. . . and Light – A Reflection on 2 Corinthians 4.3-6, part 2

July 24, 2009

For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4.6)

To start understanding this verse we must first see the analogy Paul is making here with Genesis 1.1-3:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.

He we see that darkness is covering the earth and God, through the word that is Christ (cf. John 1.1-3), speaks light forth out of the darkness.  In the same way we are presented the blinded darkness which is unbelief and God who speaks light into hearts which is salvation.

This is seen in various ways elsewhere in the New Testament.  Ephesians 2.4-5 tells us that God takes those who are dead in their trespasses and sins and “[makes them] alive together with Christ.”  1 Peter 1.3 says that “[a]ccording to his great mercy, [God] has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”  Titus 3.4-7 lets us know that because of God’s “goodness and loving kindness . . . he saved us . . . by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”

All of this points to two things.  One, it is God who both initiates and completes our salvation.  He takes us from darkness and into light, from death and gives us life.  Nowhere is any conditional offer mentioned.  Nowhere is God asking if we want this and then letting us decide.  God sovereignly works, and when he works he does it all the way.

Second, we see in this truth the statement of Acts 4.12 exemplified:

And there is salvation in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.

Not only does God provide salvation, but the only means by which salvation is made known is “in the face of Jesus Christ.”

For Only Pennies a Day . . . – The Wrongful Human Fascination with Eliminating Suffering

April 6, 2009

I was driving home the other day and this thought hit me.  So I wrote it down and continued to think on it for awhile, but hadn’t really gone much further with it.  Then tonight I was listening to Mark Driscoll’s sermon on 1 Peter 3.8-17 and it hit me again.  And as I was thinking about it I looked at the verses in front of me and listened to what Driscoll was saying and I felt like the thought was worth sharing: I don’t understand why we place so much value on human suffering!

What I mean is this: we run around campaigning and complaining acting as if the worst possible situation in the world is to be in suffering, either our own personal suffering or someone elses.  Heck, we even talk about the suffering of animals and of the environment.  I challenge you to not be able to name at least five different groups dedicated to alleviating the suffering of some special group in some special place.

And yet, I am not all that convinced that suffering is not inconsequential.

I mean, what are we trying to do?  If we get those kids out of the dirt shack that we see them in on TV, are they no longer suffering?  Or if we provide clean water to a village, are they now safe forever?  Removing landmines removes pain?  I think the clearest way to see the fallacy behind all of this is to look at the amount of suffering sustained by the richest, most well off people in our country: CEO’s.  Are they not suffering?  It seems almost cliche to talk about corporate CEO’s considering suicide or easing the stress if their life by participating in recreational drug use and promiscuous sexual encounters.  The bottom line is, no matter what suffering we ease or alleviate, new sufferings will crop up to replace them before too long.

This is true because we are human.

Hebrews 5.8 tells us about Jesus’ experience: “Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.”  So does Hebrews 2.18: “For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”  Christ was fully God, but in order to show his humanity and to be able to identify as a high priest who can faithfully intercede for his people, Christ had to come to earth and suffer.  It was his sufferings that sat his humanity apart from his deity.  It made him human.

Because of this fact, because suffering is a part of humanity, we don’t see in the Bible a call to be without suffering.  There is no Joel Osteen-type health-wealth-and-prosperity crap that says if you suffer you aren’t saved.  Instead what we see is a theology of suffering that teaches us how to suffer well.  Specifically, it tells us, “Who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed” (1 Peter 3.13-14a) and “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8.35-37).  We are not to be without suffering, but we are to suffer in a way that we may be blessed because of it and with hope that nothing we can suffer in this world can remove us from the family of God.

It is not suffering that is the worst thing.  The worst thing is what we find in 2 Thessalonians 1.8-9,

[Those] who do not know God and [those] who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus . . . will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.

If we are called into the family of God, the sufferings we face will only be for a little while (cf. 1 Peter 1.6) and then we have the hope of eternal salvation and glory in the presence of the Lord.  But those who are outside of God’s family, who haven’t heard or haven’t believed, the sufferings of this life are nothing compared to the sufferings of an eternity separated from Our Father.  

We need to embarce this.  We can do social works all day long, but we will not see change that gives hope and keeps people from wasting their sufferings until we have seen a life that has been washed in regeneration and renewed in the Holy Spirit (cf. Titus 3.5).  The goal is not to alleviate sufferings, it is to make them worthwhile.  Caring about human suffering seems so altruistic, but an unbalanced approach to handling it belies a spirit of pridefulness which places the self and our needs in front of God and his eternal purposes of glory.

We Don’t Do Well on Tests- Mark Dever on the Reason for Continual Examination of Our Faith

February 5, 2009

Returning back to the drum I beat a few days ago in my post on Francis Chan, I have come across another quote which brings into light the necessity and biblical grounds for the idea of  Lordship Salvation in place of the evangelical favorite of Free Grace theology.  So often when I argue in favor of a Lordship view, those opposed to it bring up the charge of works righteousness.  Now, I know this to be untrue, and if most of these people really examined the evidence before them I believe they would to, but that doesn’t change the fact that this is the most common criticism I see levied against Lordship.

Apparently Mark Dever has seen and heard this criticism too and so in his book The Message of the Old Testament, in the chapter on Hosea, he makes the following statement:

So, confess your sins and repent of them.  Do not be duped into believing that sin is your master.  It isn’t!  Sometimes evangelicals think that praying a prayer once is all there is to being a Christian.  But they have missed what the Bible says about the Christian’s ongoing fight against sin. . . .  The New Testament teaches us to examine our hearts for sin not just once, but continually- not because we’re uncertain of God’s grace; no, we are certain about that!  God’s justifying grace is given at one moment in the Christian’s life.  It is our own hearts we are uncertain about!  Our hearts and the fruit they yield need continual examination. [Old Testament, p.684]

It is our own hearts we are uncertain about!  How true!  “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17.9).  “The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies” (Psalm 58.3).  The whole point of “work[ing] out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2.12) is not to actually earn your salvation, it is to determine, to work out in your mind, an understanding that you are saved and that any unconfessed sin that still remains between you and God may be dealt with through repentance.

I pray that the church will be enlightened to the fact that living a life of “doing what the Gentiles want to do” (1 Peter 4.3) is not what we have been called to.  If we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation” (1 Peter 2.9) then what sense does it make for this separation to be wholly invisible to the world outside?  The sign of the Jews was the circumcision of their physical bodies; the sign of the Church is the spiritual circumcision of a life in which we take off the “body of the flesh” that is our sinful love of the world (Colossians 2.11-12, 3.5-10).  That is what distinguishes us and that should be our goal, for the hope and peace we have in our Lord Jesus Christ!

Picture of the Past or Projection of the Future?- Recovering the Eschatological Church

January 29, 2009

Tell me if you have heard this: a sermon from Acts 2.42-47 proclaiming the wonderful, communal nature of the early believers and how, if we are to impact the culture today, we need to recover this same spirit of the true New Testament church?  I thought so.  Honestly, and not to be nasty or anything, but it has gotten to the point where, even if it’s a podcast I listen to religiously (haha!) I avoid the episode if I see it is a sermon over these 6 verses.

My question is, is this even the model we are to be looking at to set our bearings?  To start, we must fess up to the abuses of the “had all things in common” idea, since clearly, reading ahead into chapter 5, we see that this does not mean the type of new monasticism which many emergent types want so badly for it to endorse.  It would surely be better for us to understand their relations not in this communal sense, but instead in the supporting sense of the next verse, “as any had need.”  It wasn’t that they sold off everything and holed up in John Mark’s mothers house with organic foods and home schooling, but that they considered the things of this world fleeting and were willing to part with them “as any had need” so that the poorer of the believers were cared over.

So again, is this where we should look to discover how to fashion the church in a biblically appropriate manner?  If we are talking about leadership and structure, certainly.  Read Acts 6, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 and find out how the Holy Spirit through the Apostles prescribed for us to judge and appoint leaders in the church.  However, if it is a question of makeup, if we are searching to see what the church should look like in the world, how the believers should relate to one another in it, I would have to conclude no, the early church of Acts 2 should not be our role model.  It should be Revelation 21.

Revelation 21?  What?  Yes, that’s what I meant.  For those of you unaware of this passage, here’s how it starts:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (vv.1-4)

Revelation 21 is the consummation of God’s plan in all of creation.  We see that he has judged the wicked and is now restoring the original purpose of the land.  The first heaven and first earth, the creation that has been groaning in the pains of childbirth (Romans 8.22), is now cleared away and a new heaven and new earth come into being.  And upon the new earth is the holy city, the New Jerusalem, where God tabernacles with man freely, as he did in the Garden, as he will do forevermore.  Here all bad and evil things are gone and only the praise of the glory of God is known.

But how is this what we are to be looking towards?  Why is this the model for the church, and what does that even mean?

Ephesians 2.19-22, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

1 Peter 2.9, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

The church is the coming kingdom of God manifested in the world today.  It is the embodiment of the “Now-Not Yet” tension created when Christ said, “[B]ehold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17.20-21).  The King has come and he has established the church, who speaks of him, to show his kingdom.  But this kingdom will not be revealed fully until the end, until the events of Revelation 21.  From now till then we are to show forth the kingdom of God, live as we are, as citizens of heaven (Philippians 3.20), proclaiming what has already been revealed to us, “the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”

Reading the book Worldliness, edited by CJ Mahaney, I found the following paragraph which really nailed it home for me:

God holds up his church as Exhibit A for the reality of the gospel.  As people called out of a fallen world, living transformed lives with transcendent values, the church displays the character of God, illustrates the power of God, and exemplifies the saving purposes of God.  In fact, the church at this stage in salvation history has the privilege of signaling the next stage.  Our life together gives the world a preview of life in the coming kingdom. . . .  Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?  Giving the world a glimpse of the consummated kingdom of God!  Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches? [p.165]

“Who dreamed that their church participation was so significant?”  I think this is the problem.  If even for a good cause, we have gotten so caught up in trying to be like the church of Acts 2 that we often times forget that the church in Acts 2 was just trying to be the “church” of Revelation 21.  They weren’t our model, they were an example of what following the model does.  When our desire is to “[signal] the next stage” then we are focused on fulfilling what God says that next stage will include.  No more tears, no more mourning, a spring of water to the thirsty.  The presence of God dwelling among us.  This is our model.  This is what we are to imitate and initiate in the world.  The New Testament church is the eschatological church, the kingdom of God manifested in a fallen world, proclaiming a king who is coming to reign, who has done sufficiently well to reconcile all of creation with its creator in glory in the holy city, the promised land, New Jerusalem.

Does such a grand vision govern our attitude toward our local churches?  It should, and oh the power if it did.

A Time for Unity and Concern- Hearing John Owen’s Words about Suffering

December 31, 2008

Following up on my caution in the last post about a possible coming time of persecution for orthodox Christianity in America, I would like to share with you some words from the great Puritan preacher John Owen on how we should go about “bear[ing] the reproach [Christ] endured” (Hebrews 13.13).

These statements come from an excellent book I received concerning Owen’s views on the ordinance of communion entitled John Owen on the Lord’s Supper (which contains Owen’s posthumous work Twenty-five Discourses Suitable to the Lord’s Supper). In his twelfth discourse Owen discusses that the ordinance of communion demonstrates to us how we are to be conformed unto Christ’s death, and one of the facets of this that Owen illuminates is by our being conformed unto the means of Christ’s death which was by suffering. Thus Owen says,

There are four things required, that we may be conformable unto the death of Christ in suffering . . .

  1. The first in, that we suffer for Christ, 1 Peter 4.15-16 . . . . To suffer as a Christian is to suffer for Christ, – for the name of Christ, for the truths of Christ, for the ways of Christ, for the worship of Christ.
  2. It is required that we suffer in the strength of Christ; – that we do not suffer in the strength of our own will, our own reason, our own resolutions; but that we suffer, I say, in the strength of Christ. . . .
  3. It is required that we suffer in imitation of Christ, making him our example. We are not to take up the cross but with design to follow Christ. ‘Take up the cross,’ is but half the command; ‘Take up the cross, and follow me,’ is the whole command [Matthew 16.24] . . .
  4. We are to suffer to the glory of Christ.

[John Owen on the Lord's Supper, pp.183-4]

These are not meant to necessarily be words of comfort, but more so words of encouragement. In Owen’s time he himself was an outlaw Christian, a nonconformist in the days when conformity to the Church of England was required. He saw a loss of his own political power for not supporting the state sanctioned church and the dwindling and imprisonment of many of his fellow nonconformist due to the harshness of British law against them.

Therefore, in the spirit of Owen and others who came before us, we must stand strong in nonconformity to the unwritten laws of our day: to tolerance at the cost of integrity; to inclusiveness at the cost of God’s glory; to personal acceptance, fame, and maybe even freedom at the cost of “contend[ing] for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

This is going to get uglier before (if ever) it gets better, so taking in the words of someone who lived in persecution himself, and who communed with God as devoutly as any man of his generation, can only serve to benefit us, who likely have a very underdeveloped doctrine of suffering to begin with. We must see the truths in the practice to which we are called, of conformity unto Christ’s sufferings, and learn how to give God supreme and sole glory in all the persecution that we may come to endure.

God Decides 2008!- How Should We Respond?

October 20, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. . . . In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.” -Ephesians 1.3-6, 11-12

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion . . . . May grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” -1 Peter 1.1a, 3-5

Now that we have waded through the theological waters of how the Bible presents the doctrine of election, it is time for us to address what was my initial impetus in starting this conversation in the first place, that being the question of how should this make us respond?

Looking back we see that what we have said is that God does have a group of people who he has set apart which are called the elect, that that election was based purely on God’s unmerited grace and not on anything that the elect did to earn it, that all of whom are numbered among the elect will be saved, and that none apart from the elect will be saved.

It is after the exposition of all of this where the main cry inevitably comes out, in some sarcastic tone by some smirking know-it-all, asking, “So you think you are elect?” Well, yes, I do. And if you are saved then I think you are elect too! But, should my conviction that I am among the elect lead me to the conclusion which has been implied, namely that I must be something on a stick if God chose me? Absolutely not!

Read Ephesians chapter 1. What does Paul say? Yes, we have returned time and again to see that he says that the elect were chosen “before the foundation of the world” and “predestined” to salvation, but what does he say the response should be? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ . . . . In love he predestined us . . . to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved” (vv.3-6). This whole passage, while being a great theological treatise on the doctrine of election, is almost a thank you note, a groveling show of gratitude and unworthiness for a gift which has been given.

Read 1 Peter 1.1-5. What does Peter say? He opens by addressing himself to “the elect exiles.” And then what does he say to them, before anything else? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again” (v.3a). Again, gratitude and humility. In fact, the humility is amplified as you continue reading, as Peter lists off regeneration, adoption, and perseverance, all of which he declares as being handled solely by the Godhead and not by us. Peter’s high view of election is aligned with a high view of God’s sovereignty and low view of man’s ability, in one coherent theology of dependence on God.

This is the attitude we should take. Yes, as I said, I believe that I am among the elect. That is because I believe that I have been saved by God through the blood of Christ and it is my conviction that that salvation is given to all and only the elect. And my response to that can be no more inward looking than Peter or Paul’s. It is not of my own doing, not a thing, nothing at all, for which I have been chosen. It is solely by the grace of God that he would “caus[e me] to be born again,” though I was “dead” and “by nature [a child] of wrath” (1 Peter 1.3, Ephesians 2.1, 3). Election, instead of being a doctrine of arrogance as is often portrayed (and sometimes even carried out), can only be properly handled as a doctrine of grace, of wholly unmerited mercy, and of humility.

Yes, I believe that I am elect, and believing that way gives me all the more reason to think lowly of myself as I raise up glory to the blessed God of my salvation!

God Decides 2008!- What Happens to the Elect?

October 2, 2008

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will.” -Ephesians 1.3-5

Building upon the conclusion that we made last time, that there is some group of people set apart by God as “the elect,” it is now time that we delve into the question of what happens to the elect?, i.e. if they are elect then elect to what? Is this just a name or does it imply something more?

There are many places I think we can look for this, and so the first place I would like to take on is the opening passage of 1 Peter. Here is what it says:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To those who are elect exiles of the dispersion . . . . Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. (1 Peter 1.1a, 3-5)

This passage begins with Peter making the salutations and naming the people to whom he wishes to address with this letter, namely “the elect exiles of the dispersion.” So, this group which Peter is talking to is a group of the elect. And what does he say to them? He immediately goes into an exposition of the mercies of God who “caused us to be born again” and who is “guard[ing] [us] through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” Then, it would appear that, whoever these elect are, one thing Peter associates with them is a shared redemption and salvation through the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Without pushing it too far, I think that we may make the assumption that Peter believes at least these members of the elect to be saved. However, I feel that if we look further we can see that Scripture gives argument to the fact that all of the elect are saved.

Before that, however, I want to point out another portion of the elect who we are told have received salvation, and they most assuredly separate from the group Peter is addressing. This passage is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans and occurs in a section where he is addressing the question of whether all of the Jews have been lost with the coming of Christ. Paul speaks saying, “at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace” (v.5) and then continues to answer the question: “What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened” (v.7). Here again we find an apostle referring to a gathering of the elect, all of whom have “obtained” salvation.

This leads us to an earlier portion of Paul’s Roman letter, chapter 8 to be exact, where I believe the solid evidence is that proves once for all that this elect, a group of people we have already shown is set apart specifically by God, is a gathering of people who are all saved (or to be saved, but that argument comes later):

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (vv.28-30)

This predestined, which is another naming for the elect, are such that they have been called, justified, and glorified. Now, without getting into too much theology of what all of this means, we can at least say for sure that justification is the act by which we are counted righteous, innocent, before God, and thus are cleared to stand in his presence, which is essentially the essence of salvation (see Revelation 21 for our final relation to God). Thus, all those predestined, those elect, are also all justified, saved.

Of course, if this is not convincing enough for one, look a few verses farther to verse 33 which says, “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.” This verse, again speaking to the issue of justification which is central to salvation, says (or implies in the context) that no one is capable of accusing the elect for they are justified by God and there is none more powerful than him who could sway his decision elsewise. Once more, the salvation of all the elect is upheld.

Therefore, to conclude this question, we find first that there is a group of people who are set apart by God known as the elect, and second, that these elect are sure to be saved. In the next question we must take up the inquiry of whether the elect, all of whom are saved, are thus the elect because knowledge of their impending salvation was held by God, or if their salvation was effected because they were first chosen as the elect; or, as I will phrase it, which came first, salvation or election?

The Emergent Invitation to War- What Post-Modernism Does to Christianity

August 7, 2008

Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” -1 Peter 3.13-16

I first became a fan of Natan Sharansky after reading his widely acclaimed book The Case for Democracy in early 2005. The unashamed way in which he spoke right to the heart of the matter of fear and freedom in our societies greatly influenced my outlook on the practices of governments around the world. Thus, when he released his most recent book, Defending Identity, I knew that I would eventually want to read it, regardless of the subject matter. However, when I began reading the reviews I saw that this was a book I would be interested in even if Mr. Sharansky had not been the author.

Why is that? Because, in this book which focuses mostly on the need for strong identities to coincide with strong democracies, I saw a deeper message pertaining to the struggle between strong identities and strong Christianity going on within the Church in our present emerging culture. Go onto any emergent blog, read any emergent book (say the upcoming Jesus Wants to Save Christians by Rob Bell for example), or engage any emergent thinkers in your congregation, and you will see this idea of a strong Christian identity being the cause of great travesties throughout the world and a drive to neutralize that identity and try to appeal on a broader range of issues which seem more agreeable to more people and thus promoting more “peace”. This all comes from the “perfectly compelling” syllogism of post-modernism, namely: identity causes conflict; conflict is evil; therefore, identity is evil. It is this false argument which I believe leads emergent Christianity down many a dangerous path in its theology and application, and it is that which Sharansky’s book, when read with a properly discerning eye, argues wholly against.

Below are a couple of quotes which I found particularly striking. In reading them, try and cast the ideas of war and totalitarian forces into the mold of religious conflict and Satan, and see for yourself if you can find the parallels which I was drawn to:

“Post-identity (post-modernism) weakens identity to decrease tensions between people, but doing so leads to vulnerability, threats, blackmail, and ultimately to an inability to defend against aggression. That is why post-identity is an invitation to war.” (Natan Sharansky, Discovering Identity, p.205

“People are willing to make sacrifices when the choice is clear, when they know what is right and what is wrong. yet, if nothing is right, if no value judgments can be made, then nothing is wrong. Post-identity has created a world in which there is no right. But if there is no right, why fight?” (ibid., pp.100-101)

“It should be obvious that wagging a struggle against totalitarian forces first requires moral clarity. Unless you recognize evil, you cannot begin to fight it. But this is where the champions of post-identity have done the greatest damage.” (ibid., p.221)

Are You Too Good For Your Home?- A Question About Where Christians Should Long For

April 22, 2008

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” -Philippians 3:18-21

“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.” -Hebrews 13:14

“These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” -Hebrews 11:13-16

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” -John 15:18-1

“We are not going somewhere else at the end of time, because this world is our home. And our home is good. One of the most tragic things ever to happen to the gospel was the emergence of the message that Jesus takes us somewhere else if we believe in him.” -Rob Bell, Velvet Elvis p.171

One of the mega-themes that you will observe if you read Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis is this pervasive idea that the Christian should not be awaiting a life in heaven, but instead they should embrace that heaven is coming here and is something we can bring ourselves. At one point he says, “Jesus’ desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth (p.148).” Again, in another place, “As we live this life , in harmony with God’s intentions for us, the life of heaven becomes more and more present in our lives. Heaven comes to earth (p.147).” In Bell’s theology, the goal of a Christian’s life is to bring heaven instead of hell to earth. This is nice, and comforting, and uplifting, … and completely unbiblical!

In other places we see Bell say things like “this world is our home.” Yet, Christ himself says to the disciples, and then forevermore to us, “you are not of the world”! So, only one person can be right, Bell or Jesus? Hmuh… I pick Jesus.

The problem with this view of us bringing heaven to earth is not that heaven is not coming to earth, and this is really the point where Bell and his ilk are so smarmy. In Revelation 21:1-3, the Apostle John records for us what will happen after the final judgment:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.”

So, in the end there will be a new Jerusalem which will descend from heaven, to this terrestrial sphere, and in that city God will dwell with us! This is the fulfillment of Hebrews 11:13-16 above which says “But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” Bell knows this. He knows, and even cites in his book, that the final revelation is of the new Jerusalem coming to earth. However, he then uses this acknowledgment of the truth to advance his nice warm, fuzzy lies.

Yes, the new Jerusalem is coming. And how shall it come? According to Velvet Elvis, it shall come because Jesus’ followers “live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth.” Maybe you want to object that this is just a euphemism . However, if you want to make that objection I challenge you to actually read the book and see if Bell is just being cute when he says this. I am fairly convinced that in Bell’s book he is advancing the claim that good living is the driving force which brings heaven (or the new Jerusalem) to earth.

But, contrast that with Revelation 19 and 20 which depict a great battle where Satan is chained and then defeated forever, and the Great Judgment where all are ultimately judged. All of this happens BEFORE the new Jerusalem comes down to us. And yes, I understand that Revelation is a hairy book, full of symbolism, but there is not an interpretation in existence that doesn’t recognize Jesus as the Rider on the White Horse who defeats Satan or that thinks the final judgment has already come. Therefore, if none of this has happened yet, and if the old heaven and old earth pass away following this, then wouldn’t it be a waste for us to “bring heaven to earth” now when God is just going to throw it in the garbage at the end of time?

Honestly, this can get very speculative and unwieldy real fast, but the real issue is this: are we supposed to embrace this world because it is “our home” or should we accept the fact that we are “sojourners and exiles” (1 Peter 2:11) on this earth and we are awaiting our return to where our true citizenship is, that being heaven? I believe Bell wants us to embrace this world because he denies that it is a wicked and corrupt world, and because he thinks that we are any less wicked and corrupt to be able to change it.  Bell loves this world and creation, not unlike the fools in Romans 1:22-23.

However, if we truly respond to the Holy Spirit’s call on our lives, then we must acknowledge that we have been called out of this world, acknowledge that we have become “strangers and exiles” on the earth, acknowledge that on this earth there is “no lasting city”, and trust that God has prepared for us a city where he will dwell with us for eternity without end! That is our home!

1 Peter Bible Study, Part 7; 1 Peter 1:20-21

February 24, 2008

“He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” – 1 Peter 1:20-21

This week we will be looking at the above text and analyzing what it says to us about Jesus, what it says about God, and how these things work together to say something about us as the elect exiles. I found this text to be truly rewarding and I hope that through studying along with it that God may speak to you in the same way about His wonderful workings and carefully woven plan which was instituted to allow us to be redeemed from our fallen state and to be glorified with Him for all eternity in heaven.

1 Peter Bible Study, Part 7 notes

1 Peter Bible Study, Part 7 audio

This Bible study is being produced with a group of guys in Lexington, KY, my hometown, in mind, but is suitable for anyone to follow. The content of examples used will generally be directed at a male audience, however there is nothing in this which will keep women from being able to learn as well. If you come across this study and have any questions about the content of the message or about anything in general, please don’t hesitate to post or shoot me an email.