Monday, May 30, 2011

notitia, assensus, and fiducia


RC Sproul, in Defending Your Faith, writes, "apologetics is important in what is sometimes called 'pre-evangelism' and also in 'post-evangelism'." To support this, Sproul describes three main levels of faith; notitia, assensus, and fiducia. Here's what he writes:

Beginning with the third level, fiducia is personal trust and reliance, that aspect of faith that involves a genuine affection for Christ that flows out of a new heart and a new mind. It is the fiducia level of saving faith that can be engendered only by the work of the Spirit. It is with the first two - notitia and assensus - that the apologetic task has to do.

The first element of faith is notitia. When we say that we are justified by faith, the faith that justifies has to have a content. There is certain content, an essential level of information, that is part of Christianity. When the apostles went out to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, they gave a sommary of key points about the person of Jesus and about his work - how he was born according to the Scriptures, how he suffered on the cross for our sins and was raised from the dead, and so forth. That is all part of the notes, of the data or content of faith. Before we can actually call people to saving faith, we have to give them the information or the content that they're asked to believe, and that involves the mind. It involves communication of information that people can understand.

Before I can call upon Christ as my Savior, I have to understand that I need a savior. I have to understand that I am a sinner. I have to have some understanding of what sin is. I have to understand that God exists. I have to understand that I am estranged from that God, and that I am exposed to that God's judgment. I don't reach out for a savior unless I am first convinced that I need a savior. All of that is pre-evangelism. It is involved in the data or the information that a person has to process with his mind before he can either respond to it in faith or reject it in unbelief.

The second element of faith is assensus. This is simply the Latin word for intellectual assent. If I ask, "Do you believe that George Washington was the first president of the United States?" what would you say? Yes! That doesn't mean that you have put your personal faith and trust in George Washington. I've just asked you if you believe in George Washington in the sense of whether your mind gives assent to the proposition "George Washington was the first president of the United States."

Sadly, there is a movement in theology today that says faith has nothing to do with propositions - that the Bible is simply a book that bears witness to relationships. It is relationships that count, not propositions. These are the people who think that, "All I need to be a Christian is to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I don't need doctrine. I don't need any theology. I don't need to affirm any creed." "No creed but Christ!" is the call here. "I don't believe in propositions. I believe in Jesus. He's a person not a proposition."

It is true, as such people say, that one can have knowledge of the propositions of Christianity and still not know Jesus. We can know about Jesus and not have a personal relationship with Jesus. Yet when we talk to people about this Jesus, with whom we have a personal relationship, we say things about him. We say, "This Jesus is the eternal Son of God." That is proposition. The Jesus I want to have relationship with really is the eternal Son of God. We can't have a saving relationship personally with this Jesus unless we know who this Jesus is, unless we can affirm the truth of this Jesus - that he really did die on the cross in a death that was an atonement, and that it is true that he came out of the tomb. If we say we have a personal relationship with Christ but don't believe in the truth that he was raised from the dead, then we're saying we have a personal relationship with a corpse. That's all the difference in the world from saying you have a personal relation hip with the resurrected Christ. All of those things that we say we believe about Jesus involve the mind saying yes to propositions.

If we gain a correct understanding of the content (notitia) and assent to its truth (assensus), however, this does not add up to saving faith. The devil knows the truth about Christ, yet he hates him. Notitia and assensus are necessary conditions for saving faith (we can't have saving faith without them), but they are not sufficient to save us.

Apologetics serves a vital task at the level of clarifying the content of Christianity and defending its truth. This cannot cause saving faith but it has a vital role in supporting the necessary ingredients of saving faith.

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desire and rule


"God’s judgment foretold that a husband and wife would now battle one another for control." See Tim Challies' Her Desire, His Rule for the rest of the story.

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In 1992 the US Supreme Court reflected (and led) our society by writing the following in regard to abortion, "For two decades of economic and social developments, people have organized intimate relationships and made choices that define their views of themselves and their places in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail. The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives."

Thank God I'm sensing a turn in our society. But not just in the sense of curbing abortion. More importantly in bringing the good news of Christ to all peoples.

Therefore I'm thankful for organizations such as PregnancyCare.
[P]regnancy center ministry transcends these political solutions. Pregnancy center ministries is rooted in the compassion and love of Jesus Christ. Pregnancy center ministry is not about changing laws, nor is it even ultimately about saving babies. Pregnancy center ministries addresses the needs of individual women. Pregnancy center ministries is about sharing the Gospel and empowering people to make positive, life affirming choices. When hurting women encounter Jesus Christ in the midst of their crisis, their lives are forever changed.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

small group prayer tips

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David Rudd offers the below tips to help your small group move towards a healthy prayer life.

1. Silent Prayer.
Choose a soft (preferably prayer-focused) song and tell the group you're going to play this song and while it plays everyone is going to just engage in silent prayer. Once the song is done, the prayer time will be over. If you want, suggest a pattern of prayer that might be helpful for them. One possible pattern is the "ACTS" pattern (Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication). Another pattern is to focus on the 3 Relationships Christians have (with God, with other Christians, with those in the world). After the prayer time is over, take a minute to let people discuss how they felt about the experience.

2. Speak to the Chair.
Place a chair in the center of the room and tell your group to imagine God is sitting there. Without bowing heads and closing eyes, have people simply talk to God. Let them say thank you or ask questions or make requests. Remind everyone that the goal is to focus on God, so they must resist the temptation to respond to what others are saying. After a while, thank everyone for participating and give them a moment to pray silently and bring closure to the time.

3. Thanksgiving Statements.
Instead of having everyone pray, just spend time having people thank God for things. Allow anyone to speak, and allow them to speak as often as they like. But limit the prayers to one sentence prayers of thanksgiving. Before you start let everyone know how you will signal the end of the time.

4. Scripted Prayer.
There are some good prayers in the Bible. Sometimes it can be beneficial to read them aloud as a group. Many of the Psalms will work for this. The Lord's Prayer is also great to read as a group. If you want something a little more different, find a prayer in the "Book of Common Prayer" and make enough copies for everyone. Encourage people to consider the meaning and depth of the words as they read them aloud.

5. Written Prayer.
Give everyone 5 minutes with a pen and paper. Have them write out their prayer. After you are finished have anyone who desires read their prayer aloud. Encourage everyone to keep their prayer with them and refer back to it throughout the week.

6. Prayer for One Another
Go around a circle and have each person pray a short prayer of thanksgiving and encouragement for the person to their right (or left). They can say something as simple as "Lord, please bless ____________ as they go through their week." It might be helpful to give a couple minutes to people to talk to one another prior to doing this so that their prayers can be more informed.

7. Week Long Prayer
Have each person in the group commit to praying for one other person in the group for an entire week. Have them set aside time each day to specifically pray for that person. Give people an opportunity to talk to one another about their prayers before and after the week.

8. Scheduled Prayer
Set aside a time during the week when everyone in the group is going to stop what they are doing and simply pray for 5 minutes. Try to set it up so that it happens at a time when everyone can participate. The following week, have people share how this exercise impacted their day or their week.

9. Focused Prayer
If someone in the group is in need of prayer, and if they are willing to share that with the group; have the group gather around and lay hands on the person. Choose 3-4 people to pray while everyone else prays silently. Make sure you follow up the next week to find out how the situation is working out (sometimes an exercise like this will alert a group to things beyond prayer that they need to do for one another. Read James 2:15-17).

the gospel anchor

Jonathan Parnell wrote the following post; The Gospel Anchor to the Church's Identity. I love it.
World In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen explains the need to understand the nature of the Church (ecclesiology) in order to recover her missional role.

He writes:
Ecclesiology is about understanding our identity, who we are, and why God has chosen us—whose we are. If we do not develop our self-understanding in terms of the role that we have been called to play in the biblical drama, we will find ourselves shaped by the idolatrous story in the dominant culture (5).
The foundation to the Church's identity is the victorious work of Jesus Christ. He has intruded a fallen world with the dominion of a new age, died for our sins, conquered death by his resurrection, and ascended to reign as King over all. This is good news and Jesus has commissioned the Church to be its herald.

Goheen gives five starting points in the gospel that lead us to discover what the Church is supposed to be (18-21).
First, "the gospel demands of its hearers that it be accepted as the real story of our world, the one event in history on which all the rest turns."

Second, the central theme of this story is "God's purpose and activity to renew the entire creation and the whole of human life."

Third, the central theme in the message of good news is the coming of the kingdom of God who through Jesus triumphs over sin, death, and evil.

Fourth, God works out his redemptive purposes by "choosing a people to make known to all where history is leading."

Fifth, "the gospel reveals that this community chosen and sent by Jesus is both the beginning of something new and the continuation of something much older."

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Friday, May 27, 2011

scientific conversions

Funny list making the rounds ...

Scientific Conversions:
  1. Ratio of an igloo’s circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi
  2. 2000 pounds of Chinese soup = Won ton
  3. 1 millionth of a mouthwash = 1 microscope
  4. Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = 1 bananosecond
  5. Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram
  6. Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knotfurlong
  7. 16.5 feet in theTwilight Zone = 1 Rod Sterling
  8. Half of a large intestine = 1 semicolon
  9. 1,000,000 aches = 1 megahurtz
  10. Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower
  11. Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line
  12. 453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake
  13. 1 million-million microphones = 1 megaphone
  14. 2 million bicycles = 2 megacycles
  15. 365.25 days = 1 unicycle
  16. 2000 mockingbirds = 2 kilomockingbirds
  17. 52 cards = 1 decacards
  18. 1 kilogram of falling figs = 1 FigNewton
  19. 1000 milliliters of wet socks = 1 literhosen
  20. 1 millionth of a fish = 1 microfiche
  21. 1 trillion pins = 1 terrapin
  22. 10 rations = 1 decoration
  23. 100 rations = 1 C-ration
  24. 2 monograms = 1 diagram
  25. 4 nickels = 2 paradigms
  26. 2.4 statute miles of intravenous surgical tubing at Yale University Hospital = 1 IV League
  27. 100 Senators = Not 1 decision

hard choices for life

Thank you Justin Taylor for posting these beautiful reminders of God's grace in our dark hours.


ProductThe following quote brought to my attention by Jonathan Moorhead; "Don't try to coerce people and make them do things. It has to come from inside, from their hearts. And that means they need knowledge that awakens love. People's affections are changed by what they know" (Piper, The Pastor as Scholar & The Scholar as Pastor, 60-61).

I like that ... but I'd add something about the work of the Holy Spirit bringing that knowledge to life. This is a timely word given the popularity of love not based on Biblical knowledge. To my mind, loving includes informing and it saddens me when I meet those who perceive love means accepting as is with no intent to make right or true.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

be on guard

Tim Keller writes:
All leaders, and especially Christian leaders, must be on guard against this inevitable temptation and this terrible sin. It is natural, when under criticism, to shield your heart from pain by belittling the critics in your mind. “You stupid idiots.” Even if you don’t speak outwardly to people like Moses did, you do so inwardly. That will lead to self-absorption, self-pity, maybe even delusions of grandeur, but the great sin is that the growth of inner disdain leads to pride and a loss of humble reliance on God’s grace. Moses treated God with contempt when he became contemptuous toward his people.
The full article here, Speaking With Contempt.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

wright on bell

In regard to NT Wright's comments on Rob Bell's book, I facebooked earlier:
I don't share Wright's perspective that Americans are fixated on hell. In fact, the lion's share of what I read, hear, discuss is God's grace, mercy, love. I perceive the details of hell only become important when someone like Bell teaches falsely about it. I find it interesting that Wright's argument might be used as a defense for Bell.
Well as expected, smarter folks than I have provided more thorough insights. Here is Trevin Wax on the topic.

1. Asking the question behind the question is good, but not if it results in downplaying the importance of the question.

Wright asks “Why are Americans so fixated on hell?” in order to consider the context of the question. He implies that Americans may be asking this question because of deep-seated feelings of guilt for our economic prosperity or our nation’s foreign policy. I’m afraid this simply won’t work as an explanation. The U.K. was just as invested in the Middle Eastern conflicts as the U.S., and yet he claims he is rarely asked about hell in England.

Furthermore, the idea that only Americans are asking about hell seems reductionist. When I lived overseas, I discovered Romanians to be very interested in future judgment. Visit Eastern Europe, Africa, China, and other parts of the world where there is a strong evangelical presence and you will find people grappling with these issues. The fact that few in the UK ask Wright about hell says more about the paucity of evangelical witness in England than it does any lopsided obsession with hell in the States.

Frankly, there are other, better reasons behind the recent dustup over hell. We’re coming out of a decade or two in which some of the sharp edges of Christian doctrine have been blunted and softened. Much of American preaching has centered on practical ways to better one’s present life. Newer gospel presentations sidestep the question of hell altogether and focus instead on God’s calling us to join him in the mission life for this world now. We’ve been told that people aren’t that concerned about the life of the age to come (this, despite the number of books about heaven and hell that linger around the summit of the New York Times bestseller list).

Perhaps, the reason why the subject of eternal destiny has come roaring back is because people do indeed wonder about these things, the Bible does indeed speak to them (quite often, in fact), and people who read their Bibles regularly (evangelicals in the U.S.) can’t miss all the references to final judgment. Like Wright, we should indeed ask the question behind the question, but not if our intention is to downplay the importance of the question.

2. Hell is not merely the natural outworking on sin’s consequences.

I don’t like writing about hell. I don’t relish the thought of eternal condemnation. I’m not one who, in Wright’s words, is obsessed with who will be “frying in hell and what the temperature will be and so on.” My desire is to be faithful to what Scripture teaches and to represent Jesus as best as I can – even when Jesus challenges my own presuppositions and ideas. When I asked Wright about hell back in 2008, he said this:
In a sense, it is shocking and horrifying. Think about people we know! I’m sure most people, unless we live in very enclosed worlds, must know some people (if we truly hold to a theology of hell) who are going there! That should give us pause. That should cause us to pray for them and to weep over them. So I don’t say this with any relish at all.
I echo these sentiments and have had to fight back tears even while writing this blog post.

Despite the fact that the idea of eternal judgment is difficult to swallow, Wright is not a universalist. He believes that Christ will come to judge the living and the dead.

Still, I’m not sure Wright’s picture of hell does justice to the Bible’s description of “last things”. Following the thought of C.S. Lewis, Wright casts hell as the consequential outworking of sinful life patterns. Sin becomes its own damnation, leading to dehumanization to the point that an individual is beyond pity. Wright is putting forth a middle way between eternal conscious torment and annihilationism, but I think his proposal neglects the passages that indicate God will actively be involved in a sinner’s eternal destiny.

Hell is not just the natural outworking of sin. It’s also the active judgment of God. In Counterfeit Gospels, I write:
Though it’s true that condemnation is the consequence of our sinful choices on earth, it’s not enough to speak of hell as merely consequential. There are too many biblical passages that describe God as actively judging sinners… Surely this view of judgment is unpopular and has negative connotations. It may be hard to stomach. But if Christianity is true, we should expect it to confront our presuppositions and views at several points. This may be the place it hits us Westerners the hardest. In trying to make sense of the biblical portrait of eternal judgment, we are left with no other choice. As glorious and majestic as the New Testament portrayal of resurrection and new creation is, so horrific and terrifying is its portrayal of God’s wrath against sinners outside of Christ.
It is puzzling to me that Wright never shies away from the glorious implications of resurrection and new heavens and new earth, and yet in his writings, he seems to distance himself from the frightening implications of some of the descriptions of hell found in the New Testament.

3. I’m all for stirring things up, but what I want to see stirred up is urgency in calling people to repentance and faith.

Wright clearly doesn’t agree with everything in Rob Bell’s book. (I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he and Bell get together and talk about their differences.) And yet, Wright gives Bell a pass, saying it’s “good to stir things up” among those who think they’ve got hell down to the “last fine-tuned details.” He goes easy on Bell because he sees Bell as countering a common caricature of God as a monster and ogre.

Perhaps the caricature of “God as capricious monster” exists out there, somewhere. But I have yet to run across non-Christians who conceive of God this way. In my conversations with non-Christians, I am more likely to hear them articulate a vision of God that is held captive to Western notions of “love” (sentimentalism) and “fairness”. I don’t run across many people who are afraid of hell or final judgment. Instead, I see people who resemble those in Noah’s day, eating and drinking and marrying without any sense that judgment is coming.

There is certainly a caricature of hell that deserves to be attacked (hell as a torture chamber in the middle of God’s new world), but surely the more common error in today’s time is the absence of any notion that God would actively judge sinners. Rob Bell is only counter-cultural when it comes to the evangelical subculture he has riled up. Traditional evangelicals are the true subversives, swimming hard against the entire tide of our pluralist society.

Jesus didn’t “stir things up” by backing off the truth of final judgment. He stirred things up by reaching for the most gruesome, horrifying images imaginable in order to communicate the horror of God’s judgment. I don’t think “stirring things up” among those who think they have it all figured out is the best way to increase evangelistic fervor today. Instead, I want God to use what Jesus taught about hell in such a way that my own heart will be gripped by compassion for lost people, and that I will be bold enough to faithfully represent a Savior whose teaching is increasingly unpopular.

the spirit filled church

Terry Virgo, "we gather to the presence of the Holy Spirit."

4d. Baptism into Christ and the Holy Spirit from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Monday, May 23, 2011

so-called gay marriage

Here are some excellent thoughts by John Piper on how we might think about legislation regarding gay marriage.

1. There is no such thing as so-called “gay marriage.”

Except in a sentence like this one, I don’t think we should use the term “gay marriage” or “same-sex marriage.” I think in our everyday discourse, we should say “so-called gay marriage” or “so-called same sex marriage.” I would encourage politicians, pastors, and people to adopt this simple habit.

The reason is that in God’s eyes, there simply is no such thing as so-called “gay marriage.” It does not exist. It cannot be made to exist by desires or decisions or language or laws. God ordained marriage with the words: “A man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Marriage is the union of a man and a woman in a lifelong covenant as husband and wife.

Humans don’t create or define marriage. God does. Not all humans believe this. But those who do, should not use the term “marriage” to refer to any other relationship than the one God ordains.

2. Same-sex sexual relations are sin.

When the human relationship with God was broken at the beginning of our race, countless good things were broken, including the goodness of sexuality. When the vertical axis of our existence was disordered, the horizontal axis was disordered.

There are many tragic expressions of this disordering in the sphere of sexuality. For example, narcissism, exhibitionism, bestiality, pornography, fornication, adultery, abusiveness, coercion. All of us are broken sexually one way or the other and in need of the forgiving and healing mercy that only comes through Jesus Christ.

One of the expressions of this horizontal disorder of our sexuality is same-sex desires. Thousands of decent, moral people, including Christians, find this disorder in their desires. Many do not want it, but it is there. The apostle Paul describes the roots of it, along with other sins, in the disordering of man’s relationship with God.

[We humans have] exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator . . . . For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts. (Romans 1:25–27)

This does not mean that every person who finds same-sex desires in his heart has consciously brought it on himself by exchanging God for a lie. Some of the most God-honoring, Christ-exalting people may find themselves with deep disorders.

Paul’s point is that, in general terms among the human race, a disordered desire for God has resulted in a disordered desire for people. Homosexual desire is one form of that disorder. There are others.

As in the case of other disordered desires, God forbids that we indulge same-sex desires. For example, the apostle says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality” (1 Corinthians 6:9).

Therefore, the practice of homosexuality is a sin. And we can see from this same verse that heterosexual adultery is also a sin. Both sins are the indulgence of disordered sexual desires. Men should not desire another man or another man’s wife. Therefore, God forbids that we act on these desires.

Knowing how deeply dependent all of us are on the mercy of God for the forgiveness of our sins, and the healing of our peculiar brokenness, Christians should be slow to anger and quick with compassion. Jesus did not condone sin, but was compassionate with broken-hearted sinners. From the cross he even prayed for his proud adversaries: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Joe Hallett, who died of AIDS in 1997, helped me taste how conviction and compassion come together. I pray that this remarkable and rare combination will pervade the Christian community as the marriage debate continues.

3. Not all sins should be proscribed by human law, but some should be.

Almost everyone agrees that there are unethical actions that should not be illegal, and some that should be. Almost everyone would agree that theft and murder are unethical actions that should be proscribed by human law. If life and property are not protected by law, living in society becomes virtually impossible.

But where to draw the line on which unethical actions are made illegal is a judgment call that in our system of government is made by elected legislators. It’s a pretty good system that balances the freedom of the human conscience (Luke 12:57; 2 Corinthians 5:11; Acts 17:11) with the rights of government to make laws and use force (Romans 13:1–4).

For example, looking at pornography should not be proscribed by human law. To be sure, the lustful use of pornography dishonors God’s design for sexuality, damages male-female relationships, and corrupts a person’s capacity for holy affections. It is sin. But it should not be proscribed by human law.

Some of the reasons would be 1) without a common ground of biblical holiness, the precise definition of what’s acceptable to look at would entangle our lawmakers in hopeless disputes; 2) the privacy of the act would make the law virtually unenforceable; and 3) the indirect way that people are hurt make it unfeasible for the law to be handled with proper proportion. So there are many sinful behaviors that should not be illegal.

4. The legal significance of marriage makes a statutory definition necessary.

It is clear that some laws are necessary in relation to marriage. The clearest place this is seen is in relation to children. Sexual union in marriage usually produces children. Marriage creates a mutual claim of parents to have the right to raise their children. These rights of parents must be protected by law because of the reality of kidnapping and because of custody conflicts that arise through divorce.

There are many other laws relating to marriage, such as inheritance laws, and the rights of married couples to own property or file income taxes together, and so on. The inevitable legal significance of marriage makes it imperative that there be a clear statutory definition of what it is.

5. It is wise that our laws define marriage as between a man and a woman.

This is not because homosexual practice or same-sex relationships should be legally stopped. Rather, it’s because they should not be legally sanctioned. The issue is not whether same-sex unions are permitted, but whether they are institutionalized. The issue is not whether we tolerate same-sex relationships, but whether we build on them as a foundation for society. The issue is not whether we forbid a particular sin, but whether we mandate social approval of that sin. The issue is not whether we block a sinful behavior, but whether we imbed it in our laws.

I am not making a case for the legal prosecution of homosexual practice. Nor would I advocate the legal prosecution of heterosexual fornication. But I would make a case against the institutionalization of fornication, or making it a building block of society, or mandating its approval, or imbedding it in our laws. It is one thing to tolerate sin. It is another to build society on it.


May God have mercy on us. Laws are not our Savior. We need a great awakening to the truth and glory of Jesus Christ far more than we need a marriage amendment. Our hope lies in the work of Jesus—for us on the cross, and in us by his Spirit. Be thankful for laws and for courageous political servants, but live for the gospel and the glory of Christ (Mark 8:35).

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unconditional love

The Unconditional Love Of God 555

When speaking of unconditional love, one must speak clearly. It seems common to intentionally confuse the language to increase the appeal. This is an error. Here R.C. Sproul speaks clearly and truly.

It has become fashionable in evangelical circles to speak somewhat glibly of the unconditional love of God. It is certainly a pleasing message for people to hear and conforms to a certain kind of political correctness. In our desire to communicate the sweetness of the gospel to people and the readiness of God to cover our sins with forgiveness and the incredible depth of His love that is displayed in the cross, we indulge in a hyperbolic expression of the scope and extent of His love. Where in Scripture do we find this notion of the unconditional love of God? If God's love is absolutely unconditional, why do we tell people that they have to repent and have faith in order to be saved? God sets forth clear conditions for a person to be saved. Now it may be true that in some sense God loves even those who fail to meet the conditions of salvation, but that subtlety is often missed by the hearer when the preacher declares the unconditional love of God.

What is heard by people who listen to the evangelist declare the unconditional love of God is that God will continue to love them and accept them, no matter what they do or how they live. We might as well declare an unabashed universalism as to declare the unconditional love of God without clear and careful qualification of what that means.

An interesting contrast can be seen by comparing the preaching of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century evangelists with modern evangelists. The stress in earlier centuries was upon the wrath of God directed toward impenitent sinners. Indeed Jonathan Edwards's preaching has been described as evangelistic preaching that employed a "scare theology." That approach has given way to a more positive emphasis on God's love. Of course Edwards also declared the love of God but not without reminding sinners that as long as they remained impenitent, they were exposed to the wrath of God and were in fact heaping up wrath against the day of wrath.

Edwards warned his people that they were more repugnant to God in their sin than rebellious subjects were to their princes. This was part and parcel of proclaiming the gospel of reconciliation. There can be no talk of reconciliation without first assuming there is some prior alienation or estrangement. Parties who are not estranged don't need reconciliation.

There can be no talk of reconciliation without first assuming there is some prior alienation or estrangement.

The Biblical concept of reconciliation presupposes a condition of estrangement between God and man. Much is said of man's hostility toward God. We are described as being God's enemies by nature. This enmity is expressed in our sinful rebellion against Him. The common contemporary view of this is that we are estranged from God, but He is not estranged from us. The enmity is all one-sided. The picture we get is that God goes on loving us with an unconditional love while we are hating Him.

The cross belies this picture. Yes the cross occurred because God loves us. His love stands behind His plan of salvation. However, Christ was not sacrificed on the cross to placate us or to serve as a propitiation to us. His sacrifice was not designed to satisfy our unjust enmity toward God but to satisfy God's just wrath toward us. It is the Father who is the object of the Son's act of propitiation. The effect of the cross is to remove the divine estrangement from us, not our estrangement from Him. If we deny God's estrangement from us, the cross is reduced to a pathetic and anemic moral influence with no substitutionary satisfaction of God.

In Christ the obstacle of estrangement is overcome, and we are reconciled to God. But that reconciliation extends only to believers. Those who reject Christ remain at enmity with God, estranged from God, and objects both of His wrath and of His abhorrence. Whatever kind of love God has for the impenitent, it does not exclude His just hatred and abhorrence of them that stands in stark contrast to His redeeming love.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

siarhei hardun

caring and gospel

Marks-Of-The-MessengerSpeaking of J. Mack Stiles, here's an excellent quote from Marks of the Messenger.

"Caring for others represents the gospel, it upholds the gospel, it points to the gospel, it's an implication of the gospel, but it is not the gospel, and it is not equal to the gospel" (69).

healthy parachurch ministries

Stiles2I read this insightful article by Mack Stiles regarding the Nine Marks of a Healthy Parachurch Ministry. As I read it I couldn't help relate these excellent principles in a broader way to 'medium sized groups' (ala Carl F. George, Prepare Your Church for the Future). I think it important for those in parachurch and sub-congregational mid-sized church ministries (e.g., men's ministries) keep these principles in mind. These groups can be helpful or even necessary but should not be confused with the Church.

Stiles' post is lengthy so I post only the top-lines here.

Mark 1: A healthy parachurch ministry knows that it exists primarily to protect the church.
Mark 2: A healthy parachurch ministry makes a clear distinction between church and parachurch.
Mark 3: A healthy parachurch ministry avoids acting like the church.
Mark 4: A healthy parachurch ministry does not pressure the church to act like a parachurch.
Mark 5: A healthy parachurch ministry humbly heeds the history of parachurch movements.
Mark 6: A healthy parachurch ministry understands the difference between the pragmatic and the principled.
Mark 7: The healthy parachurch has a counter-cultural understanding of management and money.
Mark 8: The healthy parachurch maintains a strong commitment to, and understanding of, the gospel.
Mark 9: A healthy parachurch ministry seeks accountability relationships with the church.

Parachurch ministries are bigger and more influential than ever. And within the vast majority of them, God is at work for his kingdom in powerful ways. But we should never forget that his chosen method for the expansion of the kingdom is his church. So a healthy parachurch ministry keeps the primacy of the church front and center. It makes clear distinctions between church and parachurch, both avoiding the temptation to act like the church and refusing to pressurethe church to act like the parachurch. A healthy parachurch ministry humbly heeds the history of parachurch ministries, takes hold of the principles of the ministry over the pragmatism of the world, maintains its commitment to the gospel, and seeks accountability relationships with the church.

Read Stiles' entire post here.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

unconditional love

5743143333 E5E9F2015B MAs follow-up to the unscriptural thought I read the other day ("It's nice to know that God didn't choose me to change me. He actually wanted relationship with me, the way I am today."), it was refreshing to come across a post by Eric Ortlund on what is better than unconditional love.
“What happens to the Gospel when idolatry themes are not grasped? ‘God loves you’ typically becomes a tool to meet a need for self-esteem in people who feel like failures. The particular content of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—‘grace for sinners and deliverance for the sinned-against—is down-played or even twisted into ‘unconditional acceptance for the victims of others’ lack of acceptance.’ Where ‘the Gospel’ is shared, it comes across something like this: ‘God accepts you just as you are. God had unconditional love for you.’ This is not the biblical Gospel, however. . . .

The Gospel is better than unconditional love. The Gospel says, ‘God accepts you just as Christ is. God has “contraconditional” love for you.’Christ bears the curse you deserve. Christ is fully pleasing to the Father and gives you His own perfect goodness. Christ reigns in power, making you the Father’s child and coming close to you to begin to change what is unacceptable to God about you. God never accept me ‘as I am.’ He accepts me ‘as I am in Jesus Christ.’ The center of gravity is different. The true Gospel does not allow God’s love to be sucked into the vortex of the soul’s lust for acceptability and worth in and of itself. Rather, it radically decenters people—what the Bible calls ‘fear of the Lord’ and ‘faith’—to look outside ourselves.” - David Powlison, “Idols of the Heart and ‘Vanity Fair,’” Journal of Biblical Counseling 13 (1995): 49.

I realize this may be a shocking statement to some. In a sense, I suppose it’s true to speak of God’s unconditional love in the sense that his love rests on us irrespective of what we deserve. But the wisdom of Powlison’s quote is to expose that “unconditional acceptance” can possibly mask a refusal to repent, a holding onto who I am and refusing what God offers me in Christ.


‎”I don’t practice spiritual disciplines to get God to love me, but to hear him say it.” - Jimmy Davis


Wednesday, May 18, 2011

know him through his word

“… if you want to know Jesus, you know him through his word. One of the most important convictions you can ever form is the conviction that Jesus, as a real, living, precious person, is known today chiefly through his word. And the only reason I say “chiefly,” and not “only,” is that in the fellowship of obedience and suffering from day to day, our personal knowledge of Jesus of goes deeper and deeper, but always through his word. But if you want to see the face of Jesus (2 Corinthians 4:6) most clearly, most surely, you must look at him through his word.” ~ John Piper’s sermon, If You Abide In My Word, You Are Truly My Disciples

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

the great exchange

That's what I thought, I am righteous ...


Bible-1Speaking of never forgetting the indicatives ...

"One is unlikely to assert that we are justified by sanctification, but, whether done intentionally or not, that is what happens when we allow the teaching of Christian living, ethical imperatives, and exhortations to holiness to be separated from and to take the place of the clear statement of the gospel. We can preach our hearts out on texts about what we ought to be, what makes a mature church, or what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives, but if we do not constantly, in every sermon, show the link between the Spirit's work in us to Christ's work for us, we will distort the message and send people away with a natural theology of salvation by works. Preaching from the epistles demands of the preacher that the message of the document be taken as a whole even if only a selection of texts, or just one verse, is to be expounded. Every sermon should be understandable on its own as a proclamation of Christ. It is no good to say that we dealt with the justification element three weeks ago and now we are following Paul into the imperatives and injunctions for Christian living. Paul wasn't anticipating a three-week gap between his exposition of the gospel and his defining of the implications of the gospel in our lives. Nor was he anticipating that some people would not be present for the reading of the whole epistle and would hear part of its message out of context." ~ Graeme Goldsworthy, Preaching The Whole Bible As Christian Scripture, p. 237 as quoted by John Fonville

Andy Holz helps with the following:

Indicatives Define Us
They are a declaration of:
  • who God is;
  • what He has done in Christ;
  • who we are in Christ as a result.
Imperatives Lead Us
They are how we respond to who God is in Christ and how He relates to us. (God’s Law)

Indicatives Empower Imperatives (Jonathan Edwards Principle)
The indicatives are the roots, the imperatives are the branches.

Examples from Scripture
Luke 6:36 “(imperative) Be merciful, (indicative) just as your Father is merciful [to you].”

Romans 15:7 “(imperative) Accept one another, then, (indicative) just as Christ has accepted you , in order to bring praise to God.”

1 John 4:12 “(imperative) If we love one another, God dwells in us, (indicative) and His love is matured in us.”

Leviticus 20:7-8 “(imperative) Consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, (indicative) for I am the Lord your God. (imperative) Keep my statutes and do them; (indicative) I am the Lord who sanctifies you.”

Diagnostic Tool to Examine the Heart
We can tell what we truly believe most deeply in our heart about the way God in Christ relates to us, by the way that we relate to the Lord and other people.

If we believe that God is still angry at us and will pay us back for our transgressions(indicatives)-then we will have an angry, “pay back” attitude towards others(imperatives).

On the other hand:
If we truly believe that God is gracious, loving and merciful towards us in Christ (indicatives)- then we will normally act graciously towards others forgiving them when they wrong us (imperatives).

Two Possible Errors:
  1. Moralism occurs when we put the imperatives ahead of the indicatives.
  2. Cheap Grace occurs when indicatives are communicated with no mention of imperatives.

Monday, May 16, 2011

pizza and video games

The following is by Drew Dyck in The Red Bull Gospel. He is speaking to youth ministries but I think you can see this truth is true through all ministries ...
Of course there's nothing wrong with pizza and video games. The real problem is when they displace spiritual formation and teaching the Bible. And ultimately that's the greatest danger of being overly reliant on an entertainment model. It's not just that we can't compete with the world's amusements. It's not only that we get locked into a cycle of serving up ever-increasing measures of fun. Rather it's that we're distracted from doing the real work of youth ministry—fostering robust faith.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

drifting toward holiness

I read a sad thought the other day. Someone wrote, "It's nice to know that God didn't choose me to change me. He actually wanted relationship with me, the way I am today." What this person took as a negative, Scripture posits as a positive. God chose us for exactly that. To set us free from slavery to sin and subsequently to glorify Him.

Fortunately we still have godly men willing to speak truthfully in love. Josh Etter writes, "Hard work is not the opposite of grace, it is the result of experiencing grace." I'm glad that God DID choose me to change. Etter then quotes D. A. Carson from For the Love of God:
People do not drift toward Holiness.

Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.

We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.


5722849225 7E39Cb90F7 MFrom By Every Word:
"Contentment is a disposition of the heart that freely and joyfully submits to God's will, whatever that will may be." -- Stephen Altrogge, The Greener Grass Conspiracy

The secret of contentment is believing that, in every situation and circumstance, my heavenly Father is ultimately in control and is at work for my ultimate happiness and truest good – training me to be able to better know, love and trust Him and His will for my life, as I rely on his grace and His Word, through Christ, in the power of the Spirit. (Phil. 4:10-13; Deut. 8:2-9; Heb. 12:5-11; 2 Cor. 4:7-18; 12:7-10; Phil. 1:12-18)

god so loves the world

5722237948 5902Ca7Bc0 MJohn MacArthur asks and answers, Does God So Love the World? Answer: Yes.
We must understand that it is God's very nature to love. The reason our Lord commanded us to love our enemies is "in order that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous" (Matthew 5:45). Jesus clearly characterized His Father as One who loves even those who purposefully set themselves at enmity against Him.
Read the entire article here.


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Friday, May 13, 2011

the father's gift to the son

This is reposted in its entirety from RC Sproul ...

The motif of the gift of the elect to the Son is expressed by Jesus on various occasions, particularly in the Gospel of John:

This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day. (John 6:39-40)

In this passage Jesus makes it clear that He is concerned about every believer being raised up at the last day. This qualifies His statements about what the Father has given Him that would never be lost. It is believers who are given to Christ by the Father, and these believers will never be lost. This affirmation builds upon what Jesus declared only moments earlier:

But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. (John 6:36-38)

Jesus is emphatic in His assertion that all whom the Father gives to Him will in fact come to Him. The order here is crucial. Jesus does not say that all who come to Him will then be given to Him by the Father. We do not determine by our response who will be the Father’s gift to the Son. Rather our response is determined by the prior election of God for us to come to the Son as gifts to Him.

The concept of believers being the gifts of the Father to the Son forms a central element of Jesus’ high-priestly prayer in John 17. Jesus makes repeated references to this “giving”:

Father, the hour has come. Glorify Your Son, that Your Son also may glorify You, as You have given Him authority over all flesh, that He should give eternal life to as many as You have given Him. (John 17.1-2)

Christ speaks of the authority He has received from the Father to grant eternal life to certain people. Those certain people are the ones the Father has given to Him.

I have manifested Your name to the men whom You have given Me out of the world. They were Yours, You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word. Now they have known that all things which You have given Me are from You. For I have given to them the words which You have given Me; and they have received them, and have known surely that I came forth from You; and they have believed that You sent Me.

I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. And all Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine, and I am glorified in them. Now I am no longer in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to You. Holy Father, keep through Your name those whom You have given Me, that they may be one as We are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in Your name. Those whom You gave Me I have kept; and none of them is lost except the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled.
(John 17:6-12)

In this prayer it is clear that believers are the Father’s gift to the Son, a gift that is not to be lost or destroyed. Jesus prays that these gifts may be kept and not discarded. He thanks the Father that all have been kept except the son of perdition, who is elsewhere described as having been a devil from the beginning. The son of perdition refers here to Judas.

The concept of our adoption in Christ as the Father’s gift to the Son is also declared by the author of Hebrews:

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For both He who sanctifies and those who are being sanctified are all of one, for which reason He is not ashamed to call them brethren, saying:

“I will declare Your name to My brethren;
In the midst of the assembly I will sing praise to You.”

And again:

“I will put My trust in Him.”

And again:

“Here am I and the children whom God has given Me.”
(Heb 2:10-13)

This text confirms that the elect are given to Christ as His adopted brothers and the Father’s adopted children. This is the astonishing love that would provoke John to utter later, “Behold, what manner of love is this?”

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Wednesday, May 11, 2011

a false gospel

The ability for some claiming to be Christian and yet totally miss the gospel is staggering ... this is only exceeded by the ability for others claiming to be Christian to buy into these false teachings ... here's an example ...
In this life (i.e. now) Christians are to follow Jesus' example and promote God's kingdom on heaven and on earth. We are to act to make the world a better place; to expand God's righteous kingdom. We do that by promoting and advocating for social justice; economic justice; creation-care; peace; care for the weak; the "other"; the sick; the oppressed; the poor.

what have we learned

Scott McKnight proffers ten thoughts on what Love Wins has taught us about at least the American Christian culture ... here's point eight ...
... low church, non-denominational evangelicalism, of which Rob Bell is an exceptional representative, carries its own dangers. As I was reading Love Wins the first time, one thought kept coming back to me: This book could not have been written by a traditional Presbyterian or Methodist or Lutheran or Southern Baptist … or by anyone who is accountable to a stable and long-standing theological tradition. Rob Bell is a stand-alone pastor, and Mars Hill is a stand-alone church. While it may have some responsibility to its mother church, it is more or less on its own. When pastors are celebrity and charismatic and competent communicators, as Rob Bell clearly is, they can take risks (and I applaud that at times) and they can also easily wander from the great tradition of the Church. This book makes me rethink what mechanisms need to be put in place to manage the potential zaniness that stand-alone pastors in stand-alone churches can produce. Some publishers will put the stop to some ideas, but others won’t. We need to think about this.

shallow small groups

Shallow small groups ... because when things get too deep, people drown.

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questions that matter

I'm not sure these are the only five questions that matter but I like the list and what I perceive is the intent.

Haddon Robinson says that there are five questions that matter:
  1. Is there a God?
  2. Has he revealed himself?
  3. Did he reveal himself in Jesus?
  4. Did the death of Jesus on the cross do anything for anyone else?
  5. Did Jesus rise from the dead?
If you start with the last question, he says, it answers all the others.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

what kind of faith

5708172809 206D0866F7 M"Justification is by faith alone but not by a faith that is alone." The only kind of faith that saves is what [Martin] Luther called a fides viva - a living faith, a vital faith, a faith that issues forth in works as the fruit of faith. Those works don't count toward justification - only the merit of Christ counts toward that - but without the flowing forth of the fruit of faith, there would be no true faith in the first place. ~ RC Sproul, Defending your Faith

on display

41Wgid-Yuul. Sl500 Aa300 "The Church is the mirror, that reflects the whole effulgence of the Divine character. It is the grand scene, in which the perfections of Jehovah are displayed to the universe. The revelations made to the Church — the successive grand events in her history — and, above all — the manifestation of ‘the glory of God in the Person of Jesus Christ’ — furnish even the heavenly intelligences fresh subjects of adoring contemplation." ~ Charles Bridges, The Christian Ministry


Sunday, May 08, 2011

free will


divine wrath

5701164479 Edf0840545 MIn Divine Wrath: Consequence or Curse?, Keven DeYoung writes:
It has become common for Christians to describe hell as our freely chosen identity apart from God. Hell, it is said, is not so much where God sends the wicked, as much as it is what the wicked choose or create for themselves. This is the view famously espoused by C.S. Lewis in The Great Divorce. Lewis argues that hell is our own self-absorption and idolatry let loose for all eternity. Hell is God’s way of saying “Thy will be done” to us when we refuse to say “Thy will be done” to God. Hell is what we get when we choose human freedom instead of divine salvation. The gates of hell may be locked for eternity, but they are locked from the inside. We refuse to give up the hell within us, so hell is what we get around us.

There is an element of truth in all this. As one way to look at hell, the Lewis version can be helpful. It emphasizes that no one in hell is truly penitent. God doesn’t punish people for a few sins in this life and then keep them locked up forever as they pour out their hearts in genuine faith and repentance. No, the damned never turn from their rebellion. They may regret their choices like the rich man in Luke 16, but they never genuinely repent.

Lewis’ description of hell is also a good reminder that God does at times give us over to our sinful desire. Romans 1 makes this clear. Part of our punishment is that God says, “Alright, have at it. Pursue your sinful ways.” Hell is, in that limited sense, God giving us what we want.
But that's only part of the story and to stop there would be erroneous ... DeYoung doesn't make that mistake, read on ...

foolish thinking

Non-Christian thinking, according to Scripture, is folly (Psa 14.1; 1 Cor 1.18-2.16; 3.18-23).

sin no more

Healed for the sake of holiness ... now go and sin no more ...


godly mothers

From Brent Nelson:

Mother's Day was first initiated by a mother grieved over the carnage of war, after having visited a Union army camp during the "War Between the States." Her name was Julia Ward Howe. Howe was so struck by the incomprehensible contrast between the rightness of the cause: unity of the states and abolition of slavery and the unrighteousness of violence against those bearing the image of God, that she penned these lines:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
He is trampling out the wine press, where the grapes of wrath are stored,
He hath loosed the fateful lightnings of his terrible swift sword,
His truth is marching on.

I have seen him in the watchfires of an hundred circling camps
They have builded him an altar in the evening dews and damps,
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.

I have read a burning Gospel writ in fiery rows of steel,
As ye deal with my contemners, so with you my grace shall deal,
Let the hero born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel,
Our God is marching on.

He has sounded out the trumpet that shall never call retreat,
He has waked the earth's dull sorrow with a high ecstatic beat,
Oh! be swift my soul to answer him, be jubilant my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the whiteness of the lilies he was born across the sea,
With a glory in his bosom that shines out on you and me,
As he died to make men holy, let us die to make men free,
Our God is marching on.

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is wisdom to the mighty, he is succour to the brave,
So the world shall be his footstool, and the soul of Time his slave,
Our God is marching on.

(published as "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly).
Ward Howe, among others, some years later in 1870, called the nation to observe a day of peace and honor for mothers bereft by war of their sons and husbands. A tradition that continues today and many will observe this Sunday.

What struck me in the poem, was the interpretation of the carnage she witnessed in the war: it was the coming of the glory of the Lord, barefoot and trampling. Bodies are grapes. What stark and faithful terms to describe true reality behind a smokey, corpse-strewn battlefield.

Few believers take Howe as an exemplar. But no matter her divergencies theologically (Howe was a Unitarian), the poem attributed to her echoes the truth of Scripture as she raises her bereaved mother's voice with Naomi: "Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought be back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?" (Ruth 1:20-21).

Naomi, and all mothers who follow in her footsteps, know well that God rules over war and peace, life and death and in it all, he pursues his own glory supremely (Isaiah 45:6-7).

Once our nation did well to listen to the voice of such strong, God-saturated mothers with Naomi's character and faith. We would do well to hear the same God-enthralled mothers among us again. Far from mere nostalgia, godly mothers are a treasure always. Because God remains the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

Saturday, May 07, 2011

changing the world

Jgmachen"The plain fact, which no one doubts, is that those same weak, discouraged men who had just fled in the hour of their Master's need, and who were altogether hopeless on account of his death, suddenly began in Jerusalem, a very few days or weeks after their Master's death, what is certainly the most remarkable spiritual movement that the world has ever seen." - Machen, The Resurrection of Christ

Friday, May 06, 2011

a different gospel

5692609775 0E82D2C194 MIt continues to be suggested that Rob Bell is just another "Christian brother" asking necessary questions. To the latter, I didn't find his questions to be good or necessary. To the former, I'll not say directly but I will say I agree with Mike Wittmer's assessment that Bell's on a different page.
LW [Love Wins] is dangerously wrong about hell and post-mortem salvation, but these issues are merely symptoms of a deeper and more serious problem: LW presents a different gospel.

Many readers miss this because LW says that Paul says that Jesus “paid the price for our sins, so that we could go free” (126). Isn’t this the traditional, evangelical understanding of the gospel? No, and here’s why:

1. LW says that this “courtroom” scene of a guilty party going free is merely an analogy or simile that the first century Christians used to describe the cross. They weren’t describing what God actually did on the cross—a truth that would be true for all times and cultures—but were merely describing the cross “in language their audiences would understand” (128). “What the first Christians did was look around them and put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand. It’s like this… It’s like that” (129). In response, evangelicals would say that Paul’s doctrine of justification is more than a human analogy. It isn’t merely “like this” or “like that.” Rather, it is precisely what God actually was doing on the cross.

2. LW suggests that this evangelical “analogy” is no longer appropriate for us. If the theories of the atonement are merely human descriptions of the cross, then it makes sense that our understanding of the atonement would change as our culture changes. And so LW concludes that “the sacrificial metaphor”—where Jesus bears our sins in our place—no longer resonates with us, for we no longer live in a world where people sacrifice things to appease the gods. LW says “there are pockets of primitive cultures around the world that do continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways. But most of us don’t” (128-29).

So LW implies that modern people have grown beyond this traditional understanding of the cross. It’s rather “primitive” to “continue to understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.” LW not only misses the point of Jesus’ sacrifice—the cross was the fulfillment of the Jewish sacrificial system rather than the correction of misguided pagan sacrifices—it manages to praise Paul’s “analogy” even as it dismisses it. LW explains:

“The point, then, isn’t to narrow it to one particular metaphor, image, explanation, or mechanism. To elevate one over the others, to insist that there’s a ‘correct’ or ‘right’ one, is to miss the brilliant, creative work these first Christians were doing when they used these images and metaphors. They were reading their world, looking for ways to communicate this epic event in ways their listeners could grasp” (129).

Here’s the point: while LW does mention that Paul said that Jesus died to pay for our sins, it quickly dismisses this as merely a human analogy that no longer speaks meaningfully today (except perhaps among “primitive” people). What model or theory of the atonement does LW put in its place? Existentialism. Modern people may not appreciate the “sacrificial metaphor,” but they do understand existential angst. This is the lens through which LW interprets the cross, and as I explain in Christ Alone, this contemporary lens produces a different gospel—one that is too weak to keep anyone from going to hell.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

mushy middle

Tim Keller on the mushy middle ...

Tim Keller - Interview Session #3 from Vintage21 Church on Vimeo.

lewis and stott

It's not uncommon in the Rob Bell discussion to hear, what about CS Lewis? what about John Stott?

Adrian Warnock offers this on Lewis (and I agree):
  1. He did believe in Punishment, but stressed mans role in choosing that punishment
  2. He suggested these things tentatively as possibilities rather than boldly
  3. He didn’t mock the other view as hopelessly inadequate and “a bad story”
  4. Unlike Rob Bell, Lewis did not claim to be an Evangelical insider. He was a broad C of E churchman who Evangelicals listened to but did not expect to agree with on everything – a bit like N.T. Wright today. Lewis stressed the idea.
Stott on the other hand wrote, "The [hell] fire itself is termed “eternal” and “unquenchable,” but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed for ever, not tormented for ever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that the fire has done its work) which “rises for ever and ever.”’

With that, Stott is still able to write clearly about consequences of sin (quoted below from Warnock).
Similarly, Jesus taught that the easy way, entered by the wide gate, leads to destruction. He did not define what he meant by this, and presumably the precise nature of hell is as much beyond our finite understanding as the precise nature of heaven. But the terrible word ‘destruction’ (terrible because God is properly the Creator, not the Destroyer, and because man was created to live, not to die) seems at least to give us liberty to say that everything good will be destroyed in hell—love and loveliness, beauty and truth, joy, peace and hope—and that for ever. It is a prospect too awful to contemplate without tears. For the broad road is suicide road.

By contrast, the hard way, entered by the narrow gate, leads to life, even to that ‘eternal life’ which Jesus explained in terms of fellowship with God, beginning here but perfected hereafter, in which we see and share his glory, and find perfect fulfilment as human beings in the selfless service of him and of our fellows.
-John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) : Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible speaks today (Leicester [Leicestershire; Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-varsity Press, 1985), 195.

And also, when speaking of 2 Thessalonians 1:
For example, the punishment will be ‘eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord’ (RSV); they will be shut out (NIV) or ‘cut off’ (REB) from his presence. Do these words throw any light on the debate between biblical Christians about the nature of hell? That the final state of those who reject God and Christ will be awful and eternal is not in dispute. But the question whether their exclusion-destruction means conscious torment or ultimate annihilation cannot be settled by an appeal to this verse and its vocabulary, since the apostle does not here clearly allude to either.

In contrast to the appalling nature of hell, Paul goes on to portray the glory of heaven.

- John R. W. Stott, The Message of Thessalonians : The Gospel & the End of Time, The Bible speaks today (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 148-49.

In the end, I fail to understand why Lewis and Stott are raised in the Bell discussion. I miss the similarity. In fact, I see more the differences. Some times I think it might be because behind this is the suggestion that perhaps folks like me aren't open to differing ideas. If so, the use of Lewis and Stott is disingenuous and fails to make the point. As noted, it actually shows that when differing ideas are shared in a respectful and a Bible based manner, they can not only be heard but often can be learned from.

Sorry, the use of Lewis and Stott only reinforces what I was thinking.

sex challenges

Mark Driscoll on sex challenges ... maybe I shouldn't have laughed but I did ...

question 1

Chris Brauns provides today's comforting reminder ...

One of the most beautiful doctrinal statements ever written is the first question and answer of the Heidelberg catechism. Perhaps, read this aloud to your family at dinner time.

Heidelberg Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?

Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, (a) am not my own, (b) but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; (c) who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, (d) and delivered me from all the power of the devil; (e) and so preserves me (f) that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; (g) yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, (h) and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, (i) and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him. (j)

Wednesday, May 04, 2011


Robert Gundry writes a short piece on The Hopelessness of the Unevangelized.

Here's a snipet:
In Adam all human beings stand under condemnation (Rom 5:12–21). They have rejected general revelation (Rom 1:18–32). God’s wrath remains on them apart from belief in Jesus the Son (John 3:36). The present is the time for such belief: “Behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’; behold, now is ‘the day of salvation’” (2 Cor 6:2). Most clearly of all for our question, Paul puts all these pieces together in Rom 10:9–16 by writing in uninterrupted succession about the necessity to salvation of confessing Jesus as Lord and calling on his name, about the necessity of believing in Jesus for calling on him, about the necessity of hearing of him for believing in him, about the necessity of our preaching the gospel for people’s hearing of him, and about the necessity of sending for preaching. “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). We can hardly fail to notice Paul’s focus on the specific message preached concerning the Lord Jesus Christ. And the repeated rhetorical questions, each beginning “How shall they . . .?” show this way of salvation to be the only way. Without the human witness here and now, an essential link is broken; the chain of salvation will not hold.


5688525795 03782158Da MTo maintain the church's unity must mean to maintain it visibly. Here is an apostolic exhortation to us to preserve in actual concrete relationships of love ... that unity which God has created and which neither man nor demon can destroy. ~ John Stott, The message of Ephesians (p 152)

see also John 17.21-23 ...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Monday, May 02, 2011

pastoring and good stories and error

5681112304 Fa3Eb63994 MIt was suggested to me that part of Rob Bell's motivation for Love Wins is his pastor's heart, i.e., he has a great capacity for loving people. Seeing their pain in life's circumstances and/or rejection of the God supposedly taught by evangelicalism, he is shifting the emphasis to a better story for them.

He writes:
… “some stories are better than others. Telling a story in which billions of people spend forever somewhere in the universe trapped in a black hole of endless torment and misery with no way out isn’t a very good story. Telling a story about a God who inflicts unrelenting punishment on people because they didn’t do or say or believe the correct things in a brief window of time called life isn’t a very good story. In contrast, everybody enjoying God’s good world together with no disgrace or shame, justice being served, and all the wrongs being made right is a better story. It is bigger, more loving, more expansive, more extraordinary, beautiful, and inspiring than any other story about the ultimate course history takes. Whatever objections a person might have to this story, and there are many, one has to admit that it is fitting, proper, and Christian to long for what God longs for. . . To shun, censor, or ostracize someone for holding this belief is to fail to extend grace to each other in a discussion that has had plenty of room for varied perspectives for hundreds of years now.” (112-13)
On the following pages he writes, "... gates are for keeping people in and keeping people out [in reference to the last chapters of Revelation]. If the gates are never shut, then people are free to come and go." I'm lost how his defenders seem to think Bell doesn't hold to a view that people still choose Jesus as Lord and Saviour post-mortem. If he doesn't think this, why does he argue for it? Or where is his equally clear statement that this is error?

Bell then writes, "A gospel that repeatedly, narrowly affirms and bolsters the 'in-ness' of one group at the expense of the 'out-ness' of another group will not be true to the story that includes 'all things and people in heaven and on earth.'" I think he is correct. But why espouse error to say this simple truth. There is always room for balance but there's no need to teach error to get there.

Bottom-line, a better story doesn't make it a right story.

Bell belies himself when he writes to “shun, censor, or ostracize” someone holding this view is failing to extend grace. Is he extending grace when he describes those who hold to a traditional view as a “cruel, mean, vicious tormenter” and who, if he were an earthly dad, should be reported to “child protection services immediately”? (175-76)

To be more clear, Bell describes this God as “angry, demanding, [and] a slave driver.” (185) He tells us that a “violent God creates profound worry in people. Tension. Stress. This God is supposed to bring peace, that’s how the pitch goes, but in the end this God can easily produce followers who are paralyzed and catatonic, full of fear.” (186)

No Rob, it paints a true picture of God who is glorious and who alone is worthy to be praised. Here's what the Bible has to say (but I'm foolish enough to think of it as inerrant):
  • “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Eph 5.6)
  • “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger.” (Romans 2.5)
  • “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3. 36)
  • “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.” (Romans 1) And please note, this is not because you were 'lucky' enough to be born in the right place or time.
But Bell dismisses these writing, "…it’s important that we don’t take Jesus’s very real and prescient warnings about judgment then out of context, making them about someday, somewhere else. That wasn’t what he was talking about.”

Rob, if you want to correct an imbalance, try as many evangelicals to teach truth, At The Gospel Coalition, Tim Keller said, “Its not that God’s love wins and his holiness loses. On the cross all of the attributes of God win.”

Or Mark Driscoll, “Don’t set Gods attributes against each other. God is holy AND loving. Love is not God.”

Or try some Scripture ...
  • “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night.” (Rev 14.11)
  • God’s “judgments are true and just” ’ (Rev 19.1–2).
  • Jesus Christ is the one who will judge the living and the dead. (2 Tim. 4.1)
  • “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25.46)
  • “For the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done, and there is no partiality” (Col 3.25).
  • “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” ’ (Rom. 12.19)
  • In Revelation 6.16-17 we read sinners will cry out “o the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of rhim who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, for sthe great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”
But now here's another problem with Bell, he seems to contradict himself and whenever one questions Bell his defenders are quick to point to these contradictions as clarifications. I however don't see this as correction to the quotes above, they're just the ramblings of a conflicted, confused man who is taking away from at least part of the truth of the Gospel.

Bell writes, "We crave judgment, we long for it, we thirst for it. Bring it, unleash it, as the prophet Amos says, 'Let justice roll on like a river'." Is he lacking grace here? Actually, no ... because he has an altogether different view of judgement, heaven, and hell. He's not really contradictory, he's simply wrong.