Friday, May 22, 2015

Can God Justify Calvary?

Donald Macleod's book Christ Crucified has been a great read so far. The book is solid theologically, and Macleod's writing is clear, succinct, and powerful.  Here are two of my favorite quotes so far.
From a human point of view this emphasis on the cross [in the New Testament] is baffling. Every prudential consideration suggested that these first Christian preachers should divert attention from it as much as possible. To Jewish ears, the idea of a crucified Messiah was a contradiction in terms. To Gentiles, the claim that the salvation of the world had come through a crucified Jewish criminal was an absurdity. To both Jew and Gentile, the suggestion that death, particularly death on a  cross, could bring eternal life, was blasphemous idiocy; had the early church had a professional director of communications, he would have said, categorically, "We don't do the cross! Stay on message, and focus on his wonderful ethical teaching." 

It is the cross itself that requires a theodicy. How can God justify what he did at Calvary? What gave him the right to sacrifice his own Son? Only the doctrine of vicarious punishment can provide an answer. The sword falls at the precise point where justice located the sin of the world: in Jesus own body, on the tree. The sword falls here because it is right that it should fall here; and it is right because 'in my place condemned he stood.' Otherwise the cross is a black hole; an irrational evil, the act of a capricious or malevolent deity.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Coming Division Between Christ and Family

For many generations a convert to Christianity in the West (Europe & America) did not have to sacrifice much. The reason was Western Christendom. Most of society was built on Christian laws and operated under a Christian ethic. If someone went to a revival meeting and got saved they went out into a world, that for the most part, approved of their conversion and the actions that flowed from it.  If a preacher called a man to come to Christ, that repentance rarely meant that the man would lose his family or job for believing in Jesus.

In the coming years this will change. Conversion to Christ in the West will require more sacrifice. In particular, we will find families divided. There will be other types of loss, such as jobs and money, but nothing compares to being rejected by our family. Losing family is a deep wound. New Christians will no longer find themselves in a world that basically approves of them and their actions. Instead they will find themselves in the position of many Muslims who when they choose Christ lose all. Two Muslim brothers who came to Jesus described it this way:
Faith [in Jesus] often means the total rejection of culture, ethnicity, family, and friends. To find heaven's glory in Jesus Christ, we Caner brothers lost our father. (Islam Unveiled)
Another example is Rosaria Butterfield who was a lesbian professor at a major university when she came to Jesus. In the account of her conversion she notes that not only did she lose her friends, they felt betrayed by her. They put their trust in her. They counted on her to support them. When she came to Christ, they felt like she had stabbed them in the back. While this was not her biological family, the bonds she felt with these people were as strong as natural family bonds.

Stories like these will become more common as the years progress.  We will hear of sons being rejected by fathers and fathers rejected by sons. We will hear of children raised in homosexual homes converting to Christ and being rejected by their parents. We will hear of daughters being kicked out of homes for their faith in Christ. We will hear of Muslims rejecting family members for conversion, not in the Middle East, but here in America. We will hear of close knit groups who hate a member for leaving them and following Jesus. The possibilities are endless, but the probability of families, biological or otherwise, being divided by Christ is high.

How can the church prepare for this?

First, we must remind ourselves and tell those we evangelize that Jesus demands absolute loyalty. Family is not the highest good. Jesus is. You can gain your family and lose Jesus. You can hold to all sorts of wonderful family values, like the Mormons and the Muslims, and still burn in Hell. Jesus came to separate.
Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. (Matthew 10:34-38)
Family is important, but it does not trump Jesus Christ.  If we give the impression that family is more important than Jesus people will not make the choice to follow Jesus with their whole heart. They will be divided. We must declare without apology, that if the choice is Jesus or family, Jesus must win.

Second, our churches must be a places where broken families come to be integrated into God's eternal family of brothers and sisters. Single mothers, divorced folks, people recovering from sodomy and abortion, the abused, the abuser, etc. when they trust in Christ and are baptized should find a place in our churches to serve and grow. Widows must be cared for and orphans must be adopted. If our churches cannot or will not bring in these people then we are saying biological family trumps God's family. That is a grievous sin and shows disloyalty to Jesus. Teaching this is not enough. Somehow, and it is not easy, we must create a tone, an atmosphere where broken families are welcome. Perhaps most important is to remember that we were broken (Titus 3:3) and outside of God's family (Ephesians 4:14-22), but God in his mercy has adopted us and saved us.

Third, we must maintain strong families, but not idolize them. A good Biblical home is a wonderful witness of God's grace to the watching world. We should teach and model what a good wife and husband looks like. We should teach parents to raise their children in the discipline and admonition of the Lord. We should encourage our young people to get married and have lots of children.  But all of this must be done, not as an end to itself, but as a way to glorified God and build his kingdom. If we build the family for the sake of the family then we have made the family an idol. And God destroys idols. But if we build our families so they might serve and build the church, including those who do not have families, then we are reflecting Biblical priorities.

Fourth, we should be grateful for the good relationships we have with non-Christian family members. For many, even though their family is not worshiping Jesus, they can still be friends. Of course, there is always a divide. No matter how much we love our family, if they do not trust in Christ there is chasm that cannot be crossed until they believe.  But God is kind. He gives common grace so we can enjoy their company and they our's despite their lack of faith.

Finally, we should be thankful when our biological family is Christian. My whole family believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. He could have made me choose between Christ and my family as many Christians around the world have done. But he didn't. God in his mercy has made my temporary, biological family part of my eternal, spiritual family.  The only proper response to this astonishing fact is gratitude.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Rising Valiantly Above the World's Reproaches


Reformed theology has often divided the work of Christ up into three different roles: prophet, priest, king. Here is John Calvin on the comfort which comes from understanding that Christ is king and that his kingship is permanent and heavenly, not temporary and earthly. This is from Calvin's Institutes Book II, Chapter XV.
Thus it is that we may patiently pass through this life with its misery, hunger, cold, contempt, reproaches, and other troubles-content with this one thing: that our King will never leave us destitute, but will provide for our needs until, our warfare ended, we are called to triumph. Such is the nature of his rule, that he shares with us all that he has received from the Father. Now he arms and equips us with his power, adorns us with his beauty and magnificence, enriches us with his wealth. These benefits, then, give us the fruitful occasion to glory, and also provide us with confidence to struggle fearlessly against the devil, sin, and death. Finally cloth with his righteousness, we can valiantly rise above all the world's reproaches; and just as he himself freely lavishes his gifts upon us, so may we, in return, bring forth fruit to his glory. 
What a great passage about Christ's preservation of his people, which allows us to fight to the end and give all the glory to Christ when the battle is finished.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Kevin DeYoung on Speaking to Different Groups About Sodomy

I enjoyed Kevin DeYoung's book, "What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?" More needs to be said and studied, but the book is a good start for the average Christian who needs a primer on what the Bible teaches on homosexuality. One of the problems in conversations about sodomy is different groups require different tones. DeYoung addresses this in an appendix where he gives various ways of approaching different groups. I wish he had fleshed this out a bit more, maybe giving some examples from real life or some possible scenarios. Still it is helpful.
If we are speaking to cultural elites who despise us and our beliefs, we want to be bold and courageous. 
If we are speaking to strugglers who fight against same-sex attraction, we want to be patient and sympathetic. 
If we are speaking to sufferers who have been mistreated by the church, we want to be winsome and humble.
If we are speaking to shaky Christians who seem ready to compromise the faith for society's approval, we want to persuasive and persistent.
It we are speaking to those who are living as the Scriptures would not have them live, we want to be straightforward and earnest.
If we are speaking to belligerent Christians who hate or fear persons who identify as gay or lesbian, we want to be clear and corrective.  

Book Review: Doctrine of Repentance

The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) The Doctrine of Repentance (Puritan Paperbacks) by Thomas Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A really good book on repentance. Uncovers all the false ways we repent, gives a picture of what true repentance looks like, as well as motivations to repent. The only drawback is one can leave feeling like they have never really repented at all. As with most Puritans, they uncover the deceitfulness of our heart, which can leave someone feeling unsure that they are even saved. I am not sure that is such a bad thing. Carl Trueman said when he was in England he had to convince folks they really were Christians. But when he came to America he had the opposite problem. This book is an excellent antidote to the self-assured presumption of many American Christians who think they can follow Jesus without leading a life of repentance.

As an aside, Watson would have been a beast on Twitter. He is one of the most quotable Puritans.

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Friday, May 15, 2015

Where is the Real Abuse of Power?


Earlier this week the State of Kentucky, acting on an anonymous tip, removed ten children from a family that is living "off the grid."  As usual in such cases emotions run high and there is little doubt more information will come out.  Here are several thoughts about the case.

First, I am not inclined to trust our local, state or federal governments. Call me jaded, cynical, or perhaps just a good learner. But a country that routinely lies, kills babies, starts wars it has no business in, takes more and more of our money, spies on its own citizens, wants to legalize gay marriage, allows its leaders to be bribed by corporations and lobbyists, and thinks smoking marijuana is a crime worthy of years of incarceration does not engender trust.

Second, child abusers should be arrested and punished. If the father was abusing his children then he should be punished. This is the government's job. But a government that thinks refusing to vaccinate or send your kids to public school is similar to child abuse and abortion isn't has some twisted moral values.  Along with that, child abuse is not the same as a refusal to do what the government or society thinks you should. While I am glad for indoor plumbing, an outhouse does not constitute child abuse. Here are the two main complaints of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services:
According to a CHFS affidavit, there are two main concerns that the state found with the family's lifestyle. The first was that the family's homestead only has one "shed" and two "tents" that don't have a running water supply. The affidavit also asserts that the children are not registered with the local school board.
No mention of child abuse, malnutrition, bruises, beatings, etc.  An older son from a previous marriage came forward and said that the father was an abuser. If he is then he should be punished. But at this point there is no evidence of that. If fact, social services had come out on May 8th, three days before the children were taken, and inspected the home and suggested one minor change, but did not indicate there were major problems. Here is quote from  another news article:
Although Brow's [the older son] allegations definitely raise concerns, the reasons why the Naugler children were removed from the home have nothing to do with allegations of physical or sexual abuse.
Third, there should be no anonymous tips. If a person wants to accuse someone of something they need to own their accusation. I know anonymous tips are woven into our justice system, but how can a person be held accountable for bearing false witness (Exodus 20:16) if there is no record of the person who actually made the accusation?

Fourth, note these paragraphs. I added the bold.
"The allegations were that the family was residing in a tent, mother had given birth in a tent, there is no running water or septic, none of the children were enrolled in school and the father threatened the neighbor with a weapon," the police report states. "Sheriff Pate made contact with the family via telephone who spoke with the father who said a search warrant was the only way the children could be spoken with and Mrs. Naugler contacted SSC at this date, at the request of Sheriff Pate, and she too said no one could speak with the children about the report or come back to the property without a search warrant."
Because the Nauglers wouldn't let the police officers or a representative from CHFS speak with their children without a warrant, the parents were deemed to be not cooperative, according to the report. The report added that the parents' lack of cooperation helped lead to the assumption that the homestead's living conditions are not safe for the children
The parents by asking the police for a search warrant to talk to their children were deemed "not cooperative" that is, assumed guilty. Too often this is how our justice system works, as many African Americans know. Guilt is presumed because you are not bending over for the government. We live in a country where the government assumes your guilt before they ever knock on your door.

Fifth, just because a family is doing things differently does not mean they should have their children taken from them. I think a vigorous education rooted in reading the great books is essential for a child. I also think living off the grid leaves you with some social issues. But neither unschooling nor living off the grid constitutes a good reason for the government to remove children. In other words, I do not think it is wise to live the way the family does, but I do think they have the right to live that way. That does not mean every situation falls in this category. If a father is sexually molesting his children, beating his wife, or not feeding his children then something should be done. But as the state continues the unending march towards controlling our lives more and more spurious accusations are being used to separate children from parents.

Sixth, the government is not a good substitute parent. These children are now spread out over four counties in four different homes. In certain cases children should be removed from their parents.  But that is usually a lateral move from one tragic situation to another. In many situations siblings are split up and the rights of parents to visit the children is severely reduced. While there are many loving homes that these children get put in, there are also many ugly situations. And no matter what the situation is being cut off from family and siblings leaves a scar. Removing children from parents should be a last ditch response to an awful situation, not a knee jerk reaction to anonymous tip from a disgruntled neighbor.

In summary, the government taking these children from their parents, based on the current evidence and the statements of the authorities, is a bigger abuse of power than the way the parents were living. We shouldn't be surprised. If the government thinks it has the moral authority to spy on it citizens, run Iraq, tell other countries to accept sodomy, and kill babies then why wouldn't it have the moral authority to remove children from a backwoods family in Kentucky for a failure to register in school?

Ten More Quotes from Concerning the Eternal Predestination of God

Last week I gave ten quotes from John Calvin's work on predestination. Predestination continues to be a controversial topic in the life of the church. It is worth carefully examining the Scriptures on the topic, but also how other Christians dealt with it in the past. Here are ten more quotes from this book by Calvin.
Yet this remains an incontrovertible fact, that the reprobate are set aside in the counsel of God to the end that in them He might demonstrate His power. 
God the maker of men takes them from the same clay and forms them for honor or dishonor by His will (Rom. 9:21).
Grace is conferred on few, when it could with equal right be denied to all.
Readers must be warned that Pighius condemns equally two propositions: that God from the beginning, when the state of man was still intact, decreed what would be his future; and that He now elects from the mass of perdition whom He wills.
Nothing in my teaching goes to show that God by His eternal counsel does not elect to life those whom He pleases and leaves others to destruction; or to deny that there are punishments ordained for evil works and a prize laid up for good.
In all His works, the Lord has the reason of His own glory. This precisely is the universal end.
Christ therefore is for us the bright mirror of the eternal and hidden election of God, and also the earnest and pledge.
But it is quite an intolerable insult to Christ to say that the elect are saved by Him, provided they look after themselves.
But it is manifest that our willing is vain unless God show mercy; but I do not know how it can be said that the mercy of God is vain unless we will.  
For we do not imagine that the elect always hold to the right course under the continual direction of the Spirit; we say that they often fall, err, suffer shipwreck and alienated from the way of salvation. But since the protection of God by which they are defended is stronger than all., they cannot fall into fatal ruin.

And one:
Therefore we both exhort and preach. Those who have ears to hear, hear us obediently; in those who do not, what is written is fulfilled: That hearing they may not hear (Is. 6:9); for they hear with the bodily sense but not with the assent of the heart. But why do some have and others not? that is, why is it given by the Father to some that they should come to the Son and not given to others? --Who has known the mind of the Lord? Must we deny what is evident because we cannot comprehend what is hidden? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Why a Conservative Interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 is Not Enough

Attacks on Scripture must be defended by exegesis of specific passages. For example, hammering out the meaning of I Timothy 2:11-12 and the surrounding verses is an essential exercise in dealing with men who want to subvert God's teaching concerning women pastors and elders. But correct interpretation of key passages is not sufficient. Exegesis of specific passages must be placed in the overarching paradigm of Scripture. Is I Timothy 2:11-12 an extension of the way God made the world, the creation order applied to leadership and teaching in the church, or is it the exception to God's created order? How we answer this question will probably have more impact on our view of ordaining women than the specific exegesis of the passage.

The reason is that if we believe that men and women are interchangeable then a conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12 does not make sense. Why would God restrict women in the pulpit, but no where else? If men and women are interchangeable in the created world as a whole, in places such as homes, businesses, politics, parenting, seminaries, etc. then why would they not be interchangeable in the church? A man can hold to the conservative interpretation of I Timothy 2:11-12, but if his position is egalitarian everywhere else then he is putting a square peg in a round hole. Eventually something has to give. Usually the first generation holds the line despite the incongruity. But the following generation will often smooth out the square peg, which usually means denying the plain teaching of a passage.

But if God made men and women for complementary, but distinct roles in creation then I Timothy 2:11-12 fits with the way God created the world. If men and women are not interchangeable then the conservative interpretation of this passage (and many others such as I Corinthians 11:3-16, Ephesians 5:22-33) is not odd or strange, but naturally flows with the teaching of Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. It is round peg in a round hole. What Paul says in this passage is what we would expect him to say given the rest of Scripture.

My point is simple and applies to other areas of interpretation as well, such what is love or marriage in the sodomy debates. We should exegete specific passages, but we must do so using all of Scripture, not just the specific passage in question. We should not assume that correct interpretation of a passage is enough. Even if we get I Timothy 2:11-12 correct, if our paradigm is off then feminism will win. A conservative interpretation of this passage that is not rooted in creation order cannot hold the line.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Give Me a Fire and a Hammer: The Scriptures in Worship

"Is not My word like a fire?" says the LORD, "And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? (Jer. 23:29)

One of the weaknesses in modern worship is the inadequate treatment of Scripture in the worship service. Despite Protestants paying lip service to the Bible and talking about the Bible the role the Scriptures have in worship is surprisingly minimal. We are like the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:29-30. We decorate the Bible, write papers about it, extol it over other books, but don't read it or obey it. This neglect is seen in our worship services, which are largely void of Scripture, except for the sermon text. For all the faults of our fathers in the faith, they made sure the service was filled with the Bible. Almost all churches read at least one section from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament every week. Many read three or four sections, depending upon the church tradition. The Westminster Directory for Public Worship suggests a chapter from the Old and from the New Testament every week with a Psalm as well.

Besides reading of the Scriptures, there were two other ways the Bible permeated the worship services of our ancestors. First, the psalms were sung. In this way the church was memorizing key parts of Scripture. Second, the prayers from the pulpit were filled with Scripture. So even when the congregants were listening to the prayers, they were hearing God's Word.

At Christ Church we try to fill our service with God's Word. We have two Scripture readings, one section from the Old Testament and one section from the New Testament. It would be great to add more, but for now that is sufficient. Besides this we also sing psalms. Many of these we have memorized. The elders fill their prayers with Scriptures, praying God's Word back to him and teaching God's people in the meantime. There are numerous other places where Scripture is read as well. We have a call to worship that is Scripture. We have a call to confession, which is Scripture. We have a promise of forgiveness following the confession of our sins, which is taken from Scripture. Finally, we have a commission and benediction at the end of the service that is also Scripture. Here is how the Scriptures were used this past Sunday.

Call to Worship: Psalm 149
Call to Confession: Romans 6:12-14
Response to Call to Confession: Psalm 32:5
Confession of Sin: Adapted from Daniel 9
Promise of Forgiveness: Romans 6:20-23
Old Testament Reading: I Chronicles 17:1-15
New Testament Reading: Luke 1:26-33
Commission: Isaiah 49:6
Benediction: Psalm 115:14-15
We also sang Psalm 1.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: What Does the Bible Really Teach About Homosexuality?

What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality?What Does the Bible Really Teach about Homosexuality? by Kevin DeYoung
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The best introduction to the subject that I have read. DeYoung is clear and avoids sarcasm. He walks through the key Biblical passages and answers several common objections. He does not give ground, but he does exhibit compassion towards those who are struggling with same-sex attraction. And as usual DeYoung keeps us tight to the Bible and encourages us with the Gospel. He does not address all the issues. He puts the political aspect in an appendix. But overall this is where I would send people to understand what the Bible says about homosexuality.

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Let the saints be joyful in glory, let them sing aloud on their beds, let the high praises of God be in their mouth, and a two edged sword in their hand, to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the peoples; to bind the kings with chains and their nobles with fetters of iron. Psalm 149:5-8