Call To Die

Then [Jesus] said to them all, "If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of Me will save it. (Luke 9:23-24, HCSB)

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Follower of Christ, husband of Abby, member of Kosmosdale Baptist Church, and tutor/staff member at Sayers Classical Academy.

Friday, January 25, 2013

universal atheism

Psalm 14:1, which begins with, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'," is often a text cited by Christians when speaking against atheism. But, while this verse certainly has a valid application regarding atheists, I wonder if we do not regularly overlook the wider point of Psalm 14.
Christian brothers and sisters, doesn't it gall you when someone says he or she is an atheist: when someone enjoys the beauty of nature, yet refuses to acknowledge the Creator; when someone enjoys telling people what they 'should' do (using the moral imperative), yet refuses to bow before the Moral Lawgiver; when someone enjoys the comfort of loving relationships, yet refuses to pursue the One who is Love? Isn't it obvious that the atheist is a fool?

BUT, lest the above reflection provide a pretext for pride, consider: in your natural state (Eph 2:3) YOU are a fool as well. Apart from the grace of God, we ALL are fools.

Psalm 14 begins with the phrase, "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God'." Note that it does NOT say, 'The fool says in his mind...' It does not seem that this Psalm is written primarily as a polemic against a philosophical movement. A person may say "There is no God" in his or her heart even if he or she would never dream of saying this statement aloud. A person may say "There is no God" in his or her heart even if he or she never thinks these exact words. This is because the heart of sinful people is bent against God: sinners desire fleeting pleasures and self-recognition, and do not submit to God and seek God's glory.

AGAIN: Psalm 14 is NOT just directed against people who would call themselves atheists. This is evident even from the end of Psalm 14:1, "There is no one who does good." This idea is further developed in verses 2-3:

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
    any who seek God.
All have turned aside,
    they have together become corrupt;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one. (NIV 1984)

(These exact words are picked up by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:10-11 as he argues that all people are under God's judgment due to their sin.)

In our natural state (Eph 2:3): who understands spiritual matters? The answer comes: "No one." Who seeks God? "No one." Who does good? "No one... not even one." On the other hand, "All have turned aside; they have together become corrupt."

And even believers-- those who have been rescued from this natural state by the Holy Spirit-- when we sin, we act as if there is no God: we act like fools.

Reflecting on Psalm 14 should make us cry out for a Savior. Indeed, note that this Psalm ends with a cry for salvation:

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

This is the good news of the Christian faith: as Jesus suffered and died on the Cross, the One who is Wisdom took on the penalty for our willful ignorance; the Savior took on the penalty for our defiant lostness; the One who is Good took on the penalty for our badness; the One who always did the will of His Father took on the penalty for our straying; the One who is perfectly pure took on the penalty for our vile corruption of morals and conscience. Jesus rose from the dead-- showing that He is victorious over sin, death, and Hell-- and now He lives, offering eternal life to all who turn from their sins and believe in Him.

Trust in Him today.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

not just a Book of Virtues

Responsibility. Courage. Compassion. Honesty. Friendship. Persistence. Faith. Everyone recognizes these traits as essentials of good character. In order for our children to develop such traits, we have to offer them examples of good and bad, right and wrong.

The above quote is from a synopsis on The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett. This book contains stories from American history, Greek mythology, English poetry, fairy tales, modern fiction, and the Bible.

The synopsis continues:

[T]hese stories are a rich mine of moral literacy, a reliable moral reference point that will help anchor our children and ourselves in our culture, our history, and our traditions -- the sources of the ideals by which we wish to live our lives.

Now, the point of this blog entry is not to throw rocks at Bill Bennett's book. Rather, this information about The Book of Virtues is given because just as Bible stories are given in this book to provide moral examples for us to follow, many people seem to think that the point of all the Bible is to give us instructions on how to live good, virtuous lives. But this thinking is fallacious to the core, as explained by Russell Moore, dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

You cannot view the Bible the way a rabbi would. You view the Bible the way Jesus does: it is about Him. And yet so much that we see in terms of the teaching and the preaching and the discipleship of the Bible is not really Christ-focused. And when you remove Christ from the picture, what do you have left? You have moralism. You have exactly what so many of us have seen in childrens’ Sunday School. Jesus calls the disciples-- Jesus had friends -- you have friends. The little boy gives to Jesus the loaves and the fishes-- he shared-- you share [you see how this kind of teaching subtly and consistently shifts the focus away from Jesus and on to people]. The little boy gave the little dab that he had and Jesus was able to multiply that-- you give the little dab that you have and Jesus is able to multiply that– that’s true; that is not the point of the passage. Indeed, for all that we know, this little boy is screaming on the ground, ‘Don’t take my fish and loaves away from me!’ He’s not presented as an example! That text is about something: it is about Christ.

You see this whenever we go through the Bible and you’re using the Bible simply as examples of the way that we really ought to act. Whether that’s in a liberal church going through the Bible and saying, ‘Now, all of you know that you should be recycling,’ or whether it’s in a conservative church where we’re going through the Bible teaching on sexual abstinence without explaining why.

But the Bible does not do this. Notice, for instance, in the book of Ephesians, in Ephesians chapter 5, when the Apostle Paul starts talking about marriage and sexuality– starts talking about this one flesh relationship and he says, ‘I’m speaking to you about a mystery.’ Now, Paul here is not stopping his discussion and saying, ‘OK, now we’ve talked about all the purposes for the universe, now I want to give you marriage tips.’ He doesn’t do that. He says, ‘I am speaking to you,’ in verse 32, ‘a mystery that is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.’ What Paul is not doing is saying, ‘You know, you really ought to be faithful to one another, you really ought to have a good marriage, and a marriage between a man and a woman is kind of like– I don’t know– the sun and the moon/the stars and the ground, no, that’s not it– it’s kind of like Christ and the Church, that’s it!.’ That is not what Paul is doing. Paul is not using Christ and the Church as an illustration. Paul is saying, ‘When God designs a man and a woman and puts them together in a one-flesh relationship: that is the illustration.’ It is pointing you to a mysterious relationship between Jesus and His body. It is about Christ.

[Southern Baptist Theological Seminary 2004 Collegiate Conference, Plenary Session 1, MP3]

In all of the Bible the focus is on Jesus- on who He is, on what He has done, on what He is doing now, and on what He will do. If you do not understand this, then you do not understand the Bible at all. When this truth is understood, it becomes obvious why biblical theology must be Christ-focused theology and why right actions must flow from right beliefs.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Subject of Scripture

It has already been asserted on this blog that the great purpose of all the Holy Bible is salvation: to proclaim the message of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ.

As my brother-in-law once pointed out in a comment on this blog, the great themes of the Holy Bible are Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation.

In this post, I wish to assert that the great subject of the Holy Bible is the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man.

Jesus Himself makes this point in a couple of crucial passages. When confronting the religious people of His day, as recorded in the Gospel of John chapter 5, verse 39, Jesus boldly asserted:

"You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; (NASB)

By this, Jesus identifies Himself with the message of eternal life, which the people of the time (influenced by the teachings of the religious sect of the Pharisees) recognized as the main purpose of the Scriptures.

After His resurrection, Jesus revealed Himself to His disciples and explained His ministry- particularly His death on the Cross, which so distressed His followers- as recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter 24, verse 27:

Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (NASB)

It is important here to note that this verse declares that Jesus used "all the Scriptures" to graciously explain Himself.

It is true that the message of the person and work of Jesus Christ our Lord is much more clear in some passages than in others. In some passages, such as the genealogies of the Old Testament, it is very hard to see the connection with Christ, but we are given direct teaching concerning how at least a portion of these genealogies relate to faith in Christ in the Gospel of Matthew chapter 1 and in the Gospel of Luke chapter 3.

Other passages such as those spelling out the details of the Mosaic Law may be hard for us to understand in relationship to Jesus at first, but we are given direct teaching by Jesus and His apostles on how the whole of the Law relates to the person and work of Jesus in passages such as the Gospel of Matthew chapter 5, verse 17, in which Jesus proclaims Himself to be the fulfillment of the Law, and Paul's letter to the Galatians chapter 3, verse 13, in which the Apostle declares that Jesus has redeemed us from the curse of the Law, which we deserved for our sins; Jesus, by His death on the Cross, took on the punishment that we were due. Also in Galatians chapter 3, verse 24, the Apostle teaches that the Law is our schoolmaster, convicting us of sin and driving us to cry out for salvation through trust in Jesus Christ alone.

Finally, it is important to note that all of the moral and ethical teachings of the Holy Bible are based in the person and work of Jesus Christ. To give two brief examples: in First Peter chapter two, after Peter gives teaching on how servants should be submissive to their masters, he directly links the obedience of servants to the obedience that Jesus practiced in regards to governmental authorities; also, after the Apostle Paul gives teaching on the responsibilities of husbands and wives in marriage, he points directly to Jesus, stating,

This mystery is profound, but I am talking about Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32 NASB)

[This article is edited from a blogpost originally published on 7/5/05.]


Monday, January 14, 2013

The Necessity of Theology

"I grew up impressed by the people I knew in the buckle of the Bible belt
Hopped in a van with a band, now I've been just about everywhere else.
Met a soldier from Seattle and a lawyer from the east,
a Texas oil baron and Roman Catholic priest.
Everyday I choose, to walk in their shoes,
'cause pretty are the feet of those who bring the good news
'Cause it's a Good people, good, good people, everywhere, everywhere it's God's people."
from Audio Adrenaline, "Good People"

A common objection to the study of theology is the assertion we that should be more focused on doing right than on knowing right doctrine. Even many Christians will assert that as followers of Jesus, we should be more focused on imitating His example than on meditating on His teaching. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that true theology is absolutely necessary for the things we do to be accepted by God. As Phil Johnson recently explained on his blog [Pyromaniac]:

Authentic good works flow from sound doctrine; not the other way around. Orthodoxy [right belief] is what gives rise to orthopraxy [right action]. It never works in reverse. This, after all, is the basic message of Christianity: good works are a fruit of genuine faith. Faith, not any kind of work, is the sole instrument by which we lay hold of justification (Romans 4:4-5). And the practical righteousness of sanctification follows that (Hebrews 11:6; Galatians 5:6). Genuinely good works do not—and cannot—precede faith (Romans 8:7-8).

In other words, orthodoxy does take precedence over orthopraxy. That is an essential ramification of true biblical and evangelical doctrine. Orthodox doctrine really is more important than social action.

That is not to suggest that good works, human compassion, or godly virtues are optional. Far from it. (That certainly ought to be clear; for more than 35 years, our ministry [Grace to You] has opposed the kind of antinomianism that portrays good works as irrelevant to authentic faith.) But good works are secondary to faith and sound doctrine, because they flow from it. They are caused by it. They are never the cause of it. Social action and political causes (whether on the right wing or the left) are simply not as important as the truth of the gospel message, and every Christian's personal priorities ought to reflect that principle.
Sinful behavior is always a fruit of wrong beliefs. You can be certain that if your behavior is bad, you have a belief somewhere that needs correcting.

For example, even if you can recite the catechism perfectly on the divine attributes, if you persist in deliberate sin, you do not fear God the way you should, and that is a belief (or lack thereof) that needs to be corrected with more orthodox thinking.

To put it another way, sound teaching (orthodoxy) is ultimately a necessary remedy for all evil praxis.
By the way, that's why Jesus spoke of the Word as the instrument of sanctification. And that's why orthodoxy itself should never be derided just because some who seem to be superficially "orthodox" might behave badly.
It's certainly true that "doing is more important than words." No one here has argued otherwise.
However (and this is the point I have labored to make), "orthodoxy" is not about words. It's about truth, real belief, and the word of God. If it doesn't result in "doing," it isn't true orthodoxy; it's dead faith. That's James's point in chapter 2.

On the other hand, genuine goodness is not the fruit of pietistic doing. It's the fruit of faith--and genuine faith is rooted in orthodox beliefs, not unorthodox ones.

It is important to note that true theology leading to orthodoxy, or right belief, is more than just intellectual knowledge about facts concerning the person and work of God through Jesus Christ, but true theology is not less than this knowledge. The biblical definition of saving faith includes information (biblical knowledge about God's holiness, our sinfulness, and salvation through Christ), intellectual assent (confession that Jesus is Lord), repentance, and trust in Christ alone as Savior.

For those of us who have trusted in Christ, we must remember that all commands in the Bible flow out of the command to love God (Matthew 22:37; Deuteronomy 6:5) and we cannot love someone we do not know. It is for this reason that knowledge of God is stressed in the Bible and that right knowledge is said to have transforming power in our lives. So that the Apostle Paul declares:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, (Philippians 1:9 NASB)

And again he commands us:

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 NASB)

[This post was originally published on 6/28/05.]


Saturday, January 12, 2013

the Idol of 'Free-Will'

"Emptiness is loneliness, and loneliness is cleanliness
And cleanliness is godliness, and God is empty- JUST LIKE ME"
from the Smashing Pumpkins, "Zero"

The above lyrics are probably shocking to most readers of this blog- I have included them here because the song they are quoted from was wildly popular when I was in high school, and I think that many people who come across this blog will recognize them. What these lyrics illustrate is the blatant nihilistic, self-centered, rebellion against God that is, as I have described in previous postings, at the heart of every person. Most people would not admit to feelings that "God is empty- JUST LIKE ME", but in light of Scripture, this is exactly how they are living each day.

When I have described this prideful rebellion as the root problem that each of are born into, I mean just that- this problem goes to the very core of each person, influencing our every thought and decision. As the prophet of Jeremiah in speaking the judgment of God stated: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)

This deceitfulness of the heart makes it utterly impossible for us to gain any true knowledge of the holiness of God or of our own rebellion without a special work of God on our hearts by the Word. The deceitfulness of the heart makes us believe that we are doing just fine and that God has an equally high opinion of us as we have of ourselves (see Psalm 50:16-21).

This is the danger of practicing theology based on anything except the Word of God. True theology glorifies God, exposes our rebellion, and drives us to Christ that we will cry out to Him for mercy. False theology makes God to be more like us, and causes us to believe that our condition is not that bad. False theology is all based on our rebellious nature.

Consider the following writing on false theology:

Theology typically works this way... It goes inside people and tries to find some power in them that is an "image of God" or "vestige of the Trinity" that is something not overthrown by sin- something that we just couldn't possibly doubt- and then it builds its system of thought by adding God's "revelation" from Scripture to complete what it found. Theologians have joined philosophers in identifying the one thing inside people as "free will." But for Luther [who is here used as an example of a true theologian] this was not just a bad place to begin thinking; it was the source of every single sin, the fashioner of every single sinner, and the direct opponent of God. He called it "enthusiasm," God within-ism, which refuses to start with the word from a preacher sent by God and so cooks up some peculiar form of religion of the self. Adam and Eve did it, and so it is the original sin. It is also the sin that is repeated in ever evolving mutations of the same problem. It is theology curved in upon itself that only succeeds in declaring to the world what one find's while gazing at one's own navel. [from Steve Paulson, Luther for Armchair Theologians, Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004. 14.]

For this reason you must beware any theology that is based upon 'free-will' and cling instead to Scripture as the first and final authority, for "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God" (Romans 10:17).

[This blogpost is edited from a post originally published on 6/28/05.]


Friday, January 11, 2013

Another KIND of "John 3:16 Conference:" A Proposal

Both the original "John 3:16 Conference" and the upcoming "John 3:16 Conference" are conferences at which some prominent Southern Baptist preachers and teachers seek to refute the theological positions that are commonly called "Calvinism."

What I would love to see-- and what, I would argue, would be much more beneficial to the body of Christ-- is an actual John 3:16 Conference: a conference that is focused on that beloved verse that has been so meaningful to Christians throughout the ages.

You may think it would be difficult to have a conference that is actually focused on a single verse, but consider the following proposed topics:

1. John 3:16 in Personal Evangelism. When I was a member at New Canaan Baptist Church in Dallas, GA, Sister Amy Cole presented a method of evangelism that utilized John 3:16 as the only verse that was directly cited. One particular benefit of this method of evangelism is that new Christians, who had not previously had much exposure to Scripture, could memorize a single verse and be reasonably well-equipped to share their faith with family and friends. Even if other verses are brought into the conversation (and, in most situations, they probably should be), John 3:16 can provide a kind of "backbone" to the gospel presentation, keeping the evangelist focused on necessary elements of the gospel that are explicitly found in this verse: God, His Son, and the world's necessary response of faith in God's Son. (The evangelist must also be careful to explain crucial gospel concepts that are implied, rather than explicitly found in John 3:16: sin, the Cross, and the Resurrection.) Hopefully, you can begin to see how an entire session at a conference could be devoted to this topic.

2. John 3:16 in Context. One session in a true John 3:16 Conference could be devoted to examining the whole of Jesus' encounter with Nicodemus (John 3:1-21). This session could explore how the truths contained in John 3:16 are related to other core truths of the Christian faith, such as: the necessity of spiritual re-birth (John 3:3), the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit (John 3:8), and the reality of the present and coming judgment (John 3:18-20).

3. John 3:16 and Biblical Theology. One session in a true John 3:16 Conference could take one or a few concepts found in John 3:16 and examine how these concepts are developed throughout different sections of Scripture. Concepts to be examined could include: God's sending activity, God's self-sacrificial love, and the necessity of faith.

4. John 3:16 and Historical Theology. One session in a true John 3:16 Conference could explore how different pastors/theologians have preached/taught from John 3:16 throughout the history of the Church. Similarities in how they understood the text could be demonstrated, and possible distinctives for how the text was applied in different times/situations could be examined.

5. John 3:16 and Systematic Theology. One session in a true John 3:16 Conference could explore how key doctrines from Systematic Theology help inform a right understanding of John 3:16. Take the Trinity, for example. Some skeptics have pointed to John 3:16 as an example of the notion that (according to them) the Bible teaches 'divine child abuse,' since God is giving away His only Son that the Son might be killed on the Cross, as is made clear from the climax of the Gospel of John. On the other hand, some Muslims may point to John 3:16, which requires belief in the Son for salvation, as an example of the notion that (according to them) we do not honor God as we ought, or that we worship more than one God. How are Christians to give a reasonable answer to such objections? The Doctrine of the Trinity is helpful here: God the Father and the Son are indeed distinct Persons, so that "[the Father] gave His only Son," but they are one in essence, so that God sacrificed Himself on the Cross, and so that in believing in the Son we believe in the one true God.

Hopefully it is apparent that an entire worthwhile conference could be formed for the purpose of actually examining John 3:16. (Some of the above categories could easily be sub-divided.) Such a conference could be the beginning of a series of conferences, each focused upon one of the Bible verses in which the gospel is succinctly summarized. Future conference could be over Romans 5:8, Romans 6:23, 1 Corinthians 5:21, etc.


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Another "John 3:16 Conference"

[The blogposts that I published regarding the first "John 3:16 Conference are compiled HERE.]

Another "John 3:16 Conference" from Jerry Vines Ministries is scheduled for March 21-22 of this year. I will almost certainly not be able to attend this conference, as my third child is due to be born around that time.

A list of the speakers at the upcoming conference may be viewed HERE.

The topics to be covered at this conference are stated as questions, as follows:

1. For Whose Sins Did Jesus Die?

2. What Did We Inherit From Adam?

3. Does Regeneration Precede Faith?

4. What Were the Early SBC Leaders' Views on Salvation?

5. Who Are the Elect?

6. Is the Sinners' Prayer Biblical?

Here are the answers to those questions:

1. The Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep (John 10:11). Christ died as the perfect, infallible payment for the sins of the elect: those who will certainly come to receive all the benefits of Christ's death (cf. Rom 8:30-32; Heb 10:14) .

2. We inherit a radically corrupted nature from Adam, which places us under the wrath of God (cf. Eph 2:3).

3. Yes, regeneration precedes faith (see Eph 2:1-5).

4. The early SBC leaders' views on salvation were Calvinistic (see Dr. Tom Nettles' body of work).

5. The elect are those persons who are foreknown by God, who are predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son (cf. Rom 8:29).

6. No, the "Sinners' Prayer," as commonly conceived, is not biblical (show me an example from the Bible of an evangelist leading someone in a scripted prayer).

So... that didn't take very long! If anyone reading this blog was actually planning on going to the "John 3:16 Conference," I just saved you $65 plus a good deal of time! Feel free to send me a check instead. :)


Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The Source of Theology

"I don't need no one to tell me about heaven- I look at my daughter, and I believe.
I don't need no proof when it comes to God and truth- I can see the sunset and I perceive." from Live, "Heaven"

It has already been asserted on this blog that every person has an innate knowledge of God: that the world we see around us testifies to God as the Sovereign Creator and our own consciences testify to God as the Holy Lawgiver.

What then of theology? Is it possible to carefully observe the natural laws of the world around us and "search our feelings" to come to a right knowledge of God?

The answer is "no"for the reason mentioned in the last post, namely, the tendency that we all have toward independence and selfish pride. The outcome of this tendency will always be idolatry, but in the first instance our self-centeredness manifests itself in ingratitude. We all use God's creation evey day to our own pleasure and we order our lives and (collectively) our societies around the moral precepts that God has placed in our hearts, but how often do we fail to give God thanks for all these things? On the other hand, due to the conviction of conscience, most people do not wish to boldly declare, "I am my own god!" and so they choose some religion for themselves to cover over their basic self-centered ingratitude.

What is needed is for something to cut through the cloak that we have placed over our radically corrupted soul to get at the root problem of defiance against God: defiance against the dependent, worshipful relationship for which we were created. For this purpose, God has provided the Law. As we see the Law of God, especially as explained by Jesus in the book of Matthew chapter 5, we are confronted with how far we have fallen short of God's holy standard. We realize that each time we lust when we should love, we prove ourselves to be adulterers, that each time we are angry out of selfishness, we prove ourselves to be murderers, and that each time we lie, we are rebelling against God, who is Truth.

This Law is what drives us to forsake our selfishness and to cry out to God for mercy. And God has provided mercy through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the Cross as a payment for the guilt of our sins and conquered death, being raised again to life.

The source of true theology comes by the Holy Bible, which is the perfect record of God's Law and the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Scripture alone is the authoritative, necessary, sufficient, and clear source for Theology and for Church life and teaching. Scripture is the very Word of God transmitted by Him in every word and as a whole. As God's revelation, Scripture is as truthful and authoritative as God Himself. Scripture’s main purpose is salvation: to proclaim the message of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. In order to accomplish this purpose, Scripture is crystal clear in all matters regarding salvation. Through Scripture alone we have a right knowledge of God and our means of a right relationship with Him.

The instruction of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise.
The precepts of the Lord are right,making the heart glad;
the commandment of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up.
The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever;
the ordinances of the Lord are reliable and altogether righteous.
They are more desirable than gold: than an abundance of pure gold;
and sweeter than honey: than honey dripping from the comb.
In addition, Your servant is warned by them; there is great reward in keeping them.
Who perceives his unintentional sins? Cleanse me from my hidden faults.

Moreover, keep Your servant from willful sins; do not let them rule over me.
Then I will be innocent, and cleansed from blatant rebellion.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You,
Lord, my rock and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:7-14 HCSB)

[This is edited from a post originally published on 6/24/2005.]

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Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Theology of Basic Arithmetic

Sometimes those who claim atheism/agnosticism claim that, in discussion with Christians, they want to start from a level playing field. But a level playing field is impossible, for the moment a person makes a declarative statement, his or her worldview comes into play.

This is well-illustrated by Mathematician and Theologian Vern Poythress, who writes:
It may surprise the reader to learn that not everyone agrees that "2+2=4." If with Parmenides one thinks all is one, if with Vedantic Hinduism he thinks that all plurality is illusion, "2+2=4" is an illusory statement. On the most ultimate level of being, 1+1=1. What does this imply? Even the simplest arithmetical truths can be sustained only in a world-view which acknowledges an ultimate metaphysical plurality in the world: whether Trinitarian, polytheistic, or chance-produced plurality. [Vern Poythress, "A Biblical View of Mathematics," Foundations of Christian Scholarship (Philadelphia: P&R, 1975), 86.]
Christopher Perrin notes:
For Poythress it is the Christian Trinity which preserves mathematical unity and plurality, thus sustaining the real unity and plurality in equations like "2+2=4."[Christopher A. Perrin, An Introduction to Classical Education: A Guide for Parents (Harrisburg, PA: Classical Academic Press, 2004), 38.]

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Monday, January 07, 2013

The Justified Lie?


In Sunday school this morning at Kosmosdale Baptist Church, Tim Scott led our class in considering the question of whether, from a Christian perspective, a person is ever justified in telling a lie.

This question is hotly debated within Christian circles. The question is raised due to both exegesis [we were studying 1 Samuel 20 today in class, in which Jonathan lies to King Saul concerning David's whereabouts; Michal had similarly lied in the previous chapter] and experience [the practice of some Christians-- sadly few in number-- hiding Jews from the Nazis during the WWII era is regularly considered].

My own position on this issue is simple: Christians do not lie.

A few things to note:

1. There is no instance of God commanding a person to lie in Scripture.

2. In no didactic passages-- where a prophet, apostle, or Christ Himself is giving teaching-- are the followers of God taught to lie.

3. In the historical narratives of Scripture in which people who are otherwise presented as righteous engage in lying to those who seek to persecute God's chosen people, and they are they afterward commended, what Scripture commends is faith and fear of God rather than fear of men: lying is never directly commended.

4. We must be careful as to what conclusions we infer from historical narrative passages, letting the prophetic or didactic passages interpret the inspired narratives; otherwise, we can draw wrong conclusions: for example, we could imagine that the Bible affirms bigamy because Jacob and his family are blessed after he marries both Leah and Rachel, but the direct teaching from Jesus concerning monogamy should govern our understanding of the OT.

A syllogism:

1. God Himself never lies, it is-- in fact-- impossible for God to lie (Num 23:19; Heb 6:18), and Christ-- who is one Person, having the nature of both God and Man-- is named the Truth (John 14:6).

2. The Christian life is to consist in sanctification, in which we are being ever more conformed to the image of Christ (cf. Rom 8:29).

3. Therefore, the Christian must not lie-- no matter the circumstance-- for in choosing to lie, the Christian would become not more, but less like God, who does not lie: no matter the circumstance.


In general, a Christian does not kill nor wound, and a Christian lives in obedience to parents and governing authorities. But a Christian who is a soldier in the army may kill or wound an enemy soldier in a just war situation; a Christian government official may execute a criminal who has committed a capital offense, justly exercising the 'power of the sword' (Rom 13:4). Christians may need to disobey parents or governing authorities if those authority figures command them to engage in sin (Acts 5:29).

Some would argue that there is a category for a 'justified lie' that would be similar to the categories for 'just war' or 'justified disobedience.' But I would argue that lying is fundamentally different. A Christian incurs no guilt in engaging in just war or disobeying an authority that commands sin. In these actions, a Christian is reflecting-- rather than rejecting-- the character of God. Killing in itself does not violate the character of God: God Himself is recorded as directly killing people on occasion (Lev 10:2; 1 Chron 13:10; Acts 5:5,10, etc.). Obviously, God honors Himself as the highest authority and is not beholden to obey any human authority, so there is no question of disobedience being fundamentally-- in itself-- against God's character. But lying is different. God never lies; it is impossible for Him to lie; He is the Truth. And so lying is ALWAYS-- in itself-- against the character of God.

Not a justified lie, but justified disobedience:

So, if there is no such thing as a 'justified lie,' what is a Christian to do in a situation similar to the one mentioned above, in which some Christians hid their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis in WWII? Notice the example of the Church within the New Testament. The government officials were not on their side. And yet-- besides having no command from Christ nor His apostles to tell a lie when facing persecution-- we have no example of someone in the early new covenant community telling a justifiable lie. We do have teaching and example concerning believers practicing 'justified disobedience' without lying (Acts 5:29), and that is what I would counsel. If the Nazis were to ask you where you are hiding the Jews [to conclude this illustration], then you should respond: 'I will not tell you, I must serve God rather than men.' It is no sin to suffer persecution, as Christ Himself did; it is no sin to suffer death, as Christ Himself did. But it is a sin to lie, as Christ NEVER did: "He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth" (1 Peter 2:22 ESV). You may think: 'But unless I lie, and not just refuse to answer, then the results will be tragic.' But if I am correct, and lying is always a sin, then even when it seems that lying is the most reasonable option you must, "Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding" (Prov 3:5 ESV).


Saturday, January 05, 2013

the Idol Factory

"(hare krishna), My sweet lord (hare krishna), My sweet lord (krishna krishna), My lord (hare hare)" from George Harrison, "My Sweet Lord"

An acquaintance of mine in the #prosapologian chat room once pointed out that the purpose of theology is to lead us to a true knowledge of God so that we do not wake up one morning and discover that we have been worshipping a god of our own imagination: a false god with no power to grant everlasting life or anything else. This is the great danger when practicing theology: that our thoughts of God would be proven to be forms of IDOLATRY.

Idolatry may be practiced through assigning attributes belonging only to God to something else, by giving affection that belongs only to God to something else, by failure to accept certain of God's attributes as defined by Scripture, or by failure to worship God for all of these attributes.

All of idolatry is, on the final analysis, self-worship, as people wish to have ultimate independence: each person wishes to exercise power over his or her own life so that when he or she does choose to acknowledge a god and go through the motions of serving that god, the god must be one of their own choice.

In the seventeenth thesis of his Disputation Against Scholastic Theology, written in 1517, Martin Luther describes this dilemma people face in regards to idolatry with these words:

Man is by nature unable to want God to be God. Indeed, he himself wants to be God and does not want God to be God.

Out of selfish pride a person will choose to worship the god of his or her own culture that gives his or her life meaning. Out of selfish pride a person will choose to rebel against his or her culture through worshipping another god. Out of selfish pride a person will, when claiming to worship the God of the Holy Bible, choose to deny the attributes that the Bible ascribes to God. Out of selfish pride, a person will choose to give lip-service to God's attributes and then secretly harbor hatred for these same attributes.

And each one of us has fallen into this selfish pride, as the prophet Isaiah declared:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; (Isaiah 53:6a KJV)

So what is the answer to this dilemma? As a theologian, how can YOU avoid idolatry? How can YOU worship the true God that grants everlasting life?

The answer lies in the fact that you CANNOT depend on our own faculties to avoid idolatry. As has been examined above, the problem of idolatry is an internal problem of our selfish natures, so we need something from outside of ourselves that can be applied to our hearts. And for this activity, God has provided His Word:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating as far as to divide soul, spirit, joints, and marrow; it is a judge of the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 HCSB)

So it is only through the power of the Holy Spirit as you humbly receive God's Word by faith-- expecting and asking God to correct your errors and lead you into the truth-- that you can flee idolatry and practice true theology.

We know that we are of God, and the whole world is under the sway of the evil one. And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true One. We are in the true One--that is, in His Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, guard yourselves from idols. (I John 5:19-21 HCSB)

[This blogpost is adapted from a post originally published on 6/20/05.]


Friday, January 04, 2013

The Task of Theology

"I come to the garden alone while the dew is still on the roses, and the voice I hear falling on my ear, the Son of God discloses. And he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own, and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known." from C. Austin Miles, "In the Garden"

It has been established by the previous posts that each and every one of us is a theologian. So, how do we exercise our responsibility as theologians? First we must ask, what is the purpose of theology? Is the purpose of theology to give us sappy, sentimental feelings about God as expressed in the song quoted above? Is the purpose of theology to make us full of knowledge so that we may impress our friends and belittle our enemies?

At the outset, I will assert that the main purpose of true theology is salvation: to proclaim the message of reconciliation to God through Jesus Christ. Correct theology brings a right knowledge of God and our means of a right relationship with God.

As has been mentioned before, the first important truths to know about God are: 1) that God is the Sovereign Creator (this is the proclamation that begins God's self-revelation to people in the Bible); 2) God is the Holy Lawgiver (God is perfect and sets the standards for all of human conduct).

Now, I would like to briefly point our attention to the experience of Isaiah, a prophet who in c. 759 B.C. had a direct experience with God. Isaiah records:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a high and lofty throne, and His robe filled the temple.
Seraphim were standing above Him; each one had six wings: with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew.
And one called to another: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts; His glory fills the whole earth."

The foundations of the doorways shook at the sound of their voices, and the temple was filled with smoke.

Then I said: "Woe is me, for I am ruined, because I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips, [and] because my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts."

Then one of the seraphim flew to me, and in his hand was a glowing coal that he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth [with it] and said: "Now that this has touched your lips, your wickedness is removed, and your sin is atoned for."
(Isaiah 6:1-7 HCSB)

In this passage Isaiah suddenly encounters God. He recognizes God's sovereignty-- referring to God as "the King, the Lord of Hosts"-- and hears God's holiness proclaimed by the angels. Isaiah realizes that this great and holy sovereign has set standards that he has utterly failed to meet, and so he falls into despair. Having initiated this encounter, God now responds to Isaiah's humility by sending a messenger to remove his wickedness and atone for his sin.

The task of theology is to bring us to a similar knowledge of God, as Martin Luther explains in his Commentary on Psalm 51, written in 1532:

The proper subject of theology is Man, guilty of sin and condemned, and God, the justifier and Savior of Man, the sinner. Whatever is asked or discussed in theology outside this subject is error and poison. All Scripture points to this: that God commends His kindness to us, and in His Son restores to righteousness and life the nature that has fallen into sin and condemnation.

So the question for YOU today is, have you begun to practice true theology? Have you come to know and worship God as the Sovereign Creator and the Holy Lawgiver? Have you recognized that you have rebelled against God's sovereignty and have ignored or fallen short of God's holy standard? Until you have accepted and submitted to these truths as truths that shape your understanding and decisions, you are not only doomed to practice bad theology, but you have no hope of receiving God's mercy. As God has informed us again in the book of James:

But He gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up. (James 4:6-10 NIV)

[This was originally published on 6/16/05; some of the formatting has been changed.]


Thursday, January 03, 2013

not just a river in Egypt

"Imagine there's no heaven, It's easy if you try, No hell below us, Above us only sky, Imagine all the people living for today..." from John Lennon, "Imagine"

Perhaps someone would view the blog entry posted last Tuesday [1/3/13] and think of an objection- Perhaps someone could be surfing the 'net and somehow come across this blog who considers themself to be an atheist or agnostic, or perhaps someone reading this blog knows someone who claims to deny the existence of God. In this case the question would be, 'how can you claim to speak to everyone in that last entry? certainly an atheist or agnostic cannot be thought of as a theologian!' But it is my assertion that there is no one who can honestly say that they are an atheist or agnostic. That is, anyone claiming to be an atheist or agnostic is committing an act of intellectual dishonesty. How so? Because the complexity and beauty of nature testify to the Sovereign Creator. Because of the fact that there is a knowledge of 'right' and 'wrong' inherent to every individual to the extent that even the most outspoke professor of moral relativism will have situations in which they tell people what they 'should' and 'should not' do, and this fact testifies to the reality of the Holy Lawgiver. These matters are perfectly explained in the Bible, in Romans chapters 1 and 2.

So why are there people who claim to be atheists or agnostics?

The Bible gives us a clear answer to this question as explained well by Peter Masters, the pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, in his book Biblical Strategies for Witness:

The root cause of atheism is expressed by the Lord in John 3:19-20: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved” (KJV).
Three crucial facts are taught in these words:
1. Sin is the basis of atheism.
2. The fear of reproof leads people to [deny their belief in] God. They cannot stand the pangs of conscience.
3. Proud independence hates light (that is, instruction and guidance from outside self).

Love of sin, then, is the prime motive for adopting atheistic views. People reject the existence of God because they want to indulge their pride and be free to do what they like. The atheist [or agnostic] gains (so he thinks) tremendous liberation the moment he repudiates the restraints of a God-ordained moral system.
Here is the real motive underlying the attitude of the atheist [or the agnostic]. First and foremost he is determined to be unhindered in the conduct of his life. He wants to be morally free to follow the dictates of his heart, his ambitions, his opinions, and his whims. He may well adopt some cultural refinements and a moral system of his own if it suits his purpose. But all his intellectual objections to God are produced from a mind acting under orders from the heart, where lusts reign.

The second fact taught in Christ’s words is that the atheist [or agnostic] has come to his position because he hates the pangs of conscience. He positions himself as far away from God-given standards as he can because he cannot bear the stab of shame, accusation, or awareness of his fallen ways. One of the chief purposes of his [agnosticism] is to protect himself from the movings of conscience.
The third fact taught by the Lord about the atheist [or agnostic] is that he is proud, and does not want to be dependent upon God for anything. He does not want to feel indebted to God for life, help or grace, nor does he want to obey him in anything. He likes to think that he is competent, self-sufficient, and capable. The idea of being a dependent being offends his ego. He wants to be the master of his life; the captain of his ship. He will not be a mere servant of God.
These three factors are all matters of the heart rather than of the head, and while the atheist must have his intellectual unbelief challenged, his real problem is a moral one: namely, rebellion. And the rebellion is seen in the three symptoms described by the Lord: sinful behavior, hatred of conscience, and pride.

IF YOU have happened upon this blog and have claimed to be an atheist or agnostic, then these are the facts you must deal with before God. (YOU ARE a theologian.)

If you are a Christian, then the truth presented above is crucial to your witness, for there are so many people today claiming to be agnostics. Their problem is not one of intellect: it is one of sin. You must be faithful to point this out and to declare their need for repentance and faith in the Savior.

[This was originally published on 6/9/05; some of the formatting has been changed.]

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Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Lesson Notes from "Making Wise Decisions in a Confusing World." Lesson by Tim Scott.

[Tim Scott delivered the lesson from which these notes were taken this evening at Kosmosdale Baptist Church.]

Focus passage: Ephesians 5:15-17.

[Tim said that he was given the basic outline for the following in a Bible college, and is not sure of the original source.]

When making a decision, consider the following four questions.

(These questions progress from more to less easily discerned.)

1. Does this thing I am considering violate a biblical absolute?

John 14:15, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments."

2. Is this thing I am considering governed by a biblical principle?

Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."

3. Is what I am considering appropriate?

Ecclesiastes 3:1, "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."

("The setting makes a difference.")

4. Is what I am considering best?

1 Corinthians 6:12, “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything."

Godly decision-making cannot be self-centered: "One of the considerations you have to take in this is other people."


Tuesday, January 01, 2013

YOU are a theologian

"I don't need theology to know that God's been good to me..." from Audio Adrenaline, "Memoir"

The above quote from a song that was popular a few years back [quite a few years back, now] at youth groups in churches across the nation typifies the suspicion that many seem to feel in regards to any systematic study of God. "Doctrine divides" is an often repeated saying, and many use this truth to try and avoid any strong doctrinal teaching. When someone does make the social blunder of actually insisting upon a point of doctrine as crucial to our Christian faith, they are often silenced with the appeal of, "Can't we just agree to love Jesus?" But this question begs a deeper questions, namely, "Who is Jesus and how do you know Him?

The point I am trying to make here is elucidated in the following illustration: A preacher was once chided by a person in his church after a sermon that was considered too doctrinal. The critic informed the preacher, "We don't need that theology stuff, we just need to love Jesus Christ." To which the preacher replied, "Jesus
who?" "Jesus Christ," the man replied. "Do you think that Christ was His last name?" asked the preacher. "Do you think Jesus was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph and Mary Christ and that the the postman in Nazareth looked for the name Christ on their mailbox? You see, in linking the name and title Jesus Christ together the way you just did, you have inadvertently committed an act of theology." [This illustration is a paraphrase of one I have heard from a couple of different sources such as R.C. Sproul and, I believe, Al Mohler.]

And so Christians are unavoidably theologians and as theologians we must not shy away from the study of theology. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in Book IV of
Mere Christianity,

[The study of] Theology is practical, especially now. In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones- bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.

You sitting there reading this on your computer screen- YOU are a theologian. So you must be diligent in your study of theology- carefully weighing the ideas about God that you hear around you or that you have received by tradition. You must "examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil" (II Thessalonians 5:21-22). For your view of God will directly impact your relationship with Him. To the extent that you view God as the Sovereign Creator (Gen. 1:1, Acts 17:24-28, Rom. 1:18-25), you will give thanks to Him as the source for all good things and honor Him as working everything according to His will; to the extent that you view God as the Holy Lawgiver (Ex. 20:1-17, Rom. 2:1-3:20, Gal. 3:15-22), you will despair of your own attempts at righteousness and call out to God for mercy; to the extent that you view God as the Merciful Savior, you will cling to faith in Him alone.

YOU are a theologian and the nature of the theology that you practice will have an everlasting impact on your life and the lives of those around you.

[This was originally published on 6/7/05.]