Monday, January 30, 2012

T. D. Jakes and Oneness Theology

Nick Norelli has a short audio post that I think everyone who is on the fence about Jakes should listen to. The Trinity and Christology is pretty much Nick's subject. He's an avid reader of theology, but this is what he reads about the most, so for those who may not know what to conclude, I would place a lot of weight on what Nick says here. He's also had a lot of interaction with Oneness theology, which makes his judgment on the matter even more weighty. I've found that the divide and confusion seems to be between those who have interacted heavily with cults and can spot their redefinitions of theological language and those who do not have a large experience in dealing with cults. To the person who has had little experience in getting to the heart of what a person in a cult believes, Jake's language will sound fine. To the person who has had a lot of experience, a lot of what he said is an alarm bell ringing heretical theology loudly in our ears. Here's the audio:

The "Bait and Switch" Gospel and the Manipulation of False Converts

I gave my little recipes for making true and false Christians in a more humorous way in the past few days, but I want to discuss it in a more serious manner now in terms of where I see a lot of churches going.

First, more and more churches are hiring consultants that tell them what they need to do if they want this or that result in their church. These are largely sociological and psychological approaches to ministry that look toward what people in that particular community, or in general, best respond. I would argue that this is flawed at the get go. Now, I have to say, by way of qualification, I don’t mind people doing things in the community to gain opportunities to gain a hearing so that they can preach the gospel. My issue is the thinking that any of this stuff actually saves people itself. No one is made a Christian by any other means besides “being taught of God” through the gospel. We are told in John 6:44–47 that it is only through God drawing an individual through the preaching of the gospel that people believe and are given eternal life. So any other means, including cultural manipulations to draw people to Christ, are not only futile, but will end up working against the gospel rather than for it. So if you want to hold a carnival, or if you want to have a concert, or if you want to do this or that with the way you set up your church, you need to first know that it will be the preaching of the entire gospel in the context of the whole counsel of God in Scripture that exclusively saves a person. There is no other way of doing so, as the Scripture tells us there is no other means through which one can be saved.

Having said that, there is also the bait and switch model, where churches present one thing to draw people and then the gospel that calls them to something completely adverse to the way they were drawn. I’ll give you an example. A lot of emerging churches are putting up these “shock jock” signs that either have curse words or something close to it in order to convey the “we’re not religiously uptight like those other guys” feel. This then attracts people who don’t like to hear that they are sinners in need of repentance. Then, once inside, they hear the exact opposite of what the sign conveyed, i.e., that they are sinners in need of repentance. Hence, what was used to gain a hearing has now been revealed as deceptive and a marketing tool, and the person, if he or she becomes wise of it, realizes that he or she has been the victim of a sales pitch, which then makes the church look completely disingenuous. They are left then with a far more hypocritical church than they had before, since the church is calling people to be holy but had no regard for acting holy in the way that it drew people.

Then there is the other option, where the church draws by means of something unholy and then doesn’t call anyone to repentance once inside either; but of course, that’s not really a church at all, since the real church works according to God’s program by teaching us to repent, have faith, and work out our salvation with fear and trembling, as God’s call upon our lives from the foundation of the world is for His people to be holy and blameless before Him. The “church” that doesn’t call its members to further repentance toward and faith in Christ as Lord isn’t a church of believers but a club for unbelievers who want some sort of pseudo-spirituality to make themselves feel at peace with God on their way to hell.

So I’m not adverse to gaining an audience through various means, as long as it is being drawn to preach the gospel, and as long as it is drawn in light of the gospel’s purposes. But what I’m talking about today is the fact that people have begun to think that if they do this or that, their numbers will grow (which they will), and that in the drawing of those numbers by these methods, the church will make more Christians (which they won’t). This thinking can be seen in the idea that we should take surveys to find out what people like about religion and church, or to what sort of presentation of Christ people best respond, etc. In other words, this is done, not just to gain a hearing, but to replace the work of the gospel in converting. These things are done, not just to draw the crowd, but to get them to make a decision for Christ and to stay in the church. And that is where it all goes wrong.

These particular people (whether they be seeker-sensitive churches or emerging churches that do the exact same thing with a slight twist) do surveys, try to engage culture, look to be “relevant” for the following reason: they want to make converts by channeling what people like into a decision to follow Christ. Here’s the problem: When you are simply manipulating a person to make a decision by presenting Christ in terms of what they already like/prefer, you are only making an appearance of conversion, not participating in an actual one. Conversion has to do with changing the mind of the individual from rebellion against Christ as Lord, which is expressed in his likes and dislikes, toward a reception of Christ as Lord of his life, i.e., changing the trajectory of his likes and dislikes along with it. Remember, God’s purpose for us to become holy and blameless before Him, not merely pick up our ‘get out of hell free” card. What the person has done instead of preaching the Person and work of the Jesus Christ of Scripture, which is the catalyst through which true conversion takes place, is to preach a Jesus of Christ of the individual’s personal preferences/likes and dislikes, and in doing so, has aided the stasis of the individual’s rebellion against the true Christ, all the while believing himself to have been converted.

In other words, what has changed is not the sinner in need of repentance toward Christ, but the presentation of the Person and work of Christ in order to conform to the rebellious spirit of the sinner. A change has taken place alright, but it is a change of message, not of the sinner toward repentance. It is merely switching the labels on Christ and the devil, so that the devil, whose love for accommodating lies has always been well received, can now be presented as Christ, and the rebellious person who accepts him, as a Christian.

Hence, if I am more inclined by my culture to hear messages about a Christ accepts me no matter my continual rebellion against what He has spoken, that’s the Christ this particular church will preach to me. If I like a religious rebel Christ, that’s the Christ I’m going to get. If I like the Christ of social reform, that’s who I will get. Whatever Christ will cause me to become a “convert” is the Christ I will receive, because it is not the real Christ who is important, but my decision to follow “Christ.”

It reminds me of my favorite scene (and outtakes) from “Talladega Nights,” where Ricky Bobby and his best friend are going back and forth, discussing the ways they like to picture Jesus. My favorite one is, “I like to picture Jesus as a figure skater who does interpretive eye stances of my life’s journey.” Of course, the whole point of the scene is to point out how ridiculous it is to make up your own personal Jesus rather than to deal with the one who actually exists.

What this has done is created a “Christianity” with as many “Christs” as there are “Christians,” so that when the real Christ of Scripture comes along, He only seems to be one of many more palatable options; but Yahweh isn’t Baal, and Christ isn’t the devil, even when you switch names on them. Likewise, although Christ is therapeutic, He’s not primarily your therapist; although He’s a friend, He’s not your buddy; although He does not condemn those who are in Him, He will condemn those who are not; although He fills a void, He does not primarily exist to do so. Instead, He is primarily Lord and Savior, and all else follows if those two are received. Rejected in lieu of a more palatable option, and nothing follows from Christ, because the true Christ has been rejected. I may like rock stars, so I paint Christ as my favorite rock star, but that’s not Christ. I may like Mr. Rogers, but Mr. Rogers isn’t Christ. I may like my grandfather, but my grandfather isn’t Christ. I cannot paint Christ in a different light than Scripture without painting another Christ. And so, if I paint a more palatable Christ for each individual so that I can feel good about evangelizing and that God has used me to bring the masses to Himself, I am engaged in a deceptive enterprise, where I have merely become a master of illusions, where thousands appear to come to Christ, and no one actually does. In my mind, I will be filling the kingdom with souls, but the living Christ’s hands will remain empty.

This is because conversion changes the person, not Christ and the message that calls that person to repent and put his faith in the true Christ as Lord. I cannot curtail rebellion with a message that strokes rebellion’s ego. I cannot put an end to the devil’s reign over a person’s life by presenting Christ in such a way that even the devil himself would find attractive. The true Christ and His message is offensive to rebellious ears. It says, “God does not accept you as you are,” “You are under the wrath of God,” “You will perish unless you repent,” “Repent from your rebellion against God and put your life in the hands of the Lord Jesus Christ who had to die for your sins because God would not have accepted you otherwise,” “Now, live under the authority of Christ in your daily thoughts and actions, and remain teachable to His Word.”

None of this is what self worshiping individuals want to hear. They want to hear about a Christ who saves them while they seek out all that “life” has to offer. They want a Christ that will help them in their relationships, marriages, finances, etc. They want a Christ that will establish the lives that they have worked so hard to build up from their rebellion. They certainly don’t want the Christ of Scripture to come along and take over, as He will very clearly wreck most, if not all, they have so long desired to come to fruition.

So what is the purpose of surveys, consultants, programs designed around target groups, etc.? If it is all to make conversions, then don’t bother, as you will end up with just as many unbelievers as you would without them—only everyone will identify himself as such in the if you do this, being deceived by your ministry rather than brought to the truth through it. Is your ministry therefore a ministry of Christ, or a ministry of the adversary if it aids his purposes?

We wonder why there are so many false Christians in our society. We wonder why so many Christians have no ethics, don't know Christian theology, don't know their Bibles, live as the world lives, have children who live exactly as secular children do. Well, what did you think was going to happen with this model of "ministry"? Only the true Christ and the true gospel can save. You can't save with a false Christ or a false gospel. Sure, people like it when you tell them that Christ will make them rich, solve all of their problems in marriage, take away their loneliness, give them inspiration in life, etc. (and Christ in a way does do those things), but the problem is our broken relationship with God. Perhaps God will fix your marriage or perhaps He will ruin it, but your problem is that you need to have your relationship with God fixed, and it is only through the real Christ that such can be accomplished, and it is only through repentance and faith in the real gospel that God draws us to Christ. If we are only concerned with God being a cosmic maintenance man for our problems, or giving us inspiration in life, then our trajectory is still toward the self and is not in route toward a salvific relationship with Christ in the first place. Hence, our only solution to our problem is God drawing us through the preaching of the gospel that reconciles us to the true and living God through the One true Christ. Ergo, our only hope is that these churches around us stop trying to "save" us through their various marketing ploys and start preaching the entire gospel and the entire counsel of God while upholding the standard of holiness in Christ to which they are calling us.

Let us not manipulate the rebellious likes and dislikes of people in order to coerce them into an appearance of a decision for Christ when all they are doing is making a decision to re-label their rebellious likes and dislikes under “Pursuits of Christ.” We have enough salesman who promise miracles to us in our society. Let’s teach the whole counsel of God, the entirety of Scripture, that displays the Person and Work of Jesus Christ, so that a true picture can be given when we deliver the command, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” And then, maybe, we'll actually start seeing people saved.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Recipe for Making Real Christians

Since I posted the recipe for making false Christians, I wanted to post the recipe for making real ones. I had nine steps last time for making false Christians, and could have added many more, so you can imagine how big the recipe for making real ones might be. So get a pen and paper and make sure you write all of this down. Here we go:

1. Preach the gospel within the context of preaching the whole counsel of God from the Bible.

Did you get all that?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Why Did God Save You?

If I asked you the question, "Why did Jesus die on the cross," what would you say to me? Probably, I'm guessing, that He died to save us. And I would affirm that. However, if I asked you what "save" means, what would you say to me? Most people would say something like, "Well, it means we go to heaven when we die." And I would say, "That's true, but only partially true."

You see, most people think of salvation in terms of what location they will be entering when they die; but that isn't the whole of it, nor is it the goal of it. The goal is not a physical destination, although we certainly want to be in the right place when we die, but the goal of God in salvation is to make us righteous, as righteous as Christ.

Now, we are clearly nothing like Christ when God justifies us through faith. It is while we are dead in sin, sinners (i.e., those who are in rebellion against God and not obedient to Him), that Christ died for us and God saved us. In declaring us righteous, He is declaring a status to us that could never have been gained by us, nor could it be. As Ephesians says, "He has raised us up and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus" (2:6). In other words, we have already positionally arrived at the destination of God's presence in Christ, in whom we now stand and who is our representative. Because we are in Christ, we are given all that Christ is given and considered to be righteous as Christ is righteous. Christ's salvation is a sure sign that we who are in Him are saved. We can think of it like a race, where we are all miles behind, except Christ who has crossed the finish line. All that was required for the team to win was that a single person, who represents the team, win. So He has won the race for us. Yet, the team now is still running toward the finish line, not to win the race, since that is already won, but simply to join their teammate in the victory he has now gained for them.

So what is the goal of God for those who have faith in Christ? It is for them to trust in Christ as the One who has won the race, but Christ has won the race so that they can now join Him across the finish line.

Now, you may be thinking that the finish line is heaven, and as I said before, that is partially true, but the finish line is really righteousness. Let's look at a couple verses:

Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. (Eph 1:3-4)

Notice that what God chose us to be in Christ before the foundation of the world. Notice that this is the goal of God for us: to be holy and blameless. That is God's goal for His people. That is why He saved us. That is why Jesus died on the cross.

Again, Romans 8:28-30 is instructive:

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to [His] purpose. For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined [to become] conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren; and these whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.

Notice again that the goal is not just that we get to go to heaven when we die, but that God's purpose, for which He works all things, is to conform us to the image of His Son. This is why God takes us through this journey of salvation from predestining us, calling us in our hearing of the spoken gospel, justifying us (i.e., declaring us positionally righteous with Christ), and glorifying us (i.e., actually completing the righteousness of Christ in us).

In other words, Christianity isn't just about getting a bunch of people who couldn't care less about becoming holy to heaven. It's about calling sinners to repentance, so that they are declared righteous, have a place secured by Christ in God's presence, and begin their journey to become like Christ, holy and blameless. This is why staying a rebel toward God while claiming to be saved is nonsense. God gives His people His Spirit so that they are compelled onward toward Christ and His righteousness. He who does not have the Spirit who does so proves himself to not belong to Christ (Rom 8:9).

What I'm saying, then, is that God's purpose in giving you the gospel was never to just save you from going to hell, although that is a massive part of it. It was always meant to save you from the rebellious life that initially brought you there. His goal is to make you like Christ, to make you holy and blameless. He does this through justification, which declares you to be positionally righteous through Christ's gaining of that righteousness for you, and sanctification, which is the lifelong process of God conforming us to the image of His Son. No one, therefore, should justify his or her remaining in sin as a Christian because "nobody's perfect," or "we're all sinners anyway." We are all sinners, but if we have been justified, we should be moving toward holiness, not rebellion.

Hence, when it says that we are saved by grace through faith and that not of ourselves in Ephesians 2:8-10, we are told that the purpose of this is so that we would walk (i.e., live) in good works that God prepared beforehand for us. In Philippians 2:12-13, after Paul has just spoken about the work of Christ on the cross in saving us for the glory of God, we are told to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure." Notice that this says, "work out," not "work for" salvation. We are working out the salvation, the righteousness, that has already been given to us in Christ. We are becoming what we have been declared and adopted to be already. That is the movement of the Christian, i.e., toward actualizing our holiness and blamelessness in Christ, so that we become like Him.

This is why we rebuke, correct, exhort, and encourage toward righteousness. It has nothing to do with being judgmental or legalistic. We do not confuse justification with sanctification, nor do we dare say that it is through the outward performance of the Law rather than faith in Christ by means of His Spirit through His Word by which we are sanctified. But neither do we say that salvation is merely a destination rather than a race that God has set us on to run. This is part of what theologians call the "already, not-yet." We have already won the race in being given the righteousness of Christ in terms of God's declaring it to be so and accepting us and our prayers in His presence on those terms, but we have not yet won it by becoming like Christ ourselves.

Hence, all who are justified are compelled down the road toward becoming sanctified in their daily lives. Those who are not compelled down that road will either be disciplined by God to start moving down it, or they are simply not His to begin with. But have no doubt, Christ saved us to be saved from a life of sin, not to be satisfied in our slavery to it. He has freed us from sin, not to live in it, but to live to God, moving ever closer to Christ and His righteousness in love. That's why Christ died, and we ought not trample on the cross in order to justify a life set against Him any longer. Seek, therefore, not only to be saved from hell, but from the road that leads there as well.

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with [Him] in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be [in the likeness] of His resurrection . . . (Rom 6:1-5)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Tasty Recipe for Making False Christians

1. Start with people who have either rejected or have never heard the gospel.

2. Pour a heavy dose of ear tickling, making sure that you separate as much offensive material in the Bible as you are able, and emphasize as much of the emotionally stirring stuff in its place. (Substitute as many sentimental stories and exciting experiences from outside of the Bible as needed.)

3. Stir with to whatever music your particular people-group best respond.

4. Make sure Jesus is presented as a healthy addition to their lives, someone who is merely there to help them in whatever life they have chosen for themselves, and not someone who will demand to rule every aspect of their lives, calling them to repentance and true faith that brings about a radical change in thinking and lifestyle.

5. Boil in a dramatic altar call, while stirring with a heavy dose of sentimental music.

6. Keep in the pot until luke-warm or cool, never introducing too much heat from the whole counsel of God. (Too much exposure to the whole counsel of God can ruin the "Christianesque" presentation of the false Christian.) Keep them away, then, from wholistic Bible reading, and instead, suggest devotional books, studies, and encouraging calendars that have uplifting verses for everyone who reads them, regardless of their disposition toward Christ (i.e., verses out of context).

7. Make sure you label the dish, as the identity of the false Christian must be gained from calling it "Christian," not by faith in the truth that leads to right practice. This can be done by affirming one's identity through heavy repetition in song, "I love you Lord," sung over and over again, means that the person must be a Christian because he constantly says that he loves the Lord; "Jesus is Lord" must mean that Jesus is the Lord of the person's daily thinking and activity, since he sings that Jesus is his Lord, etc.; or it can be accomplished just in the mere labeling of anything that person believes and does as "Christian," since he is a Christian who thinks and does them. The importance here is identification through label rather than by the actual ingredients of his faith and practice.

8. Most important is to make sure they are not spoiled by others who might add salt and light. You can do this by keeping these other chefs in a bad light by saying that they are legalistic, dogmatic, know-it-alls, arrogant, etc., which the false Christian will already believe to be wrong (if he doesn't, make sure you repeat over and over again that they are). This will ensure that your false Christian stays far away from anyone who might add or take away ingredients in order to allow the Master Chef to turn him into a real Christian.

9. Your false Christians are ready to serve a dark and dying world yet another false religion that can steer them away from any nourishment of the truth, and will be sure to provide a quick sugar rush as the next big spiritual fad. If you like candy bars as a staple diet for adults and children alike, then you will love the sugar rush of a false Christian. Just like a snickers, it can make you think that you've made something nutritious for all to eat. And that makes us feel all warm and yummy inside.

You may have wanted to make a real Christian, but making false ones in absence of real ones is the next best thing. If you can't have the miracle of conversion that only the Master Chef can make, make false miracles that seem to taste just as good to us (use the Egyptian magicians as your guide). In fact, you can make a hundred false Christians in the same time it takes to make one real one (now that's something to brag about, and many do). It sure makes me feel good, and like I'm doing something for God. Who could possibly argue with that?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Do Secondary Moral Obligations Excuse One from Obeying a Primary One?

Jeremy Pierce, who is an otherwise brilliant Christian philosopher, has posted what I think is one of the worst arguments of all time. At this point, I'm just going to give him the benefit of the doubt that I've misunderstood him; but at the same time, I need to address what he said as though I have understood. You can read his argument here:

Jeremy's argument is that it is a good to seek natural children, but it is also a good to not be selfish in doing so. Both are obligations. Hence, since one has an obligation to not be selfish, and this same person who is selfish seeks a child for selfish reasons, it is better for this person to not fulfill the good of seeking the child so that one will not be in violation of the second obligation.
In essence, Jeremy's argument is that if a good is done for the wrong reasons, and it is also a good that should be done for the right reasons, then there is a moral obligation not to do the first good if it would bring about a violation of the second. 

I left a comment that has not yet been posted, so I'll just post it here:

Let's apply this to other things too. If you have a selfish attitude in giving to your fellow brother in Christ, who is poor, it's better not to fulfill the obligation to give to him, as you could be doing more harm by making yourself think that you're a really good person. If you don't give, you don't have more fodder toward that attitude and may, therefore, have a greater chance to repent of the attitude. If you have the same selfish attitude in feeding your children, it's better not to fulfill the first obligation to feed them. I'm sure the desire to not disobey a supposed second obligation will be a great excuse for not obeying the first on the day of judgment. I'm not quite sure if God's going to buy it though.
Of course, following this line of reasoning with natural children assumes that God isn't the one giving a selfish person children in the first place, unless you want to say that God is doing something immoral by giving a child to a person with the wrong attitude, and thus, giving the child over to further damage. If it is not immoral to place a child with a selfish parent, who may "damage" a child, why is it immoral to have a child as a selfish parent? It is selfishness that is immoral, and to seek to build the web of sin rather than repent in the first place is not a Christian response to sin. Is it honestly better to prevent the existence of that child than to have him grow up with a selfish parent or two? And since we all have sin, and are incredibly selfish, even mixing selfishness with right thinking, I take it that no one should ever have children, so that rather than learning to love in fulfilling the first obligation, even while we are selfish sinners, we continue to be selfish and worry more about our grandiose affects upon a child than the giving of life to that child in the first place. It seems to me that this argument is simply a way to stack selfishness and the justification thereof on top of one another.

First, we are told in Scripture that we are to do good to all men, specifically to the household of God. We are told that the doing of good is how we judge whether a widow is put on the list to be cared for by the church. We are told that Christ will look at the good deeds we've done on the day of judgment. We are NEVER told that if we have a selfish attitude toward doing good, we shouldn't bother doing it. Motives are not the issue in the doing of good. In fact, there are selfish motives in not wanting to be judged and assigned a place with the wicked who don't do good. There are selfish motives in wanting us to feel good about doing good. There are always selfish motives within us because we are always sinners simultaneously justified. Hence, we ought to always do good and seek to correct our motives in those works, not in the denial of them.

Second, the argument that one is doing a further non-good by doing good assumes that an evil is not being committed already in a disposition of selfishness. In other words, the reason why one has selfish motives is because one is selfish. He is not less selfish because he refrains from doing a good for selfish reasons. He may, in fact, be more selfish because he is so consumed with himself that rather than care for a child, the poor, a widow, etc. and think of himself as a selfish person for doing so, he would disallow the child's existence, starve the poor, and let the widow be thrown out of her home. I can think of nothing more selfish than that.

Third, based upon the previous two observations, what needs to happen is for the selfish person to correct his attitude in the doing of good, not refrain from doing good in order to check it. That is completely counter to the argument in Scripture. It says with the unfaithful servant, "I knew you were an exacting man" (Luke 19:20), so upon that basis, seeks only to preserve himself in refraining from doing good, so that he might not be judged for it. 

Fourth, selfishness isn't primarily an attitude in Scripture. It's an action. It would be nice to have it as both, but if one has to go, it's not the action, which Scripture sees as primary. Notice that even in the preaching of the gospel, Paul doesn't argue that those who have wrong motives should stop doing it, but rather that he is pleased about the work of good, the preaching of the gospel being accomplished, even through men with false motives. If he were to correct them, then, as he is likely doing here, he would correct their false motives, not their actions. 

Fifth, it assumes a vehicle toward breaking our selfishness is in the refraining from good rather than in the obedience to do good (i.e., the seeking to do good even in the face of our own selfishness). In other words, what is the cure for selfishness but a life of selfless acts? In the doing of good, one learns to love others. I don't see how Jeremy's argument doesn't suggest that one should hide away in a closet somewhere, and never interact with others if their interactions are for selfish reasons; and yet, it is in the very interaction with others that one learns to become selfless. I see no difference here in the seeking of children, as one may begin one's journey of raising children in selfishness, but children are often God's instruments that teach even the most hardened of sinners to love, especially if one is a Christian, since God works all things to conform us to the image of His Son, and He would certainly use children as a means to do so, and use us as the means to do the same for them. 

So Jeremy argues some good and brilliant stuff most of the time, but not so much this time. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Proverbs 26:4-5: Reading the Text More Closely

One of the many passages often brought up to support the idea that the Bible contradicts itself is Proverbs 26:4–5. This is a kind of staple example that I think is pretty weak, and yet, it gets used over and over again in conversations.

However, rather than contradiction, there is actually a play on the kaph preposition in Hebrew here. Obviously, the two verses are placed side by side, so that the reader would understand that this is not a contradiction but a play on words in the use of the preposition. That’s part of the beauty of poetry. k can be used as a preposition of similarity “as, like, in a similar way, etc.”or it can be used to express a parallel trajectory “according to, as, in the way that, like, etc.” In this way, the editor of Proverbs has placed both of these together in order to get the following result:

Do not answer a fool [k] in a similar manner as his folly, lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool [k] as his folly [deserves], lest he be wise in his own eyes.

In the first instance, the kaph is used as similarity. This is the use of the preposition that is one of agreement: X kY means X is similar to Y. In other words answering a fool “like” his folly means to answer a fool in a foolish way. Hence, this proverb means that one should not answer a fool using the same type of foolishness that he uses. In other words, one should not answer a fool as though he were a fool too. This is teaching its readers to not stoop to the low level of irrational argumentation to which fools often run.

In the second instance, however, the kaph is being used to express a parallel trajectory, meaning “in accordance with what has been called for by folly X.” This is the correspondence use of kaph. X kY means X in response or relationship to Y. In other words, this statement is telling one that, rather than engage the fool using foolish arguments, to instead engage him according to the manner that his folly deserves. To put it more plainly, this means to meet his folly directly with the logic that refutes it.

Notice how each verse ends with the Hebrew particle pen “lest.” Failure to adhere to the  instruction in the main clause has a negative effect in the dependent clause. The phrase, “lest you be like him” supports the idea that this refers to answering the fool with equally irrational arguments. The analysis of the second independent clause in the series, then, is also supported by what is said in the dependent clause: “lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
In other words, if someone says something stupid, you should correct that stupid statement, because if you don’t, the fool will continue to think that he is a smart guy for saying it. Instead, show him the error of his ways by meeting it with the wisdom/logic that refutes it specifically. But don’t do this by using irrational and stupid arguments yourself, lest you also train your mind to think foolishly and be like him.

Notice here that this is extremely applicable to the way we argue with one another. The common adolescent, foolish, way to argue is by attacking everything but the actual arguments being made. People will commit all sorts of fallacies to support their positions and never touch the actual issues at hand (either to directly refute the other person’s stance, or to support their own). Proverbs tells us that only fools do this. The wise man is to address the real issues involved in foolish thinking and deal with it head on. He does not need to use fallacious reasoning, since he is the one who has the truth on his side. If he chooses to get irrational and emotional, however, he will become like the fool, and the conversation will be worthless.

What we have here, then, is not a contradiction, but a clever way to express what one’s arguments should look [k] “like” when he answers the fool.

When You Speak of What You Know, We Love You. When You Speak of What You Don't . . . Speak of What You Know

I was listening to NPR’s “Fresh Air” program a couple weeks ago, and it was an interview with Kitty Ferguson, who wrote Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, and who has known Hawking since the 80’s, as she has been in the role of being his editor since that time. She very plainly made a remark that I think was just plain honest and far more direct than I think the host was expecting. She stated of Hawking, that when he speaks of religion, he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She said essentially that he is outside of his field of expertise, and that this was common among scientists, who know so much about their field that they feel they can pontificate upon every other field as well. This is the problem of scientism, as it seeks to answer all questions with empirical inquiry and a philosophically naturalistic worldview.

But this is also something that many have commented about within the field of biblical scholarship as well. The worst of these offenders, in my mind, is Bart Ehrman. Here is a scholar whose scholarship is in textual criticism. He studies New Testament manuscripts in various languages and notes the development of the manuscript in relationship to other manuscripts. His dissertation at Princeton was on the Coptic witness of the Gospels in Didymus the Blind’s works. So his expertise is in looking at that sort of data. It’s not in exegesis, and even though every New Testament student/scholar will have a good amount of exposure to exegesis, it does not make him an expert in the field. His expertise is also not in theology and philosophy.
Now, I wouldn’t really have much of a problem with him moving into these areas if he didn’t make so many statements that lack the nuance, and a disclosure of all of the information rather than just that which supports his theses, that are required of scholarly work. So when he debates on theodicy, or writes books about supposed biblical errors based on a misunderstanding of theology, or when he interprets a passage of the New Testament a certain way, and can’t seem to understand how anyone interprets it differently (like someone who knows how to actually put works together literarily), it just becomes another noisy gong and clanging symbol to everyone who knows better, and an unnecessary hindrance to the faith of others who don’t.

Ehrman, and those like him, are A+ scholars in their fields, but often we find them to be F students when they go outside of those fields. And I do give Ehrman an F in theology, as he either does not understand it well, or he is just being dishonest in order to support an agenda. I frankly don’t know which is worse, especially since he just seated himself in the heavenly places at the last SBL, using himself as the standard for who should be a mouthpiece for the divine scholarly community to the public. You can see what I mean here:

In any case, people need to be more discerning when they read this stuff or hear debates by these scholars, because when they speak outside of their field of expertise, they are speaking as layman, not experts. I don’t care how many books they have written, how many speaking engagements they have had, what their credentials are, etc. If they go outside of their field of expertise, then you simply have to take them, as you would any other non-expert, with a grain of salt.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

How I Would Answer the Question

I essentially agree with my wife and Truth and those of you who emailed me your answers of yesterday's ethical dilemma. But here is how I would answer it:

When the lives of a group are threatened by another:

1. The role of the image of God is to preserve human life.
2. Human life must be seen in terms of the image, and therefore, whoever shuns that role cannot be seen as someone who is as human as the one who accepts it.
3. Not everyone, therefore, has an equal right to live, as one group has evidenced itself as shunning its human role to preserve human life as the images of God.
4. The group that is being threatened, although they may not be completely receiving their role as the image, still evidence some of that role by not being the aggressors in murderous acts.
5. The group that is threatening human life is shunning the role of the image.
6. The group that is being threatened, therefore, is more human, and subsequently has more of a right to live in this situation, than the group that is doing the threatening.
7. The children of each group are not taking any actions in and of themselves.
8. They belong to one of each group, and as such, either belong to a group that is more or less human than the other group, having more of less rights to live because of the actions of their group.
9. The children of a group are seen as part of that group, whether they make the decisions or have the same ability to take action or not. As the child is represented by his family, he is also represented by his group. He, therefore, shares in the rewards or punishments that the group acquires by its actions.
10. The question becomes whether there is a higher probability for the children in the murderous group to become murderers themselves in the future and children in the threatened group to become preservers of human life more than they.
11. The jihadist atmosphere of the area in which this group resides makes it a higher probability that the children will grow up to become more like their group in their murderous mentality.
12. It is, therefore, regrettable that any life, even the ones that are not living as the human beings they were purposed to be in creation, would have to be taken; but for the sake of doing our own jobs as human beings who, as the images of God, must defend and preserve human life, we must make the decision to destroy what evidences itself as lesser humanity in order to preserve what is greater humanity. This is essentially what people mean by killing the guilty in self defense in order to protect the innocent.

Where did I get these propositions: The Scripture. Our concepts of guilty and innocent are based on Scriptural principles concerning humanity, and what humanity is meant to be and purposed to do in the world as humanity. It is a creation ethic. Hence, as the creation mandate is related after the flood to be fruitful and multiply and fill up the earth (i.e., be co-creators in the world), the command to destroy chaotic agents/murderers is also given along with it (i.e., to be a co-creator and preserve human life means being a destroyer of destroyers as well). Unfortunately, sometimes it is inevitable to have to destroy entire groups of destroyers when there is an imminent threat as the one above. Hence, the creation ethic is a good that destroys even children of destroyers when called for in the exodus from Egypt and the Canaanite conquest.

Conversely, if I were to attempt to base my decision on our current ethic that sees all people as equally worthy of life, regardless of the course they have chosen to take in the world, or not see children as identified as one with the people of either group, I would end up being in an unsolvable conundrum, and just have to arbitrarily choose, based on nationality or ethnicity, who would survive (an "us" versus "them" or some other criteria). In the current view, I would essentially be in the wrong either way. Hence, we get a lot of arguments condemning collateral damage in war, the death penalty as inconsistent with a pro-life stance, condemnation of the Canaanite Conquest, etc.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

An Ethical Dilemma

I'm really hoping people will give me some of their answers to this below. I need some interaction on this one. If you don't want to leave your answer on the blog, feel free to email your answer to me. It would just help in order to give me some examples of ways people work through this problem and show the various assumptions and beliefs we have in making ethical decisions in general. So here it goes:

Imagine that a Jihadist group in Turkey took possession of a nuclear warhead and a missile capable enough to deliver it to the Eastern seaboard of the United States. It’s target area is occupied by 3,000 children. Now, we only know that the missile’s location in terms of a very broad area, so if we are to stop it, we would have to send over our own nuclear warhead to cover that entire area. Ironically, it is also occupied by 3,000 children. You then find out that there are 3,000 children that will be killed if you stop the imminent nuclear attack on the U.S. If you stop the attack, you will save the 3,000 Turkish children, but by doing so, you will sacrifice the lives of 3,000 American children. Either way, 3.000 children will die because of your decision. What do you do (and, no, you can’t come up with a different scenario in order to save both groups—this isn’t Star Trek and you’re not Captain Kirk)? More importantly, how do you reach your decision concerning what you should do? In other words, upon what basis, and by what moral imperatives, do you make your decision? Is it merely arbitrary who you choose to live? Is it based on “us” versus “them”? How do you decide? And is your decision moral or immoral, depending upon which way you go, and how you get there?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

On Love for Truth and Drive-By Shootings

I love westerns. My dad used to take us to the tourist places, like Old Tuscon, Old Vegas, and Tombstone, where they would hold a gun battle every hour on the hour. There was the good guy and the bad guy, each apparent by the actions they were performing and the hats they were wearing. The good guy, of course, always won. He was a better gunfighter. The movies largely reflect this as well.

There is something in this narrative that is meant to convey more than who is a better fighter though. The symbolism of the gunfighter is that what is right and good will always win out against what is wrong and evil if they face one another down. I see a lot of truth in this, in that what is true is difficult to escape when all of the facts are laid bare, the presuppositions exposed, the arguments weighed, especially in light of Scripture for those who have claimed to give our lives over to the God who reveals His mind in Scripture. The gunfight of an honest argument, then, in this sense, is really a noble thing that both the one in the right and the one in the wrong approach with some integrity. Of course, unlike the movies, the good guy and the bad guy are not known until the fight is over. Both believe they carry the truth, as both believe they have the white hat on.

But there is another kind of shooter in a very different kind of movie genre, one more modern, that is not a noble gunfighter, but a coward. This is the drive-by shooter. The drive-by shooter doesn't give the other person a chance to defend himself. Nor does he give himself the chance of being harmed. He is sheltered in a vehicle, surprises the other person/victim of his cowardice, and showers him with bullets from his rolling fortress. He quickly speeds off, leaving the other person for dead, having given him little to no hope of survival.

This, of course, is unfair. It is the work of cowards. There is no nobility in it. The drive-by shooter just wants to slay his victim. He doesn't care to stand in front of him in order to see who is standing at the end. He doesn't care to give the other person a fighting chance. He just wants to win in any way that he can.

This is what most people are like today in their arguments. Most people are drive-by shooters. They don't want to face you in the street, because they don't want to be proven wrong. So they just attack you with witty one liners, quotes, signs, snide comments, etc., all of which can be used as conversation starters, but are very rarely meant to do so. If one begins to argue one of these, the person quickly gets out of the fight, because there was never any real concern for discussing the truth. There was just the desire to assert what is true without discussion. It is an imperial move upon one's lowly subjects. It is a cowardly act of aggression that seeks to subjugate any who would disagree, not by facing them down in a more noble fight, but by catching them by surprise and quickly running away, so that there is little to no chance of what is said to be rebutted.

If you want to know where we're going in terms of direction in our society (i.e., toward honest discussion versus being silenced by drive-by's) just look at the way college protestors from various universities interact with the public. Is is by entering debates, or shouting down people so that they can't speak? Is it by having calm discussions, or by yelling talking points at the other person? The Occupy Wallstreet movement is one example of this drive-by mentality. It does violence to human interaction, but mostly it does violence to the truth and the noble pursuit of honest discussion in pursuing it. Such violence is needed if one has no logic to his or her argument, but only feeling. In fact, the logical outworking of an ideology acquired through feeling is to protect it with aggressive acts that express more emotion than sense.

It's unfortunate, but we have become a bumper sticker society, where we are too cowardly to engage one another in argument head on, but feel completely comfortable arguing with one another with one liners on the back of our cars. Of course, the new bumper sticker is on Twitter or Facebook. One liners can just be delivered all day, and they can either be posted with a desire to meet one's opponents in the street, and to really want to know what is true, or, as they are more often than not, with a desire to just assert the truth without question over others with whom they disagree.

I believe the current cultural climate has fostered this cowardly mentality. There is virtually nothing taboo in our culture except calling out another's ideas or practices as wrong. People can believe and practice whatever they want, as long as they do not question the beliefs and practices of others. As soon as this is done, that person becomes a target of the drive-by, since one does not really want to engage the individual, but to merely shut them up, so that whatever the perpetrator believes can be the victorious.

Of course, our superficial interactions have made us observe the proprieties of staying away from certain subjects we deem as subjective (religion, politics, etc.), that is, until the masses are on our side, and then we feel the mandate to declare what is right and wrong, true and false, ex Cathedra.

This all stems back to whether one has a love for the truth versus a love to be comfortable in what he only wants to believe is true. But such is the characteristic of the unbeliever, and should never characterize the believer (2 Thes 2:9-12).

Gone are the days of the old gunfights, where two men met in the streets to determine who had the best draw. Replacing them is the drive-by shooting, where one merely seeks to gun down another from his cozy recliner and quickly move on to his next victim. But we have lost something more than the nobility of the act. We've lost the ability to tell the good guy from the bad guy because of it.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Real Reason You Need to Forgive

When I was at Moody, I used to pass by an old stone church on LaSalle Street that looked like it was erected in the early nineteenth century. This was a high traffic area, so there would be tons of people just walking by, laughing and carrying on their daily/nightly business, without concern about anything beyond what they were doing that night. But on the outside wall was a large crucifix with Christ looking sadly down from it. And upon the wall above it, an inscription was carved. It read: "Is It Nothing to You, All Ye Who Pass By?"

Of all the things I learned at Moody, this would stick with me more than anything else. The world is going by about its business, doing whatever it would have done had Christ never come and died, and Christians were often doing the same. So I would always pass by, think of the implications of what I should do in my life in view of what Christ had done, and continue throughout my stay there to take the question to heart, "Is it nothing to me?"

I'd like to draw out one application of this to the area of forgiveness and correct a common misunderstanding for why we forgive others.

Matthew 6:14-15 says this:

For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.

What many people will say is something like, "Forgiveness heals the one who gives it." In other words, the reason why those who advocate this as the primary reason to forgive is that it does something for the person who exercises it. Now, I certainly believe it does something for the person who exercises it, both psychologically, and most importantly, spiritually, as Christ here says that you will not be forgiven unless you forgive; but the reason why forgiveness is withheld from those who refuse to give it is because they are living in a continual state of blasphemy, and no blasphemer can ask God for forgiveness while he is blaspheming God. Such is an absurdity.

"How is he blaspheming?" you may ask. Well, what he is really doing when he refuses to forgive a fellow brother in Christ is evidencing a lack of genuine belief in the worthiness of Christ and His sacrifice. You see, when you do not forgive, you are saying that Christ’s sacrifice for that person’s sin was not good enough. They still need to pay for it. They need to make it up to you. Christ and His death are not valuable enough to restore that person to you. The sin is not washed away. It remains, and you will for sure make the person pay for that sin in full. Christ's payment on the cross is like Mastercard. It's not accepted.

So what you are really saying is that Christ isn't worth enough for His sacrifice to have paid for this injustice committed against you by this fellow Christian. His blood may be precious, but it's not THAT precious. You still need your pound of flesh from this person in order for things to be made right again; and this is precisely what evidences your lack of belief that God has paid for sins in full through His Son. An unwillingness to forgive is a denial of the cross, and a denial of the forgiveness bought thereon. Hence, as the old adage goes: "He who would not forgive burns the bridge over which he himself must cross."

In case we didn't get the point concerning how much God cares about us forgiving our fellow believers, He repeats this in an even longer parable:

"For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. "When he had begun to settle [them], one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him. "But since he did not have [the means] to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made. "So the slave fell [to the ground] and prostrated himself before him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.' "And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt. "But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and [began] to choke [him], saying, `Pay back what you owe.' "So his fellow slave fell [to the ground] and [began] to plead with him, saying, `Have patience with me and I will repay you.'  "But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed. "So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened. "Then summoning him, his lord ^said to him, `You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?' "And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. 
"So also will My heavenly Father do to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart."

Notice that the slave's probational forgiveness was revoked because he treated that forgiveness as nothing by requiring payment (of a much lesser amount) be made to him in full, and when it was not given to him, he was dissatisfied and punished the one who owed him. He evidenced a lack of mercy, precisely, because he treated the forgiveness offered to him by the King as worthless. Hence, the King made it worthless, and revoked it.

Now, this is a parable, so we shouldn't try and get direct analogies from it, as though one can lose his or her salvation if he does not forgive. The point being made here is that the person who does not forgive others is not forgiven by the Father either, because they never really saw the worthiness of Christ and His sacrifice, which is the prerequisite for someone to be saved. This parable is an example of what it looks like, not from God's perspective, who has always known whether someone is saved, but from our perspective. We see someone believe the gospel, and yet, they do not turn and restore their relationships with others who do something unjust (whether merely perceived or real) toward them, and this is a primary evidence that the person, if he or she persists in unforgiveness, is not forgiven either, as they have spit upon the cross of Christ in which they say they fully believe. 

Now, forgiveness has to do with repentance, so the person needs to repent; but that does not let us off the hook either, as the Lord tells us twice that if we have a problem with someone (they may not even realize what they've done), it is our responsibility to go to them and let them know what they have done to us (Matt 18:15-20). And if we know that our brother has something against us, and have not approached him in order to restore the relationship, if we blow it off, or choose not to make this move in order to restore it, then we needn't bother coming before the Lord, as He will not have fellowship with us until our fellowship with one another is restored (Matt 5:21-26).

If the person is repentant, we are to value Christ's sacrifice so much that it is not even the slightest debate in our minds as to whether we should forgive. Forgiveness should leap out of our hearts in love and mercy, and run quickly to our lips and motivate our actions to follow. Hence, in answer to the question as to whether Peter should forgive a "repeat offender" up to seven times, Christ very directly says, "Seventy times seven" (18:22).

Now, Peter probably said this in response to Christ who taught that you should forgive you brother if he should sin against you and repent seven times a day (Luke 17:3-4). The number seven signifies completion in the ancient world. Christ is likely saying that you are to completely forgive him, no matter how many times he returns and truly repents; but Peter misses the point and thinks that Christ is putting a limitation of the times he has to forgive. Peter did not yet understand the cross, but Christ does. Hence, He tells him, "I do not say to you [i.e., my point wasn't] up to seven times, but [my point was] up to seventy times seven [i.e., always, every time]."

Hence, we are to forgive because we have been forgiven with a great and precious sacrifice, the Son of God Himself. He, against whom all offense has been committed, abandoned His life that ALL of the injustices committed by His people might be paid in full through His violent and humiliating death. We owed God an eternity in hell, and the alleviation of that debt ought to cause us to forgive the worst of crimes against us just in terms of our gratefulness; and yet, not only this, but because that sin that we hold against our fellow believer has already been paid for. To require that it be paid again is nothing short of blasphemy and a denial of the restoring and redeeming power of the blood of Christ.

So if you are having a hard time forgiving someone, I'm not going to tell you to forgive in order to feel better for yourself. I'm not going to ask you if you're ready to forgive, as though you still need to let your emotions run their course. I'm only going to ask you one thing, and one thing only:

Is It Nothing to You?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

What Do You Mean by "Sinner"?

We often define sin as a “mistake.” When we say that we are sinners, or that everyone is a sinner, what our culture often means by that is that we are people who make mistakes. This is clear from the statement that usually follows an accusation leveled against them: “Everyone is a sinner. I’ve made mistakes but I’m a good person.” I think the identification of sin as “mistake” clearly seeks to remove the responsibility from me and place it on circumstance. Let me explain why.

When I spill some milk, I make the mistake of judging the circumstance (where the milk is in relationship to my hand, forgetting that the milk is there, being distracted by other things). It is the circumstance that has distracted me.
I also make mistakes on math tests. I may study hard and try my best, but because of my natural limitations, that are not really my fault, mistakes are made. “Nobody is perfect,” we often say.

What this creates is a whole lot of people who think that they've confessed to be sinners when they really are still proudly adhering to their own righteousness. They say that they are sinners, but really believe that they're just good people making mistakes.

But this isn’t what the Bible means when it says we are sinners. The Bible isn’t saying we just make mistakes because of some no-fault circumstance of our limited nature. It does not mean that our environment is to blame, so that, again, we are only minimally at fault. One often thinks of sin this way when he reads Romans 3:23, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now, this translation makes it sound like we almost made it. We were almost at the glory of God, but just fell short. But this isn’t what this verse is saying. The Greek word hystereƍ means “to lack,” “to have a deficiency of.” What this means is that this verse is really saying that we don’t have the glory of God that was given to us in creation (see Ps 8). Instead, when it says that all have sinned, it explains what that means in the context. Let’s look at it.

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;
as it is written,
"There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside, together they have become worthless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one."
"Their throat is an open grave,
With their tongues they keep deceiving,"
"The poison of asps is under their lips";
"Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness";
"Their feet are swift to shed blood,
Destruction and misery are in their paths,
And the path of peace they have not known."
"There is no fear of God before their eyes."
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;
because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law [comes] the knowledge of sin.

Notice that our sin is described by Paul’s pulling together of numerous texts from the OT that he then applies to all people, everywhere.
First, the text tells us that we are not righteous, i.e., people who do what is right and in good standing with God. We don’t get it. We’re clueless as to what good is, and as such, we have all become worthless in our deeds, not knowing what good is, and that good must seek God in order to do good. None of us does that if left to ourselves. So there is no one who is a good person, not even one. No one does what is right, not even one. No one is acceptable to God, not even one.

The very first thing we must notice, then, is that when the Bible calls us sinners, it’s calling us evil people, evil people who are not good people, people who are not acceptable to God, people who redefine that nature of good that is not a God-seeking good, and people who have all turned aside to our own ways and become worthless in terms of doing any real good in the world. Hence, to say one is a sinner is to say that one is not a good person. We cannot then say we are all sinners, but that I am a good person. That is a completely contradictory statement in biblical terms. Hence, contrary to the flow of our modern Jungian influenced culture, to say we are sinners is to say that we are bad people, all of us, without exception.

The second thing we notice is that we are all deceivers. As I spoke about in the last post, our false views lead people away from Christ and His gospel either by pointing them to different religious and worldview ideas, or by arguing that following Christ explicitly through the gospel He proclaimed is not necessary to be saved. We deceive ourselves, but even worse, this passage points out that, as sinners, we become the deceivers of others by what we say.

Third, we curse and are embittered against the truth by nature. This is why we deceive others. We love what is a lie and hate what is true, as the truth shines a light on us, and we are hostile toward it. It testifies to us that we are not good people, we feel judged and don't like our lie exposed, and we then curse and are embittered toward the one who brings the truth to us.

Fourth, we are murderers. If you’ve ever heard anyone say, “Well, at least I’m not a murderer,” you’ve heard a false statement made. Our deceptions of other people have contributed toward their destruction both in this life and the one to come. We have murdered them with our Christless life that we justify with our lies. And we have comfort in this, as the more we get on our side, the better we feel about justifying a life that is unacceptable to God.

Finally, all of this is done because God is not feared (i.e., they do not recognize God’s authority in their lives by living according to what He has revealed). There is no honor of God in the truth and vindication of what He has spoken. They shun it at every turn, and thus become false humanity, the murderers who deceive each other by cheering one another on down their wayward paths to destruction.

This is what a sinner is. It is not merely someone who makes a mistake. It is an evil person, a bad person, a person who is not acceptable to God, a liar, a murderer, who rejects the authority of God to rule his or her life.

Sound like people who deserve hell to you? It does to God, as He has revealed as much in His Word.

So which sinner have you really confessed to be when you said the “sinner’s prayer,” or confess to be a sinner in prayer? Are you the person who just made some mistakes in your life, or are you worthless toward doing any good, incapable of being acceptable in the sight of God, a liar and a murderer, whose life does not gain salvation, nor could it ever do so? Are you a person who just spills some milk, or are you a person who has no hope of being saved, because no murderer will enter the kingdom of God?

If you are a sinner of the former variety, you can know for sure that, according to this passage, you have never acknowledged your hopelessness before God. You probably argue that you’re still a good person, and that other people are equally good people. You likely think other people can be saved in other religions (why not, everyone makes mistakes and yet is still good enough that God would save them). According to this passage, however, you have no hope of the promise that comes after this passage, or living for Christ, as Paul will then argue after this. You are still relying on your own Law, yet the Law of God, seen both through conscience and explicitly revealed in the Mosaic Law, can only condemn you. That Law sits over all, even those who would abridge it to accommodate their lifestyles, who do not come to Christ with empty hands. The Law shows that our claim to be good people is just one of our lies that we tell to justify ourselves and each other. It exposes the deception and shines a light on us, so that we can then know that we are not merely a few feet short of the mark of goodness, but the worst of murderers, destroying everyone in our paths.

But if you are a sinner of the latter variety, and you have acknowledged that you have no hope before God, that you cannot be saved as you are, that you will not enter the Kingdom of God, this promise is for you:

But now apart from the Law [the] righteousness of God has been revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, that is, the righteousness of God that comes through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and lack the glory of God, [instead] being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. [This was] to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the tolerance of God He overlooked the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, [I say], of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the Justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.  Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.

Hence, a man must be justified by faith in Jesus, and cannot be saved by being a good person, because there are no good people. Everyone, whether within the community of God or outside of it (Jew or Gentile) is shut up under the Law, and it merely exposes that we are much worse, completely unacceptable, worthless toward any good deed, liars and murders whose actions do not recognize God’s authority as supreme in what we decide to believe and do. As sinners, we are without hope. We will be damned. There is no question about it; but the good news of Jesus Christ is that God has loved us, even while we were sinners, and has chosen us to be His sons, so that we might be saved through our faith in Jesus Christ. Only in Him is our hope again kindled.

So when we say that we are sinners, this is what the Bible means by it. The question still remains, however, “Is this what you mean?”

But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. (Gal 3:22)

If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10)

Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Inclusivism Is False

When I became a Christian, I was instantly interested in preaching the gospel to people, which in Vegas, led me to be instantly interested in studying other religions and worldviews, because I wanted to know how to dialogue with each individual. My library, at that time, was largely made up of both primary and secondary sources for the study of all of the major world religions, cults and worldviews, and even a bunch of obscure ones. I listened to lectures and took courses at UNLV when they would offer interfaith classes. One of the classes I took there was taught by an interfaith advocate, who believed in inclusivism. Inclusivism is the idea that one does not need to hear the gospel and follow Christ through what Christ has spoken about His work of salvation and the Scripture God has laid down for us, but instead that a follower of his own religion, as long as that religion had a "Christlikeness" about it, was actually just following Christ through another way. Hence, in this view, even an atheist can be saved, as long as he lives a life that is consistent with what Christ taught, and the sacrifice of Christ would then cover his sins. This is a prevalent view in the liberal church, and it dominates our culture (see, for instance, the theology of Oprah Winfrey or the statements made by Aslan in the Narnia series--yes, Lewis (sadly) was, at the very least, a speculative inclusivist, along with John Stott and Billy Graham).

The inclusivist does believe that the only way one can be saved is through Christ, but he simply believes that general revelation, as it is displayed in other religions and worldviews, relates some of Christ to people, and if it garners a positive response from people, that faith saves the individual who has it.

Now, apart from a denial of Scripture that teaches that all of those who are saved are explicitly called by the preaching of the gospel, and that our response to general revelation is more damnation, not salvation, as our problem is not that we don't have revelation from God, it's our rebellious nature that does not desire to submit to God as Lord, all of which I've talked about before on this blog, a major problem with this view is the premise that all religions are the same, either in doctrine or in morality. In other words, if it is not true that these religions contain the image of Christ in their doctrines and practices, then it cannot be said that they are following Christ in any way, shape, or form.

So let's look at the doctrines of the major religions first and then we'll discuss their morality, which is usually (and deceptively) often reduced to "love your neighbor as yourself," as though that has any meaning apart from defining love with the rest of the teachings of Scripture (but we'll get back to that). Obviously, there is a lot more to these religions and worldviews, and what is said all needs to be nuanced, but for our purposes, they've been reduced to fundamental basics.

Let's start with the biggest religion outside of Christianity first: Islam. Islam believes that salvation is by works, and that a man can achieve such on his own because he has no sin nature, that Christ was just a human prophet, his death is worthless as far as its ability to atone for our sin, the Triune God is rejected, God arbitrarily forgives people, as justice is not something that needs to be satisfied (i.e., he is not such a righteous and just God that he needs to send the evildoer to hell and the doer of good to heaven--he can reverse that if he so chooses), etc. Hence, the teaching of Christ that He is God come in the flesh, that apart from believing that He is God, people will die in their sins, that His work on the cross is necessary in order for all to have life, that God is just and His wrath must be satisfied through Christ or by forever punishing the evildoer (God can't just ignore His own righteousness and the call for justice to be satisfied), etc. is all rejected.

Judaism: God is not a Trinity, Jesus was either a demonic deceiver or he was a human prophet whose words were distorted by his followers, His death means nothing except for maybe showing sacrificial love, it does not provide a propitiation, however, for our sins, faith in the Torah, not Christ, is what saves a man. Hence, salvation is by works, and a man can achieve such on his own, since he has no sin nature.

Hinduism: There are many gods that are all a part of the One Impersonal God/Universal (Non-)Mind. Our encasement in flesh is just a deception. There are not many, but only One. Our salvation from this deceptive prison of the physical world is in realizing that we do not really exist as individuals, and instead, must do good works to progress upward until we ascend to the oneness of non-individuality. The goal of the Hindu is to be absorbed back into God. Heaven and hell may be a part of this path, but the final goal is to no longer exist as an individual. Christ is just one of many gurus, he is not God in any Christian sense of the word, His death provides no atonement for our sin, as we must work our way through Karma to gain Oneness (sin and evil are an illusion, there is only that which fosters the physical and that which fosters a denial of the physical).

Buddhism: Any personal God is irrelevant. God is perceived much like that in Hinduism, with some variation, where all drops of water become one with the larger sea. A denial of the physical world is the quickest path to salvation, although there are slower paths for the non-monk, who must live in the daily world. Christ is not God, he is just a spirit guide toward the path of self denial (in Buddhist terms, not in Christ's terms). His death just shows that the physical is worthless and must be rejected, but does not atone for sin (sin and evil are an illusion).

Taoism: There is no Personal God. God is the Tao, made up of light and dark balancing themselves out (yin and yang). Salvation is in letting go and letting the two balance each other out. Detachment, then, is the path to salvation. Sin and evil do not exist. There is only the light and dark balancing themselves in order to reach harmony between the two. Hence, there is no need for a Savior from sin and evil.

Animism: Pagan/tribal religions largely adopt similar views of the universe and of God. They believe in lesser gods, like Hinduism does, but they are all a part of the One. Salvation (going to heaven or becoming one) is through works. The emphasis, however, of tribal religions is on this life more than the next. Sacrifices and prayers exist to make one's life better here, regardless of what may come (although there is usually a general idea that an afterlife exists for those who are loyal to the tribe and the gods).

But some will say, "OK, they differ on all of their theology to the point of being the exact opposite of what Christ taught about Himself, us, and the nature of salvation; but they agree on being good people by making some sort of commitment to spirituality, and that must be how we're saved anyway."

Now, we're going to turn to their "good works" in a moment, but I first want to note that this is already a rejection of Christ's teaching at the get go. The distinction of Christ and His work is theology, and that theology is not accepted by being rejected. Hence, to differ from Him, even rejecting His teaching on these major subjects altogether, is a rejection, not acceptance of Him. You cannot divorce Christ from what He revealed about Himself and His work in the world anymore than you can divorce Yahweh from His distinctions in the revelation of Himself from Baal. In reality, inclusivism should deny the entire Old Testament teaching against the Baals (and other foreign gods) simply because God can be worshiped/followed, in their ideology, through other religions. Why call foreign gods "demons," as the Old Testament does, then? The acceptance of inclusivism is the denial of the Bible and of Christianity just by denying its theological teachings.

But let's move on to morals in order to see how similar these religions are to Christianity in their moral practices.

Islam: The infidel must pay taxes higher than anyone else if he does not convert to Islam. He may even need to be killed in order to wipe him out from the earth. Christianity: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless and do not curse, do not seek vengeance.

Judaism: Christ was a demon possessed human who had a illegitimate birth (Talmud, venerated by Judaism). Christianity: "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven in this life or in the one to come. This He said because they were saying that He had a demon."

Hinduism: To help the poor is to interfere with their salvation, as their situation is brought about for the good of their becoming one. It is payment for a previous bad life. Christianity: Whoever gives to the least of these children even a cold cup of water to drink, he will in no way lose his reward. I was naked and you clothed me, hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me drink . . .

Buddhism: Salvation is through not being concerned with this world and the life therein. It is to deny the illusion of suffering by not acknowledging it and by disconnecting oneself. Hence, the poor man's poverty is an illusion. It is good that he is poor. This will help him deny himself as the Buddha denied himself by giving up his wealth. Nothing should then be done for the poor man, as this interferes with his salvation and acknowledges the reality of evil. Christianity: those who have should share with those who do not.

Toaism: To interfere by helping someone is to interfere with the universe balancing itself out. A rape occurs because there is an imbalance in the universe. To stop it is to let the imbalance persist. Inaction is necessary to let the universe balance itself. Hence, a person who has truly mastered inaction should let another die in a disaster, a woman be raped, the murder of his children to take place, etc. Christianity: Let us do good to (i.e., save/preserve human life for) all men.

Animism: do whatever you wish in accordance with the tribe's morals and what the gods permit for a good life. Sexual immorality, murder, cannibalism, rape, pillaging, etc. Whatever sacrifices, animal or human, are needed for a better life is sought. Curses placed upon people. Christianity: Pretty much the exact opposite of everything.

Atheism and Agnosticism: Same as in Animism, only the tribe is expanded to the state and the cultural values to which they adhere are usually Enlightenment ideals of civility.

Now, my point is not to say that all people of these religions do this. In fact, you will find many Jewish people not blaspheming Christ, Muslims not killing or oppressing non-Muslims; Hindus and Buddhists feeding the poor; Taoists stopping violence and saving human life; atheists and agnostics who, based on Enlightenment ideals that incorporate certain Christian principles, have some practices that parallel those found in Christianity. My point is simply that they must do this in rejection of their religions, not through their religions. To fully accept what is taught in their religions, one cannot do what is considered moral within Christ's teaching, and hence, cannot follow Christ through the morals of their religions.

This, then, leads us to the common citation of the love rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Most religions have this concept in them. The problem, as I've tried to outline above, is that love is defined by the religions so differently that it does not mean the same thing as it does in Christ's teaching, which again means that one is not following Christ through it. Love, to the Muslim, might mean killing you. Love, to the Hindu or Buddhist might mean letting you starve to death. Love, to the Taoist, is letting you be left for dead or raped. Love, to the animist might mean sacrificing you, as an honor, to the gods. Love, to the Jewish person, might mean drawing you away from Christ. In fact, love to all of these religions and worldviews means to draw you away from Christ and to replace the true Christ with a false one, so that salvation through Him is not possible. The goal of love in all of these religions will be to get you to be saved, and that means to teach you their teachings concerning salvation that are opposite of Christ and His teachings. Love, to them, takes you away, not toward, Christ, and that is why these religions fit well in the devil's world, as they lead away from Christ and the salvation of mankind.
Love cannot mean the same thing as what Christ means because love is defined by what one does to another in both word and deed (i.e., both the ideas with which he seeks to influence others and the deeds he does to those others). If one's theology and morals are contrary to Christ's, then one's love is contrary to Christ's. Yet, Christ tells us that this is the reason people are damned, and not saved (Matt 25). It does not matter that the statement, "Love your neighbor" appears in other religions if that statement is completely redefined by the teachings and practices of its adherents. It reminds me of Ravi Zacharias's comments concerning the debate between Frederick Copleston and Bertrand Russell, where Russell was arguing that we differentiate between good and evil by feeling. Zacharias imagines himself in the debate and asks a question of Russell: "Mr. Russell, in some cultures they love their neighbors, and in other cultures, they eat them, both on the basis of feeling. Which do you prefer?"
Love itself, however, must be defined not by feeling, but by what it teaches and does to another. If so, Christ cannot be followed through other religions. Faith in what is contrary to the love of Christ that would lead people to Him, His work of salvation, and His definitions of love in action is not saving faith. The faith therein is evil, and as such, it is rejected.

We are left with rejecting all religions and worldviews, except Christianity without actually following Christianity, and that of course is an impossible hypothetical. Hence, one cannot even reject his own religion and do good that is similar to Christ's commands in order to be saved, because His primary command is to believe on Him whom God has sent, to adhere to His words as His sheep, and to do be baptized in Him. One especially cannot love, as Christ commanded, because by teaching others in word and/or in deed that Christ is not necessary to be saved is the most evil act one can do to another who needs to be saved. Not even murder is a greater crime than this, since the murderer seeks to take away the possibility of life for the moment, but the one who preaches love apart from the doctrines and teachings of Christ, and therefore, leads one away from Him, kills eternally.

My point above is that there is really no doctrine or practice similar enough in any of the world's religions to Christianity that could possibly be considered "following Christ and His teachings through another way," or "knowing Christ through another form." These beliefs are completely the opposite of what Christ taught, and who He revealed Himself to be, so in what way exactly are these other religions expressing Him, and in what way exactly can one follow Him through another religion if He is not expressed? As I said in a previous post, the world belongs to the devil, and that means the religions of the world belong to the devil. This view simply tells us that one can follow Christ by following the devil, which is complete nonsense, but it makes us feel better as long as we don't think too hard about it and imagine that these religions and Christianity are much similar than they really are. It reminds me of Turner's Creed, where the beliefs and practices of human beings are irrelevant to his relationship with God, and that is exactly what inclusivism must imply. I, therefore, leave you with the absurdity brought out by Turner of any claim that would not submit itself to one way of salvation for all of humanity:

We believe in Marxfreudanddarwin
We believe everything is OK
as long as you don’t hurt anyone
to the best of your definition of hurt,
and to the best of your knowledge.
We believe in sex before, during, and
after marriage.
We believe in the therapy of sin.
We believe that adultery is fun.
We believe that sodomy’s OK.
We believe that taboos are taboo.
We believe that everything’s getting better
despite evidence to the contrary.
The evidence must be investigated
And you can prove anything with evidence.
We believe there’s something in horoscopes
UFO’s and bent spoons.
Jesus was a good man just like Buddha,
Mohammed, and ourselves.
He was a good moral teacher though we think
His good morals were bad.
We believe that all religions are basically the same-
at least the one that we read was.
They all believe in love and goodness.
They only differ on matters of creation,
sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.
We believe that after death comes the Nothing
Because when you ask the dead what happens
they say nothing.
If death is not the end, if the dead have lied, then its
compulsory heaven for all
excepting perhaps
Hitler, Stalin, and Genghis Kahn
We believe in Masters and Johnson
What’s selected is average.
What’s average is normal.
What’s normal is good.
We believe in total disarmament.
We believe there are direct links between warfare and
Americans should beat their guns into tractors .
And the Russians would be sure to follow.
We believe that man is essentially good.
It’s only his behavior that lets him down.
This is the fault of society.
Society is the fault of conditions.
Conditions are the fault of society.
We believe that each man must find the truth that
is right for him.
Reality will adapt accordingly.
The universe will readjust.
History will alter.
We believe that there is no absolute truth
excepting the truth
that there is no absolute truth.
We believe in the rejection of creeds,
And the flowering of individual thought.

If chance be
the Father of all flesh,
disaster is his rainbow in the sky
and when you hear
State of Emergency!
Sniper Kills Ten!
Troops on Rampage!
Whites go Looting!
Bomb Blasts School!
It is but the sound of man
worshipping his maker.

"And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)