Thursday, April 30, 2009
"The gospel must also guide and saturate our local churches and denominational ministries. Too many of our pulpits have jettisoned the pure proclamation of the gospel, which has resulted in many of our people losing the full meaning and wonder of the gospel. Too often our denominational programs and agendas have been crafted without a close tethering to the gospel. If we assume the gospel, we will lose the gospel. We must get the gospel right and proclaim it with clarity and boldness if we are to experience a Great Commission Resurgence."
* Dr. Danny Akin - President, Southeastern Baptist Seminary
"Toward A Great Commission Resurgence"
Bono: You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to me that Karma is at the very heart of the universe. I’m absolutely sure of it. And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so you will sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
Assayas: I’d be interested to hear that.
Bono: That’s between me and God. But I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge. I’d be in deep s—. It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity.
Assayas: The Son of God who takes away the sins of the world. I wish I could believe in that.
Bono: But I love the idea of the Sacrificial Lamb. I love the idea that God says: Look, you cretins, there are certain results to the way we are, to selfishness, and there’s a mortality as part of your very sinful nature, and, let’s face it, you’re not living a very good life, are you? There are consequences to actions. The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point. It should keep us humbled … It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.
One of the leading ways the church can testify to God's unifying power before our segregated world is to establish and maintain congregations that transcend cultural barriers, including age. Todd Pruitt, pastor of Metro East Baptist Church in Wichita is a good example of this. He recently wrote:So far the book has proved worth the reading. It is endorsed by such men as Tim Keller, Michael Horton, J.I. Packer, and D.A. Carson.
"At our church, we have made some deliberate choices not to segregate along lines of age, cultural backgrounds, musical preferences, etc. There is little doubt that dividing along these lines "works" in that people often prefer everything to be designed around what makes them most comfortable - their prejudices. But doesn't the gospel lead us toward putting down these impulses? Doesn't the gospel move us out of our comfort zones so that we might take hold of the unity that Christ has already given us?"
WASHINGTON — It was only five years ago that opposition to gay marriage was so strong that Republicans explicitly turned to the issue as a way to energize conservative voters. Yet today, as the party contemplates the task of rebuilding itself, some Republicans say the issue of gay marriage may be turning into more of a hindrance than a help.Read the entire article HERE.
The fact that a run of states have legalized gay marriage in recent months — either by court decision or by legislative action — with little backlash is only one indication of how public attitudes about this subject appear to be changing.
More significant is evidence in polls of a widening divide on the issue by age, suggesting to many Republicans that the potency of the gay-marriage question is on the decline. It simply does not appear to have the resonance with younger voters that it does with older ones.
Consider this: In the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, released on Monday, 31 percent of respondents over the age of 40 said they supported gay marriage. By contrast, 57 percent under age 40 said they supported it, a 26-point difference. Among the older respondents, 35 percent said they opposed any legal recognition of same-sex couples, be it marriage or civil unions. Among the younger crowd, just 19 percent held that view.
Steve Schmidt, who was the senior strategist to Senator John McCain of Arizona during his presidential campaign, said in a speech and an interview that Republicans were in danger of losing these younger voters unless the party comes to appreciate how issues like gay marriage resonate, or do not resonate, with them.
“Republicans should re-examine the extent to which we are being defined by positions on issues that I don’t believe are among our core values, and that put us at odds with what I expect will become, over time, if not a consensus view, then the view of a substantial majority of voters,” he said in a speech.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
From Denny Burk's blog:
Lila Rose is a 20-year old college student at UCLA. She has the voice of a 14-year old, but she has an ingenious plan to expose Planned Parenthood’s serial abuse of vulnerable young girls who are pregnant. Rose produces undercover videos in which she poses as an underage teen seeking an abortion from Planned Parenthood. Recently, she was featured in a front-page story in the LA Times. Watch the video, and read the article. Unbelievable.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
In “Conclusions: Biblical Criticism and Christian Institutions” (357–74), Sparks takes up thisquestion. The answer is, basically, that it must be embraced judiciously but maximally. As questions arise in a church setting and as parishioners can bear the truth, it should be shared with them. This will take time, perhaps generations. But it is a vital mission, as Sparks shows by adapting terms from WilliamCarey—so vital, to note one contrast, that nothing is said here or in the whole book about missions in the more usual sense. This mission to promote criticism is the particular responsibility of the Christian college. While this has the effect of giving professors like Sparks their way with impressionable students away from any guidance by their pastors and parents, that is not his point. He rather seeks to implement a merciful protective measure: taking care of this business in the Christian college classroom means “rank-and-file church members are better insulated from the potentially destructive effects of intense academic inquiry and debate” (364). It is not clear why these members should be spared but their children (likely funded by the members) fully exposed to this inquiry and debate. Nor is it clear why the results of criticism that Sparks promotes as so salubrious throughout the book must now suddenly be hidden from the view of people in churches.
Sparks quotes Duane Litfin, president of Wheaton College, but totally rejects his conception of “revelation and creation, or of faith and reason” (365), because it is too narrow and biblicistic. What happens at places like Wheaton is that leaders cater to “uninformed constituencies,” whether because they agree with them or “because they wish to attract their tuition dollars” (366). Instead, there must be
academic freedom; otherwise “ill-guided fundamentalist populism” will continue to drive schools like Duke, Emory, and Southern Methodist University “further away
from their traditional Christian roots”(367). Sparks does not document how this populism drives the direction of these institutions.
He likens “many evangelical theologians and biblical scholars” today to Edward Carnell (191 9–67), who died from overdose and possibly suicide because rigid evangelical institutional expectations at Fuller Seminary were so repressive that he cracked under the strain (368–69). There need to be changes and adjustments in institutional models so that full academic freedom can flourish even when this “flies in the face of external, populist constituencies” (369). The implication seems to be that otherwise evangelicalism can expect further tragedies among its psychologically victimized leaders.
“Students schooled in biblical criticism” should be cautious about airing what they know from college or seminary—Noah’s flood did not occur, nor (probably) the exodus, Nineveh did not repent, the Gospels disagree, Revelation errs in predicting Christ’s return, and so forth (371). So studentsshould be careful where and how they say what they now know, not because the facts are in question (historical criticism assures that) but because people in the pew are not yet ready for these historical critical insights, the church will recoil, the Christian academy that taught these things will be criticized, and Sparks’s mission of seeing historical criticism accepted in the church will be set back (371).
While Sparks sounds a conciliatory note at the very end—“The evangelical scholars that I know are wonderful people, and in many cases their scholarship is excellent” (373)—the grim truth is that “the evangelical tradition” is “equally culpable” with “Enlightenment rationalism and post-Enlightenment relativism” in destroying faith and fomenting apostasies (374). “A more robust faith” like Spark’s “believing criticism” “would chart a different course, one that is at the same time critical in its disposition and wholly committed to the theological and ethical demands of Christian orthodoxy” (ibid.).
Monday, April 27, 2009
Sunday, April 26, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.
Considering that he is fast becoming the most popular preacher in the country, Joel Osteen doesn't act or sound like a preacher at all.Check out the rest of the story HERE.
He has no seminary training and can hardly talk about any religion other than his own brand of creamy, fat-free Christianity (all the hope, none of the sin).
He prefers telling endearing domestic stories about himself and his 21st-century friends and relatives to rehashing the dusty tales of Scripture.
When he preaches at the new Yankee Stadium on Saturday, becoming the first nonbaseball attraction there, he will be his humble, likable, wavy-haired self and nothing more...
"Our music is not traditional hymns," he said. "My message is not about doctrine. I don't have to get 50 references from Scripture in a sermon for it to be a good sermon. Churches that are helping people live out a Christian life are growing and flourishing."...
Sonja Smash, a member of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church in Mount Vernon, went to hear Osteen at the Garden and found him to be "electrifying."
"He reaches everyone, regardless of your background, and goes beyond doctrine," said Smash, 40, an executive assistant who discovered Osteen on TV. "He delivers a universal message, inspirational nuggets, something for you to chew on and contemplate. We don't need just fire 'n' brimstone, but inspirational messages on how to live our daily lives."
At one point Duncan quoted from Spurgeon's sermon on 2 Timothy 4:13 where Paul asks Timothy to "bring the books and especially the parchments":
We do not know what the books were about, and we can only form some guess as to what the parchments were. Paul had a few books which were left, perhaps wrapped up in the cloak, and Timothy was to be careful to bring them. Even an apostle must read. . . . A man who comes up into the pulpit, professes to take his text on the spot, and talks any quantity of nonsense, is the idol of many. If he will speak without premeditation, or pretend to do so, and never produce what they call a dish of dead men's brains—oh! that is the preacher. How rebuked are they by the apostle!
He is inspired, and yet he wants books!
He has been preaching at least for thirty years, and yet he wants books!
He had seen the Lord, and yet he wants books!
He had had a wider experience than most men, and yet he wants books!
He had been caught up into the third heaven, and had heard things which it was unlawful for a men to utter, yet he wants books!
He had written the major part of the New Testament, and yet he wants books!
The apostle says to Timothy and so he says to every preacher, "Give thyself unto reading." The man who never reads will never be read; he who never quotes will never be quoted. He who will not use the thoughts of other men's brains, proves that he has no brains of his own.
Brethren, what is true of ministers is true of all our people. You need to read. Renounce as much as you will all light literature, but study as much as possible sound theological works, especially the Puritanic writers, and expositions of the Bible. We are quite persuaded that the very best way for you to be spending your leisure, is to be either reading or praying. You may get much instruction from books which afterwards you may use as a true weapon in your Lord and Master's service. Paul cries, "Bring the books"—join in the cry.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
David Clarkson (1621-1686)
"You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or covetous person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a such a person is really an idolater who worships the things of this world." Ephesians 5:5
A covetous man is an idolater. Not only the covetous, but the immoral, are idolaters. For the apostle, who here makes covetousness to be idolatry, considers voluptuous people to be idolaters also, where he speaks of some who make their belly their God (Phil. 3:19). Indeed, every reigning lust is an idol—and every person in whom it reigns is an idolater. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life." Pleasures, and riches, and honors are the carnal man's trinity. These are the three great idols of worldly men, to which they prostrate their souls! And giving that to them which is due only to God, they hereby become guilty of idolatry. That this may be more evident—that covetousness, immorality, and other lusts are idolatry—let us consider what it is and the several kinds of it.
Idolatry is to give that honor and worship to 'the creature', which is due to the Creator alone. When this worship is communicated to other things, whatever they are, we thereby make them idols, and commit idolatry. Now this worship due to God alone, is not only given by the savage heathen to their stick and stones—and by papists to angels, saints and images—but also by carnal men to their lusts.
There is a twofold worship due only to God–
1. External, which consists in acts and gestures of the body. When a man bows to or prostrates himself before a thing, this is the worship of the body. And when these gestures of bowing, prostration are used, not out of a civil, but a religious respect, with an intention to testify divine honor, then it is worship due only to God.
2. Internal, which consists in the acts of the soul and actions answerable thereto. When the mind is most taken up with an object and the heart and affections most set upon it, this is 'soul worship'—and this is due only to God. For He being the chief good and the chief end of intelligent creatures, it is His due, proper to Him alone, to be most minded and most loved. It is the honor due only to the Lord to have the first, the highest place, both in our minds and hearts and endeavors.
Nine Marks Ministries was founded by Dr. Mark Dever of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. They exist to help churches conform to Scripture in all that they do and thus give God greater glory.
Matt and I spoke about the possibility of hosting a Nine Marks Workshop at Church of the Saviour in 2011 or 2012. It would be a wonderful event and certainly in keeping with my vision for Church of the Saviour.
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
You can order the DVD's or audio CD's from Westminster Bookstore.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Sunday, April 19, 2009
Some months ago, I wrote a short piece for the e-zine, Reformation 21 , about the tendency of Reformed Christians over the last twenty or so years to be rather embarrassed about their heritage and to be continually fretting about whether they are relevant or not.Read the entire post HERE.
Frankly, Machen’s worrier children seem to have spent more time apologizing for, or even trying to hide, their theological and ecclesiastical history than appropriating it and applying it. “I’m Reformed but…..’ is almost a liturgical response in some quarters to questions about personal beliefs. Hard to imagine a credible Catholic or Eastern Orthodox person giving a similar response. In my experience, they understand the warts-and-all of their respective traditions, but they face them honestly and tend not to be embarrassed to be upfront about who and what they are.
Well, if Time magazine is to be believed, the worrier children can stop wringing their hands, shave off their soul patches, put aside their candles and censer bowls, and start reading Calvin, Owen, Edwards, Warfield and Machen once again because, ironically, this kind of seemingly Paleolithic activity puts them on the cutting edge of Christianity in North America.
Indeed, Time has listed neo-Calvinism as number three in its list of ten things that are shaping the world today. Perhaps those who speak of regeneration are actually more in tune with the Christian Zeitgeist than those who talk endlessly about their ‘journeys.’
To those of us who believed all along that – well, traditional Reformed doctrine basically got it right on all the key points, the fact that Christianity is finding new vitality by revisiting the old paths is no surprise. Alternatives have come and gone, but the old biblical gems of divine sovereignty, human depravity, atonement, regeneration, etc. keep coming back, making sense of both the Bible’s testimony and human experience of the world. It is also 'preachable' in a way that the alternatives – even, or perhaps, especially, those alternatives which make such a noise about preaching, kerygma and dynamism – are not.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus."
- Romans 3:21-26
Friday, April 17, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
According to Machen, one's view of inspiration and consequently of the text of the Bible itself has to do with one's starting point. If you start with the supposition that God has revealed himself in all of the words of Scripture, then you submit to the teachings of Scripture, however hard they may be for a modern person or however seemingly challenging they are. If you start with the legitimacy of modern sensibilities, then you can conveniently overlook and downplay those difficult elements. Machen did not deny Fosdick the right to his view of Scripture. Machen just had problems with Fosdick claiming that his view was Christian. (p. 36)
Six Biblical Guidelines for Loving Each Other Amid Differences
1. Let’s avoid gossiping.
2. Let’s identify evidences of grace in each other and speak them to each other and about each other.
3. Let’s speak criticism directly to each other if we feel the need to speak to others about it.
4. Let’s look for, and assume, the best motive in the other’s viewpoint, especially when we disagree.
5. Think often of the magnificent things we hold in common.
6. Let’s be more amazed that we are forgiven than that we are right. And in that way, let’s shape our relationships by the gospel.
"Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed."
- John Owen
- J. Gresham Machen from Christianity and Liberalism, p.120
Wednesday, April 15, 2009
"I have been on the lookout for a compelling and contemporary treatment of the nature and authority of Scripture for years. I ask of every promising new title, 'Are you the one who is to come, or shall I look for another?' Ward's book may be the one. Words of Life rightly roots its thinking about Scripture in the doctrine of God, and that means trinitarian theology. His central insight: God's word is something that God does. The Bible is not simply an object to be studied but the principal means by which the Lord engages his people and administers his covenant. Ward is a British pastor-theologian in the best sense of the term. The deft treatment of inerrancy by one from the other side of the pond is an added bonus. Highly recommended!"
"Timothy Ward's exposition of the nature and place of the Bible is well-informed and thoroughly thought through. It is a product of alert contemporary awareness, deep-level theological discernment and mature personal judgment. Rarely has a book on this subject stirred me to such emphatic agreement and admiration."
Timothy Ward’s Words of Life (IVP) is a beautifully written, clear, calm, reasonable – very English - treatment of the historical evangelical and classical Christian approach to Scripture. Besides being explicitly Reformed – he builds on Calvin, Turretin, Bavinck and Warfield - its orientation is also noteworthy for stressing the Bible’s own witness to itself, in particular to the closeness of God’s words and God’s action. He then proceeds to place this material in an explicitly theological, Trinitarian framework, and to apply it in the restatement of the traditional doctrinal attributes of scripture as necessary, sufficient and clear. Finally, the doctrinal formulation is brought to bear on the to the life and witness of the Christian and the church; doctrine, and then application. Most important of all, perhaps, Timothy Ward puts all this in his own way, not simply mouthing traditional doctrine in traditional ways. And he comes to theological conclusions the proper way, from the scriptural data to scriptural doctrine. To cap it all, he has an eye both to history and to contemporary discussion.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
The Monday "On Religion" feature in USA Today is consistently interesting, even if often exasperating. That is what should be expected of an opinion column -- strong opinions in both the column and the reaction it prompts. Well, get ready to form your own opinion about today's feature, for it is likely to make a lot of waves.This is an important and timely post. Read the whole thing HERE.
Tom Krattenmaker, a Portland, Oregon based member of the paper's Board of Contributors, levels a broadside attack on the unity, inspiration, and veracity of the Bible as the Word of God in his column, "Fightin' Words".
Krattenmaker first celebrates what he describes as "a year of retreat and retrench" for conservative Christianity. Now, he says, "here come more challenges to traditionalist views of the Bible and Christian faith from a lineup of big-name, liberal-leaning scholars and theologians."
First up on Krattenmaker's list is Bart Ehrman of the University of North Carolina. As Krattenmaker explains, Ehrman "mounts evidence against literalist conceptions of the Bible as factual history and a divinely transmitted testament to an afterlife-focused religion called Christianity."
An article in the Washington Times reports:
The Department of Homeland Security is warning law enforcement officials about a rise in "rightwing extremist activity," saying the economic recession, the election of America's first black president and the return of a few disgruntled war veterans could swell the ranks of white-power militias.Read the entire article HERE.
A footnote attached to the report by the Homeland Security Office of Intelligence and Analysis defines "rightwing extremism in the United States" as including not just racist or hate groups, but also groups that reject federal authority in favor of state or local authority.
"It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single-issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration," the warning says...
The Homeland Security assessment specifically says that "rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat."
William Ayers who is active in Chicago politics is a real live domestic terrorist as is his wife. Following the reasoning of Miss Napolitano and the Department of Homeland Security should we therefore investigate every politician who comes out of the Chicago political machine as a possible left-wing extremist?
Monday, April 13, 2009
Chicago, Ill., Apr 8, 2009 / 01:08 pm (CNA).- Yesterday, Dr. Mehment OzRead the entire post HERE.
appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show to voice his support for adult stem cell research and to argue that “the stem cell debate is dead,” but instead of giving his statement a fair hearing, Oprah’s website buried and edited Oz’s comments.
Actor Michael J. Fox, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, was invited on the show to talk about his struggle with Parkinson’s and his foundation’s endorsement of embryonic stem cell research (ESCR).
Fox told Oprah that he believes President Obama’s decision lifting President Bush's restrictions on ESCR was a “step in the right direction” and that “we had eight years where there was no forward progress.” The United States has to make up for a lot of lost time, Fox added.
He also empathized with ethical concerns over ESCR, but said, “I just have faith in our scientists and the research community that they’ll do this ethically and to good purpose.”
After a commercial break, Oprah introduced Dr. Oz, who is the vice-chair and professor of surgery at Columbia University, to explain how stem cells could be used to treat or cure the effects of many diseases.
To demonstrate how stem cells could be used, Oz brought out a human brain. Both Oprah and Fox laughed and joked with Oz as he discussed how stem cells would work in the brain. But Dr. Oz became more serious as he spoke about the future of embryonic stem cell research.
“Now, I’m going to say something that’s going to be a bit provocative. I think, Oprah, the stem cell debate is dead, and I’ll tell you why,” said Oz.
“The problem with embryonic stem cells is that embryonic stem cells come from embryos, like all of us were made from embryos. And those cells can become any cell in the body. But it’s very hard to control them, and so they can become cancer.”
Oprah and Fox then became visibly uncomfortable, shifting around in their chairs, as Oz explained that, contrary to Fox’s earlier testimony, incredible medical advances are being made using adult stem cells and not embryonic stem cells. He claimed that, “in the last year, we’ve made a 10 year advancement.”
"Easter is over. The new clothes are hung up, the candy has been eaten, and choir directors and pastors everywhere--not to mention ushers--are enjoying the quiet routines of a Monday. For the diehard Reformed, you know who you are, this Monday is like every other Monday because Easter Sunday is like every other Sunday: Resurrection Sunday comes every seven days for you, not once a year.
"For the rest of us, I have some thoughts. It was after Christ rose from the dead that the work of the church, of beginning and building the church, began in earnest. The euphoria of the Resurrection moment would abate and the grind of routine would set in. The hard work, the daily commitment to love and care for people, the challenge of a hostile world crushing in, all this and more was what the early church, the New Testament church, had to look forward to.
"Weeks, months, years after the resurrection how did they do it?
"Being faithful in the routines, on the Mondays after the Sundays, is important. It is as inversely important as it seems unglamorous.
"We can all be thankful for the Resurrection, even and especially for Resurrection Sunday. It is a reminder that Christ conquered all our enemies, the enemies of sin and death and guilt. He even conquered the enemy of our unfaithfulness, the enemy of our running in fits and spurts, the enemy of our languid efforts at a patient and long obedience, and the enemy of letting Mondays, weeks and months and years of Mondays, simply roll on by, becoming a mass of missed days of worship, service, love, and obedience."
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
Ehrman is a hack who gets his facts wrong. He is a man who, for whatever reason has a grudge against biblical Christianity.
Read Professor Denny Burk's review of Ehrman's last book HERE.
In Ephesians 2 we’re told that because of our sin we are under the wrath of God. For people like this the great need is not simply a good moral example or a good teacher. What we need is a Saviour! What we need is one who is able to justify us before the eyes of a holy God. And this is precisely what Jesus accomplished through his perfect obedience, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection. Referring to Jesus, Paul writes “who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4:25).
The greatest dilemma in the universe was how a perfectly holy God could have fellowship with sinful people. We did not simply need help from God. We needed to be reconciled to God. “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5:10-11).
Three important ideas connected to our being saved are connected directly to the resurrection of Christ.
We have release from guilt.
By Christ’s dying and rising we are released from far more than guilty feelings. In Christ we are released from real, objective guilt. You see apart from Christ we are lost in our sins. We are guilty before the bar of God’s righteous justice. Our problem is that we do not tend to understand ourselves as sinners who must give an answer to God.
Our tendency is to dumb down sin. So instead of calling sin, sin we use euphemisms like “mistakes”. We imagine sin to be something as nebulous and hard to define as “failing to live up to my full potential,” or “letting myself down,” or “not living in accord with my value system.” And while sin is, in one sense, a way that we fail ourselves, first and foremost sin is rebellion against God. Jesus did not come to help the flawed but to justify the guilty. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:1).
We have hope for eternity
Eternal hope is really the only thing that can give meaning to present existence. The apostle Paul bears witness to this reality.
“For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:17-19).
Paul’s conclusion is that if Christ has not been raised then we are still in our sins and we have no hope beyond this life. If the sum of our existence is found in this short earthly existence then we are to be pitied. If this is all there is then the Apostle Paul’s prescription is to do anything and everything to medicate the meaninglessness.
The fact is, we live in a kind of Romans eight world.
“For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:22-25).
In this life we groan just as all creation groans. Things are not as they should be. There is sin and suffering and injustice. So we wait with longing for all that was lost and damaged by sin to be fully restored. The most visible reminder of this groaning that Paul writes about is death. Death is the great and terrible reminder that we live in a fallen world. And Christians do not need to act as if death is not anything other than an enemy. But for those who know the risen Christ death is a defeated enemy. And that makes all the difference in how we face death.
“Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?”
(1 Corinthians 15:51-54)
About the year 125 A.D. a Greek by the name of Aristeides was writing to one of his friends about the new religion, Christianity. He was trying to explain the reasons for its extraordinary success. Here is a sentence from one of his letters:
“If any righteous man among the Christians passes from this world, they rejoice and offer thanks to God, and they escort his body with songs and thanksgiving as if he were setting out from one place to another nearby.”
John Knox, the great Scottish reformer of the 16th century said while dying, “Live in Christ, live in Christ, and the flesh need not fear dying.” The great Puritan Richard Baxter when he was dying said, “I have pain; but I have peace. I have peace.” The last two thousand years is peppered with examples such as these of men and women who faced the grave in peace through the Lord Jesus.
What a stark is the example of the notorious French atheist and philosopher Voltaire. On his death bed he said, “I am abandoned by God and man. I will give you half of what I am worth, if you will give me six months’ life.” The doctor replied, “Sir, you cannot live six weeks.” Voltaire replied, “Then I shall go to hell, and you will go with me.”
None of us escape our appointment with the grave. Christians are not joyful because we miraculously escape death. So long as we are south of heaven we will, to use Paul’s words, “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons.” The difference is that we know this groaning lasts a comparatively short time.
Of his awesome vision of heaven the apostle John writes: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away’” (Rev 21:1-4)
We have comfort for today
The resurrection of Jesus is a down payment on our own resurrection. Because Jesus has risen He will raise us up also. Christ took death and the grave and made a public spectacle of them. As already mentioned, this does not mean we escape death. We still live in a fallen world in fallen bodies. But consider this – what is the true power of death?
The true power of death is the power to hold. And once the power to hold has been stripped of it, death becomes a 90 pound weakling. Paul tells us that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. The Lord Jesus promised the repentant thief who hung next to him dying, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” The grave could not hold our Lord and as a result the grave will not hold any of his people. And this not only puts our own death in perspective but it ultimately puts all our suffering in perspective. “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18).
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Some people today may find it compelling that some Great Cosmic Transaction took place on that day 1,980 years ago, that God's wrath burned against his son instead of against me. I find that version of atonement theory neither intellectually compelling, spiritually compelling, nor in keeping with the biblical narrative.
Has the word propitiation any place in your Christianity? In the faith of the New Testament it is central. The love of God [1 John 4:8-10], the taking of human form by the Son [Heb. 2:17], the meaning of the cross [Rom. 3:21-26], Christ's heavenly intercession [1 John 2:1-2], the way of salvation--all are to be explained in terms of it, as the passages quoted show, and any explanation from which the thought of propitiation is missing will be incomplete, and indeed actually misleading, by New Testament standards.
In saying this, we swim against the stream of much modern teaching and condemn at a stroke the views of a great number of distinguished church leaders today, but we cannot help that. Paul wrote, "Even if we or an angel from heaven"--let alone a minister, a bishop, college lecturer, university professor, or noted author--"should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! ("accursed" KJV and RSV; "outcast" NEB; "damned" Phillips--Gal. 1:8). And a gospel without propitiation at is heart is another gospel than that which Paul preached. The implications of this must not be evaded.
* Thanks to Justin Taylor