30 November 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... His teaching? (full post)

by Dan Phillips
"I think ______...."
The truth about menThe wisest, smartest, most educated man who ever lived can never honestly go far beyond "I think" — except insofar as he builds on an authority greater than his own.

Imagine the vast, nearly infinite array of facts and information that exist on any subject; then think of the tiny sliver of a portion of a fragment of that which any of us can directly access. Then factor in human fallibility, and any sense of history (e.g. the absolutely certain "scientific" verities that have had to be thrown out and replaced)... and "I think" is about our highest expectation.

The truth about JesusThen comes Jesus, to tell us about God — a literally infinite subject which, even if we had access to all the facts, we could never surround. What do we read as coming from His lips? How does He frame his teaching? With "I think"?

Jesus' first recorded preaching in Matthew and Mark certainly cannot be characterized as an invitation for open discussion, debate, or joint exploration. Rather, it is a call for unconditional surrender:
"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matthew 4:17)
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel" (Mark 1:15)
Now, as far as it goes, this echoes John's teaching (Matthew 3:2). But John was a prophet, and a great one (Matthew 11:9). He too could speak with certainty, because he spoke God's word (cf. Exodus 4:12; 7:1). Did Jesus do more?

We see "more," when Matthew presents Jesus' laying out of His platform, known popularly as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Again and again we read His citation of Law or tradition, countered by "But I say to you" (5:22, 28, 32, 34, 39, 44). This takes the prophet's "Thus says Yahweh," and raises it by a vast factor.

So it is unsurprising to read, at the sermon's conclusion,  that "when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes" (7:28-29). And this is characteristic of the whole. Never does Jesus present His teaching about God as the result of speculative reflection, as His best assembly of the facts, as His best stab at a subject that is beyond Him. Never do we sense the least whiff of tentativeness in His doctrine, of uncertainty.

What we have is either the most massive case of unwarranted hubris, ever, or the words of someone with unmatched authority. Where you stand on that divide defines whether or not you are a Christian.

How could Jesus speak with such authority? Because He did not merely hear and tell God's Word — He was God's Word, incarnate (John 1:1, 14), telling truth He knew directly (as only God can know it) of the Father  (John 1:18). He knew God as no mere created being could know Him (John 1:18). So Jesus was simply relaying what He had directly received (John 8:40).

This is why Jesus repeatedly used a phrase found nowhere else: ἀμὴν ἀμὴν, "Amen, amen," "Truly, truly I tell you." (Tobit 8:8 is not a true parallel.) The phrase is found in John's Gospel alone (1:51; 3:3, 4, 11; 5:19, 24-25; 6:26, 32, 47, 53; 8:34, 51, 58; 10:1, 7; 12:24; 13:16, 20-21, 38; 14:12; 16:20, 23; 21:18). It is a very solemn, emphatic insistence that Jesus is telling the absolute, pure, high-grade, industrial strength, unvarnished truth.

How this truth affects us. I see at least three possible effects on two categories of people.

Unbelievers should be awakened and brought to repentance by it. They need to realize that they know nothing whatever with any certainty — except the fact that they can never know anything with any certainty! Their grip on reality is microscopic, evanescent, and baseless. Their greatest teachers are but guessers in a whirlwind; and once they step beyond a small array of facts to claim Certainty, or to expatiate on Meaning, they are 'way out of their depth and self-discredited. They can say nothing authoritative whatever about meaning, value, or significance. Their own premises doom them to walk as blind men in a trackless darkscape.

To them Jesus alone shines as a beacon of light, the Light of the World (John 8:12). His foundation is immovable, His knowledge exhaustive, His authority absolute. He is Lord, and if they are to know anything truly, they must bend the knee and begin knowing on His terms.

Believers should be both emboldened and humbled: emboldened insofar as they echo Jesus' truth, but humbled in the knowledge that their grasp of that truth can only ever be finite.

Christians should never forget that our stance is not and never has been that we are marked off from other men because we are smarter, sharper, wiser, more intelligent. Apart from God's wisdom and grace, we're not an atom better, and may be far worse, than any unbeliever. It is our belief that sheer grace found us dead and blind and obstinate, and sheer grace gave us life and sight and repentance. What we know, we know by divine grant. Our best position is to echo what has been shown us in the Bible, and for that we can take no credit whatever.

And insofar as we are echoing and affirming His word, we should be bold. We aren't standing on our own notions; we're standing on His...if we're doing it right. We aren't preaching ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord. It ill-befits heralds to read their King's words bracketed by "I feel" or "for me." Truth would be truth if I'd never been born, and will still be truth if I die. Jesus is the truth, Jesus speaks truth, and if I affirm His teaching, I am also speaking truth. It should be a trumpet-blast, not a kazoo-toot.

At the same time, we must remain humbled, knowing that while we live, we have more to learn, revise, revisit. Our text will never change, but our grasp of it should grow. Virtually every one of us will attest that what we were saved with is not what we were saved to. Many of us were some kinds of Arminians, but were awakened to the Biblical vision of the sovereign Lord. Many of us were some kinds of Charismatics, but had our eyes opened to the sufficiency of the Word. It would be silly to think that, having learned that one lesson, we can close our notebooks and sit still, awaiting our wings and halos.

Above all, when we get into the pulpit to preach (if that is our gift and responsibility), we should be sure that we speak the Word as purely, clearly, and fittingly as God enables us to do. What possible place is there for lengthy guessing and speculation and meandering, when we have barely begun to scratch the surface of revealed truth?

As this post has barely begun to scratch the surface of the significance of the fact that Jesus never prefaced His teaching about God with "I think."

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29 November 2010

The Beauty of Truth

. . . and a lesson about true worship

by Phil Johnson



"One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple."—Psalm 27:4


hat did David have in mind when he spoke of "gaz[ing] upon the beauty of the Lord" in the Lord's Temple? Surely it was not any physical beauty embodied in the Tabernacle itself or its furnishings. Nor is it likely that David saw much loveliness in the Temple liturgy, which featured nonstop animal sacrifices that were anything but beautiful.

As a matter of fact, the Tabernacle where David worshiped was a temporary, makeshift arrangement on mount Moriah. In 2 Chronicles 1:3, we are told that the Tabernacle of Moses' time was kept at Gibeon. Presumably, most of the tabernacle's furnishings were kept in storage there, too—until a generation after David, when Solomon built a more glorious Temple. During David's reign, the tent that was situated on the future temple grounds in Jerusalem was just a temporary place David had prepared as a shelter for the ark of the covenant. There was nothing elaborate about it. In fact, David himself thought the temporary tabernacle was woefully inadequate, and he pleaded in vain with God to let him build a permanent, more elaborate, place of worship (2 Samuel 7:1-13).

So be sure you understand what David is saying in Psalm 27. The whole psalm is an expression of longing for his favorite place of sanctuary—"the house of the Lord." But it was not the structure, or the location per se, that gave him a place of sanctuary. And "the beauty of the Lord" that he wrote about could not have had anything to do with the tabernacle itself, its furnishings, or the bloody rituals involved in the offering of sacrifices.

But when David speaks of "the beauty of the Lord" in verse 4, he is talking about the glories of divine truth. That's obvious from the parallel phrases: "To behold the beauty of the Lord / And to meditate in His temple."

David's profound love for the beauty of revealed truth is evident everywhere in his poetry. In fact, the psalms themselves were inspired verses—God's Word in written form, reciting His attributes, rehearsing His faithfulness, exalting His glory. Those psalms constituted the music of Israel's worship. The very essence of worship for them was (and still ought to be for us) a celebration and recitation of God's truth. True worship is not the spewing forth of indiscriminate and unintelligible passion; it is and must always be anchored in truth, and a celebration of the magnificent beauty of God's self-revelation.

True worship is not the spewing forth of indiscriminate and unintelligible passion; it is and must always be anchored in truth.
Israel's worship was so much focused on truth revealed in verbal form that the important thing about the psalms themselves is not whatever musical accompaniment they were sung to, but the truth they conveyed. We know that the psalms were sung with great passion; after all, Psalm 150 outlines a whole orchestra of musical and percussion instruments that accompanied them. But it's significant that the tunes were not preserved for us. The words were.

For all the debates and arguments about musical styles in our corporate worship today, we should not lose sight of the fact that the real beauty of Israel's corporate worship was embodied in the truth the psalms conveyed, not in the musical style or the tunes.

In fact, in Hebrew poetry, it's the ideas that rhyme, not the sound of the words. That's why Hebrew poetry is full of parallelisms. The true beauty of the poetry is unveiled in the ideas the words express.

And Scripture was always at the heart of corporate worship in Israel. My favorite picture of Old Testament worship is Nehemiah 8, where the people of Jerusalem simply stood for hours as the priests read the Word of God. They weren't singing, swaying to the choir and orchestra, or indulging in any kind of pageantry. They were listening to (and being profoundly moved by) the Word of God as it was read and explained to them.

That is the same "beauty" David spoke of in this psalm. When in the final phrase of verse 4 he mentions "meditat[ing] in" (or, as some versions have it, "inquir[ing] at") the Lord's Temple, that is the clear implication. We see David's passion for the truth expressed again in the prayer section of the psalm—especially verse 11, where he prays, "Teach me Your way, O Lord." He wanted to learn more about God and immerse himself in the truth of God's Word.

That, after all, is where the beauty and glory of the Lord are most clearly unveiled for us.

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27 November 2010

A Warning about Academic Hubris

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Icoboclast," a sermon preached on Sunday morning 13 November 1870 at the Met Tab in London.




n the Christian church there is, I am afraid, at this moment too much exaltation of talent and dependence upon education, I mean especially in reference to ministers.

I do not believe that a man of God who is called constantly to preach to the same people can be too thoroughly educated, neither do I believe that the highest degree of mental culture should be any injury to the Christian minister, but rather should be very helpful to him. By all means let the religious teacher intermeddle with all knowledge, let him give himself unto reading and be able mentally as well as spiritually to take the lead, but, O church of God, never set thou up human learning in the place of the Eternal Spirit, for "it is not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord."

The great wonders of apostolic times were mainly wrought by men who were illiterate in the world's judgment; they had been taught of Christ and so had received the noblest education, but in classical studies and in philosophical speculations they were but little versed, with the exception of the apostle Paul, and he came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom. Yet the apostles and their followers preached with such power, that the world soon felt their presence.

On the slabs of stone which mark the burial places of the early Christians in the catacombs of Rome, the inscriptions are nearly all ill spelt, many of them have here a letter in Greek and there a letter in Latin, grammar is forgotten, and orthography is violated, a proof that the early Christians who thus commemorated the martyred dead were many of them uneducated persons: but for all that they crushed the wisdom of the sages and smote the gods of classic lands. They smote Jupiter and Saturn, until they were broken in pieces, and Venus and Diana fell from their seats of power. Their conquests were not by the, learning of the schools; that hindered them—the Gnostic heresy, the heresy of pretended knowledge hindered but never helped the church of God.

Even thus at this hour the culture so much vaunted in certain places is opposed to the simplicity of the gospel. Therefore I say we do not despise true learning, but we dare not depend upon it. We believe that God can bless and does bless thousands by very simple and humble testimonies; we are none of us to hold our tongues for Christ, because we cannot speak as the learned; we are none of us to refuse the Lord's message to ourselves because it is spoken by an unlettered messenger.

We are not to select our pastors simply because of their talents and acquirements; we must regard their unction, we must look at their call, and see whether the Spirit of God is with them; if not, we shall make learning to be our brazen serpent, and it will need to be broken in pieces.

C. H. Spurgeon


25 November 2010

Give thanks!

by Dan Phillips

Psalm 100

A Psalm for giving thanks.

Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth!
2 Serve the LORD with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!

3 Know that the LORD, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.

4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!

5 For the LORD is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

You know, that wouldn't be a bad psalm to memorize.



Or sing.


Happy Thanksgiving, friends, from us to you.



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24 November 2010

His own Personal Collected Upanishads

by Frank Turk

The hardest part of this blog post for me is going to be the introduction -- because, like Rick Warren, what hasn't been already said about Brian McLaren? I mean: is there anything really interesting to say about McLaren anymore? Unlike Rick Warren, McLaren isn't actually a Christian -- he's some kind of neo-Bahá'í-ist or Bhakti Krishna-ist with an interest in the Christian narrative as it relates to his own personal collected Upanishads. And the more he speaks, the less likely it is that he's going to come back around to the Christian faith which he allegedly started in before he got so wise.



So it came around on Twitter on Monday -- while I was in the middle of a killer post which was an open letter to President Obama about human dignity on the eve of Thanksgiving day as it relates to TSA agents treating any American citizen who wants to get on an airplane as if it was rush week at Abu Ghraib -- that McLaren gets e-mail and respond to it from time to time. For me the comedy begins right at the start as the title of the post is "Q & R: The Propitiation Question". That's right -- "Q & R", not "Q & A" because of course it's not very humble to have "answers", only "responses".

That said, I'm going to skip the bulk of the post because it will do for another time when I have more time to unpack the kind of follower McLaren attracts. Today we are going into the woods to follow papa bear to his cave and see what's actually inside there. The meat of the post goes like this (McLaren in BLUE; his fan's letter in RED):
So what is your straight, non-sidestepping, no-holds-barred take on "The Propitiation Question?"

The best way I can reply, since I think the category of propitiation is often defined within an unhelpful and other-than-biblical narrative, is in the form of some questions:
1. Who was the primary audience for the suffering and death of Jesus? Was it intended to bring about a change in God, or in us? Since I don't think God needs to change, but rather we do, I'd vote for the latter.

2. Where do we centrally locate God the Father on good Friday - in and with the political and religious leaders, condemning and torturing Jesus? Or in Jesus, suffering injustice with and for us? Again, I'd vote the latter.

3. Does Jesus, in some mysterious way, absorb/redirect the hostility of God towards us, or the hostility of us towards God? Again, I'd vote for the latter. (I think this is what C. S. Lewis was after in his idea of "the perfect penitent.")

In each case, perhaps a case could be made for the former; there are ways we could say there is truth in the former. But I think the weight of meaning is found in the latter option. Many people see everything from within the conventional narrative and so they can't even imagine Jesus being important apart from it, and that's a major reason why, I think, they are so adamant in defending it. I'm sorry you have suffered so much rejection for raising honest questions ... my heart goes out to you. My hope is that you will be able to avoid what Paul called "fruitless quarrels," and by your questioning, challenge people to deeper and higher perspectives. It's not easy, I know, but it is important. You're in my prayers today.
Just to grind an axe here briefly, a watchblogger would here just snort about how important "propitiation" is and stop his feet that abandoning it as "unhelpful" is just heresy, which is why the church is shot to Hell, etc. Whether that's true or not doesn't depend on some apologetical log falling in the woods with the hope that someone will hear it go "Oomph" with proper reformed footnotes.

Someone trying to actually diffuse this ticking mess, however, would do a little leg-work first. You know: what is the "propitiation question?" Why does McLaren care, and why should you, the reader, care?

To answer the first question, so to speak, the "propitiation question" is this: in the ESV, for example, the word "propitiation" is used 4 times -- Rom 3, Heb 2, 1 John 2, and 1 John 4; the KJV does not use the word in Heb 2, but that's their loss. It's in place of the Greek word "ἱλαστήριον" (thx, greekbible.com), and also for the word "ἱλασμός" - both of which refer to "a means of appeasing (God)", the former often used to refer to the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant where the blood of the sacrifice had to be spilled. So the question comes up, "What is the meaning of 'propitiation' in the New Testament as it relates to Christ?"

And it's funny: if you read the 4 places I have mentioned here where the word "propitiation", you can probably answer that question. I mean, if our real concern is, as McLaren says here, is to find "the weight of meaning," some reference to the actual narrative and the actual story or the story's own explanation of itself might do. So in Hebrews -- which is a great example of early actual-Christians reading the teleology of Christ for the sake of knowing how to live in the story they find themselves in -- we find the writer saying this:
It's obvious, of course, that he didn't go to all this trouble for angels. It was for people like us, children of Abraham. That's why he had to enter into every detail of human life. Then, when he came before God as high priest to get rid of the people's sins, he would have already experienced it all himself—all the pain, all the testing—and would be able to help where help was needed.[Heb 2:16-18, MSG]
Or better yet, if we read the actual translation of that passage:
For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.[Heb 2:16-18, NET]
or the one you probably have in your iPad:
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. [Heb 2:16-18, ESV]
I mean: there's no question here. There's an answer which says something like this:

God is helping somebody -- and it's not angels but people like Abraham. And the kind of help he's giving is not good counsel or even good therapy -- it's the kind of help a priest would offer in the temple of Solomon where what is at stake is sin and what needs to be done has to satisfy God's requirements.

So the answer to the "propitiation question" is given at least once in Scripture is not that everything must change, or that there is a secret message to uncover on your own: it is that Christ's explicit goal in this world was to suffer and die because God requires it of Him for the sake of those he came to save.

While I think and believe this, I didn't invent it. I'm not inserting my paleo-orthodoxy into the text of Hebrews. Christ Himself makes a big deal of this to the Disciples:
And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they told him, "John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets." And he asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Christ." And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.
Now look: before we get to the punchline in Mark 8 here, the Disciples get it right and identify Jesus as the Messiah. And this would be a great opportunity for Jesus to redo the Sermon on the Mount if his objective was to teach them that His death was really about a "change in them," or about they themselves "suffering injustice" or what have you.

Instead Jesus finished up with this:
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man." [Mark 8:27-33, ESV]
Right? I mean, Jesus is intent that his life's purpose is to die and be resurrected -- and that when Peter says that's too much to really accept, he tells Peter that he's thinking about this all wrong -- he's doing Satan's work by saying that the death of Christ is a teaching we ought to rebuke. And this is why McLaren cares about this: because he is personally thinking about the things of man, as we can see in the questions he asks.

So when we think about McLaren's clever question #1, we can point out that regardless of what he thinks about God's immutability -- which is not the question -- there's no denying that human beings are brought from life to death by Christ's death. The problem is that McLaren doesn't believe man needs changing -- he admits he's very happy and comfortable with the Pelagian view that man just needs to obey because he can. The Bible is clear that man needs changing -- and the way that God changes men is by the work of Christ. Trying to say that is is not the traditional view is dishonest of McLaren and a kind of pandering to his anonymous fan's biases against those who are trying to call him back to orthodoxy and good faith.

And when we consider his question #2, he simply ignores the cry of Christ: "My God, why have you abandoned me?" If God the Father is on the cross, why does Christ believe he is abandoned? Voting for another choice is simply ignoring what Christ says himself -- which is a screwy hermeneutic for a red-letter Christian.

Finally, when we consider his question #3, McLaren has simply not read Hebrews with any seriousness, or any of the Old Testament, or even the book of John for that matter. He's simply a spiritual pundit opining with regard to his own feelings and impressions -- so at least in that respect, we should be glad he calls these his "responses" and not his "answers".

With that, be thankful tomorrow that Brian McLaren is not coming to your house for the meal and the family reunion, and enjoy instead the bounty which you will receive through Christ our Lord.


23 November 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... God? (full post)

by Dan Phillips
"All that really matters is that you believe in God, however you conceive of Him/Her/It/Them."
I suppose you could say that the world can be divided into two kinds of people:
  1. Those who can imagine Jesus saying something like this
  2. Those who actually know something about Jesus
Is such a categorical statement warranted?  I think so. My reasons fall into three categories, of which the first two will continue to serve as the basis for the rest of the series as well. Those heads are Perspective, Context, and Content. Let's launch:

Perspective: there's only one actual Jesus. You don't get to make up a new one. The only Jesus who is worth discussing, who merits any weight or "pull," is the Jesus we meet in the Gospels. Given that the Gospels are richly-attested first-century material, have a wealth of historical material on this Jesus. Any reluctance to deal with the data of the Gospels, any preference for "Jesuses" fabricated from other (or no) materials, arises from something other than historical concern.

So if we're to talk about any Jesus worth talking about, we will be talking about the Jesus we know from the Gospels, and from the apostolic witness of the rest of the New Testament. Anything anyone says about "Jesus" needs to be checked against Jesus. No matter how heart-warming, no matter how encouraging, no matter how soft and cuddy, no matter how popular — the command "keep yourselves from idols" (1 John 5:21) works out to mean accept no other Jesus than the Jesus of the New Testament (cf. 2 Corinthians 11:1-4).

Context: the worldview of this Jesus is specific, knowable, and known. He was a man who affirmed the divine origin (Matthew 15:4), inerrant truthfulness (John 10:35; 17:17), and binding authority (Matthew 4:1-10) of the Old Testament. At no point did Jesus suggest that parts of the Old Testament were untrue, uninspired, inaccurate, or unhistorical. There was no winnowing of the truthful from the untruthful in Jesus' teaching.

Therefore, the first time Jesus says "God," we must plug in the backstory. By "God" Jesus means the same God revealed throughout the Old Testament. That "God." The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; the God of Creation and Flood; the God of Exodus and Conquest; the God of captivity and return. The God of bloody sacrifices and pictorial Tabernacle. The God of Moses, Solomon, Isaiah, Malachi. That God.

The thought of proposing — much less accepting, much less advocating — another god, in Jesus' name, would have horrified the actual Jesus.

Content. All that being the case — what is the likelihood that this Jesus could have made the statement fabricated above?

Zero.

Why "zero"? Remember and apply the first two headings.

First, the odds are zero because the Jesus we meet in the New Testament is the living Word of that God (John 1:1, 14), come to earth to expound Him (John 1:18). Because this Jesus claimed an unparalleled intimacy with that God (Matthew 11:27; John 5:17, 19-20; 7:29; 8:55). Jesus' concern was never about how sinners conceived of God, but about how God conceived of Himself — and that self-conception is what He came to declare (John 1:18).

This is why that Jesus never once called people to embrace their own notions of God. Instead, He called them to repent of their notions of God, and embrace God's revealed knowledge of Himself (Matthew 4:17; John 4:21-26).

Second, the chances are "zero" because the God of the Old Testament never called people to embrace their own conceptions of "God." Rather, from the start He spoke and showed Himself to man (Genesis 1), moving people to call on His very specific and non-inclusive name (Genesis 4:26b). This God was fiercely condemning of idolatry, which is the embrace of any God other than He (Exodus 20:3-6; 34:13-17; Deuteronomy 4:23-29).

It is inconceivable that that God would perpetuate such inclusive bibble-babble. Since that God is the God Jesus presupposed and proclaimed, it is again inconceivable that Jesus would say anything of the kind.

This truth has many implications, of course. Let's single out two.

The first is the challenging question that played heavily into my own conversion: are we worshiping a god of our own heart's fantasies, on our terms, or are we worshiping the true and living God as He knows and reveals Himself, on His terms?

The second applies to pastors, teachers, leaders, and anyone who would speak for Jesus. Are you as crystal-clear and dogmatic as Jesus is? In asking that, let me be crystal-clear:
  • I am not asking if you are being dogmatic that your ideas of God are absolute and unchallengeable; but...
  • I am asking if you proclaim Jesus' revelation of God as absolute and unchallengeable.
If we burble pluralistic nonsense, we are representing ourselves, not Jesus. If we pretend that issues Jesus made clear are unclear, we are representing ourselves, not Jesus.

The main thing about being (and speaking as) a Christian out loud is not saying that I know everything about God. I surely don't.

The main thing is saying that Jesus knows everything about God, and that I am learning from Him — and affirming and proclaiming what I learn from Him.

That is a sure foundation for life and proclamation.

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22 November 2010

"Homophobia"

by Phil Johnson



ne of the most effective tactics in the campaign to gain society's silent acquiescence to the homosexual agenda has been the use of the epithet homophobic against anyone who still believes homosexual behavior is immoral or aberrant.

That's a misnomer, of course, deliberately employed to give homosexuality an aura of normality while smearing the stigma of mental disorder on a moral standard that was virtually universal for centuries—until the tide began to turn about forty or fifty years ago.

The expression phobia signifies abnormal or irrational fear. But most who oppose homosexuality on moral or biblical grounds are no more driven by "fear" than those who despise pride, sloth, avarice, and adultery on similar grounds.

Yet as the rhetoric of the homosexual lobby becomes more strident and the militancy of their political activities escalates, evangelicals may in fact have good and prudent reasons to be concerned or apprehensive about what may be coming.



For one thing, practically all the arguments that have been set forth in favor of legitimizing homosexuality can be applied with equal effectiveness by advocates for any kind of perversion involving consensual partners, inanimate objects, animals, or whatever. Fair warning: Please don't let your imagination or curiosity run with this—but anyone who regularly counsels people struggling with seared or troubled consciences knows that our culture has fostered many fetishes and perversions too bizarre and too wicked even to mention in polite company (Ephesians 5:12). But if the arguments in favor of normalizing homosexuality are valid, then every kind of sexual debauchery (from pederasty to necrophilia and beyond) will ultimately be able to campaign for acceptance on those same grounds. (Actually, that process is already well underway.)

In other words, the trajectory of the so-called Gay Rights movement is clearing the way for the complete unravelling of all moral standards. If you doubt that, consider (again: with the utmost caution) the annual celebrations of "Gay Pride." These are increasingly hostile, in-your-face, unbridled attacks on whatever remnants of decency may be left in our culture.

But more ominous by far is a stack of pending legislation that in effect will make all opposition to homosexual behavior a hate crime. Such laws have already effectively silenced most biblical teaching on the subject via the airwaves or in public venues in England and Canada. Now strict legislation has been proposed in Brazil that could potentially make it a criminal offense merely to state one's opinion that homosexual behavior is sinful.

Some Christians in Brazil recently issued a manifesto on the issue, and it's worth reading. I was alerted to this by a couple of Brazilian friends—one whose father teaches in a Christian university in Brazil. My friend's father and his colleagues have been harassed, threatened with lawsuits, and showered with the vilest kinds of threats and insults.

So please keep our brothers and sisters in Brazil in your prayers—and be aware that it is most likely only a matter of time before some guardian of political correctness will attempt to make Christianity a thought-crime or hate-crime wherever you live, too. We all need to be prepared for that when it comes, and remember that the apostle Paul counted it a high privilege to suffer for Christ's sake by being imprisoned and finally put to death for his faith.

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An important postscript about Westboro Baptist Church and their ilk

It is unfortunate that in the media (and thus in the minds of many non-Christians) the Fred Phelps family have become the representative face of religious opposition to homosexuality. For the record, they are not Christians at all. They are gospel-corrupters who have exchanged the gospel of Jesus Christ for a twisted message of fierce, ungodly hatred.

The true gospel is good news about forgiveness and cleansing from every kind of sin—from homosexuality and heterosexual fornication to white-collar sins such as greed and fraud (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But the Westboro Baptist heretics have exchanged the gospel for a graceless, hopeless harangue that is an embarrassment and an affront to true Christians—and a gross insult to both the Person and the work of Christ.

Such gospel-twisting is expressly condemned in Scripture as the profoundest kind of blasphemy, a desecration of the Name of Christ, and a more horrific crime against God than any sexual perversion. See Galatians 1:7-8; 2 John 7-11.

Sadly, even some evangelicals who should know better sometimes allow the gospel message to be drowned out or buried under angry and insulting rhetoric, some political agenda, or our own carnal hypocrisy. I've witnessed this tendency, for example, on my own Facebook page, where on a couple of occasions when the subject has come up, some careless brother or sister will post something purposely demeaning toward people who've been ensnared and enslaved by this sin.

Jesus didn't treat the Samaritan woman with that kind of contempt. As a matter of fact, in every incident recorded in Scripture where He encountered people held captive to immorality, He responded with compassion and a proffer of deliverance and forgiveness. He called all people everywhere to repent (Luke 13:5; Acts 17:30), but His righteous indignation—His anger—was reserved for Pharisees, gospel-corrupters, and other religious miscreants. We ought to follow His example.

Also, be aware when you post comments on my blog or my Facebook page that I have real-life friends who are unbelievers, and all of them are in bondage to some sin or another. Please don't be a bad testimony to them by deliberately treating any class of sinners with deliberate disrespect.

21 November 2010

Unity Doesn't Require Uniformity, But It Does Require a Commitment to the Essentials of Christianity

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Peace at Home, and Prosperity Abroad," a message delivered on a Wednesday evening, 9 May 1860, to the London Missionary Society, at Whitefield's Tabernacle, Moorfields.

think we must look very carefully and very steadfastly to the soundness of that gospel which we proclaim and preach. Soundness, I say—and here possibly I may be touching upon a delicate subject, but what signifieth if that subject be of the utmost and highest importance?

There should be, I aver, in the declaration of the ministers of Christ, not uniformity, for that is not consistent with life, but unity—which is not only consistent with life, but which is one of the highest marks of a healthy existence.

I do not think the time will ever come when we shall all of us see eye to eye, and shall all use the same terms and phrases in setting forth doctrinal truths. I do not imagine there ever will be a period, unless it should be in that long-looked for millennium, when every brother thou be able to subscribe to every other brother's creed; when we shall be identical in our apprehensions, experiences, and expositions of the gospel in the fullest sense of the word. But I do maintain there should be, and there must be if our churches are to be healthy and sound, a constant adherence to the fundamental doctrines of divine truth.

I should be prepared to go a very long way for charity's sake, and admit that very much of the discussion which has existed even between Arminians and Calvinists has not been a discussion about vital truth, but about the terms in which that vital truth shall be stated. When I have read the conflict between that mighty man who made these walls echo with his voice. Mr. Whitfield, and that other mighty man equally useful in his day, Mr. Wesley, I have felt that they contended for the same truths, and that the vitality of Godliness was not mainly at issue in the controversy.

But, my brethren, if it should ever come to be a matter which casts doubts upon the divinity of Christ, or the personality of the Holy Ghost, if it should come to a matter of using gospel terms in a sense the most contrary to that which has ever been attached to them in any age of the truth; if it should ever come to the marring and spoiling of our ideas of Divine justice, and of that great atonement which is the basis of the whole gospel, as they have been delivered to us; then it is time my brethren once for all that the scabbard be thrown aside, that the sword be drawn. Against any who assails those precious vital truths which constitute the heart of our holy religion, we must contend even to the death.

It is not possible that an affirmative and negative can be two views of the same truth. We are continually told when one man contradicts another, that he does but see with other eyes. Nay, my brethren, the one man is blind, he does not see at all, the other sees, having the eyes of his understanding enlightened. There may be two views of truth, but two views of truth cannot be directly antagonistic. One must be the true view and the other the false view. No stretch of my imagination can ever allow me to anticipate the time can come when "yes" and "no" can lie comfortably down in the same bed. I cannot conceive by any means there ever can be a matrimonial alliance between positive and negative.

Think ye such things might exist! Verily there were giants at one time, when the sons of God saw the daughters of men; and we may live to see gigantic heresies, when God's own children may look upon the fair daughters of philosophy, and monster delusions shall stalk across the earth.

A want of union about truth too clearly proves that the body of the Church is not in a healthy state. No man's system can be said to be in a normal condition if that man prefers ashes to bread, and prefers ditch water to that which flows from the bubbling fountain. A man must be unhealthy or he would not use such garbage.

We must look to the preservation of the health of the Church.

C. H. Spurgeon


18 November 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... the abiding authority and perspicuity of His teaching?

by Dan Phillips

"Of course, I don't expect anyone to understand any of this after about 40 years."


— OR equally —


"Of course, I don't expect anyone to understand any of this for about 2000 years."



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17 November 2010

Holiday Recipe - Blogging made easy!

by Frank Turk

One of the fabulous moments of my vacation two weeks ago was the sacramental fellowship we had at the Johnson household around Phil's gourmet Pizza. It's a thanksgiving tradition at their house, but we got there early and it was splendid.

So in honor of our feast, I'm publishing the Turk family Turkey recipe here. And this year I'm getting it out there so that you can actually buy the stuff you need because you were planning ahead.



You do not have to be "truly reformed" to use this recipe. You just have to like Turkey and stuffing.

Roasting a turkey isn't as hard as it sounds. Here's a basic recipe to get you started. In this case, the turkey is stuffed. DO NOT stuff the turkey and put it in the fridge overnight: that's bacteriologically a bad idea, and we want you all to enjoy Thanksgiving on the sofa, not on a hospital gurney.

Ingredients:

12- to 14-lb. turkey, thawed if purchased frozen
1 bag, your favorite "Italian" croutons
2-4 bouillon cubes
2-3 stalks, celery, chopper or cubed
1 cup carrots, chopped
½ cup onions, finely chopped
1 tsp, dried parsley
1 cup, cashews (Mrs. Cent prefers walnuts; use the nut you enjoy most)
Pepper and Garlic Salt

STEPS:
  1. Preheat your oven to 325. Remove the cooking racks, then place one rack into oven at the lowest position.

  2. Unwrap your THAWED Turkey in a clean sink, and remove the giblets – that bag of stuff that you never thought you would use for anything because it looks gross. It's not gross. You may have to unhook the metal clip which holds the legs together in order to get all the giblets out; you may have to run some warm water into the bird to get the giblets out. Don't be afraid.

  3. Start a medium-sized pot of water boiling – not more than 3 cups. Put your packet of giblets in the water (sans wrapping paper), along with your bouillon cubes and the onions, carrots, celery and parlsey. (FWIW, the leafy parts of the celery are great for this recipe, so don;t get squeemish) 2 boullion cubes will make a somewhat-mild flavored stuffing; 6 will make a very salty and spicy stuffing. You know what you like best, so add the cubes to the low end of your tolerance for spicy. For your reference, I usually use 4 cubes. Boil this mix for about 30 minutes – long enough to cook the giblets thoroughly.

  4. While the soup (yes: you very smart readers knew that we were making soup, didn't you?) is cooking, wash the Turkey thoroughly, inside and out. I wouldn't use soap as you might miss a spot in the rinse and ruin your hours of hard work here, but washing the bird is an important health safety tip. If we were deep frying the bird (that's the Christmas recipe), washing is pretty much unimportant because if some germ can survive the deep fryer, it will kill you before you eat any of the dinner. Anyway, clean the bird thoroughly and put it in a large roasting pan. For this recipe, the deeper the roasting pan, the better. I suggest a large disposable roasting pan from WAL*MART.

    If you get bored waiting for the soup to finish up, this would be a good time to rub salt and pepper into the skin of your bird. Visually, salt and pepper the skin so that it looks like very light TV static. Do the top (the breast side) and the bottom (where the shoulders are); do not worry if you put less on the breast side. Because of the way this bird is going to cook, pay special attention to salting and peppering the wings and drumsticks.

  5. You now have a clean, prepped bird and a very delicious-smelling pot of soup. You have to make stuffing now. Remove the soup from the heat and remove the giblets. If you are a complete carnivore (like me), take the fully-cooked giblets to your food chopper and chop them up and put them back into the soup (you can't chop up the neck, but if you have 20 minutes, de-bone the neck and put your neck meat into the soup).

    Those of you grossed out by chopping up the giblets can throw them away. The rest of us will weep for you.

    Now empty the bag of croutons into the soup. If you used about 2 cups of water, you will get a somewhat-damp bread-and-soup mixture; if you used about 3 cups of water, you will get a very wet bread-and-soup mixture. I like the latter better, but some people like their stuffing more dry than others. The extraordinary secret here is that a soupier stuffing makes for a more-moist bird in the final product. After the soup and the bread are well- mixed, add the cashews and mix again.

  6. When you have this mixing complete, use a tablespoon and start loading the stuffing into the bird. Pack the stuffing down into the bird to get the cavity of the body completely full of stuffing. Don't leave any air pockets. Once the Turkey is completely stuffed, position it in the roasting tray breast-side down (I learned that from watching Emeril) in the center of the pan, and load the pan with the rest of your stuffing mix.

  7. Cover the Turkey, and place it inside your oven. After 2 hours in the heat, remove the cover and roast for another hour. In this final hour, the skin of the exposed parts should turn golden brown. At the end of the third hour, test the bird with a meat thermometer; the center temperature should be 175-180 degrees F. It will be the most unbelievable bird you ever ate.



16 November 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... His teaching?

by Dan Phillips

"I think ______...."



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15 November 2010

Watchfulness, Honesty, and Affection

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "False Professors Solemnly Warned," a sermon on Philippians 3:18-19, preached at Exeter Hall on 24 August 1856.




AUL was the very model of what a Christian minister should be. He was a watchful shepherd over the flock; he did not simply preach to them, and consider that he had done all his duty when he had delivered his message; but his eyes were always upon the Churches, marking their spiritual welfare, their growth in grace, or their declension in godliness. He was the unsleeping guardian of their spiritual welfare.

When he was called away to other lands to proclaim the everlasting gospel, he seems always to have kept an eye upon those Christian colonies which he had founded in the midst of heathen darkness. While lighting other lamps with the torch of truth, he did not fail to trim the lamps already burning. Here you observe he was not indifferent to the character of the little church at Philippi, for he speaks to them and warns them.

Note, too, that the apostle was a very honest pastor—when he marked anything amiss in his people, he did not blush to tell them; he was not like your modern minister, whose pride is that he never was personal in his life, and who thus glories in his shame, for had he been honest, he would have been personal, for he would have dealt out the truth of God without deceitfulness, and would have reproved men sharply, that they might be sound in the faith. "I tell you," says Paul, "because it concerns you."

Paul was very honest; he did not flinch from telling the whole truth, and telling it often too, though some might think that once from the lip of Paul would be of more effect than a hundred times from any one else. "I have told you often," says he, "and I tell you yet again that there are some who are the enemies of the cross of Christ."

And while faithful, you will notice that the apostle was, as every true minister should be, extremely affectionate. He could not bear to think that any of the members of the churches under his care should swerve from the truth, he wept while he denounced them; he knew not how to wield the thunderbolt with a tearless eye; he did not know how to pronounce the threatening of God with a dry and husky voice. No; while he spoke terrible things the tear was in his eye, and when he reproved sharply, his heart beat so high with love, that those who heard him denounce so solemnly, were yet convinced that his harshest words were dictated by affection. "I have told you often, and I tell you, even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ."

C. H. Spurgeon


11 November 2010

What did Jesus (not) say about... God?

by Dan Phillips

"All that really matters is that you believe in God, however you conceive of Him/Her/It/Them."

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Briefly: ask Michael Holmes about his new SBL Greek NT

by Dan Phillips

A couple of weeks ago, I told you about a new Greek New Testament from Dr. Michael W. Holmes, sponsored by the SBL, and available on Logos and BibleWorks (and otherwise).

Now Logos has created an opportunity to ask Dr. Holmes questions about his new edition. You can post them on this Facebook page. Dr. Holmes will monitor the thread, and post his answers next Tuesday, November 16, at 10am PT. You might want to question him about his philosophy and approach, expectations for the text's use, or specific readings you find interesting.

Now... you know that!

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10 November 2010

in about Two Minutes

by Frank Turk

I have to admit something: some weeks the blog practically writes itself. This week I could have reviewed the "debate" between Chris Rosebrough and Doug Pagitt. I could have blogged about my thoughts whilst wandering around Southern California. I could have blogged about Al Mohler's on-going quest for justice from the BioLogos cult.



Instead, Sunday, USAToday posted this essay by Kirsten Powers titled "Hypocrisy shrouds the gay marriage debate".

Now, look: before we get going here, first you are obligated as an honest person (if you are an honest person) to read her essay. She said what she said, and just reading my exposition of her thoughts and arguments without reading her words is a little lame. But after you read that, you ought to have also read this blog post by me on the church and "gay marriage", and this essay by me on the problem Christians face when pleading against homosexuality.

So I'll wait here while you get yourself together -- and be forewarned: people who come to this essay demonstrating rank ignorance of those other essays will be subject to both barrels.

Done? OK.

Kirsten Powers is an American columnist, blogger, pundit, and political commentator. Powers is a Democratic political analyst on Fox News who appears regularly on shows such as The O'Reilly Factor, Fox News Sunday, and Special Report with Bret Baier. She is a regular guest host on the morning Fox News Radio show Kilmeade & Friends and a columnist for the New York Post. She is a regular guest host on Hannity and was rumored to be one of the top contenders to replace Alan Colmes when he left the Hannity & Colmes show in December, 2008. (Thx, Wikipedia) So that is to say: she ought to know better than she demonstrates here.

For example, she says this in her introduction to this essay:
But why did it take multiple suicides to make a Christian group realize that heaping condemnation and judgment on others is not its job? A reading of any of the Gospels would teach you that in about two minutes.
Really? I mean: she implies here that she has read the Gospels -- because it's her opinion that there is something there which is utterly transparent. But that thing which is utterly transparent gets a little lost, for example, in Matthew 21, or Matthew 23, or Matthew 25, or Matthew 7, or Mark 6, or Luke 9, or John 5 -- or most importantly, in John 3 where it's clear that some are going to be saved from their sin, and some will be destroyed for their sin. There's no condemnation in the Gospels? That's simply false -- disproven by fact.

My suggestion is that she has not read the Gospels -- not seriously at least. And I say that because it also turns out that the most astonishing affirmation of the source and purpose of true marriage in actually found … in one of the Gospels. It's in Matthew 19, in case Ms. Powers hasn't read it lately, and it goes like this:
The Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?"

[Jesus] answered, "Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, 'Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh'? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate."

They said to him, "Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery."
You know -- that's actually the basis for the Christian (read: western civilization) model of marriage, and it's in the Gospels, and it condemns people who violate it. Perhaps what the Gospels can "teach you in about two minutes" has actually yet to be charted by Ms. Powers, but I welcome her to find out -- I'd even offer to give her a tour of the highlights over lunch; she could bring her husband, I'd bring my wife and we could make an afternoon of it.

That said, her point in the essay is that us stupid Christians need to stop being bigots and start being, well, something else -- something more "Constitutional" apparently, which is a bizarre demand from a person who is a strong advocate of Obamacare and a strong advocate of a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning. It's as if every matter of human endeavor is or should be governed by human law.

Here's how she tells it:
When novelist Anne Rice declared this year that she was quitting Christianity — though remaining dedicated to Christ — in part because she refused to be "anti-gay," it struck a nerve with many Christians.

Many complained that they weren't anti-gay, that they just opposed same-sex marriage because the Bible, they said, defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Yet, we don't live in a theocracy. The Bible is not the governing legal document of the United States. The Constitution is.
And then again:
If this movement isn't driven by anti-gay bigotry, then where is the outrage and "Day of Truth" over heterosexuals who are engaging in sex outside of marriage? Why aren't Christians running around confronting their sexually active heterosexual co-workers and friends about their "lifestyle"? I guess because there is no "ick factor," to borrow a phrase former presidential candidate and Southern Baptist minister Mike Huckabee used recently to describe gay men and lesbians.

This double standard might have something to do with the fact that many Christians also violate the Bible's condemnation about sex outside of marriage with impunity. (I'm still waiting for the constitutional amendment banning extramarital sex.)
Which is a terrible place for a political liberal and a religious separationist to go: it turns out that the Evangelical effort of preaching to teens and single people that abstinence is actually the best way to avoid STDs and unwanted pregnancy doesn't come up on her radar. It doesn't register that this is actually a manifestation of the Christian inclination for a man to leave his parents and to cleave to his wife -- because she can't frame that as hateful, can she? It would decimate her argument entirely to find out that when Christians are actually thinking about this and acting out their faith, they are pretty consistent -- and also ridiculed for being that way.

So her point is frankly absurd: there's no hypocrisy in the view that marriage is something specific and different from other human relationships in the same way that there's a difference between Baseball and Cricket. But there are moral implications to the difference between the union of man and woman and, as Sam Schulman has said, "men who love men-women who love women-men who can't decide between a wife and 'oh you kid'". That's where the rubber hits the road as far as I'm concerned: the fact of the moral implications of marriage -- and this is where the problem of the advocates for gay marriage find themselves in a tangle.

I brushed up against this back in 2008 when I responded to Lisa Miller's little piece at Newsweek on the religious case for gay marriage, but here's the thing: these folks say that they don't want something like what they will tell you is in the Old Testament they say is described as "marriage". They say they don't want an institution which revolves around pragmatic couplings, multiple partners, polygamy (yet, I will add there), based on weak-willingness toward physical urges and finally luke-warm endorsements from indifferent moral teachers. And they say that to want something which is like what's in the Bible is "bigotry".

But what do they want, really? Do they really want something which at its root is a union intended and created by God that glorifies Him by being for the good of mankind – man and woman both – which creates a permanent and unbreakable bond in which one submits to the other, and the other in turn commits even to die for the sake of the first in order to nurture her as his own body – and that this union is the union where God has ordained to bring more human life into this world?

Well, of course not: what they want is a legal arrangement where the parties involved have obligations the state will enforce -- until such a time that the parties do not want anything from each other but to be gone. The other person has becomes not our own flesh, but merely a room-mate or worse: merely a contractor who we can fire when we aren’t satisfied with their work.

And this, Ms. Powers says, is the moral road to take -- the non-bigoted road. But it is in fact the road in which people are objectified and depersonalized. It is the place where men and women are not valuable in their own right, but only valuable while they have something to give us.

Surely: Kirsten Powers does not want that for herself or anyone. She doesn't want to degrade anyone. She wants to be on the side of love and of the pursuit of happiness. But for that to happen, Ms. Powers has to at last admit that everything does not cause love, and everything one might choose does not cause happiness. In that, there's a difference between what she will get for her trouble and what is available in marriage. The Bible calls it the difference between what is right in our own eyes and what God has done, what God has declared.

There are moral implications behind the act of marriage -- implications which frankly precede the Constitution and cannot be arbitrated by the Constitution. To make these items a matter of "Constitutional" compliance disempowers the human law and forgets what came first -- what came before the course of human events when it became necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them.

There's something in the Laws of Nature and in Nature's God which Kirsten Powers has overlooked. I'll bet if she looked again the Gospels would teach her that in about two minutes. You know: if she read them.








09 November 2010

Reflections on the Gospel, repentance, and two wrecked souls

by Dan Phillips


I just read a brief story on John Gardner III, who brutally murdered two teenage girls, and attacked a jogger. He is convicted and, on a plea bargain, will spend life in prison.

But note what Gardner says: he is an animal, he is the sort who should remain in prison for life, if released he would kill again, and he hopes he is himself killed during his term. That or he may kill himself.

Hunh. That's different.

It's different in that you don't usually seem to see killers so bluntly condemning themselves and their actions, and you certainly don't see them hoping to be put to death. I think of brutal murderess Karla Faye Tucker, who after conviction and sentencing to death made a credible profession of faith in Christ — and then began seeking to elude justice (seconded by Pat Robertson).

None of that for Gardner, and that's different.

Well, is it "different"? Not in the sense we've never heard anything like it.
Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders,  saying, "I have sinned by betraying innocent blood." They said, "What is that to us? See to it yourself." And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5)
Horrible reading, and it's always puzzled me. The human psyche is a far scarier place than the "World's Scariest Places" lists we see each Halloween, and none scarier than Judas'.

In this narrative, Judas actually is more exercised about his sin than many professed Christians I've seen, over the decades. Think about it: Judas doesn't even need to be confronted. Judas sees his guilt, himself; he admits it, unprompted; he admits it specifically and publicly — and he even returns the fruits of his sin, rather than clinging to them and cherishing them...yet he is a hopelessly lost soul (John 17:12).

Christians, in dealing with themselves, often fall short even of this in dealing with their sin, savage anyone trying to point them to Christ and His Word, yet call it "repentance" and call it good enough.

So... how does Judas do all that, and it falls short of genuine saving repentance? I want to know... and I don't want to know.

But Gardner's words — and I haven't done an exhaustive study on him and his case — sure seem reminiscent. He confessed his crime, he admits his guilt, he is paying the price the court-system decreed... and he even wants to die for it, at someone's hands.

Yet in the words I've seen quoted, Gardner doesn't once locate his guilt specifically before God, and he doesn't deal with God on God's terms for it. It could even be an act — the words, the tears, everything.

But it is important to know that there is in Christ redemption and forgiveness and salvation even for such a one as John Gardner III. If Gardner comes to Christ, the Lord will not cast him out (John 6:37); if Gardner calls on the name of the Lord, he will be saved (Romans 10:13); if Gardner believes in Jesus, he will be counted righteous in God's eyes (Romans 3:21-28).

But at this point, Gardner's doing none of that.

Pray for John Gardner. Though he may cast light on Judas now, we have no dominical word telling us that he is without hope. Perhaps, unlike Judas, he will come to know God's forgiving grace.

And let us remember that we need that same grace not one atom less than John Gardner III.

Postscript: how one reacts to the above is revealing. In court, family members express hope or certainty that Gardner will burn in Hell forever. I know that many professed Christians would shrink back from my call to pray for this man, to hope for his redemption. Were he to profess Christ, many would be reluctant to believe his profession, almost hoping it to be false.

Further, many skeptics would mock at the whole thing. "So if this rapist/murderer just believes in Jesus, he'll go to Heaven and walk the golden streets, but if I live a moral life and don't agree with your religion, I'll burn in Hell?" The premise is that (selected) crimes against mankind are far, far worse than crimes against God.

So you see, this is yet another precise place where our inborn skewed priorities show themselves. We all choose our points of comparison very carefully and very wrongly, and end up not seeing just how desperately, how badly, we ourselves need the Gospel of pure grace through Christ alone, received by faith alone.

Is your Gospel that big? Does it reach that low?

You and I had better hope so.

Food for Christ-centered, Cross-centered reflection and self-examination.

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