On my post about Riddlebarger’s double-edged sword, I mentioned in passing that Israel was a type of the church. Someone named Joshua took objection to that, arguing that I had taken typology “too far.”
Now, I greatly appreciate that Joshua took the time to read my post and took the time to comment. That is the reason that I post my thoughts on a public blog. I’m not writing on here because I have everything figured out. I’m writing on here because a) it helps me organize my thoughts, and b) it allows for me to be sharpened by iron. So I appreciate Joshua’s comments, and I hope more people continue to comment on things they object to (or maybe even agree with!).
Joshua then made a post over at his own blog:
I’ve been commenting on a blog post as to whether or not the church is the antitype to Israel. I think one runs into an issue when looking at Israel as the type and the church as the antitype because it distracts people from the fact that Jesus is the true Israel. One of my favorite authors is Dr. Kim Riddlebarger who wrote the book A Case for Amillennialism. He also wrote an excellent blog post entitled, “Amillennialism 101 — Jesus Christ: The True Israel“, which explains the position so well.
This is a very interesting comment, because it undermines his earlier objections in my comment thread. Let me explain: My comment was in opposition to classic paedobaptist covenant theology which argues that the nation of Israel is the church of the OT. It is the same body as the church in the NT. This is Joshua’s position (correct me if I’m wrong Joshua).
P1. The nation of Israel was the church in the OT
P2. The NT church is the church in the NT
C: The nation of Israel and the NT church are essentially the same thing
Now, Joshua objects to my statement that the nation of Israel was a type of the church by arguing that the nation of Israel was a type of Christ. But, let’s see where we end up if we combine these two views:
P1. The nation of Israel was a type of Christ
P2. The nation of Israel is essentially the NT church
C: The NT church is a type of Christ
Hmmm. Looks like we goofed somewhere along the line. I think the first syllogism/view is the goof. I agree with what Riddlebarger says in the post Joshua linked to. But the thing is, Riddlebarger’s argument proves my case, not Joshua’s 😉
P1: The nation of Israel was a type of Christ, the true Israel of God
P2: The believing church, through union with Christ, is the true Israel of God (see Riddlebarger’s quote of Strimple in his post)
C: The nation of Israel was a type of the believing church
And so, by implication, Riddlebarger agrees with Jonathan Edwards (and myself) that the nation of Israel was a type of the church. But it is not only by implication. Note what Riddlebarger’s teacher Meredith Kline says:
the socio-geo-political sector of the Israelite kingdom of God was a part of the total system of kingdom typology established through the covenantal constitution given to Israel in the law of Moses… Israel as a geo-political kingdom is…expressive of the restorative-redemptive principle, it is…a type of the antitypical kingdom of Christ, the Redeemer-King… This kingdom of Israel – not just the temple in its midst, but the kingdom of Israel as such, the kingdom as a national geo-political entity – was a redemptive product of God, a work of divine restoration, given as a prototype version of the kingdom of God in the perfect form it was to attain under the new covenant in the messianic antitype of that Israelite kingdom.
In light of Anne Rice’s announcement that she “has left Christianity,” I re-read an old Trinity Foundation article analyzing the reasoning behind the Whitehorse Inn’s decision to interview Rice and give her an entire program to talk about her “return to Christianity” from atheism (even though she returned to Roman Catholicism, not Christianity). The Whitehorse Inn: Nonsense on Tap
Anyways, I read the following quote and it amazes me how many people I have come across that don’t understand this. Some people actually think that Romans 1 is talking about trees and stars.
Furthermore, Christ lights, John 1:9 says, echoing Romans 1 and 2, the mind of every man who comes into the world. This is the Biblical doctrine of general revelation. It is a denial of the pagan Aristotelian-Thomist-evidentialist-empiricist theory. The mind of every man, who is the image of God, is informed by the mind of Christ. So even if he is blind and cannot see the heavens, he has an innate idea of God. This information is innate, not learned by sensation. It makes man the image of God, and it makes all men inexcusable. It is these innate ideas that all sinners suppress in their zeal to escape God. One of the ways philosophers and theologians suppress these innate ideas is by inventing “proofs” for the existence of God derived from observation. (The pagan Aristotle is the godfather of all such proofs.) The gods they so “prove” are not the God of the Bible; they are idols – inventions of their sinful minds. If the Thomistic proofs for the existence of God were valid, they would disprove Christianity, for the gods they prove are not the God of the Bible. They are an illustration of the philosophers’ desire to escape the God of the Bible.
The Bible does not begin with any proof of the existence of God; it begins with God. Nor does the Bible contain any argument attempting to prove the existence of God from what Rosenthal calls “general revelation.” Such a proof is logically impossible and theologically reprehensible. Truth cannot be derived form anything non-propositional. Unless one starts with truth, with propositional revelation, one can never arrive at any truth. Unless one starts with Scripture, God will remain merely a suppressed idea.
I have been interested in reading John C. Lyden’s book “Film as Religion” ever since I read a summary of it several years ago:
The lights dim, the voices hush and the devotees prepare for a sacred, transformative experience. This scenario does not describe a ritual in a cathedral or temple, but one occurring in another religiously charged space: the cinema. Lyden, a professor of religion in Nebraska, argues that if we define “religion” by its function-what the activity does for the people who participate in it-then movie-going is the religion of our time. Movies provide the collective myths to help us deal with our cultural anxieties and hopes, and catharsis in the form of rewarded heroes and punished villains. (Publisher’s Weekly)
I finally checked out a copy at the library and am going to try to blog through the book (hopefully that will get me to finish it – something I have a hard time doing with books!). I hope you find it interesting and more than that I hope it provokes some discussion on the topic – so let me know what you think.
As you read in the summary, Lyden’s thesis is basically that “there is no absolute distinction between religion and other aspects of culture, and that we have a tendency to label certain sorts of activities as “religious” chiefly because they fall into the patterns that we recognize from religion with which we are familiar.” He continues:
As a result, we have a tendency to limit what we view as religion to that which is recognized as such by us in our own culture. The result is that we can find ourselves shortsighted when we encounter a diverse form of religion – as, for example, the European colonists who came to America did. For a long time, they refused to even grant the name “religion” to the activities in the Native American culture that paralleled those undertaken by Europeans under that name. In time, they came to see that the “otherness” of American beliefs did not disqualify them from performing the same functions for Native Americans that Christianity did for most Europeans, and therefore these beliefs might be considered equally “religious.”… It may be that we experience a similar form of shortsightedness when we encounter aspects of our own culture that we view as opposed to religious values or beliefs. We fail to acknowledge the extent to which modern people base their worldviews and ethics upon sources we do not usually label “religious. (2-3)”
Lyden relies upon Clifford Geertz’ functional definition of religion. “This definition includes the three aspects noted in this book’s title: a “myth” or story that conveys a worldview; a set of values that idealize how that world should be; and a ritual expression that unites the two. (4)” “…I will argue for an understanding of [myth] that does not reduce it to a psychological projection or an illogical hegemony-promoting falsehood, but rather views it as a story that expresses the worldview and values of a community. (4)”
In regards to film as ritual, Lyden notes: “Films offer a vision of the way the world should be (in the view of the film) as well as statements about the way it really is; the ritual of film-going unites the two when we become part of the world projected on screen. We often hope and wish for a world like the one we see in the movies even though we must return to a very different world at the end of the show; in this way, films offer an entry into an ideally constructed world. (4)”
Lyden’s thesis is intriguing. Though he may not put it in these terms, he seems to be basically acknowledging that all of life is theological and that we cannot safely divide our “secular” life from our “religious” life. Everything we do is wrapped up in religion, which is why Paul said “whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” Furthermore, everyone has a religion. Everyone has a worldview and they seek out things in their life that confirm and support that worldview. We cannot neglect the pervasiveness of “religion” in our “secular” affairs.
I also appreciate his willingness to acknowledge the religious power of film. Film-going is absolutely a ritual and every film preaches a message. It is very disturbing to see how many people, Christians especially, watch movies completely uncritically. They willingly turn their brains off and stuff themselves with popcorn, all the while telling themselves “its just for fun.” That may be the case, and there’s nothing wrong with kicking back and enjoying 2 hours of Star Trek. But if you ignore the fact that you’re listening to a sermon and you get sucked into cheering for the emotional thesis of the film (1: rebellion is a virtue, 2: follow your heart, not your head), then you are neglecting your Christian duty to “test all things; hold fast was is good.”
However, I am leery of Lyden’s thesis being “Film as Religion.” That’s like saying “Writing as Religion.” I don’t think we can make the medium the religion. I know that’s not what Lyden intends, but we’ll see how careful he is about it. Perhaps a better title would be “Hollywood as Religion” because that entails film, a specific manner of film-going, and a particular worldview & message. We’ll see how this is worked out throughout the book.
One other area of concern may be Lyden’s definition of religion. Religion is notoriously difficult to define. In his book Religion, Reason, and Revelation Gordon H. Clark concludes that there is no proper and fitting definition of religion other than “God’s creating Adam in his own image and giving him a special revelation…” as well all distortions of that original religion (which includes just about everything). (Clark argues that because distortion of this religion is the result of sin, and sin is irrational, that there cannot be any logical classification of religion).
I think Lyden’s thesis would still qualify under Clark’s definition, but I am content to go along with Lyden’s definition for the purposes of the book. Wikipedia is generally a good measuring stick to gauge what the world thinks about any given topic, and it provides a definition similar to Lyden’s: “in general a set of beliefs explaining the existence of and giving meaning to the universe, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” That definition works for me and it looks like Lyden’s thesis may be true. We’ll see.
The 2010 Global Atheist Convention “The Rise of Atheism” released the following statement:
As you may already be aware, recently the Atheist Founation of Australia and the Global Atheist Convention websites were the target of a significant DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack, which began on Monday 19 October.
This is a call to all non-believers and advocates for freedom of speech to join us in a global co-ordinated minute of prayer with the aim of inundating God (in this context, the Christian god, God, as distinct from the Greek god, Zeus, the Egyptian god, Ra etc etc) with so many useless prayers that it causes his divineness to go offline as as result of our own DDOS (‘Divine’ Denial of Service).
The prayer minute will be at exactly 8pm (Eastern Standard Time) and 9am (Greenwich Mean Time) on Sunday 8 November 2009.
The prayer can be about anything you want (but say it as frequently as possible in the minute we have assigned to ensure DDOS is achieved) or to whomever god you want. Its mostly directed at the Christian god so as to ensure we don’t get too many return to senders from other gods.
If you don’t know, a DoS is:
an attempt to make a computer resource unavailable to its intended users. Although the means to carry out, motives for, and targets of a DoS attack may vary, it generally consists of the concerted efforts of a person or people to prevent an Internet site or service from functioning efficiently or at all, temporarily or indefinitely. Perpetrators of DoS attacks typically target sites or services hosted on high-profile web servers such as banks, credit card payment gateways, and even root nameservers.
One common method of attack involves saturating the target (victim) machine with external communications requests, such that it cannot respond to legitimate traffic, or responds so slowly as to be rendered effectively unavailable. In general terms, DoS attacks are implemented by either forcing the targeted computer(s) to reset, or consuming its resources so that it can no longer provide its intended service or obstructing the communication media between the intended users and the victim so that they can no longer communicate adequately.
In simple terms, it sends a tremendous amount of traffic to one place, which brings the system to it’s knees. Think of having all the cars in California drive down I-84 in Boise at the same time. Some companies pay hackers to launch DoS attacks against their competitors because it cripples them.
It is difficult, but there are ways of preventing DoS attacks. One method is the use of a good firewall that can filter good traffic from bad traffic. Apparently the Global Atheist Convention didn’t have one. But God does.
Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
But your iniquities have separated you from your God;
And your sins have hidden His face from you,
So that He will not hear.
Come and hear, all you who fear God,
and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
I cried to him with my mouth,
and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
he has attended to the voice of my prayer.
If one turns away his ear from hearing the law,
even his prayer is an abomination.
We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
The Father’s filter is holiness. He does not hear anyone that is unholy, anyone who has transgressed His law.
Which is everyone.
For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.
1 Tim 2:5
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Christ is the only mediator between God and man (“No one comes to the Father except through me” Jn 14:6), but Christ is not the mediator of every man. Christ only intercedes on behalf of those for whom His sacrifice was made. John 9, quoted above, gives us a clue as to who God listens to: if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. What is God’s will?
“What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”…
…this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
John 6:28-29, 40
The Atheist Conventin’s DDoS attack on Nov 8 will fail because God does not hear the prayers of the unrighteous. He only hears the prayers of those who are counted righteous, whom Christ intercedes for in the Holy of Holies.
Are your prayers heard?
I transcribe a lot of footage for work. I have come across some rather interesting comments that I should have been saving in an archive to discuss later. Watching raw, unedited interviews really gives you the chance to hear all the little things about what a person believes, not just the big picture.
Below is a clip from someone interviewed in regards to battling breast cancer, specifically with respect to diet:
Even the language that we use to talk about our lifestyle either has this moralistic quality, you know, “I cheated on my diet. I ate bad food, so I’m a bad person,” you know. Once you fall into that line of thinking, you might as well finish the pint of ice cream because you’re already a bad person. Moralistic things don’t work.
Or what I call these fascist words, like “patient compliance” is a creepy word. It’s about forcing people to change. Or “will power,” it’s all – things that force you to change are not sustainable. Cause what’s sustainable is joy and pleasure and freedom. And so I like the concept of a spectrum because if it’s a diet that you go on, you auto—even the word diet makes you tense up. It’s all about what you can’t have and you must do. That’s not sustainable.
But what I’ve done is to categorize foods into a spectrum from the most helpful, to the least helpful. Cause what matters most is your overall way of eating and living. And to the degree that you move in a healthy direction, you’re going to benefit. You’re going to look better, feel better, lose weight, gain health, have better immune function, and so on. How much you move and how quickly is really up to you.
So if you indulge yourself one day, it doesn’t mean you cheated or you’re bad or any of those kinds of things. Just eat healthier the next. I mean, even more than being healthy, most people want to feel free and in control. It’s human nature. It goes back to the first dietary intervention, you know, when God said, “Don’t eat the apple.” That didn’t work, and that was God talking, so, you know. It’s really about freedom and joy and pleasure. That’s really what’s sustainable.
I find those statements quite revealing in regards to the nature of fallen man. It does not matter what the issue is, man will rebel against authority because all authority reflects God’s ultimate authority over your life and all of creation. Your autonomous will must reign supreme and if anything tries to tie it down, you will defy it, no matter how bad it is for you to do so.
Our nation’s current distress has provoked many to consider the sinful nature of man. Some believe that the problems we are facing are the inevitable result of an economy founded upon self-interest. Richard Dahlstrom, Senior Pastor of Bethany Community Church in Seattle, WA says:
What else could you expect from an economic system predicated on the notion that everyone acting in their own self-interests will always lead to a win/win situation. Somehow, I wonder: WWJT. What would Jesus think?
Dahlstrom is referring to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” In his “Wealth of Nations,” Smith said:
…he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention… By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.
To put it more simply, he said:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
In other words, the butcher isn’t motivated by how his meat will help you, he is motivated by the money that you give him in exchange for it. Furthermore, the more money he desires to earn, the harder he works to provide you with whatever you want. Thus out of his own interest he provides for you.
As for the win/win aspect of it, it’s simply the result of a voluntary exchange. The only reason that two people volunatrily choose to trade is because the trade will make both of them better off. No one trades in order to lose. Now, it may be true that they don’t get everything they want out of the trade, but, if they voluntarily make the exchange, it is because they believe they will be better off by doing so. Thus it is a win/win situation.
The alternative to this system of voluntary exchange is force, which is what Dahlstrom and others like him are in favor of. When force is involved, it is not a win/win situation. Someone is losing because they are being forced to do what they would not want to do.
Ah, you say, but what about Mother Teresa? Well, I’m convinced Mother Teresa was paid by philosophy professors across the world so they would have something to talk about when they get to the topic of altruism in class. Hitler got a check too as he is the go to when any topic of evil is mentioned.
But was Mother Teresa really motivated by a sense of altruism? A sense of abandoning her own interest for the sake of the poor?
She was deceived by Rome’s false gospel. She spent her life living in the most miserable conditions because she was taught that her personal suffering would bring her closer to Christ. Furthermore, she intentionally deprived suffering people of relief because she wanted to be in a community of suffering.
For more on Teresa:
Mother Teresa’s Redemption
The Myth of Mother Teresa
Penn & Teller on Mother Teresa (a heavy dose of profanity)
Is Mother Teresa a Saint? Part I
Is Mother Teresa a Saint? Part II
The Missionary Position (A Review)
That’s interesting, you might say, but my morality isn’t derived from some 18th century economist. My sense of right and wrong comes from the Bible and the Bible says self-interest is sinful.
Dahlstrom makes only one reference to Scripture, Matthew 6:33:
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
In regards to this verse, he says Jesus would “think we should put the interests of the kingdom before our own.” The error here is that Dahlstrom thinks that the interest of the kingdom is not our own interest. He thinks we should put aside our self-interest for food, drink, and clothing, and pursue something that is not in our self-interest at all. I’m not sure how he feels, but the kingdom of God is very much in my self-interest.
Rather than teaching us to pursue things that are not in our own self-interest, the verse directs us to what is truly in our highest interest.
John Piper has much to say about this:
When you have the notion that high moral acts must be free from self-interest, then worship, which is one of the highest moral acts a human can perform, has to be conceived simply as duty. And when worship is reduced to a duty, it ceases to exist. One of the great enemies of worship in our church is our own misguided virtue. We have the vague notion that seeking our own pleasure is sin and therefore virtue itself imprisons the longings of our hearts and smothers the spirit of worship. For what is worship if it is not our joyful feasting upon the banquet of God’s glory?
By Christian Hedonism, I do not mean that our happiness is the highest good. I mean that pursuing the highest good will always result in our greatest happiness in the end. But almost all Christians believe this. Christian Hedonism says more, namely, that we should pursue happiness, and pursue it with all our might. The desire to be happy is a proper motive for every good deed, and if you abandon the pursuit of your own joy you cannot love man or please God – that’s what makes Christian Hedonism controversial.
Christian hedonism aims to replace a Kantian morality with a biblical one. Immanuel Kant, the German philosopher who died in 1804, was the most powerful exponent of the notion that the moral value of an act decreases as we aim to derive any benefit from it. Acts are good if the doer is “disinterested.” We should do the good because it is good. Any motivation to seek joy or reward corrupts the act. Cynically, perhaps, but not without warrant, the novelist Ayn Rand captured the spirit of Kant’s ethic:
An action is moral, said Kant, only if one has no desire to perform it, but performs it out of a sense of duty and derives no benefit from it of any sort, neither material nor spiritual. A benefit destroys the moral value of an action. (Thus if one has no desire to be evil, one cannot be good; if one has, one can.)2
Against this Kantian morality (which has passed as Christian for too long!), we must herald the unabashedly hedonistic biblical morality. Jonathan Edwards, who died when Kant was 34, expressed it like this in one of his early resolutions: “Resolved, To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the other world as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigor, and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.”
In his lecture on “The Ethics of Self Interest and Profit”, part of his “Introduction to Economics” series, John W. Robbins points out that self-interest is not sinful. What is sinful is mistaking what is truly in our self-interest. Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It is in our highest interest to do so. Because we are sinful, we think it is better for us to sinfully break God’s moral law and rebel against Him.
I have read much from Robbins on a variety of topics and he has continually brought fresh insight from the Bible to bear on the topics. His method is to start with a topic, then start at the beginning of his Bible and read it all the way through, making note of every passage that has any relevance to the topic. This can be a tedious task, but it is very rewarding.
A short cut is to simply start with a concordance. If we look up the word profit, we get a few results that are worth discussing:
1 Samuel 12:21 And do not turn aside after empty things that cannot profit or deliver, for they are empty. 22 For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.
Here we are instructed to turn to God because He can profit us, unlike the kings Israel sought after instead of God.
Proverbs 3:13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
We are to seek wisdom because we can profit from it, because it is in our self-interest.
Proverbs 11:4 Riches do not profit in the day of wrath,
but righteousness delivers from death.
This verse illustrates Robbins’ point above. The riches of this world do not profit anyone in the day of wrath, but those who trust in Christ profit from His righteousness. Thus we are to seek Christ, not riches, because it is in our self-interest.
Next we come to perhaps the strongest verse in support of Dahlstrom:
Matthew 16:24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.
This would seem to be an airtight argument that we should not do anything out of self-interest. But let’s continue reading the passge:
25 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Here, again, we see that it is not sinful to act out of self-interest. What is sinful is thinking that gaining the whole world is in our highest self-interest.
1 Cor 13:1 Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. 2 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
Paul is appealing to self-interest. In fact, Paul condemns these actions that are devoid of love precisely because they do not profit.
Renewing our Minds (Rom 12:2)
Dahlstrom closes his note by saying: “If Christians, who have the very words of Christ about money refuse to altar their view of self-interest economics, how will the rest of world do?”
To that I say, if Christian pastors, who have the very words of God about everything in life, refuse to transform their minds, how will their sheep do?
I pray that God will give us all wisdom as we seek understanding from His Word.
I started reading John Piper’s “Counted Righteous in Christ”
He takes the first chapter to simply explain why he is even bothering dealing with a detailed doctrinal issue when he has so many of duties, as a pastor, to deal with. I found it interesting and worth sharing (only sections listed below, not full excerpt):
GROWING A CHURCH WITHOUT A HEART FOR DOCTRINE
To begin with, the older I get, the less impressed I am with flashy successes and enthusiasms that are not truth-based. Everybody knows that with the right personality, the right music, the right location, and the right schedule you can grow a church without anybody really knowing what doctrinal commitments sustain it, if any. Church-planting specialists generally downplay biblical doctrine in the core values of what makes a church “successful.” the long-term effect of this ethos is a weakening of the church that is concealed as long as the crowds are large, the band is loud, the tragedies are few, and persecution is still at the level of preferences.
But more and more this doctrinally-diluted brew of music, drama, life-trips, and marketing seems out of touch with real life in this world-not to mention the next. It tastes like watered-down greul, not a nourishing meal. It simply isn’t serious enough. It’s too playful and chatty and casual. Its joy just doesn’t feel deep enough or heartbroken or well-rooted. The injustice and persecution and suffering and hellish realities in the world today are so many and so large and so close that I can’t help but think that, deep inside, people are longing for something weighty and massive and rooted and stable and eternal. So it seems to me that the trifling with silly little sketches and breezy welcome-to-the-den styles on Sunday morning are just out of touch with what matters in life.
Of course, it works. Sort of. Because, in the name of felt needs, it resonates with people’s impulse to run from what is most serious and weighty and what makes them most human and noble. Silliness is a stepping-stone to substance. But it’s an odd path. And evidence is not ample that many are willing to move beyond fun and simplicity. So the price of minimizing truth-based joy and maximizing atmosphere-based comfort is high. More and more, it seems to me, the end might be in view. I doubt that a religious ethos with such a feel of entertainment can really survive as Christian for too many more decases. Crises reveal the cracks
WITHOUT PASTORAL STUDY, WE LIVE ON BORROWED FAITH
If Wilberforce is right – I think he is profoundly right – it will be less of a mystery why a pastor with a burden for racial justice and the sanctity of life and the moral transformation of our cultural landscape (Piper) would be gripped by the doctrine of justification by faith. There are deeper and more connections than most of us realize between the grasp of doctrine and the goo dof people and churches and societies. The book of Romans is not prominent in the Bible for nothing. Its massive arguments are to be labored over until understood. And not just by scholars. What a tragedy that this labor is regarded as wasted effort by so many who are giving trusted counsel in the church today.
Thousands are living on borrowed faith. We are living off the dividends, as it were, of intellectual and doctrinal investments made by pastors and church leaders from centuries ago. But the “central bank” of the Bible was not meant to fund future generations merely on the investments of the past. They are precious, and I draw on them daily. Everyone does, even those who don’t know it. But without our own investments of energy in the task of understanding, the Bank will close – as it has in many churhces. I had lunch with a pastor not long ago – of one of the most liberal churches in Minnesota (as he describes it) – who remarked that his people would be happy if he took his text from Emily Dickinson.
My daugther, Talitha, is six years old. Recently she and my wife and I were reading through Romans together. This was her choice after we finished Acts. She is learning to read, and I was putting my finger on each word. She stopped me in mid-sentence at the beginning of chapter 5 and asked, “What does ‘justified’ mean?” What do you say to a six-year-old? Do you say, “There are more important things to think about, so just trust Jesus and be a good girl”? Or do you say that it is very complex and even adults are not able to understand it fully, so you can wait and deal with it when you are older? Or do we say that it simply means that Jesus died in our place so that all our sins mgiht be forvien?
Or do we tell a story (which is what I did), made up on the spot, about two accused criminals, one guilty and one not guilty (one did a bad thing, and one did not do it)? The one who did not do the bad things is shown, by all those who saw the crime, to be innocent. So the judge “justifies” him; that is, he tells him he is a law-abiding person and did not do the crime and can go free. But the other accused criminal, who really did the bad thing, is shown to be guilty, because all the people who saw the crime saw him do it. But then, guess what! The judge “justifies” him too and says, “I regard you as a law-abiding citizen with full rights in our country” (not just a forgiven criminal who may not be trusted or fully free in the country). At this point Talitha looks at me puzzled.
She does not know how to put her finger on the problem but senses that something is wrong here. So I say, “That’s a problem, isn’t it? How can person who really did break the law and did the bad thing be told by the judge that he is a law-keeper, a righteous person, with full rights to the freedoms of the country, and doesn’t have to go to jail or be punished?” She shakes her head. Then I go back to Romans 4:5 and show her that God “justifies the ungodly.” Her brow is furrowed. I show her that she has sinned and I have sinned and we are like this second criminal. And when God “justifies” us he knows we are sinners and “ungodly” and “lawbreakers.” And I ask her, “What did God do so that it’s right for him to say to us sinners: you are not guilty, you are law-keepers in my eyes, you are righteous, and you are free to enjoy all tha this country has to offer?”
She knows it has something to do with Jesus and his coming and dying in our place. That much she has learned. But what more do I tell her now? The answer to this question will depend on whether Mom and Dad have been faithfully taught about the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Will they tell her that Jesus was the perfect law-keeper and never sinned, but did everything the judge and his country expected of him? And will they tell her that when he lived and died, he not only took her place as a punishment-bearer but also stood in her place as a law-keeper? Will they say that he was punished for her and he obeyed the law for her? And if she will trust Jesus, God the Judge will let Jesus’ punishment and Jesus’ righteousness count for hers. So when God “justifies” her – says that she is forgiven and righteous (even though she was not punished and did not keep the law) – he does it because of Jesus. Jesus is her righteousness, and Jesus is her punishment. Trusting Jesus makes Jesus so much her Lord and Savior that he is her perfect goodness and her perfect punishment.
There are thousands of Christian families in the world who never have conversations like this. Not at six or sixteen. I don’t think we have to look far then for the weakness of the church and the fun-oriented superficiality of many youth ministries and the stunning fall-out rate after high school. But how shall parents teach their children if the message they get week in and week out from the pulpit is that DOCTRINE IS UNIMPORTANT? So, yes, I have a family to care for. And therefore I must understand the central doctrines of my faith – understand them so well that tehy can be translated for all the different ages of my children. As G. K. Chesterton once wrote, “It ought to be the oldest things that are taught to the youngest people.”
I mention not only world missions but also local church planting. If I want to see churches planted out from our church and others, why invest so much time and energy in defending and explaining the historic Protestant vision of justification as the imputation of Christ’s Righteousness? I have answered this already, but will say again, I think we have enough churches being planted by means of music, drama, creative scheduling, sprightly narrative, and marketing savvy. And there are too few that are God-centered, truth-treasuring, Bible-saturated, Christ-exalting, cross-focused, Spirit-dependent, prayer-soaked, soul-winning, justice-pursuing congregations with a wartime mindset ready to lay down their lives for the salvation of the nations and the neighborhoods. There is a blood-earnest joy that sustains a church like this, and it comes only by embracing Chirst-crucified as our righteousness.
I want people and churches and ministries and schools to break free from the modern preoccupation with being made much of as the key to happiness and motivation and mental health and missions and almost everything else. In its place I long to see our joy – and the joy of the nations – rooted in God’s wonderful work of freeing us to make much of Christ forever. There is an almost universal bondage in America to the mindset that we can only feel loved when we are made much of. The truth is, we are loved most deeply when we are helped to be free from that bondage and to find our joy in treasuring Christ and making much of him.