Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moral Relativism and Hypocrisy: An Atheist's Dilemma

Here is an excerpt from a response that Martin Priddle fired off to a commentator that pointed out the problem with his view that the brain is all there is. The reason I post Priddle’s response with some additional comments of my own is that I want Christians to recognize that even though it may appear that these opponents of Christ may have sophisticated and even intimidating arguments, when you look with a critical eye, you begin to see they actually do not. The whole purpose of this article is to help with the intimidation factor that some people may feel when engaging with articles such as this one. Mr. Priddle writes, “With regards to moral relativism, it’s not so much that I think that humans differ in different areas of the earth in their wants and needs for well being. What I was hoping to get across is the idea that “accepted” morality differs from culture to culture. What one culture sees as morally OK, another sees as repugnant. Take for example the recent laws passed in New York City legalising gay marriage. There are people in the world who see this as morally reprehensible, whole tracts of religious people who see it as the ultimate sin, and even people who live in New York City who find this law to be disgusting. Personally, I welcome the law, as it signifies another step toward a reasonable and rational society. After all, what happens in another person’s bedroom is of no interest to me, and nor should it be. Both I and the person who sees homosexuality as a sin would bring this point to bear as a point of morality, whatever the source of this morality. This is because morality is based on personal judgement [sic] calls from a society, culture or belief, not based on a physical or testable certainty. If this is true, then moral relativism is a reality, whether you like it or not."

Priddle continues, “I’m not sure Hitler was acting on morals, I think he was acting on megalomania. He would probably use morality to sell it to others, but I think that his actions were wrong because they go against the relative well-being of many people, as enacted by just one person.”

Mr. Priddle’s view that differences in opinion over what is and is not moral from one culture to another serves as proof that morality is not universal could not be more wrong-headed. Differences over ethical options do not prove moral relativism any more than various cultural expressions of love demonstrate that love is not universal. Mr. Priddle misses the point entirely. What Christians argue is that regardless of how one defines morality, the idea of “right and wrong,” “good and evil,” and “honor and dishonor” is universal. Christians account for cultural differences in morality by pointing to the fall of man into sin. After all, sin is a reasonable explanation for why we do not agree on a variety of issues in life, not just morality.

Mr. Priddle then refers to the recent legislation passed in New York City regarding gay marriage. He contends that some people see this act as “morally reprehensible.” He is correct. Christians view such laws as morally unacceptable. This is because the anchor for Christian morality is the character of God. This character is expressed perfectly in the person of Jesus Christ and divine scripture. Whatever is contrary to God’s good and holy character is necessarily evil and unholy. The Christian is obliged to subscribe to this morality. Moreover, since God is Lord over all creation, He has the right to expect perfect submission to His moral standard. Not only this, it is every Christian’s duty to propagate, and defend this expression of morality in every culture where it exists. Mr. Priddle welcomes the gay law in NY because, in his words, “it signifies another step toward a reasonable and rational society….what happens in another person’s bedroom is of no interest to me, nor should it be.” If you are like me, you are probably wondering what the basis is for Mr. Priddle’s moral view that this new law is reasonable and rational (to be redundant I guess), and that he should not have any interest in what goes on in the bedroom of other people. First of all, a reasonable society is a rational society and vice versa. This begs the question, what makes something reasonable or rational? When Mr. Priddle makes this statement, he begs the question of morality. What is reasonable depends on the presuppositions that underpin one’s system of reason. In some cultures, they used to burn women when their husbands died. I wonder if Mr. Priddle would find such a practice reasonable. I suppose that if someone is having sex with underage minors, this should be of no concern to us. The point here is that Mr. Priddle wants to make a moral judgment about gay marriage and those who condemn it while claiming there is not objective basis for making moral judgments. If that sounds odd to you, well, it sounds odd to me also. This is a perfect example of the irrationality that is the result of unbelief. Not only does Mr. Priddle fail to provide a reason for why he thinks gay marriage is reasonable and rational, he also fails to provide any basis for why he finds the opposing view irrational or unreasonable. At first glance, it would seem that Mr. Priddle’s views are based on reputable scientific research. However, after taking a closer look, what one finds is one more God-hating atheist with yet another hollow argument for why they don’t have to submit to the divine Creator.

Finally, Mr. Priddle attempts to condemn Hitler’s actions because, in his words, they go against the relative well-being of many people. Again, Mr. Priddle fails to acknowledge that Hitler obviously didn’t think so. Hitler thought some people simply do not matter. Therefore, since some people don’t matter, their relative well-being doesn’t matter either. Mr. Priddle has dug a massive hole for himself. He must now find a way to demonstrate why everyone’s well-being matters. Perhaps he should begin with a definition of “well-being” before he does anything else. I am certain that Atheists and Christians are not in agreement on the meaning of “well-being.”

Mr. Priddle says that morality is based on personal judgment. If this is true, then there are as many different valid moralities out there as there are personal judgments. If morality is based on personal judgment, then no one may judge any behavior of anyone else immoral. If that is true, then Mr. Priddle has no reasonable basis to judge the morality of Christianity positively or negatively. It comes down to his opinion. Moreover, his opinion has no rational ground upon which to stand. If he is right, then he has no basis for even entering the conversation. In the end, who is Mr. Priddle to suggest that we change our personal judgments so that they agree with his own? However, if I am right, then Mr. Priddle argues with God, the Creator and Lord of all that is. Moreover, God, as Creator and Lord, has every right to impose his moral authority on all of his creation. That is, after all, a most reasonable and rational conclusion.

Moral relativism does not actually make moral statements as much as it makes statements about morality. Logically speaking, the fact that cultures differ over some aspects of right and wrong does not mean that there is no agreement across cultures about the morality certain behaviors. No culture values cowardice in battle for example, or general dishonesty. [ Lewis, C.S. The abolition of Man] Mr. Priddle, along with all unbelievers, suppresses the truth of God and exchanges it for a lie. [Romans 1]

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Religion Running Scared; Neurology and Morality

According to Martin S. Pribble, religion is running scared from advances in science specifically around supposed advancements in the area of morality. Why? According to Pribble, the brain is the final frontier in uncovering the reasons for belief in superstition, religion, and a higher power.

Quote, “After all, the brain is what interprets everything we see, read, think, do or believe, and also it determines how we react to these things. The brain is the start and the finish of our life experiences, the alpha and omega of any and every action we make in our lives.” Can you imagine if this were actually true? Ethics would simply be a matter of one brain versus another. Where is the super-brain to which all other brains could settle their differences? Oh wait, why bother? Just kill your opponents. The best way for your ethic to survive is to destroy all opponents. But that is harsh! Really? No it isn’t. It is just my brain doing what it does. It isn’t my fault that your brain is wired differently. By the way, just in case you are tempted to think that my way of thinking is wrong, that is just your own brain’s way of thinking. Your brain has no authority over my brain. I will not submit my brain to your brain’s thinking. In addition, I hope your body is equipped to be able to stop me. Because if it isn’t, your ethic isn’t going to matter at all. That is because you don’t matter at all. You will be exterminated for the irritant that you are according to how my brain sees you. You are a threat to my happiness. You are a danger to my way of life and therefore you must be extinguished. My brain says that I deserve to be happy. Therefore, any and all threats to my happiness should be removed. Moreover, the most efficient way for me to remove those threats is to make sure I do it permanently. This way I won’t have to worry about recurrence.

There are approximately 8 billion people on this earth. Imagine if all of them bought into the idea that the brain is all there is. Imagine if they all adopted independent worldviews similar to the one played out above. The world would collapse into utter chaos. There would be no moral restraint to stop it. However, neuroscience itself is subject to ethical standards the same as every other area of life. Science does not establish morality any more than it establishes the law of gravity. Moreover, science is in a very precarious position even in its endeavor to explain the “why,” let alone the how in many instances. The Christian religion is not running-scared from neuroscience or any other science as far as that goes. Wishful-thinking atheists desperate to justify their own existence make statements like this. These are people that want to sound as though they have scored some major win against the God that is. They hurry out to blog about something that they think will rescue them from the conscience within and the God that exists. However, soon they will discover there is no rescue. The human brain cannot account for numerous metaphysical realities, let own explain why human beings everywhere have some moral code that guides their living. Honor, dishonor, meaning, and purpose exist everywhere human beings do. It is both amusing and disturbing on many levels to watch intelligent, albeit God-hating people attempt to do away with the very cause of their existence.

The article goes on to claim that the differences that exist in morality from one culture to another demonstrate that universal morality does not exist. However, this view proves that intelligent people do not always think intelligently when making statements. The Christian claim is not that there is an agreed upon universal moral standard in the world. What Christianity asserts is that human beings are universally concerned about morality. That a moral code exists in every culture is undeniable. Moreover, this moral concern is universal from culture to culture. From this fact, the Christian claims that only Christianity can account for the existence of such a universal moral concern. Atheism fails to account for the existence of a universal moral concern in human beings. It should be much more hit or miss if the naturalism that underpins atheistic beliefs is legitimate. However, it is anything but hit or miss. If the atheist is right, then life has no meaning. People have no value. Therefore, we can use people as a means to an end. Oppression is not good or bad, right or wrong. The act of loving one’s neighbor is morally equivalent to murdering one’s family. The act of saving a drowning child is morally equivalent to raping a twelve year old virgin. If the atheist is right, women have not inherent “right” to abortion on demand. In addition, homosexuals do not have a “right” to have sex with whomever they please. Rights only exist if morality is real. Ideas have consequences. I am afraid that most atheists really don’t want the real consequences of their grandiose ideas. What would happen if one were to turn the gun on them? What would happen if we subjected every atheist to his or her own ideas? What would they say if we decided that an atheist could be treated any way we want to treat them because right and wrong does not really exist? What if I found out you were an atheist and I fired you because of it? Would that be wrong? What if atheists were prohibited from publishing their works? What if they were censored from public speaking? What if we decided to kill every male atheist and rape every female atheist? Would this be wrong? Christianity, the kind of Christianity expressed in the Bible would condemn such practices in the strongest manner. The only thing the Atheist has to fear from the Christian is losing the debate. Atheists can always count on fair treatment and protection along with the rest of us because the Christian ethic demands it. Anything else would be really, actually, truly wrong! Too bad the Atheist cannot say that.

Monday, July 25, 2011

What Kind of Church Does Jesus Want? [John 17]

If you really want to know what a person’s deepest desires are, there is no better place to find out than the prayer closet. It is when we are alone, on our knees before God, that we express our deepest desires. If you want to know what I really want, what really matters to me, then eaves drop on my prayers! It is in the prayer closet that we usually express our deepest longings. I think this is no less true of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yes, His word to the church is absolutely an expression of His desires for us. However, I think His great intercessory prayer in John 17 provides us with the clearest picture of the kind of Church that Jesus wanted. If what Jesus wanted His church to look like is important to you, turn to John 17 and ask this question: what does Jesus pray for? Read the entire chapter with that question in mind and every time you see a request, write it down. You will quickly come up with a list of things that were critically important to Jesus. They are not difficult to find. After you have completed this task, examine each one of the items on the list and ask this question: what does it look like when “this request” is actually happening in reality? Write down some thoughts about what it might look like. Better yet, try to write down what it might have looked like to a first-century Christian. Then attempt to transfer that image into your own culture, here and now, today. Once you have finished this exercise, you can begin to address those areas of growth that are necessary in your life as well as in your church. We may call this “spiritual-gap analysis.” We begin by looking at the picture Jesus drew of the church by studying his prayer. We then examine where we actually are in comparison to that picture. Now we are in a position to begin addressing areas of opportunity for growth.

τήρησον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου: keep them in your name. While some interpret this as an instrumental which would mean that Jesus is asking God to keep us by the power of his name, it seems better to understand it in the locative sense. D.A. Carson writes, “Alternatively, the phrase ἐν τῷ ὀνόματί σου (in your name) may be taken to have locative force (in your name), modifying autouV (them). The passage must then be rendered ‘keep them in your name, i.e. ‘keep them in loyalty to you’ or ‘keep them in full adherence to your character.” [Carson. D.A. PNTC, John. 562] Now, going back to the questions in the introduction, what does it look like when we are loyal to God or in full adherence to the character of God in reality? One of the greatest failures of Israel was that they were very presumptuous in their relationship with God. We do the same thing with God’s grace in our culture. No one should ever presume that he or she is in a standing with God that is somehow unique to the standing of others. Jesus’ prayer for his church is that we all remain loyal to God, walking in full adherence to God’s character. The foundation upon which our character as believers rests is nothing other than divine love. We should treat one another the way the divine Trinity treats each other. Nothing less than this is acceptable. Before you take up an attitude or action toward another person and especially another believer, you should as if the Father, Son, or Holy Spirit would relate to one another the way you intend to. Let that standard be our guide for how we love and relate to one another. It becomes clear that Jesus was praying for a godly church. Jesus wanted a church that acted like God. To put it another way, Jesus wanted a church that would think, live, and speak the same as He did.

ἵνα ὦσιν ἓν καθὼς ἡμεῖς: that they be one just as we are. The second intercession Christ made for his church was a plea for unity. The ecumenical movement has done much to hurt this cause due to its ungodly emphasis on unity even at the expense of truth. As well shall see, this was not Jesus’ goal. Christian unity never belittles Christian truth. Conversely, Christian truth never belittles Christian unity. Jesus was extremely concerned about a unified church. He wanted a church united in love and truth. This unity was to be a unity of love for one another and for God as well as a unity around the true expression of God in Christ. Nothing less would be satisfactory. What does this look like? Sin has certainly created numerous challenges around unity even in the Christian community. We are self-righteous people. We enjoy looking down at others and judging them to be less than us. I realize we don’t come right out and say it, but we think it. We esteem other Christians to be different from us. We even think God sees them differently than he sees us. This is the clearest reflection of a terribly inadequate understanding of sin. It is the secret and the small sins that are our greatest threat after all. When we fail God in obvious ways, we see the seriousness of it. However, the little things we let slide. Moreover, the cumulative effect of the little sins in our lives leads us away from a right relationship with God. We become more and more comfortable with sin in our life. John Owen said that either you are killing sin or sin is killing you. Christian unity is one of those little sins that we let slide. I don’t like that person and therefore I avoid them. Dispensationalists don’t like Covenant guys, and Arminian thinkers are hostile to Calvinists, etc. Here is an interesting fact about Jesus’ great prayer: Jesus prayed for unity more than he prayed for anything else in that prayer. Jesus knows that sin divides because of its independent proclivity. The cement for Christian unity is love. Just as a block is held together by mortar, and glue binds so many objects together, so Christian love is the glue of Christian unity. Any lack of Christian unity is a lack of Christian love. We should view the lack of Christian love and unity as an exceptionally treacherous practice. It is not enough that we hurt innocent people per se by our unloving acts. The divisive and unloving person is engaging in the more grievous practice. The very souls of these people are in danger. We should act like it. This is not a matter of a difference of opinion. It is a matter of eternal judgment. Jesus asks for unity four times in John 17. It seems obvious to me that unity was a high priority for Christ. It should be for us as well. Unity means loving one another as the Trinity loves each other. We see this love in Christ who is the expression of God in the world. In Christ, we see forgiveness, reconciliation, mercy, kindness, peace, and service like nothing we have ever witnessed.

Jesus wants his church to walk in unity because it is a witness to the gospel. Jesus prayed for unity so that the world may believe that God sent Him. (John 17:21) He also prayed for a perfectly unified church so that the world would know that God sent Him. (John 17:23) The unity of the Christian community is an essential witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more destructive to Christian unity than divorce. It is the antithesis of unity. If husbands and wives are unwilling to honor what is supposed to be the greatest expression of unity, how will the church ever take unity seriously? If men and women can put each other out contrary to Scripture, where is the serious and sober view of unity in that church? A church that belittles unity belittles the thing that Christ prayed for most.

ἵνα ἔχωσιν τὴν χαρὰν τὴν ἐμὴν πεπληρωμένην ἐν ἑαυτοῖς: so that they may have My joy complete in themselves. This word PEPLEROMENEN has the idea of having a complete amount. Jesus wants His church to have ALL of His joy. Joy is a state of gladness or an experience of great happiness. Sadly, if you speak with some professing Christians, there seems to be almost no joy in their lives. Sin destroys Christian joy. A hateful, unloving attitude about life in general or anyone in particular may be an indication that Christ is not present. This is not the kind of Church Jesus wanted. Jesus wants a church that is filled with the fear of God, radical unity, and an intense joy and zest for life.

ἀλλʼ ἵνα τηρήσῃς αὐτοὺς ἐκ τοῦ πονηροῦ: This is the same phrase that appears in the Lord’s prayer. Jesus wants the Father to protect His church from the evil one. What does this look like? When Judas sold Jesus’ out, it was said that Satan had entered his heart. Jesus told Peter that Satan desired to have him so that he may sift him like wheat. Peter says that Satan walks around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The devil wants you to sin. He wants you to violate God’s revealed will for your life. If you have never read The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, I strongly recommend you do so. In this book Lewis gives an excellent fantasy account of how demons strategize to get people to sin. It is the supposedly little sins that we pay no attention to. But all sin takes us away from the Father. The Lion prowls, looking for prey. Jesus wants a church that is not rattled with evil. However, there are churches filled with hate, unforgiveness, bitterness, fear, resentment, and all sorts of pride.

Twice Jesus prayed for a sanctified church. ἁγίασον αὐτοὺς ἐν τῇ ἀληθείᾳ• ὁ λόγος ὁ σὸς ἀλήθειά ἐστιν: Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. Jesus wants His church to be separate and set apart from the world by a radical devotion to word of God. Rather than adopt worldly thinking and cultural practices, we are to think and act differently. The world takes sides in divorce. The world justifies everything it does. The world holds grudges and is unforgiving. The world is self-centered. The church rushes in to save marriages no matter what. The church understands its sin nature. The church trusts God’s grace. The church died to self. The church places the gospel above individuals. Jesus wants a church that is set apart from the world.

ἵνα ἡ ἀγάπη ἣν ἠγάπησάς με ἐν αὐτοῖς ᾖ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτοῖς: that the love which you loved me may be in them. Jesus wanted a church filled with love. He wanted a church that had the same love that the Father had for Him! That is astounding when you think about it. There is no greater love than that love that the Father has for His Son. Is this how we love one another? We set up false dichotomies and live our life according to the standards of the world. Husbands and wives should love one another like this: Husbands serving and protecting their wives and wives submitting to their husbands. I continue to hear stories of Christian husbands and wives so called, abandoning their marriage for the most worldly reasons. She doesn’t make me happy any more. He said something hurtful and neglected me. Marrying him or her was a mistake. I am in love with someone else. The excuses seem endless. The church is filled with Christians who hate and/or neglect other Christians. They gossip behind their backs. They don’t like the other person’s personality. They think evil of one another. She only serves to because she likes the attention. He is arrogant (because he is a confident teacher). She thinks she is perfect. He thinks he is God’s favorite. They let their kids do the most terrible things. This is as real as it gets and it could not be more unloving or more evil. People are hurting and we know it and never bother to call let alone visit. Is this how the Father loves the Son? Is this what Jesus meant by love? God so loved the world that He gave His only Son! We can’t even give people the benefit of the doubt. John says that a person who does not love his brother is a murderer, a liar, and without eternal life. Paul said you could have the greatest of all the spiritual gifts and even engage in the most radical social causes on earth and not have love. Moreover, if this is our situation, it profits us not one thing. Go to church, sing, play, give, teach, shake hands, compliment preachers and teachers, go on missionary trips, give of yourself and your time until there is nothing left and hate your brother and you are not accomplishing a thing. You can feel good about it all day long and that is all you will have: good feelings.

Love is patient with others; love is kind to others and it is not jealous. Love does not brag; love is not arrogant. Love does not act unbecomingly. (This means that love does not bring shame on the Christian community). Love does not seek its own. Wow! Love is not self-centered. Love is not provoked. This means to provoke to anger or indignation. Love does not take into account a wrong suffered. That is to say that love forgives! Love lets go of wrongs. It does not keep a record of the wrongs. How much better would marriages be if we loved one another like this? Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices in the truth. I know of people who profess to be Christians and who rejoice in unbiblical divorce. They are happy to see a marriage end. They think evil of one of the spouses and consider their thoughts acceptable before God and justify themselves in their hatred of this person. And they profess to love Christ and believe the Bible. They are a blight on the Christian faith and in desperate need of repentance. Love would confront them with their sin and help them find forgiveness. Love does not teach anyone that God understands their evil behavior and their selfish decisions. Love helps them find forgiveness and that forgiveness helps them extend forgiveness to others. Love never fails. Jesus wants a church that is filled with His love.

What kind of church does Jesus want? He wants a church that walks in the fear of God, one that is perfectly united in truth, a church that is walking in sanctification, separate from the world, filled with His complete joy, and completely immersed in His love! Holiness, Unity, Joy, Sanctification, and Love are the things Jesus wants to see in His church according to His prayer in John 17. To be sure, there is more that He requires, but these attributes are the ones that made it into His prayer and most, if not all the other things that one should find in the church spring from one of these. Are you concerned with these things? Is your church fervently seeking these things? Are these traits a constant focus in your church? What do you do when you find them lacking? What do you do when you find people who either don’t understand how evil their behavior is or worse, just don’t seem to care. Do you do anything? The church should be in a constant state of becoming more holy, more unified, more joyous, more sanctified, and more loving. Where these things are absent, leaders should work diligently to improve the conditions. Where these things are present, Peter says “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (II Peter 1:8) The key here is “true knowledge.” A true knowledge of Jesus Christ translates into a true hunger and pursuit of God. Such a church is the kind of church Jesus wants. What are you doing to be that church? Such a church begins with the individual. It begins with the individual leaders whose lives reflect these very qualities. They lead others into these qualities by example, by teaching, and by preaching! I watched Martin Luther over the weekend again. The display of character and godliness in the life of this man put me to shame once again. I am convicted that my life is not even close to that of Luther’s. He loved God and was willing to die for the truth. His nemesis, Cardinal Cajetan was concerned with the church more than he was with the truth that is the foundation of the true church. Luther did not play politics. He thundered to Cajetan, “I am interested in the truth.” The truth of God will move us to the place where we can be the kind of church that Jesus wanted. Let us seek God’s truth, and as He opens our eyes, let us repent and apply it to our lives so that we become the bride that Jesus wants. The mercies of the Lord endure forever. Repentance is a lifestyle, not an isolated act.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Christian and Intellect II

"There are many who seek knowledge for the sake of knowledge: that is curiosity. There are others who desire to know in order that they may be known: that is vanity. Others seek knowledge in order to sell it: that is dishonorable. But there are some who seek knowledge in order to edify others: that is love caritas].” [St. Bernard of Clairvaux]
Change is not an easy thing for humans to suffer. We are creatures of habit. Human behavior is driven by a value system that is deeply rooted inside the mind or soul of the individual. We are creatures of habit. Those habits are the things we have come to love dearly. We shop at the same store, eat at the same restaurants, order the same meals, etc. Our responses are very predictable. We can predict how those closest to us will react if placed in certain circumstances. I go to bed at the same time. We go through certain routines the same way every day. What does it take to get us to change our habits? For the most part the answer lies in the consequences. Behavioral science tells us that human beings behave the way they do for the most part because we like the consequences those behaviors produce. To put it in non-technical language, we like what we get when we do what we do. It is that simple. These habits however, do not begin with actions in a vacuum. They begin somewhere else. They begin in the intellect. It is in the intellect that habits of behavior have their greatest hold over our lives. The reason certain behaviors are so difficult to change may be attribute to the fact that we sometimes attempt to change behavior without also changing the intellect. We try to change what we do without first changing how we think. This accounts for more failure in the area of behavior modification than any other single factor.

Biblically speaking, I am not contending that change is limited to the mind. Biblical change involves the whole person and it involves the effort of the Holy Spirit as He applies the opus of Christ’s redemption to our hearts. However, the transforming work of Christ in our lives as we read and apply Scripture involves the mind a great deal more than is emphasized today. In Romans 12:2, Paul says we are to be transformed by the “renewing” of our mind. The Greek word for transformed is where we get our English word metamorphosis. It means to be changed in a manner that is visible to others; to change the essential form or nature of something. How do we do this? Paul says it is accomplished by “renewing” the mind. That Greek word for renew means to renovate. It means to cause something to become new and different. What is that “something” that is becoming new and different? It is the mind! Follow Paul as he says, you must go through a metamorphosis in your person through renovating or making your mind new. A change is wrought in us that is clearly visible to others. However, that change is the result of a renovation of the mind. Hence, the importance of filling the mind with the Word of God cannot be overemphasized. Moreover, we need to keep in constant view that this metamorphosis is one that is visible to all. There is a transformation: it is a change that is unmistakable. The whole point of this series of discussions around the Christian and intellect is that the intellect should change as a direct result of our becoming a Christian. Just as total depravity extends to every area of the human person, leaving nothing that is not affected by its disease, so too does the new birth. Regeneration is a radical change of the entire human person that becomes visible to all. In fact, it becomes more and more visible each day. Moreover, this progressive visibility of change is indelibly connected to the mind, the human intellect.

The Delusion of Neutrality

To illustrate the significance of this section, I will begin with a question: Should you be neutral concerning your Christian faith and commitment to God? Should you even try to be neutral concerning Christ? According to some scholars, the human intellect is morally neutral. The cure for many of life’s woes lay in the process of educating people on how they may effectively manage their life better. All that humans require to address their problems is information. This is borne from the enlightenment idea of autonomous human reason. Man has the intellectual capacity to solve his own problems. If you teach a man to think rightly, he can set the world ablaze with advancements that will benefit all. The problem with this ideology is that it does not take into account that the human intellect is not neutral. Human beings are not born a tabula rasa.

There are groups in the Christian community who have adopted this philosophy of neutrality, reducing the gospel to a mere decision to follow Christ. In fact, one of my favorite songs used to be, “I Have Decided” (to follow Jesus). It is as if all one needs to do is present the case for Christ in just the right way, and an intelligent person will figure it out and make the right choice. Some consider the decision to follow Christ similar to deciding whether or not exit a burning building, or taking the most efficient route on a map to get to a destination. Nothing could be further from the truth. Considering Satan’s work in the human intellect, Thomas Watson wrote, “He rules the understanding. He blinds men with ignorance, and then rules them; as the Philistines first put out Samson’s eyes, and then bound him. Satan can do what he will with the ignorant man; because he does not see the error of his way, the devil can lead him into any sin. You may lead a blind man any whither. Omne peccatum fundatur in ignorantia [Every sin is founded upon ignorance].” [Watson, Thomas. A Body of Divinity, 149] There is no neutrality. Because of the fall, sin has tragically infected the human intellect. There is an inescapable ignorance associated with sin. R.L. Dabney writes, “The views of understanding concerning all moral subjects are perverted by the wrong propensions (sic) of the heart, so as to call good evil, and evil good. Thus “blindness of mind” on all moral subjects results.” [Dabney, R.L. Systematic Theology, 323] The intellect is not isolated from the infectious disease of sin. Morally, the intellect has an anti-God predisposition. Van Til was correct when he said, “There is simply no presupposition-free and neutral way to approach reasoning.” Bahnsen adds, “Especially reasoning about the fundamental and philosophically momentous issues of God’s existence and revelation.” [Bahnsen, Greg. Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, 614]

Custody of the Intellect

Paul wrote to the Roman church explaining the problem with the unregenerate human mind. Paul says, “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Rom. 8:5-8)

The modern idea that the human intellect is ethically neutral is a myth. This idea is borne out of sinful human reasoning. It is modernity’s attempt to displace God with autonomous human reason. Unwittingly, Christians have bought into the idea to a large degree. Examining Romans 8:5-8 provides explicit insight into Paul’s understanding of the subject and God’s revelation about it. Frist, Paul unambiguously says that “those who are according to the flesh” set their minds on the things of the flesh. There are two conditions and only two to be sure. The first condition is to possess an intellect that is corrupted by sin. The intellect that is corrupted by sin is so because of the fall. The human being is helpless in this condition. That is to say that humans cannot change their intellectual condition. The moral quality of the unregenerate human intellect is unholy in every sense. Paul says humans are dead in their trespasses and sins. (Eph. 2:1) We are not merely sick. Our condition is much worse. We are dead. We are incapable of curing ourselves. Moreover, being dead, we are unable even to cooperate in the remedy for our cure. In addition, our nature is such that even if we could cooperate, we would not. This is Paul’s point to the Roman Christians.

Fleshly people all set their minds on the things of the flesh. They take up godless attitudes and live out those attitudes daily. Fleshly humans, unregenerate people in other words, fix their minds, their hearts, and their desires on sinful, fleshly things. Paul goes on to say that such behavior is antithetical with what Christians do. True Christians (and most people who claim to be Christian are not) set their minds and fix their desires on the things of the Spirit. There are those who live a life and reflect an attitude of worldly thinking and behavior and then there are those who focus on pleasing God with every aspect of who they are. Paul says the mind set on the flesh is death. In other words, eternal life does not reside within those whose lives are defined by fleshly living. John says as much when he says that people who profess Christ and hate their brother are murderers, liars, and do not possess eternal life. Paul then provides us with the reason why this concept is true. He says the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile toward God. Unregenerate humans are hostile toward God. The Greek word ecqra (ECHTHRA) appears six times in the NT. It is used to reference the fact that Pilate and Herod were once enemies but now they are friends in Luke 23:12. In Ga. 5:20 it is listed as one of the works of the flesh. In Eph. 2:15 it is used to describe the commandments that were abolished in Christ’s flesh. James uses it to describe friendship of the world as being hostile toward God. Christianity is an exclusive religion. Those who deny the exclusive nature of Christianity do not understand the Christian religion.

Paul says this hostility of the human intellect results in an unwillingness to submit to the law of God. The person who is living according to the flesh possesses an intellect that is geared to fleshly satisfaction. Hence, such a person is unwilling to submit to the law of God. Conversely, there is no such thing as a fleshly person who IS willing to submit to the law of God. Moreover, Paul not only says that this intellect is hostile toward God and unwilling to submit to the God’s law, he says this intellect is not even able to submit to the law of God. Three things are true here regarding the human intellect in an unregenerate state: first, it is an enemy of God everywhere it is found; second, it is unwilling to submit to God no matter what; third, even if it were somehow willing to submit to God, it does not possess the ability to do so. The Greek word for “able” is dunatai (DUNATAI), and it means “to possess capability (whether because of personal or external factors) for experiencing or doing something.” The unregenerate mind cannot be made a friend, cannot be persuaded to give in to God, and can’t even be equipped with the capacity to possess the ability to do otherwise. Indeed, the condition is hopeless in and of itself. But wait! “Behold, days are coming declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God and they shall be My people. (Jer. 31:31, 34) And again, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will become clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness, and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:25-26)

If you have made Christ your Lord and Master, it is only because he chose you, and cleansed you, and gave you a new heart, a new intellect. He washed you clean. You should rejoice with joy unspeakable. However, if you are continuing in a life of rebellion, rejecting God’s love, God’s word, and openly denying Christ with how you live, you should take no solace in these texts. Repentance is called for. Unless you repent of your sin, forsaking all others, you will perish without hope. Going to church, getting baptized, becoming a member, serving, tithing and giving, and whatever else you are doing raises to God as filthiness unless it is accompanied by a genuine commitment of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Christian and Intellect

“Anti-intellectualism is a disposition to discount the importance of truth and the life of the mind. Living in a sensuous culture and an increasingly emotional democracy, American evangelicals in the last generation have simultaneously toned up their bodies and dumbed down their minds. The result? Many suffer from a modern form of what the ancient stoics called “metal-hedonism” – having fit bodies but fat minds.” [Guinness, Os. Fit Bodies, Fat Minds (Habits of the Mind, 24)]

There is hardly a challenge in the Christian community these days that cannot be solved by right thinking. We have sank to new lows when a politician can ask, “How many gays does God have to create before we realize He wants them around?” and receive accolades as if he said something brilliant when in fact it was one of the most absurd statements ever made in public by someone in his position. Not only is it sad that this “leader” could not see his own folly, it is an indictment that everyone who heard it thought it was brilliant! What ever happened to thinking?

The word for mind in the NT is fronhsiV. Its derivatives mean, “think, judge, give one’s mind to, set one’s mind on, be minded; way of thinking, mentality; way of thinking, frame of mind, intelligence, good sense; intelligent, discerning, sensible, thoughtful, prudent.” [NIDNTT, Goetzmann, J. 616-620] The thing about thinking is that it is like every other behavior we engage in. There is no neutrality in thinking. Goetzmann says, “It follows that, although the vb. as such has no particular content, there can nevertheless be no such thing as neutral thinking. Man is always aiming at something. Striving and endeavor are part of his nature.”

Matthew tells us that Jesus used this word in his famous rebuke of Peter in Matt. 16:23: “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” Literally, Jesus is saying to Peter that he thinks like Satan! How many of us could Jesus say this to? Could he say to me, Ed, the way you form your thoughts, the way you frame your thinking is exactly how Satan frames his thinking? What an indictment. Sadly, I have to admit that Jesus could say this to me every day. The plea for grace and the power of the Spirit is continuous and His supply never ending. What does it mean for us to think like the devil? What does “thinking like the devil” look like? The best way to understand this is to examine the Matthew’s record to understand where Peter went wrong. There are a few clues.

It all began with Jesus unfolding the plan of God for the redemption of man. Jesus foretells how He will be handed over to the religious leaders. These religious leaders will torture Christ and eventually put Him to death. In addition, He will rise from the dead on the third day. This is the plan of God. This is the word of God. This is the will of God. Enter the boisterous Peter. He actually Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. Can you imagine taking Jesus by the hand, away from the others a few feet and whispering God forbid, this will never happen to you? This is exactly what Peter did.

In other words, Peter found himself diametrically opposed to the will of God for the plan of redemption. Now, it was not just contradicting the will of God for the plan of redemption that Peter landed himself in hot water. It was any contradiction of the revealed will of God. By thinking in a way contrary to the will and plan of God, Jesus informed Peter he had adopted the same framework of thinking that Satan has. I cannot imagine any greater rebuke than this. Can Christians do this? Not only do we have the ability, we actually engage in this sin more times than we realize. The question is how do we manage it? Peter had a choice. He could have accepted Christ’s words at face value and submitted to the will of God. However, he found the will of God to be too uncomfortable, too unpleasant. The problem was that God’s will placed Peter in a set of circumstances that were highly undesirable for Peter. Peter had other plans for Jesus. Peter had other hopes for Jesus. The idea that Jesus would die was not something Peter found acceptable. Peter imposed his will on the situation and used the strong double negative, ou mh, which means, no way will this happen! What was the real problem? The real problem was found in Peter’s mind.

Peter’s thinking was Satanic. He was using his intellect in a way that promoted the agenda of the Devil himself. There is no neutrality in the mind. Either our frame of mind promotes God or it is antagonistic to God. It cannot be neutral. Scripture could not be clearer on this. No man can serve two masters. With the mind, every human serves a master. For most humans, they serve Satan through serving self. The intellect serves as the center for our desires, actions, will, etc. Edwards held that the will always does what the mind thinks is best.

Christians must become better thinkers. We should be the best thinkers the world knows. However, in order for that to happen, we must think rightly. We are not free to entertain any kind of thinking we please. Moreover, we cannot think just any thought we like. Since it is true that intellect guides life, we should diligently bring discipline to bear on its use. Had Peter done this, perhaps he would not have received the stinging rebuke he received from our Lord. More than this, the intellect can also provide great insight into the genuineness of a person’s faith. The unregenerate mind does not consider the things of God for the glory of God. The unregenerate mind is hopelessly selfish. Even when it shows an interest in the things of God, it does so for selfish reasons. The human mind is like a wild animal. That animal must be placed in the cage of God’s word if it is to honor God in its function.

Scripture informs us how we ought to think. First, we are to fix our minds on the things of the Spirit. (Rom. 8:5) We are to think humbly of ourselves and to think like we have sound judgment. (Rom. 12:3) We are to be of the same mind with one another in Christ. (Rom. 15:5) We are to think like the Apostle Paul. (Gal. 5:10) We are to have the same frame of mind that Jesus Christ had. (Phil. 2:5) We are not to set our mind on earthly things. (Phil. 3:19) We must set out mind of things above, not on things on the earth. (Col. 3:2)

II Cor. 10:4-6 tells us that as Christians, when we are rightly using our intellect, we are destroying every speculation that sets itself against the knowledge of God. Anything that is contrary to godly knowledge, we destroy. This includes evil thoughts about others. It includes any frame of mind that would lead us to make decisions that contradict God’s will as expressed in Scripture. It includes an ability to recognize and answer intellectual attacks against the gospel. Moreover, Paul says when we are rightly using our intellect, we are taking captive, like a prisoner of war, every thought to the obedience of Christ. When we are tempted to think about cheating on our spouse, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to abandon Scripture’s teaching on abortion, we take that thought captive. When we find ourselves looking for a way out of an unhappy marriage, we take that thought captive. When we want to avoid teaching a certain subject because of the potential it has to offend, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to hate others and think evil of them and find ill-motives for their actions, we take that thought captive. When someone cuts us off in traffic and we want to yell at them, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to be so self-absorbed with our own life that we want to forget about everyone else in the Christian community, we take that thought captive. When we are tempted to have a lazy mind and desire only to live in wanton pleasure, taking the easy way out, we take that thought captive.

“One ought to make good use of one’s intellect in order to live a morally good life. State another way, one ought to lead an intellectual life. But many of us do not lead intellectual lives. Many of us are anti-intellectual. Many do not use their intellects beyond those uses they cannot avoid – its cooperation with the sensory powers in acts or perception, memory, and imagination.” [Adler, Mortimer. Intellect: Mind over Matter]

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Spirit Filled Life [Romans 12:9-11]

There are three places in Scripture where the apostle Paul discusses the gifts of the Spirit that have been strategically placed in the body of Christ. They are Romans 12, I Cor. 12, and Eph. 4. I do not believe it is mere chance that in every single instance following these discourses, Paul plunges into a serious dialogue around Christian ethics. In Ephesians 4, Paul spends the rest of that chapter talking about walking as the new self. In I Corinthians 13, he draws us a clear picture of what Christian charity really is. Finally, in Romans 12, he spends a great deal of time talking about the Spirit-controlled life. It is here that I wish to direct your attention in this blog. Romans 12:9-21 represents one of the most abstemious portions of Scripture in the entire New Testament. Robert Mounce comments, Nowhere else in Paul’s writings do we find a more concise collection of ethical injunctions. In these five verses are thirteen exhortations ranging from love of Christians to hospitality for strangers. There are no finite verbs in the paragraph. There are, however, ten participles that serve as imperatives. In the three other clauses (vv. 9, 10, 11) an imperative must be supplied. Each of the thirteen exhortations could serve as the text for a full-length sermon. What they deal with are basic to effective Christian living. Here, Paul draws out a picture of what the spirit-filled life actually looks like. Moreover, it is no accident that these instructions immediately follow his discussion on the gifts. I want to spend a little time talking about what the spirit-filled life actually looks like according to the apostle Paul.

First, there is this nagging question of love. Paul says, Let love be without hypocrisy. The Greek text actually says, Ἡ ἀγάπη ἀνυπόκριτος. The love is absent hypocrisy. One writer implies that if love is the sum of virtue, then hypocrisy is the epitome of vice. Christian charity is the foundation for all Christian living. The two great commandments express this clearly when they mandate that we are to love God with our whole being and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. A Christian without love is a living contradiction. The absence of love in the life of a believer so-called is proof of the absence of God. If you have no love in your heart for your brother, there can be no love in your heart for God. Alas, one may claim: what if my brother wronged me? I suppose you have never wronged another and found yourself in need of forgiveness. Perhaps all the wrongs you have committed against our Holy Father have slipped your mind. The answer is to get up and go to him straight away. You are to delay not a moment in your action to reconcile with your brother. It is that important. Christ forbad anyone to continue with their sacrifice, if, in the middle of the offering they remembered their brother had something against them. Stop! Jesus said. Stop it here and now and get on to your brother first. Be reconciled this instant. Then, and only then you may return and offer your gift. Luke 17 and Matthew 18 instructs us to forgive our brothers for any sin they have committed against us. Peter, as he was prone to do, pressed for legalistic details. Jesus’ answer was astonishing. There is no end to forgiveness should your brother seek it from you. That is Christian charity. That is Christian love. That is love without hypocrisy. Too many Christians are living in counterfeit love today. They have not surrendered their love to Christ. They continue to decide whom they will love and whom they will loathe. Know Christ; know love. No love; no Christ!

ἀποστυγοῦντες τὸ πονηρόν, or abhor evil. This word means to have a vehement dislike for something or someone to the point that you avoid it or them. One of the ways a person can tell that they are not a genuine Christian is if they love sin. Sin is evil and genuine Christians hate it. Cranfield writes, “Christians are to abhor, to hate utterly, that which is evil, and to cleave firmly to that which is good.” [Cranfield, C.E.B. ICC, Romans – II, 631] Moo says, “Genuine Christian love, Paul is suggesting, is not a directionless emotion or something that can be only felt and not expressed. Love is not genuine when it leads a person to do something evil or to avoid doing what is right – as defined by God in his Word. Genuine love, the real thing, will lead Christians to that good which is the result of the transformed heart and mind.” [Moo, Douglas. NICNT, Romans, 776.]

κολλώμενοι τῷ ἀγαθῷ, cling to, attach to what is good. The abhorring of evil should not be viewed as a separate activity from clinging to what is good. Part of abhorring evil involves clinging to the good. Christians are to seek out the good and when they find it, they are to attach themselves to it with great diligence. Morris comments, “It can mean to glue though this use does not occur in the New Testament. But it indicates that the tie it denotes is of the closest sort. The Christian’s attachment to the good is a very firm tie, and not a casual approval. The Christian is committed to the way of goodness; his whole life is wrapped up in it (glued to it).” [Morris, Leon. PNTC, Romans, 444]

τῇ φιλαδελφίᾳ εἰς ἀλλήλους φιλόστοργοι, being devoted to one another in brotherly love. There is that word again. The divine love that rushes into the life of a Christian upon the Spirit’s baptism displays itself in a variety of ways. Louw Nida says, “pertaining to love or affection for those closely related to one, particularly members of one’s immediate family or in-group – very loving, warmly devoted to, very affectionate.” In many cultures, the idea of warm affections is driven by the emotions. The problem with emotions is that they are also affected by sin. Emotions are not supposed to control how we decide to think and feel about others. The Spirit is. One writer says that Christian brothers are to be tenderly affectionate toward one another in the bonds of brotherly love. [Mounce, NAC.] Morris says, “Paul is underlining the truth that Christians are members of one family and that accordingly they should have a warm and fervent love for one another. They should be a family not only in a formal sense, but in a sense that is marked by a love not seen elsewhere.” [Morris, Romans PNTC] However, the Christian community suffers from a radical lack of love in many cases. People’s attitudes and behaviors are not only no different from unbelievers; in many instances, it is worse.

τῇ τιμῇ ἀλλήλους προηγούμενοι, without getting into the technical difficulties around the precise meaning of this phrase, the best way to look at Paul’s meaning is that Christians are to prefer others over themselves. The NAS says, “give preference to one another in honor.” Humility should be a predominant trait in the Christian community.

τῇ σπουδῇ μὴ ὀκνηροί, not lagging behind in diligence. What then is the diligence Paul is referencing here? Diligence means a swiftness of movement, an earnest commitment in discharge of an obligation or experience of a relationship. In the Greco-Roman literature, it is often depicted as an extraordinary commitment to civic and religious responsibilities. The idea is that we are not to by lazy when it comes to zeal. What does this look like? It looks like an earnest prayer life. It looks like serious study of Scripture. It looks like serious application of God’s word to every aspect of our life.

τῷ πνεύματι ζέοντες, fervent in spirit. Morris comments, “It important that the human spirit be on fire, but Paul is not referring to something that occurs by some natural process but as a result of the indwelling Spirit of God.” [Morris, Leon. PNTC. Romans. 446] One hearkens back to Rev. 3:15 and the lukewarm condition of the Laodiceans. To be lukewarm is not to feel a certain way. The lukewarm condition manifests itself in our daily actions. Moreover, the lukewarm condition is not determined by how often one attends church and Sunday school. In addition, the lukewarm condition has little to do with emotions and even with how often one enters the prayer closet. Unbelievers pray every time they are in need of one thing or another and feel out of control to obtain it. To be lukewarm is to lay the holy things of God aside in the interest of your own desires. It could be divorce for the man or woman who no longer wishes to honor their marriage covenant for selfish interests. It could be the man who ignores Christ in preference for professional status and material gain. It could be the pastor who holds back the truth from those who desperately need it because he knows it could upset the smooth arrangement of his church. To be fervent in spirit means to be zealous of the things of God. It means you enthusiastically engage in complete and total surrender to all things godly! Your desire is complete and total surrender to God’s word for your life regardless of the cost. This is NOT an emotion. This is action that is borne from true Christian affection. You serve the Lord with great enthusiasm.

τῷ κυρίῳ δουλεύοντες, serving the Lord. Literally being a slave of the Lord. John MacArthur writes in his book “Slave”: “For these faithful believers, the name “Christian” was much more than just a general religious designation. It defined everything about them, including how they viewed both themselves and the world around them. The label underscored their love for a crucified Messiah along with their willingness to follow Him no matter the cost. It told of the wholesale transformation God has produced in their hearts, and witnessed to the fact that they had been made completely new in Him. They had died to their old way of life, having been born again into the family of God. Christian was not simply a title, but an entirely new way of thinking –one that had serious implications for how they lived – and ultimately how they died.” [MacArthur, John. Slave. 9] Spirit filled husbands and wives do not abandon the marriage covenant on a whim. Christian executives do not cast aside the Christian ethic for the sake of profit. Students do not check their Christianity at the door of the school or university for the sake of getting along. Christian husbands do not cast aside the needs of their wives for their own selfish interests. Christian wives do not attempt to rule the house out of accord with Paul’s instructions. The word serving in this text is the same Greek word for slave. We are slaves to Christ. Now for many people in the Christian community, this does not mean much. They continue to think and act in a way that would lead one to believe that they never subject anything they do to their professed Lord and Master. They do as they please! They think as they please. Pastors preach and manage their churches as they please. It is as if God has placed us in complete charge and control of our own lives, families, jobs, and churches and we are free to go about our business without considering Him or anything He says. Well, at a minimum we seem to think where it is convenient we can leave off consulting God. For conscience sake we consult him from time to time so that we don’t feel like a complete pagan. Such is not the mark of a Spirit-filled Christian. For the Spirit-filled Christian, God is our all in all. What He says means something to us. He brings us to stations in life for His purpose and our good. The life of the Spirit-filled Christian is marked with love, kindness, forgiveness, and peace. Spirit-filled Christians are humble, yet strong as a lion when it comes to defending truth. They do not shrink away from truth. They are not after their own self-interest. They recognize that all things are Gods to do with as He pleases. They have a burning desire to please Him with everything they are. May God grant us the grace and kindness to be filled with His Spirit and to demonstrate this by our actions every day in every way.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The King's Speech

I finally found the time to watch “The King’s Speech.” What a wonderful movie! This flick makes you forget about where you are in life. It takes you across the pond, back in time, to a very dark and uncertain time. Today, times seem relatively less challenging in comparison. Then, England was facing an enemy unlike anything it had ever encountered. Germany was a fierce machine determined to destroy anything that got in the way of its desire for world domination. Times were desperate. The survival of a nation hung in the balance. The determining factor would come down to the question of leadership. Enter two sons of a King. Edward was the oldest of these sons and in line for the throne. Indeed, he ascended the throne for a short period. However, Edward was in love with a divorced woman and the King could never marry anyone with a divorce on her record. Edward had to make a decision. Would he be the servant leader and King he was designated to be or would he pursue his own interests? The movie portraited Edward as a self-absorbed rebel. He was more interested in his own agenda and his own pleasure than he was in serving the people. For the good King, nothing comes before the people. The King is one who speaks for the people. They are his people and he defends and protects them at all cost.

The Idea of a King

After his brother stepped aside, George took the throne. History tells us that he was a reluctant King. George recognized the seriousness of holding such a position of leadership. He wept in an emotional display of the inadequacy that overwhelmed him. Being king is indeed a sobering and daunting responsibility even in peaceful times. Enter Adolf Hitler and the German war machine and the task is enough to overtake the most courageous men in all of history. The situation was shaping up to be the most daunting task in modern times. And King George VI was being asked to do what no one before him had had to do. You see, the King is looked upon as the leader of his people. They look to the King to provide leadership in nearly every area of life. Kings influence a variety of behaviors from the most private thoughts to the most visible practices in society. He is not only the guide and leader of the society, but he is also a main source of that society’s strength. He is what the people look to for comfort and confidence. He shapes morality and exhibits the strength of that morality publicly. King George VI would be asked to stand face to face in opposition to one of the most gifted and skilled leaders of all time: Adolf Hitler. Hitler was and is still known for his skills as a master orator. He was able to rally the German people around his cause through his seductive speeches with great effectiveness. The English would compare the speaking power of their beloved King George VI with that of Hitler. However, King George VI had a severe stammering problem that he would have to overcome if he was going to prevail against his highly vocal and visible opponent. King George had something going for him that would cause him to rise to the occasion. King George VI was a man of the highest character. He was a man of integrity. He understood the difference between the King’s mission, and the King himself. This knowledge served as a great source of conviction that gave him the confidence he needed to face his speech impediment and overcome it. He did not conquer his problem to obtain personal gain or notoriety. He conquered it because he understood the fate of a nation and perhaps the world were at stake. His Kingship was not about him. It was about something far greater.

The Power of Speech

Speech Act Theory is one of the most fascinating areas of study I have ever looked at. The idea is that by speaking, we are doing something. There are three components of speech act theory: locution, illocution, and perlocution. Locution is the simple utterance that is made while illocution is the act that is accomplished in the utterance. For example: I will give you a dollar if you shake my hand. The utterance itself is simple locution. From an illocutionary standpoint, I have made a promise. From a perlocutionary standpoint, I want to affect your behavior. My perlocutionary intent is to get you to shake my hand. In many, many instances, our speech to others is aimed at changing them in some way. For King George VI, the perlocutionary intent was to inspire people to rise to the occasion in attitude and behavior to respond with tenacity to the threat they were facing at the time. He wanted to inspire, encourage, warn, motivate, prepare, and move his people to accept the challenge they were facing. He knew hardship was coming. He knew war would likely be waged in their own backyard. He recognized that a mental toughness unlike anything this generation was use to would be required to meet the challenge. His words would be more important than ever. It would be both what he said AND how he said it. There are children, mothers, grandmothers, and soldiers who will need all the encouragement and comfort they can get their hands on in order to endure this coming trial. The fear must have been paralyzing. Would England become the subjects of Nazi Germany? Standing in the way was King George VI and his speech impediment. Enter Lionel Logue. Lionel Logue was a simple speech therapist. However, upon his shoulders was laid a heavy responsibility. Little did he know that his work with George, the Duke of York, would become a critical component of success in thwarting one of the greatest threats that the free world has ever faced. Words are powerful. However, it is the authority and meaning behind the words that move us. Jesus said, “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” And, “sanctify them through your truth: your word is truth.” The word of God has the single perlocutionary intent of transforming you and I into the image of Christ.

I am an avid workout person. I am in the gym 5-6 days a week and study three forms of martial arts four days a week. There is a particular class I take that is very challenging. The instructor, when things are very, very tough, will shout out, “This is why you are here.” “Feel that?” “That pain is your body changing.” The point is that change oftentimes requires pain. At a minimum, it requires hard work. The word of God is here to change us. However, oftentimes, that change involves pain. God disciplines us because He loves us. That love often involves pain to some degree. It is during those times that the risks are the highest and pain is the most difficult that change is greatest. Enter genuine godly leadership. It is here that you prove your worth. It is here that leaders shine and rise to the occasion or shrink away and betray their lack of leadership abilities. This does not mean they should be thrown away as people. It just means they are not quite ready to lead.

Authentic Leadership

The authentic leader in the Christian community is the leader that does not consider the frailties of man or the influences and seductions of the status afforded him as a leader. What do I mean? King George VI was concerned about the preservation of his people as a free people. This was more important to him than his legacy. It was not about King George VI. The cause was far greater than that. More than that, in the Christian community, God’s leaders are in a war far more dangerous and deadly than King George VI was. Satan is far more devious than Hitler. Spiritual ruin and destruction is more devastating than becoming the subjects of Nazi Germany. The speech of the Christian leader is the speech of God. God’s word is given to change the hearts of men. When we convince ourselves that people will not listen and that causes us to behave differently, it is here that our leadership has to be re-examined. We must avoid allowing the response of others to dictate to us what truth we will speak and what truth we will withhold. Leadership within the Christian community is the greatest of all responsibilities. It is greater than that of King George VI. Every leader in the Christian community has to examine the motives for why they do the things they do. The human heart is desperately wicked above all things. This makes examination of our motives essential. It is never loving to withhold truth from people. It is particularly unloving to withhold rebuke from those who require it because they are engaged in sinful behavior. It matters not how we think they will respond. That has never been a good reason for not confronting sin. King George VI was transparent and honest. He was a man of humility. He was a man of character. He was a man of great courage. Historians say the contribution of his speeches to the success of the war effort were immeasurable. Let us recognize God’s truth is free to change us into that which we are not. Let us not cage that thing which God designed to reign freely over our hearts and minds.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Repost by Michael McKinley - How Can I Know I'm Not a Christian

How Can I Know That I'm Not a Christian?

By Michael McKinley
6.24.2011 Print

In II Corinthians 13:5, the apostle Paul commands his readers: Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!

OK, that seems straightforward enough. But what does it mean to examine yourself? What should you be looking for? How do you know whether or not you are "in the faith"? What is the "test" that we might fail? I wrote Am I Really a Christian? in order to try to help answer these questions.

Well, we should all hope that we pass "the test" (again, Paul's words, not mine!). And Scripture gives us a few things to look for that would indicate that in fact we are not "in the faith". A few examples:

1.You're not a Christian if you don't believe true doctrine: 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. (I John 4:2-3)

2.You're not a Christian if you enjoy sin: Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever keeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. (I John 2:4-6)

3.You're not a Christian if you don't persevere: They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us. (I John 2:19)

4.You're not a Christian if you don't love others: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)

5.You're not a Christian if you love your stuff more than you love Jesus: And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. (Luke 9:23-24)

Now, none of this is to say that our obedience somehow earns our salvation. But these are fruits of the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit that the authors of Scripture clearly expected a Christian to be able to discern in their lives.

Next up, I hope to post some thoughts on how true believers can have assurance of faith. In the mean time, you can read the beginning of Am I Really a Chrisitan? here

Regarding the belief of true doctrine, there are a great many people posing as believers in the Christian community who would passionately deny this statement. They are convinced that doctrine does not matter. They fail to consider the reality that even their view is a doctrine that they think matters. Nevertheless, the inspired words penned by John as he was moved by the Holy Spirit stand. What is needed here is a different perspective. As reformed thinkers, we understand that God enlightens the heart, the mind, opens the eyes, takes out the stony heart and replaces it with one of flesh. We must also trust that God will guide HIS sheep into sound doctrine! Arriving at biblical truth is not simply something we do in and of ourselves. It is an act of mercy by a gracious, loving Father who brings us there.

Regarding number two, there is some unnecessary controversy. The author is not contending that sin is not enjoyable to the sin nature. He is not saying that it is not enjoyable to the flesh. He is saying that the presence of the Holy Spirit in our new natures will HATE sin. Sin always produces godly sorrow in our hearts. This godly sorrow WILL produce genuine repentance. If a person continues to walk in blindness to blatant and open sin, this is a sure indication they are not one of HIS. God will graciously open our eyes by whatever means HE chooses and pressure will be brought to bear until we repent of our sinful behavior. True Christians hate the presence of sin in their lives and they battle it every day of their life. If you are living in open sin and enjoying it, one word comes to mind: repent! If you are a true believer, God will grant you repentance which requires opening of their eyes and a desire to please HIM more than yourself.

Regarding number three, true Christians may stray for a season. They may grow cold in their walk for a short time. However, God's promise is that nothing shall pluck us from HIS hand. The true believer will always return to the hot, passionate pursuit of Christ. If they do not, then they were never really a true believer.

Regarding number four, this one has the ability to really distinguish between true believers and hypocrites. If you cannot love your brother whom you can see, your claim to love God whom you cannot see is an outrageous and scandalous lie. You will perish in your sin if do not love your brother. Of all the signs of genuine Christianity, love is the greatest. From love flows selflessness. From love flows forgiveness. From love flows gentleness and kindness. Love is the anchor for much of the rest of Chrstian behavior. Without genuine godly love in your life, you are nothing more than a modern day "Christian Pharisee" whose life consists of the keeping of rules for an outward show of religious devotion, but inside you are full of the rankest kind of sewage, contemptable in every way imaginable. Moreover, love is easily visible. Malicious gossip, slander, backbiting, grudges, unforgiveness, evil whisperings are clear indications you do not love your brother. Subsequently, these are also clear indications you do not love God according to John. If you have ought against ANYONE, the answer is NEVER to talk to EVERYONE else about it. The answer is to go to that person and be restored. Jesus said if you bring your gift to the alter and remember that your brother has something against you, stop immediately and go be restored to your brother and then come back and offer your gift. YOU CANNOT BE RECONCILED TO GOD AND UNRECONCILED TO YOUR BROTHER AT THE SAME TIME. I can't find any clearer way to say this. If you love Christ, you will love your brother. If you hate your brother, you are a despiser of Christ who commanded you to love your brother.

Regarding number five, people love their stuff. Not too long ago I spilled coffee on the floor of my car. The stain was horrible. I spent a week and a few dollars and a lot of stress trying to get it out. Along the way I realized that I was making more out of this than it deserved. We love our stuff. Sometimes, we love our stuff more than we love God. Our stuff is not just our tangible things. It can be our time. For pastors, it can be their church. Some pastors are so in love with their church that they will not shepherd the way Scripture instructs for fear it will change their church. Perhaps key people will leave because they are offended. Maybe some people are not in certain positions because they are not "yes" people. We want things to run smoothly. We don't want to have to justify our decisions to someone who is "critical." Some people are in love with their home. They spend more time on their material house than they do their spiritual house. When we love our things more than we love God, we do not actually love God. John said, "love not the world, nor the things that are in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him."

There are a great number of people in the Christian community who profess to love God. They love and enjoy their sin. They are malicious gossips and slanders. They hate their brothers for all kinds of reasons. They are uncharitable and unforgiving. They hold to egregious doctrinal error. They love their stuff more than God. They do not submit to anyone for anything they really don't want to. If you know someone who fits any of the descriptions above, as uncomfortable as it may be, you must go to them and do what you can to help them see their sin. God may use you to open their eyes. They may tell you to go pound sand. Their response to you is not up for consideration. That is beyond your control. What is in your control is whether or not you will love God by loving them. Jesus said to go to your brother if you see him sin. Those who are caught up in faults need your help. It isn't up to you to decide IF you will go. That is a divine mandate. You cannot control their response. The question again is, "will you love and obey Christ by lovingly confronting them with the hope of rescuing them from their sin?" That is the question. Well, will you?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Ethic of "Opinion"

It seems that postmodern thinking has all but destroyed the belief that opinions are not self-justifying, morally neutral ideas that we are all entitled to hold without consequences. When will we learn that ideas have consequences? What we think is indelibly lived out in our lives to one degree or another. Therefore, what and how we think about life issues is important. There is no more significant question for humans than the question of God. Bound up in that question is a plethora of other vitally important questions. Answering the question of God's existence is not as simple as even some Christians like to think. We cannot say, yes God is, close up our briefcase and go home. Unless we say "THIS KIND" of God is the God that is, we have not answered the question. I am afraid there are numerous assertions about a God that exists, even made by Christians, who are wrong. The kind of God described by many professing Christians these days simply does not exist. The first chapter of Romans lays an explicit foundation for a biblical epistemology that should never be ignored. Our knowledge of God is exactly as Paul describes it in that chapter and all opposing views are wrong. If you want to know what Paul says about human beings' knowledge of God, read that chapter very carefully and very critically. You are sure to walk away with questions regarding some of the things you have been taught about evangelism, missions, and apologetics.

How we form opinions about God, life, and morality is not a behavior that is free from Christian ethics. What I mean is that we are not free to hold an opinion on an issue without subjecting that opinion to the Lordship of Christ. You have no right to formulate opinions about issues in and of yourself. I was recently told by one Christian that she was very, very liberal and that she had an open mind. I ask this question of anyone who describes themself this way: has it ever occurred to you that the practice of "forming opinions" is something that must be done within the Christian ethic if indeed you call yourself a Christian? Have you ever pondered whether or not you are forming opinions in a way that is submissive to God and to Christ? Have you bought into the American and Western idea that opinions are not subject to the Christian ethic and therefore you are free to go about forming opinions autonomously, all on your own? If you have not contemplated what "Christian opinion forming" looks like, perhaps you should begin doing so today. You are not your own. You are bought with a price. This includes your mind.

My response to the person who said they were a very, very liberal Christian with a very open mind was this: "God is so liberal and open-minded that of all the other beings in the universe, He actually thinks He is the only one that should be worshipped and served by humans. And His Son, Jesus Christ was so liberal and open minded that He actually claimed to be the one and only way to heaven." Can you imagine a Christian claiming to be very, very liberal and open minded? What is sad is that a number of people reading this blog will actually not understand why this is a problem. Frankly, I am not sure what is the bigger problem; the fact that people do this sort of thing, or the fact that people don't get why it is a problem to begin with. If you do not understand why this is a problem, then you do not even possess a basic understanding of biblical Christianity. I would urge you to read the gospel of John five times without a commentary around. Just read the words of Christ in that gospel and see if what you have learned about Christianity is consistent with what Jesus says about it. Your opinions are just as subject to the Christian ethic as the words that come out of your mouth, not to mention the way you go about living your life.

I was recently talking to a lady that I thought was a typical, conservative, bible-believing Christian. I discovered that she is not that. She attends church regularly. But her views of Scripture are very problematic. She began with a subtle attack that the Bible was just a product of men who were inspired to write these things down. I corrected her by letting her know that the men were not the objects of inspiration, but that Scripture is the product of inspiration. The men were moved by the Holy Spirit to write Scripture. She then criticized Christianity because the Bible has been used to preserve power and to oppress. (Gee, I've never heard that argument before). I responded by saying that evil men have tried to use God to retain power and oppress others. That has nothing to do with Scripture. If I use a baseball bat to kill someone, does that mean baseball should be outlawed? Does it even mean that bats should be outlawed? It isn't the bats fault or the manufacturers fault that I used it for that means. People simply don't think about their methods. We are facing a critical thinking crises in the world today. The more we entertain ourselves with Holywood programmes, the more diminshed we become in our ability to think critically. I then moved this discussion to the moral law which is where I spend most of my time when engaging people who think like this lady does. I asked her if she thought it would be wrong to cheat on her husband. Her answer took me by complete surpirse. But this is where we are going folks. She said she did not know. I then asked her if she thought it would be wrong for her husband to cheat on hear. She said she was not sure. I asked if homosexuality was wrong. She said this is what she means when she says that people use the bible to force other people to be like themselves. She asked me, "Why do people have to be like you to be cool with God?" I quickly said, they don't! They need to be like God to be cool with God. What is God like? Read the Bible. I asked her about pedophiles, knowing she would be repulsed by this "sort" of person. And she was. But she tried to be consistent. She said she did not like what they do. I asked her why not? She could not say. I then asked about Hitler. I received the same response. What about 9/11? I received the same response. She does not like this sort of behavior but she cannot say it is actually wrong. In summary, here is a person that cannot call the Holocaust or 9/11 evil. And why is that? Allow me to explain and reveal the incoherence in her thinking.

She begins with a moral conviction that it is wrong to oppress anyone for anything. She has the typical aversion to power that any minority group would have that has had to endure the injustices her minority group have (she is black). She sees how some people have used Scripture to oppress and abuse power in history and even today. She responds by questioning Scripture, not it's abusers. When she cuts off Scripture and removes it as the authority for daily practice, she unwittingly cuts off any hope of an objective moral standard by which she can make moral judgments. She now begins to slip and slide on issues as basic as adultery. She cannot say that adultery is wrong. She cannot say that arbitrary divorce is wrong. She could not even begin to articulate a purpose for marriage. She cannot say that the homosexual choice is wrong. She could not say that Hitler was evil. She could not say that pedophilia was outright evil. The best she could do was say that she did not like the behavior. She could not say that 9/11 was absolutely evil. Now, if none of these things are really evil, how can she say that it is wrong to oppress anyone and to engage in the abuse of power? Why can't she just say that she doesn't like these things, but that she cannot call them evil. That is what she did with every other evil I quizzed her about. Without realizing it, she has placed herself in a position where she has no objectively moral basis to classify the one thing that she really thinks is evil: oppression. Why is it wrong to oppress anyone? Because you don't like it? Why is it wrong to abuse power? Because you don't like it? No! It is only wrong because it is countrary to the nature of the one true God that is. If He is not, then nothing is wrong, really.

This is a perfect example of how sin blinds us. This isn't about someone really, honestly searching for a worldview that actually coheres as a system and correspond with reality. This is how sin causes us to pervert the law of God, and even God Himself, into a law of our own engineering. This woman, and millions like her want to replace God's law with their law. This leads to chaos. The radically subjective nature of morality that ensues in this kind of thinking would destroy the very fabric that holds society together. There would be no objective basis for right and wrong. Each person would do what is right in their own eyes without anyone else to hold them accountable for their evil. This lady did not even understand that her way of thinking would destroy not just our rule of law, but the very concept of any rule of law altogether. This is what happens when opinions are believed to be outside of the realm of the Christian ethic. We presume we have a right to our own opinion. We presume, as Westerners, that no one has the right to tell us what and how to think. But we are not Westerners first. We are Christians before we are anything. And as such, we are not entitled to our own opinion about anything. Every opinion of every Christian is subject to the Christian Ethic. That is my opinion.
People live what they believe; EVERYTHING else is just NOISE!

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