Christians Have Answers—A Reprise


A number of years ago, atheists popularized a response to the Christian catch-phrase, Jesus is the Answer: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” Some time later, a Christianized edition surfaced: “If Jesus is the answer, why are Christians afraid to ask questions?”

Oddly, this sentiment co-exists with a sort of artificial humility that has Christians backing off from knowing anything. Rather than offering a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), we are now, apparently, to say spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a type of Christian agnosticism.

The whole notion of spiritual mystery is an outgrowth of postmodern thought and is not a Biblical concept. Instead Scripture teaches that God is transcendent:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Because God is Other, we will never figure Him out. Does that mean He remains cloaked in mystery? Actually no, for one reason, and one reason only: God chose to reveal Himself to us.

Hence, when the New Testament writers reference the mystery of God, they say things like “make known” or “speak forth” or “reveal.”

Clearly God has made known what Mankind needs to know, first in creation, then through His Word, His Son, and finally by His Spirit. The interesting thing is, the more we see of God, the more we see of God.

In other words, Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, makes reconciliation with God possible. To those who believe, He gives His Spirit who in turn teaches us all truth and brings to remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14:26). And of course Jesus said what He received from the Father. In addition, the Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Cor. 2:10b).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul continued to explain the working of the Holy Spirit. Then he concluded the discussion with this amazing statement: “But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15).

So … it’s a fair assumption, then, that Christians have answers, even to hard questions.

I suspect the problem has never been about not having answers but about not liking the answers we have.

For example, a hard, hard question that has been asked down through the ages is this one: Why is there suffering in the world?

The Bible gives the answer: because of sin.

But no, we want more. That one’s too simple, too impersonal, especially when the suffering we’re asking about seems very personal. In fact, we’re often asking, Why me?

Again the answer, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

Another answer we don’t like.

Shouldn’t being a Christian change that answer? Shouldn’t Christians be able to count on God to get us out of suffering?

Again, the Bible gives the answers, ones we just don’t like. We are to expect persecution, to bear our cross, to share in the sufferings of Christ including the fellowship of His death.

When the questions involve the Big Things of life—why am I here, how did I come to be, what lies ahead—the Bible gives those answers too (for God’s glory; by His creation; judgment and life eternal, either in His presence or cast from Him).

But how? How does it all work?

Need I say it? The Bible tells us how:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).

But to those weighty, cosmic questions, aren’t those answers illustrations of the earlier criticism—they’re simplistic, impersonal.

I’ll answer with a set of questions of my own: Is Christ simplistic? Impersonal?

Perhaps how a person views Christ determines whether or not that individual believes Christians have answers.

– – –

For other posts on this subject see “Transcendence vs. Mystery,” and “Draw Near To God … For What End?”

This post is an edited version of one that first appeared here in July, 2011.

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It’s Not About US


This NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope image reveals the iridescent interior of one of the most active galaxies in our local neighbourhood

I’ve written another post which I titled “It’s Not About Us,” so maybe I should fish around and come up with something different for this one. But it seems like the most fitting summation of the fifth “Sola”: soli deo gloria or God’s glory alone.

So many people miss the fact that creation and salvation alike point to God as excellent. That’s what giving glory means. It’s a way of shining a spotlight on the star of the show. It’s a way of saying, without Him, this wouldn’t work, it wouldn’t be good. It’s a way of saying, Here’s the one who gets the credit.

And what should God get credit for? All that He’s done, because all His works are good. So God deserves glory for creation—everything we can see with the naked eye and all that we can only see with a microscope or a telescope. In other words, all that we have only recently discovered, is cause for us to glorify God. All of creation reflects who He is, though sin has even had an effect on the natural world. How so? I’ll save that discussion for another time because it deserves a much more complete answer than I can give in passing.

Besides creation, God deserves glory for what He does personally and individually. Psalm 139 tells us that God “formed my inward parts,” that He “wove me in my mother’s womb.” So we can start with the very life He gives.

Of course He sustains that life. He provides, protects, sustains.

He also cares for each of us emotionally. His Spirit comforts, for instance, and gives peace. He Himself is cause for joy. He makes our spirits glad.

Which takes us to God’s work which involves the spiritual. of most importance, He provides salvation for all who believe. Salvation is far more than the hope of heaven, though there certainly is that. But in the here and now, those who believe in Jesus Christ have His Spirit within.

This might be one of the most confusing truths for those who don’t believe. At the same time, for those who do believe, it’s one of the best aspects of salvation. We simply are no longer alone. We have God with us and available to us—to give us strength or wisdom or counsel or any number of things.

I have an author friend who keyed in on this concept in his first series of books. Ever since he signs his notes “Never alone.” Because we aren’t.

God deserves glory for His presence in our lives.

Even more, He deserves glory for His character. He reveals who He is through what He has made, what He did for the nation Israel, what His prophets said, the words His spirit inspired, and most especially in His Son who shows us the Father. So even though we have not seen God, we know about Him and we can know Him personally because He made a relationship possible.

When He reveals through Scripture that He is merciful, we don’t have to scratch our heads and wonder if God is merciful. He said He is. What grounds do we have to say otherwise?

Some people, to be sure, look at the sin-ravaged world and blame God. But all the wickedness and “inhumanity to man” that fill the world, are results of mankind going our own way—not something we can accuse God of doing. Just the opposite. He warned us not to go our own way, that to do so would lead to death.

God’s love and mercy often get a lot of attention, but He is just as deserving of praise for His righteous judgments. He doesn’t make mistakes. And for His sovereignty. For His omniscience. Psalm 139 again: He is “intimately acquainted with all my ways.”

That’s both comforting and frightening. How awesome that He knows me so well. But that also means there’s nothing I can hide from Him.

There are so many qualities that God has revealed about Himself, I know I could never present them all or do them justice. One that seems particularly significant to me is His transcendence. Another way to say that is that He is Other. He is above us, beyond us, better, able to do and be what we can never do or be.

Actually, God’s transcendence makes His Incarnation that more meaningful. In order to reconcile us to Himself He left heaven, yes, but He also became like us. He was greater in every respect, yet He became like the creature He had made.

So faith and grace and Scripture and even Christ Himself all give us cause to give God alone glory.

Published in: on October 27, 2017 at 4:51 pm  Comments Off on It’s Not About US  
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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.

This post first appeared here in June 2014.

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.

Addressing Christian Agnosticism


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The truth is far different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

If we know Christ, then, we know God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Synergy Of God And Man


One of the things I find inexplicable is God’s choice to work in and through us humans. I mean, the infinite chooses to use the finite, the perfect, the imperfect, the omnipotent using the weak, the holy working through the sinful. It’s too transcendent for me to grasp, but apparently, according to Scripture, God is pleased to include us.

First He gave us the God-like responsibility of dominion over the rest of creation.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Gen. 1:26-28 – emphasis mine)

After the Fall and the flood, He worked through individuals such as the judges He sent to liberate His people from their oppressors, and He worked through nations such as Egypt who provided a safe haven for His people as they grew stronger.

More astounding, He worked through prophets who relayed His messages, given through visions or direct communication. Similarly He worked through a variety of men to produce His word, the Bible, and this is perhaps the best illustration of the synergy of God and Man.

God inspired the Bible. Put another way, the Bible was God-breathed. According to one Biblical scholar,

inspiration is the act of the same Spirit controlling those who make that knowledge known to others
(see commentary from the Blue Letter Bible)

Peter had this to say:

As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. (1 Peter 1:9-10 – emphases mine)

The prophets prophesied but the Spirit of Christ predicted.

Each author retained his own personality and wrote from his own life experience, in his own style. Hence, the Bible is God’s word but Moses was the author or David or Joel or Paul or John.

This unique hand-in-glove way of working, stronger than “partnership,” gives us a picture of salvation, too. God gave His Son, imputes righteousness, provides grace and mercy, and yet Man is to repent and believe. He is to “lay hold of that for which also [he] was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12b).

(For more on how this synergism works in respect to salvation, see “Monergism, Synergism, and God’s Image, 2 of 2.”)

As believers we have the experience of having the Holy Spirit living in us, such that we are His temple, and yet we aren’t “possessed” by Him. We can quench Him (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieve Him (Eph. 4:30) and we’re commanded to be filled with Him (Eph. 5:18), as if this is a volitional thing on our part.

In addition, God gave us work to do. He commissioned us to go into all the world and make disciples. In much the same way, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to the towns and villages where He Himself would come, but they went ahead, teaching and healing and casting out demons.

Our pastors will often say we are the hands and feet of Christ in our world. It’s an image Paul created in Colossians (see 2:19) and elsewhere — Christ is the head of the church, we are the “joints and ligaments,” the ears and nose. And the point is that we, as incredibly inefficient as it seems, are to do God’s work here and now.

In using the finite to show grace and forgiveness, the Infinite One receives glory. It’s an amazing plan, and I am so in awe that He would deign to use the weak, the marred bits of pottery, that He might even use me. What a great God!

Published in: on March 15, 2012 at 6:32 pm  Comments Off on The Synergy Of God And Man  
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Christians Have Answers


One of the latest catchphrases among Christians seems to be a reworking of an atheist question: “If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?” The Christianized edition is, “If Jesus is the answer, why are Christians afraid to ask questions?”

Oddly, this sentiment co-exists with a sort of artificial humility that has Christians backing off from knowing anything. Rather than offering a defense to everyone who asks us to give an account for our faith (1 Peter 3:15), we are now, apparently, to say spiritual things are a mystery. It’s a type of Christian agnosticism.

The whole notion of spiritual mystery is an outgrowth of postmodern thought and is not a Biblical concept. Instead Scripture teaches that God is transcendent:

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Because God is Other, we will never figure Him out. Does that mean He remains cloaked in mystery? Actually no, for one reason, and one reason only. God chose to reveal Himself to us.

Hence, when the New Testament writers reference the mystery of God, they say things like “make known” or “speak forth” or “reveal.”

Clearly God has made known what Mankind needs to know, first in creation, then through His Word, His Son, and finally by His Spirit. The interesting thing is, the more we see of God, the more we see of God.

In other words, Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, makes reconciliation with God possible. To those who believe, He gives His Spirit who in turn teaches us all truth and brings to remembrance all that Jesus said (John 14:26). And of course Jesus said what He received from the Father. In addition, the Spirit “searches all things, even the depths of God” (I Cor. 2:10b).

In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul continued to explain the working of the Holy Spirit. Then he concluded the discussion with this amazing statement: “But we have the mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:15).

So … it’s a fair assumption, then, that Christians have answers, even to hard questions.

I suspect the problem has never been about not having answers but about not liking the answers we have.

For example, a hard, hard question that has been asked down through the ages is this one: Why is there suffering in the world?

The Bible gives the answer: because of sin.

But no, we want more. That one’s too simple, too impersonal, especially when the suffering we’re asking about seems very personal. In fact, we’re often asking, Why me?

Again the answer, All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and the wages of sin is death.

Another answer we don’t like.

But shouldn’t being a Christian change that? Shouldn’t Christians be able to count on God to get us out of suffering?

Again, the Bible gives the answers, ones we just don’t like. We are to expect persecution, to bear our cross, to share in the sufferings of Christ including the fellowship of His death.

When the questions involve the Big Things of life — why am I here, how did I come to be, what lies ahead — the Bible gives those answers too (for God’s glory; by His creation; judgment and life forever, either in His presence or cast from Him).

But how? How does it all work?

Need I say it? The Bible tells us how:

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities — all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Col 1:16-17).

But to those weighty, cosmic questions, aren’t those answers illustrations of the earlier criticsm — they’re simplistic, impersonal.

I’ll answer with a set of questions of my own: Is Christ simplistic? Impersonal?

Perhaps how a person views Christ determines whether or not that individual believes Christians have answers.

– – –

For other posts on this subject see “Transcendence vs. Mystery,” and “Draw Near To God … For What End?”

Published in: on July 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm  Comments (7)  
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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.