Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Stand Firm...

I read an interesting quote from famous atheist Christopher Hitchens, regarding lessons he's learned in his debates with Christian apologist Douglas Wilson.

"Wilson isn't one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just "metaphors." He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn't waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he "allows" it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners. I much prefer this sincerity to the vague and Python-esque witterings of the interfaith and ecumenical groups who barely respect their own traditions and who look upon faith as just another word for community organizing."
So what do you think of that? All the time that so many postmodern Christians spend trying to lessen the offensiveness of the revealed truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ, trying to explain away the hard-edged propositions in Scripture, trying to apologize for the scandalous sayings of Jesus and the like, so that they will be more accepted and not seen as intellectually challenged, and where does it get them? Even in the eyes of a hardened, antagonistic atheist like Hitchens, their lack of conviction is seen as "witterings", their lack of clarity as vagueness. In short, being unclear and uncommitted to the central and orthodox doctrines of Christian faith fails to earn any kind of respect. As it rightly should not.

One of the things about the gospel and Biblical Christian doctrine that appealed to me immediately upon my conversion and further reading is that it is imminently logical. There are really no logical contradictions in the essential truths of the gospel. And the implications of those truths, although sometimes hard to accept for many such as the issue of pain, suffering, evil, etc, are as Hitchens notes here, logical outcomes of the basic doctrines, in fact logical necessities.

So if even rank pagans who deny even the existence of the supernatural, let alone Yahweh God, can see these inconsistencies in so much of what passes for "Christian apologetics" these days, why do we have such a hard time doing the same? Believers, stand firm in your convictions of these orthodox and historical and central and logical doctrines and truths, regardless of how some may respond to them. Resist the temptation that so many today fall for to try to explain away these truths as analogies or metaphors, or even worse, to frame them as simply mystical and beyond any one's comprehension. Instead, embrace the logic and rationality of the gospel of Christ, the atonement of the cross, the imputed righteousness of Christ, the nature and attributes of God, the fallenness of man, and all the logical ramifications of these truths. Not in order to gain respect from atheists, agnostics and pagans. But because we are commanded to contend for the faith, for the glory of God.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Everyday Apologetics Class Notes

For the members of my Thursday evening "Everyday Apologetics" class, I have uploaded notes for the first five lessons as promised. You can access them from the link on my "Links of Note" on the right-hand side of this page. Or just go here.

See you all Thursday evening as we explore the question, "All good people go to heaven, right?"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Loving God's Judgment

Today I experienced the convergence of two Biblical texts that focused on the certainty of God's judgment and condemnation as encouragement, that caused me to pause and reflect a bit. In Sunday school this morning I was teaching on James 5:1 and following, where James is pronouncing an Old Testament-like prophecy of condemnation on the oppressive rich pagans that were troubling the early believers. Strong words that echo the declarations of woe found over and over in the prophets. A reminder to the poor in the church who were being oppressed that God would certainly and swiftly execute His vengeance on these rich men, and that they should patiently wait for Christ's return in light of this certain judgment.

Then this afternoon I was doing exegesis on the epistle of Jude, where the certainty of God's condemnation and judgment on apostate teachers is expressed as an encouragement to the believers who were being troubled by them. Again, an example of the judgment of God as an encouragement to the faithful.

As I thought about this, I realized that even a cursory read of much of the Bible, especially the prophets and the Psalms, reveals a repeated pattern of this kind of encouragement. But it also seems to me that we modern evangelicals have lost the sense of God's vengeance and judgment as something that we are encouraged by. We are so eager to revel in God's love, His mercy and grace, even His righteousness and goodness. But His justice and condemnation? That sound so harsh, so...ungracious. How can a knowledge of God's absolute and certain judgment of sin and sinful men be something we embrace and are encouraged by?

Well first, we need to remember that God's grace in Christ means nothing apart from the understanding that His salvation is what saves us from being objects of that judgment and condemnation ourselves. When we forget this fact, we begin to lose perspective on what He has saved us from. God forbid we should ever cheapen the depth of His mercy and grace by ignoring the great condemnation and judgment our sin rightly deserved, and that Christ endured in our place.

Second, we need to remember that God does not overlook sin and rebellion against Him, and that's a good thing. If God left sin unpunished, He would not be just. And we couldn't trust Him or His character. How could we worship and revere a God who failed to uphold justice? The mercy and grace of God stands that much more gloriously against the backdrop of His righteous justice and vengeance. When we see the ungodly prospering, the rebellious and sinful being exalted, the immoral being celebrated, the godless gaining power and influence, we should take encouragement and comfort in the truth that God will surely and certainly and swiftly execute His perfect justice and judgment on those people. And He will be glorified and vindicated in doing so.

So let's continue to exult in the love and grace of God in Christ. But let's equally revel in the justice and judgment of our God on all sin and unrighteousness. The two cannot - and should never - be separated.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Naming Names?

As I've been working on my study of the epistle of Jude, I've been considering how best to approach application of Jude's strongly-worded letter. The whole focus of Jude is to warn his readers against the dangers of apostate teachers, in no uncertain terms. He states clearly his concern in verse 4: "For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ." See, Jude's issue is not with the atheistic, agnostic, skeptical unbelievers who oppose Jesus Christ and His people. Rather, the issue is with those who would infiltrate the church and teach ungodly doctrines, leading to ungodly behavior and leading others into ungodliness with them.

Now, application-wise this seems to be a no-brainer, right? I mean, today's doctrinally anemic evangelical church is rampant with similar apostates of all stripes. Be they health and wealth gospel promoters, emergent/emerging postmoderns, spirit-filled healing charlatans, man-centered therapists, or just run of the mill heretics, we got 'em all. If Jude were around today, he'd probably write an even stronger letter than his original. So we have plenty of places to apply Jude's exhortation to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."

But what I'm struggling with is the how. On the one hand, it's important for all of us to get the principles down that Jude lays out for recognizing those in the church who teach apostasy and heresies. We need to be people who discern clearly those who would lead Christ's people astray from His truth and the pure gospel. We have to be people who know what it means to contend earnestly for the faith, and when it's needed.

But beyond that, what about pointing out specific apostates among us, by name, and the heresies they teach and promote? Is it appropriate, in the context of a Bible study class, to name names of today's most popular apostates and expose their teachings? I'm really conflicted about this approach. On the one hand, people need to be warned against blindly following "Christian celebrities" who are less than Biblical in their teachings. They need to see what examples of apostasy looks like so they can recognize it in other places when they encounter it. But on the other hand, since so many of these contemporary apostates are so popular with so many undiscerning Christians, it's very easy to offend and irritate people who are fans of these pop-heretics. I know, I've done it before. And there are those who just take issue with any criticism of any self-claimed "Christian" writer or teacher, regardless of how off the wall their positions are. But on the other hand, these people need to be disabused of the notion that it's a mark of true Christianity to accept any and all who teach whatever aberrant and un-Biblical slop at face value because they're sincere or are just "trying to serve Jesus." Being offended is a small price to pay when eternal truth and eternal life is at stake. And after all, Jesus never just looked the other way and talked nice about the religious heretics within the synagogues of His day; His most severe words were reserved for the Pharisees and similar ilk.

So, I'm still conflicted. But as I've considered how to approach application, I've decided that it is necessary in today's church to name names. After all, look at Paul's letters. In his letters to Timothy, he warned against Hymenaeus, Alexander, Phygellus, Hermogenes, Demas and Alexander the Coppersmith. All by name. Paul knew what I am learning - that the purity of the Gospel of Christ and the orthodoxy of the teachings of the church of Christ are of far more value and importance than some momentary offense that some may take at the names of their favorite apostates being pointed out in public. So, I'm sorry if you're enamored with the likes of Bell, Osteen, Schuller, McLaren, Pagitt, Hinn, and a variety of others, but they're no different than those that Jude and Paul were pointing out. And not in my opinion, but in Christ's. That's the One that counts.