

First, Scripture tells us where Jesus “hung out”—His starting place when He arrived in a town—was the synagogue: “They went into Capernaum; and immediately on the Sabbath He entered the synagogue and began to teach.” (Mark 1:21)

Similar verses are all through the gospels:
“He entered again into a synagogue” (Mark 3:1)
“When the Sabbath came, He began to teach in the synagogue” (Mark 6:2)
“Departing from there, He went into their synagogue” (Matt. 12:9)
“He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue” (Matt. 13:54)
“On another Sabbath He entered the synagogue and was teaching” (Luke 6:6)

And when He went to Jerusalem, He headed for the temple. (see Matt. 21:14ff, 24:1, Mark 12:35, 13:1, Luke 19:47, 21:38). Most telling might be what He said to the chief priests and their men who came to arrest Him in the Garden: “At that time Jesus said to the crowds, ‘Have you come out with swords and clubs to arrest Me as you would against a robber? Every day I used to sit in the temple teaching and you did not seize Me.’ ” (Matt. 26:55, emphasis mine)

When He needed more room to teach because the crowds grew, He hung out on hillsides and mountain tops and lake shores.

Oh, but He ate with sinners and prostitutes, those who wish to re-image Jesus will point out.

It’s true that Scripture does record Jesus eating with Matthew the tax collector and those he invited to his house. But Mark gives the complete picture:

As He passed by, He saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting in the tax booth, and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.

And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. (Mark 2:14-15, emphasis mine)

In other words, these men called sinners were now disciples of Christ.

In truth, it was the Pharisees who accused Jesus of eating with sinners.

The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ (Luke 7:34, ESV)

Jesus responded to the criticism by saying the sick need a physician and that He came to call sinners to repentance.

And yet those re-imaging Jesus have apparently chosen to believe the Pharisees, though Jesus identified them as sons of their father the devil who was a liar from the beginning and the father of lies (John 8:44)—a clear indication that Jesus knew them to be liars.

This new view of Jesus claims that He told stories and didn’t actually give directives. In fact, some say He loved people by first being with them, then being committed to them and showing Himself for them. Only later did He direct them toward truth and holiness out of His love.

Well, yes and no.

Jesus didn’t always show that he was committed to or for certain people—most notably the Pharisees, but also the Syrophoenician woman who wanted Him to heal her daughter. He flat out told her He’d come to the Jews. Some might even find His response racist and offensive:

He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”

And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt. 15:24-26)

Not quite the politically correct Jesus we’re shown so often these days, the one who loves everyone. He did heal her daughter and even praised her for her faith. But where was that “love for everyone”?

We seem to forget that “everyone” would include the Pharisees, and Jesus did not treat them in the loving way the Progressive Christian espouses. In fact, He was quite directive with them, hence the whip in the temple. Yes, those were most likely Pharisees He was going after when He overturned tables and drove out money changers—the sinners wouldn’t have been allowed in to do the work. They were presumably tagged sinners because they didn’t adhere to the Mosaic Law.

At the same time, Jesus was very directive in His teaching. He said if you look at a woman with lust, you’ve committed adultery. He told the rich young ruler to sell all he owned and follow Jesus. He said those who wanted to follow Him had to deny themselves and take up their cross daily. And each one of His stories had a point, a directive that was to guide action or expose truth. He was not trying to entertain.

Jesus also didn’t hang with prostitutes. The adulterous woman was brought to Him and He told her to stop sinning. The woman at the well who had had many husbands went into her village to tell the people she’d found the Messiah. The woman who the Pharisee Simon identified as a sinner and who poured perfume on Jesus was actually a disciple of Christ. Luke tells the whole story (7:36ff) and ends with Jesus reproving His host for his self-righteousness. In the process He clarifies the facts about her: “For this reason I say to you, her sins, which are many, have been forgiven, for [this reason] she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

In the same way that the re-imagers want to make out that Christians are the new Pharisees, they want to hand Jesus the winebibber and glutton tag—only that’s now apparently a positive on his resumé.

But it’s not who Jesus was when He walked on earth. He came to teach, and that’s what He did, along with healing so many people there were days He didn’t even have time to eat. If sinners came to Him, He never turned them away. That’s who He came to save, but He wasn’t out trolling for the sinner hot spots.

It’s time we stopped rewriting the pages of Scripture to create this view of Jesus we think fits what our culture might like—Jesus, the anti-church, pro-gay guy who told cool stories.

The Pharisees weren’t “Church” and Jesus came to call sinners to repentance, not to tell them how much He’s for them.

The Difference Between Being Religious And Being Christian


On my way home from church yesterday, I decided to stop for gas. I didn’t want to, but given that the station near my church is cheaper than just about anywhere and that I likely couldn’t go the whole week without gas, I though the responsible thing would be to fill the tank.

The problem was, when I got out to pump the gas, I locked my car, with my keys inside. And my cell phone. And my AAA card. Now that last is very significant. I hate to admit it, but I’ve had some experience locking my keys in my car before, and boy, AAA is invaluable, and the third-party service person they send is quick and efficient.

But you need to call the AAA Roadside Service representative first.

I wasn’t too worried; just annoyed with myself for doing such a dumb thing. I mean, I was at a gas station, in broad daylight. My car, sadly, was blocking one of their pumps, but I thought that would encourage the attendant to help me so I’d free up the area.

This, that, and the other happened—I won’t bore you with the particulars. The short of it is, we couldn’t find the number for AAA. It’s printed right there on the card, but remember, mine was locked in the car with my keys. And cell phone. Finally I started asking customers in the little mini-mart, and then those getting gas, if they had a AAA card. I just needed the number!

One older guy said he didn’t have one but he could ask his friend Anne. He pulled out his cell phone, so I thought he was going to put the request to the computer. No, he actually called someone. Said he needed her to stop what she was doing and get the number. She did, he wrote it down, programmed his phone, then let me use it to talk to the person I needed to. In less than half an hour, a service guy showed up and had my car open in under a minute.

Meanwhile, I had a chance to talk with the stranger who had lent me his phone. While we were still trying to hunt for the number to AAA, he said some very disparaging remarks about people of other ethnicities.

You need to know, I live in a multiracial area of interlocking communities. When I gave the AAA person my info, I wasn’t even sure what city I was in. All that to say, on any given day, you might interact with people from three or four different ethnicities who live in various nearby pockets dominated by Koreans, Tai, Hispanics, Chinese, Vietnamese, and more. So some of the people I asked if they owned a AAA card, didn’t speak English. No big deal and no surprise. They kindly allowed me to ask my question to one of their party sitting in the back seat of the car who did speak English.

But the man who was contacting Anne had nothing good to say about anyone from another race, and he had some really bad things to say. Imagine my horror when he said something about going to church! Really! I thought I was going to be sick.

And then, as the conversation continued, it came out that he belonged to the Christian Scientists. He went to his car and brought back some literature (like a used Sunday school quarterly for those of you who have been around long enough to know what those are) he wanted to give me. It had his writing in the blanks and I didn’t know what might be there. I declined as politely as I could. But he went on to tell me about the founder, Mary Baker Eddy, who really wanted a religion of love, so she started Christian Science and it was all about being good.

Two things that initially seem incongruous. First this man said some really nasty things about other people groups. The entire group of people several times, and then about an individual in a different people group at another time.

Second, he was kind to me. He even waited in his parked car until the service person was about to drive up. He came over to where I was waiting to say that AAA had called (since I had done so from his phone, he got the message) to confirm that the service guy was just moments away. The man left before I even thought to say more than thank you.

Why, I wondered? How could he be so awful and yet so kind?

And then it hit me. Religions that teach you are to be good, actually accomplish that. The man did a good deed, and I suspect he did it thinking this was his religious duty. But he didn’t have Christ who transforms lives and changes people.

I couldn’t help but compare his religion with what my pastor taught just that morning—all about community and how all are welcome at Christ’s table because Jesus came for the sick, not the well. The people who think they’re well, didn’t want to come to Him. But all who knew they were broken and in need, came gladly.

The question the Pharisees asked the disciples was, “Why does your Master eat with sinners?” They wanted religion to be an exclusive, us-not-them club. They wanted to use their religion to feel superior, to divide, to put others down.

Jesus does just the opposite. He invites the Matthews and the Nicodemuses and the women caught in adultery and the ones too ashamed to go to the well with the “good” women. He wants them to come and follow Him so that he can heal their brokenness. He wants to give them new life, living water, the bread of heaven. He wants to bring transformation to their lives.

Being religious might mean that a person does good things once in a while. Being a Christian means a person has begun the transforming process to become like Jesus Christ.

Published in: on March 12, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (6)  
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Morally Flawed . . . Yet Bound For Heaven?


This post first appeared here in May, 2013.
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I read two intriguing articles today, and yet when I put them together, the picture I see is rather murky. The first, “Why so many people–including scientists–suddenly believe in an afterlife,” is a lengthy look at the attitude of western culture toward the afterlife.

In a poll taken in the US in 2011, 81% said they believed in heaven and 71% believed in hell. Honestly, that second number surprised me because it was so high. A 2010 Canadian poll indicated half believed in heaven and fewer than a third believed in hell. That’s closer to what I expected.

Apparently, with the increase in the number of near-death experiences–a result of advanced technology that brings people back after their physical functions qualify them as dead–there have also been an increase in reports about those experiences, the majority recounting details we normally associate with heaven.

More and more people are convinced, apparently, that heaven does actually exist. Even Harvard-trained neurosurgeon Eben Alexander who wrote Proof of Heaven, the account of his own near-death experience, has defied his scientific community, declaring that his anecdotal account is evidence of the afterlife.

And not just any old afterlife. It seems the majority of these experiences show a peaceful, loving place, without judgment.

Segue to the second article, one discussing another trend–that of stories with anti-heroes instead of heroes: “The Rise of the Anti-Hero.” In this piece, the author, Jonathan Michael, identifies a new love for characters in our entertainment who are flawed. Some, such as the protagonist in the TV show 24, do bad things for a good end. Others, however, are drunks or cheats or vengeful, and the audience doesn’t seem to mind, or is willing to forgive. Michael explains this:

Characters who shine as morally pure and upright don’t ring true to us anymore, because it’s not who we see around us in the world. Neither is it what we see when we look in the mirror.

My first thought was, When have we ever seen morally pure and upright around us or in the mirror? However, I think we used to be ashamed at these moral failings, our own and our society’s. Now we seem to have a higher value–that of authenticity. You can be the scum on the bottom of someone’s shoe, but good for you, you admit who you are! The only shame is in trying to pretend you’re better than you are.

Now, I’m left with putting these two articles together. From bottom to top this is what I find: we acknowledge and even embrace the fact that none of us is morally pure, but we believe in heaven, more than in hell. Which implies, no matter what happens in this life, there’s happiness waiting in the next one.

This view dovetails with the beliefs of such universalists as Rob Bell and Paul Young. It also fits in so well with the popular message going out to kids: Everyone’s a winner. You show up, you play. You play, you get a trophy.

So why wouldn’t we think we’re all going to heaven, no matter how we lived our lives?

Of course, the real secret is that how we live our lives isn’t the factor that determines our destiny. So by completely missing the target, most people have actually knocked away a false premise that haunted Western culture for a good long time: that by doing good we can earn our way to heaven.

However, today’s popular conclusion–that we don’t need to earn our way because heaven will be ours even though we didn’t do anything to deserve it–is equally false.

Unfortunately, metaphysics isn’t like algebra in which two negatives make a positive. There really is a right and no amount of positive thought can change it, no number of witnesses glimpsing into heaven, can undo it.

Honestly, I find it encouraging that so many people believe in heaven. I even find it encouraging that apparently people recognize themselves to be morally flawed. That’s the perfect set up actually for the critical question: how do morally flawed people end up in a morally perfect place?

But that immediately creates the question: do people who believe in heaven believe it to be a morally perfect place? If not, then I wonder what makes it heaven. I mean, if people can still lie, cheat, steal, and kill, what makes it a desirable place to spend eternity?

And if morally flawed people can’t do those morally flawed things, what keeps them from it? I mean we haven’t been so successful at stopping rape and murder and war and slavery in the here and now. What will make a difference then?

But lets say we agree that heaven is a morally perfect place, how is it that any of us deserve to be there? I think that’s the going assumption–not that we’ve done anything special but that by our very existence we ARE special. We deserve heaven . . . morally flawed though we may be.

Anyone else see a problem with this line of thought?

The problem is, until we get rid of this “we deserve” attitude, we won’t be interested in the solution to the dilemma of squeezing morally imperfect people into a morally perfect place. Oh, yeah, with a morally perfect God as the sovereign ruler.

Published in: on February 8, 2018 at 5:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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