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.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The God of the Storm and the Uncovering of Blasphemous Theology

[The following blogpost was originally published on 9/10/05.]

 Perhaps we would do well to listen to the likes of Rabbi Harold Kushner, who contends that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed. Nowhere in the Hebrew Scriptures does it say that God is omnipotent. Kushner points out that omnipotence is a Greek philosophical concept, but it is not in his Bible. Instead, the Hebrew Bible contends that God is mighty. That means that God is a greater force in the universe than all the other forces combined. [Tony Campolo, "Katrina: Not God's Wrath- or His Will"]

Like the preacher quoted at the head of my last entry on this subject, the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina did not motivate Tony Campolo to glorify God, as did Job, but rather to deny God's sovereignty over this event. Campolo and others would have us to believe that there are limits to God's control and that some events occur simply by Natural Law or according to Chance.

But there are no truly random events, "nothing happens by chance" [Martin Luther, Defense of All the Articles of Martin Luther Condemned by the Latest Bull of Leo X, "Article 36," cf. Prov. 16:33], or according to fortune or fate, or mere coincidence.

There is no Mother Nature or Natural Law that has been established that can operate outside of the loving, just, willful power of God (Ps. 104:14).

Likewise, there is no power in the spiritual realm, whether angel or devil, that acts apart from the sovereign will of God "because by Him everything was created, in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things and by Him all things hold together." (Colossians 1:16-17 HCSB)

And so when king Ahab of Israel purposed to conquer Ramoth-gilead with the assurance of victory by 400 of his false prophets and with the LORD's prophet Micaiah as the sole dissenting voice prophecying the death of Ahab and the scattering of Israel's army, God is glorified for His sovereign command of the lying spirit that deceived the false prophets as well as His revelation of truth through Micaiah. As the true prophet proclaimed to Ahab, "Now you see, the LORD has put a lying spirit into the mouth of these false prophets of yours, and the LORD has pronounced disaster against you." (II Chronicles 18:22 HCSB)

And as even the angels must depend upon the sovereign will of God for all of their activity, it is obvious that Man, who has been created a little lower than the angels (cf. Ps 8:5 LXX) is also dependent upon God's will in all things, "For it is God who is enabling you both to will and to act for His good purpose" (Philippians 2:13 HCSB).

And so the statement "that God is not really as powerful as we have claimed" is shown to be unbiblical and blasphemous. For there is no limit to the power of God "in whom we live and move and have our being" (cf. Acts 17:28) who created all things out of nothing by His Word (cf. Genesis 1:1, John 1:1, Acts 17:24, etc.), holds all things together every instant (Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3), who will destroy all material things with fire (II Peter 3:10-12), and will create a new heaven and new earth (II Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4).

At this time, please pray about how you can glorify God more in answering those who question His goodness and power following tragic events.

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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Wedding Anniversary

[Today, Abby and I have been married for eight years. The blogpost that follows contains pictures and thoughts originally that I originally posted six days after our wedding.]
Here is a portion of an email from my sister in Christ, Kari Matteson, who attended my and Abby's wedding ceremony last Saturday. This email is in reference to Kari's happiness in catching Abby's bouquet at the reception:

It was a special honor because this time it was actually the one the bride carried in the ceremony...and a double honor because she is a true servant of God, serious about ministry and spreading the gospel. I mean, her vows to her husband (my classmate Andrew) were 25 verses of MEMORIZED scripture - Proverbs 31:10-33 and Ruth 1:16-17. His vows to her were passages equally as impressive in length. They also demonstrated their pledge to serve one another by washing each other's feet...aaaahhhh! How utterly Godly and romantic! I was truly blessed to witness their union and take my catching the boquet as encouragement from God that He's preparing an astounding romance for me that will include an equally Godly ceremony and marriage.

Abby and I have earnestly prayed that our marriage will be a blessing to others, starting with our wedding ceremony, and I post this portion of Kari's email as a praise to God that He has begun to answer our prayers.

I ask for continued prayer for everyone that attended the ceremony who does not yet know the love of God through forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus, that the Good News of Jesus Christ as proclaimed at our wedding ceremony would be effective to bring them all to faith in Christ alone.


Monday, July 29, 2013

Natural Disasters and the Sustaining Power of Our Sovereign God

"...then we must conclude that the storms that blow against us are not from God. They are part of the natural order which follows a course of natural law." [Jim Evans, quoted in the Opelika-Auburn News, C1, 3 September 2005 under "Where is God in the Storm?"]

In response to the above quote concerning Hurricane Katrina made by a pastor near Auburn, Alabama (where I used to live), Paul Stith, of Grace Heritage Church (where I was once a member), made the following comments:

Why is it that we feel compelled to let God off the hook, as it were? Why do we want to find comfort by saying that God had nothing to do with this? Are we really better off with a God who is little more powerful than the Red Cross, running to the disaster to hold our hand in the aftermath? This is the god that some have constructed in their imaginations.

In stark contrast to this "god of our imaginations" the Bible presents God as omnipotent [that is, "all-powerful"].

God’s omnipotence is majestically and undeniably demonstrated in the first act of creation in which the universe was created out of nothing by God's Word, but often we are distracted by the visible matter around us in such a way as to miss the continuing activity of God throughout creation. We may be quick to acknowledge God as Creator, as I am sure the pastor quoted from the article above would do, but fail to glorify God by declaring that “He sustains all things by His powerful word” (Hebrews 1:3). That ‘all things are sustained by God’s might’ should clue us in to what the phrase “all-mighty” really indicates, namely, that “God’s omnipotence brings out every phenomenon of existence. This is the essential and sufficient cause of all things.” [Fredrik Brosche, Luther on Predestination (1978).]

Therefore we see that God’s omnipotence is not a static phenomenon. God is not a clockmaker who builds and then leaves His invention to run according to the mechanics He has set in place. Nor is He an absentee parent who only visits on occasional holidays. Nor does He even act within our lives often. Rather He is constant- like the very breath we breathe and the beating of our hearts- the activity of nerves carrying information from our minds and the contracting and relaxing of our muscles- providing all power necessary for our every action- “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). So when the Bible declares, “He is before all things and by Him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17), we can be sure that without Him all things would fall apart into oblivion.
And God is not like some computer program that simply allows a video game to run- neutral to the outcome of the game- He is not passive in His sustaining power. Rather the Bible declares that He is the “One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will” (Ephesians 1:11). And this is to our great benefit as He works all things “together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

God’s active power over His creation is seen throughout the Scriptures:

· In inanimate creation (Job 37:6-13; 38:12, 22-32; Ps. 104:4, 14; 135:6-7; 148:8 Matt. 5:45)
· In animals (Job 38:39-41; Ps. 104:27-29; Matt. 6:26; 10:29)
· In seemingly random or chance events (Prov. 16:33)
· In the affairs of nations (Job 12:23; Ps. 22:28; Dan. 4:34-35)
· In the will of kings (Ezra 1:1; 6:22; Ps. 33:14-15; Prov, 21:1)
· In the will of believers (Phil. 2:13)
· In every aspect of our lives (Job 14:5; Ps. 139:16; Prov. 16:9; Prov. 20:24; Jer. 10:23; Matt.6:11; Gal. 1:15; Phil. 4:19)

And so we see that all power belongs to God and that any power an individual may seem to have is actually derivative. John 19:10-11 and Romans 13:1 prove this concept and allow us to know that God establishes all authorities and works through ‘em: whether they be just or tyrannical.

Is God then, therefore, the author of evil? Not at all. God never creates evil, nor does He entice anyone to evil. This is made clear in passages such as James 1:13-17. But God can never be inactive in His creation, which is entirely dependent upon His sustaining and ordering activity, as examined above. Rather, God is constantly working out His purposes through His entire created order, regardless of the will of His creatures. And so we see that there are times in which God empowers men to work according to their own corrupt nature and achieve His good purposes (as in the cases of Pharaoh and Judas) and there are times when He transforms the nature of His creatures to achieve His good purposes (as in the cases of Rahab and Paul). As Luther also explains:

Here you see that when God works in and by evil men, evil deeds result; yet God, though He does evil by means of evil men, cannot act evilly Himself, for He is good, and cannot do evil; but He uses evil instruments, which cannot escape the impulse and movement of His power. The fault which accounts for evil being done when God moves to action lies in these instruments, which God does not allow to be idle. In the same way a carpenter would cut badly with a saw-toothed axe. Hence it is that the ungodly man cannot but err and sin always, because under the impulse of Divine power he is not allowed to be idle, but wills, desires, and acts according to his nature.This is sure and certain, if we believe that God is omnipotent [emphasis added]; as it is also certain that the ungodly man is a creature of God, but one which, being perverted and left to itself without the Spirit of God, cannot will or do good. God’s omnipotence makes it impossible for the ungodly man to escape the action upon him of the movement of God; of necessity he is subject to it, and obeys it; but his corruption, his turning of himself from God, makes it impossible for him to be moved and to act well. God cannot suspend His omnipotence on account of man’s perversion, and the ungodly man cannot alter his perversion. As a result he sins and errs incessantly and inevitably until he is set right by the Spirit of God. [Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will, translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston (2002): 204-205]

And as God works out His perfect purposes through sinful people, He also sovereignly works out His purposes through the natural world, which has also been impacted by sin in such a way as to often be grossly inhospitable to the people for whom it was originally created to provide:

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:19-25 NKJV)

[This blogpost is adapted from a post originally published on 9/7/05.]

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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Law and Gospel

The Bible begins with the declaration that, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth”(Genesis 1:1).

God has made the whole universe out of nothing through the power of His Word, and through the power of His Word He holds the entire universe together. He has made each one of us individually and in Him we all “live and move and exist”(Acts 17:28). We are always in God’s hand and under His eye.  As our Creator, God has the absolute right to command us how to live our lives. God is perfect and He commands us to be morally perfect. God’s commandments are given to show us His holy character and His standards for a right relationship with Him. Let’s examine some of God’s commandments.

God’s Moral Law:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.
Have you always loved God more than anyone or anything else? The Bible says to love God with everything you think, everything you feel, and everything you do—to love God so much that your love for your parents, brothers and sisters, friends, and even your own life is like hatred compared to your love for God. Have you ever failed to love God, as God deserves?

2. You shall not make for yourself any idol.
Who is God in your opinion? Do you think that God is only a god who loves and that God would never punish anyone for breaking God’s Law? If that is your idea of God, then you are correct. The god that you are thinking about could not punish anyone for breaking God’s Law, because that god is not real. You have created a god in your own mind that you are happier with than the real God. You may call it your “personal belief,” but the real God calls it idolatry. The Bible warns that idolaters will come into God’s kingdom- that they will be kept outside of God’s kingdom forever as punishment for breaking God’s Law.

3. You shall not take the name of God in vain.
Have you ever used God's name as a curse word? Have you ever said “O God!” or “Jesus Christ!” when you were not praying or telling others about God, but only out of anger? If you have, then you have taken the name of God-- who gave you your life, your family, and everything else that you love-- and you have used God’s name as a curse word. Hitler's name was not even hated enough to be used as a curse word! If you have used God's name in that way, you are a blasphemer and the Bible says “God will not hold him guiltless who takes the name of the Lord in vain,” (Exodus 20:7).

4. Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.
God commands that we worship God one day in seven. Have you ever been guilty of breaking this Commandment in God’s Law?

5. Honor your father and your mother.
Have you always respected your parents in all of your actions? Ask God to remind you of the disrespectful actions that you did as child. You may have forgotten them, but God has not.

6. You shall not murder.
The Bible warns, “Whoever is angry with his brother without cause, is in danger of judgment,” (Matthew 5:22) and the Bible also says, “He who hates his brother is a murderer,” (1 John 3:15). God sees hatred in the heart to be as wrong as murder. We can break this command in God’s Law by how we feel and how we think about other people.

7. You shall not commit adultery.
The Bible warns, “You have heard… ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matthew 5:28).Have you ever looked at another person with wrong desires? The Bible says that adulterers and fornicators (those who have had sex before marriage) will not come into God’s kingdom.

8. You shall not steal.
Have you ever stolen anything (even if it was something small)? The price of the thing stolen does not matter; petty theft is still theft. Have you ever taken anything that someone else owned without permission (from the office, school, parents, etc.)? If you have, then you are a thief and you have broken God’s command not to steal.

9. You shall not lie.
Have you ever told a lie? If you have, then you are a liar. How many murders do you have to commit to be a murderer? Just one. If you have told even one lie, that makes you a liar. The Bible warns that all liars will be separated from God’s love forever and punished for breaking God’s Law. You may not think that lying is a serious sin, but God does.

10. You shall not covet.
This means that we should never desire anything that belongs to another person. Not their house, nor their car, nor their money, nor their wife, nor their lifestyle, nor anything that belongs to our neighbor.Have you ever broken this commandment?

An honest self-assessment must reveal that you have broken God's Law.
As a lawbreaker, the Bible teaches that God will punish all lawbreakers.
The place of God's punishment for lawbreakers is called Hell.

Please take the time to read what the Bible says that Hell is like:
The Bible refers to the punishment of lawbreakers with such fearful words as the following:
•“Shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)
•“Everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46)
•“Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 24:51)
•“Fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:17)
•“Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish” (Romans 2:8,9)
•“Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
•“Eternal fire...the blackness of darkness for ever” (Jude 7,13)
Revelation 14:10,11 tells us the final, eternal destiny of the sinner: “He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone...the smoke of their torment ascended up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night."

According to the Bible, you are not a good person who occasionally messes up and does something wrong, like all of us, you are a sinner by nature and by choice and there is nothing that you can do or try to do for yourself that can put you right or bring you into God’s favor. As a sinner, your relationship to God is the relationship of a convicted criminal before a good judge and He must give you the punishment that you deserve- eternity in Hell. You need a new relationship with God through a moral and spiritual re-creation, what the prophet Ezekiel spoke about when he talked about God giving a ‘new heart,’ and what Jesus spoke about when He said we must be born again.

Christ’s Saving Work (the Gospel):

Jesus Christ, the Son of God (also called “the Word”), became a human being after God the Father Almighty sent the Holy Spirit to the Virgin Mary, as the Bible says in John 1:1,14,
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Jesus lived the only absolutely perfect human life, perfectly keeping all of God’s commands that we have failed to keep.

Jesus took the guilt for our lawbreaking on Himself. Jesus was arrested and He was condemned to be crucified on false charges during the government of Pontius Pilate. On the cross, Jesus died as a substitute for lawbreakers, taking all of the suffering, death and punishment in Hell that lawbreakers deserve.

Jesus was buried and on the third day after His death, He rose again from the grave, proving Himself to be the champion over death and Hell, offering you life and freedom from the guilt of lawbreeaking and the tendencies you have to break God's Law if you will believe in Him.

Jesus ascended into heaven and now is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, freely offering new, eternal life to anyone who believes in Him.

Jesus will someday return to earth and judge the living and the dead based on their faith in Him. If you have trusted in Jesus, then you will be found innocent in God’s sight based on the perfection of Jesus and you will live with Him in the eternal joy of heaven. If you have rejected Jesus, you will be judged guilty as a lawbreaker and an enemy of God and you will suffer forever in the eternal punishment of Hell.

Your Response to the Gospel:

God has promised to give eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus and calls out to Him asking to be saved: "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation... For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:9-10,13).

I urge you, dear reader, call out to God today, praying for salvation from lawbreaking and death. Confess that you are a lawbreaker, that there is nothing that you can do to save yourself, and that you need Jesus Christ come into your life to save you from your lawbreaking. Tell God the laws that you have broken that you have been reminded of as you have examined God's commandments. Then repent of your lawbreaking, turning away from a life of lawbreaking and shame before God and submitting to Jesus Christ as the Master of your life. Place your faith in Jesus, fully trusting in Him to save you from sin, death, and Hell and to give you eternal life in Heaven.

Pray to God to save you today- there is no better time. As the Bible says (II Corinthians 6:2),
"Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation."

[This blogpost was first published on 9/1/05. Sections of the above text on "God's Moral Law" were adapted from the Way of the Master website.]


Friday, July 26, 2013

That No Christian Really Believes in 'Free-Will'

Why do some people reject the gospel when it is clearly presented? The popular answer to this question within American evangelical churches is that humans have 'free-will' and that God will not violate our 'free-will' in order to bring us to faith in Jesus.

But the Bible account does not support this idea of 'free-will.' For where was 'free-will' when the apostle Paul was "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord" (cf. Acts 9:1 HCSB)? For Paul was in this depraved state when Jesus said to him, "For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of things you have seen, and of things in which I will appear to you" (cf. Acts 26:16 HCSB). And we know that God's purposes in regards to individual salvation and everything else will stand and will never be thwarted by the evil intentions of sinful people for,

A king's heart is a water channel in the Lord's hand: He directs it wherever He chooses. (Proverbs 21:1 HCSB)

and the Apostle worships God, writing,

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fulness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things upon the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory. (Ephesians 1:3-12 NASB)

It is God who works all things according to the counsel of His will. In order to accomplish His purposes, the King of Heaven overrides even the intentions of the kings of the earth: those who, in this life, seem to have the most freedom of choice. In order to accomplish His purposes, our glorious God overrides even the intentions of blasphermers: those who actively speak and plan against Him.

And if anyone is to place their faith in Christ, then God must work a fundamental change in their heart:
for “there is no one who seeks God” (Romans 3:11b HCSB); for “you were dead in your trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1 HCSB), “and you were once alienated and hostile in mind because of your evil actions” (Colossians 1:21 HCSB)

On this last verse, I must point out that while most American evangelicals embrace the concept that our sin alienates us from God, there is a woeful lack of understanding concerning the fact that our sin is embedded within our own hearts and minds. Without a special work of reconciliation, no one would ever freely choose to follow Christ because we are all– in our sin– “hostile in mind” toward Him.

So, biblically, why do some people reject the gospel when it is clearly presented?
The fact that most American churches have misunderstood the real cause of people either coming to faith in Christ or rejecting Him would be excusable if Jesus had not given clear teaching on this subject.
But this is not the case.

For Jesus said:

"No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent Me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day." (John 6:44 KJV)

And He said, “Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto Me, except it were given unto him of my Father.” (John 6:65 KJV)

As we all learned in grade school when asking if we can sharpen our pencils, "may" refers to permission, but "can" refers to ability. Our teachers all said, "I'm sure you can sharpen your pencil, the question is, may you sharpen your pencil?" Well, in the discussion concerning whether people can come to Christ without receiving a special work of grace, the question is not may sinful Man come to Christ or should sinful Man come to Christ, but, rather, can sinful Man come to Christ?
And what is the answer that Jesus gives to this question? Clearly, He declares that no person can come to Him unless the Father draws him. But how do we know that the Father is not drawing all men? I submit that in the context of the Gospel of John, chapter 6, Jesus' statements would be meaningless if He were not referring to a special work done in the life of some people and not others.

And, though many Christians have been deceived and have claimed to believe that ‘free-will’ is the determinative factor in whether a person comes to faith in Christ or rejects Him, no Christian truly believes in ‘free-will.’

For all Christians have a God-given concern for their lost family, friends, and acquaintances and are prompted by the Holy Spirit (at least on occasion) to pray for their salvation.

And how does a consistent proponent of 'free-will' philosophy pray for God to bring salvation to others?

For if God is drawing all men to Himself equally, as most ‘free-will’ philosophy would claim, then what is the use of praying for their salvation- God is already doing ALL HE CAN to save them, and it is up to their 'free-will' to seal the deal. If not- if there are some men that God chooses not to draw to Himself- then 'free-will' proponents have a doctrine of reprobation that they must deal with as well. Except, instead of God choosing to save some and leave others in their sin, the 'free-will' doctrine (if God does not draw all men equally) would have God granting some men the chance for salvation- which chance they must cooperate with by a free act of their will- and leaving some men without a chance, or at least with a greatly reduced chance. If this is the way things are, then Paul was wrong in asserting that all men are equally dead in trespasses and sins, and by nature children under wrath (see Eph. 2:1-3), instead he should have said that some men are dead in trespasses and sins, some are only mostly dead, or comatose, and some are only in a light slumber in their peccadilloes.

And what if God is drawing some men to Himself with more fervor than others? Can those on which He is exerting less energy still be saved? If this is the case, then it seems as if those who persevere to come to God with less "drawing" would be given greater esteem for advancing toward God with less help.

Can those whom He is not drawing still freely choose Him? If this is the case, then Pelagius (the heretic that said that God’s grace is a help to salvation, but not necessary for salvation) is vindicated indeed.

All Christians know that God alone is given all glory for our salvation. We know this because of the Holy Spirit-given conviction of our sinfulness that we have felt in reaching the humiliation by which we initially cried out to God for salvation, we know this because of the way in which we pray for the salvation of others, and we know this, above all, due to the clear teaching of our Lord.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Blood Sacrifice: Primitive and Offensive, Now and Then

My problem is this: the language of blood sacrifice was appropriate to people used to the sacrifices that were part of ancient temple worship, but is totally alien to our world…

Moreover, an atonement theology that says God sacrificed his own son in place of humans who needed to be punished for their sins might make some Christians love Jesus, but is an obscene picture of God. It is almost heavenly child abuse, and may infect our imagination at more earthly levels as well. I do not want to express my faith through a theology that pictures God demanding blood sacrifices in order to be reconciled to God. [John Dominic Crossan, Who Is Jesus? (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1996), 115.]

Reading the above quote from John Dominic Crossan of the “Jesus Seminar,” I am reminded of a story often told by R.C. Sproul of Ligonier Ministries. Sproul relates:

Some parts of the Bible are so clear and simple that they are offensive to those suffering from intellectualarrogance. A few years ago I was lecturing about how Christ’s death on the cross fulfilled the curse motif of the Old Testament. In the middle of my lecture a man in the audience interrupted me, saying loudly, “That’s primitive and obscene.” I asked him to repeat his comment so that everyone present could have the opportunity to hear his complaint. When he repeated it, I said, “You are exactly right. I particularly like your choice of words, primitive and obscene.” The entire history of redemption is communicated in primitive terms from the episode of the encounter of Adam and Eve with the serpent to the devastating destruction that God visits on the chariots of Egypt in the Exodus to the crass and brutal murder of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible reveals a God who hears the groans of all of His people, from the peasant to the philosopher, from the dull-witted to the sophisticated scholar. His message is simple enough for the most simplistic of His fallen creatures to understand. What kind of a God would reveal His love and redemption in terms so technical and concepts so profound that only an elite corps of professional scholars could understand them? God does speak in primitive terms because He is addressing Himself to primitives. At the same time, there is enough profundity contained in Scripture to keep the most astute and erudite scholars busily engaged in their theological inquiries for a lifetime.
If primitive is an appropriate word to describe the content of Scripture, obscene is even more so. All of the obscenities of sin are recorded with clear and forthright language in the Scripture. And what is more obscene than the cross? Here we have obscenity on a cosmic scale. On the cross Christ takes upon himself human obscenities to redeem them. [R.C. Sproul, Knowing Scripture (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1977), 15-16.]

And so Crossan is not the first person to have a “problem” with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our redemption on the cross. In fact, people have always had a problem with the message of the cross, from the very beginning of the Church, as explained by the Apostle Paul:

18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.''
20 Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom;
23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.
26 For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.
27 But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty;
28 and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are,
29 that no flesh should glory in His presence.
30 But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God and righteousness and sanctification and redemption
31 that, as it is written, "He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.'' (1 Corinthians 1:18-31 NKJV)

Notice that in this passage, Paul entirely shatters the argument that "the language of blood sacrifice was [employed because it was] appropriate to people used to the sacrifices that were part of ancient temple worship." Rather, the sacrificial language used by the apostles was actually more offensive to the Jews due to their cultural background. For the religious Jews prided themselves on remaining entirely separate from anything that was ceremonially unclean, and certainly from anything that was cursed, but Paul taught:

Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, because it is written: Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree. (Galatians 3:13 HCSB)

And 1 Corinthians 1:23 also makes it clear that the apostles did not change their message to be more culturally relevant to their audience, even if they were scoffed at for the content of their preaching. So it is obvious that the Good News of the Christian faith is the message of the Cross: the message of a "blood sacrifice" made by Jesus on our behalf. Anyone who wishes to change this message should hear the words of the Apostle:

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than what we have preached to you, a curse be on him! As we have said before, I now say again: if anyone preaches to you a gospel contrary to what you received, a curse be on him! (Galatians 1:8-9 HCSB)

[This blogpost was originally published on 8/28/05.]


Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Modern Day Sadducee

Leading "Jesus Seminar" member John Dominic Crossan argues that Jewish belief in an afterlife originated after the close of what we know as the Old Testament canon, concluding, “So belief in life after death has certainly not always been a part of biblical faith” [Crossan. Who Is Jesus? (Westminster: John Knox Press, 1996), 131].

But this statement is clearly seen as false when one examines the actual biblical text.

For in the second book of the Bible we read the recorded words of God to Moses, “I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Exodus 3:6 KJV). God here uses the present tense “I am” when speaking of men whom Moses knows to be long deceased. And so, if God is presently the God of these men when speaking to Moses, it is clear that these men are yet, in an entirely real sense, still alive, for God is not claiming to be a god over now-inanimate matter, but over living individuals.

This is not my argument, but rather the argument of Jesus Himself, as seen in the following passage:

On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, saying, "Teacher, Moses said, `If a man dies, having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up an offspring to his brother.'
"Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring left his wife to his brother; so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. And last of all, the woman died.
"In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her."
But Jesus answered and said to them, "You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures, or the power of God. For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
"But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read that which was spoken to you by God, saying, `I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
And when the multitudes heard this, they were astonished at His teaching.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadducees to silence, they gathered themselves together. (Matthew 22:23-34 NASB)

The Pharisees were silenced at Jesus’ teaching on the resurrection. The question is, will Crossan display this same kind of common sense in light of the authority of Jesus, or will he persist in railing against the plain teaching of God’s Word, continuing to attack the doctrine of the resurrection with charges that have already been sufficiently answered by our Lord?

[This blogpost was originally published on 8/24/05 under the title, "A Simple Contradiction."]


Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Bodily Resurrection

In a comment on a previous blog entry in this series, a reader of this blog wrote concerning John Dominic Crossan's denial of the resurrection: "Perhaps Mr. [Crossan] has never read I Cor. 15:12-19. If there is no resurection, Christians are the stupidest people ever to grace the face of the earth...fortunately there is."

Sad to note, however, John Dominic Crossan is well aware of First Corinthians 15. As he writes:

If you look at I Corinthians 15, you find Paul- and this is twenty to forty years before the gospels were written- defending the idea of bodily resurrection. But here's a very interesting twist: He never argues that resurrection was a special miracle only for Jesus. Just the opposite: Jesus' resurrection is for him one instance of a general resurrection...
Given his expectation of a general resurrection [as a Pharisee], his experience of Jesus would persuade him that it had in fact begun. Jesus isn't the only one to be raised, just the first.
It is significant that Paul does not say, "If Christ's tomb is not empty, vain is our faith," but, "if Christ is not risen, vain is our faith." He is not talking about the resuscitation of Jesus' corpse but about the presence of Jesus in a wholly new mode of existence. It is, for Paul, the same Jesus who once was an earthly presence limited by time and place, who now is a transcendent presence unlimited by time and place.
[Who Is Jesus? by John Dominic Crossan. Westminster John Knox Press: 1996. 126.]

On the first half of the above quote it seems that we could easily agree with Crossan's statements. After all, the quote from Crossan that "Jesus isn't the only one to be raised, just the first" is apparently consistent with the words of Paul, "He is also the head of the body, the church; He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He might come to have first place in everything" (Colossians 1:18 HCSB).

But, when read carefully in context, it is clear that Crossan is undermining the unique work of Christ in being raised from the dead. Crossan's assertions would deny the apostle Paul's teaching elsewhere that Jesus was, "raised for our justification" (cf. Rom. 4:25). The resurrection of Jesus was certainly a "special miracle."

What of the second part of this quote? On the first read, it seems that Crossan is engaging in self-contradiction. For in the very first line of the entire quote, Crossan admits that Paul is "defending the idea of bodily resurrection," but then Crossan writes, "[Paul] is not talking about the resuscitation of Jesus' corpse." But when read more closely, it seems that Crossan is not denying that Paul believed in bodily resurrection, but that he denies that it is the physical nature of the resurrection that Paul teaches is of primary importance.

So, why is it important to believe that the resurrection of Jesus was a physical resurrection?

First, the physical resurrection demonstrates the power and foreknowledge of Jesus Christ. As Jesus prophesies:

Jesus answered and said to them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Jews therefore said, "It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?" But He was speaking of the temple of His body, (John 2:19-21 KJV).

Also, though John Dominic Crossan has elsewhere says that he does not consider the question of whether there is an afterlife to be very important, the afterlife is of vital important to biblical teaching. And the Bible is clear that God has chosen to demonstrate His power over life and death by giving His people eternal life in physical bodies:

But someone will say, "How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?...All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one flesh of men, and another flesh of beasts, and another flesh of birds, and another of fish. . .So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.

For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "Death is swallowed up in victory," (I Corinthians 15:35,39,42-44,53-54 KJV)

[This post was first published on 8/15/05. For more information on the bodily resurrection, visit the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry website.]


Monday, July 22, 2013

SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee Panel Discussion

At the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC] this past June, there was a panel discussion with members from the SBC Calvinism Advisory Committee, which was headed by Drs. Frank Page and David Dockery. [Video from the panel discussion may be viewed HERE.] Most of the panel discussion was taken with re-articulating and answering questions from the document that the Committee released: "Truth, Trust, and Testimony in a Time of Tension."

In my view, the freshest, most challenging, and most helpful statement in this panel discussion came within the last five minutes of the discussion, from Daniel Sanchez, Professor of Missions, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Sanchez pled with the other panelists and with those in attendance:
Let's be cautious about the way we articulate our theology. For example, many of our Hispanic people came out of a Roman Catholic background. Many of us think Calvin didn't come far enough away from Catholicism. And issues like the assurance of salvation are extremely important. Issues like salvation by grace alone without works are extremely important. And often the way we articulate these issues can either help us to communicate the gospel or can be obstacles to the communication of the gospel. And there are other groups with other religious backgrounds. So, just a word of caution for us: let's be cautious about the way we articulate theology. We could be so comfortable with our own terminology without realizing we could be erecting barriers for people of other cultures and other religious backgrounds.
I believe that all Southern Baptists- both those who would say that they are "Calvinistic" in their understanding of salvation, and those who would reject the label of "Calvinism"- can learn from Dr. Sanchez's words. I have personally witnessed to people who have heard messages from non-Calvistic Baptists such as "Jesus died for you" or "if you pray this prayer and mean it with all your heart, you should never doubt that you're saved" articulated in unhelpful ways. People may hear these things, may have an emotional experience, and believe that they are right with God even if there is no basic change in their heart or life. They go on sinning- walking in the darkness (1 John 1:6)- all the while thinking that they are Christians.

On the other hand, I have personally heard from people who are in unnecessary anxiety because some Calvinistic Baptist minister has told them things like "it is God's will that your baby died" or  "due to the deceitfulness of sin, though God keeps His elect, it is nearly impossible to know in this life whether you're saved." People may hear these things stated in an unbalanced way, and their emotional reaction may lead them to believe that they are NOT right with God, even if they have been accepted in Christ through faith by a loving and merciful Father.

My point is- and the point I think Dr. Sanchez was making was- that we must take care that we are speaking about truths concerning salvation in a clear, biblically balanced way.

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Saturday, July 20, 2013

Gospel Parallels and Qur'anic Parallels

Muslim apologists will often make much of differences in the Gospel accounts (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) in order to argue that the New Testament writings have been corrupted. So, for example, a Muslim apologist may ask, 'How many people supposedly went to the empty tomb of Jesus on the first day of the week?' The Muslim apologist will note that Matthew 28:1 mentions two women, Mark 16:1 mentions three women, Luke 24:10 mentions more than three women, and John 20:1 mentions only one woman. The Christian may respond that there is no contradiction in these texts: that if there were more than three women, as Luke records, that each of the other Gospel writers can choose to focus on a smaller number of those women (especially if the others were coming and going) without mentioning the entire group. This kind of reply will, admittedly, usually cause the Muslim apologist to scoff.

But it shouldn't. Because the Qur'an often reports events in a similar manner.

Take, for example, the fall of Iblis. In the Muslim faith, Iblis is roughly equivalent to the Devil of Christian belief. The Qur'an gives much more explicit detail to the fall of Iblis than the Bible gives to the fall of the Devil. But the accounts in the Qur'an concerning the fall of Iblis- in Surat 7 and 38- are not identical. Following Iblis's disobedience, Surah 7:13 has Allah respond, "Get down from this! It is not for you to be arrogant here. Get out, for you are the meanest of creatures." In reference to the same conversation, Surah 38:77 has Allah respond, "Then get you down from here, for you art rejected, accursed." Now, the Muslim apologist could certainly assert that both of these responses from Allah are simply summaries taken from a longer response. But notice: that is the exact kind of answer that Muslim apologists will not accept when it comes to the Gospel accounts.

The point of this discussion is:

1. To demonstrate that Muslim apologists frequently use a different standard for the Qur'an than for the Bible;
2. To take away one objection to the Bible that Muslim apologists frequently raise.

Some other questions regarding parallel accounts in the Qur'an, which the Christian may find useful, are:

1. What did Lot say to the people of Sodom? (Compare Surat 7:80; 26:165-166; 27:54; 29:28-29.)
2. What did the people of Sodom say to Lot? (Compare Surat 7:82; 26:167; 27:56; 29:29.)
3. How did Allah punish the city of Sodom? (Compare Surat 7:84; 26:173; 27:58; 29:31.)
4. What did Allah say to the angels concerning Man? (Compare Surat 7:11; 38:71-72.)
5. What did Iblis promise to do to Allah's followers? (Compare Surat 7:16-17; 38:82-83.)

For a more detailed discussion of Gospel Parallels and Qur'anic Parallels, see James R. White, What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Qur'an (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2013), 217ff.