Review of Jamin Huber’s Preface to the Third Edition: The Portable Presuppositionalist

From the beginning of Hubner’s preface, we almost hear the faint quote from the Astronauts of Apollo 13, “Hubner, we have a problem.” Well, we hear something like it. At the very beginning of the section The Bible in Presuppositional Apologetics, in his “Preface to the Third Edition,” of his book, The Portable Presuppositonalist, Hubner says that Reformed Christians and a large portion of self-professing “conservative evangelicals” have a view of what the Bible is, and therefore what it means and what it can do, that is fundamentally unrealistic, unhelpful, and inaccurate. I must confess, as a reformed Christian, and a presuppositional apologist, Hubner’s opening paragraph stopped me dead in my tracks. How could a book that claims to be of this genre contain such a basic contradiction to the genre itself? Am I misunderstanding what Hubner is doing? was my first thought. After all, I see endorsements by men that I am certain would not agree with Hubner’s characterization of how Reformed Christians view the Bible.

The first thing that strikes me about Hubner’s Preface is that is seems to be an attempt to strike at the heart of the rest of the book. You might call the book the presuppositional Trojan Horse. We see articles and quotes by men like Van Til, Oliphint, Frame, and Bahnsen. We think, this should be a good addition to the tool box. But if you read the Preface, you realize that Hubner is obviously hoping for a different outcome. Perhaps the book is best described as a liberal in conservative clothing. Maybe Hubner is targeting the presuppositional audience in hopes that they will resonate with his Preface and go out and perform some of this genuine research that he calls it, see the light, and abandon their Reformed view of Scripture. Could this be his real goal? It’s impossible to say but it certainly isn’t unreasonable to draw such conclusions given the Preface of the book in view of the overall context of the rest of the book.

Hubner begins his assault of basic conservative beliefs about the Bible. First, that it is God’s word and should not be questioned. But then Hubner muddies the waters on this subject. Christianity does not contend that we should not ask questions about the meaning of Word of God, or even about historical transmission of the Word of God. What we claim is that Word of God is always true and that its claims cannot be subjected to external tests in order to establish their veracity. If Scripture teaches that there was a physical resurrection of Christ, then the truthfulness claim must not be questioned. Either God is our final reference point for truth claims or Man is our final reference point for such claims. Hubner never bothers to interact with this fact. He ignores it throughout his rant (preface). Hubner says we should not be afraid to call into question certain presuppositions. For instance, he points to the common notion that God loves everyone the same without distinction and links that to the belief that Moses wrote the Pentateuch. If the former is not true, why not be open to question the latter? Can you see Hubner’s tactic? Most, if not all Reformed Christians reject the idea that God loves all men the same without distinction. In fact, Hubner sandwiches the idea that God does not love all men the same, something we Reformed folks agree with between the supposedly naïve view that Moses wrote the Torah, and the Bible is the Word of God. Sneaky I think. But that’s just me. The language that Hubner uses about Moses’ authorship also deserves comment. He writes, “If all goes well, eventually they learn that the Pentateuch was largely compiled and edited long ago after Moses’ life by an unknown scholar.” Well, that is not exactly the consensus of all scholars. In fact, the question is still hotly debated with scholars landing on both sides of the debate. Longman III and Dillard write, “In the final analysis, it is possible to affirm the substantial Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch in line with the occasional internal evidence and the strong external testimony, while allowing for earlier sources as well as later glosses and elaboration.” [Longman III & Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, 51] Hubner indeed says a lot in his preface but he also, interestingly enough, leaves a lot more unsaid.

Hubner seems to think that the claim that the Bible is without error or perfect on all matters it touches places a lot of unnecessary pressure on the Bible. One is left wondering if Hubner thinks that the Reformed position on the nature of Scripture was created in the back rooms of some philosophical lab. The Reformed position is that Scripture brings us to these conclusions about itself. It is not a necessary premise in a logical syllogism designed to save face with non-Christian opponents. The Reformed doctrine of sola Scriptura, contrary to what Hubner seems to imply, is not a rescuing device.

Indeed, Hubner provides what he thinks is the Reformed syllogism for Scripture: 1) The Bible is God’s Word; 2) God never lies; 3) The Bible is inerrant. I would rephrase (2) with God is never wrong, or God never errors. At any rate, Hubner goes on to quote a paragraph in his last preface where it rejected W.L. Craig’s perspective that he does not have to defend the doctrine of inerrancy in order to defend Christianity. Hubner then says directly that he retracts these words completely. In other words, Hubner once thought Craig incorrect but not he believes Craig is correct. Where is Hubner going with this rant?

It seems to me that Hubner’s own thinking about Scripture has let him down. It appears that Jamin was unable, in his own mind, to formulate an adequate concept of the nature of Scripture, how Christians come to know that nature and to embrace it, and how that knowledge may be expressed or articulated in philosophical terms in a way that is persuasive to opponents. Hubner says that the claim that the Bible is the Word of God must presuppose its extent and meaning. In other words, Hubner has moved the bar. Reformed Christianity never claims that a Christian must be able to fully understanding accurately every text of every book of Scripture in order to affirm the overall nature of Scripture. If that were true, Hubner would be right and theism of all stripes would be destroyed. If Hubner’s high bar is accurate, and it is the case that comprehensive understanding is required in order for knowledge to obtain, then we cannot possible know God. Contrary to Hubner’s reasoning, we do not have to attain an accurate understanding of every part of Scripture in order to affirm Scripture as our final reference point for all truth claims any more than I have to be a PhD in mathematics in order to affirm that my calculator is right in all its solutions. I know that my computer or calculator’s mathematical ability far exceeds my own understanding. I also know that it does not follow that if I am unable to work out a problem using a manual formula, that that itself is not a good reason for me to reject the laws of mathematics or the reliability and authority of my calculator. I enter large problems into my computer or calculator and I trust their solutions. I do not feel the need to test them at every corner.

Hubner laments the fact that in presuppositional apologetics, the authority text of the religion must be presupposed in order to engage in apologetics for that religion. He thinks it cuts off meaningful dialogue. This is not a new problem for apologists. The Qur’an claims to be God’s final revelation which blatantly contradicts Scripture’s claim. How do we settle the matter? Hubner concludes that “It’s just an uncritical assertion – and it wouldn’t be part of apologetics were it not for an overly-ambitious, artificially-protectionistic doctrine of Scripture.” Well, that isn’t an answer either. It isn’t a solution. Hubner has raised an issue that he seems uninterested in tackling. If Hubner is right about the Reformed view of Scripture, then how is an apologist to handle competing claims from other religions that it is their religious text that is the final reference point for all truth claims? We have a stalemate. Hubner’s focus on textual criticism and the canon, even if we accept his solution (whatever that might be, it seems unclear to me), does nothing to advance Christian apologetics on this issue even an inch. The presuppositionalist turns the religious text’s claims on themselves for an internal critique to determine if they can pass their criteria and standards. To a text, at least for the major religions, they cannot. There is no religious text that has been examined to date, other than the Christian Scriptures, that do not clearly engage in outright contradictory claims, incoherent nonsense, and meaningless drivel. The presuppositionalist says to bring them on if you have a competitor and let us examine them.

On the other hand, opponents of Christian Scripture have been unable to effectively demonstrate the same flaws in the Christian text. Difficulties exist, sure. But there are no inescapable contradictions or outright false claims in the biblical text. Notice that Hubner offers not a shred of support for his view that Reformed Christians ought to abandon their claims about the Bible. I have searched his books on Amazon and have not found one that follows up Hubner’s preface here with a more detailed argument for his position.

Hubner then claims that it is one thing to say that when God speaks we cannot challenge it, but to say that God speaking is to be extended to say, the Masoretic Text of Jeremiah or the Comma Johanneum is absurd. But reformed Christians do not believe that they have a perfect word for word replica of the autographs. What we believe is that we have, in the manuscripts themselves, the original word of God as was given to the Church from the beginning. What we have in our versions of the Bible are excellent and reliable copies of copies of copies…of the manuscripts which are copies of the original. Moreover, that what we have, without any doubt whatsoever, is the accurate record of divine revelation as it was given down through redemptive history beginning with Moses and ending with John. If Hubner wishes to be more specific in his dispute of that claim, then the burden is on him. To rant for a few pages in the preface to a book that doesn’t even share his views seems somewhat bizarre to me.

Hubner says that Christians should abandon the “modern” idea that Scripture is self-attesting. It is untenable in his view and therefore should be discarded for something more true. But what is that thing that Hubner says is more true? The fact is, we don’t know. Hubner doesn’t say. Why should Christians abandon this view? Hubner says, “The end result is a kind of apologetic suicide, and Christianity is losing credibility as a result.” Hubner goes on to tell us how it is possible for theological views to live so long in truth-oriented religious communities – including the view of the Bible that is held by evangelicals and reformed Christians. He complains that writers like Kevin DeYoung only include research from scholars that share the conservative view of Scripture. Somehow, that is supposed that approach is the product of bias. What is interesting is that Hubner had already admitted that presuppositionalism is correct in its claim that neutrality is a myth. So why complain about bias. In addition to this, when one reviews Hubner’s list of books for further study at the end of his Preface, it is virtually a who’s who of left-leaning scholars. By the way, I think it is interesting that Hubner describes the reformed culture as a “truth-orientied” culture, as if the last thing he is advocating isn’t truth.

Hubner goes on the complain that evangelicals should calling their claims facts and based on hard evidence because they are not. But since Hubner supplies no content with to interact there is little than can be said other than he is making empty criticism. Hubner then contends that evangelicals should stop the practice of referring to teachings that go against the historic evangelical position as “non-orthodox Christianity.” I cannot help but wonder if Hubner believes that gay Christianity fits within orthodox Christianity. Or perhaps, maybe the denial of a physical resurrection of Christ should enjoy a place within orthodox Christianity. Perhaps it is not the idea of non-orthodox Christianity with which Hubner has a problem. Perhaps it is the location of the line that Hubner doesn’t like. That there is a line is hard to miss in the NT documents. Paul calls false teachers wolves in sheep’s clothing. Peter compares them to vomit-eating dogs. Jesus called them vipers. That they were identified and excommunicated is impossible for anyone how reads the text honestly to miss.

The problem Hubner is raising is epistemological in nature. How do Christians know the Word of God when they read it? Do Christians examine the Scriptures empirically or by rational processes and decide that this text is divinely inspired and that text is not? Hubner neglects to mention the role of the Holy Spirit in bring the Scripture to the Church. The entire process is completely ignored.

Is Hubner asking us to accept the idea that some of the Bible is inerrant, but not all of it? And is he asking us to believe that some of the canon is inerrant but not all of it. Perhaps he is asking us to accept the idea that there are inspired books that are not actually in the canon. Absent a self-authenticating canon, Christianity reduces into a religion that is the product of the decisions of white males over a 1600-year period. This view is theologically untenable, not to mention, to borrow one of Hubner’s own expressions, apologetic suicide. If the Scripture is not self-authenticating as a whole, then it is not self-authenticating in part either. By what standard can I say that this text is self-authenticating here in Romans 8:30, but that text over there in Mark 10:1 is not. By what standard can I say that John is self-authenticating, but Esther is not? Let’s suppose I come up with a set of criteria by which to determine those parts of Scripture that are self-authenticating and those that are not. How do I go about demonstrating my claim? To say that something is self-authenticating is to say that it is its own criteria. Okay, so then, if Hubner is correct, and Scripture is not fully self-authenticating, and if my understanding of self-authentication is correct, then Scripture is in fact not at all in any place self-authenticating. To say that a document is self-authenticating is to say that one does not need external proof to determine its truthfulness. Hubner’s claim then places him in the position of having to come up with external proof for the truth claims of Scripture. It gets worse. Let’s say we determine that this book is self-authenticating (misnomer I know) and that that book is not. If it is the case that some books can be said to be self-authenticating and others not, then why not sections of books as well? Logically speaking, that is precisely where we must go. What makes a book reliable? That is comports with secular history? What if components of a book violate everything we know about how the world operates? Like, for instance, people who have been dead for three days do NOT get up and walk around. Why should that section of Scripture stand as reliable? The only witnesses we have are Christians, followers of Christ. Isn’t that a little biased? There are no external witnesses to the resurrection of Christ. There are only external witnesses to the beliefs of Christ’s followers. That is a big difference. n

All this means that Hubner will need a set of criteria by which he can justify or warrant belief in miracles apart from Scripture. If he is unable to do so, not only is he in a position of not being able to affirm Scripture, he cannot affirm Christianity. If we have to reject one miracle of Scripture because it goes against what we know to be true about how the world works, then we will have to get rid of all of them. And if we get rid of all of them, we surely will lose the resurrection of Christ. And if we lose the resurrection of Christ, we lose Christianity altogether. What men like Hubner fail to realize is that in their desire to slice Christianity up into natural, rationalistic, respectable categories, rather than salvaging Christianity and retaining some sense of cognitive respectability, what they end up doing is destroying Christianity at its foundation.

What Hubner is going to have to do is provide an alternative view of Scripture that comports with the rest of the teachings of Christianity. A view that sees Scripture not entirely as the Word of God but still authoritative enough that it places all men everywhere under absolute and complete obligation to believe it and to submit to its teachings. I will close with two arguments.

  1. Something is self-attesting if its proof is internal to itself.
  2. Either Scripture is fully self-attesting or it is not self-attesting at all.
  3. If Scripture is fully self-attesting, then it is inerrant in all it teaches.
  4. If Scripture is not inerrant in all it teaches, then it is not self-attesting.
  5. If Scripture is not self-attesting everywhere, it is not self-attesting anywhere.
  6. If Scripture is not self-attesting, then it cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims.
  7. If Scripture cannot be the final reference point for all truth claims, then it is not self-authoritative.
  8. If Scripture is not self-authoritative, then it is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice.
  9. If Scripture is not the final authority for Christian belief and practice, then one cannot appeal to Scripture in order prove that Christianity is true.
  10. If one cannot appeal to Scripture in order to prove that Christianity is true, then Christianity cannot be proven true.
  11. Christianity claims that it can be proven true.
  12. Therefore, Christianity is false.

And again, one more argument that is also located on my website at Reformed Reasons:

  1. There must be an ultimate reference point (URP) for all truth claims if skepticism is to be avoided.
  2. Either God or Man is the URP for all truth claims.
  3. If Man is the URP for all truth claims, which man?
  4. If we cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism cannot be avoided.
  5. We cannot identify which man is the URP for all truth claims and avoid an infinite regress.
  6. Therefore, if man is the URP for all truth claims, skepticism is true. [in other words, if man is the URP for all truth claims, there is no URP for all truth claims. See #1]
  7. Skepticism cannot be true since skepticism is self-refuting.
  8. Since Skepticism is self refuting, man cannot be the URP for all truth claims.
  9. Therefore, there must be an URP for all truth claims that is not man.
  10. See 2 above.
  11. Therefore, God is the URP for all truth claims.

 

 

 

 

The Significance of Theological Creeds and How They Function in the Christian Community

“Responding to Tom Krattenmaker”

Christian bodies that claim to follow “no creed but the Bible” put themselves at an enormous disadvantage for many purposes, not least for promoting Christian learning, because they cut themselves off from the vitally important work that has been accomplished by the numberless assemblies making up the community of Saints. [Mark Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind]

Tom Kuttenmaker recently published an article entitled, “Why a Stout Theological Creed is Not Saving Evangelical Churches.” You may read this article HERE. There is a lot of truth in Tom’s article. However, overall, the article is misguided at its most fundamental level.

Tom spends his time rebuffing the likes of men like Al Mohler for pointing out that Liberal Protestantism is chiefly in decline is because of its lack of conviction around basic Christian doctrine. Mohler often points out that Liberal Protestants reject the one thing that could restore their communities to health: a return to biblical authority. It is here, and nowhere else, that all professing Christian communities are defined. A rejection of biblical authority leaves a vacuum that no version of a social gospel can fill. Moreover, where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is life, a vibrant community filled with a love for God, for God’s truth and a love for each other.

Protestant Liberalism gets the cart before the horse. She has lived for decades now, attempting to place love of men prior to love for God. Or worse, she redefines love according to criteria over which she is the sole authority. What Tom Krattenmaker and others like him do not understand is that where there is no love for divine truth, no love for biblical authority, there can be no love for God. And where there is no love for God, there can be no love, no true love for humanity. But I digress. Evangelicalism is in decline. And her supposedly firm grip on staunch theological creed is powerless to curtail her slide. The point is that if it is true that a stanch theological creed would save liberal Protestantism from her decline, then why isn’t this staunch theological creed saving evangelicalism? That is indeed a very fair point. But Krattenmaker is only seeing and telling half the story. What he is not telling you is that the evangelical trends that Mohler and others see and have seen for years now is a trajectory much like that of the liberal Protestants of years gone by.

The point is precisely this: liberal Protestantism abandoned the historic creeds and a staunch theological conviction years ago and as a result, over time, people have exited her in droves. What has held much of evangelical churches together for years, however, has been her strong convictions around biblical authority and other basic tenets of historic Christian orthodoxy. However, evangelicals have shifted from a staunch theological creed to a weakened one and now to outright abandonment of such a concept.

Some leaders are afraid to call themselves reformed, and they fail to recognize that a subscription to reformed theology matters, and it matters a lot. They worry that if they say Calvin or Calvinism that someone’s senses may be offended. We essentially make decisions on what to say and how we say it, based on the ignorance of those who haven’t cared enough to educate themselves. That’s right. What we preach, teach, and call ourselves in many instances is determined by the ignorant rather than by the informed. What? Say it with me: What!?

Tom is right when he says that church membership is not the place to look if we are seeking evidence for the beauty and power of truth. He is right when he says it never was the place to look. But still many, including the SBC, look exactly right there. And that is more than a little disturbing and has been since the practice began. The beauty and power of the gospel is witnessed not in the masses of people joining a church or an organization. It is witnessed in the miraculous change of the sinner’s heart. The transformation is indeed miraculous.

The church in modern America has been far too involved in the political system, the outward governmental structure and even economic policy. American Christians can hardly distinguish between their faith and their patriotism. Christ told us to make disciples and to preach the gospel and somehow, that has turned into outlawing abortion, stopping homosexual marriage, ending sex trafficking, fighting over things like “Merry Christmas rather than Happy Holidays,” and putting a stop to world hunger and a host of other good and noble causes but sadly, not the primary, or even the secondary purpose of the church. And now, we are starting the pay the price. It is all really very pathetic when you think about the mission of Christians in the world. We are fighting over prayer in secular school and whether or not we can bake a cake for a gay wedding. The distractions of political and social activism have drowned the gospel. Pagans in America think the gospel is “thou shalt not have an abortion,” or “thou shalt pray in school,” or “fill in the blank.” It isn’t because we should not be preaching against these vile sins. We should. But they are no longer issues of sin when you frame them up in political conversations. The gospel runs the risk of looking just like any other political posturing when we make it about issues like gay marriage or abortion or whatever.

Carl Truman, in his excellent book, The Creedal Imperative, hits the target; all Christians engage in confessional synthesis; the difference is simply whether one adheres to a public confession, subject to public scrutiny, or to a private one that is, by its very nature, immune to such examination.

In the end, liberal Protestants have their own staunch theological creed. Even though they like to claim they are more tolerant, the truth is, they are not. Just as true Christianity rejects those who claim to be Christian and yet reject basic Christian tenets, like the authority or Scripture, liberal Protestants reject those tenets outright. And just as true Christians reject the sexual ethic of the modern liberal Protestant, the modern liberal Protestant rejects the sexual ethic of biblical Christianity, characterizing it as hateful and bigoted. You see, both biblical Christianity and liberal Protestantism engage in confessional synthesis. We confess that Scripture alone is our final authority for faith and practice while liberal Protestantism confesses that human reason will decide which portions of Scripture are acceptable for faith and practice. That is the basic difference.

The Dangers of Legalism

 

A reading of the life and story of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, reveals a number of encounters with the religious leaders of his day. Jesus was continually being questioned and challenged by the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Scribes. The game played by these religious leaders is called challenge-riposte. David deSilva says, The challenge-riposte is essentially an attempt to gain honor at someone else’s expense by publicly posing a challenge that cannot be answered. The religious leaders of Jesus day were continually engaged in this behavior. They came to Christ, tempting him repeatedly and challenging his teachings. Their goal was to discredit Christ before the people. They wanted to destroy his credibility so that they could put a stop to his influence. It is in these challenges that a picture of the legalistic and hypocritical attitude of the religious leaders because obvious.

What is legalism? How dangerous is legalism? How can we know that we have moved from sound biblical discernment into a legalistic attitude? These are important questions, because, as long as men have walked the earth, we have been prone to legalism. Unfortunately, there remains a lot of confusion in the church today surrounding the question of legalism. Some have adopted antinomianism, regrettably, they have swung to the opposite extreme of legalism to open the flood gates to all sorts of ungodly behavior. For instance, to inform a brother that sex outside of married is actually viewed as judging and legalistic by some professing Christians. If it is clearly condemned by Scripture, it cannot be legalistic to judge the behavior as wrong and call those engaged in it to repentance. In fact, it is unloving not to do so. Antinomianism is an unloving attitude. But so too is legalism. They are both different manifestations of pride, of arrogance. In both cases, we are replacing divine law with our own standards, our own criteria for how others ought to conduct themselves. In some cases, it is really quite subtle. But in others, it is flagrant.

When I know a brother is cheating on his wife or on his taxes and I do nothing to help him recover himself from such sin in the name of not judging him or in the name of not being legalistic, or in the name of grace, or in the name of loving him, I am flagrantly embracing an antinomian attitude. I am arrogantly replying to God that I will NOT confront my brother even though God has demanded that I do so. That is a flagrant antinomian attitude. When I do not confront because I see myself as a sinner too and I really do not think my brother’s behavior is my business, this is a subtler adoption of antinomianism. Both forms are ungodly.

When I set up a rule in my life that I wish to live by as a matter of preference, such as no alcohol, that is fine. There is nothing wrong with someone not drinking alcohol. There is nothing wrong with someone not watching movies or TV. This is not legalism. It is not even subtle legalism. But if I adopt the view that God prefers my practices, even slightly, over the practices of others for whatever reason, now I have stepped into a subtle legalism. Without realizing it, I think my rules make me a better Christian, more devoted, a better judge of deeds and acts than those who do not follow my system. Without realizing, I am subtly judging others hearts or their ability to make sound biblical judgments about these issues that I have deemed to be significant. But when I say that, for example, watching a Harry Potter movie is celebrating witchcraft and is in the same category as viewing pornography, I have shifted from a clandestine, subtle legalism to a blatant legalism and as a result, I am in immediate danger of succumbing to a self-righteous attitude. The entire scenario calls for a pause on my part. I should stop dead in my tracks and back the train up on this one immediately. The last thing I should do is double-down on my thinking.

Recently, a friend expressed concern about Christians practicing Yoga. He told me that Yoga was designed originally as prayers to false gods. And because of this, Christians should avoid doing Yoga. Each Yoga position is a prayer to a demon, or false god, or an idol. What my friend refuses to acknowledge, even though I pointed it out to him repeatedly, is that sin springs from the human heart. A pose, regardless of what someone 10,000 miles away and 4,000 years ago used it to accomplish, is merely a pose. I can use a pose to worship a false god, a demon, an angel, name it. It is how I am using the pose that makes that pose ungodly. The sin is located in the intent of the heart. I practice Jiu Jitsu. On occasion, we will warm up doing a number of these Yoga movements. They are really very good for the muscles and joints, especially for an old guy like me. Should I avoid these movements because some other individual uses them to worship demons? To claim that Christians who engage in Yoga are deficient in their discernment is not only legalistic, it is arrogant and self-righteous. Why? Scripture does not speak to this issue. The best we can do is deduce principles for how we should think about these things. And any time we are a few steps removed from the clear instructions of Scripture, humility should certainly be our closest guide.

The argument goes like this:

Yoga poses were created to worship false gods. I use Yoga poses only for their physical benefit. Therefore, I am worshiping a false god. In any valid argument, the conclusion must follow necessarily from the premises. As we can see here, this argument is not a valid argument. The reason is because the conclusion, I am worshiping a false god, does not necessarily follow from the premises. Guns were created to murder innocent humans. I use guns only for recreational purposes. Therefore, I must be a murderer of or intend to murder, innocent human beings. Can you see how these two arguments parallel one another and yet, neither of them are valid arguments. We could walk it back a bit. Christians should avoid Yoga poses because they are used by some people to worship false gods. Is this good logic? It depends. If I am in a culture where Yoga is used predominantly for religious purposes, I probably would want to avoid the poses so as not to send the message that I am worshipping their false gods with them. But it is the context that determines my behavior. I am calling on Romans 14 here to make my decision on when it might be unwise for me to engage in certain practices. But this principle applies to numerous behaviors, not just Yoga. Some cultures show the bottom of their feet as a sign of insult. When in those cultures, it is a good idea to understand these practices so as not to inadvertently offend people or place a stumbling block in their way.

To imply that Christians who do Yoga lack discernment, and those who watch a Harry Potter movie are celebrating witchcraft, and may as well be watching or reading porn is a serious charge. It isn’t the product of biblical exegesis. It is the product of certain conclusions about what the Scripture teaches and then the logical extrapolation of those interpretations with specific principles applied based on one’s own rules and personal preferences. This is how legalism finds a place in one’s system and if left unchecked, will eventually threaten to ruin our soul. At a minimum, if you have been told that you are antinomian or on the other hand, moving down a path of legalism, you should slam on the brakes and evaluate your position more carefully. It is one thing to say I prefer not to do Yoga and I prefer not to watch certain things on TV, or to listen to certain music. But that’s me. It is an entirely different matter when you actually think that someone is not measuring up, regardless of what that measuring up looks like on the basis that they have not embraced your personal position on these issues.

 

   Do Black Lives Matter?

Now, if that isn’t a politically loaded question in modern American culture, there isn’t one!

A number of years ago, when I lived in Binghamton, NY, I had my first encounter with black ice. Having grown up in the mountains of WV, I was used to driving in inclement weather. But I had never had the unfortunate experience of hitting black ice. For those who do not know what black ice is, let me explain it. Black ice is ice that forms on the black top of the road that is virtually invisible and in many cases, completely undetectable until it’s too late. And nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for it. The safest way to deal with black ice is to avoid it. Well, I realized I was driving on black ice when my truck lost traction and began to fishtail. I counter steered and fishtailed in the other direction, and then again. Usually, if you do this enough you can regain control of the vehicle. However, there is a point of no return in the fishtail. When the rear of the vehicle reaches a certain point, you know you have lost control. And I did, in fact, reach that point. My truck ended up sliding backwards at the speed of 60mph into the median which had about 1-2 feet of snow in it. White stuff went everywhere but both me and my truck were okay. Praise God. My next problem was getting out of the median or getting help without freezing to death. You see, this incident took place on interstate 88 north bound between Binghamton and Albany NY. My final destination for the day was my new assignment, Burlington, Vt. It was January and it was cold, hoovering right around 0 degrees. But that is a different story for another post.

America is experiencing a crisis. Actually, the truth is that America is in a number of crises. Indeed, something very peculiar is taking shape in this once great country. The situation is very much like a building that is about to tumble to the ground. America is teetering on the brink of destruction. She is in a virtual tailspin even as this post is created. And I fear that she has reached the point of no return. It seems that the outcome is inevitable at this point: America will crash. What the aftermath will look like, only God knows. But there is little doubt that an aftermath will obtain and that, not in the too distant future. And that state of affairs is very likely to look radically different from what my generation grew up with.

You see, if you view America as a country, then I want to suggest that you are looking at America wrongly. People have not migrated from all over the world for the sake of being in a particular geographical location. Men and women have not given their last breath for a piece of dirt. Soldiers do not die for a flag. And when a flag is burned, it is only a piece of material and no one is really upset that a piece of cloth with a peculiar pattern has been destroyed. You see, America is an idea. People have migrated to an idea. They have left all for the power of the idea. Men and women have died in American wars because they believed in and were loyal to an idea. The American flag represents an idea. And I am sad to say that the idea that was America, has been admitted to hospice. The contemporary people that call themselves Americans are only American by geography. They are not American in philosophy, in their idea.

There has been no small stir lately in terms of racial tension in America. In fact, with the electing of its first black president, I have experienced more racial tension and relational deterioration in the last 8 years than I have witnessed since my birth in 1965, which took place at just about 9 months after the enactment of the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps my parents were celebrating! Police officers are being murdered just because they are police officer. And somehow, hundreds of thousands of people in both the black and white communities (for lack of a better term) seem to approve or think that such behavior is justified. Even if there was a corrupt police officer on the other side of the country that wrongly took someone’s life, that is not justification for anyone on the other side of the country to kill a police officer simply because they are a police officer. This think is not just outrageous it is dangerous and represents a threat to the very fabric of this nation.

Enter the organization and the idea, “Black Lives Matter.” More than the organization is the idea that black lives matter. The implication is that black lives do not matter in America and they don’t matter to law enforcement in particular. Now, this is a Christian post with a focus on apologetics, not politics. So, to that end, let’s turn this post in that direction. Christians are witnessing these movements and new ideas along with the death of an old idea, or lots of old ideas. How are we to engage unbelievers in the middle of this crisis? I would argue that we should engage them the same way we do during any other period. So, let’s take black lives matter and use that as a platform from which to preach the gospel and defend the truth of Christian beliefs.

If Christianity is true then God exists, and there is such a thing as ethical norms, a transcendent moral code if you will. Moreover, if Christianity is true then black men and women, the same as white men and women are created in the image of God. And if that is true, then black lives have intrinsic value. And if that is true, then of course, black lives matter. This means that if Christianity is true then black lives are as valuable as any other life from any other ethnic group because all mankind finds its identity in Adam. We all share the same parents. Moreover, we all share the same source of life: God. If Christianity is true, then black lives matter.

But if Christianity is true, then it is wrong to kill police officers or anyone else in order to prove that black lives matter. You cannot have the idea that “black lives matter” while also killing police officers to prove that black lives matter. If it is okay to kill police officers because you don’t like their policies or because there was a bad shoot somewhere, then you lose your moral ground to argue that black lives matter. In other words, if it is okay to kill police officers, then black lives don’t matter. Why? Because if it is morally acceptable to kill police officers, then Christianity is not true. And if Christianity is not true, God does not exist. And if God does not exist, then neither does morality. And if morality does not exist, then it is not wrong to kill a black man, a white man, or a police officer. If God does not exist, then humans were not especially created in his image. And if that is true, then no human being possesses intrinsic value. Black lives matter if God exists. And if God exists, then it is his morality to which we must bind ourselves. See how that works? If you want the morality that makes sense of human value and that rationally justifies our belief that black lives matter, then you have to take Christianity with it. If you toss Christianity, then you lose any rational defense for black lives, or any lives as far as that goes, matter.

I say this to say that these issues are all opportunities to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Equip yourself to think better about the issues. Spend some time reading a little theology, a little philosophy, and some logic. Know Scripture and know a little about how to think and use these opportunities to witness to the goodness of God. Avoid the politics. Avoid the idolatrous patriotism. Avoid arguing about rights and freedoms. Go right for the heart of the matter: the heart, because the heart is really what matters. I hope you enjoyed this post, bad puns and all.

The Knowledge of God, Degrading Passions & A Depraved Mind

Christianity can be shown to be, not “just as good as” or even “better than” the non-Christian position, but the only position that does not make nonsense of human experience. – C. Van Tim

I thought I would take some time to share my theological and philosophical reflections lately as I continue to explore the wonderful phenomenon of how humans experience knowledge. Unless you are a dyed-in-the-wool skeptic, you acknowledge that human beings are able to know and function within this state of affairs we call reality. Oh my, I have lumped epistemology and metaphysics together in the same sentence. What will the academic philosopher think of me now? Frankly, prof., I don’t really give a darn. All in good jest of course. I want to turn your attentions to Romans 1, a chapter that I believe serves as a basic foundation for a distinctly Christian epistemology. In this chapter we not only touch on modern controversies of epistemology, but also on some of the modern moral controversies of human sexuality; controversies which stem, as we shall discover, from man’s unethical approach to how he interprets himself, his experience of the world, and yes, his experience of God.

As he lays the foundation for what he is about to discuss with the Roman Christians, the apostle Paul tells them that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith in the gospel of Jesus Christ. He then informs these ancient Christians, and us I might add, that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteous of men, who by the way, are suppressing the truth in unrighteous. Now, there is no question about the fact that God is revealing his wrath. That is clear enough. But why is this happening? Paul uses a very interesting Greek word to draw his inference. Please remember, this inference is the revealed truth God. God is revealing these things through Paul. What Paul writes, God speaks. The Greek word dioti is an adverbial causal conjunction. It modifies the verb apokalupto. Paul is about to tell us why God is revealing his wrath from heaven. Dioti is a marker of a causal connection between the idea in v. 18 and what is about to follow in v. 19. The reason is linked to man’s knowledge of God. Paul says that that which is known about God is evident within them. These are they who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And who does that? All unregenerate men do that until the glorious light of the gospel is used to open their eyes and that work is only performed by the Holy Spirit. This knowledge of God is evident within them for God made it evident within them. When God makes knowledge evident within someone, I would say we are safe to assume that they know. They are in possession of knowledge. They know and experience the truth of God’s existence.

After clearly point out that men are in possession of the truth of God, and that these men willingly suppress that truth, Paul goes on to expand on his indictment. And make no mistake about it, this is an indictment. Paul elaborates on this fact by saying that God’s invisible attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made. Therefore, they are without excuse. Notice that Paul did not say that men ought to infer God from what was made. Paul said that men do actually see clearly and understand something about God’s attributes, his eternal power, and his divine nature through what has been made. The experience of being created in God’s image as well as the experience of God’s created order ensure that all men everywhere know God; they possess the truth about God by way of their experience of these things. And this experience is impossible to avoid. It is the experience of reality, God’s created world.

After expanding his indictment, Paul feels the need to elaborate even further. He says that even though they knew God, they did not honor him as God nor did they given thanks. Instead, they went down a different path. They became, humanity became mataioo in their dialogismos. They become utterly worthless in their reasoning, in their cognitive faculties. Man possesses the truth about God. He knows God. He understands enough about God to render him without a defense for this behavior. There is no excuse for men to reject belief in God. There is no excuse for men to refuse to give God thanks in all things. None! This behavior is condemned by God as idolatry. The traded to image of God for a different kind of image. Rather than accepting the truth that humanity is creating in the image of God and owes God all that he is, they, we, exchanged that image for a variety of different ones. In modern culture, we have exchanged the image of God for evolutionary theory. Paul has told us the wrath of God is being revealed. Now he is about to tell us how that wrath is being revealed.

Paul uses the Greek conjunction, dio, to tell us how God is pouring his wrath out on the earth. We saw a hint above when Paul references the complete uselessness of unregenerate cognitive faculties. Now he tells us, using this little word which is a logical inferential. It is the conclusion of his indictment. For this reason, God gave them over to the lusts of their own hearts. How is God’s wrath revealed from heaven? First, God gave them over to degrading passions. Atimia is a Greek word that has a sense of a state of dishonor or disrespect. The Greek word, Pathos employed by Paul in this instance, carries the sense of a strong desire. In other words, God’s wrath is revealed in the shameful, dishonorable, and disrespectful strong desires of humanity. This behavior is evidence of the wrath of God. And it is brought about because humanity experiences God in everything they do and refuses to interpret that experience righteously, giving thanks to God for all they are. But that is not all. Not only is humanity suffering from shameful strong desires because of its obstinate behavior, there is more.

Not only did God given humanity over to degrading passions, he also gave them over to a depraved mind. Here the Greek word is adokimos, and it means unqualified, worthless, base. God has given unregenerate men over to a mind that is worthless. The word for mind carries the sense of intellectual perception, understanding, you know, the cognitive faculties of human beings. In this context it means a mindset, a way of thinking, an attitude, an outlook, or, a worldview. Unregenerate men display the wrath of God upon the human race by way of embracing a worthless, unqualified, base worldview. The thought-pattern of unregenerate humanity is debased.

In summary then, we observe the revealed wrath of God on humanity in the form of unregenerate men having sank into the moral confusion of even the most basic of human behaviors, sexuality. We witness the degrading passions of homosexuality not only being freely expressed in our culture, but we also observe a frightening dogmatic insistence on celebrating such behavior. Moreover, we observe an irrational and extreme hostility toward those who disagree with these practices. Second, the wrath of God is also revealed in the expression of an anti-God, anti-Christian worldview that reduces not only to moral confusion but also to an irrationalism that only be made sense of in the Christian worldview. We murder innocent babies in the womb. We celebrate perverted sexual promiscuity. We affirm men who want to be classified as women. We are forcing our young girls to share bathrooms and shower facilities with the opposite sex. And somehow, this is supposed to be progress? What we see in American culture in particular is the clear revelation of the wrath of God in the immoral sexual perversion of homosexuality along with the absolute abandonment of anything remotely resembling a worldview or mindset that makes sense. In closing, man knows God exists. Man understand something about God within God’s created order. This knowledge comes to him. Man is the passive recipient. This knowledge is unavoidable. But man forces his own interpretation on things. He rejects the Creator, exchanges God for anything but God, to include evolutionary theory. He interprets everything apart from God refusing to acknowledge or thank God in any way. God reveals his wrath by turning men over to degrading passions and lusts as well as depraved minds. Man’s desires and cognitive faculties are spiraling downward without restraint. And in it Christians are instructed to interpret this phenomenon as the revelation of the wrath of God.

This condition makes one wonder why God stopped to save any of us. Why do that? The purpose of God’s electing and saving grace is located in God. Indeed, the mystery of the loving-kindness and grace of God is above and beyond anything we could ever hope to understand.

Penal-Substitutionary Atonement in Church History

In my last blog post entitled “God’s View of Sin,” a commenter took exception with my view endorsing a penal-substitutionary model of the atonement. His claim is very clear and very basic: “that no component of PST exists in any form, kerygmatic or written, until the reformation is a good indication that no one even conceived of it until then.” Now, it seems to me that this statement is filled with numerous problems. First, since the term kerygmatic applies to “preaching” it seems that no one can know if PST was preached for the first thousand years of the church because we do not have a record of everything that was preached during that period. The statement on its face is an extreme exaggeration and the commenter turned critic should have avoided it. Second, that we have no written record of anyone ever espousing any component of PST is, on the face of it, simply mistaken. The basic objective of this blog post is to demonstrate that there were components and more, of the penal-substitutionary model of the atonement embraced by those in the ancient church and that this can be traced throughout the history of the church until it comes into its own in the works of Anselm is not a difficult task.

Now, my critic has set his own bar and that bar is indeed a high one. Because my critic has set a high bar for himself, all that I must do in order to show that he is wrong is demonstrate that just one component of PST was indeed present in the history of the church prior to 1,000. I do not have to show that PST was fully framed out in some confessional form prior to 1,000. Additionally, there is a logical problem with my critic’s argument. Whether or not there is a written argument for PST is not a good enough reason to conclude that no one had ever conceived of it until Anselm. For there are many things that could be argued that would require principles deduced from the belief that PST is biblical doctrine. Finding principles that would require the soundness of PST would be good evidence that, even though there were no direct writings about the doctrine, PST was received by certain theologians making such arguments upon said principles. Even though my critic has issued a proposition that is filled with numerous logical fallacies, it is the lack of historical facts that is the most glaring. And so, it is the historical fact that I shall address for the remainder of this post. My goal is to provide historical proof that the PST was not new to Anselm, but that it has its roots in early Christianity, in fact, in Scripture itself.

It would be remiss for me not to provide a definition of what I mean when I say penal-substitutionary atonement. Wayne Grudem is helpful when he says that Christ’s death was penal in that he bore a penalty when he died. And, Christ’s death was a substitute in that he was a substitute for us when he died. [Grudem, Systematic Theology, 579] One of the issues with which we must grapple where the atonement is concerned is the its multifaceted nature. Gregg Allison identifies several facts: expiation, propitiation, redemption, reconciliation, Christ the Victor, example, and exchange or imputation. Because of this fact alone, the opportunity to focus on these various aspects of the atonement could create the false idea that other facets were not as important. This is a nuance of the doctrine that must be kept in view as one studies its history.

Clement of Rome wrote, “In love has the Lord taken us to Himself. On account of the love He bore us, Jesus Christ our Lord gave His blood for us by the will of God; His flesh for our flesh, and His soul for our souls.” (1 Clement 49) Clearly the idea of substitution is present in the phrases, “his flesh for our flesh, and his soul for our souls.”

The Epistle of Mathetes to Diognetus also expresses a substitutionary view, “He Himself took on Him the burden of our iniquities, He gave His own Son as a ransom for us, the holy One for transgressors, the blameless One for the wicked, the righteous One for the unrighteous, the incorruptible One for the corruptible, the immortal One for them that are mortal…By what other one was it possible that we, the wicked and ungodly, could be justified, than by the only Son of God?” This work was written in the late 2nd century.

Justin clearly thought in a penal-substitutionary way in his dialogue with Trypho, “The Father of all wished His Christ for the whole human family to take upon Him the curses of all, knowing that, after He had been crucified and was dead, He would raise Him up…His Father wished Him to suffer this, in order that by His stripes the human race might be healed.” This letter was also written in the second century.

Irenaeus, having been the first to formulate the recapitulation theory, expressed a substitutionary view of the atonement; “For as by the disobedience of the one man who was originally moulded from virgin soil, the many were made sinners, and forfeited life; so was it necessary that, by the obedience of one man, who was originally born from a virgin, many should be justified and receive salvation.”

Athanasius, living in the 4th century expressed a substitutionary view: For when ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ and came to minister and to grant salvation to all, then He became to us salvation, and became life, and became propitiation; then His economy in our behalf became much better than the Angels, and He became the Way and became the Resurrection.” And then again, he wrote, “He next offered up His sacrifice also on behalf of all, yielding His Temple to death in the stead of all, in order firstly to make men quit and free of their old trespass, and further to shew Himself more powerful even than death, displaying His own body incorruptible, as first-fruits of the resurrection of all.”

Ignatius clearly believed that Jesus died on behalf of sinners, “Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved.”

The Epistle of Barnabas contains similar language, “For to this end the Lord endured to deliver up His flesh to corruption, that we might be sanctified through the remission of sins, which is effected by His blood of sprinkling…He also Himself was to offer in sacrifice for our sins the vessel of the Spirit, in order that the type established in Isaac when he was offered upon the altar might be fully accomplished.”

It is challenging to gain more clarity on this question than is added by reading the early church historian Eusebius, “Thus the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sins of the world, became a curse on our behalf.” And again, “And the Lamb of God not only did this, but was chastised on our behalf, and suffered a penalty He did not owe, but which we owed because of the multitude of our sins; and so He became the cause of the forgiveness of our sins, because He received death for us, and transferred to Himself the scourging, the insults, and the dishonour, which were due to us, and drew down upon Himself the appointed curse, being made a curse for us.” And finally, “But since being in the likeness of sinful flesh He condemned sin in the flesh, the words quoted are rightly used. And in that He made our sins His own from His love and benevolence towards us.” It seems this statement alone would provide the hammer, the nail, and the coffin by which we could reject and dispense with the view that there was no hint of PST in the first 1,000 years of the church. Surely, the evidence is overwhelmingly stacked against such claims.

I rest my case.

What is even more devastating for the anti-PST view than the historical evidence in church history is a careful exegesis of the text of Scripture. Nothing more is needed than Scripture itself to offer a sound and thorough refutation of any view opposing a Penal-Substitutionary Atonement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

God’s View of Sin

Sin

Odd as it may sound, it is a word that many churches, if not most churches have dropped from their vocabulary. We just don’t like talking about it these days. The trouble is, we cannot very well talk about Jesus Christ and the good news of the gospel without also talking about sin. Modern churches have turned the gospel of God into a “God is for you” message, God is on your side, God accepts you just as you are with no strings attached, and if you just do what he says, life will be so much better all the way around. While the early church was described as turning the world upside down, the modern American church can rightly be said to have turned the Word upside down. Without sin, there would be no gospel. And without the gospel, there would be no church. So, let’s talk about sin for a few paragraphs. What does God have to say about sin? And does what God have to say about sin accord with what you think about sin?

The Biblical Definition of Sin

What is sin? To answer this question, we turn to the writings of 1 John. There we find this statement: Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness. (1 John 3:4) John tells us that sin is lawless behavior, behaving in a way that is without, apart from, or better yet, against the law. What law you ask? Why, the law of God of course. So sin is defined by God in his word as living without his law. How does God deal with beings that live without his law? What does God have to say about beings that would dare to conduct their life without consulting his law? To answer that question, you guessed it; we must turn to Scripture once again.

The First Sin

In the beginning, God created man and woman perfect. We know this because God looked at man and woman and said that his creation was וְהִנֵּה־טוֹב מְאֹד, and, behold it was very good. The Hebrew phrase literally means “exceedingly good.” Adam and Eve, our first parents were created abundantly, exceedingly, good. But they both failed to honor God’s law as expressed in his covenant with Adam. Adam and Eve wanted to live without submitting to God’s law. They made a choice not to honor God’s covenant. Hos. 6:7 could not be more clear on the matter. “But like Adam they have transgressed the covenant; There they have dealt treacherously against Me.” Adam transgressed God’s covenant and as a result, all of mankind was cast headlong into sin, condemnation, blindness, and judgment. Sin brought pain, imperfection, sickness, disease, doubt, alienation, death, and eternal judgment. Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden tree in violation of God’s sacred command and God cursed both of them, their prodigy, and cast them from the garden. One reason many scholars want to relegate Adam and Eve to myth is that they cannot accept the idea that God would act so harshly toward something they consider to be in reality, a minor offense after all. However, breaking the divine covenant is never a minor offense. And it is a contemptuous and arrogant attitude that would embrace that sort of mindset. Nevertheless, I fear that the majority of us Christians in 2016 have adopted precisely that sort of mindset toward our own sin at least and in most cases toward sin in general. Sin is viewed as an unavoidable fact of imperfect beings, winked at with a shrug of the shoulders, and given very serious thought beyond that. Christians have adopted a defeatist attitude toward sin. We use the crutch that we are all sinners, we sin every day, so what is the point of confronting sin in our lives and waging war on it with every fiber of our being to root it out, to kill it. And so we give up. We move along daily sinning all the while, asking God to forgive us with a half-hearted prayer at the end of the day and get up and do it all over again tomorrow.

The Flood

It didn’t take long for mankind to reach its threshold of evil after the fall. It took humanity all of ~1656 years to once again provoke God to the point that he wiped nearly every human from off the planet with the exception of 8 souls. “Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Gen. 6:5) Man, as a creature of God, is still under a covenantal obligation to acknowledge God in all his ways and to submit to God’s law in all he does. Modern man scoffs at this claim. Modern man, if he acknowledges any god at all, only acknowledges a god that pleases him, not the God whom he is under strict obligation to please. The same was true in the time of Noah. Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence. God looked on the earth, and behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth. Then God said to Noah, “The end of all flesh has come before Me; for the earth is filled with violence because of them; and behold, I am about to destroy them with the earth. (Gen. 6:11-13) God hates sin so much that he destroyed all of humanity excepting Noah and his family.

Sodom and Gomorrah

Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord. (Gen. 13:13) And the Lord said, “The outcry of Sodom and Gomorrah is indeed great, and their sin is exceedingly grave. (Gen. 18:20) The LORD visited Sodom and Gomorrah by way of two angels. The cities were so given over to wickedness that the following was the result: “and they called to Lot and said to him, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us that we may have relations with them.” (Gen. 19:5) The wicked men of Sodom wanted to have sex with the two angels, thinking they were men. Lot even went so far as to offer the men his daughters. But the men would have none of it. As a result, God destroyed the cities. “Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven.” The NT writer, Jude, commented on the situation in Sodom: just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 7) God was so intolerant of rampant homosexuality that he completely wiped out the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.

King David

Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. (2 Sam. 11:2) David lingered too long and his fleshly lust got the better of him. David allowed his sexual urge to cause him to commit adultery. David sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house. (11:4) As a result of this union, Bathsheba conceived a child. David then attempted to engage in deception, bringing Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband home from war in hopes he would think the child was his. But Uriah refused to have sex with his wife while his comrades were still at war. Uriah was a man of high honor. As a result of David’s sin of adultery, and his failed deception, he decided to add murder to his failings. “He had written in the letter, saying, “Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” (2 Sam. 11:15) David’s master plan worked, finally. But God was watching. God is always watching. “Then the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s widow bore to David, so that he was very sick. Then it happened on the seventh day that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead.” (2 Sam. 11: 15 & 18) God punished David by killing the child of his adulterous union with Bathsheba. God did not, as so many modern Christians think, understand that David was just an imperfect sinner who made a few mistakes along the way. David committed adultery, then he lied, and finally, he murdered to cover up his sin. And God was watching. God is always watching.

The High Cost of Redemption

But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief. (Isa. 53:10)   But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isa. 53:5) About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matt. 27:46) The cross was as much as an act of divine judgment as it was an act of love. In fact, if the cross was not an act of judgment, it could not have been an act of love assuming that God is perfectly righteous. If the cross was a loving act of a perfectly just God, then it necessarily included divine judgment so long as it’s intent was to forgive sin and redeem men. If you do not understand this principle, then you do not understand Christianity. If you do not understand this principle, you do not understand the gospel. And if you do not understand my claim, you should be very upset right now. And I can only hope you are upset enough to read the following article, which provides a discursive overview of Christ’s atonement: http://www.cmfnow.com/articles/pt153.htm. God despises sin so much, and sin is so wicked, and God’s love is so profoundly deep, that only his only Son could serve as the object of his wrath in our place in order to release us from the divine curse, from condemnation, from divine judgment. No one else but God could serve as the object of his own wrath in order to redeem man. God’s perfect righteousness would have been compromised if the cross had not served as the object of divine wrath. God could have been loving and forgiven us without crushing Jesus at Calvary. But he could not have remained perfectly righteous, holy, and extended such forgiveness.

Final Judgment

What does God have to say about sin? What will God do where sin is concerned? How will God deal with sin on the earth? How will God deal with unrepentant human beings in love with sin?

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev. 20:11-15)

How do we respond to these truths of Scripture concerning sin? Some of us contend that Adam and Eve was literary myth. We reject the historicity of the flood. We consider the story of Sodom and Gomorrah to be about something other than homosexuality. We accuse the God that killed David’s baby of being a projection of ancient, unsophisticated, bloody, violent men. We reject the cross as an object of divine wrath and prefer rather to view it as religious hypocrites with their rules murdering a good man. Others think the cross was nothing more than God giving us a good example and self-sacrificing service. Finally, we reject the idea of final judgment, believing that a loving God would never subject any human to eternal punishment. The message of love is contradictory to the message of wrath. Moreover, the prevalent attitude is that sin is not really that big of a deal. We all sin every day. We are sinners. We are not perfect. Don’t make more out of it than it is. No one is perfect. Sin is just humans being human. But if we begin with Genesis 1 and read through Revelation 22, we understand the Bible to be telling us the grand story of the history of divine redemption. And in that love divine, we see God’s attitude toward sin. We see a different picture unfolding before us if we just allow it to speak for itself. Sin is something to be avoided. Sin is something to be hated. Sin is something to be eradicated. God hates sin so much that he came to earth as a man and died a cruel death at the hands of sinful men in order to put an end to it.

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, vast, unmeasured, boundless, free!

Rolling as a mighty ocean in its fullness over me!

Underneath me, all around me, is the current of Thy love

Leading onward, leading homeward to Thy glorious rest above!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, spread His praise from shore to shore!

How He loveth, ever loveth, changeth never, nevermore!

How He watches o’er His loved ones, died to call them all His own;

How for them He intercedeth, watcheth o’er them from the throne!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, love of every love the best!

‘Tis an ocean vast of blessing, ’tis a haven sweet of rest!

O the deep, deep love of Jesus, ’tis a heaven of heavens to me;

And it lifts me up to glory, for it lifts me up to Thee!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Independence Day

All over the country as well as the internet, modern American Christians and their leaders are telling the story of American independence today. One such leader, Hank Hanegraaff, quotes Thomas Jefferson, the deistic heretic, who believed and argued that America was a precious and joyous blessing to all of us. Was it? Is it? American independence has, for 240 years, been a celebrated achievement in all churches in this country. This is especially true for evangelical churches. We have continually demonstrated American pride at every given opportunity, pledging allegiance to the American flag and the principles upon which this country was founded. I cannot help but pause and ask, how many Christians actually stop to ask the question: is the American experiment founded on godly principles? Is there any room within the Christian worldview, the Christian ethic for the idea of revolution? Moreover, is there room within the Christian faith for the idea of a brutal, bloody revolution? Can Christians take up arms against the King, the governing authority? Could they do this today? Yesterday? Tomorrow? Ever? It is a question that Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers ought to be helping the rest of us ask and answer. And for that answer, we must turn to Scripture.

To answer this question briefly, I will point you to two very straightforward texts in the Bible. It is these texts that speak so clearly to this question that I see no need to examine any others. The first text is located in 1 Peter 2:13-17. Peter commands Christians to submit themselves to every human institution for the Lord’s sake. Included in those institutions is the king. Now, Peter wrote somewhere during the early to mid 60s, probably not later than 65. Nero was the Roman emperor during this time. Nero was anything but a fair, just, or noble leader. Yet, despite this, Peter commands the Christian community to honor the governing authorities which would include the emperor Nero. And living in Rome at the time, Peter would have been quite familiar with Nero’s ungodly leadership. Peter’s interest was the Christian church’s testimony of faith in Christ to the surrounding ungodly, pagan culture.

Peter was not alone in his perspective on Christian submission to ungodly authorities. Paul wrote to the Roman church, the same church from which Peter wrote his instructions, commanding that community that every person must be in submission to the governing authorities. Paul said that those who resist the governing authority find themselves resisting God. He informs us that we are to render to the governing authorities what is due. Obedience is one of those things. For the sake of our conscience, Christians are to be in subjection to governing authorities. This is not an option. Christian leaders of all stripes have much work to do in helping Christians in America draw the sharp line of separation between what it means to be a Christian and what it means to be an American. Christians have for far too long uncritically accept American principles and ideas as if they are derived from Scripture. For the most part, they are not. An adjustment is long overdue. The excuses for not teaching Christians how to be better critical thinkers, better discerners reached its end long ago. We cannot make a difference in our culture unless we are different ourselves, top to bottom. For too long now Christians have tried to change their culture by being more and more like the culture. It’s a silly perspective when you think about it that way. You can’t make a difference if you’re not different yourself. Today, where Independence Day is concerned, let’s be different: different in how we think about our heavenly citizenship; different in how we see ourselves in our culture; different in how we fellowship and do church and worship. We are wholly dependent upon God. We are dependent upon each other. We are never independent in any sense of the meaning of that word.

Finally, I want to draw your attention to the first independence day. Long ago, in a garden far from here, there was a man named Adam and a woman whose name was Eve. In that garden there was a serpent; a serpent promising a new way to life, a new way to think, a new way to know, a new way to live. No longer would or should man have to rely solely on God for his understanding of the world and how he should live in it. Man, said the serpent, can and should operate independent from God. He has that right! He will not die. He can be whatever he wants to be, accomplish whatever he wants to accomplish. He can live according to his own morality. He can achieve knowledge and expertise of his world, of creation apart from God, without reliance or even reference to God. The fruit of this philosophy is expressed in American culture and her churches week in and week out. The most common expression of this philosophy is in its view of Scripture. Man determines which parts of Scripture are useful and which parts should be dismissed. Man, not Scripture, is the final arbiter of truth. You can murder babies and call it a woman’s rights issue or a woman’s health issue. If you were born a male, you can be whatever gender you want with surgery or just the use of simple language. Man has convinced himself that he is autonomous, independent in every way, the master of his own ship.

We do not submit to an ungodly government for pragmatic or practical reasons. We do so for the sake of Christ, for the sake of the gospel, to honor God and to honor God we must honor the king, the emperor, and even the president. Obedience to God’s law, fulfillment of our Christian duties is precisely how Christians honor their Lord. The reason we fulfill our duty is because we love our Lord. And if we love our Lord, and care about reflecting his image into this world, into our specific culture, we must obey that very Scripture that is the revelation of the very nature we are supposed to be imaging to the world.

The entire Christian idea is the return to our acknowledgement that in all things, we are totally dependent on God. We depend on God for knowledge and understanding. We depend on God for redemption, for true joy, for love, for hope, for morality, yes, for all things. Regeneration reminds us first and foremost that we are creatures in need of our Creator. When we read Scripture we are reminded that we rely on God for everything. Someone once asked me that if God controls all things and has planned all things, then what is the primary purpose for prayer? While prayer is relational in nature, it is not relational in the sense that it conjures up emotions. It is relational in nature in that it acknowledges to God that we are his creatures, his children by his gracious act of adoption and that we rely on him for everything. The idea of independence is, at its very core, contrary to Christian dogma, antithetical to the very heartbeat of the Christian worldview.

 

The Disaster of Freewill Theology

My perspective on Freewill Theology is that it has its roots in the fall of man. To be more specific, my claim is that the idea of the sort of freedom found in the focus of freewill theology is an idea that lay at the very focus of Satan’s rebellion against God, and man’s seduction to rebel against God. The idea of Freewill Theology places man at the locus of control to choose the contrary. This raises questions regarding what it means to choose as well as what I mean by the contrary. What does it mean for one to choose A versus not A? What is choice? What kinds of choices exist? What goes into making a choice? What does that process look like? My aim is show how the idea of freewill theology influences pagan culture and how the influence on that culture makes its way full circle, back into the community of Christ’s disciples, the church.

It would be an understatement to say that there are a healthy number of Christians wondering exactly what has gone wrong with the good old U.S. of A. Why, just yesterday, everything seemed to be fine. And now all of the sudden, we have turned the page, and a new chapter has begun. And that chapter is unlike anything we have read so far in this book. It’s like a bad dream. If you have ever seen the movie ‘Pleasantville’, you know what I am talking about. Christians talk about the values of yesterday: the values that made this country great. Those values are why the country was great. And if we want to be great again, we must get back to those values. What the typical modern Christian, shallow though he or she may be, does not understand is that the people in charge of today’s culture, the influencers if you will, do not believe that that country ever was great. In fact, what they believe is that that country was evil. And it was evil precisely because of those values. So, what is going on here? What is happening? Why the shift? Why the change in moral values? Why the change in perspective? I dare say that from both the pagan philosophical standpoint and the theological perspective of the church, it can be traced to, in large degree, the wholesale adoption of freewill theology or philosophy. This mindset begins with a view of God (if it allows for God at all), and a view of man that are both the product of sinful projections, tracing their origins back to Genesis 3.

Genuine human freedom, as defined by the proponents of freewill theology, is incompatible with determinism. In other words, any theological schema that affirms determinism in any way is false if the idea of libertarian human freedom is true. Human acts must only and always be the direct result of the human will, uncaused and undetermined in any way whatsoever. This is what I mean by the use of the expression, freewill theology or freewill philosophy. This brand of freewill is also known as contra-causal freewill or, more commonly, libertarian freedom. There are no causal laws or all-powerful, sovereign agents behind human choices. The actions of individual humans are self-caused. To reject this sacred doctrine of modern paganism is the ultimate betrayal of humans everywhere. How can the disciples of Christ in this modern pagan culture think rightly about this doctrine and about the phenomena it is producing in the culture and the influence it has over the church? First, we must understand its roots, identify the areas in our own thinking it has infected, and ask God to cure that infection by cleansing our minds with the washing and purifying power of His Word.

To think better about freewill theology, we must think biblically. And to think biblically requires that we go to the text of Scripture and ask the Scripture to inform our thinking in the area of human freedom and responsibility. What does God say about the matter? The story begins in Genesis 1. In Genesis 1:26 we are told that God created man bĕṣalmēnû kidmûtēnû, in our image, our likeness. Man is the unique representation of God within creation. Of all creation, man is the only created being that images and represents God. As such, man is to rule the rest of creation. As God rules over all things, man is to rule over God’s created order. Hence man is a reflection of God and is to reflect and image God over creation and back to God for God’s own glory. This is why man exists. The idea of independence is entirely foreign to man’s role as imager and representative of God. This arrangement is called the Covenant of Works in theological jargon. But man chose to reject God’s arrangement, and according to Hosea 6:7, Adam broke the covenant. Rather than rule over creation, man decided to replace God with himself and then do the unthinkable: he worshipped himself and God’s creations, exchange the glory of the incorruptible for the base image of beasts and creeping things. Man was seduced by a promise that was partly true, but most false.

Step one in this story was to question if God had even issued a commandment. “Did God really say you cannot eat of the fruit from that tree?” Step two was to contradict God outright, “You will not surely die!” God is wrong or God is deliberately withholding something good from you without justification! Step three, Eve looked. Eve began to examine the situation using her own rational criteria rather than simply rejecting the temptation to abandon simple, unquestioned obedience, she chose her own path. She reasoned contrary to God. She was deceived into thinking that she could operate independent from God. She could chart her own course. She could determine her own path. She could, like God, create her own world with her own morality, her own way of knowing, her own system. She could determine right from wrong apart from God. She could create her own truth. She was free to do as she pleased, even free to go against her Creator. We know the rest of the story. Adam and Eve together, acted on a lie and as a result, the world was hurled into sin. The desire for absolute freedom, for absolute independence prevailed and our first parents invited divine curse and rejected divine blessing.

Now, a freewill theology proponent would use this scenario as a line of evidence in support of their position. But does the fall of humanity really support the basic thesis of freewill theology? I don’t think it does even for a minute and I am not alone. Remember that freewill theology denies any causal elements in the actions of human beings. In order for Adam and Eve to have truly been free creatures, exercising freewill, according to the idea of freewill theology, their fall had to take God by surprise. The acts of free creatures, if they are truly free, cannot be known in advance. At least, if we are going to honor the definition of freewill theology as the absence of any causal element in human actions. If God knew in advance that Adam would fall, and God’s knowledge is perfect knowledge, then Adam could not have acted differently in those circumstances. What God knows, He knows perfectly. This is because of how God knows, not simply due to the fact that God knows. God’s knowledge of future human actions is based on God’s decree of what humans will do in the future. Since the divine decree is efficacious, then God’s knowledge of the fall was unimpeachable.

Freewill theology is rooted in pagan Greek philosophy. The clash between the wills of men and the wills of the gods is a common struggle. And that struggle is now expressed so many different ways in the church, in sermons, and in Sunday school classes. It was Aristotle who wrote, “The Stick moves the stone and is moved by the hand, which is again moved by the man; in the man, however, we have reached a mover that is not so in virtue of being moved by something else.” [Physics, 8:256] It was Pelagius who, more than anyone, introduced this mindset in the early church. And it was Augustine who rightly put him in his place. Pelagius’ view of man is necessary if freewill theology is true. After all, if men are unable to please God, then one has to wonder in what sense he is free. Contrary to the clear teachings of Scripture, Pelagius believed that man possessed the inherent ability, apart from divine grace, to obey and please God. He reasoned that responsibility required ability and since man was responsible to please God, he must be able to do so. Hence, man must be free to obey God or not, to please God or not. And this is precisely the sort of influence that pagan philosophy has held over various components of the church throughout her history and especially in modern American culture. Freewill theology unwittingly eliminates divine freedom, renders divine sovereignty unintelligible, and brings right back to the promise of the serpent in the garden, placing man at the locus of control of his own destiny.

Freewill theology has devastating impacts to a biblical soteriology, essentially making man the captain of his own salvation. Decisional regeneration and easy believism are direct correlates of this theology. Contrary to this way of thinking, Scripture clearly informs us that men do not choose Christ as an act of their will. (John 1:12-13)

Freewill theology produces movements like the market-driven-seeker-sensitive-church. This movement claims that whether or not men are born again is entirely within their own power. Nicodemus understood full-well that the command to be born again was beyond his power. (John 3) Churches ignore the biblical teaching that no one seeks after God and move to create programs, music, campuses, and styles that appeal to the unregenerate. They are “removing obstacles” to faith in Christ so that they can get as many in the church as possible. As a result, evangelical churches have filled their memberships with a majority of unregenerate people who are at best, deistic moralists satisfying their self-righteous conscience.

Freewill theology produces methods like classical apologetics. This method assumes that men are free and able to evaluate the arguments on their own merits, as if the evidence and facts that support it are neutral. The goal of classical apologetics is to remove the obstacles to faith, the offensive claims of Christian that may offend human reason as the unregenerate understand human rationality. The idea is to clear a path so that the unregenerate can take that path to a born again experience. This method ignores or engages in exegetical gymnastics where 1 Cor. 1-2 are concerned. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18) “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21) “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Cor. 1:30) “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14)

Freewill theology and philosophy fit perfectly into our postmodern world. Elizabeth Meek writes, “To be human is to make sense of experience. There are voices today that would discourage the attempt. They say, you can’t really get it right, you can’t really understand. All you can do is come up with some private interpretation, and you need not worry about your private interpretation fitting the world, because there is no world to fit. And for you to think you can get it right, objectively right, is an attitude that threatens everyone else’s freedom to think what they like.” [Meek, Longing to Know] In our postmodern culture, there is no world out there. There is no truth about the world out there, no objective truth about some reality external to the human mind. The world is whatever your mind wishes to do to it. And so we see a reality in which babies are butchered in the name of women’s health. Marriage is desecrated in the name of love. The male-female distinction is discarded in the name of discrimination. Truly, Paul was speaking for God when he wrote, they became futile in their speculations. (Rom 1:21). That Greek word futile is mataioō and it literally means worthless.

Freewill theology impugns God’s freedom which is a denial of divine sovereignty in any meaningful sense. Moreover, it denies the divine decree and places God in the position of not knowing, and at best, learning. Freewill theology elevates the ability of man, essentially making him his own redeemer and renders the guarantee of redemption null and void which means that death of Christ itself accomplished nothing on the cross. It only made something possible which seems absurd in the light of freewill theology. Freewill theology lends itself to an unbiblical ecclesiology, permitting unregenerate people to shape the weekly gathering of the Christian community by changing the styles of music, teaching, preaching, and outreach. Freewill theology leads us to use a method of apologetics that is far more likely to fill the church with people who are not truly converted but rather, impressed with arguments and evidence for Christianity. It is an external Christianity that fails to get to the heart of the gospel. It places man in the seat of authority and judge over Scripture and asks him to render his verdict which he is all too eager to do. Freewill theology is consistent with postmodern, pagan philosophy. Man is the master of his own destiny, the captain of his own ship, the author and finisher of his own fate. He creates his own private interpretation of the world around him and of the Christian world if he decides to engage in a local community. As a result you end up with a conglomeration of people who accept abortion, deny the authority of Scripture, reject special creation, deny a literal fall, literal parents, embrace homosexuality, reject church discipline, divorce at will, and carry on a life that is defined by their wholesale rejection of divine authority and anything resembling biblical submission. So much for freewill theology. From my perspective, it is nothing short of a theological disaster in every way.

 

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