29 July 2018

Foul falls


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Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon





The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the The New Park Street Pulpit, volume 1, sermon number 22, "A caution to the presumptuous."  


"He who thinks he stands is in danger of a fall. The true Christian cannot possibly suffer a final fall but he is very much disposed to a foul fall."

My brother, could I take thee into the wards of that hospital where lie sick and wounded Christians, I could make you tremble. I would show you one, who, by a sin that occupied him not a single moment, is so sore broken, that his life is one continued scene of misery.

I could show you another one, a brilliant genius, who served his God with energy who is now--not a priest of the devil it is true, but almost that--sitting down in despair, because of his sin.

I could point you to another person, who once stood in the church, pious and consistent, but who now comes up to the same house of prayer as if he were ashamed of himself, sits in some remote corner, and is no longer treated with the kindness he formerly received, the brethren themselves being suspicious because he so greatly deceived them, and brought such dishonour upon the cause of Christ.

Oh! did ye know the sad pain which those endure who fall. Could ye tell how many have fallen, (and have not perished, it is true,) but still have dragged themselves along, in misery, throughout their entire existence, I am sure ye would take heed.

Come with me to the foot of the mountain of presumption. See there the maimed and writhing forms of many who once soared with Icarian wings in the airy regions of self-confidence; yet there they lie with their bones broken, and their peace destroyed. There lies one who had immortal life within him; see how full of pain he appears, and he looks a mass of helpless matter. He is alive, it is true, but just alive. Ye know not how some of those enter heaven who are saved, “so as by fire.”

One man walks to heaven; he keeps consistent; God is with him, and he is happy all his journey through. Another says, “I am strong, I shall not fall.” He runs aside to pluck a flower; he sees something which the devil has laid in his way; he is caught first in this gin, and then in that trap; and when he comes near the river, instead of finding before him that stream of nectar of which the dying Christian drinks, he sees fire through which he has to pass, blazing upon the surface of the water. The river is on fire, and as he enters it he is scorched and burned.

The hand of God is lifted up saying, “Come on, come on;” but as he dips his foot in the stream, he finds the fire kindling around him, and though the hand clutches him by the hair of the head, and drags him through, he stands upon the shore of heaven, and cries, “I am a monument of divine mercy, for I have been saved so as by fire.”

Oh! do you want to be saved by fire, Christians? Would ye not rather enter heaven, singing songs of praises? Would ye not glorify him on earth, and then give your last testimony with, “Victory, victory, victory, unto him that loved us;” then shut your eyes on earth, and open them in heaven? If you would do so, presume not. “Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.”


23 July 2018

Convictions of the Christian “Social Justice” Movement and Responses Thereto

by Hohn Cho



Reader AK said: I and others are still unclear on the "woke dogmas" or the unifying convictions of this "Christian justice movement"

This is a somewhat challenging question, because as with many decentralized movements, different people are going to answer this question in diverse ways. But as someone who participated avidly in the secular version of this movement for many years and has observed it in the church for several years, here is my effort.

My goal is to fairly present a number of views common to the "social justice" movement within conservative evangelicalism in the US, even as I acknowledge that the list is neither comprehensive, nor necessarily universal to every individual "social justice" advocate.

  1. Certain groups have been marginalized and oppressed throughout American history. These groups include, but are not limited to, ethnic minorities and women.
  2. This oppression, especially when amplified over many years—and in certain cases, many generations—has resulted in negative effects that have real impacts to this very day.
  3. This problem is both a historical and a current one, in that vestiges of the historical problems persist systemically within existing structures today.
  4. Moreover, the current inequities are so vast that to apply a "clean slate" or "equality of opportunity" paradigm alone would be neither sufficient nor just.
  5. Accordingly, as a matter of fundamental justice, existing inequities ought to be addressed by eliminating systemic problems and tangibly assisting those who have been oppressed.
  6. Because these inequities resulted from societal structures benefiting those with power and privilege, any costs associated with #5 should be borne primarily by society and the privileged.
I believe the above six concepts could likely be true of either a secular or a Christian "social justice" advocate. The below six concepts will attempt to focus in on the Christian perspective.

  1. Christians ought to be deeply concerned about these inequities, because we are called to love our neighbors, to love even our enemies, and to help the "least of these" as the example of the Good Samaritan clearly lays out.
  2. Any failure or even lack of enthusiasm to put into action this call to love our neighbors and help the least of these is a sin, or at the very least a detriment to our Christian witness, and thus individual repentance in these areas is appropriate.
  3. The church has a role to play as well, initially in the casting off and corporate repentance of any overt past or present sins relating to oppressed groups (see, e.g., the Southern Baptist Convention and slavery).
  4. As part of the repentance in #9, or at least as part of the compassionate sensitivity associated with #7, the church should actively disciple its members to love our neighbors, and examine itself to see if it is placing even unintentional barriers to fellowship for oppressed groups.
  5. One way these barriers to fellowship for oppressed groups could be discerned is examining the ethnic makeup of one's local body and comparing it to the ethnic makeup of the surrounding community.
  6. Some would argue that corporate repentance by the church should include measures such as reparations and/or proactive hiring/ordination of pastors/elders from oppressed groups, in a type of affirmative action. Others (often amillennial and post-millennial believers) would argue that an overt role of the church should be to actively work toward social change and improvement.
Subject to my earlier qualifications, I think that's enough for a basic sketch. And now that I've laid out what I hope is a fair summary, I'm going to respond with a brief set of conceptual rebuttals.

  1. No question there have been past injustices. Indeed, as we move back in history, we see a wretched and at times horrifying catalogue of evils and wrongs, and no single people group has a monopoly on this, as either victim or perpetrator. And delving into this issue begs the question of how broadly do you go, how far back do you go? Happily, we have answers from Scripture, because Ezekiel 18:20, Jeremiah 31:30, Deuteronomy 24:16, Galatians 6:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:10, Romans 2:6, and other verse are crystal clear that each man is responsible for his own sins, and not the sins of his ancestors or other people.
  2. Additionally, to say it plainly, there is a fact-based debate over how prevalent and dire the sin of partiality vis-à-vis oppressed groups is in the US right now. I neither need nor desire to dispute personal experiences of ill treatment—and indeed, I could share several of my own—in order to observe that accusations of systemic problems in a nation of over 325 million people require more than proof-by-anecdote. Hard data are far more persuasive, and in that regard, there are many competing studies out there. And having reviewed dozens of them, my own view is that the best data are multivariate analyses which demonstrate the reality that complex issues, such as reasons for inequality, defy simple univariate answers (e.g., "it's all the fault of discrimination"). Meanwhile, the worst data tend to be studies from highly liberal/leftist humanities professors which contain clear methodological limitations, or even engage in question-begging, to assume the ideologically desired conclusions.
  3. Moreover, I've also seen a tendency among "social justice" advocates to ignore or minimize positive news and data, such as the increase in approval of interracial marriages from 4% in 1958 to 87% in 2013, representing "one of the largest shifts of public opinion in Gallup history". Or the reality that the US did indeed elect—twice!—an ethnic minority to the highest and most powerful position in the land. This does not mean the sin of partiality has disappeared, of course, but it does indicate progress. The reality is, it is and always will be impossible to eliminate the sin of partiality this side of glory, because the Scriptures are clear that we are all sinners, as Romans 3:9-10 and many other verses declare. We don't need to be fatalistic about this, of course, but it is more than appropriate to consider concepts such as magnitude, urgency, and even diminishing returns as we examine the sweep of stewardship of all that is set before us.
  4. This begs a fundamental question . . . how do we opt to prioritize "social justice" within the grid of many hundreds of Christian commands? There are, after all, "things of first importance" described in Scripture, and there are commands we are to be doing at all times, such as rejoicing, praying, and giving thanks. (And I will note that in contrast, we are never called in Scripture to always be mourning, protesting, or expressing grievances.) Given a spare hour, should you spend it reading the Word, praying, doing street evangelism, serving your spouse via housework, or playing with your children? The answer is one of Christian liberty and stewardship, and ultimately each one of us will give an account to God for that hour per Romans 14:12. For anyone else to insist that you need to spend your time, money, or resources in a specific way, or to prioritize their heartfelt cause over your own, amounts to a treacherous path toward legalistic conscience-binding.
  5. Even when it comes to loving our neighbor, caring for the least of these, or doing justice, that remains an issue of liberty and stewardship. It might surprise you to hear that even with all of the constant media uproar about police shootings, the left-of-center Washington Post and the liberal The Guardian reported that 68 unarmed people (of all ethnicities) in 2017 and 170 unarmed people (again, of all ethnicities) in 2016, respectively, were killed by police in the US. Each of those people carried the Imago Dei, and regardless of the nature or justifiability of the shooting, I don't doubt that they each had loved ones who mourned their deaths. I can think of a dear friend who lost a loved one to a police shooting, and I mourned and still mourn with her. But in terms of relative commonality, more people (189) died of constipation in the US in 2016 . . . which, to be fair, sounds like a pretty awful way to die as well. In contrast, the horror of abortion murdered an estimated 926,200 unborn babies in 2014, a disproportionately high number of which were ethnic minorities, by the way. In that light, are those of us who believe the issue of abortion is, say, at least 5,000 times more important than the issue of unarmed people killed by police being somehow unfair or unreasonable?
  6. When it comes to repenting of the failure to love my neighbor, I am personally far more convicted and motivated with respect to sharing the Gospel with those around me, than I am of the sin of partiality as it pertains to ethnicity. In complete candor, for a variety of reasons, I am not currently convicted of the sin of partiality as it pertains to ethnicity. This is not to say that I am perfect in this area, of course, nor to say that the Holy Spirit won't someday convict me in this area, perhaps even deeply. But Christians are capable of maintaining a clear conscience in certain areas or toward certain people, as the Scriptures plainly state in Acts 23:1, Acts 24:16, Romans 9:1, 1 Corinthians 4:4, 2 Corinthians 1:12, 1 Timothy 1:19, 2 Timothy 1:3, and 1 Peter 3:16. Self-examination in these areas can be helpful and profitable, but it crosses into presumption and trying to be the Holy Spirit in another's life when certain "social justice" advocates insist that people are or should feel guilty of this or that particular sin. At the end of the day, 1 Corinthians 4:5 tells us that hidden things and the purposes of the heart are for the Lord to reveal and disclose, not for others to assume or believe the worst.
  7. Regarding the issue of privilege, there is no question that certain people are born with greater privileges than others. I joked recently that I was outraged that I was born without white privilege, tall privilege, attractive privilege, born-to-wealthy-parents privilege, firstborn privilege, and especially in our Reformed-ish circles, able-to-grow-beards privilege. At the end of the day, it is the Lord alone who in His sovereignty ordains the privileges and challenges associated with our birth, so why should we have either pride or shame in those circumstances, with which we had absolutely nothing to do? Moreover, as Christians, to the extent we are granted privileges, we praise Him, and to the extent we are granted challenges, still we praise Him as James 1:2, Romans 5:3, 1 Peter 1:6, and other verses make very clear.
I will close for now by saying that the biggest concern that I and numerous others have about the "social justice" movement in the church is that turning our attention toward social concerns necessarily increases their relative priority, and thus necessarily decreases the relative priority of Gospel proclamation. Again, just to speak plainly, I am far more concerned about the furtherance of the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the earth, than I am about certain marginal improvements with respect to, say, living standards in our own abundantly blessed first-world country.

Church history is filled with the wreckage of denominations and organizations which became distracted by social issues, and then over the course of time, abandoned their Gospel priorities and even their doctrinal fidelity. We Christians in America are already so apt to being distracted by the shiny things of the world, some of which might even be good or neutral things, in and of themselves. My prayer is that we will refuse to be diverted from the beauty and simplicity of the perfect Word of God and His Gospel by an unnecessary focus on anything peripheral to that, whether it is "social justice" or worldly politics—often two sides of the very same distracting coin.

Hohn's signature


22 July 2018

“Alone"

Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon




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The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the The Cheque-Book of the Bank of Faith, September 26, Pilgrim Publications.

"Lo, the people shall dwell alone, and shall not be reckoned among the nations." Numbers 23:9

Who would wish to dwell among the nations, and to be numbered
with them? Why, even the professing church is such that to follow the Lord fully within its bounds is very difficult. There is such a mingling and mixing that one often sighs for “a lodge in some vast wilderness.”

Certain it is that the Lord would have his people follow a separated path as to the world, and come out decidedly and distinctly from it. We are set apart by the divine decree, purchase, and calling, and our inward experience has made us greatly to differ from men of the world; and therefore our place is not in their Vanity Fair, nor in their City of Destruction, but in the narrow way where all true pilgrims must follow their Lord.

This may not only reconcile us to the world’s cold shoulder and sneers, but even cause us to accept them with pleasure as being a part of our covenant portion.

Our names are not in the same book, we are not of the same seed, we are not bound for the same place, neither are we trusting to the same guide, therefore it is well that we are not of their number. 

Only let us be found in the number of the redeemed, and we are content to be odd and solitary to the end of the chapter.


21 July 2018

What Are You Wearing? Part 2: On the Modern Day Assault Against the Dress Code of Heaven

by Dr. Colin Eakin



n our previous post, we asked the question that supersedes all others: What does it take to be right with God? The answer, as established in God's Word, is straightforward and consistent throughout: to be of the same glory as God Himself—holy, pure, perfect.

This is ominous for all of us, because in our flesh we are inherently incapable of such perfection. But the most glorious of all biblical truths is that such a requirement need not spell our certain doom, because God has made possible the provision of Christ's righteousness to the penitent and believing sinner. Through the process known as imputation, the Bible tells how the repentant believer's sins can be exchanged for Christ's righteousness as a pauper might be redressed from his soiled garment into a pure and spotless robe.

That is the only manner by which the sinner might stand acceptable before God. And although the rebellious heart of sinners yearns for any mode of spiritual dress other than the one stipulated by God, the Bible makes clear that all such endeavors are vain, despicable and worthless substitutes.

God's Dress Code Under Attack

Now, we might expect those who reject outright the God of the Bible to formulate their own manner of acceptable dress before God—as it were, to clothe themselves in their own "righteous" works. But are you aware that God's singular manner of reconciling believing sinners by applying to them Christ's righteous robe is under attack from within the church as well? N.T. Wright—a darling among the revisionist evangelical set—has lead this attack in recent years. His so-called "New Perspective" on the gospel seeks to undermine the traditional, orthodox understanding of God's plan of salvation in several ways, including his claim that God never meant that Christ's righteousness could somehow be imputed to sinners. Wright is derisive of such an idea, claiming this doctrine is a misunderstanding of the gospel. He writes, "In certain circles within the church . . . 'the gospel' is supposed to be a description of how people get saved; of the theological mechanism whereby, in some people's language, Christ takes our sin and we his righteousness." [N.T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Paul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), p. 39.]



Wright is insistent that this traditional Reformed understanding of the gospel involving penal substitutionary atonement has it all wrong. "This is not the gospel," he writes in his latest book, The Day the Revolution Began. "This is paganism. To worship God as one who justifies by imputation is nonsense." So as to leave no question on his denial of penal substitutionary atonement, he adds: "That Christ died in the place of sinners is closer to the pagan idea of an angry deity being pacified by a human death than it is to anything in either Israel's Scriptures or the New Testament." [N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus' Crucifixion (New York: Harper One, 2017), p. 147.]

Elsewhere he writes: "If we use the language of the law court, it makes no sense whatsoever to say that the judge imputes, imparts, bequeaths, conveys, or otherwise transfers his righteousness to either the plaintiff or the defendant. Righteousness is not an object, a substance, or a gas which can be passed across the courtroom. This gives the impression of a legal transaction, a cold piece of business, almost a trick of thought performed by a God who is logical and correct, but hardly one we want to worship." [Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, p. 113.]

And what is his alternative? Wright contends that no one is justified—in other words, declared righteous by God—until one's final, future assessment. At that time—according to Wright—what the Apostle Paul meant as present justification by faith will be affirmed or denied on the basis of one's entire life. [Ibid, p. 129.] Wright speaks of a person's "covenant faithfulness," wherein one maintains membership in God's covenant with His followers through vocational means (i.e. through obedience to His teaching), and anticipates a final justification at the end of time based at least partly in these obedient works. As Phil Johnson has remarked, this makes a person's faithful discipleship a factor in final justification. In other words, Wright's theology would ground ultimate salvation at least partly in the believer's activity while on Earth (Wright describes this as the "covenant of vocation"), and not completely in the finished work of Christ on the sinner's behalf. [Phil Johnson, "What's Wrong with Wright?" Ligonier Ministries.]

Wright's purpose is to re-envision the traditional gospel away from its insistence on repentance and faith in God's substitutionary atoning sacrifice in exchange for God's imprimatur of righteousness. Instead, Wright would have us believe that all who dedicate themselves to Christ and follow-through with behaviors consistent with His ethics are in God's family and belong at His table. The late philosopher and author Dallas Willard (another favorite among revisionist evangelicals) would seem to concur when he remarks, "It isn't that we become righteous by having the correct beliefs. We become righteous by trusting God and living from Him." [Dallas Willard, interview with John Ortberg, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, Menlo Park, CA, Dec. 13, 2009.] In the same interview, Willard declares it is a mistake to think that "God has a list of things you must believe, and then He'll have to let you into heaven." [Ibid.]

Jesus: Heaven's Dress Code Enforcer

So which are we to believe? Is the gospel the imputation of Christ's righteousness in the form of a holy robe to all who repent and (in Willard's sardonic lexicon) "believe the right things," or is it Wright's version of covenant membership that comes to all would-be disciples of Christ as they live out their faith in obedience to His teaching?" Does the Bible provide any insight on this critical divide?

Indeed it does, and from no less an expert than Jesus Christ Himself. In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus tells a parable to His disciples, the ending of which addresses this exact issue. At a banquet meant to represent the eternal celebration between God and His true companions, Jesus tells of someone God deems unacceptable at the feast—an unwelcome intruder. In an astonishing turn of events, this impostor is confronted by the King, the Lord Jesus Christ, and summarily tossed from the banquet into outer darkness, a figurative description for hell.

For what crime? The King Himself had declared that invitations were to be sent far and wide, to whomever could be found (v. 9). Not only that, invitations were sent out without regard to one's moral standing (v. 10); in fact, the event was to include (v. 10) "both bad and good." The man is at the banquet when confronted by the Lord, implying his intention to participate in the communal gathering. Ostensibly he is there on the basis of fulfilling his part in a "covenant of vocation" while on Earth. There is no mention of any obvious treachery, and his presence at the banquet would presume at least an outward demonstration of allegiance to the King. None of his fellow celebrants seem to have any inclination that the man's admission to the event was illegitimate.

So why did Christ throw him out of the celebration and into hell? For one reason alone. In the midst of the celebration, Christ discovers the man and asks him a single question (v. 12-13): "'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"

This is most extraordinary. Jesus confronts a would-be disciple and fellow celebrant at His kingdom celebration and forth-with tosses him into hell for violating the dress code! Jesus is saying that whether or not you are wearing the proper wedding garb in His presence will determine whether you celebrate with Him forever, or whether He orders you cast into hell. Jesus' words leave no doubt as to His implication: no matter what, it is vital to be found wearing the proper wedding garment in the presence of God!

So let's take Christ's teaching and apply it to what we have already learned. From the Scriptures referenced in the previous post, we can deduce: (1) the wedding dress Christ requires comes entirely through the initiative and activity of God (Isa. 61:10); (2) the process includes the removal of the soiled garment of the sinner in exchange for the righteous robe (Zech. 3:4); and (3) the event must occur prior to one's meeting with the Lord Himself (Matt. 22:11-13).

Compare this with Wright. On all three measures, Wright's theology misses the mark. How so? (1) His ideas would introduce a disciple's faithful obedience as a factor in determining his acceptance before God, in violation of Isaiah 61:10. (2) Wright's theology minimizes or negates altogether the gospel's insistence on a specific garment exchange which serves to cleanse the sinner's stained nature, in violation of Zechariah 3:4. Finally, (3) Wright insists that no one will be justified, or declared righteous—including, by analogy, wearing any robe of righteousness—until he reaches Heaven. This perspective dismisses outright any prerequisite dress code that must be applied prior to the afterlife and one's ultimate encounter with Lord Jesus Christ, in clear violation of the Lord's own teaching in Matt. 22:11-13. On all three accounts, Wright's ideas oppose the distinct and indisputable instruction of the Word of God.

Conclusion: What Are You Wearing?

Make no mistake. Whether they recognize it or not, those who tamper with the Bible's wondrous and clear presentation of God's provision of a holy garment to penitent believers, through Christ's penal substitutionary atonement, do so from the corruption and pride of their carnal selves. It arises from the age-old, grotesque desire to offer up some form of human activity designed to merit God's acceptance. These would-be spiritual leaders and religious teachers resent God's impossible righteous standard, so they devise one of their own. Here, Proverbs 14:9 applies: "Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance." Those who dislike God's bar of approval will mock at what He has done to reconcile repentant and believing sinners to Himself. But rather than enjoying God's acceptance, they are counted as fools.

Why do such fools mock in this way? Ultimately, it is because they do not want to share in the persecution Christ says will come to His true followers (Gal. 6:12; see also John 15:18-25; 16:1-4; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 John 3:13). Those who deny the doctrine of substitutionary atonement do so to avoid telling sinners they have neither the autonomous will nor ability to merit any favor of God (Phil. 2:12), that they live under God's contemporary judgment even now (John 3:18, 36; Gal. 3:10), and that apart from faith in Christ's Person and saving work, they are headed for eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46; John 8:24). That is exclusive, divisive, even inflammatory language, and those who deny the true gospel message want no part in such polemical discourse that might invite rejection and open hostility.



But such a polemic is precisely the intent of the true gospel, which is why Christ is depicted in both the Old and New Testaments as a "rock of offense" (Isa. 8:14; Rom. 9:33; 1 Pet. 2:8). The gospel is a polemical message designed to convict the sinner of damning sin and the utter ineptitude of any self-rescue. If humans, through their estimable efforts, can affect their standing before God, then these modern-day evangelical revisionists can appeal to the pride of humans in presenting their good deeds before God, and maintain their popular standing among like-minded objectors. But none of this is new. These latest attempts to undermine God's righteous standard are but recycled heresies which, regardless of the age or form, are subject to the same chilling and dire sentence Christ gave to the improperly-clothed wedding celebrant.

N.T. Wright, Dallas Willard and all who follow in their wake are wrong. Heaven has a dress code, and it is strictly enforced. The robe of righteousness that must be worn in the presence of Christ has no input from human hands, comes through the imputation of Christ's righteousness in exchange for the penitent believer's sins, and must be applied by Christ alone prior to the one's progression to the afterlife. This is the clear statement of Scripture. May God continue to call forth an army of righteously robed converts to proclaim His true gospel, and to rebuke all assaults against it.

Dr. Colin L. Eakin
Guest Contributor

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.

20 July 2018

What Are You Wearing? Part 1: On the Modern Day Assault Against the Dress Code of Heaven

by Dr. Colin L. Eakin



What does it take to be right with God? That is the central question of human existence. What are God's criteria for eternal life with Him? What does He require?

Job had this question on his mind. The Book of Job is likely the oldest book in the Bible, so it is fitting that in it Job asks the question the Bible is written to answer: "How then can man be in the right before God?" (Job 25:4; also 4:17; 9:2). The correct answer determines the fate of everyone for all time. And because this is so, the correct answer is not only the most pondered and debated topic by humans, it is also the most undermined and attacked by God's number one enemy, Satan.

God's Perfect Standard

So what is the Bible's answer to this most fundamental question? What is God's demand upon those who would be received by Him? Answer: perfection. God's bar for His approval is perfection. Anything less brings eternal condemnation as the price of disobedience. Ezekiel writes what God has determined: "The soul that sins shall die" (Ezek. 18:4, 20).

This is God's consistent standard throughout Scripture. When God created the first humans, Adam and Eve, His instruction to them was straightforward: if you disobey Me, you will die (Gen. 2:17). When God delivered His Law to the people of Israel, His oft-repeated injunction—"Be holy, for I am holy" (Lev. 11:44-45; 19:2; 20:7)—remained the same. And what was God's threat for all who fail in this? "Cursed be anyone who does not confirm the words of this law by doing them" (Deut. 27:26). Be perfect, or be cursed. Those have always been God's two options.



This righteous standard was on David's heart when the Holy Spirit inspired him to write, "O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks with truth in his heart" (Ps. 15:1-2). In another Psalm, David continues on this theme: "Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, and does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully" (Ps. 24:3-4).

When God came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, His condition for acceptance was unchanged and explicit: "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). Earlier in the same sermon, Jesus warns those who would listen, "For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). In the Book of Hebrews, the Holy Spirit reiterates through the writer, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for holiness, without which no one will see the LORD" (Heb. 12:14).

So the standard of God for those who would commune with Him is consistent throughout Scripture and unequivocally clear: holiness. Moral perfection. A life lived flawlessly before God, free of even the slightest taint of sin. That is the Bible's daunting yet unambiguous requirement for fellowship and eternal life with God. Then the Bible dooms its reader even further, declaring that on one's own, such perfection is impossible. According to the Bible, no one can live in such a manner, in perfect obedience before a righteous and holy God. David moans, "No one living is righteous before you" (Ps. 143:2). And in the New Testament, Paul concurs when he writes, " . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23a). Therein lies the fundamental predicament of mankind: God demands holiness to match His glory, and everyone throughout all time falls short of this standard.

Imputation: God's "Robe of Perfection" Applied to Penitent Sinners

Most fortuitously, God has provided a manner by which sinners can acquire the holiness necessary to commune with Him: through the imputation of Christ's righteousness to those who repent and believe in His saving work. Imputation means the transfer of condition from one account to another—in this case, the transfer of Christ's perfection to the unworthy. This imputation comes from God's provision of penal substitutionary atonement, wherein through faith God attributes the righteous life of Christ to the penitent sinner, and places that sinner's sins upon Christ, for which He was punished once and for all time upon the cross (Isa. 53:10; 2 Cor. 5:21). This is exactly what Isaiah was expressing when he says of Christ (Isa. 53:11), " . . . by His knowledge shall the Righteous One, My Servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities."

The Bible uses a number of images to depict all that occurs in redeeming the sinner via imputation through substitutionary atonement, including speaking of being clothed with the righteousness of God (Job 29:14; italics added). The prophet Isaiah was beside himself at this possibility, exclaiming, "I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness" (Isa. 61:10; italics added). Zechariah elaborates on this sartorial makeover: "He [God] spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, 'Remove the filthy garments from him.' Again He said to him, 'See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes' " (Zech. 3:4; italics added).

This transfer of Christ's righteousness to sinners—pictured as a holy robe, given in exchange for their sinful soiled garment—is the most extraordinary transaction imaginable. It is almost beyond our ability to conceive that God would punish His own Son for the sins of others in order to provide this holy vestment, by which the sinner can stand perfectly righteous—and thus accepted—in the presence of God. Substitutionary atonement and its provision of a righteous robe to unworthy sinners is thus the pinnacle demonstration of God's grace and mercy and love. As such, it is the supreme feature for which He deserves their highest and ceaseless praise.

But the prideful human heart is wired to reject God's offer of Christ's righteous robe, and to come up with one of its own. Ever since Adam and Eve made garments of leaves in the vain attempt to cover the shame brought on by their sin, it has been mankind's nature to reject the covering God would apply, and endeavor instead to apply an alternative. This, in fact, is the impetus behind every false religion. Every false form of belief in the world is predicated, at its core, upon developing some alternative garment that might cover the sin and shame of its converts and somehow still allow them to stand acceptable before God.

Here is how Pastor John MacArthur describes this tendency:
What did Adam and Eve do? "They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin coverings" (Gen. 3:7). That is the launch of false religion . . . that is the symbol of false religion. That is the first act of man to create a way in which he himself could deal with his own shame, in which he could cover his own iniquity. And then he hides, because he hasn't yet found a way to face God.
     This is the birth of false religion: men make ways to cover their own sin. But it does not salve their guilty conscience, and so they hide from God. False religion is a form of hiding from God, hiding from His true presence. That is the symbol of all false religion, that a guilty, dying sinner can make a covering for his own shame, and that somehow he can cover his shame and hide himself from God. He hides himself in his own self-made coverings. [John MacArthur, from the sermon, "The Danger of Adding to the Gospel: Gal. 2:11-12," delivered at Grace Community Church, Sun Valley, CA, June 4, 2017.]
Isaiah confirms the futility of these efforts: "For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; and all of us wither like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away" (Isa. 64:6). According to the prophet, these "righteous deeds" not only fail to cover one's sins and deliver the righteousness God requires, but are actually fetid waste which bespeak of the sinner's unrighteous core and augur his demise.

With such straightforward and consistent biblical instruction on God's righteous standard for acceptance, the gracious and singular manner He has arranged for this to occur, and the failure of all substituted human effort, one might think God's prescription for His approval would be immune to dispute. But if that is your conclusion, guess again. We'll cover the modern day assault against God's standard of righteousness in our next post, "What Are You Wearing? Part 2."

Dr. Colin L. Eakin
Guest Contributor

Dr. Eakin is a sports medicine orthopædic surgeon in the Bay Area and part time teacher at Grace Bible Fellowship Church's Stanford campus ministry. He is the author of God's Glorious Story.

18 July 2018

Don Green on Biblical Justice vs. "Social Justice"

posted by Phil Johnson



My friend and one-time joint pastor of GraceLife wrote this brief post on FaceBook yesterday, and it was so good I wanted to save it here for easy access. FaceBook posts always disappear into the timeline, and it's really hard to search for them, so let's preserve this here:

When like-minded brothers and I voice warning about the so-called Christian justice movement, it would do you good to recognize something important.

(I speak primarily to those who are confused and trying to sort it out; I realize the main speakers, writers, and promoters have chosen their way and resent the fact that we won’t hop on their train.)

We are trying to safeguard you and your faith. We think there is a genuine danger to this movement that will lead you far away from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

The burden of proof is not on us to defend a continuance of the faith once and for all delivered to the saints, but entirely upon those men who point to an immoral heretic as grounds for re-defining the very nature of what historic Christianity should be and do. We don’t believe these men have come close to making their case.

We see them driving people from their churches with harsh words and judgment. We see them calling their opponents racist Confederates. We see their defensiveness when sincere concern is expressed against their agenda.

We assess all that and say, “That is not the Spirit of the Good Shepherd who cares for His sheep.”

We fear lest the precious good news be obscured and hidden by men with a grievance trying to accomplish political and economic goals rather than pursuing the interests of Christ Jesus, who plainly said His kingdom is not of this world.

To be sure, we are men of clay feet. We never said anything different. We are near Paul at the front of that long line of men who are foremost among sinners.

But over time we’ve seen these kinds of movements come and go. They’re fundamentally all the same. Biblical preaching and the transforming power of God’s Word isn’t enough to them.

We disagree. And we’re not moving. The angrier they get, the more resolved we are—whether we are in the majority or minority is of no consequence to our position.

We do it preeminently for love for Christ, who loved us and gave Himself up for us in His atoning death on Calvary. Loyalty to Him allows us no other option and we wouldn’t take a different path if we could.

But know this. We do it in love for you, too. We seek to feed His lambs and tend His sheep.

We believe that’s the ultimate justice we can render in respond to Christ, who not only saved us, but who also in one way or another has put us in a position of ministry.

          Don Green
          Pastor
          Truth Community Church, Cincinnati
And follow Don on FaceBook. He's not the most prolific FaceBook celeb, but when he posts anything substantive, he always has great stuff to say.

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17 July 2018

Christian Dating: Christlike Character

by Hohn Cho



The introduction to this series is here. As we look at a number of key biblical principles in the area of Christian dating, I'm going to start with the importance of Christian character. In many ways, this is kind of a "no duh" principle, and it's not uncommon for pastors preaching a dating series to lead with multiple sermons on this concept. So my goal in addressing it in this one blog post certainly isn't meant to be comprehensive.

But just as there are matters of first importance in the Bible, there are matters of first importance with respect to specific issues as well, and when it comes to dating, nothing is more important than Christlike character. All through Scripture, we are called to imitate Christ, such as 1 John 2:6 and Ephesians 5:1-2. We also see calls to imitate faithful Christians among us, even as they strive to imitate Christ, as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 4:16 and 1 Corinthians 11:1. So this concept of imitation, of Christlikeness, is very clear in Scripture.

I'm initially going to aim this first principle inwardly: Are you displaying Christlike character, before you even start thinking about anything else? As a Christian, you really ought to be doing that to at least some degree, or else you probably shouldn't be dating at all. Without some minimum baseline of tested and proven Christian character, and the ability to demonstrate to others that your profession of faith is genuine, perhaps you should spend some more time working on yourself first.

At the risk of being cliché, however, it's about direction, not perfection. Remember that historically, people got married both in general society and in the church quite a bit younger than the 2017 US median age of 27.4 for women and 29.5 for men, and today's modern trend of waiting longer and longer for marriage is actually both historically unusual and on some levels concerning, according to Dr. Al Mohler (a consistent warning he's sounded over the years) and numerous other Christian leaders.

Although the idea of getting married before the age of, say, 25 might be an astonishing one to some Christians today, there's nothing inherently or biologically different between young people today and young people in the 1700's, or even young people in the Ancient Near East. Now, cultural expectations of maturity and overall life expectancy have certainly changed significantly, but even so, there's no reason to think that a spiritually mature 18- to 22-year-old Christian man or woman today couldn't get married. With that said, on a practical level, what are some ways that a young single Christian, and the key people speaking into that person's life, might be able to gauge his or her readiness for marriage?

When I refer to gauging readiness for marriage, to be clear, my spiritual assessment of a 22-year-old single man isn't going to be the same type of assessment as a 45-year-old husband and father who's been a Christian for most of his life. Too often, I think, single Christians develop an unrealistically high expectation that their potential romantic interests need to match up to the godliness of their Christian parents, pastors, elders, and role models. And if anything, Christian parents, who are obviously going to want the best for their kids, and to protect them, can be even more stringent in this examination. And yet if we believe, as many of us do, that marriage and parenthood will be the most blessedly sanctifying experiences and relationships in our lives, then if anything, it's even more unfair to think that single people who haven't yet embarked upon those adventures ought to be held to the same standard of sanctification as older saints who are well under way on their journeys.

Now, with that said, of course there are some assessments to be made in these areas, and some basic minimums ought to be satisfied. And it can get especially tricky when those minimums are considered on a case-by-case basis, by each individual romantic interest (and in some cases, by the parents of that romantic interest, as well). One young woman might look at a guy and say, sure, he's faithful and godly, I'd consider him . . . whereas another young woman and her parents might look at the same guy and immediately shake their heads. This helps explain both the intense desire within conservative evangelicalism for a standard "formula" and the (at times) messy and confusing results when the answer instead is that we need to figure this out for ourselves in our own Christian liberty, stewardship, and wisdom, as we mine the Scriptures for appropriate biblical principles to apply.

For single Christian men, I suggest considering three key areas that are especially important for husbands: readiness as a leader, a protector, and a provider, as Tim Challies lays out in an excellent series. For over a decade, Chris Hamilton, the chairman of my church's elder board, has also identified the same three traits of leading, protecting, and providing as fundamental in Scripture for raising boys into young men. And all of this matches my own examination of Scripture on this topic.

So as a future leader in the home, does the single man have some kind of goal or vision in terms of what he's thinking and planning with respect to a future wife and family? Proverbs 29:18 is clear on the wisdom of having such a vision, so what is that vision for the single man's future family, and is that vision biblical, in accordance with the Word of God? Having that vision and being able to articulate it to others would be incredibly helpful in terms of discerning how the single man would lead.

As a protector, I'm not talking about just physical protection. Buying a gun doesn't check off this box! But will the single man be able to protect his future wife and family from error, from the dangers and deceptions of this world? 2 Timothy 3:1-7 warns about lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful arrogant revilers, haters of good, lovers of pleasure, who are nevertheless holding to a form of godliness. And we're told to avoid them, lest they enter your household and captivate the people under your care. Can the single man identify dangers such as these and guard against them?

As a provider, Scripturally this isn't necessarily the highest bar to clear, because as 1 Timothy 6:8 says, we ought to be content with food and covering. Remember, most Christians throughout the history of the church have been relatively poor and would probably view today's modern abundance with a mixture of awe and even apprehension per Proverbs 30:8-9! But food and clothing and a place to lay your head all still cost money. Is the single man able to lay down a security deposit and first and sometimes even last month's rent, and pass a credit check? Even more importantly, is the single man a hard worker, and will he be able to earn some kind of living moving forward?

For single Christian women, Scripture directly informs us in Genesis 2:18 that wives are to be helpers to their husbands. Titus 2:4-5 also speaks more expansively about the importance of young women being, among other things, lovers of their husbands, lovers of their children, and excellent workers in the home . . . not necessarily a worker at home only, this verse does not forbid jobs outside the home, and we see a clear example of a godly wife in Scripture working outside of the home in Proverbs 31:16-18. But the example does assume, and display, that the wife is being an excellent worker within the home, as well. And I can again recommend Hamilton's message about how fundamental the traits of being lovers of their husbands, lovers of their children, and excellent workers in the home are for raising girls into young women.

So as a future lover of her husband and helpmate to him, does a single woman know what that entails? Does she have any role models in her life in this regard, has she seen how a godly married couple behaves toward each other? Has she ever worked alongside others closely in a team environment, in a support role? Proverbs 31:11-12 is a helpful passage here, is she trustworthy and benevolent, seeking the good of others even more so than herself (which is a general call to all Christians, per Philippians 2:3)?

As a lover of her children, has a single woman spent any time with children, either with younger siblings or babysitting or observing a godly family with each other? Proverbs 31:25-28 paints a picture of a strong, dignified, wise, kind, conscientious, and diligent mother whose children "rise up and call her blessed," a classically maternal image. And again, we're not looking for perfection here, especially in a single woman who has yet to bear any children, but are those traits at least in progress, or anywhere in view? For that matter, in our modern day and age, does the single woman view the development of these characteristics, and even the very notion of motherhood itself, as desirable (or as a blessing, as we see in Psalm 127:3) to begin with?

As a worker in the home, does a single woman know how to be an excellent at that, how to manage a household? Is she industrious? How is she with money? Given a certain level of provision, can she supply her household with its basic needs? Once again, we see a helpful passage in Proverbs 31:13-15 on this topic, even as I also feel the need to reiterate that the portrait in Proverbs 31 is of an ideal, of a woman who has been at this whole "wife and mother" thing for quite some time. (And for another thought-provoking take on Proverbs 31, here's an interesting piece by Jasmine Holmes.)

Of course, there are many other character traits in Scripture which are critically important for single Christian men and women, such as purity, humility, love, teachability, contentment, willingness to serve and put others first, and most of all, a love for Christ and His church. Again, this article is not intended as a comprehensive word on the importance of Christian character in (or prior to) dating. But prayerfully it will serve as a helpful and practical encouragement. And now that you've considered this question with respect to yourself, next in the series we'll consider this question in connection with the person you're interested in, with our second principle being to cast off consumerism.

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15 July 2018

“I believe in creeds"


Your weekly Dose of Spurgeon

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The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 11, sermon number 659, "Simeon."


"I like a doctrinal religion." 

I do not believe in the statement of some people, that they have no creedA man says, for instance, “I am not a Calvinist, and I am not an Arminian, I am not a Baptist, I am not a Presbyterian, I am not an Independent.” He says he is liberalBut this is only the license he claims for his own habit of disagreeing with everyone

He is one of that kind of people whom we generally find to be the most bigoted themselves, and least tolerant of othersHe follows himself; and so belongs to the smallest denomination in the worldI do not believe that charity consists in giving up our denominational distinctionsI think there is a “more excellent way.” 

Even those who do not despise faith, although they almost sacrifice it to their benevolence, will sometimes say, “Well, I do not belong to any of your sects and parties.” There was a group of men once, who came out from all branches of the Christian Church, with the hope that everyone else of true heart would follow themThe result, however, has been, that they have only made another denomination, distinct alike in doctrine and discipline

I believe in creeds, if they are based on ScriptureThey may not secure unity of sentiment, but on the whole they promote it, for they serve as landmarks, and show us the points at which many turn asideEvery man must have a creed if he believes anythingThe greater certainty he feels that it is true, the greater his own satisfaction

In doubts, darkness, and distrust, there can be no consolationThe vague fancies of the sceptic, as he muses over images and apprehensions too shapeless and airy to be incorporated into any creed, may please for awhile, but it is the pleasure of a dream

I believe that there is consolation for Israel in the substance of faith, and the evidence of things not seen Ideas are too ethereal to lay hold ofThe anchor we have is sure and steadfastI thank God that the faith I have received can be moulded into a creed, and can be explained with words so simple, that the common people can understand it, and be comforted by it.


09 July 2018

The Rise of Woker-Than-Thou Evangelicalism

by Phil Johnson



nless you have been living in seclusion somewhere, you will have noticed that a radical putsch is currently underway to get evangelicals on board with doctrines borrowed from Black Liberation Theology, Critical Race Theory, Intersectional Feminism, and other ideologies that are currently stylish in the left-leaning secular academy. All of these things are being aggressively promoted in the name of "racial reconciliation." I'm WokeThis has suddenly given rise to a popular movement that looks to be far more influential—and a more ominous threat to evangelical unity and gospel clarity—than the Emergent campaign was 15 years ago. The movement doesn't have an official name yet, but the zealots therein like to refer to themselves as "woke." Evangelical thought leaders boast of their wokeness and vie with one another to be woker-than-thou.

In many ways, today's Woke Evangelicals are merely an echo of their Emergent forebears. The central threads of their rhetoric are identical, and many of their goals are similar—starting with their campaign to convince other evangelicals that gospel clarity alone will never reach a hostile culture. To do that, they say, Jesus was intersectional?we must strive for postmodern political correctness. We need to try to "make Christianity cool." Nowadays, that means race must be an issue in practically every subject we deal with. Meanwhile, diversity, tolerance, inclusivity, and a host of other postmodern "virtues" have begun to edge out the actual fruit of the Spirit in the language and conversation of some of our wokest brethren.

The Gospel Coalition (TGC) and Together for the Gospel (T4G) were founded little more than a decade ago to bring Christians together around a shared commitment to the foundational doctrines of gospel truth. Earlier this year both organizations sponsored conferences promoting Woke dogmas. Both of them, for example, paid homage to Dr. Martin Luther King not only as a great champion of civil rights (which he certainly was), but also as an exemplar of gospel truth and authentic Christian conviction (which he emphatically was not). Those of us who don't believe that kind of "wokeness" reflects biblical integrity have been scolded, shamed, and called racists by key leaders from both organizations.

In other words, these two organizations that were originally founded to unite believers in the proclamation and defense of the gospel are now dividing evangelicals over something other than the gospel. Under the guise of being Woke they are championing ideological dogmas and political policies that no biblically-minded Christian in any generation of church history ever considered germane to the gospel. They are actually shifting the evangelical focus away from true gospel issues.

In short, I fear both TGC and T4G are dangerously close to becoming exactly what they were founded to oppose.

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08 July 2018

Expected expectoration

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The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from the lifetime of works from the Prince of Preachers, Charles Haddon Spurgeon.  The following excerpt is from the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 49, sermon number 2,824, "Mocked of the soldiers."

"Far be it from us to seek a crown of honour where our Lord found a coronet of thorn."


I do believe—I cannot help believing—that our blessed Master, when he was in the hands of those cruel soldiers, and they crowned him with thorns, bowed before him in mock reverence, and insulted him in every possible way, all the while looked behind the curtain of the visible circumstances, and saw that the heartless pantomime,—nay, tragedy,—only partially hid the divine reality, for he was a King, even then, and he had a throne, and that thorn-crown was the emblem of the diadem of universal sovereignty that shall, in due season, adorn his blessed brow; that reed was to him a type of the sceptre which he shall yet wield as King of kings, and Lord of lords; and when they said, “Hail, King of the Jews!” he heard, behind that mocking cry, the triumphant note of his future glory, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! The Lord God omnipotent reigneth; and he shall reign for ever and ever!” for when they mockingly bowed the knee to him, he saw all nations really bowing before him, and his enemies licking the dust at his feet. 

Our Saviour knew that these ribald soldiers, unconsciously to themselves, were setting before him pictures of the great reward of his soul-travail. 

Let us not be discouraged if we have to endure anything of the same sort as our Lord suffered. He was not discouraged, but remained steadfast through it all. Mockery is the unintentional homage which falsehood pays to truth. Scorn is the unconscious praise which sin gives to holiness. 

What higher tribute could these soldiers give to Christ than to spit upon him? If Christ had received honour from such men, there would have been no honour in it to him. You know how even a heathen moralist, when they said to him, “So-and-So spoke well of you yesterday in the market,” asked, “What have I done amiss that such a wretch as that should speak well of me?” 

He rightly counted it a disgrace to be praised by a bad man; and because our Lord had done nothing amiss, all that these men could do was to speak ill of him, and treat him with contumely, for their nature and character were the very opposite of his. 

Representing, as these soldiers did, the unregenerate, God-hating world, I say that their scorn was the truest reverence that they could offer to Christ while they continued as they were; and so, at the back of persecution, at the back of heresy, at the back of the hatred of ungodly men to the cross of Christ, I see his everlasting kingdom advancing, and I believe that “the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be exalted above the hills,” and that “all nations shall flow unto it,” even as Isaiah foretold; that Jesus shall sit upon the throne of David, and that of the increase of his kingdom there shall be no end, for the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honour unto him, “and he shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah!” 

Glory be to his holy name!


04 July 2018

Christian Dating: An Introduction

by Hohn Cho



One of the things that I so appreciated about Pyromaniacs back in the day was the sheer breadth of topics that Phil, Dan, and Frank covered. I was regularly blessed by biblical critiques of the latest evangelical fads, solid thoughts about theology, timeless quotes and passages from Spurgeon, formative articles on seeing our culture through a Christian worldview, and incredibly helpful practical pieces like this one from Dan Phillips, on Christians dating non-Christians, which I've cited many times, as recently as yesterday.

In that spirit, I think it's important for this blog to speak to a variety of matters. And while I'm no polymath like Phil, I've spent the great majority of my Christian life in ministry alongside primarily single folks, and so I'm passionate about the topic of singleness and marriage. So having written my first two posts on the innocuous and uncontroversial subject of "race," I've now decided to dip my toes into the far more placid waters of Christian dating, and this post will serve as an introduction to an occasional series.

As an initial matter, please note that I'm using the term "dating" somewhat loosely, in that I'm really talking about any intentional process that two Bible-believing Christians might follow in figuring out whether or not they ought to get married. One could call it dating, one could probably even call it courtship in certain contexts. In fact, Josh Harris, who over 20 years ago (when he was a 21-year-old single man) wrote "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" (a book which was widely credited with starting the "courtship" craze in Christian circles) subsequently defined courtship in a 2005 sermon as "a purposeful relationship in which a man and a woman are intentionally considering marriage" . . . which sounds a lot like what I would call intentional dating.

Even just a few months ago, Harris said, "I learned that intentionality can be taken too far, to where people can put the relationship under a microscope: Is this the person I'm going to marry? With such tremendous pressure, it's devastating when the relationship doesn't work out. It makes it hard for single people to get to know other people in a more relaxed environment . . . We don't do well with complexity. People latch on to movements for simple answers and promises. Even now as I revisit this issue, I don't want to fall into the trap of thinking this is the real answer. We need to go to God humbly as a community and recognize there's no one-size-fits-all approach."

Given how intensely the courtship concept has been applied in certain conservative evangelical circles, it's very interesting to see Harris' evolving views on this topic. And I wholeheartedly agree with many of his more recent comments, particularly that there is no one-size-fits-all approach. And one of the main reasons why is that we need to remember, the specific topic of dating isn't even in the Bible! We do have some descriptive examples and civil laws of Old Testament Israel relating to how people got married in the Ancient Near East, and some of those examples might even be helpful as we consider Christian dating today . . . but to be candid, some of the examples are, shall we say, not so helpful.

In the absence of clear imperatives on how specifically to go get a spouse, we're left with some excellent and timeless biblical principles, as well as some commands on general Christian behavior. The commands are straightforward. I can declare with confidence that in dating, one must abstain from sexual immorality, because that's what 1 Thessalonians 4:3 says. But it gets harder when we move to broader biblical principles, and that's because in any given situation, people apply biblical principles differently, they apply them with greater or lesser degrees of emphasis, and they sometimes even dare to apply entirely different—but still valid—biblical principles.

This means there's necessarily a lot of Christian liberty when it comes to dating. And so despite the yearning we've seen in the courtship culture and elsewhere to turn dating into a rigid, easy-to-follow formula, the reality is that there is no biblical formula. Speaking generally, there is no "you must approach it this way" or specific how-to guide in Christian dating. That can be one challenging part of Christian liberty, and it can become even more challenging when one realizes that certain things might be fine for one person in his liberty, but they might not be fine for another person in her liberty. And when we get right down to it, many times, we're merely talking about competing preferences that need to get hashed out.

In light of all of that, in future articles in this series, I'm going to be offering some observations and viewpoints. And as with any topical series, there are any number of specific biblical principles we could discuss—so I'm not saying the points I ultimately choose to highlight are the only important ones, or that it will be anywhere close to a complete word on this subject. They're not at all intended to be dictatorial edicts from on high, but rather as words intended to help from a fellow laborer and brother, speaking to his family in Christ.

Now, my genuine hope and prayer is that the perspective I'll be presenting will be centered on biblical principles, and that the opinions will be at least slightly informed, based on my over 13 years of experience in singles ministry. But at the end of the day, if you find something I say to be helpful, great, and if you don't, no problem. No offense taken if you don't follow my advice, I promise. Next time, I'll start the series with a discussion of the importance of Christlike character, and what that might look like practically in the context of Christian dating.

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