Friends with the World – A Reprise


Sower_oilSome years ago I did a little blog surfing starting with an article published in Church Salt: “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline. Unfortunately, a group self-identifying as Progressives have seemed to take their place.

Whether emergents are a growing or shrinking number, or whether Progressives are the new emergents, isn’t the issue, however. The thinking of both or either group—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside”— is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius. Sadly, this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with but have not come to a consensus about. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

The ESV is a little different, but I think the intent is the same:

Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the previous verse, these translations seems to me to make James’s intent clearer. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary, “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church/Progressives have introduced. Here are a few: God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. The Bible is mostly a myth. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

It doesn’t take much to find article after article after article by people professing to be Christians who espouse these “progressive” views.

Of course many claim that thinking in a fresh way about their spirituality or about God or about their religion has revitalized their spiritual life.

So … can thinking that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

Yes, lies. The world says humans are good, not sinners in need of a Savior. The world sees Jesus as just a man, not God in the flesh. The world looks at the Bible as a bunch of man-contrived rules, not the very word of God. Whenever the views of someone professing to be a Christian align more closely with what the world says than what God says, there’s reason to believe that the thinking of the world may be killing off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold. So, too, with pretend Christians who deny that God is a righteous Judge, the Sovereign who does what is right.

An older version of this post first appeared here in February 2010.

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Ambiguity, Thy Cousin Is Relativism


A_starry_sky_above_Death_Valley

I haven’t heard a lot about the emerging church lately. According to one source the eulogy has been given and only one hold-out pastor remains. I suspect the disaffected who identified with the emerging church have been swallowed up by Progressive Christians.

Nevertheless, the emerging church movement had an impact on traditional churches. The tell of their influence is in the buzz words that crop up in radio programs, print articles, Internet sites, and sermons—words such as truth claims, missio or missional, conversations, contextualize, and mystery. There’s a concept, also, which I’ve heard, though not necessarily stated so bluntly—ambiguity.

The thinking is, God is a mystery, life is a mystery, and there really aren’t any definitive answers.

I admit—I get a little cranky when I hear people espousing these views.

First, God is NOT a mystery. He is transcendent. The two are quite different, a topic I explored in the post “Transcendence vs. Mystery.” That God is not a mystery becomes clear when we read passages in Scripture such as Jeremiah 9:24:

“But let him who boasts boast of this, that he 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. (emphasis, here and throughout this post, is added)

The New Testament also affirms God’s “knowability.” For example, Paul says in Colossians 2:2b-3

attaining to all the wealth that comes from the full assurance of understanding, resulting in a true knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ Himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

Yes, the mystery has been revealed. Paul stated this clearly in the first chapter of the same book:

that is, the mystery which had been hidden from past ages and generations, but has now been revealed to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

On the other hand, that God is transcendent is also clear. Isaiah 40:12-14 sets the stage for a beautiful declaration of God’s transcendence by asking a series of questions:

Who has measured the waters in the hollow of His hand,
And marked off the heavens by the span,
And calculated the dust of the earth by the measure,
And weighed the mountains in a balance
And the hills in a pair of scales?
Who has directed the Spirit of the LORD,
Or as His counselor has informed Him?
With whom did He consult and who gave Him understanding?
And who taught Him in the path of justice and taught Him knowledge
And informed Him of the way of understanding?

The conclusion is powerful. In part it reads

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One
.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.

The Apostle Paul brings together God’s transcendence and his “knowability” in 1 Cor. 2:12-16:

Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ.

In that last verse, Paul quotes from Isaiah, showing that God’s transcendence is unchanged, and yet, because of Christ’s work on the cross and God’s gift of the Holy Spirit to believers, we have the mind of Christ.

In other words, Christians can know, we do have answers, we don’t need to walk around in a cloud of doubt.

Granted, the answers may not be what people want to hear. More often than not, our “why” will be answered by God’s “I’m working out my will in the world.” For some, that’s not good enough.

For others that’s too spot on. That sin and suffering, pain and heartache, have a purpose seems too unambiguous. That God is sovereignly in charge over things we wish He would eradicate makes us uncomfortable. How can we trust a God whose answer to our questions is, Trust Me?

We want more, or we want to say, more isn’t attainable. For some reason, a segment of the religious find satisfaction in a declaration that things are ambiguous. Some readily belittle faith that claims to be the assurance of things hoped for. Faith, in these critics’ way of looking at things, is actually doubt.

What I find interesting is that this embracement of doubt, of uncertainty, of ambiguity, seems to mirror the rise of postmodernism’s version of relativism. Essentially, the idea that we cannot know—because history changes facts and redefines terms, because we are constrained by our culture and our experiences to understand only within our own narrow framework, not that of the broader context—shatters the idea that there is an inerrant, infallible Word of God upon which we can rely for Truth.

The problem in all this is that those who say we cannot know, rule out the possibility that God did in fact give us a written record of what He wants us to know, that He preserved what He told us down through the ages, and that He gave us His Spirit to understand it apart from and beyond our own cultural constraints.

And why do they rule God’s transcendent work out?

They would rather believe in mystery, I guess, rather than transcendence. But in so doing, they are, themselves, drawing the conclusion that they KNOW God could not work in such a transcendent way. It’s another way of putting Man in God’s place.

Stop Me If This Sounds Familiar


Escape from orthodoxy by a theory of language, to wit

Language was an imprecise instrument. Words are but “faded metaphors” which cannot be transferred from mind to mind with their meaning clear and transparent. Each word is organically related to its own history, to the history of the one who uses it and of the one who hears it, and to the situation in which it is used. With these variables, all creedal statements and even the words of Scripture must be understood in a “spirit of accommodation,” for they are but linguistic and hence poetic attempts to speak the unspeakable. Christian truth was something which lay behind doctrinal propositions…

Sound familiar? I suspect any person identifying himself as an emergent Christian or even as a postmodernist would adhere to that sentiment. It’s this wishy-washy understanding of language that opens the door for their re-imaging of Jesus.

Consequently, to some this “new” understanding means, our Lord and Savior is divorced from the Father as He revealed Himself in the Old Testament. No longer do we have to believe in a God who would act as a judge of a people-group and sentence them to death. That’s the work of a tyrant. So said Christopher Hitchens uh, Mike Morrell. (Well, in all fairness, so said they both.)

What this view of language, at least when it is applied to Scripture, leaves out, is the Holy Spirit. If God could breathe His Word into written form using the mind and skill of human instruments, can He not insure that people reading different language versions, living in different countries, having different cultures and vastly different personal histories—can He not insure that those people will understand His intent?

Oh, wait. There are such people—some studying theology in a seminary in Guatemala, some attending a Bible college in Kenya, some involved in churches in Cypress, some suffering for this faith in Southeast Asia. Regardless of the all the differences, the Holy Spirit brings the necessary understanding and binds those who believe as Abraham did into a united body called the Church.

I wonder if the emergents, known for shucking off the traditional forms of religion in favor of “conversations,” would consider themselves to be a part of this Christ-ordained organization, of which Jesus is the head.

Oh, and the quote above? It’s from Religion in America (first edition) by Winthrop S. Hudson and written about a nineteenth century Yale graduate and Congregational church pastor named Horace Bushnell. Nothing new under the sun, the writer of Ecclesiastes said. Oh. Right. That would be God.

That which has been is that which will be, And that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun.
– Ecc. 1:9

What to Do About Apostasy?


Sometime the abundance of false teaching discourages me. On one side are professing Christians claiming freedom in Christ (or dismissing the authority of Scripture) in order to live immoral lives. These individuals claim knowledge of God based on their own intuition—God who is good must be like A because I think A is good. Using this argument, they condone premarital sex, homosexuality, greed, selfishness, pride, and any number of other vices the Bible teaches against.

Of course there is another camp that preaches the importance of holding God to his word. If he said it and you claim it, God has to come through. It’s a formula. Put in your faith, push God’s promise button, and out will come what you want. (When Satan tried this tactic with Jesus, God’s Son answered him by a principle laid out in the Bible: “It is said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT PUT THE LORD YOUR GOD TO THE TEST'” [Luke 4:12].)

Apostasy—falling away from the faith—doesn’t stop there. Some fall away because of ignorance—they haven’t learned what the Bible says. As a result they are crushed when trouble comes, perhaps because they expected Christianity to make life easier only to discover it doesn’t.

Jesus spelled this out when he explained the parable of the sower and seed:

The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away.
– Matthew 13:20-21 (emphasis mine)

Apostasy exists today and seems to be growing. More TV “evangelists” and authors and emergent thinkers spring up every day it seems.

But this past Sunday I heard a sermon that reminded me God told us apostasy would grow.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits
– I Timothy 4:1a

Which takes us to the question under consideration: what to do about apostasy? God through the Apostle Paul, to Timothy again, had the answer:

I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
– 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Pretty clear: Preach the word. Reprove, rebuke, exhort. And when people turn away, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

In other words, people’s response should not dictate what a Christian does or does not do. Some ridicule missionary work. Some mock evangelism. Some denigrate the teaching of the Word of God from the pulpit Sunday after Sunday as passe or irrelevant. Some tear down “preachy Christian messages” in fiction (not because they are poorly executed—that’s another issue—but because they are Christian).

None of those criticisms should keep pastors from preaching, evangelists from evangelizing, missionaries from spreading the gospel, or writers from writing stories with themes consistent with God’s Word.

The believer’s mandate is to make disciples. Apostasy might make it tougher but shouldn’t change the goal.

Published in: on May 12, 2010 at 11:33 am  Comments (8)  
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Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 3


As a reminder, I’m responding to a September 2009 article in Christianity Today, “Reveling in the Mystery” by D. H. Williams. Relying on a little-known book by Gregory of Nyssa, Professor Williams paints a speculative view of growth in the Christian life while embracing the distance between creature and Creator as something that does not need to be “overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle.”

Using Moses’s journey to the top of Mount Sinai as a model, Professor Williams identifies three stages of growth, the last being entrance into darkness. What follows next is … disturbing on many levels. Perhaps the best way to expose the error is to begin by quoting a paragraph from the article that explains the heart of the matter:

Here is where Gregory of Nyssa makes his most noteworthy contribution to Christian theology: that the Christian life must first be defined by seeking God without end, and “that true satisfaction of the soul’s desire consists in constantly going on with this quest and never ceasing in the ascent to God.” This is a joyful conclusion, since it ensures that one can always progress in holiness because spiritual progress is one of infinite growth. For the Platonist, all change is regarded as a defect or loss; in Gregory’s system, the process of changing may be redeemed by perpetual growth in the good. It is this sort of movement that describes our transformation “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor. 3:18, ESV). However much the Christian is transformed into the likeness of God, God remains ever beyond, so that the soul must always push forward in anticipation in this life and in the one to come.

I’ll take the problems one point at a time.

1. Seeking God without end is contradictory to Scripture, starting with Matthew 7:7 – “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (emphasis mine). Here’s the crucial point, I believe: We can know God because He has revealed Himself.

that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead (Phil. 3:8b-11, emphasis mine).

2. The idea that “ascent to God” is something I accomplish belittles Christ’s work. It is Christ’s righteousness that reconciles me to God. My sanctification is a growth process, but not all up to me. Here’s the key point: We can be like Him only because He conforms us to His son.

For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren (Rom. 8:28)

3. Professor Williams assumes something about “traditional” understanding of Scripture that is not true. He implies that a view other than what he is presenting is based on Platonist thinking in which “all change is regarded as a defect or loss.” Certainly this view does not square with Scripture, nor does it square with the Protestant evangelical doctrine with which I’m familiar.

However, “growth in the good” implies something within the individual as opposed to the conformity to the image of the Son which God brings about as He works all things in a person’s life to that end.

4. The never-ending push up after an unattainable God seems to me to be a quest for that which God has put off limits. He is transcendent. He is beyond. Yet He has chosen through Jesus to show us Himself. Should I then be dissatisfied with looking at Jesus to pursue further understanding, deeper knowledge? This seems to me akin to Satan’s thirst to be like God.

5. All this striving after God supposedly happens in darkness. From Professor Williams’s article: “In fact, the closer that God comes to the soul, the more intense the darkness becomes.” His idea is that the darkness blocks out things that distract us from God. But how contrary this is to Scripture in which Jesus says He is the Light of the world.

God reveals Himself as a Consuming Fire in the Old Testament, and in Revelations He says there will be no need for the sun and moon because He will be the light.

John says in his first epistle, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:6-7).

God is not in the darkness. Earlier in his gospel, John says men love darkness because their deeds are evil. Darkness is the place where God is not. Whoever someone finds in the darkness, I suggest he is not God but a pretender, one who wishes to be like God.

God is found in the Light—that of His Son and that of His Word (“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” – Psalm 119:105.) Reaching some kind of spiritual ascension in darkness is speculation at best and diabolical at worst.

Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 2


Yesterday I started a response to a Christianity Today article by D. H. Williams entitled “Reveling in the Mystery.” My first concern was that Professor Williams declares God a mystery though He makes it clear in Scripture He wants to be known.

I didn’t elaborate on this point as much as I should have perhaps. From the beginning, God talked and walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. In their sinless state, they seemed to have no trouble communicating with their Creator. Even after their sin, they are the ones who hid while God is the One who sought them out.

That latter is a metaphor for the rest of history. Yet Professor Williams and others of like thinking conclude God is the mystery, rather than that our sin obscures Him from our understanding.

The second point I discussed was Professor William’s idea that the distance between us and God should not be seen as a problem to our spiritual growth. Again, in pointing out what Scripture says about God’s people drawing near to Him, I neglected an important part of the equation.

Right after James gives the command for believers to draw near to God, he wrote that we are to cleanse our hands and purify our hearts. In essence, he is providing us with the means by which we draw near to God. By dealing with sin in action and intent we are approaching God because the barrier to our fellowship with Him has been removed.

This brings me to the point where I left off yesterday. Professor Williams spends most of the rest of the article walking through a book by Gregory of Nyssa entitled The Life of Moses. The idea espoused here is that we grow by emulating “great holy men in the Old Testament and in the Christian past.”

Certainly the history of Old Testament figures is to be part of the doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction Scripture gives. But what Gregory, and Williams in his summation, is saying is built on speculation and imagination, not fact.

The two writers take Moses’s life and claim he grew spiritually (“from an Egyptian secular ruler to God’s exemplar of virtue”) in three phases—in the light, in clouds, and in darkness. Gregory claims that Moses was “mystically transformed into the likeness of God” atop Mount Sinai. (Never mind that he later sinned and receive censure from the Promised Land as a result).

Supposedly Moses’s “ascent to God” came first in light. This is a purification stage which Professor Williams links with the beatitude in Matthew “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

I have no problem with this idea, especially because it aligns with what James says. I do question the idea that Moses achieved some kind of purification on his way up the mountain. After all, he’d already had his burning bush experience, and God had used him to bring about the miraculous salvation of His people from slavery, all the while communicating with him closely.

But on to Professor Williams/Gregory’s next stage. Here Moses supposedly moved into the cloud, blocking out all else so that he could “look withing” where he found “the image of God and thereby a knowledge of God. But we must not confuse this knowledge of God with knowledge of God as he is. There is only an awareness of God’s presence.”

Did I mention speculation and imagination earlier? What Scripture would lead someone to think this was Moses’s experience? I see none.

Stage three seems worse, however. Now, according to Professor Williams/Gregory Moses entered darkness and saw God in it. “When Moses climbed higher and became more perfected, he saw God in the darkness.” And later, “This darkness expresses that the divine nature remains inaccessible because God is infinite.”

Setting aside the unfounded assumption that Moses “was becoming more perfected,” I can agree that, yes, God is infinite. However, Moses’s encounter with God was not with some inaccessible being. At this time God gave the Ten Commandments to Israel. I’m not sure Moses was even at the top of the mountain at this point since the people were begging him to intercede for them and speak for God because what they were experiencing was too terrible. Check out Exodus 19 and 20 for yourself.

In light of this context, how can we conclude that God is beyond knowing? Yet this is precisely what Professor Williams says: “It should be obvious, then, that no finite mind can plumb the depths of God.”

Well, true enough, but cannot a finite mind grasp what the infinite has deigned to tell of Himself?

There’s more. I’ll aim to wrap this up tomorrow.

Published in: on February 17, 2010 at 12:39 pm  Comments Off on Draw Near to God … for What End? Part 2  
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Draw Near to God … for What End?


I thought I was done with my posts about emerging thinkers and false teachers, at least for a while, but then a friend of mine passed along an old edition of Christianity Today. In that September 2009 issue was an article entitled “Reveling in the Mystery,” by D. H. Williams.

“Mystery” happens to be one of the things the people who engage in the “emerging conversation” believe (though they also refute the idea that they hold to any set of prescribed tenets.) Interestingly, last October I wrote an article entitled “Transcendence vs. Mystery” to examine some of the emerging ideas about the mystery of God. As I look at it now, I realize I missed some of the main points.

It’s clear to me after reading the CT article that emergent thinkers would have no trouble embracing the transcendence of God. However, in examining Scripture Professor Williams takes the word “mystery” in a verse like I Timothy 3:16 along with the ideas of “ancient writers” like Ambrose of Milan and Gregory of Nyssa, and reaches the conclusion that “God himself is mystery.”

It’s ironic that he uses the scripture he does (especially considering what follows about deceitful spirits):

By common confession, great is the mystery of godliness: He who was revealed in the flesh, Was vindicated in the Spirit, Seen by angels, Proclaimed among the nations, Believed on in the world, Taken up in glory.

But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron …

– I Tim. 3:16-4:2 (emphasis mine)

Rather than expounding on the mystery of God, verse 16 seems to be declaring the revelation of God. (This is not uncommon throughout the New Testament. See for example Eph. 3:8-9: “To me [Paul], the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things” [emphasis mine]).

Nevertheless, having reached the conclusion that God is mystery, Professor Williams gives the heart of his premise:

The distance between creature and Creator is not something to be overcome or removed as if it were an obstacle to growth in the Christian life.

I had to do a double-take and read that line over. As I understand Scripture, the “distance between creature and Creator” is most definitely something to overcome or remove. Except we can’t, try as we will.

The point and purpose of the Incarnation was to remove the distance sin had created. (A passage like Psalm 66:18 shows the effect sin has on our relationship with God: “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear”).

Of equal importance, Scripture is filled from beginning to end with references about God’s people drawing near to Him: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you” (James 4:8a).

Like so much false teaching, this concept of the mystery of God is not undiluted error. There is a measure of truth.

While God isn’t unknown because Jesus showed us the Father, we have the mind of Christ, and the Holy Spirit lives within each believer, we still look through a darkened glass.

In addition, God is greater than we can grasp. His ways are not our ways, His thoughts, not our thoughts. He is higher than we, without need of our counsel or, for that matter, anything we can give to Him. In other words, He is transcendent.

Rather than making God more inaccessible, however, His transcendence coupled with His incarnation and work of redemption, demonstrate His great love and grace: “Although [Christ Jesus] existed in the form of God, [He] did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men … He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Phil. 2:6-8.

The God of the universe, Highest of the high, stooped to save me! While He has no need of it, He most definitely wants relationship with those He created in His likeness.

Which leads to the next troubling aspect of Professor Williams’s article. But I’ll have to save that for next time.

– – –

Other passages of Scripture about drawing near to God include the following: Deut. 4:7; II Chron. 15:2; Psalm 34:18, 119:151, 145:18; Lam. 3:57; Zech. 1:3; Mal. 3:7; Heb. 4:16, 7:19, 7:25, 10:1, 10:25.

Friends with the World


I’ve done a little blog surfing this morning, starting with Church Salt’s “Emerging from Emergents.” The trail led me to a conclusion I hadn’t expected: those identifying with the emerging church are on the decline.

Whether that conclusion is right or wrong, however, isn’t the issue. The thinking the emerging church re-instituted—contrary to the facade they portray to those “outside,” their thinking is little more than warmed over liberalism; they borrow generously from Orthodox Christianity, Gnostic thought, Eastern mysticism, even from a heretical ascetic such as Pelagius—this thinking has seeped into the Church.

One blog post claimed youth groups have espoused emerging church views for years. I wouldn’t doubt it.

But here’s the critical point. We American Christians must re-examine our hearts to see if we have left our First Love.

James, in his letter to Jewish believers scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution, gives a sobering warning:

You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

– James 4:4

“Friendship with the world,” I would suggest, has a lot more to do with how we think than with what we do. In the previous verse, James addresses wrong motives, two verses down he speaks about pride.

Verse 5 he says something translators apparently have wrestled with without coming to a consensus. The New King James says it this way:

Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

In the context of “adultresses” in the last verse, this translation seems to me to make James’s intent clearest. As a husband would be jealous for his wife, so God is jealous for His Bride. And of course He wants our lives to be pure, but He also wants our hearts to be pure—free of wrong motives, without prideful self-will.

I have to believe that “friendship with the world,” then, includes the way we think.

Pastor Ray Stedman, in his commentary “James: The Activity of Faith” says this:

And if you stop believing what the Scriptures say, you will find yourself being drawn to the lies and the alluring illusion of the world around.

Drawn to the lies and illusion of the world seems to define the beliefs the emerging church has introduced. God is not a God of judgment. He is one with his creation. Hell isn’t real and Man does not sin by nature. Salvation is universal. Jesus came not as an atoning sacrifice but to show us a better way—the road of love and peace and unity.

How can I say these false teachings are in our churches? For one thing, I know these same views appear throughout The Shack, and its author, Paul Young, has spoken in the pulpit of any number of churches. I also know that Christians (as well as non-Christians) have raved about the book and its influence on their spiritual lives.

So … can a book, or a way of thinking, that helps people see God in a new way be bad? I mean, shouldn’t we want to know God in a fresh, exciting way?

Our thoughts about God can be new every morning, but I don’t believe we need to borrow from the world’s way of looking at Him to experience Him afresh. Just the opposite. Listening to the lies of the world will kill off true faith.

In the parable of the sower, that’s what happened to the seed that fell on stony ground. The soil was too shallow for roots to take hold.

Attacks against God from Within, Part 2


If you stopped by A Christian Worldview of Fiction a week or so ago, you know there was an active discussion generated by my post “Attacks on God from Within.” I answered some of the points raised by those with an opposing view in ensuing posts and some in comments, but there’s one more significant issue I want to discuss.

Some of the commenters claimed that God as He is presented in the Old Testament is so opposite from Jesus that He is unbelievable. Here are some salient quotes (note: the pages are posted in reverse order):

Otherwise GOD put us here, set us up to fall, and punished us for doing that which he set us up to do, which makes him a tyrant, not a just GOD.
– Debra Masters (p. 3, #14)

If GOD is capricious, and can do anything he wants outside of his own goodness/love/holiness, then I don’t want anything to do with Him anyway. If I have to believe that GOD is the way he is portrayed in the Old Testament, capricious, jealous, temperamental, schizophrenic to bi-polar, then he ISN’T GOD
– Debra Masters (p. 3, #28)

You read the bible and see GOD as GOD. I read it and see GOD as a tyrant. …

God is the creator. I don’t need him to be nice. But I do need him to be rational. Not capricious or violent or raging. Schizophrenic if you look at the GOD/Christ issue. …

I cannot make you understand why I cannot worship a violent, capricious, raging, maniacal, schizophrenic GOD
– Debra Masters (p. 3, #44)

I have stopped trying to rationalize such passages of Scripture – it makes God way too schizophrenic. If any world leader were to command the things that ‘god’ commands here, and any general were to carry them out as Moses apparently does here, they’d be condemned today as the worst kinds of war criminals.
– Mike Morrell (p. 1, #75)

As I thought about the idea of God being a tyrant or “schizophrenic,” I realized Abraham above anyone else, had a right to accuse God of such twisted thinking.

After all, He promised to make Abraham’s descendants into a great nation, beginning with Isaac. But while the boy was still “a lad,” God told Abraham to offer him as a sacrifice.

Wouldn’t you expect an argument from Abraham? Which is it, God, the boy will become a father of a nation or a sacrifice? Both can’t happen. What are you thinking? Are you … divided in your spirit? can’t make up your mind? good yesterday and evil today? Can I trust you for ANYTHING?

But no, Abraham’s reaction was entirely different. He believed God when He told him Isaac would be his heir: “Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6; also quoted by Paul in Romans and Galatians and by James).

He continued to believe God when He told him to sacrifice his son. The writer of Hebrews encapsulates his thinking:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten {son;} {it was he} to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE CALLED. He considered that God is able to raise {people} even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type.

– Heb. 11:17-19 (NASB)

Interestingly, after Abraham proved his faith by his willingness to sacrifice his son, God gave him another promise, the Messianic promise: “In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22:18).

Abraham did not see God as a tyrant, as a monster, a war criminal, a child abuser, or as schizophrenic. He believed God—believed He would keep His promise even though it didn’t look possible in light of His very own commandment. Unshaken by the apparent contradiction, Abraham believed God.

Those today who want to throw out the Old Testament God in favor of a re-imaged Jesus do not have Abraham’s faith. Somehow, with a knife in his hand and his son spread on the altar before him, Abraham did not change his mind about who God is.

As a result, we have this wonderful picture of a father willing to offer his son, of a God providing a sacrificial lamb to take the place of the one destined to die. And a Messianic promise.

Published in: on February 4, 2010 at 12:10 pm  Comments (4)  
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Fantasy and Emergent Thought


For those of you looking for a CSFF Blog Tour post about Andrew Peterson‘s book North! Or Be Eaten, second in the Wingfeather Saga, you are actually in the right place. However, you’ll find much more information about the book from my fellow participants listed below or from my earlier review and thoughts about the book posted in conjunction with the Children’s Book Blog Tour.

What I want to do today (and the rest of this week) is to tie in the current discussion here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction about emergent thought with our CSFF selection.

You might be wondering what one has to do with the other. Quite a bit, actually—an entire worldview.

This series of posts began last Friday with an article discussing a provocative piece entitled “Is God ‘A Recovering Practitioner of Violence’?” In the ensuing discussion there and spilling over to Monday, some of those associated with emerging thought made it clear that they do not believe in one or more of the following: original sin, Satan as an actual enemy, hell, God as a righteous judge meting out deserved punishment.

In fact, a number of these visitors ascribe to a panentheistic worldview, or non-duality. In other words, they don’t believe in the basic fantasy motif: good versus evil.

It’s a little hard to imagine speculative fiction without duality. Avatar tried to pull it off, but good fiction is built upon conflict, so evil capitalists and military-ists were cast in the role of antagonist. As author and blogger Mike Duran has pointed out, the panentheistic people in the movie were at one with nature, even revering the animals they had to kill by way of preserving human life, yet they were not at one with the evil humans. No thanking them for giving up their lives. No reverential ceremony acknowledging their contribution to the cycle of life.

North! Or Be Eaten gives an entirely other point of view. There is an enemy bent on destruction—not of the body alone but of the soul. The threat is real, imminent, far-reaching, deadly.

My first question is, which of these two views most accurately squares with Scripture?

From first to last, the Bible is about conflict. Jesus’s parable in Matthew about the landowner who went on a journey gives a thumbnail sketch of the entire Bible.

After a time, the landowner sent reps to collect the proceeds from those he left to work the land. Instead of paying up, they beat and killed these reps. At last the landowner sent his son, but he too was killed and thrown out of the vineyard.

The parable ends with the landowner coming back. Jesus asked this question: “What will he do with those vine-growers?” Jesus didn’t toss out that question for thought. He spelled out the answer: “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end, and will rent out the vineyard to other vine-growers who will pay him the proceeds at the proper season.”

So does North! Or Be Eaten present the same struggle, good against evil? Let me answer that by quoting these lines of poetry Oskar recites about the protagonists father:

    All children of the Shining Isle, rejoice!
    A hero strides the field, the hill, the sand
    With raven hair and shining blade in hand.
    The wicked quake when lifts the Warden’s voice

    So fleet his mount and fierce his mighty band!
    So fair his word and fine his happy roar
    That breezes o’er the Isle from peak to shore!
    So tender burns his love for king and land!

Good fantasy like North! Or Be Eaten is full of conflict, mirroring the good/evil struggle in the world—the very struggle the Bible addresses, ending in Revelation with a picture of the answer to Jesus’s question: what will He do when He comes back?

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I promised you links to the other participants. Hope you take some time to peruse their reviews and other thoughts about North! Or Be Eaten.

A check mark provides a link to a specific post.