You Asked For It #8: Is Jesus the Only Way?

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Here’s the audio from the message.

We live in pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, individualistic culture, and it is into this culture and many others cultures that we are called to share the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His good news.  As we share the gospel with the people in our world, the question that often comes up is this… Is Jesus the only way?

So as we ask this final and possibly most important question in our YouAskedForIt series, we’re going to look at four themes: (1) the Philosophy of Religion, paying special attention to our culture’s take on exclusive religious truth claims; (2) the Plurality of Worldviews, giving us a quick snapshot of worldviews and religions that are vying for our attention and our hearts; (3) the Primacy of Christ, where we’ll discover what makes Jesus Christ unique and different from every other religion; and lastly we’ll end up with (4) the Priority of Mission, the call and command to share Jesus and His gospel in our world.

#1 Philosophy of Religion

We live in an incredibly pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, and individualistic culture.  By pluralistic,  we have many, many worldviews competing for airtime.  By relativistic, we hear “what’s true for you is not necessarily true for me.”  By syncretistic, we like to mix in a lot of different worldviews to create our own.  And by individualistic, we believe “don’t tell me what to believe… I’ve got to figure it out myself.”  So when we as followers of Jesus Christ come along and say that Jesus is the only way, here’s one of the most common responses that we hear…

“All religions are equally valid paths to God.” Another way to put this is “no one has the fully correct and exclusive viewpoint on God.”  All of the different world religions are saying the same thing… all roads lead to God.

There’s a famous illustration based on an old Indian folktale that people use to help us see the “truthfulness” of their perspective that no one has the fully correct or exclusive vantage point on God (which is an exclusive truth claim in and of itself… but we’ll discuss that more in a moment).

Several blind men were walking along and came upon an elephant that allowed them to touch and feel it.  “This creature is long and flexible like a snake,” said the first blind man, holding the elephant’s trunk.  “Not at all—it is thick and round like a tree trunk,” said the second blind men, feeling the elephant’s leg.  “No, it is large and flat,” said the third blind man, touching the elephant’s side.  Each blind man could feel only part of the elephant—none could envision the entire elephant.  In the same way, it is argued, the religions of the world each have a grasp on part of the truth about spiritual reality, but none can see the whole elephant or claim to have a comprehensive or exclusive vision of the truth.

Here’s the ultimate intellectual problem with the elephant illustration and the claim that “all religions are equally valid paths to God.”  The only way you could know that the blind men only saw part of the elephant is to assume that you have the whole picture of the elephant, the whole truth which you are claiming no one has.  When you are saying that no one has a superior or exclusive take on reality and God, you are actually making a superior and exclusive statement on reality and God.  When you are saying that no one should make a listener convert to their view of reality and God, that’s exactly what you are demanding of other people: convert to your one “superior” and exclusive claim and view of reality and God.  Here’s the way Tim Keller, who I’m deeply indebted for helping me figure this all out, explained it in his book The Reason for God:

By now the fatal flaw in this approach to religion in general and to Christianity in particular should be obvious. Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true. But this objection is itself a religious belief. It assumes God is unknowable, or that God is loving but not wrathful, or that God is an impersonal force rather than a person who speaks in Scripture. All of these are unprovable faith assumptions. In addition, their proponents believe they have a superior way to view things. They believe the world would be a better place if everyone dropped the traditional religions’ views of God and truth and adopted theirs. Therefore, their view is also an ‘exclusive’ claim about the nature of spiritual reality. If all such views are to be discouraged, this one should be as well. If it is not narrow to hold this view, then there is nothing inherently narrow about holding to traditional religious beliefs (12).

So as you navigate this pluralistic, relativistic, syncretistic, individualistic culture that we live in, recognize some of the flaws in the arguments that are used against a Christian worldview when we claim that Jesus is the only way.

#2 Plurality of Worldviews

Here’s a very quick and far from comprehensive snapshot of the major worldviews and religions that we find in our culture and in our world.

  • Judaism. Christianity has its roots in Judaism, yet Jews reject Jesus Christ as God, Messiah, and Savior.  In Judaism salvation is determined by moral behavior that’s in accordance with the Law.  The Jews’ sacred book is the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, which is our Old Testament.
  • Islam. Islam was founded by the 7th century AD prophet Muhammad.  He’s viewed as the last prophet in a line that includes Abraham, Moses, the biblical prophets, and Jesus.  Muslims worship Allah, and Christianity is rejected because of the doctrine of the Trinity and the divinity of Christ.  Islam’s sacred book is the Koran, and salvation is dependent upon man’s obedience and actions, and the balance between good and bad deeds determines eternal destiny.
  • Hinduism. Hinduism is a polytheistic (many gods) religion with many different sects that has no one founder.  Some people say Hinduism was founded between 1800-1000 BC and some will way that the Aryans, the same people group that developed Greek culture, conquered much of present day India and mixed their pantheon of gods with indigenous Indian traditions of meditation.  There are many sacred writings in Hinduism, including the Vedas, a collection of ancient sacred texts. In Hinduism, God or Brahman is “The Absolute” and salvation is release from cycles of reincarnation and ultimate absorption or union with Brahman.
  • Buddhism. Buddhism arose out of atheistic strands of Hinduism in the 6th century BC by Gautama or Buddha (“the awakened one” or “the enlightened one”).  The Buddhist sacred writings are called the Tripitaka (“The Three Baskets”) as well the Mahayana Sutras. There is no absolute God in Buddhism and salvation and the goal of life is nirvana, a permanent, transcendent state where the individual ultimately eliminates desires and cravings, and in this way ultimately escapes suffering.
  • Atheism. Atheism is a worldview that states there is no God or gods or the absence of belief in any deity.  Atheism has its roots in some Hindu, Buddhist, even Greek thought, but in Western culture its most famous proponents were people like Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche.  There is a rise in the “new atheism” with writers like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens.  And I think that it is this new strain of atheism that fueled many of the comments in the Seattle PI article.
  • Syncretism. This last category is a “catch all.”  Syncretism is the attempt to reconcile disparate beliefs together and meld many beliefs and practices together.  From a religious standpoint, people take a little from here and a little from there and create their own worldview because once again, we live in a highly individualistic and relativistic culture.

You can also see the BBC’s guide to world religions

See also Probe Ministries’ articles on world religions and cults as well as the article “A Short Look at Six World Religions”

#3 Primacy of Christ

Here’s the key question in this theme: What makes Jesus Christ unique and different from all of the other worldviews and world religions? In a syncretistic culture that is trying to find the commonality between all the worldviews and world religions, we need to understand what makes Jesus Christ and the gospel so different and unique.  1 John 4:1-6 will help us answer this question:

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak as from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God; he who knows God listens to us; he who is not from God does not listen to us By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

Once again, I am indebted to Pastor Tim Keller from Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, NY and a message that he preached on this very topic as well as his book The Reason for God.  Here are three truths that he presented that make Jesus Christ and the gospel unique and different.

  • The origin of salvation. Take a closer look at 1 John 4:2  “Jesus Christ has come…”  He was somewhere else before He came to earth.  Every other world religion’s founder is a human, but Christianity’s claim is that Jesus Christ, God Himself, has come into the world.
  • The purpose of salvation. Once again, look at v. 2.  “Jesus Christ has come in the flesh…”  There is something very important about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh – the incarnation. Every other world religion sees the primary purpose of salvation as liberation from the flesh and the physical world.  In the Eastern religions, the physical world is an illusion and salvation is escaping the illusion.  In the Western religions, the physical world is bad but you can escape it through morality and spiritual enlightenment and then go to heaven and leave the physical world.  But in Christianity, Jesus Christ, God Himself, put on a body and the salvation of God is the ultimate redemption and renewal of this physical world… the “new heavens and the new earth.”  God ultimately restores and fixes what was broken, which includes us and all of creation.  Salvation in the Christian sense is the ultimate re-creation that we find so powerfully expressed at the end of the Bible in Revelation 21-22.
  • The method of salvation. This last truth about the uniqueness and difference of Jesus Christ is the most powerful and freeing. In all other religious systems, you have to perform truth.  Love God and love people, and if God sees you doing all of the truths of your religion, he will bless and save you.  So you’ve got to work hard for salvation.  But here’s the Christian vision and method of salvation wonderfully encapsulated in 1 John 4:10: “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”  God comes and sacrificially gives Himself for the people who do not love Him.  Jesus is the Savior who lives the life we should have lived and who died the death we should have died in our place and pays the penalty we should have paid so that non-loving, non-virtuous people can be saved by radical grace.  “Amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me!”

# 4 Priority of Mission

We’ve got to recognize and respond to the priority of mission… the priority of us giving our lives to share the wondrous uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His great gospel in our pluralistic, post-modern world… locally and globally.  This is Jesus’ command and final marching orders to us in Matthew 28:18-20: “And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  In a passage that we know well, Jesus calls and commands us to “make disciples” – to invite the people of our world to Him and into His life-transforming community.  And how we make disciples if we don’t “go” across the street and across the globe.  And Paul gives us the same vision of the priority of mission in Romans 10:14-15: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, “HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!”

Here are some ways to apply the priority of Jesus’ mission to our world.

  • Experience salvation through Jesus Christ.  We’ve got to start here.  For some of you today and for some of you listening, you need to come to Jesus.  You need to know that there truly is a God in heaven who created you and loves you.  But you’ve also got to be honest, recognize, and confess that you like to be in control.  The Bible calls this sin.  It’s a rebellion against the God who created you and loves you.  But God loves us too much to keep us in this condition of rebellion and distance from Him, so He comes to us.  Jesus Christ, God Himself put on flesh to come and rescue us.  He died on a cross for our sin, dying a death we should have died, dying in our place as our substitute and therefore paying the penalty for our sin, rebellion, and treason against the Creator God.  He was raised from the dead, the first glimpse of this re-creation of God.  And He offers us reconciliation and life back with Him by believing in Him and giving our lives fully to Him.
  • Pray for the lost. If salvation really is a supernatural event, then shouldn’t we agree that it takes a supernatural power to change a heart to see Jesus for who He fully is and to understand what He has fully done for us?  Prayer is how that supernatural power is released.  There are a couple of things that we need to pray for.  First, we must pray for compassion for the people in our world who don’t know Jesus.  This is what softens our hearts to see peoples’ need for the gospel.  And then second, we pray for the people of our world that their hearts might be softened to see their need for Jesus.
  • Share Jesus.  And then we go to the people of our world, local and global, and share Jesus.  We share the good news, the gospel, that even while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, in our place.  And He is now the Risen Lord over all creation and we come to Him and give our lives to Him because He fully gave His life for us.  We’ve got to continually look for and be ready for those opportunities to share Jesus with the people in our world.  And this also includes sharing Jesus globally.  We have numerous cross-cultural, global short-term trips this year where you’ll have the opportunity to share Jesus.  Here are many different ways in which we can serve our world, locally and globally.

We live in a culture and world where many religious and non-religious ideologies clamor for our attention and our hearts.  And in the midst of the many voices, I fully believe that Jesus Christ is the only way of salvation… a salvation that changes our lives and fills them with grace right now but also a salvation that lasts into and for eternity.  Christianity is the only religion where God has fully come to us… to rescue and renew us… with His sacrificial love even when we don’t love Him in return.  What a powerful reality!  We’ve been offered and given this great gift of life and salvation through Jesus, so let’s give Him away to our world with great passion and joy across the street and across the globe.

You Asked For It #7: How Can a Good God Allow Suffering?

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Here’s the audio for the message.

Simply turn on the TV, go to CNN.com or open up any newspaper or magazine, and we quickly see that things are not the way they are supposed to be.  Whether it’s images of the earthquake in Haiti, crime reports of yet another murder on our city streets, greed run amuck at the expense of ordinary people trying to make an ordinary living, or even the suffering that we have gone through in our own lives… it doesn’t take long to come to the conclusion that things are not the way that they are supposed to be.  We live in a world filled with suffering, pain, and evil.  At some point in our lives, we will wrestle through this question… and for those of us that believe in God, the pain that suffering and evil produces often prompts us to cry out “God, where are You?”  Here’s the question that can challenge our faith and has even lead some away from faith:  How can a good God allow suffering?

Here’s how we are going to approach this question… from three perspectives and responses: (1) Philosophically where we’ll look at the classic question of the problem of evil and how we can approach it philosophically; (2) Biblically where we’ll look at several biblical texts that point us in the direction of a God who is all-loving and all-powerful; and (3) Personally where we’ll get to the heart of the matter in how we respond in our own lives.

#1 Philosophical

The Problem of Evil. The problem of evil has been used by many philosophers to challenge the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving, good God. The problem of evil looks like this: an all-loving God would eliminate evil, an all-powerful could eliminate evil, yet evil still exists.  So one of three things has to be false.  Either God is not all-loving or all-powerful or evil doesn’t exist.

Responses to the Problem of Evil. There are several responses to this “problem.”  Atheism simply argues that an all-loving, all-powerful God must not exist.  Finitism argues that God isn’t all-powerful, and He’s unable to control or stop evil.  This is the approach advocated by the Jewish rabbi Harold Kushner in his book Why Bad Things Happen to Good People. Illusionism, which is represented in many Eastern religion and philosophies, denies evil all together… evil is simply an illusion.

Types of Evil (Moral & Natural). When we talk about evil and suffering, we tend to speak of two types of evil: moral and natural.  Moral evil is caused by the choices and actions of free moral agents and the evil that results… crime, war, cruelty, murder, racism, etc.  Natural evil does not involve human willing and choice and is seen in earthquakes, tornados, volcanic eruptions, and even diseases that rack our bodies such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.

Approaches to “resolving.” There are several ways in which we can approach the problem of evil and move towards a resolution of this question from a philosophical and apologetic level.

  • Free will.  This is where many classical apologists will go in that God created humanity with free will and therefore, humanity is free to rebel against God and cause moral evil, and even contribute to natural evil. So evil is caused by human free will, and God is “true” to His design of a free humanity
  • God “permits” evil. What is key to state up front is that God is never the author of evil… He is never the primary cause of evil and a result that is ultimately good never justifies the evil that is perpetrated. J.L Mackie, a philosopher who wrote a book called The Miracle of Theism stated: “if a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil, but because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist.”  Now, here’s the fallacy in this type of argument… the hidden premise is that if evil appears pointless to me then it must be pointless.  Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean that there can’t be a good reason… you just can’t imagine it.  With time and perspective most of us can see good reasons and outcomes for at least some of the tragedy and pain that occurs in life.  So why couldn’t it be possible that, from God’s vantage point, there are good reasons for all of them?

The Evidence for God.  Might the reality that our world wrestles with the problem of evil possibly be evidence for God?  C.S. Lewis originally rejected the idea of God because of the cruelty that he saw and experienced in life.  But as he began to “reason” through his atheism, he realized that his notion of justice in contrast to cruelty was actually evidence for God.  In Mere Christianity, he wrote:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.  But how had I got this idea of “just” and “unjust”?  A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?… Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own.  But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies… Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple (p.30).

The problem of evil is just as much a problem for atheism as it is for theism.  Perhaps the problem of evil, once used as evidence against God, is actually evidence for God.

#2 Biblical

I want to take us to three passages from the Bible that will hopefully give us a different perspective on suffering and evil.  I don’t think they ultimately relieve the tension or even ease the pain experienced in the midst of suffering, but these passages can and will strengthen our faith that we do have a all-powerful, all-loving, good God.

1. Genesis 45:5-8; 50:20.  The background of this passage is the selling of Joseph into slavery by his brothers because they were jealous of him (and partly because Joseph had a tendency to act like a punk… which still doesn’t excuse the evil done against him).  Years later Joseph is in Egypt and in the #2 leadership position of the entire country.  There is a famine in the land of Canaan where Joseph’s family lives, so they go to Egypt to find food… and they find themselves before Joseph, but they don’t recognize him.  Ultimately he reveals himself to them, and here’s how he responds to what they did against him.  Notice that Joseph does not excuse the “evil” that was perpetrated against him.  He has had years to process it, and in those years with everything that have gone on, Joseph arrives at a different perspective in 45:5-8: “God sent me before you to preserve life.”  God is seen as the One who sent Joseph to Egypt.  “God meant it for good” even as Joseph’s brother’s intentions of harming him were evil.  Two thoughts about this perspective.  First, from the Hebrew perspective, everything that happened was from the hand of God.  “God sent…” God is the subject of the action… the One doing the sending.  The Hebrew mindset didn’t differentiate between primary and secondary causes.  They viewed God as sovereign and all-powerful, so whatever happened, whether God caused it or allowed it, He was involved because He is God.  Second thought… once again, God is never the author of evil.  Joseph’s brothers are responsible for the evil that they committed even though God permitted it and ultimately used the tragedy and suffering for a good outcome.

2. Romans 8:28. In the larger context of this passage, Paul is talking about suffering and weakness… especially when we don’t understand the larger picture.  “All things” means “all things.”  God in His all-powerful and all-loving nature causes all things, which includes evil and suffering, to be used for good to “those how love God… to those who are called according to His purpose.”  And then as the rest of the passage goes, God has a huge plan that includes us, and nothing, even suffering and evil, will separate us from God and His great love for us.  Even though this passage doesn’t explain the “why” of suffering and evil, it gives us the perspective that God is huge and actually does have a plan which includes making good out of our suffering… and that plan is ultimately for His glory and for our good.

3. 1 Peter 2:21-25.  Peter is writing to Christians who are going through intense persecution and suffering because of the utterly evil actions of the Roman Emperor Nero.  And even in the midst of that, Peter is telling these 1st century Christians that they need to have the perspective of Jesus.  He tells them of the God who suffers on our behalf. It is the suffering of God through the cross of Jesus Christ, the perfect, innocent sufferer, who has given us the opportunity to have our sins forgiven so that we might return to the “Shepherd and Guardian of your souls”… the One who is all-loving and all-powerful… the One who will take care of you even in the midst of pain and suffering.

#3 Personal

As we get to the personal perspective on suffering, I want to leave you with two final personal and pastoral thoughts:

God has a purpose in our suffering, even when we don’t know what it is. I’ve said this before, but I find in the Bible, in my own experience and as a pastor that God rarely answers the “why” question of suffering.  And perhaps that’s where faith comes in.  We can wrestle through the philosophical and biblical perspectives on suffering and even if we relieve the tension of the question “how can a good God allow suffering?” it often does not relieve the pain.  I do fully believe that God has a larger purpose and plan, even when I don’t know what it is.  We so want to know what that plan is… but I don’t think we’ll see the full extent of the plan on this side of eternity.  That’s what Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.  Our suffering is not pointless and eternal but purposeful and temporary.

I don’t know if you’ve been following the story of Pastor Matt Chandler.  Matt, husband and father of three young children, is a 35-year-old pastor of The Village Church, a church of 6,000 in the Dallas, TX metroplex.  On Thanksgiving Day, he had a seizure, and the tests that followed revealed a massive brain tumor.  For the past three months Matt has been in the battle of his life with surgery, chemo, and radiation.  His fight with brain cancer has been featured in the national news and in Christianity .  Here’s what the Christianity Today article said:

Chandler has been preaching lately about the hall of faith in Hebrews 11, the moving description of leaders such as Samson, David, and Samuel who stopped the mouths of lions and put foreign armies to flight. Chandler said, “I’m 35 years old, and up until this point in my life, we’ve shut the mouths of lions and put foreign armies to flight and we’ve fought against injustice. Nothing but good has come.” But Chandler observed how the passage’s tone abruptly changes… some of these champions of faith were tortured. Some were sawn in two. Some were destitute. How did they still walk by faith? Chandler is learning, because God has now counted him worthy to suffer. If God should allow Chandler to preach from Hebrews 11 again, no one will ever wonder if he truly understands the implications of God’s Word. Speaking as a “guy who could lose everything,” Chandler promised that he would demonstrate through his suffering that God is enough, come what may.

You can also read msnbc.com’s article on Matt’s faith in the midst of his struggle with cancer.

Over and over as followers of Jesus have gone through suffering and pain, somehow in the midst of it all, we discover that Jesus is enough… even as we lose everything.  And perhaps the counterintuitive nature of it all is that until we begin to lose all, until the things that vie for our affections are removed, we have a hard time allowing Jesus to be all.  But as we discover the complete sufficiency of Christ to be all in all things, then we do begin to believe that God can and does have a plan in the midst of our pain and suffering even when we don’t know what it is.

God has suffered for us and with us to reveal His love and His hope to us. Perhaps the reason that we believe and experience that Jesus Christ is all-sufficient, all-good, and all-powerful even in the midst of suffering is that we know that Jesus, God Himself, has suffered for us and with us to reveal His love and His hope to us.  We don’t have a distant, removed, God of abstraction who hasn’t tasted and experienced what we have… He was like us in every way yet without sin.  Some of our suffering (yet not all it) is caused by our sin… but His suffering was not caused by His sin but by our sin.  And even in His innocence, He suffers for us and with us… and His suffering reveals His love and His hope.

  • His Love. Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We wrestle with an all-loving God in the midst of pain, evil, and suffering… yet the incarnation, cross, and suffering of Jesus Christ is the proof of God’s love.
  • His Hope. And the suffering of God through the cross of Jesus Christ gives us hope in the midst of our suffering, trials, and pain.  That’s the point of Hebrews 12:1-2.  Right after that famous chapter in Hebrews 11 on faith… hope in things unseen, the author of Hebrews points us to Jesus and His suffering.  “Jesus sufferings serve as a model for us, not simply because He experienced pain, but because He experienced hope and joy, even in the midst of pain” (Robert Pyne, Humanity & Sin, p. 201)  For the joy that was set before Him…

Wherever you are at, whether you’re in the midst of joy or in the midst of pain, there is a God in heaven who is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-good.  And I know that the pain we experience and see creates a tension in our faith and our belief in this God.  Some of you are having a hard time believing in a God at all… the reality that you struggle with justice at all is evidence that there is a God in heaven that has given you the capacity to struggle with justice at all.  And even though you can’t see any good coming from evil, suffering, and pain in the world does not mean that there can’t possibly be any good that ultimately comes from it.  So the question that is put before you is “will you trust in the God who has suffered for you and with you? Will you give your life to the God who demonstrates His love and dispenses His hope even in the midst of life when everything doesn’t happen the way it’s supposed to be?”

And some of you are followers of Jesus Christ, but the pain and suffering you’ve experienced in your life has put your faith to the test.  For some of you, the trials you’ve experienced have strengthened your faith and for some of you, you’ve felt your faith get stretched to the breaking point.  So I guess, the same question is before you… will you trust this God?  Will you believe that He is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-good even when you don’t understand why thing things that are happening are happening?  Will you trust in faith that God has a plan and can turn your suffering into good, even if you can’t see or even believe that He can and will do it?  Will you trust and believe that Jesus Christ, the God who has suffered for us and with us will be more than enough to sustain us… that His grace is more than sufficient… that His power is perfected and shown most gloriously so in the midst of our weakness.  We, following the lead of King Jesus, have the opportunity to show the world around us that God is more than enough… in joy and in pain.  Might we be people that truly live out, “For [our] momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison…”

Additional Recommended Resources

The Reason For God, Timothy Keller (especially Chapter 2)

Tim Keller sermon on “Suffering: If God is Good, Why is There So Much Evil in the World?”

Suffering & The Sovereignty of God, John Piper (free eBook in pdf format)

The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis

Where Was God: Answers to Tough Questions about God and Natural Disasters, Erwin W. Lutzer

“Divine Meaning in Natural Disaster” (pdf), Ramesh Richard

Disappointment with God, Philip Yancey

Where is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey

You Asked For It #6: What’s the Church’s Role in Politics?

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Here’s the audio for the message

This is the question that I have been the most “anxious” about in this whole YouAskedForIt series.  This question frequently intersects our lives and has the potential of being divisive within Northshore and within the larger evangelical movement.  Here’s the question: What’s the Church’s role in politics?

A lot of people sent me questions, rants, and mini-novels about how we as Christians and the Church are to respond to the pervasive ills in our culture and how we can address these through political means.  So my goal is to give a theological, biblical, and pastoral framework on how we can address this big question.  Now with all of that being said, what I am going to share is my personal and pastoral vantage point.  Let me explain that a bit more…

Personal. I have an interesting background when it comes to the issue of politics.  I served in the Army as an infantry officer, and we were expected to have an “a-political” mindset, which meant that the President was our commander-in-chief.  We were to submit, drive on, and do our mission regardless of our political leanings.  I know this is overly simplistic, but it formed and still forms some of my personal perspective.

Pastoral. I took over as senior pastor in 2008 during a perfect storm… one of the most heated Presidential elections among evangelicals and the worst U.S. recession since the Great Depression.  Some of you thought I didn’t talk about the election enough, some of you thought I talked about it too much, and some of you thought I talked about it “just right.”  I led us through that season with my personal, pastoral, biblical, and theological convictions.

Back to our question, “What’s the Church’s role in politics?”  Here’s how we’re going to address this question: 3 Passages, 2 Kingdoms, 1 Conclusion

3 Passages

I have intentionally chosen to focus on three passages within the New Testament… and specifically, three passages from epistles or letters that were written to churches and Christians living under the rule of the Roman Empire: Romans 13:1-7, 1 Peter 2:13-17, and 1 Timothy 2:1-2.  There are many passages I could have chosen from the Bible, but I have a couple of reasons for focusing on these three.  First, in the Old Testament, Israel was a theocracy.  This means they were the chosen people of God, and even though they had a king, their ultimate national Leader was God.  So, in the Old Testament, even though there are great things we can learn about just, righteous laws and “politics,” I believe that Israel’s relationship with God is fundamentally different than the U.S. and even the Church.  Even though I do believe that the United States was founded on Judeo-Christian principles and ethics, we as citizens of the United States are not the “people of God” as a national entity.  And the Church is a worldwide multi-ethic, multi-cultural movement of people who confess Jesus Christ to be Savior, Lord, and King.  The second reason why I’ve chosen three passages from the NT epistles is that the cultural context we find ourselves in has great similarity to the cultural contexts of Paul and Peter’s day.

Background to 3 Passages.  In all three of these passages, the Roman emperor was Nero who reigned AD 54-68.  Romans was written somewhere around AD 55-57, 1 Peter was written somewhere around AD 64, and 1 Timothy likely around AD 66-67.  And here’s some background on the Roman Emperor Nero. Nero is one of the most infamous Roman emperors. He is best known for murdering his entire family, including his mother, stepbrother, and both of his wives.  In AD 64, an enormous fire destroyed most of Rome and it was rumored (but never proven) that Nero set the fire.  In order to deflect suspicion, he is said to have blamed the Christians in Rome for the fire, and he as a result, many Christians were tortured and executed. Tacitus (A.D. 56-117), a Roman senator and historian who lived during this time, wrote this about the torture and execution of Christians during Nero’s reign in Annals XV.44:

In their deaths they were made the subjects of sport; for they were wrapped in the hides of wild beasts and torn to pieces by dogs, or nailed to crosses, or set on fire, and when day declined, were burned to serve for nocturnal lights.

So Nero was not a nice guy… and all three of these passages that we’ll address were written while he was emperor.  Now it is true that we live in a democracy which is a fundamentally different form of government, but what these passages address and how they address it still have bearing on our lives as followers of Jesus even though we live in the United States some 2000 years later.

Passage #1: Romans 13:1-7.  In v. 1, Paul commands “every person is to be in subjection (or “submit”) to the governing authorities.”  And here is why, “For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”  And remember, who is the governing authority when Paul is writing this?  Nero.  So this applies to all rulers and governing authorities, whether they are good or bad.  I believe that Paul is writing this passage in such a sweeping, unqualified way because he wanted the Roman Emperor Nero to get the message that God is over him and that there is a God-given moral law above the laws of the states and states are to act this way.  That’s what Paul means in v. 4 – “for it [the governing authority] is a minister [or servant] of God to you for good.”

Now this begs the question, “what if the government is not acting in a manner which is contrary to the moral law of God?”  When is civil disobedience appropriate and allowed?  John Piper in his exposition of this passage has been hugely helpful in this area (see below for links to the 4-part series).  Here’s how he explained the possible grounds for civil disobedience:

1. The grievousness of the action sanctioned by law. How atrocious is it? Is it a traffic pattern that you think is dumb? Or is the law sanctioning killing?

2. The extent of the unjust law’s effect. Is it a person affected here or there? Or is it millions?

3. The potential of civil disobedience for clear and effective witness to the truth. This is the question of strategy, and there will certainly be room here for differing judgments about whether a particular act of civil disobedience will be a clear and effective statement of what is just.

4. There is a movement of the spirit of courage and conviction from God in people’s lives that indicates the time is right. Historically, there appears to be a flash point of moral indignation. An evil exists for years, or perhaps generations, and then something strange happens. One person, and then tens of thousands of people, can no longer just get up and go to work and say, “I wish it weren’t this way.” A flash point is reached, and what had hung in the air for years as tolerable evil explodes with an overwhelming sense that this state of affairs simply can no longer be!

 

So this is where we have a different political freedom than the Christians of Paul’s day.  They lived in a totalitarian regime under Nero, and we live in a democracy.  We, as Christians can and should be involved in helping to overturn unjust laws.  And I’ll qualify this more as the message progresses.  But I want to remind that there is no authority except that which is from God.

For a great 4-part exposition of Romans 13:1-7 by Pastor John Piper titled “Subjection to God & Subjection to the State”

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Passage #2: 1 Peter 2:13-17. Once again, Peter, who is writing around AD 64-65, quite possibly after Nero has burned Rome and is now torturing and executing Christians, still tells us to “submit [ourselves] for the Lord’s sake to every human institution… whether to the king… or to governors.”  His inclusion of “for the Lord’s sake” echoes Paul’s command since the Lord has established their rule but it also adds the element of our witness.  How we respond impacts our witness of Jesus Christ in our world.  In v. 17, this is where Peter concludes his passage: “honor all people, love the brotherhood, fear God, honor the king.”  The word “honor” means “to respect.”  It’s the same word that is used in “honoring parents” and “honoring the Lord.”  I think we need to keep this in mind as Christians, even when some of you don’t like or don’t agree with our President.  Some of you might say, “he’s not the king,” but you know what Peter is saying… respect and honor those in authority.  I have heard comments and read emails where Christians, of all people, are disrespectful towards the President.  I’ve heard some Christians even quote Psalm 109:8 – “Let his days be few; Let another take his office.”  Read the next verse, “Let his children be fatherless and his wife a widow.”  This kind of disrespectful behavior is dishonoring and is out of bounds regardless of whether we agree with our leaders’ political positions or not.  We completely have the freedom to disagree with political leaders, but we do not have the freedom in Christ to do it in a dishonoring, disrespectful way. Exercise your freedoms to vote people in and out of office, but once they are in there, be respectful and honoring, even if you disagree with them.

Passage #3: 1 Timothy 2:1-2. In our third passage, we are commanded to pray for our leaders.  We are to pray for wisdom for them and for God to move their hearts so that they might recognize His authority over and in all things.  Paul says that we are to pray so that “we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.”  Once again, this letter to Timothy is written around AD 67 and Christians are experiencing persecution, torture, and execution at the hands of the state.  And our lives and how we even respond to the state are to be with all godliness and “dignity” (behavior that is respectful).

2 Kingdoms

The biblical and theological reality is that we live in the midst of two kingdoms… the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of this world.  So let’s take a moment to focus on these two kingdoms.

The Kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is the rule and reign of God over all time, space, and history.  This is the kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim and invite us into (see John 18:36).  The centerpiece of the kingdom of God is the person and work of Jesus Christ… the salvation and redemption of humanity through His death and resurrection so that we might be brought back into relationship with the God who created us and love us for His greatest glory and for our greatest good.  We are to seek first this kingdom. This is a statement of priorities… we are first and foremost as Christians and as the church always to be centered upon the kingdom of God.  This kingdom is our first allegiance.  We are first and foremost citizens of this kingdom.  Here’s the way Paul puts this in Philippians 3:20 – “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  We are citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The kingdom of the world. In contrast to the Kingdom of God is the kingdom of the world.  It’s not a simple contrast between good and evil… as we’ve seen in our passages, God gives the governments of the kingdom of the world power to carry out the service of law-keeping and order in a fallen world.  But the contrast between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world is fundamentally two different ways of doing life… to different mindsets and belief systems.  The kingdom of the world trusts in the power of the sword and seeks to control behavior, while the kingdom of God trusts in the power of the cross and seeks to transform lives from the inside out.

Charles Coulson in his Kingdoms in Conflict explains the difference between the two kingdoms like this:

Nothing distinguishes the kingdoms of man from the Kingdom of God more than their diametrically opposed views of the exercise of power.  One seeks to control people, the other to serve people; one promotes self; the other prostrates self; one seeks prestige and position, the other lifts up the lowly and despised.  It is crucial for Christians to understand the difference (274).

Once again, we are citizens of a different kingdom while still being citizens of our country.  But the way in which we engage our world is to reflect the Kingdom of God much more than the kingdom of the world.  And whenever the church and Christians try to wed the two together, history tells us that the values of the kingdom of the world tend to eclipse the values of the Kingdom of God… power and prestige tend to corrupt us.  As we talked about in The Story of God series when I presented 2000 Years of Church History in 40 Minutes, in my interpretation of Church history, whenever the church cozies up too closely with the reigning societal, cultural, and political powers, we lose our ability to clearly and powerfully see and speak Jesus into that societal, cultural, and political landscape.  Let’s just be honest, we like power.  As fallen humans who like to build our own kingdoms, and in doing so, we are drawn to power and prestige… and in doing so, we look much more like the kingdom of the world than the Kingdom of God.  So in this we must be very careful.

For more discussion and critique on the 2 Kingdoms view, see “Two Kingdom Theology and Neo-Kuyperians” (Kevin DeYoung)

1 Conclusion

Let me tell you up front, what I am about to say is the conclusion that I personally and pastorally arrive at when it comes to the Church’s role in politics.  Some of you might not agree with me and some of you might… but here’s my one conclusion: There is a difference between what the Church should do as an “institution” and what Christians should do as responsible citizens. Let me explain it by what roles I believe that we should take as we engage our culture, which includes politics.

The Church. Here’s what I believe the church’s role to be as we engage our world in the cultural and political arena.

1. Prophetic Voice. As the Church we must always keep ourselves free of anything that compromises our ability to clearly, powerfully, and prophetically speak Jesus Christ and His life-transforming gospel into all areas of society, culture, and politics.  Let me explain “prophetic” by the next role…

2. Proclaim Truth. The role of the Church (and therefore my role as a pastor in the church) is to preach, teach, and speak God’s Word and God’s Truth.  I have said this numerous times from the pulpit… I will never tell you how to vote, but I will always proclaim the Truth of God’s word about what He has to say about the issues, which present themselves in our culture.  As the Church, we are not to promote any political agenda… we are to promote the truth of God and His Word.

3. Point to Jesus.  Going back to the reality of two kingdoms, everything that the Church is called to do is to point to Jesus Christ and His Cross.  Our mission as the Church is to preach Christ crucified and risen so that lives are transformed from the inside out for God’s glory.  That is our focus. We are to be on a mission to broken world, calling people to repent of building their own kingdoms and come to the God who changes lives through the power of His kingdom.

The Christian. Now it is true that we as Christians, as followers of Christ, make up the Church.  While I truly and wholeheartedly believe that the Church is prophetically proclaim truth in our world and therefore never to be aligned with a political party or movement, I do believe that as followers of Jesus who live in a democratic society, we should exercise our liberties to make a difference when and how we can.  Here are a couple of things for you to keep in mind as you engage in the political process.

1. Be Gracious & Respectful.  As you have conversations with people of different political persuasions, be gracious and respectful.  We do not live in a Christian culture, especially in the Northwest, and if we are going to have any audience and influence upon people, we first need to listen to other people, and then we need to present our vantage point with grace and respect.  That grace and respect communicates that we actually care about the other person.  And if you don’t care about the other person, then you’ll tend to lack grace and you’ll come across as disrespectful and you will have no influence for Jesus or for His Kingdom.

2. Think Biblically. Think through the issues biblically.  The Bible does not address every cultural and political issue that we face, but the Bible does teach us the heart, character, and nature of God and as we pray to see our world and the issues we face through His eyes and with His heart, then our vantage point on issue will have a greater grounding in God’s Word.  There are issues I believe that the Bible is very clear on and there are issues that aren’t so clear in the Bible.  Have the wisdom and the humility to know the difference.

3. Think Holistically.  Think through all of the issues… there are numerous issues in our culture that God really cares about.  And yes, those do include the killing of the innocent in abortion and euthanasia, as well as racial genocide.  And God cares also about how we take care of the poor locally, nationally, and internationally.  God cares about how we take of His creation (we are called to be stewards after all).  God cares about how we engage in foreign policy and wars.  So we need to think through all of the issues biblically and holistically.  In this way, as followers of Jesus, we can interact, influence, and vote how the Holy Spirit leads us.

Let me close with a final admonition… keep Jesus Christ and His gospel central in all you do.  I make it my one aim to keep Jesus central at Northshore… in everything we do.  It will only be through His gospel, His power, and His grace that lives, nations, and the world change.  He uses His people to be and bring the change as we live Him out in our unique callings in our world.  We are all called to be influencers and ambassadors for Jesus… in our families, our neighborhoods, our schools, our communities, our workplaces, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world.  And we do that best as we keep Jesus Christ and His gospel central in all that we are and in all that we do… as we allow His Holy Spirit to transform our lives and lead us… for His glory and for our good and the good of a broken world that badly needs Him.

For some additional resources on the interaction between the Church, culture, and politics, read:

(Disclaimer: Although I find these resources helpful, I do not agree with everything within them.  As you read, read critically, biblically, and theologically)

“How can Christians Have a Positive Influence on American Politics” (Pastor John Piper)

“The Church and Politics in America” (Pastor Mark Roberts)

unChristian (David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons) – especially Chapter 7 “Too Political”

God’s Politics (Jim Wallis)

You Asked For It #5: What Happens in the End?

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Here’s the audio for “What Happens in the End?”

Eternity has been on my heart and mind this week.  My grandmother passed away on Sunday, January 31.  She would have been 90 years old this April.  On Wednesday, I boarded a plane for Colorado Springs and officiated her memorial service Thursday morning.   When you’re spending all week preparing a sermon for “What happens in the end?”, it’s all of the sudden very real… not simply a biblical and theological topic. The wisest man in world King Solomon once said that God has set eternity in the heart of man… and when you go to a memorial service, eternity is right there in front of you.  I hope you all know this… but every one of us is going to die some day.  The question “What happens in the end?” is incredibly important for every person.  Many of you asked me questions about what happens in the end… questions with subjects like the rapture, the resurrection, what happens to Israel, who is the Anti-Christ, etc.  But here’s the question that caught my attention the most:

“Why is Hell rarely mentioned in Church? I’ve now been going to church for many, many years and have grown accustomed to not hearing about Hell very often, but every once in awhile I want to stand up and ask “why?” So I guess this is my chance.”

#1 Four Views on Hell

Literal.  Those that hold to the literal view of hell see the biblical language of fire and the burning lake of fire as real, and they take it literally.  According to the literalists, the descriptions of hell in the gospels from the mouth of Jesus and the descriptions of hell from John in the book of Revelation indicate a literal lake of fire.  And in this view, and this is a key part of this view, the literal view sees hell as a real place of eternal, conscious punishment for the unrepentant who have rejected Jesus Christ and the gospel.

Metaphorical.  Those that hold to a metaphorical view still see hell as a real place of frightful judgment and suffering, but they are not bound to take the language and imagery of fire and a burning lake literally… the flames of the fire are metaphorical, symbolizing the severity of God’s judgment.  They will point out that when hell is mentioned, at times we have contrasting images… eternal fire and the blackest darkness. And those terms taken literally, are mutually exclusive… you can’t have fire (which produces some light), and the blackest darkness simultaneously.  But according to those that hold to a metaphorical view, hell is still a real place of profound misery where the unrepentant rebels are banished from the presence of God.  And as with the literal view, the metaphorical view sees hell as a place of eternal, conscious punishment and suffering.  This is key to remember on these first two views.

Purgatorial.  While purgatory is technically not a view of hell, the Roman Catholic tradition teaches that purgatory is a state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell, a state of purifying suffering for those who have died and are still in need of purification.  Purgatory continues until the last judgment, after which there will only be heaven and hell.  Nowhere in the Scriptures (apart from apocryphal texts that Protestant churches don’t recognize as authoritative) do we see any reference to purgatory as a place where further purification happens after death prior to heaven and hell.

Annihilation (Conditional Immortality).  According to this view, the unrepentant, rebellious wicked will not endure an eternity hell.  The unrepentant will experience ultimate destruction… they will cease to exist forever.  Annihilationist believe that there will be a hell, but their argument is more over the nature of hell.  The unrepentant will simply be extinguished.  “Immortality” is conditional.  Annihilationists believe that a hell that includes eternal, conscious punishment is not ultimately compatible with a God of love, grace, and mercy.

For further study on the Four Views on Hell, I highly recommend Four Views on Hell from Zondervan’s “Counterpoint” series

Also see “Hell” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology

#2 Bible Passages on Hell

Here are some of the passages in the Bible that talk about the reality and nature of hell.

1. Deuteronomy 32:22.  In this OT passage, the anger of God’s judgment is compared to a fire that burns even to the depths of Sheol… which in this passage specifically indicates the opposite of heaven, which from a Hebrew perspective was pictured above.

2. Isaiah 66:24.  This is another OT passage that speaks of the destiny of the wicked and unrepentant.  This verse is quoted by Jesus in the NT as He speaks of hell (we’ll see a couple in a moment)… “for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched.”  It doesn’t seem like a pleasant place or prospect.

As we get into the NT, we find that Jesus talks about the reality and nature of Hell more than any other person.  We also find that the Jewish teachers of Jesus’ day believed in hell as a place of everlasting, conscious punishment, and Jesus does nothing to “correct” and tell them that they were wrong in seeing hell that way.

3. Matthew 13:41-42. The unrighteous, those that commit “lawlessness” will be consigned to the furnace of fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.  The “furnace” is figurative for the fires of hell.

4. Matthew 25:41-46. In another passage where Jesus is speaking about hell, He once again talks about the “eternal fires which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”  And then He talks about the unrighteous that rejected Him and will go to “eternal punishment.”

5. Mark 9:43. Jesus speaks of hell as the “unquenchable (inextinguishable) fire.”

6. Luke 16:28. Jesus, sharing the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, speaks about hell as a “place of torment” which indicates severe pain.

7. Revelation 14:9-11. In John’s Revelation of the end, He is given a picture of the fate of those who followed the Anti-Christ… “tormented with fire and brimstone” (burning sulfur), and the “smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever” (i.e., as forever and ever means… without end).

8. Revelation 20:10.  In this passage, the devil, the Anti-Christ, and the false prophet are destined for the lake of fire and brimstone where they are tormented day and night forever and ever.

9. Revelation 20:15. Now in this passage, after the Great White Throne (Final) Judgment, the unrighteous and unrepentant (those whose names were not written in the book of life) are consigned to the same place, the lake of fire, that the devil, Anti-Christ, and false prophet were in Revelation 20:10.

Key Biblical Words

Sheol is an OT word that is used for the dwelling place of the dead. In some cases, Sheol is used for nothing more than a grave or the place where a dead body is placed.  But Sheol is also used of the intermediate state and place of punishment for the unrepentant.

Hades is used in the NT as an intermediate place where the unrepentant dead go as they await the Final Judgment in Revelation 20.

Gehenna. The Greek term γέεννα comes from a Hebrew phrase meaning ‘Valley of Hinnom,’ which was a valley running along the south side of Jerusalem. It was used as a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage.  In the time of Jesus, Gehenna was a picture of hell. Gehenna is different from Hades in that Hades is the place where the unrepentant go in the intermediate period between death and resurrection, whereas Gehenna is their place of eternal punishment after the last judgment.

Eternal. Another word that we need to evaluate in the Bible passages pertaining to hell is the word “eternal.”  If you look up the Greek word for eternal in a Greek dictionary, you’ll see that the word very clearly means one of three things… without beginning, without beginning or end, or without end.  The first two (without beginning and without beginning or end) are used specifically in reference to God and His eternal plan… the last meaning “without end” is used of humanity in terms of eternal life or eternal punishment.

Fire. The last word that we need to look at is “fire.”  This word has a wide range of uses, and one of the most important is that fire is a commonly used as a figure of divine judgment.  At times it is used literally of His judgment and at times it is used figuratively of His judgment.

Evaluation of the Four Views of Hell in Light of Bible Passages

Literal & Metaphorical. I believe that we need to start with the nature of the word “eternal.”  Back to Matthew 25:46 – “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  Eternal punishment is just as real and eternal as eternal life.  In short, every objection that we would bring against an eternity in hell, we would also have to bring against an eternity in heaven.  Only the literal and metaphorical views of hell contain the idea of an eternal, conscious (i.e., not soul sleep) punishment and suffering.

Purgatorial. I’m not going to deal with the purgatorial view… because it’s simply not in the Bible.  And it’s not only based upon apocryphal texts that are not a part of our Protestant Bibles, but it’s also based upon a much different theological system in the Roman Catholic tradition that has works contributing to salvation. For a good article on why Protestants don’t include the apocrypha in our Bibles, see http://bible.org/article/how-many-books-are-bible

Annihilationist. Let me give a biblical critique of the annihilationist view.  The annihilationist viewpoint once again sees hell as “lights out” where the unrepentant cease to exist.  While ceasing to exist would be eternal and forever, the annihilationist viewpoint doesn’t seem to deal with the reality of the presentation that hell is that it is as eternal as heaven. Here are two key objections that annihilationists have with the literal and metaphorical view in regards to an eternal, conscious punishment (and I’ll respond to each objection).

1. Eternal, conscious punishment does not seem compatible with a God of endless love, mercy, and grace.  My response to this objection would simply be this… it is Jesus, God Himself, this God of endless love, mercy, and grace, who is actually the One who talks about the eternal nature of hell more than anyone else in the NT.  And once again, the Jews of Jesus’ day believed in hell as a place of eternal, conscious punishment… and Jesus did nothing to correct their viewpoint… because I believe He taught that hell is a place of eternal, conscious punishment.

2. Immortality of the soul is much more of a Greek through than a biblical one (i.e., that the Bible never teaches immortality of the soul).  Here are a couple of responses to this.  First, Adam was created as fully human and that includes being created with a soul.  If he had not sinned, he would have lived forever… his soul would have lived forever… his soul was immortal.  Second, the Bible, especially in the NT talks all of the time about eternal life, which implies immortality of the soul.  Annihilationists will say that this immortality for eternal life in heaven is given as a special gift from God to the righteous and that the unrepentant are not given immortality and are therefore ultimately destroyed in the end, ceasing to exist… but this is much more of an argument from silence than a definite biblical teaching.  Once again, if we are going to take eternal life in heaven seriously, then we have to take eternal punishment in hell seriously as well.

For more information on the annihilationist viewpoint, see http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell5.html

For an accessible “rebuttal” of the annihilationist viewpoint, see http://www.gotquestions.org/annihilationism.html

See also http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/hell-and-annihilationism/

Therefore, I believe that the literal and metaphorical views best fit what the Bible has to say about hell.  I’m not prepared to say that the annihilationist viewpoint is out of bounds and unorthodox, but it is much more of a minority view.  It does seem to be gaining ground because of an increasing distaste for talking about God’s wrath and punishment.  And I believe when we throw out God’s wrath, we change the character and nature of the God who is presented in the Scriptures.

#3 The Antidote to Hell

Jesus Christ & Eternal Life in Heaven.  Jesus Christ, God Himself, is the only One who can rescue us from an eternity in hell apart from God.  He is the only One who has and can pay the penalty for our sin against an Infinite God.  He is the only One who has and can absorb and exhaust the wrath that is due us.  He is the only way to eternal life in heaven.  He is the only rescue from the reality of hell.

Romans 6:23. Paul tells us that the wages of our sin is death… and the trajectory of that death is an eternity in hell.  But the free gift of God is eternal life in and through Christ Jesus our Lord… because as we believe that Jesus Christ, God Himself died on the cross to pay for the penalty of our sins… and as we surrender our lives to Him… trusting Him for salvation that we cannot earn ourselves, then we can receive that free gift of eternal life… that begins to day and extends into eternity.  I don’t mean to be trite here, but this is a no brainer.  And I’m not talking about hell today to scare any of you to Jesus.  But Jesus and the other biblical authors give us a very serious warning… and more than anything, Jesus invites us to come to Him to experience that abundant and eternal life.  So today, I’m pleading with you… take Jesus up on His offer.  He is offering you an abundant and overflowing life with Him, starting today and into eternity.  Give your life to Him today.  And if you’re already a follower of Christ, this message on hell today should give us great compassion concern for the people in our lives who don’t know Jesus.  It should give us a great desire to share and His good news and offer of life eternal with Him… because the antidote to an eternity in hell apart from Him is an eternity in heaven with Him.

For further study on the reality, nature, and doctrine of hell:

http://bible.org/article/what-bible-says-about-hell

http://bible.org/topics/403/Hell

http://bible.org/seriespage/eternal-punishment-lost

You Asked For It #4: Do I Choose God or Does God Choose Me?

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Here’s the audio of the message.

This past Sunday, we attempted to “tackle” (or were tackled by… depends upon your perspective) one of the most challenging theological issues in the Christian faith… do I choose God or does God choose me?  Church theologians and philosophers, as well as pastors and parishioners, have been attempting to answer this question for some 2000 years.  There is a lot behind this question… various “theological” perspectives and systems that we’ll address… various passages that seem to point to both sides of the proverbial coin.

So here’s how we’re going to attempt to answer this big question… by taking a look three things: (1) Perspectives of how people answer the question; (2) Passages from the Bible that we need to look that address both perspectives; and (3) a vital Promise that I believe we need to cling to in our Christian life.

#1 Perspectives

Let me state up front that the two perspectives, these two broad categories that I’ll explain in this section are fully within the bounds of an evangelical theological framework. Godly, Bible-believing theologians, pastors, and lay-people look at the same Bible and come to different conclusions.

A Brief History. John Calvin (1509-1564), a French lawyer turned pastor and theologian, was very much influenced by the writings of Augustine. For Calvin, who came to the conclusion that God chooses us, was primarily interested in a pastoral answer as to why some people trust in Jesus for salvation and others don’t. Jacob Arminius (1560-1609) was a Dutch theologian who agreed with much of what Calvin had taught and written, but he took issue with Calvin’s understanding of election and pre-destination. Arminius taught that election was corporate, not individual, and he based it off of the Old Testament teaching of God’s choosing Israel as the “elect” and chosen people of God.

Two Perspectives: Calvinism & Arminianism

Arminianism. Those that follow the teachings on salvation of Jacob Arminius, trace their modern history back to a council that met in 1610 called the Remonstrance, which “protested” the Calvinistic position of predestination (protestants like to protest).  And what resulted from that council is what we call the Five Points of Arminianism, which stressed the freedom of human will in salvation. Here are the five points:

1. Free Will – each person possesses a free will, and eternal destiny depends on how each person uses it.

2. Conditional Election – God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world was based and conditioned upon His foreseeing that they would respond to His call

3. Universal (or Unlimited) Atonement – Christ’s redeeming work made it possible for everyone to be saved

4. Resistible Grace – God’s initiating grace and call to salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of non-believers can be resisted

5. Perseverance of Some Saints – Those who believe and are truly saved can lose their salvation by failing to keep up their faith

Calvinism. In response to the Remonstrance of 1610, Calvinist theologians articulated the Five Points of Calvinism at the Synod of Dort (1618-1619).  The Five Points of Calvinism stressed the sovereign choice of God in human salvation.  Here are the five points:

1. Total Depravity – as a consequence of the Fall of man, every person born into the world is morally corrupt, enslaved to sin and is, apart from the grace of God, utterly unable to choose to follow God or choose to turn to Christ in faith for salvation

2. Unconditional Election – God’s choice of certain individuals unto salvation before the foundation of the world rested solely in His own sovereign will

3. Limited Atonement – Christ’s redeeming work was intended to save only the elect and actually secured salvation for them

4. Irresistible Grace – God’s grace is invincible; it never fails to result in the salvation of those to whom it is extended

5. Perseverance of All Saints – All who are chosen by God, redeemed by Christ, and given faith by the Spirit are eternally saved

For a more full explanation of each of the five points of Arminianism & Calvinism, see http://www.the-highway.com/compare.html

For further information on Arminianism see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_articles_of_Remonstrance

http://www.theopedia.com/Five_articles_of_Remonstrance

http://www.crivoice.org/creedremonstrants.html

For more information on Calvinism see:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Synod_of_Dort

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canons_of_Dort

http://www.theopedia.com/Calvinism

http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/Articles/ByDate/1985/1487_What_We_Believe_About_the_Five_Points_of_Calvinism/

For further study on “Double Predestination”

http://www.gotquestions.org/double-predestination.html

http://www.monergism.com/directory/link_category/Election/Reprobation-Double-Predestination/

#2 Passages

As we look at some passages in the Bible that will help us wrestle through this question, I want to present some passages that Arminians will use to establish their perspective that we choose God and then some passages that Calvinists will use to establish their perspective that God chooses us.

Classic Passages Arminians Use.

1. 1 Timothy 2:3-4. “God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”  God clearly does not take any delight in the death of unrepentant sinners, as His desire is for life and restoration of that life to His creation.  Now, don’t interpret this to mean that God is a Universalist whereby all people end up in heaven, because the Scriptures clearly say that this will not be the case (hence the biblical data on hell… which we’ll discuss next week).  Both Arminians and Calvinist agree that not all people are saved.

2. John 3:16.  “… whoever believes in Him [Jesus] shall not perish, but have eternal life.”  Arminians would be whoever means whoever… while still holding that God has to be the first initiator with His grace.

3. Matthew 11:28. “come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden…” From an Arminian perspective, “all” means “all” (much like 1 Timothy 2:3-4).

Others: 2 Peter 3:9; Isaiah 55:1; Acts 16:31

Classic Passages Calvinists Use.

1. Ephesians 1:3-6. There are a couple of key words that we need to address in this passage:

“Chose” – this word does mean God’s choice… it’s where we get the word “election.”  And this choice is according to God’s plan.  But the question remains for us… how and why did God choose?  Did God choose and “predestine” (more on this word in a moment) us because He looked down the corridors of time (His “omniscience,” all-knowing) and see how people would respond… and then those that responded were the elect, the chosen.  Or did God simply choose people individually to be His? Or did God choose the Church (what is known as corporate election)… God choosing the group of those that would be “in Christ” as a corporate community in the same way that He chose Israel as a nation?

Predestined” – this word means, “to decide upon beforehand.”  And in v. 5, we see that we are predestined into adoption and relationship.

For a further explanation and study of Ephesians 1:3-6, read Bob Deffinbaugh’s “The Glory of God in Divine Election.”

2. Romans 8:28-30.  Let’s take a moment and go to another passage that seems to address some of the same issues.  The key question here is how we interpret “foreknew” in “v. 29, “… those He foreknew, He also predestined…”  This verb “foreknew” (προγινώσκω) is used five times in the NT… two of them (Acts 26:5 & 2 Peter 3:17) are about humans knowing something beforehand.  And two of them (Romans 11:2 – God’s foreknowledge of Israel as His chosen people & 1 Peter 1:20 – about Jesus Christ being foreknown before the foundation of the world) are about God’s sovereign choice beforehand.  The key question is whether Romans 8:29 means that God knew who would choose Him beforehand and therefore He predestined them… or whether God sovereignly chose beforehand whom He would predestine.  And here’s the honest reality… no one comes to any of these passages with a clean, purely objective interpretation.  We all come to these passages and even word studies with our theological biases.  It’s interesting, I’ll read commentators on Romans who hold to an Arminian viewpoint, and they’re defining “foreknew” as God looking down the corridors of time and knowing who would choose Him.  And then you read commentators with a Calvinistic perspective, and they’re defining “foreknew” as God’s sovereign choice beforehand.

My Personal Vantage Point.

As you can see, going through the two perspectives on how folks attempt to answer this question through an Arminian or Calvinistic perspective and then looking at some passages that seem to force us to wrestle with both sides… here’s where I land.  I have learned to live in the tension.  There is an infinite mystery in the character, nature, and plan of God at play here.  And once again, as I continue to say frequently, I am finite and limited in my understanding.  Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t attempt to wrestle through the issues and ramifications of my personal perspective.  It means that I have learned to peacefully co-exist in the middle of two opposing theological systems.

I do fully believe that God has to be the First Mover in the process of salvation.  I believe so strongly in total depravity, theologically, pastorally, and personally, that I do not believe that our will is totally free… because we are conditioned and controlled by the power of sin and our sin nature that very deeply resides within us.  You’re not free to jump off a building and fly because it’s not in your “nature” to fly (you’re not a bird).  And because of sin, our nature is impaired and impacted in seeing God for who He fully is without His gracious initiative.  As we discussed last week, the doctrine of total depravity informs a large part of my personal perspective… and that leads me to believe that God has to be the initiator in me coming to Him.  But I also believe that I must have a personal response to His initiative… and that response is faith.  One of my former pastors said “faith is the hand of the human heart that reaches out and receives the gracious gift of God.”  I like that image, and I think it’s theologically sound.  Whether God actually energizes me to reach out to receive the gift seems to take us back to the big question.

I’m not just saying this to keep the peace, but it seems to be a “both/and.”  Now I know that some of you are saying that it can’t ultimately be a “both/and.”  And some of you really smart folks will site the law of non-contradiction… that two opposing answers can’t be both right at the same time.  And I’ll respond back with the reality of human finitude… we will not completely figure it out on this side… and quite possibly not on the next side either (because we’ll still be finite).  So I have learned to peacefully exist in the tension… and my response at the mystery and tension (much like the Apostle Paul’s in Ephesians 1) is worship… fully enjoying the mystery of the God who has so lovingly and graciously included us in His huge plan of redemption.

#3 Promise

Many of you asked me whether I believe that you can lose your salvation.  And here’s my bottom line up front… and then I’ll explain it.  If you truly are saved… if you truly are a follower of Jesus Christ… if you truly have embraced the reality that you are sinful and long to be in control… but you have also embraced the reality that Jesus Christ is Lord and you aren’t… and you’ve come to Him to ask His forgiveness for your sin, rebellion, and constant desire for control… and you believe in the reality that His death on the cross removed the penalty for your sin, absorbing God’s wrath that you deserved… and you believe that He was raised from the dead, conquering sin and death… then I believe that the Bible teaches that you are secure in Him… that you cannot lose your salvation.  He will hold on to you during the many ups and downs in life, which includes seasons of sin where we turn away from Him and His great grace, and we turn to our desires.  Here are two passages (among many) that I could go to that would substantiate this critically important, foundational promise.

Philippians 1:6. Paul is confident (firmly convinced) that since it was Jesus Christ who began and initiated this good work of salvation in us (even with our response of faith), He would be the One who would complete this process of salvation and transformation until the moment when we see Him face to face.  We talked about this last fall when we were in our series in the book of Philippians, “Living in the Grip of the Gospel.”  I believe that the image that is presented here is that Jesus as the Hero of the story is the One who has reached down and grabbed our hands, hearts, and lives.  There are times in our lives when we feel like we’re losing our grip… and perhaps even times when we willingly slacken our grip.  There are seasons where we struggle with faith.  There are seasons that we struggle with sin.  And in those times, I don’t believe that Jesus loses His grip on us… because “He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it (i.e., finish) until that day when we see Him face to face.

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. We looked at this passage last week when we were talking about the doctrine of sanctification.  And Paul seems to be saying the same thing here.  Jesus is the One who is sanctifying and transforming us through His Holy Spirit.  And v. 24 tells me that He will be faithful to finish what He started… “He will bring it to pass.”

Romans 8:30. “The glorification of the believer is a sure and certain hope.  God purposed and promised it. God is sovereign, and He controls each step in His program to assure that it is accomplished. God’s reputation and glory are at stake. All three of the crucial verbs in our text are in the past tense (Greek Aorist): “called,” “justified,” “glorified.” Even though this final step of glorification is still future, it is a certain hope. God is the One who is at work. He is the One who is the subject of all three verbs: He “called,” He “justified,” He “glorified.” Because God is sovereign, in complete control, His purpose of glorifying us will be accomplished. The certainty of our hope of glory is rooted in the sovereignty of God. Just as we have been called and justified, so we shall be glorified. God’s infinite wisdom and power are in control. God’s plan is progressing toward that goal. Some try to motivate Christian service and faithfulness by fear, doubt, and guilt. Paul never does, and neither does any writer of the sacred Scriptures. The security of the believer and the certainty of glory is the basis for faithful service” (Bob Deffinbaugh, “The Glory of God in Romans 8:30”).

Several people asked about Hebrews 6:4-9 where it seems as though a person can lose their salvation.  I’ll first explain my take on this passage with this principle: use Scripture to interpret Scripture. This means that I take a difficult passage (of which this is one… and a relatively unique and somewhat obscure passage at that), and I interpret in light of the passages which seem to be much more clear.  The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were going through some intense persecution.  And some of them were tempted to recant their Christian faith… what we call “apostasy” because of the persecution.  In volumes of writings on this passage, scholarly opinion has not concluded whether the people the author of Hebrews is addressing are believers or not.  However, if you look at v. 9, the author is confident that the folks he’s addressing aren’t going to be the kinds of folks that are going to recant their faith… so in some sense, the entire conversation is hypothetical.  And if someone is going to recant and completely reject their Christian faith and everything about Jesus, I’m going to doubt whether they really were saved to begin with (but I’ll let Jesus sort that out in the end).  What I believe that this passage cannot mean is that by simply sinning, you lose your salvation… because the passages says that you could never come back.  And that’s clearly not the heart of God throughout the entirety of the Bible.

So let’s go back to the promise.  the promise that I think is so very clearly spelled out for us in Philippians 1:6.  Jesus is the One who began this good work in you.  He is the One who initiated and called You to Himself.  He is the One who has all of the power of heaven and earth to keep You safe within His loving arms.  He is the One who extends grace and forgiveness when we blow it.  He is the One who remains eternally faithful even when it feels like many a day we struggle with faithlessness.  So this is a promise that I’m claiming today… this is a promise which I’m praying that you claim today… a promise of God’s great saving grace that you cling to today, tomorrow, this week, this month, this year, and the rest of your life.  Even though we’ll never be able to fully answer or even adequately resolve the tension of the question of “do I choose God or does God choose me?”… even though we’ll approach the question and the Scriptures with different perspectives… and even though we get to difficult passages that cause us to embrace God’s power and mystery… this I know and fully believe… if you’re truly His… you’ll truly be His for all eternity.  Praise God!

You Asked For It #3: What is Sin & Why Do I Still Struggle With It?

without-Mii (small)

Here’s the audio for the message

On Sunday, January 24 we continued in our third You Asked For It message with the question “What is sin & why do I still struggle with it?” This blog post will go into more depth than we were able to on Sunday.  There also many additional resources for further study.

Let’s look at both parts of our larger question: (1) What is sin? and (2) why do I still struggle with it?  We’ll look at each question biblically by looking at appropriate passages in the Bible, doctrinally by exploring key theological idea or theme associate with the question and the bible passages, and then we’ll address each each question practically with how it relates to your life each and every day.

Question #1: What is Sin?

  • Biblically. As we address this first question biblically, we’ll look at two passages: Genesis 3:1-7 shows us the introduction of human sin into the story of God, and then in Romans 5:12, the Apostle Paul explains the dire implications and consequences of the sin that is introduced in Genesis 3:1-7.
    • Genesis 3:1-7.  The story has 3 scenes: (1) vv. 1-7: The serpent’s temptation and Adam and Eve’s tragic response; (2) vv. 8-19: The consequences of their decision – alienation with God, with each other, and with all of creation; and (3) vv. 20-24: Banishment from the Garden and separation from God.  For the purposes of exploring the introduction of sin into the larger story of God, let’s focus on Scene 1.
      • Scene 1 (vv. 1-7). Satan enters the garden in the form of a serpent to tempt Adam and Eve to distrust and disregard the word of God, and our first parents take the bait and rebel against God by disobeying His command.
        • The serpent is Satan.  At some point in the story, after the creation of angelic beings and likely before the rest of creation begins, there is a war in heaven.  Lucifer (a.k.a., Satan) who was one of the chief angels, is extremely proud and wants to be God.  So he stages a cosmic coup with a third of the angels in heaven.  Revelation 12:7-9, in the last book in the Bible, strangely enough gives a picture of what happens at the beginning of the story. So Satan, disguised as a serpent, enters the garden, and begins the “disastrous dialogue” with Eve.  And here’s the bottom line on what Satan does as he tempts Eve and ultimately Adam to “sin.”
        • Genesis 3:1 – Satan in his accusatory question casts doubt on the provision and goodness of God. He tempts Eve (and quite possibly Adam if he’s standing there with her) to believe that there was some greater good that God was withholding from them.  He basically says, “If God really loved you, He’d be much more generous. He’s holding out on you!”
        • Genesis 3:4 – And then Satan blatantly calls God a liar! The bait is laid out… and the temptation and what will become the essence of sin is this… unfaith.  Eve’s choice right now is to trust and have faith in the full love, provision, and goodness of God or she can choose to believe that God is holding out on her or that she can do it better than He can.
        • Every temptation is a question of faith and trust. Will what is offered to me in this temptation satisfy me more than God can?  Will God really take care of me or do I need to take matters in my own hands?  Is God really good and will He do what is best for me?  Every temptation is a question of trust.  And every sin that results from failing in temptation is an expression of unfaith.  When we sin, we choose unfaith and we choose to do it our way. When we sin, we rebel from God… His character, His heart, His provision, His grace, His goodness.  We choose to think that something else other than God will satisfy us (we call that idolatry).  We choose to take matters into our own hands because we don’t think He’s fully and finally the highest good nor the greatest treasure.  Sin at its core is unfaith.
        • So back to the story… Eve chooses unfaith… the essence of sin.  She “delighted” in (lit., coveted) the fruit and thought that she knew better than God. And then she took the fruit and gave it to her husband. And Adam then chooses Eve over God… his move of sin and unfaith was that he believed that Eve would satisfy him more that God would.
      • Romans 5:12. All of Romans 5 is about the results of justification… the results of what Jesus Christ did for us on and through the cross so that we might be restored back into perfect relationship with God.  So as Paul explains the story, he’s got to go back to what Adam did to destroy the relationship.
        • “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned”
        • The key phrase in this verse is “so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”  Sin and death spread to all humanity because in Adam we all sinned.  Paul is not talking about sin as an action or a pattern of behavior.  Paul does address our sinful actions in other places in Romans where he clearly says that we commit actions of sin and that none of us are “sinless” (cf. Romans 3:10-18, 23)
        • Two interpretations of what happened when Adam sinned: Realism or Representative
          • Realism. When Adam sinned, we really sinned along with him.  We are all “co-sinners” with Adam.  John Murray writes, “In brief, the position is that human nature in its unindividualized unity existed in its entirety in Adam, that, when Adam sinned, not only did he sin but also the common nature which existed in its unity in him, and that since each person who comes into this world is an individualization of this one human nature, each person as an ‘individualized portion’ of that common nature is both culpable and punishable for the sin committed by that unity.”
          • Representative (also known as Federalism). The Representative view does not see a common human nature exemplified in Adam, but it sees Adam as our “covenantal” or “federal” head.  Because he represented humanity, his guilt is imputed (charged to our account) to us. Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ  favors federalism over realism. Our sin was charged to Christ’s account, and once he paid the price for our sin, His righteousness was imputed or charged to our account.  Because of Adam’s sin, we have inherited guilt.  However, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we have inherited righteousness through salvation.  S. Lewis Johnson writes, “Since we have fallen in a representative, it is much easier to see why we may be restored through a representative… We fell through no personal fault of our own;  we rise through no personal merit of our own.”
          • Some of us will undoubtedly say, “that isn’t fair… Adam sinned and rebelled against God, and I get the consequences.”  Here’s how I respond to that (and perhaps I’m evading the question some here)… we don’t like having Adam’s sin and death charged to our account, but we sure like the idea of having Jesus as our “representative” on the cross, dying in our place, freely receiving His righteousness and perfection which is charged to our account… more on that in a moment.
        • A Brief Historical Excursion on Augustine & Pelagius.  In the fifth century AD, Augustine, the bishop of Hippo, and Pelagius, a British ascetic monk, had one of the Church’s most heated debates.  Pelagius believed human nature was not affected when Adam sinned.  Since man was unchanged in his nature after Adam’s sin, there is no such thing as “original sin.”  All persons are capable of holy behavior apart from the grace of God.  Pelagius wrote, “We do either good or evil only by our own will; since we always remain capable of both, we are always free to do either” (Letter to Demetrius 8). Even if a person struggles with sin, it is to be seen as an issue of will, not nature.  Pelagius agreed with Augustine that God had made humans free and that this freedom was the source of evil.  Pelagius went further though by suggesting this freedom made it possible for one to overcome sin by their own merit. Augustine on the contrary, saw the Fall in Genesis 3 as a watershed in human history.  He believed that human nature was changed dramatically and now fallen (i.e., depravity) because of Adam’s sin.  Augustine’s view was that left to ourselves, we will not obey. Fallen people, he argued, have a bent toward evil, and they will perform evil unless moved by God to do good. Pelagius’ views were condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD.  For further study (if you’re brave enough), read B.B. Warfield’s extensive “Introductory Essay on Augustin and the Pelagian Controversy.” You can also access many other articles on the controversy here.
  • Doctrinally. So as we’ve looked briefly at two biblical passages on sin, let’s take a moment to talk about the implications of sin from a “doctrinal” viewpoint.  When we address the question “what is sin?” we come to the doctrine of total depravity. The doctrine of total depravity says that we are as bad off as we can possibly be.  The doctrine of depravity has to do, not with our estimation of ourselves, but rather with God’s estimation of us.  The doctrine of depravity tells me that sin is not something that is outside of me… it is a power and principle that is at work inside of me… and it affects and impacts every part of my being… my mind and intellect, my heart and emotions, my will and choices, and my physical body.  It means that apart from God’s gracious intervention, my default will be to choose myself and my desires every time.  Here’s how Jesus put it in Mark 7:20-23.

For further study on the Doctrine of Total Depravity:

“Total Depravity – Is is Biblical?”

“Total Depravity” by John Piper & the Bethelehem Baptist Church Staff

  • Practically. We are in desperate need of a Savior! We are helpless and hopeless without the grace and mercy of God.  And that grace and mercy, that help and hope, comes through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God Himself.  The rest of the story is in Romans 5:18-19.  In the same way that death entered through the disobedience of one man, Adam, life enters back into the story through the obedience of One Man, the God-Man Jesus Christ.  Jesus through His death on the cross rescues humanity from death because He died in our place… as our representative (and once again, we like that kind of representation).  There’s no way back to God without God taking the initiative to bring us back to Him… through Jesus Christ.  He is the Rescuer… He is the Redeemer who purchases us from death, the penalty and wages of sin

For further resources and study about the doctrine of sin:

http://bible.org/article/doctrine-sin

Dr. Wayne Grudem’s lectures on the Doctrine of Sin

John MacArthur – “What is Sin?” (exposition of Genesis 3:1-7)

Question #2: Why Do I Still Struggle With It?

  • Biblically. We believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin.  We believe (at least intellectually) that we are a new creation, seen as blameless and righteous because of what Jesus did to “impute” or charge righteousness to our life account.  But many days, it just doesn’t feel like it… we struggle with temptation and sin.  We struggle to do the “right” thing… and most of us feel horrible when we do the wrong thing and engage in sin.  Listen, you’re not alone… here’s how Paul explains the tension, confusion, and desperation of this struggle with sin.
    • Romans 7:14-25. This passage is set within a much larger discussion of the struggle with sin and the reality that Jesus Christ has died in our place, as our representative, and how we understand and live in this new life.  I highly encourage you to regularly read, study, meditate, and pray through Romans 6-8.  Back to 7:14-25.  Paul’s bottom line is this… when we try to overcome the power of sin and our flesh in our own effort, we will always experience failure and frustration.  Paul goes back to the reality and doctrine of depravity. Verse 15 sums it up for me (and here’s my paraphrase): “as a follower of Jesus, I want to do the right thing, but I don’t.  And the sinful things I do, I absolutely hate!”  Paul talks about the power of sin and the flesh inside of us that thwarts us living rightly and righteously.  v. 18 – “nothing good dwells in me, that is in my flesh.”
      • The flesh is a built-in law of failure, making it impossible for the natural man to please or serve God. It is a compulsive inner force inherited from man’s fall, which expresses itself in general and specific rebellion against God and His righteousness. The flesh can never be reformed or improved. The only hope for escape from the law of the flesh is its total execution and replacement by a new life in the Lord Jesus Christ.
      • David Dockery’s “Romans 7:14-25: Pauline Tension in the Christian Life”
    • Romans 8:1-4. And this tension causes us to feel helpless and hopeless… it causes us to cry out in desperation, “wretched man that I am!”  But there’s a transition coming in the passage… a hope glimmering on the horizon… help has come!  There is not merely defeat because of sin, there’s condemnation and death because of sin… my condition and my actions.  But because of Jesus’ death acting as my representative, I am no longer condemned.  And now Paul starts talking about Jesus’ provision and power for us to move forward in our new life with Him… the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit, God Himself, the Third Person of the Trinity, is the one who empowers us, changes us, takes up residence within us, so that we might walk in this newness of life.  We cannot experience victory and freedom from sin it in our own effort… but we can through the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • Doctrinally. So when we talk about greater victory over the power of sin within us and transformation through the power of the Holy Spirit within us, doctrinally and theologically, we are talking about sanctification.  The word sanctification means “to be set apart, to be holy” and by implication “to be and live rightly and righteously.” There are several aspects to sanctification.
    • Positional. 1 Corinthians 1:2. Here is a completed work… we have been set apart as God’s possession.  There is a finality to the work.
    • Experiential (or Progressive)Romans 12:1-2. John 17:17. 2 Corinthians 3:18.  Dwight Pentecost in Things Which Become Sound Doctrine writes this, “Our position before God is that we are sanctified, set apart unto God; our experience is that we are being sanctified in daily life, by the Spirit’s power, as we grow in grace and in knowledge, and as we are controlled by the Spirit.”
    • Ultimate (or Prospective). 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24. Philippians 1:6. 1 John 3:2. Our experience of being transformed to live, look, and love more like Jesus (i.e., learning more and more to be imitators of Christ), will finally, fully, and forever be conformed to our position throughout eternity in heaven.
    • More great audio resources and lectures on the Doctrine of Sanctification
  • Practically. So as we have looked at the doctrine of sanctification, what does this mean for us practically, as we live life daily in, with, and through Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit?
    • We are in desperate need of the Spirit! Sanctification, transformation, and a growing victory over the power of sin in our lives happens in this “collaborative” and “cooperative” process as we yield, submit, and surrender ourselves to the authority and power of God the Spirit.  Even Paul couldn’t overcome the power of sin and his flesh through his own strength… through trying to be a good person… through trying to obey the righteous requirements and expectations of God.  So he gives us the answer… the power of the Holy Spirit, God Himself living in and through us… sanctifying and transforming us to be more like Jesus Christ.
    • The Process of Freedom. Here are a couple of key aspects for us to consider in the process of sanctification… what I have called “the process of freedom.”
      • Confession. It begins with confession, as I am honest before God and honest with myself.  It begins as I confess and admit my sin, my rebellion, my desire to have things my way… my continual desire for control… always believing that I can do it better than God… confessing my “unfaith” in Him.
      • Repentance. Confession must move to repentance: a 180º turning from my sin and turning to Jesus and His Holy Spirit.  Repentance requires taking in a whole new point of view… a view of looking at life God’s way. It’s a complete reversal of my attitudes, actions, and values.
      • Transformation. And as we regularly keep short accounts with God through confession and repentance, then transformation begins to happen. Jesus through the Holy Spirit is all about inviting us into the process of transformation in, with, and through Him.  And I believe that transformation is evidenced by an increasing desire for Jesus… an increasing desire to treasure Him above all else.
    • The treasure of Christ is greater than the pleasure of sin. In my relationship with Jesus, this is the only way that I’ve had an increasing victory over the power of sin in my life… through a growing desire to treasure Jesus Christ more than the pleasure of sin.  I’ve talked about this many times before, and I’m all about accountability in my struggles with sin… but it is only as I am enjoying Jesus more and more that I enjoy my sin less and less.  As I see Jesus for Who He fully is and I understand more and more what He has fully done on my behalf, as my representative, through His cross and resurrection… as I understand and experience more and more His great love for me and that He has given me the power and provision to change through the presence of the Holy Spirit… I begin desire Him more.  I long to see and savor Him above all else.  I treasure Him more than I treasure my sin.  And it is through begging Him to allow me to see His glory and greatness that I am transformed.  Hear me on this… I still struggle with sin… I’m far from perfect… but I taste victory more and more in my struggle with sin as I long through the Holy Spirit to see more and more of Jesus.  This is my prayer for you… that the treasure of Christ would be greater than the pleasure of sin!

If you’re “stuck” in patterns of destructive, sinful behavior, I want to encourage you to get help!  Northshore Baptist Church has a great ministry to help people move forward in their vision and experience of Jesus Christ.  You can confidentially contact our LIGHT Ministries to get help (via web or phone – 425 216-4432).  Please don’t let another day pass without getting some help.

Here are some books that I highly recommend for further ready and study about sin and sanctification

God is the Gospel by John Piper

Humanity & Sin by Robert Pyne

Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin by Cornelius Plantiga, Jr.

The Voice of Jesus by Gordon Smith

Secret Power by D. L. Moody

The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate by Jerry Bridges

Follow Me by Jan David Hettinga

Repentance by Richard Owen Roberts

You Asked For It #2: What’s the Rub Between the Bible & Science?

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Here’s the audio for “What’s the Rub Between the Bible & Science” (January 17, 2010)

This Sunday, we ventured into our second question of eight with “What’s the rub between the Bible and science?”  This is a hot topic “outside” and “inside” the Church.  This post will give further resources and address further issues that I did not have the time to explore on Sunday.

Here’s an important personal and pastoral disclaimer: the contents of this blog post are in no way an exhaustive discussion on the issue of origins.  I must also confess up front that I am not a trained scientist.  I do have a Bachelor of Science degree that focused on molecular biology and physiology within the field of horticulture, but I’m in no way an expert in any of the sciences involved in the larger discussion (biology, chemistry, genetics, astronomy, physics, etc.).  I am however, a “trained” theologian and pastor, so my specialty, if you will, is the Bible, with training in the original languages of Hebrew and Greek, as well as theology. All of that being said, I’m in no way an expert in this area either.  There are many theologians, biblical scholars, and pastors that I am indebted to as I’ve studied the issues of origins, faith, and science.

To help answer this big question, I posed three other questions:

1. How did all of this come to be?

2. How old is all of this?

3. So what?

So let’s take a look at these three questions:

QUESTION #1: How did all of this come to be? This is the ultimate issue of origins of life and the universe. There are three larger vantage points that attempt to answer this question:

  • Theistic Creation. Theistic creation sees the direct, dynamic, and integral hand of a Theistic Being (i.e., God) creating the heavens, the earth, and all of the life contained within them.  More on various viewpoints of theistic creation in a moment (see below).
  • Naturalistic Evolution. At the other end of the spectrum is naturalistic evolution, also known as Darwinian and Neo-Darwinian Evolution. Charles Darwin’s seminal work Origin of Species, published in 1859, attempts to explain how all living creatures have a common ancestor. There are two aspects of Naturalistic Evolution:

Pre-biotic evolutionbegins with “some warm little pond” (Darwin’s term) “in which appropriate organic compounds were exposed to light, heat, and electricity, eventually producing proteins” that combined with further chemical reactions, in which a single-celled organism ultimately resulted. This “pre-biotic soup” however has yet to be re-created, because there are numerous biochemical challenges to the emergence of life from this pre-biotic soup. Here’s a way to illustrate the challenge of pre-biotic evolution:

Imagine trying to find a blind date at a party filled with strangers.  Nobody can bring the two of you together, and neither of you knows what the other looks like.  Your only hope is to mingle and ask each person’s name.  If it is a small group of people, chances are that you will locate each other fairly quickly.  If the party filled a gymnasium, it would take a little more time.  But the party is not in a living room, or even in a crowded gymnasium… For all practical purposes, the two of you are lost among billions of other individuals… The unhappy prospect raises another important point.  If the blind dates don’t find each other, the party is as good as over (Robert Pyne, Humanity & Sin: The Creation, Fall, and Redemption of Humanity, 26)

Biological Evolution. In Darwin’s theory of natural selection, he believed that physical characteristics that organisms experienced during their lifetime could be passed to offspring.  This change continually occurs, and new species are created through mutations over time through natural selection whereby the best and most beneficial mutations survive (“survival of the fittest”).  Since Darwin did not have knowledge of genetics, Neo-Darwinists (scientists who have modified Darwin’s original theory) concede that natural selection must involve genetic changes, and these genetic changes are continually occurring.  There are some pretty big “gaps” or “missing links” in the fossil record, so some scientists have argued that an organism will rapidly change, and then the new, changed species will exist for some time until changes occur again.

For further reading see:

Charles Darwin’s On the origin of species by means of natural selection, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evolution

Pre-biotic evolution (abiogenesis)

For an interesting read on new research on the Y chromosome differences between humans and chimpanzees

  • Theistic Evolution. In an effort to mediate the difficulty of the origination of that first single-celled organism that began the process of biological evolution, theistic evolution believes that only a Divine power could have “energized” or produced this pre-biotic soup.  According to most proponents of theistic evolution, God initiates the process by producing the matter and energies that will gradually develop into vegetable, animal, and eventually human life but refrains from asserting any divine intervention in the process of evolution. One of the most popular versions of theistic evolution is called Biologos as advocated by Francis Collins in his book The Language of God. Collins led the Human Genome Project and currently serves as the Director of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, MD. Collins also founded the Biologos Foundation, which emphasizes the compatibility of Christian faith with what science has discovered about the origins of the universe and life.  The ultimate challenge to Collin’s Biologos view is that he does not take the creation accounts in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 as literal or historic as well as the unique creation of Adam and Eve as literal or historic.  This has all kinds of implications for sin and what the rest of the Bible has to say about sin and the remedy for sin.
  • Intelligent Design. A relative newcomer to the discussion is the theory of intelligent design.  Intelligent Design holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process such as naturalistic evolution.  One of the primary voices within the Intelligent Design movement is Michael Behe, who contends that certain biological systems within organisms are irreducibly complex. Here’s the way Behe defines irreducibly complexity: “By irreducibly complex I mean a single system which is composed of several well-matched, interacting parts that contribute to the basic function, and where the removal of any one of the parts causes the system to effectively cease functioning” (Michael Behe, Darwin’s Black Box, 39).  It’s interesting that Intelligent Design resources are chalked full of hard-core scientific research and processes, but still bookstores like Barnes & Noble (following the example of the National Academy of Science) put them in the religion section instead of the science section. Seems like there’s a hidden agenda in all of that…

Here are some further web resources for Intelligent Design:

http://www.discovery.org/csc/topQuestions.php#questionsAboutIntelligentDesign

http://www.discovery.org/a/3059

http://www.intelligentdesign.org/

Here’s an interesting dialogue between atheistic evolutionist Richard Dawkins (author of The God Delusion) and Ben Stein in Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GlZtEjtlirc&NR=1[/youtube]

QUESTION #2: How old is all of this? If you turn on your TV to the Discovery Channel or open the average science textbook, the universe is approximately 14 billion years old and the earth is approximately 4.5 billion years old.  If you talk with theistic creationists, you’ll get answers on the age of the universe and earth from 6,000 to 14 billion years old.  That’s quite a range! The two “camps” within theistic creationism are the young earth creationists and the old earth creationists.

Two more disclaimers:  (1) this seems to be much more of an intramural discussion among Christians… most “secular” scientists are not watching our sideline scrimmage about the age of the earth because they already rightly or wrongly assume a 14 billion year old universe and a 4.5 billion year old earth. (2) As we’ll discuss further in this question, conservative, Bible-believing evangelical theologians, pastors, and Christians who are committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures subscribe to both YEC and OEC views.  And as I said last week when I gave the ground-rules for this series, there’s room within Northshore for both of these views (i.e., we will not split Northshore over this issue).

  • Young Earth Creation (YEC). This view believes that the earth is somewhere between six and thirty thousand years old. In this model, God finished His creation in a literal six 24-hour days and then rested on the seventh day.  He created distinct “kinds,” thereby ruling out “common descent.”  YEC see the geological data that others use to prove the earth’s longer history as evidence of a universal flood in Noah’s days in what is called “flood geology.”
  • Old Earth Creation (OEC). Old Earth Creation is an umbrella term for a number of views of theistic creationism. This view is typically more compatible with mainstream scientific thought on the issues of age of the earth while still taking the accounts of creation in Genesis more literally and at the same time, rejecting macro-evolution that changes in organisms result in other species.
  • Key Interpretive issues in Genesis 1 and 2.

Genesis 1. Within interpretation of the creation account in Genesis 1, there are several exegetical and theological considerations:

1) Genre. What is the style of literature in Genesis 1?  Was it written by Moses to be a chronological, historic narrative to be taken literally (and for that fact scientifically) or was it an “epic poetry” illustrating that God “performed the creation as a perfect work, the greatest construction project of all time”?

2) Interpretation of “Day” (yom). Another issue that evangelical theologians wrestle with is the meaning of the Hebrew word yom or day.  Does it specifically refer to a 24-hour day or can it have a broader meaning?  Even if the majority of uses of the word “day” in Hebrew refer to a literal, 24-hour day, are there exceptions (“yes”), and could Genesis 1 be one of those exceptions?

Genesis 2. When we get to Genesis 2, there are several other things we need to consider.

1) Hebrew Narrative. When we get to Genesis 2:4, the Hebrew language very clearly shifts to a historical Hebrew narrative, especially in the verb forms (preterite with waw consecutives), that carries throughout the rest of the book.  Even if you don’t take Genesis 1 as a literal, historic, chronological account, when you get to Genesis 2:4 and beyond, how you interpret it impacts how you interpret the rest of Genesis, including the special creation of Adam and Eve and the introduction and impact of sin into the rest of the Biblical story.

2) Scope of Genesis 2.  Is the “scope” of Genesis 2 another vantage point on the overall creation account or is it focusing in specifically on the creation of humanity and life within the Garden of Eden?

  • How YEC & OEC Interpret the Creation Accounts in Genesis

Young Earth Creation. YEC conclude that the word “day” in Genesis 1 is to be taken literally as a 24-hour day, which leads to a literal, 6-day creation of the earth.  They will also go to the various genealogies throughout the Bible to conclude that Adam and Eve, the first humans, arrived on the scene some 6,000 years ago.

For further resources on YEC, see:

http://www.icr.org

http://www.answersingenesis.org

Old Earth Creation. Once again, OEC is an umbrella term for many different viewpoints that align with the possibility of a much older earth.

1) Gap-theory states that there is gap between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. There are several different view of what happened in that “gap,” but the basic gist of the gap-theory is that God created the heavens and earth (who knows how long ago), and then between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2, something happened… perhaps the rebellion and fall of the archangel Satan and a cosmic war that resulted.  And this caused a cataclysmic judgment and destruction of the earth, so re-creation begins in 1:2.  This is a very speculative view.  For a good critique of the Gap Theory read Mark Rooker’s “Genesis 1:1-3 – Creation or Re-creation?”

2) Day-Age does not take “day” as a literal 24-hour day but as the possibility of an “age” especially since the sun isn’t even created until the fourth day in the Genesis 1 account.

3) Progressive Creation. This position holds that “God worked directly to create particular organisms over a long span of time” while still holding to the special creation of humanity.  Progressive creationists do not believe in macro-evolution that changes in organisms can create new species (i.e., they reject Darwinian biological evolution).

4) Literary Framework. Sees Genesis 1 as an epic poem not to be taken as a literal, chronological history.  This viewpoint pays special attention to the literary structure and symmetry of  (e.g., Day 1 the “space” is created, Day 4 it is filled.  Day 2 the “space” is created, Day 5 it is filled, etc.)… along with the repetition of specific phrases… “God said… God saw” etc. Those that take Genesis 1 as an epic poem must still deal with Genesis 2 and clear historical narrative nature of the Hebrew verb forms.  For a good article on this position, see Tim Keller’s “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople”

5) Historic Creation sees the creation accounts in Genesis 1 and 2 as only pertaining to the Garden of Eden.  From their viewpoint, Genesis 1 and 2 were never to be seen as a creation story of the whole heavens and earth.  See John Sailhamer’s exegetical notes on Genesis 1:1-2:4a

6) Summary/Special is a creative view that sees Genesis 1:1 as an overall, summary statement of God creating the heavens and the earth who knows how long ago, and then Genesis 1:2 and following is to be taken literally (including six literal days) as God specially preparing the earth for the habitation of humanity and the rest of created life.

For further resources on OEC, see:

http://www.reasons.org

http://www.reasons.org/resources/non-staff-papers/greg-moore-does-old-earth-creationism-contradict-genesis-1

http://www.reasons.org/age-earth/biblical-evidence-old-earth/age-earth-0

QUESTION #3: So What? Why does all of this matter?  If we get so caught up in the proverbial trees and miss the forest, I believe that we’ve missed the whole purpose of Genesis 1 and 2.  Here are some final thoughts on why I believe discussion on origins and interpretations of the Bible’s creation accounts.

  • The Who of Creation. As we read the creation account in Genesis 1-2, we find that the story doesn’t tell us all we want to know about the how of creation, but it tells us everything that we need to know about the Who of Creation – God and His relationship with creation. The opening line of the story in Genesis 1:1, as the curtain rises on the stage, reveals to us the God that existed before anything or anyone else… and this God who is the eternal and all-powerful Creator King.
  • The God of New Beginnings. The backdrop to the whole book of Genesis is that it was written to give the people of Israel their bearings in a broken world… a people who had gone through hell (400 years of slavery), who had witnessed a miracle (escape and redemption from Egypt through the Red Sea), and who were at the doorway of a new beginning (the Promised Land).  And all of it points to the God of new beginnings… the God who is powerful, wise, and loving enough to get you where you need to go in a beautiful yet broken world.  The whole story calls us to come to and trust God in the midst of all of the beauty and even the brokenness of life.
  • God is dynamically present and active in creation and in our lives.  Ultimately I have a hard time accepting any naturalistic evolution or even theistic evolution that presents no direct hand from God in the process of humanity coming into existence.  The Bible never presents a God that removes Himself for billions of years… that seems much more like a deistic version of God.  On the contrary, the Bible always presents a loving, interested God who is dynamically and actively to His creation, especially the crown of His creation – humanity. This is best captured in Paul’s words in Colossians 1:13-20 (NASB).

For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.

God not only created you, but He came to die for you, in your place… to rescue you from the sin and rebellion that we have committed against the Him.  And He invites you to come back home… to recognize Him as the all-loving, all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth and you!

You Asked For It #1: How Can I Trust the Bible?

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Here’s the audio for “How Can I Trust the Bible?” (January 10, 2010)

On Sunday, January 10, we launched our “You Asked For It” series with the first of eight questions: How can I trust the Bible?  The purpose of this post is to give you resources for further study and conversation as you explore this question more deeply on your own.   The message notes from Sunday’s sermon are also available.

Two great web resources that give an overview of the Doctrine on the Bible

1) http://bible.org/series/bibliology-doctrine-written-word

2) http://bible.org/series/how-we-got-bible

A  good message that establishes the “Authority of the Bible” by Mark Dever (Senior Pastor, Capitol Hill Baptist Church, Washington, D.C.)

We covered 6 topics during the message.  And under each topic is the highlight of that topic with some further discussion, links to great articles on each topic, as well as book suggestions for further reading.

1) Revelation

God’s self-disclosure of Himself, His character, His will, and His plan of salvation.

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/revelation-theology-of.html

2) Inspiration

“Inspiration is that supernatural influence of the Holy Spirit whereby the sacred writers were divinely supervised in their production of Scripture, being restrained from error and guided in the choice of words they used, consistently with their disparate personalities and stylistic peculiarities” (Carl Henry, “The Authority and Inspiration of the Bible” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 1:25)

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/the-bible-inspiration-of.html

3) Inerrancy

Here’s a good definition of inspiration with inerrancy

“The inspiration of Scripture is the supernatural operation of the Holy Spirit who, through the different personalities and literary styles of the chosen human authors, invested the very words of the original books of holy Scripture, alone and in their entirety, as the very Word of God without error in all that they teach and is thereby the infallible rule and final authority for the faith and practice of all believers. In all literally means all, which includes history and science” (Ed Hinson and Ergun Caner, Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics, 104, emphasis mine).

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/the-bible-authority-of.html

Inerrancy, edited by Norm Geisler

4) Transmission

The term “transmission” describes the ancient process of copying the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts to preserve them for future generations and to distribute them for greater use.  The 39 books of the OT were written between 1450 – 400 BC, and the 27 books of the NT were written between AD 40 – AD 90.  So let’s talk about how we get from the original documents that the Holy Spirit and the biblical authors wrote to the Hebrew and Greeks texts that we use today to translate our English Bibles

“Are the Biblical Documents Reliable?” (Probe Ministries)

A General Introduction to the Bible: From Ancient Tables to Modern Translations by David Ewert

5) Canonicity

The word “canon” means a measuring rod, much like a ruler. So when we use this word to explain how the books of the Bible were recognized as part of God’s Word, there was a rule and a standard that the books had to meet to be recognized as Scripture.  Note that I say “recognized” and not “decided upon.”  Semantics are very important here… the early church councils did not decide which books got in and which books didn’t.  They recognized which biblical books were already recognized affirmed within the community of faith.  Here are the standards and criteria that biblical books had to meet to be recognized as part of the Bible:

1. Authoritative.  Were they written by a prophet, king, judge or scribe of God in the OT or an apostle or based upon the eyewitness testimony to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in the NT.

2. Consistent. Is the book consistent with truth about God presented within the context of what the rest of Scripture teaches?

3. Dynamic. Has the book demonstrated God’s dynamic life-changing power in the lives of His people?

4. Received. Has the book been universally received and accepted by the people of God as Holy Scripture?

http://www.probe.org/site/c.fdKEIMNsEoG/b.4225847/k.318/The_Christian_Canon.htm

http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/the-bible-canon-of.html

If you’re wondering why our Protestant Bible does not include the Apocrypha (which the Catholic Bible includes), read this article:

http://bible.org/article/how-many-books-are-bible

6) Translations

Your English Bible has been directly translated from the Hebrew and Greek texts, which once again, we believe to be very accurate renderings of the original, inspired and inerrant documents.

Here are the different types of translations:

1. Word for word translations makes a special effort to carefully interpret each word from the original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek. The NASB, KJV, NKJV, ESV are word for word translations

2. Thought for thought translations attempts to convey the full nuance and idea of each passage while not paying specific attention to the word for word translation. The NIV is the best thought for thought English translation.

3. Paraphrase translations pay even less attention to specific word meanings in an attempt to capture the poetic or narrative essence of a passage.  The Living Bible and The Message are good examples of paraphrase translations.

http://bible.org/article/why-so-many-translations-present-state-english-bible-translation

“You Asked For It” Series at Northshore

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This Sunday, January 10, we are launching an 8-week message series called “You Asked For It.”  Throughout December many of you sent me great questions that you wrestle with, are perplexed by, and want further clarity.  Thanks for taking the time and effort to send me these questions.  I received questions about God, the Bible, theology, church, science, culture, and life in an imperfect world (plus many, many more).  I selected the top 8 categories of questions since many of the individual questions really fit within a larger question.  And here are the top 8 questions (drum roll please):

January 10 – “How can I trust the Bible?”

January 17 – “What’s the rub between the Bible and science?”

January 24 – “What is sin and why do I still struggle with it”?

January 31 – “Do I choose God or does God choose me?”

February 7 – “What’s going to happen in the end?”

February 14 – “What’s the Church’s role in politics?”

February 21 – “How can a good God allow suffering?”

February 28 – “What makes Jesus Christ and Christianity unique?”

As you can see, many of these questions are wrestled with and through by folks that are churched and unchurched alike.  Look through the different weeks of the series and think about a friend or family member that you could invite on a particular Sunday.  Every week, we will bring it back to the centrality of our faith… Jesus Christ and His glorious gospel.

A couple of final thoughts and “ground rules” about this series before we begin on Sunday:

1) This is going to be a great series to ponder more deeply the things of God and how we as the Church are called to respond to the things of God in a world that does not operate the “way it’s supposed to be.”  When we ponder the things of God, there will always be mystery.  We’re limited to a finite perspective because God is infinite and we’re not.  Therefore, we will approach each of these questions and attempts at answers with great humility.

2) I cannot and likely will not answer every question to everyone’s satisfaction.  I will give an overall theological and biblical “answer” to each question by wrestling through the larger question(s), by taking us to appropriate biblical passages, and by giving us the “boundaries” of what is appropriate for an evangelical theology.  I will attempt to address further issues in my blog after each message to share further insight, possibly more questions to wrestle with, and other resources to explore.

3) As much as I would like to answer every question that each of you sent me, time does not permit.  So if your questions were not picked in the top 8, please be gracious and don’t expect me to individually answer each one.  I would love if there were 48 hours in a day, but there aren’t.

4) Some of you will not agree with the conclusions that I come to… and that’s okay.  Once again, each week, I will give what I believe to be the boundaries that are appropriate within an evangelical, theological framework.  Another way to say this… we will not split Northshore over any of these issues.  There is “room at the table” within the boundaries.  I trust that any further dialogue and conversation that extends from each Sunday will be done with respect, civility, and humility… that goes for any discussion in person, in emails, on blogs, and Facebook posts and notes.  I’ll be a stickler on this one!

Thanks in advance for making this a great series, and may Jesus use our time each Sunday to show us more and more who He is, what He has done, and what He is doing “for His glory and our good.”

~ Pastor Jonathan