Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Perfect Example of American Christianity

I could not help but jump on the J.D. Hall bandwagon on this one. Videos like this are simply embarrassing to those of us who are actually in the Christian community. We see nonsense like this and realize that so many people in American culture really do not understand Christianity...not even a little. If you think that America has been thoroughly baptized in the Christian religion, you had better think again. Never before has America been so ripe for missionary work than it is today.

1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come.
2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy,
3 unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good,
4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,
5 holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
6 For among them are those who enter into households and captivate weak women weighed down with sins, led on by various impulses,
7 always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
2 Ti 3:1–7.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Insanity of Unbelief

“It is unfortunate, though not surprising, that all humans have fallen in varying degrees into a pit of insanity. Holding mindlessly to false beliefs, failed hypotheses, and unjustifiable ideas, each individual is left clinging for life to any root, branch, or outcropping that will prevent his plummeting decent into the dark abyss of folly.” [Haddad, Insanity]

Paul wrote something very similar, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:3-4) In our interactions with unbelievers Christians make a grave mistake when we forget that those who are unconverted, living in unrepentant sin, are blind to their sin and ignorant of their wretched circumstance.

Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that deals with questions of human knowledge. How do humans know things about the world in which we live, including ourselves? By what standard can we claim that we know something? When I say I know there is a tree outside my window I am claiming to know that a particular state of affairs exists at that moment in that place. One does not have to look very far before realizing that this subject, among an almost endless list of subjects, can quickly become extremely complicated. Indeed, the conversation can get downright frustrating for the ordinary person that has little to no interest in philosophical quibbles that seem to add almost no value to their practical life. For that reason, most people, to include Christians avoid the subject of epistemology altogether. And that is a state of affairs worth mourning. It is not in keeping with Christian ethics to engage in intellectual slothfulness. We must arm ourselves to be excellent thinkers and able defenders of the faith. But knowledge must have a starting place. Real knowledge does not exist in a vacuum. What is knowledge and how do we know when we actually possess it?

What is the goal of acquiring knowledge and how shall we proceed? A philosopher may say that the goal of knowledge is to construct a view of the world that reflects how the really world is, how it  really works, what makes it what it is. As to how we shall proceed, opinions are about as vast as there are minds. One could emphasize the mind in the quest for knowledge, pointing to the organizing activity in which the mind is constantly engaged. Others may be quick to say that we should focus on the experience of sensations, observations, forming theories as we go and updating them as our observations change along the way. All this begs the question as to what we are that we should know anything, whatever know actually means. Indeed, knowledge must have a starting point. The common denominator for the approached above, both rationalism and empiricism, is man. Knowledge begins, according to all non-Christian philosophy, with the mind or experience of man. Man is the arbiter of what passes for knowledge versus mere opinion or simple belief. But Christian theism, biblical Christianity, and specifically, the reformed branch of protestant Christianity takes a much different approach to epistemology, man’s theory for how we know.

“Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” [Calvin, Institutes] When we think about what knowledge is, we must admit that it would be foolish to think that we could ever know anything without first knowing ourselves. But how could such a knowledge ever be acquired in a world where evolutionary theory was actually the state of affairs that had obtained? It seems to me ridiculous to claim that a blob of molecules in motion that exists as some accident of nature, existing without purpose, without cause, without design, could even begin to rise to a place of knowing anything at all. “Again, it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” [Calvin, Institutes] Yet, man clearly wishes to cut himself off from his only source of true knowledge and pretend to himself that he can still know something about himself and the reality in which he exists. Philosophers over the centuries and especially in contemporary times have demonstrated just how fruitless such an endeavor has proven to be. The ancient Hebrew was right; “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” (Prov. 1:7) Knowledge does have a head, a beginning, a starting place: God. One cannot cut off the stream that feeds the pond and expect the pond not to stagnate. “When belief falls victim to indifference, and truth to lies, the sweet breeze of knowledge is replaced by a dispiriting blanket of hot air.” [Haddad, Insanity] Indeed, there is an awful lot of hot air on the landscape today both in secular society and even in the visible Christian community. Men indeed have lost their sanity.

Christianity affirms that men have lost their sanity. The unbeliever has become hopelessly insane. In western culture and especially in American culture we see this more clearly with each passing day. Our society murders millions of babies and convinces itself that it is a woman’s health issue. We actually argue over just how far outside the womb a child has to be before it is considered a human child. Such thinking is simply insane. And it is embraced by those who are most lettered among us. That is insane. Our society thinks that gay sex, a behavior that is obvious unnatural, is not only acceptable, but that it should be celebrated and that those who oppose it are bigots and oppressors that should be denied basic privileges. That is simply insane. We have young girls who are having to tolerate boys (who feel like they are girls) in their bathrooms and locker rooms all across the country and educated leaders are telling us this is perfectly ok. That is insane.

There are people in Christianity who deny the creation account of Scripture, a literal Adam and Eve, almost all the Old Testament historical events, the miracles throughout Scripture, that Jesus literally rose from the dead, that Christ is the only way to eternal salvation, that the Bible is the authoritative Word of God, that homosexual sex is morally acceptable, that abortion is a viable alternative for the Christian, and a host of other ideas and that you can still be a Christian while holding to any one or even all of these things. That is insane.

The apostle Paul wrote, “And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. He also wrote just a few verses later, So this I say, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their mind, being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness. (Eph. 4:17-18) This says it all. We must keep these facts in the forefront of our mind when we interact with the unconverted. They are ignorant, blind, without true knowledge, filled with hate for God. Forget this and we run the risk of compromising the gospel not to mention setting ourselves up for a failed apologetic. To the church at Rome the same apostle wrote, “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (Rom. 1:21) The epistemic state of the unbelieving mind is dismal. This raises the question as to why Christians seemingly extend such reverence to the unconverted arguments against God. Jesus nor His apostles ever did anything as silly and perhaps as contemptible as to extend respect to intellectuals whose minds were sworn enemies of God, devoid of understanding, immoral and unethical from start to finish. Instead they challenged the God-hating ignorant and the arrogant with the facts of the gospel. They brought the divine law to bear on the situation and demanded repentance. So too should we.

As Christians and Christian apologists, we must recognize from the start why the unconverted have such a problem with knowledge. We cannot allow ourselves to be drawn in to confusing and fruitless arguments about rationalism and empiricism as if the human mind is capable of acquiring an unfiltered, neutral knowledge of God. Yes, all men know that God is there. This knowledge is innate regardless of what the most brilliant philosophers say about innate knowledge. They are wrong because their epistemic starting point is man not God. Paul wrote, “For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” (1 Cor. 1:21) The problem is that even though all men possess a universal knowledge of God, all unconverted men also have a universal filter by which that knowledge is perverted. The sinful human mind does its work on this innate knowledge, happily engaging in the fine art of self-deception. The most compelling arguments and the clearest evidence in the world will not persuade the unconverted that Christian theism is true and that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior. Only God can do that. And God only does that through the preaching of the gospel, not sophisticated philosophical rhetoric. But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30) And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. 1 Cor. 2:1-5)

Epistemology is a complex and challenging branch of philosophy which is itself a complex field. Christians are wrong to avoid it. But we are also wrong to think it is the key to being better witnesses to the gospel. It is not the key. It is an excellent and useful tool. But it should never become our primary tool. Understanding epistemology and how philosophers argue and how they think will help us understand where and why their view collapses. And that is not a bad thing. The modern man has indeed lost his sanity.

The philosopher’s dialectics never cease, and the questions once posed remain with the same daunting force, driving us to reflection and debate and contributing all the more to our epistemic bewilderment. The feeble phantoms of Mount Olympus cannot silence our thirst for knowledge. And so we rave, we rage, and we rant in debate for the hope and the comfort of a justified true belief. [Haddad, Insanity]

In response to this, the Christian says with the apostle Paul, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. (Col. 2:3) It is in Christ alone that our thirst for knowledge will be satisfied. For God has made Him to be for us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. (1 Cor. 1:30)

Saturday, October 24, 2015

What It Means to be of God

1 John 4:1-6 provides the Johannine community with two different aspects of dualism that are indispensable to the Christian faith. The first is the contrast between the spirits or teachings that are from God and those that of antichrist in nature. John provides instructions in 4:1-3 regarding how we may know if a spirit or teaching is from God or if it is antichrist. John says that every spirit that confesses that Jesus has come in the flesh is from God. Of course there is more to the concept of such a confession than modern western vernacular might suggest, but I cannot get into that here. Suffice it to say that there is more to such confession than merely making a statement or giving intellectual consent. The point here is that there is significant meaning attached to those teachings that have their source in God and those that have their source in antichrist. The secessionist community had rejected apostolic teaching regarding the nature of Christ and that rejection not only had consequences, it have far-reaching implications. Contrary to modern attitudes regarding Christian theology and its place in Christian praxis, nothing is more serious than rejecting apostolic doctrine.

In the second section of 1 John 4:1-6, specifically, 4-6, another dualistic feature of Christianity emerges. We see arguably six ablative genitives in these three verses. Specifically, John uses this rare construction in order to point out that there is real substance to being of God versus being of the world. First John tells us that we are of God and being of God, we have overcome them. Now, the "them" probably refers back to the many false prophets that have gone out into the world mentioned in v. 1. These are the same false prophets responsible for and leading the secessionist community. This is a false Christian community. They claim to be Christian, with worship, preaching, teaching, and gatherings. However, it is clear that John does NOT recognize them as Christian. I can imagine if some mindless American were living at the time how they might inform John that he is out of line to make such judgments, that he is unloving, and that he is not acting like a Christian by being so exclusive and dogmatic about something as trivial as doctrine.

John then informs the Christian community that false teachers and prophets are of the world, therefore they speak as from the world and the world listens to them. Have you ever wondered why so many people listen to men like Joel Osteen? Ken Copeland? Creflo Dollar? The world is in such condition that it will not tolerate the Christian message. The Christian message is far to narrow-minded, far too intolerant, far too exclusive, far too restrictive. The world wants a message that is worldly. They world wants someone who will compromise God’s truth for convenience sake. John is a man of courage. In fact, if we look at the apostles of Christ we see men of incredible courage. They thundered God’s truth regardless of the cost. Paul warned in his letter to Timothy that some will fall away from the faith, paying heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons. He also said that some would seek out teachers that would tell them only what they loved to hear. Peter warned that in the last days false teachers would enter the church. John’s message is consistent with the rest of the NT writers.

John is doing something different in his letter and specifically in the section I am concerned about. His aim is to encourage the Christian community by reassuring them that they can see the impact and work of genuine faith. In this section, the impact is quite clear: the world listens to worldly men, false prophets. However, John goes on to say that the one that knows God listens to us. In other words, those that know God do not reject apostolic doctrine. Those that know God submit to apostolic doctrine. They do not dare question the authority of apostolic doctrine. On the other hand, those that do not listen to apostolic doctrine do not know God. What are we to make of men that want to turn apostolic authority upside down on its head directly or who do the same thing when they employ such a hermeneutic that the apostles words become so subjective that one could make them say just about anything they please.

John repeatedly tells us in his letter that there is a difference between the children of God and the children of the devil. The children of God do not practice sin. They do affirm the apostolic doctrine of Christ. They submit entirely to all that the apostles’ doctrine teaches. They receive the instructions of Paul, Peter, John, James, and Jude, not to mention Matthew and Luke.

When modern men introduce a message that contradicts Christianity, Christian leaders must respond and quite often, they must respond harshly. John is not writing because he wants to be interesting. He is writing because he wants to do something. He wants to change people. He wants to shape behavior. For instance, in 2 John he says, If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds. It is not loving when Christians refuse to deal with false doctrine, when they refuse to call out false prophets and their teachings, and when they refuse to discipline those who introduce ungodly practices into the community. Yes, being a Christian makes a difference, a real difference in how we think, what we believe, and how we behave. If you do not believe that, you do not believe in Christianity.

Monday, October 19, 2015

A Theology of Christian Suffering

Every Christian that desires to live godly in Christ Jesus can expect to be persecuted. While many Christians in western culture in general and in American culture in particular are in the middle of advocating religious freedom as if it were an inherent right, some of us understand the Christian Scripture provides a stark contrast to such thinking. Scripture nowhere implies that Christians in any culture ought to seek out political mechanisms by which to avoid the persecution promised not only by the NT writers but by Christ Himself. The purpose of this post then is to help you think better about what Scripture teaches about the value, benefit, and blessing of all suffering, especially the suffering produced by persecution. It should be noted that I operate on the presupposition that AD 70 did not, in any way, alter the NT teachings on Christian suffering and persecution. Eschatologically, I am a humble, historic-premillennialist. I admit that I hold that view with a very loose grip.

The Christian begins his theology of suffering with a study of Job. Job’s attitude toward suffering serves as a model attitude for all of us when things don’t go just as expected or worse, when tragedy strikes. When my dad’s first bought with cancer proved successful we all thanked God. But when the disease returned to prove fatal and my dad was snatched away at the young age of 58, who did we thank then? Who was there to thank? Recently, my Sunday school teacher was talking about the power of prayer. And in the middle of the hype that is War Room, the conversation seemed appropriate. He was leaning too far in the wrong direction in my view. And I could not resist asking the question, what happens when the baby dies? What happens when you bury your father at the young age of 58? What do you do with those thoughts of jealousy when others are still talking about their dads living into their 80s and your heart is breaking because you wish you could see and talk to your dad just one more time? Do we thank God for the time He graciously gave us and embrace the suffering with the understanding that God is working great things in our life? Or do we buy into the nonsense of the theology behind War Room and think that if we just pray, and pray hard enough and in the right way, it will all work out? Sometimes, the spouse leaves anyway. Sometimes the divorce happens no matter how hard you pray for reconciliation. Indeed, an unbiblical theology and philosophy of suffering can create far more pain than is necessary. To make sure your theology of suffering is informed by Scripture, begin with Job.

Jesus Christ Himself was also a man who was acquainted with suffering. God in the flesh came to His own and His own not only rejected Him, they conspired with the Roman pagans to murder Him. He was despised, rejected, and beaten all because He loved His own enough to tell them the truth. Not only does Jesus’ life provide the picture perfect model for suffering, His words promise that His followers will suffer as well. Jesus promised us that the world would hate us for His name’s sake. He promised us that they will slander us and say all sorts of things against us falsely. Indeed, we will be persecuted for His name’s sake because we are not better than our master. We are not above Christ. If Christ should suffer, be rejected, and murdered for the message of hope He brought, how shall His followers escape the same fate?

The apostle Paul was well-acquainted with suffering, writing a number of his letters while he was in prison and in the end, giving up his life for the gospel that had been placed in his charge. Paul prayed the Lord would ease his suffering at one point and it is revealed that God refused to answer that prayer. I know, some people like to say that God always answers prayer, its just that sometimes He says no. I really have little use for such nonsensical sayings. Jesus told us to always pray that God’s will would be done. And in that sense, God always says yes because God’s will is always accomplished. Christianity repudiates the very thought of a frustrated Deity. Such thinking is really the product of an ungodly rationalistic philosophy, not biblical Christianity. The suffering you are going through right now is the direct result of God’s eternal decree. What God used to bring it to pass may be of some interest but make no mistake about it, God is not sitting in heaven hoping the best for you cheering you on and hoping your prayers are just right and your faith is strong enough to see you through. God holds His own in the palm of His hand. There is no question as to whether or not they will endure and pass the test. To contrary to this is plainly ignorant in light of revealed Scripture. Let us think better of suffering, better of our Lord’s promise to keep us by His power.

Peter provides us with an excellent text on how we ought to think about suffering. First, Peter tells us in his fourth chapter NOT to be surprised by our trials. Christ suffered in the flesh and so shall we. That is Peter’s guidance. Not only that, Peter tells us to rejoice, in fact, he tells us to keep on rejoicing. Peter tells us if we are reviled for the name of Christ, we are blessed. We are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon us! How remarkable is that! We are NOT to be ashamed to suffer for the name of Christ. We are only to be ashamed if we suffer as an evil doer. Those who suffer for Christ’s sake entrust their souls to their faithful Creator in doing what is right.

Why then do we see numerous American Christians engaging in the sort of political activism that seems to think that Christians have a right to avoid the kind of suffering that is produced by persecution? We want our religious freedom and we want it right now! Think about that. Read Scripture and tell me where exactly in the text do the apostles ever even come close to implying that we ought to do whatever we can to force the governing authorities to grant us our right to freely worship Christ without the threat of persecution? The idea is completely missing from Scripture.

If you want to understand what our attitude should be regarding suffering, read Job, read about Joseph, read about Christ, read Paul, and read Peter. It is there alone that you will find the fodder that ought to inform your theology of suffering, not the American Constitution.

Does Ephesians Five Really Tell Wives to Submit to their Husbands? Responding to DTS Professor, Darrell Bock and Sandra Gahn

With all the rage over feminist issues going on as a result of the #MeToo movement, it isn’t shocking that pastors and professors holdi...