Archive for December, 2008|Monthly archive page

Getting stupid to get away from God

I heard Dr. Don Carson use this quote during a recent talk he gave at Mars Hill Church.  I love it…

I have already noted in passing that everything goes wrong without God. This is true even of the good things He has given us, such as our minds. One of the good things I’ve been given is a stronger than average mind. I don’t make the observation to boast.  Human beings are given diverse gifts to serve Him in diverse ways. The problem is that a strong mind that refuses the call to serve God has its own way of going wrong. When some people flee from God they rob and kill. When others flee from God they do a lot of drugs and have a lot of sex. When I fled from God I didn’t do any of those things; my way of fleeing was to get stupid. Though it always comes as a surprise to intellectuals, there are some forms of stupidity that one must be highly intelligent and educated to achieve. God keeps them in his arsenal to pull down mulish pride, and I discovered them all. That is how I ended up doing a doctoral dissertation to prove that we make up the difference between good and evil and that we aren’t responsible for what we do. I remember now that I even taught these things to students…now that’s sin.

It was also agony. You cannot imagine what a person has to do to himself to go on believing such nonsense.  Paul said that the knowledge of God’s laws is “written on our hearts, our consciences also bearing witness.” The way natural law thinkers put this is to say that they constitute the deep structure of our minds. That means that so long as we have minds, we can’t not know them. Well, I was unusually determined not to know them, therefore, I had to destroy my mind. I resisted the temptation to believe in good with as much energy as some saints resist the temptation to neglect good. For instance, I loved my wife and children, but I was determined to regard this love as merely a subjective preference with no real and objective value. Think what this did to my very capacity to love them. After all, love is a commitment of the will to the true good of another person, and how can one’s will be committed to the true good of another person if he denies the reality of good…denies the reality of persons…denies that his commitments are in any sense in his control?

Visualize a man opening up the access panels of his mind and pulling out all of the components that have God’s image stamped on them. The problem is that they all have God’s image stamped on them, so the man can never stop. No matter how many he pulls out, there’s still more to pull. I was that man. Because I pulled out more and more, there was less and less that I could think about. But because there was less and less that I could think about, I thought I was becoming more and more focused. Because I believed things that filled me with dread, I thought I was smarter and braver than the people who didn’t believe them. I thought I saw an emptiness at the heart of the universe that was hidden from their foolish eyes. But I was the fool.

How then did God bring me back?  I came, over time, to feel a greater and greater horror about myself.  Not exactly a feeling of guilt.  Not exactly a feeling of shame…just horror…an overpowering sense that my condition was terribly wrong.  Finally it occurred to me to wonder why, if there were no difference between the wonderful and the horrible, I should feel horror.  Letting that thought through, my mental sensors blundered.  You see in order to take this sense of horror seriously [and by now I couldn’t help doing it], I had to admit that there was a difference between the wonderful and the horrible after all.

Dr. J. Budziszewski, professor of Government and Philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin.

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 3)

I returned from T4G with the goal of bringing clarity to the gospel for every person under my teaching, especially in terms of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement.  The meaning of the gospel has become so muddled.  And this is not merely the fault of Christian liberalism preaching the message of “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross” but because of a church culture in American evangelicalism that propagates a message of “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.”  Many believe and teach that there is a problem outside of us (family or money or society or our childhood or whatever) and the solution to this problem can only be found within the individual.  In Osteen‘s word, many would have you believe that, “You are not a sick person trying to get well.  You are a well person fighting off sickness.”  When in fact the Bible teaches the opposite of this…The problem is in the individual.  It is within each of us – it is sin.  And the solution to this problem can only come from outside of us.  It is an objective reality outside of the individual that resolves the problem, not a subjective reality within each individual.

Christianity is NOT just another pointless therapy that tells you to look inside yourself for a solution that is not there.  Christianity presents the only real solution to the problem – the gospel.  The gospel is based on objective facts and historical acts of God.  The whole reason we celebrate this time of year is due to the fact that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Gal. 4:4-5).”

So let’s clarify the gospel by looking at that three word phrase that became such a theme at T4G and has become such a theme in my reading and study: Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

Penal – meaning penalty.  There is a penalty that you and I deserve because of our sin.  The Bible’s testimony about mankind, and this is proven true in every one of our lives, is that we have all fallen short of the standard that God has put into place.  We have actually rebelled against this divine and objective standard.  We are, in our natural state, hostile toward that standard.  So we are all deserving of punishment.

Substitutionary – God sent his son Jesus Christ, as a substitute, to face the penalty of sin that we all deserve.  God made provision for our sin in the provision of His Son, Christ Jesus – dying on the cross in our place..

Atonement – What is it that makes anyone acceptable to God?  It is that they have trusted in Christ as an acceptable sacrifice in their place, becoming their substitute on the cross to absorb the wrath of God and remove the wrath of God which was upon them.  Christ reconciles us to God by bearing our penalty on the cross in our place to atone for our sin.

2 Cor. 5:19 – …in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them..

What do you say to a friend who just watched his father suffer and die from cancer?

I believe the Bible…that it is God’s word.  I study it and teach it and seek to know it by heart.  I have found great words of comfort in it.  Knowing that you are dealing with the suffering and death of your father I wanted to share with you some things that I hope will bring you comfort.  However, I cannot begin to understand what you have been through these past few days and weeks and months – so I will not belittle your suffering by saying I know what you’re going through.

How many times did we sing the words of Isaiah 43:1-3 when we were in InterVarsity together at JMU.  I know that like me, this passage is ingrained in your memory.  It is a passage that has been very much on my heart and in my thoughts for you these past weeks.  Here is what it says:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
When you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Of course you know these words convey a spiritual reality.  The water and fire in this passage are a picture of suffering and trial and tribulation.  Isaiah speaks the words of the LORD to his people and says that when they go through suffering He will be with them.  Great suffering does not mean that God stops being the God of His people.  He redeemed them.  He called them by name.  They belong to Him!  They will still be His people.  He will still be their God.  Don’t let the suffering scare you.  If, at any point, you are overwhelmed in suffering the loss of your father, remember the promise in these verses – He redeemed you and you belong to Him.  The loss you are suffering at this moment and in your most quiet moments on the road ahead may be unspeakable, but God has not deserted you.  He is the LORD.  He is the Savior.  I pray that you will cry out to Him and find comfort in His presence and in His word.

Horatio Spafford lost four of his daughters when their boat sank in the middle of the Atlantic.  He was supposed to be with them on that boat to go on vacation.  He stayed in the U.S. to work, hoping to join them later.  When he got the news of their death he got on the first boat he could and made his way to the place where the ship, holding his daughters, went down.  At that place he wrote the words to the great hymn, “It Is Well”.  Looking out on the water of the Atlantic Ocean, where his four precious daughters suffered and died, and as he was suffering from this unspeakable loss, he sought comfort in the great truths expressed in this poem:

When peace like a river attendeth my way
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well with my soul

My sin, oh the depth of this glorious thought,
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Was nailed to the cross and I bear it no more
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh my soul

And Lord hast the day when my faith shall be sight
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend
Even so, it is well with my soul

Spafford found, through this ordeal, that the LORD was teaching him the faith and ability to say, even in the midst of the rolling billows of sorrow, it is well.  Like Spafford, I pray that the God of all comfort would also be teaching you to say, it is well.  Where does that kind of faith and ability come from?  It comes from learning to trust in the timeless truth that Christ has borne all our sin in our place and that a day will come when that trust or that faith will become sight and you will see your Savior face to face.  I hope these glorious truths bring you comfort during these days.

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 2)

Is Christianity just another pointless therapy? Surely the church doesn’t think so…but consider a sample of what you would hear on Sunday morning if you went to Lakewood Church in Houston, TX:

“We have a right to live in total victory. Not partial victory, to where we have a good family, we have good health, but we constantly struggle in our finances. That’s not total victory. If God did it for ya in one area, He can do it for ya in another area. Get a vision for it. Don’t get stagnant…You see, too often we just accept things; defeat, mediocrity, addictions. People tell me, ‘Joel, that’s just who I am.’ But with all due respect, that’s not who you really are. You are a child of the most high God and he has paid the price so that we may be totally free. That means free from bad habits and addictions. Free from fear and worry. Free from discouragement and depression. Free from poverty and lack. Free from low self-esteem. God wants us to be totally free. The scripture tells us to take hold of all Christ died and rose again for. It all starts right here (pointing to his head). You’ve got to know that you not only have a right to be free, but God has already empowered you with everything you need to overcome. You need to start seeing yourself the right way. You are not a sick person trying to get well. You are a well person fighting off sickness.”

Doesn’t that just make you feel good? I don’t know where Joel Osteen got that stuff from, but I can tell you where he didn’t get it from – it didn’t come from the Bible. Do you hear what he is selling? He’s selling “a God without wrath [bringing] men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” (Neibuhr)

I have to agree with one statement that Osteen makes – God has paid the price that we may be totally free. The Bible does in fact teach that. But the Bible’s definition of “totally free” is much different than the muddled gospel message that Osteen and many others are preaching today. You need to be set free. That is for sure. But set free from what? Did Christ die on the cross so that you could be healthy and wealthy? Is this the message that Christ commands us to preach to the nations? You and I need a savior, but what do we need saving from? – bad habits and addictions? Fear and worry? Discouragement and depression? Poverty and lack? Low self-esteem? What was it that God was saving us from by sending his son to die on the cross? Did Christ come to prescribe just another pointless therapy for us? No. This brings us back to the Biblical concept of penal substitutionary atonement. In my next post we’ll break down that three word concept.

Christianity…just another pointless therapy? (part 1)

Back in April, I was privileged enough to get to attend Together for the Gospel where I received many books. We would find 3 or 4 books sitting on our chairs when we entered the conference center for each session. Many of those books were about the concept of penal substitutionary atonement. In particular: The Truth of the Cross by R.C. Sproul, Pierced for Our Transgressions by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach, In My Place Condemned He Stood by Mark Dever and J.I. Packer, and The Future of Justification by John Piper. I’ve read some of each of these books and some of these books I’ve read in their entirety. I would strongly recommend Sproul’s book for the less theologically minded person. I would recommend all of these books to pastors, elders, teachers, and lay church leaders. One in particular, Pierced for Our Transgressions – Rediscovering the glory of penal substitution, by Steve Jeffery, Michael Ovey, and Andrew Sach is especially helpful. There is a section in that book especially dedicated to the biblical foundations of the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. In that section they walk through the major texts that deal with the teaching of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross.

Why do they do this? Why did the T4G folks pay so much attention to this issue with the books they gave out and the talks that were given? In the halls of scholarship the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement has been under attack. Men, whom most of us have never heard of, have written books, which most of us will never read, attacking this doctrine. Most of this would fall into the category of Christian liberalism. H. Richard Neibuhr summarized the liberal position like this, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through a Christ without a cross.” Outside of the halls of Christian liberalism, there is an even more subtle yet sinister attack upon the doctrine. Dr. Michael Horton makes this commentary on Neibuhr’s statement –

“Doesn’t this seem to be at least the working assumption of a lot of American Christianity across the board today. Is Christ and His saving work central in your church and its ministry? Is your faith regularly redirected back to Christ or is the church itself distracting you from Christ and Him crucified. More than anything else, the reformation of the church that we so desperately need, depends on the recovery of this message in our churches. Without Christ and his cross front and center, every week, Christianity is just another pointless therapy rather than the power of God unto salvation for everyone who believes.”

Mark Driscoll on how to play the man


He is not safe!

This past week I heard a sermon that reminded me of this excerpt from C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  Mr. Beaver tells the children that he is going to take them to see Aslan and Lucy asks if Aslan is a man.

“Aslan a man!” said Mr. Beaver sternly.  “Certainly not.  I tell you he is the King of the wood and the son of the great Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.  Don’t you know who is the King of Beasts?  Aslan is a lion – the Lion, the great Lion.”

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he – quite safe?  I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you?  Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe.  But he’s good.  He’s the King I tell you.”

How many sit in church each week thinking God is perfectly safe.  Is the God of the Bible safe?  Most people in the congregation have no idea who they supposedly are worshipping on Sunday mornings.  They treat Him just as they treat any of the other accessories in their life.  He is not their treasure.  He is not honored.  He is not revered.  He is not glorified.  He is not exalted.  He is not praised as the great redeemer.  He is only spoken of as the great enhancer to an already comfortable and cozy life.  God says many times in scripture that he demands that his name be made holy.  He will not let his name be profaned.  Read the accounts in scripture about what happens to people who tread lightly where God has warned that we should take great care and be solemnly concerned.  He curses Cain.  He strikes down the sons of Aaron.  He dethrones king Saul.  He is not safe! But he is good.  He is the King.