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The Lamb Over Me

The Lamb Over Me

agnus deiJohn the Baptist declared that Jesus was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  He clearly used the title and imagery of a sacrificial lamb based on its frequent use in the Old Testament.  Most prominently, in Exodus 12, the Israelites were instructed that in order for the angel of death to pass over their homes and spare the first born, they had to sacrifice a lamb and smear its blood over the doorpost.  The first mention of a lamb as a sacrifice is found in the account of Abraham walking up Mt. Moriah to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Gen. 22:7-8- “[Isaac] said, “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”  The question Isaac asked is in the background of the entire Old Testament- “Where is the Lamb?”  The people in Old Testament times knew that the sacrifice of animals would never suffice as an atonement for human sin.  The people were looking for an ultimate sacrifice that would once for all redeem mankind.  The Old Testament ends with no better answer than the one Abraham gave to Isaac- “God will provide the lamb.”  But as the New Testament begins, John the Baptist declared an answer that had been centuries in the making- “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, sacrificed his life on the cross as the final and sufficient sacrifice for the sin of mankind.  1 Pet. 3:18- “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God.”  We are made right with God on the basis of Christ’s work as the sacrificial Lamb of God.

Recently someone showed me that the symbol for the word “righteousness” in the Chinese language is the symbol for the word “lamb” placed over the symbol for the word “me.”  What an amazing thought- being right with God is the Lamb over me!

Lamb

At the cross, Jesus Christ died in our place shedding his blood as a payment for sin and covering us in his righteousness.  This results in salvation and eternal life for all who believe and follow Christ as Lord.  How grateful I am for the wonderful testimony of John the Baptist regarding Jesus- “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

Learning About Law and Grace from the Chicago Cubs

Learning About Law and Grace from the Chicago Cubs

Screen Shot 2016-02-18 at 1.27.49 PMI am often asked by people about the relationship of law to grace in the Bible.  What is confusing is how Scripture seems to contradict itself on the value of the law.  In one verse we may read that the law is bad (Rom. 8:3), but in another that it is good (Rom. 7:7).  The answer is that the law is both of these.  The law is good in that it reveals our sin to us.  None of us can live up to the demands of the law on our own and achieve God’s perfect standard.  However, the law is weak in that it is unable to save us.  The law can only point to something greater than itself, grace, for our salvation.

A helpful way to view the relationship between law and grace is to look at the Chicago Cubs in 1988.  In that year, the Cubs traded for third baseman Vance Law and brought up a new first baseman from the minor leagues named Mark Grace.  For two straight years, the Cubs infield was anchored by Law and Grace.  When a batter hit a ground ball to Law at third, he would scoop it up and throw it to Grace at first (I chuckle at imagining Harry Caray make the call!)

In the same way, the law scoops us up and tells us we have failed to perfectly meet God’s righteous standard as written in the law.  So, it throws us over to grace whereby we can be saved, not by our own sin-tainted deeds, but by the perfect work of Christ at the cross and resurrection.  The apostle Paul explains this in Eph. 2:8-9- “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

It’s good to be informed we are lost in our sin and even better to know that in his grace, Jesus provided for us the salvation that we could not provide for ourselves.  Take a moment today and thank God for his amazing grace!

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

The Argument for the Existence of God in 550 Words

I have put together an attempt to summarize some of the classic arguments for the existence of God.  Yes, we believe in the existence of God through faith and must do more than just assent to God’s existence, but embrace His invitation to us to know Him in a personal way.  That said, we live in a culture that more and more thinks belief in God is a sign of ignorance.  That is not the case.  I hope this summary may be helpful to you personally or in talking to others about God.

First, why is there something rather than nothing?  Why is there a universe at all?  If God didn’t exist, then nothing would exist.  Nothing comes from nothing.  Matter is not eternal and cannot cause itself to exist.  The origin of why anything exists can only be explained by the existence of God.  Evolution does not explain the our origins.  Darwin’s book, The Origin of Species, says not one single thing about the origin of life.  It is a book about mutations, not origins.  Evolution is like the ancient fable that the world rests on the back of a turtle.  A skeptic once asked a sage, “If the world rests on a turtle, what is that turtle resting on?”  “Why, another turtle, of course,” said the sage.  “And what is beneath that turtle?  Surely not another turtle?” asked the skeptic.  An exasperated sage replied, “Look, it’s turtles all the way down!”*  Only the existence of an eternal God can explain where the first “turtle” came from.  There must be a First Cause that is self-existent to logically explain the origin of the universe.  The Big Bang cannot explain origins because there is no sufficient explanation where the egg of cosmic dust/particles came from that exploded.  There must be a non-contingent entity that started life and that entity by definition is God.

Second, the universe displays a dizzying array of the evidence of careful design.  The anthropic principle- that the constants present to accommodate life are so infinitesimally small they could not be the product of random chance- is a powerful reminder that the presence of life is no accident.  The size of the earth and moon, the distance of the earth from the sun, the orbit and axis of the earth, the chemical mixture of the atmosphere, etc. are all on such a razor thin margin of error for life to exist that it is mathematically difficult, in reality impossible, for such margins to have occurred on the basis of random chance.  There must be an intelligent mind that has carefully created the universe.  Even the most ardent, atheistic scientists admit that the evidence of design is all around us.  Richard Dawkins in The Blind Watchmaker writes, “Biology is the study of complicated things that give the appearance of having been designed for a purpose.”  He then argues that the appearance of design is just an illusion.  The evidence begs to differ.

Third, how can humans have objective moral values apart from the presence of God?  How is it that we know, instinctively, right from wrong?  How is it that we can have a troubled conscience about some action we have taken?  The answer is that a moral lawgiver must exist who, as Rom. 2:15 declares, has written the requirements of moral law on the heart of man.  The presence of objective morality and conscience does not exist if we are highly evolved animals.  At the end of the day, we are still animals.  Some state their opposition to the presence of morality being the result of the existence of God by arguing moral relativism.  However, moral relativism is never enough to declare something right or wrong.  Morals are not relative.  Ravi Zacharias illustrates that by saying, “Some cultures love their neighbors while other cultures eat them… which culture do you prefer?”

These evidences of the existence of God are given merely to show that belief in God is something not irrational, but plausible.  I have always found it interesting that the Bible never tries to lay out an argument “proving” God exists.  Rather, it always treats His existence as self-evident.  As Philip Ryken notes, “God is not someone to be proved; he is someone to be assumed.  God is the starting point for all human thought.  You cannot even argue that God does not exist without employing the reason God has infused into the universe.”*  I hope you will be encouraged to grow in your faith in God and lovingly encourage others to do the same.

*Philip Ryken, Discovering God in Stories from the Bible

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Does God Ever Change His Mind?

Things change.  Businesses come and go.  Fashions and fads are always changing.  Technology develops at a pace faster than most of us can keep up with.  People change as well.  Their appearance changes, their attitudes change, habits, moods, even worldviews can change.  The ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously claimed that it is impossible to step into the same stream twice.  By the time you step into the stream again, the water is different.  Most of us would agree that life is a constant stream of endless flux.

But what about God?  Does he change?  The Scripture clearly teaches that God does not change.  There are many passages that affirm this fact.  Perhaps the most well known and oft used is Malachi 3:6- “I, the Lord, do not change.”  Even though change is all around him, God does not change.  Theologians refer to this as the immutability of God.  This word comes from the Latin mutare meaning “to change.”  We get our English words mutate and mutation from this word.  Thus, God is not susceptible to any kind of mutation, alteration, variation, or fluctuation.  He is as the Puritan Stephen Charnock described “always is what he was, and always will be what he is.”

If you think about, it is logical that God cannot change.  For starters, God is perfect.  Something that is perfect never needs changing.  If God were able to change, he would by definition not be God.  A.W. Pink speaks to this point: “He cannot change for the better, for He is already perfect; and being perfect, He cannot change for the worse.  Altogether unaffected by anything outside Himself, improvement or deterioration is impossible.  He is perpetually the same.”

The Bible includes a number of illustrations regarding the immutability of God.  The psalmist compares the unchanging God to a universe that wears out like old clothes in Psalm 102:25-27, “Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end.”  James compared God’s immutability to the changing appearance of the heavenly lights in James 1:17- “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.”

Being immutable, God is unlike us.  He never has an “off” or “bad” day.  He is never in a bad mood.  Circumstances do not affect God.  He never makes a bad choice or has an emergency.  He never says “Oops!” and nothing takes him by surprise.  He never has a change of heart and his will never changes.  Psalm 33:11- “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations.”  Scottish minister Thomas Boston wrote, “He is the same in all His perfections, constant in His intentions, steady to his purpose, unchangeably fixed and persevering in all His decrees and resolutions.”

The immutability of God is something that has long been questioned (despite the biblical evidence) and recently has come under strong attack through proponents of Open Theism.  This belief says that God is growing, maturing, and learning like the rest of us.  Again, if this were true, God would not be God.  But the greatest challenge to the biblical assertion of God’s immutability comes from the Bible itself.  There are a number of references where God “repents” of something or “regrets” that he did something.  These include God creating man in the first place (Gen. 6:6), the decision to bring his people out of bondage in Egypt (Exod. 32:14), staying his hand of judgment on the Ninevites (Jonah 3:10), and making Saul king of Israel (1 Sam. 15:11).  These texts seem to imply that God can repent of something or, at the very least, change his mind.  What are we to make of these texts?

To begin, a number of scholars believe that when the Bible speaks of God “repenting” it is doing so in an anthropomorphic kind of way.  In other words, “repent” is a term we can relate to and understand.  For example, the Bible speaks of God’s mighty arm (Deut. 7:19) when in reality God is spirit and having no physical form does not have an arm.  Psalm 78:65 says that the Lord “awoke from his sleep,” which is interesting because another Psalm (121:3-4) says that God neither sleeps not slumbers.  To say that God has an “arm” or “awakes” is describing some action or characteristic of God in terms we can understand.  The same seems to be true when the Bible speaks of God’s “repentance.”  He is not repenting like we repent.  God, being perfect, makes no mistakes and never has to correct or apologize for anything he has done.

So, what is the “repentance” of God describing?  It is describing a change in the way God deals with us, but the change is not in God, it is in us.  For example, look at all of the citations of God’s repentance in the above paragraph.  In each one, the change is in the people.  God “repents” of creating mankind and freeing his children from Egypt because they have chosen to sin.  God “repents” from making Saul king because he chose to disobey God regarding the Amalekites and then tried to lie about it.  Conversely, God “repents” from destroying Nineveh because they turn from their sin and follow God.  In each instance, God deals in a different way with the people because of the change in their behavior.  There is no change in God.  His attributes, nature, essence, character, and will never change.

An additional thing to consider is when it seems that God has changed his mind, he is operating in accordance with his covenant which had certain conditions.  This is seen in what God said to Jeremiah in Jer. 18:7-10, “If at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, and if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will relent of the disaster that I intended to do to it. And if at any time I declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, and if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will relent of the good that I had intended to do to it.”  It may seem that God is changing his mind, but he is merely responding to the change in the people.  This can result in negative or positive outcomes: Negative in terms of God’s judgment for sin.  Positive in terms of people’s obedience and faithfulness (i.e. a person sensing that the prayers of fellow believers moved God to action).  Thus, the apparent “changes” God makes are in actuality him working within “the unchanging nature of his purpose” (Heb. 6:17).

Let me end this post with an additional question we often have concerning God’s immutability.  I have often been asked, “Why should I pray if God has already made up his mind?”  The fact that God does not change seems to make prayer unnecessary.  This is a misunderstanding of God and prayer.  I try to help people who have asked me this question think through another question- “Do you really want to change God’s mind?”  God is perfect.  He knows absolutely perfectly what is best for you.  His plan for you is perfect.  Is it not presumptuous of us to think that our plan is better than God’s plan?  We tend to gravitate toward a philosophy that the goal of prayer is to get God to change his mind about something.  However, the goal of prayer is not to get God to come around to our way of thinking or desires.  The goal of prayer is to get us to come around to his way of thinking.  Prayer is about our wills being shaped around his will, not vice versa.

Also, consider that of God were changeable, then we wouldn’t have any assurance that he could answer our prayers.  He wouldn’t know what the future holds anymore than we do.  If I could persuade God to change his mind/purpose, what says I could keep him from changing it back again?  Power in prayer depends on the immutability of God.  In addition, salvation is dependent on it as well.  Look again at that well known verse in Mal. 3:6- “For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.”  In other words, if we served a changeable God, he would have destroyed us all a long time ago.  Our sin and unfaithfulness would have evoked a mood swing and he would have wiped us off the face of the earth.  However, God will never go back on his promise to save us in Jesus Christ.

On his death bed, Oliver Cromwell asked his minister, “Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?”  The minister replied, “No, it is not possible.”  “Then I am safe,” said Cromwell, “for I know that I was once in grace.”  He thought about this a while and then said, “I think I am the poorest wretch that lives, but I love God, or rather, am beloved of God.”  Our love and faithfulness to God ebbs and flows,  but his love for us is always the same because he is the God who never changes.

**Note: Much of this post is derived from a study I am doing in Philip Ryken’s book, “Discovering God in Stories from the Bible”

Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Do Tragedies Mean There Is No God?

Naturally, our thoughts turn to the attempt of answering the biggest question that arises after tragedy- “Why?”  Why didn’t God stop this tragedy from happening?  How I wish I had answers to the question of “why?” and the myriad of others that certainly come to mind, but I do not.  The questions that surround such a terrible tragedy will most likely never be provided to us this side of heaven.  Sadly, in the face of tragedy we often hear a number of comments that are the products of some bad theologizing and do little to give comfort and hope to those who are hurting.

I’m sure you are like me and have heard others say when something tragic occurs, “It’s God’s will.”  To be honest, I don’t believe that at all.  I do not think everything that occurs on earth is the will of God.  It wasn’t God’s will for terrorists to fly planes into buildings on 9/11.  When a child is abducted it isn’t God’s will.  Abortion, drug abuse, and adultery are not God’s will.  And it’s extremely difficult to imagine the death of a young person being God’s will.  I want to be clear in making this statement that in no way does this discredit the immutability or sovereignty of God.  God is God- He never changes and He works all of history according to His plan and its eventual consummation.  Yet, God has also given us free will and we often use that free will to do things that do not please God.  So, when bad things occur we must not blame God for causing them and saying He willed it to happen.  This is why I have never been comfortable with the statement, “God took him/her.”  That implies God caused their tragic death, which isn’t true.  Bad things occur because we live on a fallen planet that has been cursed by our sin (see Rom. 8:21-23).

Something that has always helped me to understand the complexity of God’s will, a fallen world, and God’s sovereignty is the attitude of Joseph in regard to the events of his life.  When reunited with his brothers who did him wrong, he said in Gen. 50:20, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”  Was it “God’s will” that Joseph’s brothers threw him in a hole and sold him into slavery?  I don’t think so.  Did God work in spite of sinful actions to place Joseph in Egypt just in time to save the people from famine? Yes.  Not everything that happens on this earth is God’s will, but He can use bad things to bring about eventual positive results.

Another statement I sometimes hear at times of tragedy deals with the character and ability of God.  In other words, “Why didn’t God stop this bad thing from happening?  If He really is a God of love He would stop it.  If He really is all-powerful he would prevent bad things from happening.”  Rabbi Harold Kushner wrote a famous book entitled, “When Bad Things Happen to Good People” where he basically posits that God is simply unable to stop all the bad things that occur.  I disagree.  If God were not omnipotent (all-powerful), then by definition, He wouldn’t be God.  Imagine the world if God stopped everything bad or painful from ever occurring.  What would that say about the consequences of our actions?  If God did this, would it be an encroachment on the free will with which He created us?  As parents, do you not let your children make some mistakes in order for them to learn?  Is it not true that many times it is the crucible of pain that grows and strengthens us?  Is not the motto of an athlete in training “No pain no gain?”  If God never allowed anything bad to happen then the existence of the universe would be centered on us.  The point of life would be that we never experience pain, loss, or discomfort.  However, life and all that exists carries the purpose of glorifying God.  I once remember watching an episode of the Twilight Zone as a kid where a man received everything he ever wanted.  Everything went perfectly his way.  He thought he was in heaven. Yet, in the end, it turned out that the man was in hell.

It’s obviously difficult to address all of the ramifications of what we are to think about God in the face of tragedy.  My point is to simply say we must not make God something He is not in order to make sense of tough times.  Regardless of what happens in life, we must rest our anchor on the fact that God is perfectly loving, all-powerful, and sovereign to the end.  In my experience of helping families through times of tragedy, I have learned that it is best to focus on these things we do know about God, rather than on the things we don’t know.  We can never forget that God is God and He is not like us.  We are unable to grasp the “why?” of all that occurs and all that He does.  If our little three-pound brains could figure out everything about God, then He wouldn’t be much of a God.

Consider these Bible verses:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways” (Isa. 55:8).

As you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the work of God, the Maker of all things” (Ecc.11:5).

God can see a bigger picture that we will never see.  And in the midst of tragedy, we must know that God’s love for us and His desire to comfort us, heal us, and give us hope is never diminished.  In the New Testament there is a story about a young man named Lazarus who is a friend of Jesus who dies.  Jesus goes to his home and spends time with the family who is grieved and crying.  And it is in this story that we see the shortest verse in the whole Bible- “Jesus wept” (John 11:35).  I find it interesting that this is the shortest verse in the Bible.  In the midst of tragedy and grief, we might expect the longest verse in the Bible- to explain to us why the friend died, and what was God’s plan and purpose.  But we are not given any of that.  All we are given is the compassion of the Savior.  We need to remember that when we weep, God weeps with us.  Psalm 56:8 states that God puts our tears in his bottle and records them in His book.  His heart breaks for those whose hearts are broken.  Tragic deaths do not show God to be weak or uncaring.  In fact, it shows his power and his desire to comfort us.

So, what is left for us is not to doubt God or be mad at God or blame God, but to trust God.  Tragedy is a time for all of us to draw closer to God, not to withdraw from Him. We must trust God that He loves us and will strengthen and heal us in our greatest times of pain and loss.

 

No Condemnation: The Ultimate “Clincher”

No Condemnation: The Ultimate “Clincher”

Clinch. It’s a funny sounding word if you think about it.  Webster defines the word clinch as “to make final or irrefutable. To assure the winning of.”  We’ve used the word around our house some in recent days watching the Olympics.  “That goal just clinched the win for our team.”  “That routine just clinched the gold for that gymnast.”  This morning I happened to be reading in a study on Romans called To the Glory of God by James Boice where he talked about the word clinch.  He used the term in a slightly different variation of the word’s definition where a carpenter bends the protruding part of a nail over into the wood to “clinch” the nail.

Boice noted that Rom. 8:1-4 shows how God “clinches” our salvation through the work of the Godhead- Father, Son, and Spirit.  “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”

I guess I’ve never really thought of the roles the Godhead plays in salvation as a means of assuring the genuineness and permanence of salvation.  I’ve always believed in eternal security on the basis of other biblical passages and the doctrine of justification by grace.  However, this makes sense.  Each member of the Godhead has a role in our salvation, as Rom. 8:1-4 demonstrates.  Boice explains:

God the Father– What has God the Father done for our salvation? The answer is twofold.  First, God sent Jesus in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.  Second, and by this means, God condemned sin in sinful man so that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in those who are joined to Christ.

God the Son– What has Jesus done for salvation?  He became like us in order to become a sin offering.  This has two parts. First, as a sin offering to God, Jesus made payment for our sins.  Second, Jesus did a work of redemption.

God the Spirit– What has the holy Spirit done for our salvation?  He has joined us to Christ, so that we become beneficiaries of all Christ has done.  By joining us to Christ, the Holy Spirit seals our salvation and makes possible the great declaration of this text- “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The various roles of the Godhead serve as something like layers of security when it comes to salvation.  This is great news as it reminds us that salvation is not up to us- it’s up to the work of the Godhead within us.  If salvation were up to me, I wouldn’t be very confident.  However, salvation is clinched in the more than capable work of the Godhead.  When it comes to my standing with God, the nail has been bent over and secured into the wood so strongly that it will never come apart.  I am grateful for the incredible work of God to save me from my sin and place me securely in Christ.

Is it Biblical to “Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?”

Is it Biblical to “Ask Jesus Into Your Heart?”

In recent days I have read numerous articles by Southern Baptist leaders on the issue of a person “asking Jesus into their heart.”  The debate is whether or not this is a biblical concept.   Some younger, and more Calvinist leaning authors and church leaders have strongly renounced the notion.  They claim that we never read about anyone in the New Testament saying the “sinner’s prayer” or “asking/accepting Jesus to come into your heart.”  David Platt has gone as far as to say that “asking Jesus into your heart” is a “superstitious prayer” that is “dangerous” and “damning.”  See Platt’s comments on the issue here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JPhEEzjU8xQ

Of course, Platt’s argument is that leading others to believe they are saved and right with God just because they have said a prayer (and the fruit of conversion is void from their lives) is not a biblical response to the true gospel.  In this sense Platt is correct.

However, in recent days, older and non-Calvinist SBC leaders have endorsed their approval of the terminology of “asking Jesus into your heart.”  Most notable is the sermon by Steve Gaines, pastor of Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, TN where he defends “accepting Jesus into your heart” as a biblical teaching. Watch the part of his sermon where he addresses the issue here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mQBduikVS5E

Gaines makes a pointed argument defending the terminology on the basis of the Greek word lambano (to receive or accept”) in the Gospel of John.  Malcolm Yarnell, professor of systematic theology at Southwestern Bapt. Theol. Seminary has written a blog post defending Gaine’s position and tracing through church history how the patristics would have been comfortable with such terms.  Read Yarnell’s post here: http://baptisttheologians.blogspot.com/2012/05/is-it-biblical-to-ask-jesus-into-your.html

In short, I can see both sides of the argument.  Trevin Wax, on the Gospel Coalition blog, has just written an excellent summary of the debate and draws solid and helpful conclusions. I highly recommend you to take a moment and read it here: http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevinwax/2012/05/15/is-it-biblical-to-ask-jesus-into-your-heart/

Wax reminds readers that this issue really isn’t about who is Calvinist and who is not.  The real issue is false assurance of salvation that can easily be generated through the “sinner’s prayer” and “ask Jesus into your heart” approaches.  I wrote about this on my blog a while back in this post: http://etoddfisher.com/?p=680

To answer the question I pose in the title of this blog- I would say yes.  Gaines gives a good argument from the biblical text affirming this.  The problem is that we all too often fail to say what else the New Testament says about the gospel and what it means to be a true disciple.  We should never encourage people to “pray to receive Christ” and then not tell them that being a disciple is dying to self, repenting of sin, and following Jesus as a King which means living life on His term, not ours.  Because this is so abused today in emotional settings (such as the invitation on the last night of a youth camp), or by individuals trying to win another convert (perhaps for their own glory, not the kingdom), or churches trying to get another baptism (to pad their numbers for the annual yearbook) Platt is correct in saying it can be dangerous.

We need to be faithful to the gospel and a proper response to it that isn’t watered down and so drenched in the comfortable Christianity of our culture that it can hardly be recognized.  Yes, people should accept/receive Christ into their lives.  But temper that with a great statement I read by Russ Moore- “Don’t ask Jesus into your life- your life’s a wreck. Jesus invites you into his life.”  Sounds like Gal. 2:20 to me- “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.”

 

 

 

 

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

Megachurches, Monochurches, and Blog Post Titles: The Debate Cannot Neglect the Real Issue of Compromise and Capitulation

As can be imagined, the debate is heating up regarding the issue I posted about yesterday concerning the very controversial sermon given by Andy Stanley.  I linked to an article by Al Mohler wherein he stated part of the problem with compromising the gospel/biblical doctrine and capitulating to the world’s agenda rested with the issue of the phenomenon of the megachurch.  Mohler did state that not all megachurches are abandoning the Bible, but the reality is that many are doing so in effort to sustain large crowds of attendees in the context of a culture growing more hostile to Christian doctrine.

Yesterday on Twitter, Rick Warren challenged Al Mohler claiming that perhaps his article, or at least its title, castigated all megachurches as compromising on truth.  Warren tweeted to Mohler, “Would a sensational blog title ‘Are THE Seminaries the New Liberals?’ be fair if 1 seminary pres. messed up?”  He then asked Mohler to apologize to megachurch pastors for the inference.  Yes, there are many pastors of megachurches who are faithful to the Bible (as Mohler noted), but the reality is that there are many, not just one, who are not.  The pressures of the culture are making doctrinal faithfulness too challenging for many.  That was Mohler’s point- and one that should be well received.

Another response that I found fascinating was one Bart Barber posted on his blog in response to this controversy.  He claims that perhaps the issue is not the megachurch, but the mononchurch, that is the problem.  Monochurches are ones that have no denominational affiliation and are accountable to no one for the doctrine they proclaim.  Barber brings up some very interesting points in this debate and his article is worth reading.  Find it here:

http://praisegodbarebones.blogspot.com/2012/05/monochurches-not-megachurches-are.html

The issue that Stanley’s sermon has arisen should not be forgotten in the midst of debating blog titles and what types of churches are foregoing biblical doctrine.  The key issue, which Mohler’s article addressed, is that there are a growing number of churches, and ones once considered doctrinally orthodox, that are altering or neglecting biblical truth to accomplish selfish agendas.  This is an issue the church must be aware of, address head on, and leaders of all churches must be sure not to replicate similar mistakes.

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

Megachurches and the Compromise of Biblical Doctrine: Two Enlightening Articles and the Call to Be “Set Apart” for the Gospel

I have read two incredibly insightful articles today about the compromise of the gospel and biblical doctrine in the context of the megachurch.  In essence, these articles reveal the apparent necessity of megachurch leaders to dilute or ignore the clear teaching of Scripture in order to grow the church/ministry in light of the postmodern, post-Christian state of our society.

The first article was written by Al Mohler in response to a recent sermon by megachurch pastor Andy Stanley.  Stanley has built a reputation of being a proponent of conservative, conversionist theology faithfully preaching the gospel of Jesus and the necessity of His death and resurrection for salvation.  However, in his sermon about balancing grace and truth, Stanley makes a clear divergence from biblical teaching in an apparent effort to harmonize a growing social dilemma the Christian church is being forced to address.

Mohler’s article gives an excellent summary on the history of the phenomenon known as “megachurches” and how in effort to sustain crowds or draw larger crowds these churches often feel compelled to capitulate to the sentiments of society rather than biblical doctrine.  The larger culture has grown increasingly hostile to exclusivist doctrine in the Bible (e.g. faith in Jesus as the only means of salvation) and teaching that is considered judgmental and archaic (e.g. biblical passages on divorce, complementarianism, etc). Because of this, megachurches are increasingly under pressure to side with the world instead of the Bible on key issues.

I encourage you to take a few minutes and read Mohler’s article- “Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?” here: http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/05/01/is-the-megachurch-the-new-liberalism/

The second article I read was by Chris Lehmann published in Salon.  Lehmann recounts his recent experience attending a rally held in Washington D.C. in Nationals Stadium by megachurch pastor Joel Osteen.  The article is a thoughtful critique of the humanistic, self-help platform espoused by Osteen.  Lehmann summarizes the message, testimonies, and music of the event all placing man, not God, as the center of focus and that God’s plan for each person is to seize “destiny moments” in order to have personal, financial, and emotional success. So egregious was Osteen’s message that Lehmann referred to it as “talismanic faith” that was more akin to narcissistic personality disorder than Christianity.

Again, I highly encourage you to read this article as an example of how far the “church” can get away from biblical doctrine. Read the article, “Joel Osteen Worships Himself” here: http://www.salon.com/2012/05/01/joel_osteen_worships_himself/

These articles reveal more and more how we have hijacked the gospel to suit our desires and the demands of our culture.  I certainly do not want to give the impression that I think all megachurches have compromised the gospel. That is not the case.  Yet, as Mohler noted, megachurches are often the institutions on the front line of difficult cultural issues the church must address.

I paused to reflect on Paul’s writings regarding the gospel, truth, and its role in the world and thought of Romans 1:1- we are “set apart for the gospel of God.”  The gospel is God’s gospel- not our gospel.  He accomplished and announced the gospel and has merely called us to proclaim and live it.  James Boice notes the grammatical structure of the phrase “of God” is subjective genitive rather than objective genitive. This means that God creates and announces the gospel rather than that he is the object of its proclamation.

This is important in that it illustrates how the gospel, not just being about God but initiated by Him, should never be altered by us.  The gospel isn’t ours to begin with- it’s God’s.  Thus we enter dangerous territory when we edit or truncate the gospel and biblical doctrine to suit our desires and agendas.  The world doesn’t like the gospel.  The gospel offends sinful nature and political correctness.  We live in days where there is great pressure and temptation to make the gospel what we want it to be.  In doing so, we abandon the truth and the power of God’s message of salvation. The church must never forget that in its handling of the gospel, it has been “set apart” (i.e. be different than the world) to engage culture in love and grace, while never abandoning the truth.

Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It

Were Adam and Eve Real People? How the Gospel Depends On It

The debate about our origins has taken a new twist.  A growing number of Christians, many of them considered conservative and evangelical, have yielded to the pressure of “the fact” of evolution and have attempted to meld the tenets of evolution with those of Christianity.  This view is commonly called “theistic evolution” and poses a dangerous threat to the gospel.

Last year, NPR reporter Barbara Bradley Hagerty, wrote an interesting piece where she interviewed Christian scholars regarding one of the major threats of theistic evolution- were Adam and Eve real, literal people?  You can read Hagerty’s article here:  Hagerty NPR article

Obviously, if one believes in the theory of evolution one is forced to not believe in the literal existence of Adam and Eve.  The sudden introduction of hominids on the earth about 6,000 years ago does not fit the evolutionary paradigm.  Additionally, proponents of evolution argue that genetically it is impossible for today’s gene rich human race to have descended from just two people a relatively short time ago.  This theory is commonly known as “Mitochondrial Eve” and can easily be argued against- click here:  Mitochondrial Eve

My point in this post is not to argue the finer points of the debate from a scientific perspective.  There are many websites that do that much more eloquently than I could. I wish to demonstrate the danger to the gospel posed by theistic evolution and the belief there could be no literal Adam and Eve.  How are such beliefs a threat?

To begin, if Adam and Eve are not literal people, how does the Fall of Man ever occur?  If humans evolved from primates and then pre-hominids, how do we know who the first “humans” were and consequently when sin was introduced into the world?  The story of God, man, the Fall, redemption, and restoration is the metanarrative that runs through all of Scripture.  This biblical metanarrative explains our separation from God through sin and the reason for Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.  Yet, how can we believe this story if we cannot trust what it says to us regarding its beginning?

John Scneider, a former professor at Calvin College in Michigan, was quoted in Hagerty’s article stating, “Evolution makes it pretty clear that in nature, and in the moral experience of human beings, there never was any such paradise to be lost.  So Christians, I think, have a challenge, have a job on their hands to reformulate some of their tradition about human beginnings.”  You can easily see how that statement opposes the gospel and the biblical metanarrative.  Al Mohler (see his blog post on the subject here: Mohler blog post) responds saying, “At this point, we are looking at a repudiation of the Bible’s account of beginnings.  We are not talking about an argument over the interpretation of a few verses or even chapters of the Bible.  We are now dealing with the straightforward rejection, not only of the existence of Adam and Eve, but of both Eden and the Fall.  Look carefully at Professor Schneider’s words- ‘there never was any such paradise to be lost.’”  If Adam and Eve are reduced to figurative components of a larger figurative narrative, key concepts of the gospel become untenable propositions.

Another key problem with denying the literal existence of Adam and Eve is what such a rejection does to the veracity of the Bible itself.  It is clear that when the Bible talks about Adam and Eve and the origins of life it is not only referencing them as literal people, but also making truth claims.  There is nothing in the text that would point to the need of using a figurative hermeneutic (e.g. texts that include hyperbole, such gouging out your eye and cutting off your hand).  The children and descendants of Adam and Eve are presented as literal people describing actual events that occur in their lives.  This is further evident in the genealogies of the OT (1 Chron. 1:1) and the NT (Matt. 1:1-16 and Luke 3:23-38).  If the authors of biblical texts did not see their descendants (including Adam and Eve) as literal people, why include them in a genealogy?  There is little doubt that Jesus thought Adam and Eve were literal, physical people in His teaching on marriage and divorce in Matt. 19:3-6- “He made the male and female… and the two shall become one flesh.”  If they were merely figurative representations for humanity, it is inconceivable that Jesus would use the term “flesh” in association with Adam and Eve.

The Apostle Paul also affirmed the literal existence of Adam and Eve and clearly demonstrated the theological importance of such.  To begin, in 1 Tim. 2:13 Paul says that “Adam was first created [or formed], and then Eve.”  These are hardly the vocabulary choices Paul would have made if he thought Adam and Eve were figurative beings.  In Rom. 5:12-14, Paul states that sin and death entered into the world through one man- Adam. Again, such a statement does not fit an evolutionary construct.  If evolution is true, exactly how and when was sin and death introduced into human history?  In 1 Cor. 15:45-49, Paul links Jesus to Adam saying that the first Adam was “the first man… a living soul” and the last Adam, Jesus, is the One who restores mankind to life.  These two texts from Paul reveal that Adam and Jesus are linked together.  The first Adam brought death to humanity, the last Adam brought life through salvation.  Notice that none of this works if the first Adam is not a literal, physical person.  If Adam and Eve are not the parents of all humanity, we really don’t have a clear understanding of sin which means we don’t have a clear understanding of the need for salvation and the person and work of Christ.  The gospel simply does not work if Adam and Eve are not real people.

Finally, Christians who espouse theistic evolution have a problem as to the mechanics of understanding when the figurative aspect of the biblical metanarrative stops and the literal takes over.  I have had discussions with Christians who say Adam and Eve were not literal, nor is the account of a universal flood, and particularly not the story of Jonah and the whale.  However, they believe the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus are literal events.  When I ask the question, “If the people and events in Genesis and other OT texts are figurative, what is the reasoning for believing the people and events in the NT are not figurative as well?” I have yet to hear a satisfying answer to that question.  My point is that in the biblical metanarrative, once you open the gate to a figurative understanding of the text (of course, not withstanding those texts intentionally meant to be so), how and when does that gate close?  If Adam is figurative, what keeps us from thinking Jesus is figurative as well?

Failing to view the literal existence of Adam and Eve is a theologically impossible and fatal thing to do.  It is especially egregious when one understands that such an approach is taken in order to capitulate to a secular philosophy such as evolution.  The Scripture is clear on how the metanarrative begins. If we muddle that clarity, we muddle the rest of the story and have thus attempted to change the very foundation and framework of Christianity itself.