Spiritual Disciplines


Sunday we had a guest speaker, a pastor from the Seattle area. And yes, he spoke on spiritual disciplines, though he didn’t call them that. This term goes way back to the 1970s and maybe was recycled from an even earlier time. I first heard it when I was a young adult, and the disciplines were ways in which we can grow spiritually.

Our speaker Sunday said essentially the same thing, but instead of “grow spiritually,” he referred to intimacy with Christ and sanctification and building habits.

He even provided a handout so we could pull together his general comments and apply them personally. On the handout the habits that will help us cultivate a closer relationship with Christ are of two types, those we “inhale” and those we “exhale.”

As you would expect, the things on the “inhale” list are things we take in such as Bible study, meditation, church attendance, fasting (not necessarily from food), and so on.

On the “exhale” list are things we give out: service, generosity, hospitality, and the like.

I have to say, I’m excited to see this kind of emphasis, and I’m happy to know that other churches are emphasizing these things. For some time there was so much confusion among Christians.

There were divisions but by far the most serious aspect of what affected the Church was the willingness to have our ears tickled by those who said what was culturally pleasing and not necessarily Biblically true.

I’m thinking of two extremes. On the one hand there were the people who followed “America’s pastor”—and even that silly title says a lot about the error slipping into his teaching. These are people who wanted to have their best life now, who wanted to hear that their fondest dreams would come true, that they too could become free from sickness, that they could have all the technological toys and still be debt free.

In a camp that seems quite the opposite are those who wanted to re-image Jesus, though they pretty much liked what he did about social justice. In many ways this “progressive” view is nothing but a reiteration of the social gospel of the early twentieth century. They’d likely say that a Christian can reach heaven by doing good deeds. Except many don’t believe in heaven. Of course whatever heaven might be, all of humanity is going there. Here’s what one “progressive Christian” site says:

The Christian faith is our way of being faithful to God. But it is not the only way.

Christianity is the truth for us. But it is not the only truth.

This principle stems from the reality of the 21st century. We share our lives with people who are Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist. We experience these people as loving and caring by following their religious traditions.

So, yes, speak about the environment and gender issues and social justice in terms that the culture at large will like. Or speak about becoming rich and self-satisfied in your own cocoon. Both those positions will garner followers, but neither is presenting the gospel.

I think a return to the habits that will bring us into an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ is needed. Of course, I also think reading the Bible and studying it and memorizing it should be first on the list of habits believers should cultivate. The bottom line is this: we first need to know who God is, what His plan for humankind is. Without that in place, we’re simply operating from our own thoughts and desires and judgments a la the groups that have drifted from the truth.

Here’s what Bart Campolo, son of the evangelist Tony Campolo, said about his own experience:

Campolo admitted that changing his view of God’s sovereignty was “the beginning of the end” of his faith. Why?“Because once you start adjusting your theology to match up to the reality you see in front of you, it’s an infinite progression. So over the course of the next 30 years…my ability to believe in a supernatural narrative or a God who intervenes and does anything died a death of a thousand unanswered prayers”.

Campolo continued: “I passed through every stage of heresy. It starts out with sovereignty goes, then biblical authority goes, then I’m a universalist, now I’m marrying gay people. Pretty soon I don’t actually believe Jesus actually rose from the dead in a bodily way.”
How Christians become atheists

Campolo doesn’t think he’s a special case. On the contrary, he believes the current world of ‘progressive Christianity’ (what he calls “the ragged edge” of Christianity) is heading towards full-blown unbelief . . .

Campolo is predicting that as many as 40% of progressive Christians will become atheists over the next decade. In his view, the process of abandoning Christian doctrines is almost addictive. Once you start, you don’t know where to stop. It might begin with “dialing down” your view of God’s sovereignty, but it could easily end with unbelief.

“When you get to this ragged edge of Christianity when people say ‘God’ they sort of mean ‘the universe’ and when they say ‘Jesus’ they sort of mean ‘redemption’ – they’re so progressive they don’t actually count on any supernatural stuff to happen, they’ve dialed it down in the same way I did.” (Premier Christianity, “Bart Campolo says progressive Christians turn into atheists. Maybe he’s right”)

Hebrews was written to first century Christians who were questioning their faith, wondering if they shouldn’t return to Judaism. The writer gives a number of reasons they should stand firm, the first being that Jesus is the only one God ever identified as His Son, “whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power.”

Since Jesus is who He is, the writer concludes, “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” (Heb. 2:1)

Yes, we do need to pay much closer attention! That’s a good habit to form, a good discipline to cultivate.

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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.

The Holiness Of Jesus


I’ve written about God’s holiness before. I’ve written about the fact that we humans miss the mark when we try to attain His standard of purity. I’ve discussed the need for Christians to take seriously the Scriptural admonition to “be holy for I [the LORD] am holy.” But I think I may have overlooked the holiness of Jesus.

I was stunned a week or so ago (stunned, I tell you!) when in the atheist/theist Facebook group I belong to, a member identifying himself as a Progressive Christian said, more than once, he believe Jesus sinned.

At the time I didn’t ask him why he thought that. The current discussion was centered on something else and he made the comment more in passing than in anything else, as a response to something one of the atheists had said.

I’ve thought about it a lot since. I don’t know why this person would come up with such a notion. Clearly he is either unaware of what Scripture says about Jesus and sin or he doesn’t believe what it says. I’m not sure which. Either way, the fact is, the Bible is very clear about the holiness of Jesus. Take 1 Peter 2 as an example:

For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously; (vv 21-23; emphases here and in the following verses are mine)

Of course there is also the testimony of people who observed Jesus, such as the thief who turned to Him for salvation:

And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong. (Luke 23:41)

The centurion—a Roman, who would typically have hated the Jews—came to the same conclusion:

Now when the centurion saw what had happened, he began praising God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent” [the word literally means righteous]. (Luke 23:47)

The Apostle Paul stated Jesus’s relation to sin in the clearest language:

He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor. 5:21)

The writer to the Hebrews had the same understanding:

For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

In fact, the writer to the Hebrews built one of his main points on the reality that Jesus was without sin:

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; (Hebrews 7:26)

Because Jesus did not have His own sin to deal with, He could serve as our perfect High Priest.

As if these witnesses are not enough, the Apostle John gives voice to the same truth in his first letter:

You know that He appeared in order to take away sins; and in Him there is no sin. (1 John 3:5)

All this to say, anyone claiming that Jesus sinned must not know what the Bible says about Him, or has decided not to believe the Bible.

The question I have for someone who makes this claim is, Why would you call yourself a Christian? I don’t understand the point of adopting the name of a religion while rejecting its main tenets.

Actual Christians believe the Bible. We hold to it as the source of authoritative truth. We also believe that Jesus died to atone for the sins of the world. But as the writer to the Hebrews said, He couldn’t do that if He had his own sins to die for. The only Person qualified to stand in for someone else is a Person who would not have to forfeit His life for His own sins. Everyone else, living under the clear truth that the wages of sin is death, would have to die for his own sins.

So if Jesus sinned, there would be no redemption in Him. No one would be saved. So why would those people claiming this false idea call themselves Christians? They can’t believe in the substitutionary atonement. That means they are still living in their sins, they haven’t accepted the free gift of grace provided through Jesus.

In short, Jesus was holy or there is no salvation and no Christianity. Such a nonsensical idea that we could have a sinful savior. Such a fallacious idea that someone could claim to be a Christian and not believe in Jesus’s saving power.

And atheists wonder why I say that not everyone who names the name of Christ actually knows Him and believes in Him.

A Look At The “Nicer Than God” Position-Reprise


Child_survivors_of_AuschwitzAtheists are eager to dismantle the framework of Christianity and to deconstruct the Bible. Sadly, it seems some in the self-styled “Progressive Christians” crowd aren’t far behind.

One point in particular has come through in various on-line discussions by those who don’t believe in God as He revealed Himself in the Bible–the God of the Old Testament is too wrathful, too vengeful to really be God. My God wouldn’t do that or say that, is a statement I’ve seen more than once.

Often a verse in Psalm 137 gets pulled out as evidence that God is too horrible to worship or that the Bible is inconsistent and can’t possibly be taken at face value or that God had to have repented of such a heinous attitude because it isn’t in line with how He showed Himself through Jesus in the New Testament.

In all honesty, the verse is horrible. Writing about the Babylonians who took Judah into captivity and razed the temple and the walls of Jerusalem and its homes and businesses, the psalmist said

O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one,
How blessed will be the one who repays you
With the recompense with which you have repaid us.
How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones
Against the rock. (Psalm 137:8-9)

Shocking!

That last verse in particular seems out of place in a book centered on God’s work of reconciliation and forgiveness achieved through Jesus.

As I’ve pondered this Psalm and particularly verse nine, a couple things have come to mind. First, I am reminded of some of the heinous things that came to light after 9/11–people parading through the streets of cities in the Middle East, cheering the deaths of several thousand people they considered the enemy; beheadings; hundreds upon hundreds of people unassociated with fighting, blown up as they went about living life; rulers firing upon their own people; hundreds of bodies discovered in mass graves.

All these rather gruesome modern day events make it clear that nothing has changed in the law of revenge in the Middle East from the time of the Old Testament.

Back then, God initiated the “eye for an eye” principle–one capable of stopping blood feuds before they got started. Particularly, God said sons weren’t to die to pay for the sins of their father. Such laws were necessary because people held grudges and sought to get even when they’d been wronged.

Today, nearly seventy years after the Jewish state came into being, certain countries in the Middle East have the stated objective of wiping out that nation. Simply put, they want revenge on their enemy.

To put this into perspective, a comparable situation would be England determined to wipe out the fledgling United States seventy years after the Revolutionary War–somewhere around 1850 when the US and England were becoming key trading partners. Or Mexico, seventy years after the end of the Mexican-American War–right around World War I–determining to retake the land they had ceded in the peace treaty.

My point? The Middle Eastern worldview is different from the worldview in the West.

Couple that fact with this: the Bible was written by people, inspired by God. However, God’s authorship does not mean He condoned everything recorded in those pages.

Jacob’s son Judah slept with his daughter-in-law, thinking she was a prostitute. The men in a city of the tribe of Benjamin gang raped a woman, killing her, and this led to war with the other eleven tribes. Samson, a judge of Israel, picked a Philistine to be his wife. David, the man after God’s own heart, committed adultery and murder.

The Bible records all these events and more, not as a list of things God’s children today are supposed to emulate, but as part of the grand scheme, the big picture, the overarching story showing us who God is, why we have a broken relationship with Him, and how He went about fixing it.

Psalm 137:9 is no more a statement of God’s desires than the verses that tell about Eve’s deception and Adam’s disobedience.

Let me pull some threads together. The Middle East had a culture of revenge, and in fact, much of what’s happened in the last ten-plus years would indicate that this worldview is still in place. The psalmist who wrote Psalm 137:9 wrote from that worldview. As such, the verse is not an indication that God condoned the get-even mentality.

Here in the West we have a different worldview, informed by two thousand years of Biblical teaching to love our enemies, pray for those who misuse and abuse us, refrain from vengeance, refuse to curse but give a blessing instead.

Those “nicer than God” proponents, then, are simply reflecting a Biblical worldview, whether they recognize it and embrace it, or not.

They claim God is someone he is not based on a verse or verses taken out of context, and they claim for themselves teaching He brought into the world, normalized through centuries of Church influence, so that today even atheists believe loving our neighbor is a good thing, that mistreating the weakest and most vulnerable in society is wrong, and that enemies ought to be given trials and treated humanely rather than tortured.

Surprise, atheists and progressives! You’ve embraced a Biblical worldview–the one which has shaped Western thought. You just didn’t know it. You thought you were nicer than God, but who enabled you to learn what “nice” meant? God Himself in the instruction that shaped the philosophical underpinnings of Western society for generations.

This post first appeared here in February 2013.

Published in: on December 15, 2017 at 5:57 pm  Comments Off on A Look At The “Nicer Than God” Position-Reprise  
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The Clay Is Talking Back


But now, O LORD, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter

But now, O LORD, You are our Father,
We are the clay, and You our potter


“God did not make us.”

I hear atheists reject God’s work of creation all the time, but more recently I’ve heard people claiming the name of Christ reciting a companion falsehood.

Isaiah prophesied about the twisted thinking that creates these untruths:

You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”(Isaiah 29:16; emphasis added)

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens popularized the first part of that prophecy: He did not make me.

And “progressive Christians,” who believe in universal salvation, are saying in essence, He has no understanding.

Their belief system questions God’s plan of salvation by implying that sending “billions and billions” of people to hell for eternity is beneath Him. Judgment of sinners doesn’t measure up to the progressive Christian’s idea of what God should be like. In essence, they are saying God must not judge and punish as He sees fit. If he does so, he’s a “monster” as one supporter of author and former pastor Rob Bell called it.

“We do these somersaults to justify the monster god we believe in,” [Chad Holtz, former pastor of a rural United Methodist church in North Carolina] said. “But confronting my own sinfulness, that’s when things started to topple for me. Am I really going to be saved just because I believe something, when all these good people in the world aren’t?” (from “Pastor loses job after questioning hell’s existence”)

In other words, if that’s the way God is, then he’s wrong. Their answer is to ignore the clear statements of Jesus about His children, His followers, His sheep, in favor of a few isolated passages taken out of context and made to say things they were never intended to say.

In addition, the fundamental error in the thinking of those who indict God comes out loud and clear. Man is good. It is God who is suspect.

The thinking seems to be, Since we know Man is good, and we want God to be good, then hell can’t possibly exist, at least in the form that the “traditional church” has taught.

The answer, then, is to re-image God. And hell. And even heaven. But our idea that Man is good? In spite of evidence to the contrary, we’ll keep that belief intact.

The truth is, Man is not good.

A just God warned Man away from the tree that would bring death and a curse. Man ignored God and succumbed to temptation. He has not been “good” at his core ever since.

As Man went his own way, God chose an individual to be His, from whom He would build a nation that would be an example to all the nations of what it meant to be God’s people.

When the chosen nation went its own way, God sent prophets to warn them not to forsake Him. When they ignored the warnings, He sent more prophets, and finally He sent His Son in the form of man:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was in the flesh, God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Romans 8:3)

God’s Son didn’t come to judge—He will take that role later, when the just penalty for turning from God will be handed out to sinful (not good) Man, condemned by his own choice to go his own way.

Though Jesus came to save when He first entered the world, He created a dividing line.

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)

In summary, Man sinned, Man went his own way, Man rebelled, Man rejected God, his Maker. Clearly, by our nature we are not good.

The problem is ours, not God’s. God certainly does not need a make-over. He does not need progressive Christians to frame Him in a better light. Rather, we all need to stop going our own way, stop acting independently of God. We are but clay. Beloved by God, yes—not because we’ve earned His special consideration, not because we deserve His kindness and patience and love—but because of God’s own nature.

He is the potter. The clay really is not in a position to improve the potter, nor should it be talking back.

This post is a revised, updated version of one that first appeared here in May 2011.

Why Did God Make Us As We Are?


Freedom-watch-protestIn any number of online discussions I’ve had with atheists, a couple questions eventually surface. One purports to get at the root of sin—basically, it’s God’s fault because He made us capable of sin.

In response I’ll generally say that God made us with free will, to choose Him freely, not as a puppet with no options of our own. But the comeback then gives rise to the question: why did God make a law in the first place? Why did He “invent” something that He could hold against us?

Another way of asking this, of course, is, Why did God make right and wrong? Why did He determine wrong needed to be punished? Why didn’t He simply make us so we could choose whatever we wanted, without any consequences?

That kind of libertarian freedom seems to be what many atheists want.

In essence, this approach judges God. He was wrong to make a law we had to obey. He was wrong to judge those who broke the law. I suppose in the one element of consistency, the conclusion of such a view is that a wrong God is no God at all; thus the conclusion that God does not exist.

The argument, of course, hinges on the rightness or the wrongness of 1) God creating humans with the ability to choose; and b) God determining right and wrong.

The irony of the argument is that in declaring God wrong to do what He did, both in giving humans free will and a moral law to follow, the person standing in judgment of God is acting like God. He’s determined that his own value system is superior, that he knows what’s best for all of humanity, that life without moral judgment is best.

This view, of course, exposes the greatest sin: pride.

But it also reveals something else, something equally vile.

God determined to make humankind in His own image, in His own likeness. To create humans without free will and/or without a moral compass would have violated God’s very nature. In essence, those who think God made mistakes or created the world wrongly are repudiating God’s very nature.

They are, in fact, rebelling against their Creator. They are following in the steps of the father of lies:

“How you have fallen from heaven,
O star of the morning, son of the dawn!
You have been cut down to the earth,
You who have weakened the nations!

“But you said in your heart,
‘I will ascend to heaven;
I will raise my throne above the stars of God,
And I will sit on the mount of assembly
In the recesses of the north.

‘I will ascend above the heights of the clouds;
I will make myself like the Most High.’ ” (Isaiah 14:12-14)

“Like the Most High.” I don’t think many atheists would acknowledge this is what they want. After all, they don’t believe in God. Why, they don’t even believe in belief! But behind all their spiritual anarchy—their pursuit of absolute individual freedom—is simply rebellion. It’s spitting in God’s face. Kicking against His moral demands. Turning their back to His right to rule.

Professing Christians who doctor the Bible are in the same boat. They don’t like that God is the judge of all the earth, so they invent the belief that all people will be saved at some point. One school of thought is that everyone is already saved—they just don’t all know it.

Some of these accept sin—it is pretty hard to ignore—but they reject the idea of Jesus Christ canceling the debt of sin by substituting Himself for us, by dying in our place to satisfy the requirements of the law.

I presume this latter camp is divided—some believing that they must do good, like Jesus, in order to earn their own salvation, and some believing that God simply dismisses the charges because He’s just that kind of guy.

No matter how these individuals identify, the reality is that denying God’s revelation of Himself is rebellion.

No Christian can say, We believe in God, His great love for humankind, His Son Jesus and the example He set for us to follow—we just don’t believe in that wrath and judgment stuff. That’s not how I view God.

As if we have a say in determining who God is.

Just like the atheists who so often say that humans invented God, this progressive “Christian” view has humans determining what kind of God they are willing to believe in. In fact, they are trying to make God to their own specifications. They are unwilling to believe in Him as He has revealed Himself.

Aside from the fact that they are wide of Truth, they are also missing a true relationship with God, who loves us and gave Himself up for us.

Why did God make us as we are? Because He desires relationship with us. He desires to shower us with His love and grace and kindness and generosity and sense of belonging and security and purpose and wholeness. He wants us to talk with Him and walk with Him—not for His benefit, but for ours. That’s the way love is.

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.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

Misunderstanding And Misusing The Bible


reading-the-bible-835822-mAtheists and “progressive Christians” alike are fond of pointing out things in the Bible they think are reprehensible. Some even claim to know more about these parts of Scripture than evangelicals who hold to belief in the inerrancy of the Bible.

Sadly, these are the people who are misunderstanding passages and misusing verses, twisting them to say what they want them to say. So they’ll take a verse like Psalm 137:9 (“How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones / Against the rock) as proof that the God of the Bible, or the God of the Old Testament, at least, is hateful and cruel, full of wrath and vengeful.

The problem is, such a view ignores passage after passage after passage that reveals God to be a protector of the innocent, a refuge to all who call on Him. Take Psalm 46:1-2 for example:

God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
And though the mountains slip into the heart of the sea.

Scripture portrays God as the Advocate for orphans and widows. He chastises Judah in part for not living in accordance with His heart in their treatment of the most vulnerable and needy. He pronounces judgment on nations like Israel, Edom, Assyria, and Babylon because they were greedy or their leaders cheated the poor or they employed violence against others.

God, in His role as Protector, pronounces judgment on those who mistreated others. More often than not, He used other nations to judge those whose wickedness had reached a point of no return. So there are passages in the prophets that warn of this coming judgment:

Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces
Before their eyes;
Their houses will be plundered
And their wives ravished. (Isaiah 13:16)

You can find similar passages in Hosea, Nahum, Lamentations, and Zechariah—and the pictures these prophets paint aren’t pretty. But that’s the point. Judgment isn’t a slap on the wrist, nor should it be.

And it is just such judgment the Psalmist was calling for in the passage above.

Here in California, much has been made of the sexual assault of a three-year-old who wandered into a garage where a young man was working. Because he didn’t behave as a predator, searching out a child to abuse, the judge gave the perpetrator a light sentence, and the public is rightfully outraged. His criminal behavior requires a stiff penalty.

But when God says He’s going to give a stiff penalty to the wicked, somehow many find this tyrannical. Not just.

I surmise they don’t believe those in Scripture who describe God as righteous and good. They don’t believe Him when He says, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ex. 33:11).”

Such misuse of the Bible—pulling one verse out of context in order to draw a conclusion about God and ignoring scores of others that contradict their view—is more a reflection on those judging God than on God Himself.

There are other people, however, who misunderstand the Bible because they take it too literally. Parts of the Bible are history and certainly were written with the intention that their readers would take their words as factual. Consequently writers gave genealogies, mentioned reigning kings, noted particular towns or rivers or seas, included details such as a great earthquake or a siege or a civil war.

But another part of the Bible, including some of the stories and analogies Jesus included in His conversations and discourses, have a different intention. Their purpose is to point to a particular spiritual truth, not paint a black-and-white portrait of what God does or does not do.

For instance, Jesus said it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Since we know camels can’t pass through the eye of a needle, does that mean Jesus was saying no rich man could enter the kingdom of heaven? Clearly not. Abraham was rich, and Jesus told a story about Abraham, indicating he was in fact in heaven.

People who want to apply literalistic treatment to metaphorical language are simply misusing the Bible! I would suggest that dashing children in pieces is possibly an example of hyperbole, taken as an indication that judgment would reach down and affect the children as well as the adults.

The trick, of course, is to know what is literal and what is metaphorical. Some things are obvious such as the fantasy stories in the Old Testament about talking trees. The people who told those stories were trying to make a point to their intended audience and used analogous language to do so. No one should read those passages and come away saying, The Bible teaches that trees talk.

One way to discern what is literal and what is figurative is by how the people of that time understood the writing or discourse. Consequently, the Jews who built a tabernacle and commemorated the Exodus, undoubtedly understood the first five books of the Bible—their Torah—as historical or they wouldn’t have acted upon what was contained within those pages.

For me it’s a bit comforting to know that the disciples didn’t always know what was literal and what was figurative in the things Jesus said. They thought, for example, that His declaration that He would go to Jerusalem and die and be raised again on the third day, had some metaphorical, spiritual meaning. It wasn’t until after the fact that they realized He’d been talking about literal death and literal resurrection.

My point here is that misunderstanding isn’t something to be ashamed about. Rather, when we come to Scripture, it’s important to hold what we “know” loosely, to do some questioning and some comparison. And never to take the word of a person over the word of Scripture itself.

For example, someone might say in a convincing way that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth, not to be believed as literal, that they are simply archetypes of early humans, that there was no actual garden, tree of life or of the knowledge of good and evil, that there was no talking serpent (I mean, we already discounted the talking trees, right?)

However, the rest of the Bible clearly treats Adam and Eve as real people while equating the serpent with the Accuser, Satan. In other words, the people who wrote Scripture and to whom Scripture was originally given, and those who read it throughout centuries, understood Adam and Eve to be historically real people. So clearly, for us today to say, Adam and Eve are mythical, we would be taking the word of a person who came up with or is parroting the idea, over and above the word of Scripture.

God, The Same Yesterday, Today, And Forever


Misty_Morning_-_geograph.org.uk_-_903235_by_Joe_McCartneyI think most who identify as Progressive Christians believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever—which is how the Bible describes Him. But when they read the Bible, or at least when they hear other people talk about the Bible, they determine that the Old Testament shows God as different from the New Testament. Consequently, only one testament or the other can reveal the true nature of God.

Of course the mistakes in that line of thinking are many, starting with the idea that the Old and New Testaments differ in their revelation of God. Both show Him to be sovereign, loving, just, righteous, holy, omnipotent, merciful, omniscient, gracious, forgiving, patient, and on and on. The Progressives have this snapshot of God as WRATH in the Old Testament and Jesus as LOVE in the New. It’s a false dichotomy, and a sincere look at what Jesus taught and what the prophets and the psalms reveal, should make that clear.

What can we say about the differences in the Old and New Testaments? Is one accurate and the other false? Categorically, NOT. Both are accurate and both are true.

It would be helpful to remember what “testament” means. In theological terms, it means “agreement,” specifically God’s agreement with His people. So, while God does not change, His agreement with His people does.

Until Jesus came, the agreements or covenants God established were most often (but not always) conditioned upon humankind’s response: if they did certain things, God would bless them, but if they did certain other things, they put themselves under God’s curse.

Adam and Eve essentially had such an agreement with God. If they obeyed Him, they would live, and if they disobeyed, they would die. Abraham had a covenant with God, and so did Jacob and Moses and David and Solomon. In truth the Abrahamic covenant was with his descendants, too; the Mosaic covenant was on behalf of the people of Israel; and God’s agreement with David was with those in his lineage, culminating in Jesus.

And Jesus initiated a new covenant, a new agreement.

And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins. (Matt. 26:27-28)

Paul referenced the new covenant on more than one occasion. He wrote of it to the church in Corinth, for example:

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:4-6a)

The writer of the book of Hebrews went to some length to explain the new covenant and how it differed from the old:

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second. For finding fault with them, He says,
“BEHOLD, DAYS ARE COMING, SAYS THE LORD,
WHEN I WILL EFFECT A NEW COVENANT
WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AND WITH THE HOUSE OF JUDAH;
NOT LIKE THE COVENANT WHICH I MADE WITH THEIR FATHERS
ON THE DAY WHEN I TOOK THEM BY THE HAND
TO LEAD THEM OUT OF THE LAND OF EGYPT;
FOR THEY DID NOT CONTINUE IN MY COVENANT,
AND I DID NOT CARE FOR THEM, SAYS THE LORD.
“FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL
AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD:
I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS,
AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS.
AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD,
AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (8:6-10; see also chapters 9 and 10)

I don’t want to get sidetracked with a long explanation about the old and new covenants, but it’s important, I think, to understand that God is exactly the same in His character from everlasting to everlasting. But that doesn’t mean that He treats every person the same way or that He deals with every people group the same way.

I think in this age of “tolerance” we’re looking for uniformity. Nothing is “fair” unless we all have the exact same hand dealt to us. Then, and only then do we think it’s fair because it’s now up to us to do with that hand whatever we can.

Such a silly notion. If that were the accurate view of justice, then none of us could be smarter than any one else. We couldn’t be more athletic or better singers or taller or ambidextrous or more mechanical or . . . well, anything that could be perceived as an advantage. We have to have that same hand to play as the next guy.

In contrast to that silliness, God seems to delight in working with people that have a disadvantage. David was the youngest in his family, Abraham didn’t have any sons, Ruth was a widow, Joseph was a slave. The whole nation of Israel, in fact, God said was not His pick because they were more numerous or stronger or more righteous than the other nations. In fact, He said the opposite was true.

He used the small and weak in order that we could all see Him at work. It’s hard to take the credit for a victory when we’re outnumbered, when the other army has more advanced weapons, and when they have the tactical advantage. In those circumstances, when God brings the victory, we can only say, Praise God!

No matter what, though, God’s point and purpose is to make Himself known. He says it over and over again. He wanted Israel to display His glory to the nations. He wants His Church to make disciples of the nations. Always God has done what He’s done that we might know Him, even when what He did was to kick His children out of the garden He’d made to be their home, or exile them from the Promised Land, or give His Son as a sacrifice that all who believe might be reconciled with Him.

Our ways aren’t God’s ways, so we don’t always recognize what He’s doing, especially if we expect Him to treat everyone the same, or worse, if we expect Him to act the way we would act.

But no mistake. The Progressives have it right: God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we need to believe what He’s told us about Himself and stop looking for Him to behave the way we think He should. After all, He is God, not an idol we can move from place to place or dress up in purple if it suits us.

He is the sovereign, and He tells us what is righteous. How dare we shake our fists at Him or tell Him He was wrong to judge people whose heart He knew intimately. Who are we in comparison to who is He?

I’m not perfect in love or goodness. I don’t know all truth. I’m certainly not sovereign or all powerful. And if it comes right down to it, I am most certainly not the same yesterday, today, and forever. I’m more like a vapor that appears for a little while and them vanishes away.

Not God. He’s as sure as His word, and His word abides forever!

Who’s In Charge, The Potter Or The Clay?


Clay_artist_workingAtheists say God doesn’t exist but then hurl accusations at Him as if He does. There’s a two-prong attack I’ve seen: on one hand it’s, why doesn’t your god stop the bad things that are happening in the world; but then they see something like His action against the Amalekites to stop them from inflicting more wickedness on the world and it’s, Why is your god genocidal?

The amazing thing is, a group identifying as Progressive Christians takes a similar approach. They wrestle with some perceived dichotomy between God’s actions in the Old Testament and Jesus’s teaching in the New Testament.

The thing is, there is no such dichotomy. Jesus didn’t soften the truth displayed in the Old Testament that God is a just Judge and sinners will one day find themselves under His judgment.

This answer is not satisfactory to these Progressives because they have determined that they know better than God. In other words, they, the clay, have determined that they know better than the Potter and that they need to tell him where he messed up.

It’s such hubris!

And yet we get people saying things like, there’s a “growing concern among a segment of Evangelicalism over this issue [God’s perceived genocide].” (commenter to Mike Duran’s Facebook Discussion) The implication is that it’s just come to light that God did such a heinous thing as to order King Saul to wipe out the Amalekites and the powers that be in that segment of Evangelicalism are looking into it more closely.

There is so much wrong with this kind of thinking, starting with the attitude toward God.

Is it really so hard to trust His evaluation of the Amalekites? Do we think we are in a better position to judge their hearts in order to determine if they deserved God’s judgment?

On top of that, do we not believe that the wages of sin is death? Why do we think God is somehow unfair for carrying out the very judgment He’s told us sin brings?

But above all might be this idea that we, the created can bring accusation against the Creator. Isaiah, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, brought up the incongruity with an analogy: the potter and the lump of clay he’s fashioning.

First he addresses the atheist’s position:

Woe to those who deeply hide their plans from the LORD,
And whose deeds are done in a dark place,
And they say, “Who sees us?” or “Who knows us?”
You turn things around!
Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay,
That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”;
Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”? (Isaiah 29:15-16)

He followed up with a rhetorical question that could be directed at Progressives:

“Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—
An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth!
Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’” (45:9a)

Jeremiah picked up on the analogy in his prophecy, using it to address the very issue these Progressives are accusing God of:

Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it; if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. (Jeremiah 18:3-10).

If that weren’t enough, Paul takes up the same analogy in his letter to the Romans, demonstrating God’s sovereignty over humankind, whom He created:

who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:20-21)

These rhetorical questions carry the assumption that of course the one who makes has the right to make as he pleases.

Yet in our “progressive” twenty-first century thinking, we now believe we can hold God up to our standard and judge Him.

I remember the first time I understood this Romans passage. I was in college and a friend said something I didn’t agree with—don’t remember precisely what it was—but she said, God had the right to do what He wanted and opened her Bible to this passage. I didn’t want to believe it. I went back to my room and studied it out. I couldn’t deny the logic and I couldn’t pretend the Bible wasn’t saying God has the right, the authority, the position to do what He wants.

In the end it boils down to trusting Him to do what’s good or becoming His enemy and fighting Him over control of . . . well, of my lump of clay. Clay can’t exactly intervene on behalf of any other clay, and in actual fact, can’t do anything about its own condition either.

But here’s the thing: the more I trust God, the more He shows me the purpose and plans and power He’s ordered for me. I’m to be His ambassador, I’m to represent Him before the world, I’m commissioned by Him. In the end, it’s an assignment I know I can’t pull off—except God is the one in control. My overriding job is to trust Him and let Him work through me.

Published in: on February 18, 2015 at 6:27 pm  Comments (5)  
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