31 January 2019

A Creationist and Evolutionist Rapprochement?

Response to "Ten Theses on Creation and Evolution That (Most) Evangelicals Can Support": Part 1
by Dr. Colin Eakin



ere we go again. With a tiresome repetition like that of tax bills, springtime allergies, and NCAA football champions from the deep South, a quasi-Christian media outlet has published another appeal to "evangelicals" to lay down arms and come to some general agreement as to what the Bible says about origins.

These appeals, mind you, always seem to arise from those proposing an alternative to the straightforward reading of the text, one which will update our biblical understanding based upon "new revelations" from the worlds of both "science" and "biblical scholarship." We are now being told by "experts" how "ancient Near East cultural understanding" can broaden our grasp of how the Bible reconciles with the world we see around us. The articles always seem to be written as if truly enlightened evangelicals have no problem with the latest learning and have advanced well beyond these core proposals, but here are some basics that even evangelical Neanderthals (pardon the pun) should be able to get behind.

The latest salvo is from Todd Wilson, president and co-founder of the Center for Pastor Theologians, which was published January 4, 2019 in Christianity Today. Wilson begins by disclosing how, some time ago, his conservative-on-many-issues congregation had some "heartburn" when its closely held, literal six-day creation scheme was assaulted by its new pastor's belief in evolutionary creationism. This understandably led to a "tension-filled season," during which the church "grappled" with its "doctrinal boundaries." The upshot of this grappling was the codification of "ten theses on creation and evolution that we believe (most) evangelicals can (mostly) affirm," what they termed (in an apparent nod to C.S. Lewis) "Mere Creation."

How did they do with their theses? Herewith is a commentary on their evolutionary "Wittenberg door":

  1. The doctrine of creation is central to the Christian faith.

    They got this one right. In fact, this is a dead-on, stand-alone truth. Wilson proposes that the doctrine of creation belongs in the same strata as the doctrines of the Father, Christ, the Spirit, and soteriology at the core of the Christian faith, and he is absolutely correct. Make no mistake: Genesis 1-2 is so vital to proper biblical understanding that if one does not comprehend it rightly, one will err repeatedly in attempting to assimilate the remainder of the Word of God. Want to know a simple way to confirm one has found a biblical church that likely gets the gospel right and upholds sound doctrine in other areas? Ask its pastor if he reads and teaches Genesis 1-2 in a literal, historical manner. The correlation is remarkable.

  2. The Bible, both Old and New Testaments, is the Word of God, inspired, authoritative, and without error. Therefore whatever Scripture teaches is to be believed as God's instruction, without denying that the human authors of Scripture communicated using the cultural conventions of their time.

    Here, again, they got it right—mostly. We might add to the inspiration, authority and inerrancy of the Word of God its completeness, sufficiency, perspicuity, necessity, efficacy, certainty, immutability, universality, vitality, and theocentricity, as these qualities are no less applicable to the Word of God. But we concede the point. Further, it is axiomatic that whatever Scripture teaches is to be believed as God's instruction. In other words, when the Bible speaks, God speaks.

    The dog whistle in Thesis #2 comes in the last clause. Wilson writes, "No amount of stress on a 'high view of the Bible' should cause us to inadvertently downplay the human side of the equation."

    Okay, fair enough on its face. The Bible did have human authors who wrote according to "cultural conventions" of their time. If that is all that is intended, fine. And if he is also implying that readers of the Bible must be attuned to the grammatical and contextual aspects of the writing, more power to him. But if the implication is that the humanity of the Bible's authors somehow obscures God's actual message and thereby diminishes our confidence in understanding it, he is wrong. The humanity of the authors of Scripture does not in any way confound the communication of God in His Word. Just because the Bible had human authors beginning 3500 years ago does not mean that their "cultural conventions" somehow limit our modern comprehension of what they were saying and how it applies today. God inspired His human authors and their "cultural conventions" to say exactly what He meant to say and how He meant to say it, with a message that transcends time, as comprehendible today as it was to those to whom it was first written.

  3. Genesis 1-2 is historical in nature, rich in literary artistry, and theological in purpose. These chapters should be read with the intent of discerning what God says through what the human author has said.

    Wilson begins to reveal his true colors in his commentary on Thesis #3 when he writes, "Of course, there is much to debate about how to interpret Genesis 1-2" (those colors come into even greater relief later in the article when he favorably references theologian Karl Barth and historian Mark Noll, as well as his use of the NRSV). He goes on to suggest the need for "a balanced approach to the question of the literary genre of Genesis 1-2." Wilson subdivides Genesis 1-2 into a proposed composite of historical, theological and literary types, and insinuates that if this portion of Scripture can be designated as literary and theological as well as history, it would somehow diminish its reliability as a source of historical information.

    Says who? Only those trying to retain some claim to orthodoxy as they simultaneously seek to undermine the information of the text by reclassifying it as something other than history. So let us be clear here: Genesis 1-2 is history. A sixth-grade student can identify it as such. Yes, the text does yield tremendous theological implications, as any biblical historical text might, and it has a certain literary style. But neither of those designations alters in any way the factual, historical information we are reading about the world and its occupants. Genesis 1-2 is God's clear-cut revelation of how things began, designed to inform the highest order of His creation about something they would have no other way of knowing. Only those who wish to impose faulty paradigms on Scripture have any inclination to consider Genesis 1-2 as some form of literature other than history (e.g. legend or poetry), as if that literary designation might somehow disable its plainly evident interpretation.



  4. God created and sustains everything. This means that he is as much involved in natural processes as he is in supernatural events. Creation itself provides unmistakable evidence of God's handiwork.

    Again, pretty good, up to a point. God certainly has created everything and sustains it moment by moment (Job 12:10; Acts 17:28; Heb. 1:3). His direct handiwork is no less a part of natural processes as it is with supernatural ones. Wilson makes a good point about the tendency even of evangelical Christians toward deistic thinking, often slipping "into patterns of thinking that exclude God from the routine workings of nature, like the rotation of the stars, the formation of clouds, or the grass as it grows." He rightly references Psalm 104 as evidence of God's continuous, direct ordering of the natural world.

    But the Bible nowhere states nor implies that study of the natural world can divulge any knowledge about its origins. Yes, as Wilson offers, "the heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. 19:1), but not in any way that brings to light the process that led to their formation. In fact, it is no coincidence that after David extols the natural, or general, revelation of the cosmos in the first portion of this Psalm (Ps. 19:1-6), he follows it with an exquisite overview of the special revelation encompassed in the Word of God (Ps. 19:7-11). Why this juxtaposition of the general and special revelation of God? David knows that general revelation only goes so far in revealing who God is and what He has done, and that ultimate knowledge of God and His work must come from His self-revelation, as can only be found in His Word.

  5. Adam and Eve were real persons in a real past, and the fall was a real event with real and devastating consequences for the entire human race.

    Wilson gets this thesis exactly right as stated, which is commendable. But his substantiating commentary is so problematic that it leads him to unbiblical conclusions. Yes, Adam and Eve were real persons in the real past, who really fell with real and devastating consequences for each and every one of their descendants. Wilson then (correctly) reports that this reality is under considerable challenge within modern evangelical Christianity. Why is that? Because, according to Wilson, "the genetic evidence, at least as we now understand it, makes belief in an original human pair doubtful if not impossible." He then predicts, " . . . in 20 years' time, support for Adam and Eve as real persons in a real past will be a minority view even within evangelicalism." And what if that happens? Wilson continues: "Should this come to pass, I remain confident that the Christian faith will survive, even though this will require some reconfiguration of our deepest convictions."

    Just how "Christian faith will survive" despite the "reconfiguration" of its "deepest convictions" is not at all clear from Wilson. In reality, this would be an utter impossibility, because when one reconfigures the deepest convictions of a particular faith, then that faith is no longer said to exist. Give up a real Adam and Eve with a real fall bringing real consequences to the entire human race, and you might as well describe a new religion, for you have just severed orthodox Christianity from its doctrinal moorings. To deny a real Adam and Eve is to call the Bible erroneous and God a liar, because He says all humans derive from this original pair (Gen. 3:20; Acts 17:26). To deny a real Adam and Eve is to contradict the Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, who references them as the basis for understanding God's concept of marriage (Mt. 19:4; Mark 10:6). And to deny a real Adam is to nullify the manner by which God says humans might be reconciled to Him, because the only ones He justifies are those born into sin through Adam and then reborn into righteousness through Christ (John 3:3-7; Rom. 5:15-19; 1 Cor. 15:45-49).

Wilson says Paul's argument in Romans 5 along with Adam's presence in genealogies (Gen. 5; Luke 1) keeps him tethered—for now—to the traditional view of a real Adam and Eve, but he leaves open the possibility that future scientific developments might cause him to reconsider. Which begs the question: what might those future "scientific developments" be? Science relies upon the certain operation of uniform constants. Given that, on what basis can we be certain that the scientific constants we can measure today, such as the speed of light, were operating in the same manner at the moment of creation? We cannot. So if we are only speculating that the constants of today were present in unchanged form at creation, how then are conclusions based upon such speculation "scientific?" This is an unsolved quandary for Wilson and all his evolutionary ilk. The same goes for the "genetic evidence" to which Wilson alludes. Wilson is basing his conclusions upon genetic similarities found between humans and certain other species. But genetic similarity does not confirm shared ancestry. Moreover, genetic inheritance would depend upon genetic makeup at the moment of creation, which, again, cannot be known for certain.

On a textual level, whatever happened to the "full-throated" endorsement of inerrancy Wilson proclaims at the beginning of his article? As an inerrantist leader of "pastor theologians," one presumes Wilson would always subject his doctrinal beliefs to the exact text of Scripture. Specifically, we expect him to know that when God uses the term bara for "created" in the first statement in His Word, He is specifying that such a work is ineligible for scientific inquiry. As opposed to the other Hebrew terms for "create" in the Old Testament (e.g. yatsar and asah), the term bara is used only with God as its subject, and only in the creation of marvels never before known. The use of the term denotes a development of something completely outside the boundary of the established order, and not subject to the constraints of uniformity that govern science. As such, God's use of the verb bara in the first verse of His first book should notify all to pay attention, because the information that follows cannot be discerned through observation of natural phenomena (i.e. scientific inquiry).

Untroubled by this, Wilson then proceeds to a very troubling deduction: "It may be the case that faithful Christians will develop biblically legitimate and theologically sensible ways of explaining the gospel apart from a real Adam and Eve." For someone claiming to uphold the inerrancy of Scripture, this is certainly an incongruous detour. How in the world could Christians ever be "faithful" by refuting what God has explicitly said about this pair of original humans? And how would a revised "gospel" look if the "last Adam" did not become a "life-giving spirit" because the "first Adam" never became a "living being?" (1 Cor. 15:45)? Apart from a real Adam and Eve, the entire structure of Christianity as presented in God's Word becomes a house of cards.

Finally, instead of a clarion call to defend God's Word against any and all specious theories masquerading as knowledge, Wilson concludes, " . . . the better part of wisdom is maintaining a spirit of engaged conversation on this issue" (italics his). Really? What happened to the New Testament's repeated calls for the vigorous censure of falsehood (2 Tim. 4:2; Titus 1:9; Eph. 5:11; 2 Cor. 10:5; 2 John 8-11; Jude 3-4)? It is the harbinger of apostasy for believers to have their doctrinal convictions always subject to supposed discoveries of worldly knowledge, be they scientific or sociologic. Paul warned the Ephesians that they should "no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Eph. 4:14)—the precise muddle in which Wilson, by his own words, appears to find himself.

We will continue with evaluation of Wilson's final five theses in the next post.

Dr. Colin L. Eakin Pyromaniac

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.

Virtue Signaling and the Signing of Religious Manifestos

by Phil Johnson



A friend—actually a very good friend of mine—noticed that I had spoken on "virtue signaling" at the G3 pre-conference, and he put a comment on my FaceBook page asking if signing a manifesto like the Dallas Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel might not be legitimately seen as "the conservative equivalent of liberal virtue signaling." Here's my reply:

f you listen carefully to the definition I gave, virtue signaling is when you affirm a trendy, politically correct, or socially popular position in order to claim the moral high ground or garner praise—especially when you have little intention of doing anything else about the issue you are publicly wringing your hands over.

So my conscience is clear.

Still, it's certainly possible that someone wishing only to trumpet his own notion of "stylish orthodoxy" might think signing a conservative group's manifesto could accomplish that self-aggrandizing purpose.

But one could say that about anyone in any context who makes his or her opinions known publicly. Blogging, FaceBook comments, even sermons delivered from a sound church's pulpit all carry the same risk.

So unless a person is willing to keep all his opinions to himself, he ought to examine his own motives on a regular basis. Because Scripture does say, "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak."

This is therefore a good reminder. "Let a person examine himself."

But Scripture also says, "Always be 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 silence isn't always a virtue.

Anyway, I take your feedback as a good reminder, and not a rebuke. Anyone who knows you should understand (as I do) that you were not just trying to pick a fight for the sake of being contentious.

ut:
 
 
 

When one sees a massive bandwagon rolling by, filled with people who have all suddenly become concerned with a specific issue that is being hard-peddled to them by celebrities and trend-setters, and all these people are both trumpeting their own wokeness and shaming everyone who isn't woke yet (including aiming their newfound scorn at respectable Christian leaders who may not share the now-trendy opinion)—one can hardly help concluding that this is another wave of just what we saw when Emergents were saying similar things and shaming the rest of us for not being sufficiently postmodern.

"Woke," it turns out, is the new postmodern.

The current wave of political correctness has simply put a veneer of evangelical moral outrage on the idea of "social justice," without carefully delineating how the term "social justice" as it has been employed in modern and postmodern secular academic circles (and in liberal religion) for more than a century now. And if you look at the landscape carefully, you'll see that leading the parade of those who are clamoring for a "woke church" is a pack of socialists and liberation theology buffs.

Pointing out that fact is hardly an example of "virtue signaling."

Here's that message from the G3 preconference:




Phil's signature


29 January 2019

Christian Dating: Cast Off Consumerism

by Hohn Cho



he introduction to this occasional series on Christian dating is here.

Part one, "Christlike Character," is here.

The recent news of longtime Christian heartthrob Tim Tebow's engagement to Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, who happened to be the winner of the Miss Universe beauty pageant (formerly owned by now-President Donald Trump, interestingly) in 2017, reminded me that I should return to my occasional Christian dating series, and so here is part two: Cast off Consumerism.

John 15:19 states, "If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you." This is true in all of the obvious ways, such as the persecution we face as believers—relatively mild here in the US, but intense or even fatal in other countries. But there's a more insidious way that the world hates us, and that's by pushing a worldly mindset onto us, sometimes so subtly that we don't even realize it's happening.

If we've been taught faithfully and hold to basic Christian principles, perhaps we might successfully recognize that the world's complete acceptance of pre-marital sex as an assumed given is biblically wrong and sinful. But what about the often unspoken assumptions of self-centered consumerism that pervade just about every area of our American lives? Sure, as well-taught Christians, we might know theologically that the only thing that we truly deserve is hell, and that it's only through Jesus that we can be saved, and anything good in our lives is all a grace gift from God, and we're not entitled to any of it.

So why is it that when it comes to dating, so many of us-and I say "us" because I experienced it keenly as well when I was single-supposedly well-taught Christians suddenly become believers in the prosperity Gospel? "Wow, if I just pray more, if I just serve more, if I just do more for the Lord, He will send me exactly what I want, and I'll suddenly have my best married life now! And then surely I'll find that godly submissive woman who moonlights as a fashion model." (But only in very modest fashion styles, of course.) Or on the flip side, "I'll find that handsome and independently wealthy seminary student who's a bold and decisive leader, but who's also sensitive enough to listen to me, and then do exactly what I think is best." If you prefer, you could even substitute another homeschooled Heisman Trophy winner or Miss Universe, perhaps.

I believe part of this stems from the fact that for American Christians, our consumeristic and worldly society here beats into us from just about the first moments we can remember that it's all about us, that we deserve only the best, that we should have exactly what we want, exactly when we want it. We want our potential spouses just like we want our Burger King Whoppers, tomatoes and pickles are great, but no way do I want any onions or mustard or mayo. I'll take two from column A, none from column B, and let me write in a response for column C. Go ahead and start working on that, I'll just be over here on my state-of-the-art smartphone while I wait.

But the highest focus of Christian dating really shouldn't be self-centered, it shouldn't just be about your own agenda and preferences, or even making sure the person you date checks off all of the right boxes and none of the wrong ones. Again, we don't deserve a spouse, we're not entitled to a spouse, God is not obligated to send us a spouse. If we remember that, if we remember that marriage is less about personal pleasure and far more about serving your spouse selflessly and considering that person as more important than yourself, all for the glory of God, as we see in Philippians 2:3? If we can keep that in mind, I think people would do a lot better in this area of dating, both mentally and spiritually, because then our mindset would be starting to conform to what God's Word calls us to.



If we truly want to get down to some "real talk" as they say... where do you think your standard of beauty comes from? Did it develop all by itself, with no help from anyone or anything? Or might the media that inundates our lives have something to do with it? Every day, we're told that our standard of beauty ought to be a rail-thin made-up airbrushed supermodel, or a tall, dark, and handsome Disney Prince Charming. The problem with that, of course, is that neither of those images is real! They're carefully constructed fantasies designed to move consumers.

And these fantasies aren't just innocent marketing choices that are morally neutral, as some people might like to think their beauty preferences are. The world is actively promoting a non-existent fantasy that encourages self-absorbed consumerism and unrealistically high standards, often served up with a heaping side order of increasingly bitter discontentment. The reality never seems to be good enough, and then many Christians who might already be burning with passion "refuse to settle"-whatever that means-and extend their singleness, resulting in fewer children raised in godly homes, more sexual temptation (and falling to that temptation), and in many cases prolonged adolescence or "adultolescence" as it's sometimes called. None of that is morally neutral! Meanwhile, those who are called to marry and actually move forward boldly with it encounter numerous challenges of their own, of course, but when they persevere, they tend to enjoy some of the greatest earthly blessings in terms of sanctification, friendship and companionship, sexual intimacy approved by God, parenthood, and many others.

On this topic of beauty, consider instead what God says in Proverbs 31:30. God's Word is the ultimate ward against consumerism, and Scripture tells all of us that in seeking a spouse, we should be conforming our priorities to God's, and the course of wisdom is to focus on people of character who fear the Lord, and specifically not on social skills and looks. After all, very few people get better looking with age, people go gray or lose their hair, they gain weight, they get wrinkles. And maybe instead of charming, they're socially awkward, seemingly a mortal sin these days. And yet so many godly married couples I know will tell you that they are more in love with and attracted to their spouse than they ever were at first.

Having said all of that, I know that for so many people, it's still primarily about looks, about that magical spark of chemistry. I know that, and I get it. And to continue with the real talk, I never suggest that anyone consider someone who repulses them or even provokes a negative reaction, because based on ample experience, I've never really seen that work out. The bridge is simply too far to cross. But if there's at least a mildly positive reaction, or perhaps even a neutral one? I actually have seen that work out numerous times, especially when the people involved have given it a genuine good faith effort and are praying earnestly.

On that note, we've seen some evidence even from secular science that it may be possible (on a neurological level, even) to take some level of control over falling into or out of love with someone. If that's something even a secular person could do, how much more should a blood-bought believer with the power of prayer and the indwelling Holy Spirit be able to accomplish?

If you're single and there's some godly man or woman interested in you, and you know in your heart that it could be a good thing, maybe you don't find them ugly but perhaps you also aren't super attracted to that person, you know one thing you could try before just giving up? Literally get down on your knees and pray, really earnestly pray. Not just a "pray about it for five seconds right before bed" kind of prayer, but persistently humble yourself before God and beg Him to change your affections, to let you appreciate the little and big things about that godly person, to allow you to begin seeing him or her the way that God does.

Before you dismiss this suggestion as an obvious one, from a non-scientific poll I've taken over the 13 years or so that I was involved in singles ministry, the percentage of people who actually admitted to trying this kind of deep and sustained prayer constituted a slim minority indeed. And for the significant majority who didn't, out of my love and care for them and desire for their best, I have to wonder whether some of them might have been a bit too caught up in their own preconceived notions about what their future spouse ought to look like, or even what other people might think about the person on their arm.

Anyway, perhaps you still might think that I'm being naïve about this, even while I might think you're not having enough faith about this. As is often the case with things like this, I'm guessing the answer is probably somewhere in the middle. But if I could leave you with one last thought on casting off consumerism, here's an interesting secular study that talks about human dating behavior today. There's a ton to unpack, some of it rather depressing, but the reality is that in the world, almost everyone seems to be focusing on looks, and almost everyone is routinely breaking Romans 12:3 in thinking more highly of themselves than they ought. It's as if the guy from the brilliant classic Christian dating article, "Brother, You're Like a Six" were CTRL-C copied en masse into a Google PageRank algorithm.



If you adopt the world's methods, the world's consumerism, odds are you'll end up with the world's results, which will probably look a lot like the secular dating study and our society's steadily increasing average ages to marriage. Instead, heed 1 John 2:15-17 and cast off worldly influences wherever you can, focus on serving and sacrificing for others per Philippians 2:3, strive for contentment which 1 Timothy 6:6 tells us is a necessary component for spiritual growth, elevate the importance of godly character in others per Proverbs 31:30 rather than regarding others according to the flesh per 2 Corinthians 5:16, and trust and believe in the power of James 5:16's effective prayer. In other words, strongly develop fundamental Christian disciplines and character traits, and then dare to apply them even in the most personal and intimate areas of your own life, such as dating.

If you do that, whether you end up getting married or not, I trust that regardless, you'll have the peace and comfort and joy that comes with knowing that you're walking in obedience to how God calls us to live, which is of eternal value that will far outlast any earthly, temporal marriage, no matter how wonderful and fulfilling.

Hohn's signature

20 January 2019

Soaked

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 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 27, sermon number 1,578, "Taught the we may teach."







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"We are to be impartial in our study of the word, and to be universal in its reception." 





Set your whole heart on the word. Some people like to read so many chapters every day. I would not dissuade them from the practice, but I would rather lay my soul asoak in half a dozen verses all day than I would, as it were, rinse my hand in several chapters. 

Oh, to bathe in a text of Scripture, and to let it be sucked up into your very soul, till it saturates your heart! The man who has read many books is not always a learned man; but he is a strong man who has read three or four books over and over till he has mastered them. He knows something. He has a grasp of thoughts and expressions, and these will build up his life. 

Set your heart upon God’s word! It is the only way to know it thoroughly: let your whole nature be plunged into it as cloth into a dye.


13 January 2019

Call upon, stir up, take hold


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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 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 23, sermon number 1,377, "Taking hold upon God."


"There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee." 
Isaiah 64:7

"We have in these days a race of time servers and word spinners to succeed the real men."

I do not know that the condition of the church of God at the present time is quite so bad as that which is here described. It would be wrong to boast of our condition, but it would be worse to despair of it. It would not be honest to apply the words of our text to the church of the present day.

Blessed be God, we could not say, “There is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee,” for there are many who plead day and night for the prosperity of Zion. Yet in a measure we are somewhat in the same plight as that which is described by the prophet, and there is much to mourn over. 

Prayer languishes in many churches, power in intercession is by no means a common attainment, and meetings for prayer are, as a rule, thinly attended, and not much thought of. Sin abounds, empty profession is common, hypocrisy is plentiful, and the life of God in the soul is but little esteemed.

Notice carefully that according to our text the prophet traces much of the evil which he deplored to the lack of prayer. After he has compared their righteousnesses to filthy rags he adds, “there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee.” 

When there is a degeneracy of public manners, you may be sure that there has also occurred a serious decline of secret devotion. When the outward service of the church begins to flag and her holiness declines, you may be sure that her communion with God has been sadly suspended. Devotion to God will be found to be the basis of holiness and the buttress of integrity. 

If you backslide in secret before God, you will soon err in public before men. You may judge yourselves, my dear hearers, as to your spiritual state by the condition of your hearts in the matter of prayer. How are you at the mercy seat? for that is what you really are. 

Are the consolations of God small with you? That is a minor matter; look deeper,Is there not a restraining of prayer before the living God? Do you find yourself weak in the presence of
temptation? That is important; but search below the surface, and you will find that you have grown lax in supplication, and have failed to keep up continual communion with God.

07 January 2019

Owing Nothing to Anyone

by Hohn Cho



or my handful of regular readers, I apologize for the extended silence. November and December are always my busiest months of the year, and this year it was even more hectic than usual. Happily, things are calming down quite a bit, and I'm determined to keep calm and blog on. And lately, I've been meditating quite a bit on Romans 13, both the first seven verses on the topic of submitting to government, and for the topic of this post, Romans 13:8, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law."

On a horizontal level, precisely because of this verse, my desire is to owe nothing to anyone except love. This is something which the Scriptures command and exhort us to do. And thus it is—at least conceptually—something possible for us to do, to some extent. Now, when I say that my desire is to owe nothing to anyone, I don't say this in an arms-folded, "I got mine and everyone else can go pound sand" kind of way, but rather in an earnest way that makes the paying of debts and the fulfilling of commitments an affirmative burden on my conscience.

And so it is that the (increasingly rare) occasions I have an empty inbox and task list are a source of great satisfaction for me, as is my gradually dwindling list of financial obligations. Accordingly, it is at best disconcerting when certain people point their fingers at me, and others like me, and claim that we owe them something, when to the best of my knowledge and recollection, I owe nothing to these folks. In many cases, I've never even met them before!

How and when does this happen? Well, in the United States, we often see it in the context of discussions about "privilege" and social justice. The vastly simplified argument goes something like this: Some people were born into more privilege than others, and some of the folks with the least privilege (with ethnicity being the most common category cited by many "social justice" advocates here) even have the deck systemically stacked against them by society. This is fundamentally unfair, and so the ones with less privilege are owed something, with the payors being society, or the more privileged, or both.

My response to these arguments has been that they appear to be based (whether knowingly or unknowingly) on concepts borrowed from secular Critical Race Theory rather than drawn from the Bible. I think Kevin DeYoung said it well in a blog post last year:

I have my concerns with the term "social justice" and with all that it connotes. But what if we press for a less culturally controlled and more biblically defined understanding? Several years ago, I worked my way through the major justice passages in the Bible: Leviticus 19, Leviticus 25, Isaiah 1, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Amos 5, Micah 6:8, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 4. My less-than-exciting conclusion was that we should not oversell or undersell what the Bible says about justice. On the one hand, there is a lot in the Bible about God's care for the poor, the oppressed, and the vulnerable. There are also plenty of warnings against treating the helpless with cruelty and disrespect. On the other hand, justice, as a biblical category, is not synonymous with anything and everything we feel would be good for the world. Doing justice means following the rule of law, showing impartiality, paying what you promised, not stealing, not swindling, not taking bribes, and not taking advantage of the weak because they are too uninformed or unconnected to stop you (emphasis added).

Having independently studied many of the same Scriptures and concepts, I agree with DeYoung's conclusions entirely, and in considering what "doing justice" means, it's important to note that his entire list consists of individual actions and not systemic or societal or collective actions. And most of those individual actions are quite mundane, such as following the law, neither breaking the law nor taking advantage of people, and as we also see in Romans 13:8, paying what you promised, what you actually owe.

But wait wait wait, you say, DeYoung also mentions showing impartiality, aha, what about that? Well, I've written on this issue before, and the great majority of the secular attempts to address past partiality, such as affirmative action, are prime examples, in and of themselves, of unbiblical partiality.

The reality is that all of us are born with certain privileges, or to use a more biblical word, blessings. Similarly, all of us are born with certain trials. God has assigned those blessings and trials, and as a Christian, I'm called (in James 1:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:18, and elsewhere) to be joyful and thankful for both the blessings and the trials. Now, if God has especially blessed the circumstances of a person's birth, there's certainly a Scriptural argument to be made that that person is more accountable before the Lord for his or her blessings (see, e.g., The Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25:14-30, and Luke 12:48b, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand the more"). But being held accountable by the Lord for one's blessings is entirely different from being held accountable by a stranger who claims you owe him or her something.

And this brings us to the second half of Romans 13:8, on love. As I strive to love my neighbors, my desire will always be to do so proactively and lavishly, and particularly toward the people for whom I'm most responsible. Scripturally, that's my immediate family per 1 Timothy 5:8. It's my fellow Christian brothers and sisters even more so than non-Christians per Galatians 6:10. It's the specific believers in my own local body per Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:2. It's the people who cross my path per Luke 10:30-37. It's the people who actually ask me for help per Luke 6:30.

That last example reinforces the point I'm trying to make, I believe. An earnest request for help, genuinely needed and without expectation or presumption, is a humble act. And my loving desire will certainly be to help that person, within the bounds of capacity and wisdom. Perhaps I can meet the need fully, perhaps I can meet it partially, perhaps I can't meet it at all. Regardless, I'm going to be much more inclined to help a person like that, because God gives grace to the humble as we see in 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6, and in His rich mercy, God often chooses to use His servants to provide that grace.

In contrast, an angry demand, a sense of entitlement, or even a false claim that I owe someone something, when in fact I owe that person nothing except love, are all signs of pride, which God opposes with military fervor in those same verses of 1 Peter 5:5 and James 4:6. And while I might not (although perhaps I might) send even that person away with nothing at all—because after all, I am no better than that person, and God was gracious to me even when I was His enemy—anything I give would be an unmerited act of grace and mercy and charity. What it would not be, however, is an act of justice, or a discharging of a debt or obligation.

Understanding this very key difference between justice and mercy is of great importance to the "social justice" debate, along with other distinctions such as the Gospel itself versus an outworking of the Gospel, and the line dividing an appropriate attempt to exhort others via Scripture from a pharisaical attempt to bind others' consciences on a matter of Christian liberty. Regardless, if I haven't borrowed from or made a promise to someone, if I haven't directly wronged someone giving rise to an obligation of restitution to that person, I don't owe that person anything, even if he or she was born in a far less advantageous position, or has fallen upon hard times of late. Even if I might have been assigned five or two talents by my Master, while the other was assigned only one. No, the only thing I owe that person is love. It's not a small thing, certainly, but neither is it a guilt-inducing debt under the law. And as we conclude Romans 13:8, we see how that very same love actually destroys the law's burden of shame, "for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law."

So when strangers try to tell you that you owe them something, a helpful question to ask in response might be, "How, specifically, have I personally wronged you?" And if the answer is a bunch of spluttering rhetoric about indirect systemic catchphrases, I can say with some degree of confidence that you probably haven't wronged them at all; they're merely trying to sell you something, specifically a sense of guilt and shame for circumstances of birth completely beyond your control, all of which has been fully paid for on the Cross in any event, for those truly purchased by the blood of Christ.

As I've written before, the Word is crystal clear in places such as 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 that a Christian is capable of maintaining a clear conscience toward certain people and on various issues. By all means, ensure your conscience is properly formed by the Scriptures, take care to examine yourself, and don't just blithely give yourself a pass. But if your conscience is indeed clear on matters such as these, heed Galatians 5:1 by not letting any person subject you again to a yoke of slavery, especially when Christ has set you free.


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06 January 2019

Held

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 Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 34, sermon number 2,031, "David dancing before the Ark because of his election."
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"Dear brethren, there is great power in the truth of election
when a man can grasp it."

Personally, I have overflowing joy in the doctrines of eternal, unchanging love. It is bliss to know that the Lord has chosen me. When I am down very low in spirit, I crave for those old books which, like the Lord Jesus, are full of grace and truth. 

You who are at ease in Zion can do with the chaffy modern theology; but when your heart is heavy, and especially when your conscience is under a sense of sin, you will want these two dishes on the tablefree grace and dying love, and you cannot do without them. 

We must have an atoning sacrifice, and free grace to make us partakers thereof. I cannot give up the doctrines of grace, for they are my life. I do not so much hold them as they hold me. The five fingers of the great doctrines of grace have enclosed my heart. 

I can die; but I cannot deny the imperishable truth. The doctrine of the eternal choice gives forth joy as myrrh and cassia give forth perfume. May you all know it! 

01 January 2019

Onward!

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 metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 19, sermon number 1,114, "Onward!"
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"Never mind though you have run so far, you must let the space which lies between you and the goal engross all your thoughts and command all your powers."

Some people seem to have very good memories as to what they have performed. They used to serve God wonderfully when they were young! They began early and were full of zeal! They can tell you all about it with much pleasure.

In middle life they wrought marvels, and achieved great wonders; but now they rest on their oars, they are giving other people an opportunity to distinguish themselves—their own heroic age is over. Dear brother, as long as ever you are in this world forget what you have already done, and go forward to other service!

Living on the past is one of the faults of old churches. We, for instance, as a church, may begin to congratulate ourselves upon the great things God has done by us, for we shall be sure to put it in that pretty shape, although we shall probably mean the great things we have done ourselves. After praising ourselves thus we shall gain no further blessing, but shall decline by little and little.

The same is true of denominations. What acclamations are heard when allusion is made to what our fathers did! Oh, the name of Carey, and Knibb, and Fuller! We Baptists think we have nothing to do now but to go upstairs and go to bed, for we have achieved eternal glory through the names of these good men; and as for our Wesleyan friends, how apt they are to harp upon Wesley, Fletcher, Nelson, and other great men!

Thank God for them: they were grand men; but the right thing is to forget the past, and pray for another set of men to carry on the work. We should never be content, but “On, on, on,” should be our cry!

When they asked Napoleon why he continually made wars, he said, “I am the child of war; conquest has made me what I am, and conquest must maintain me.” The Christian church is the child of spiritual war; she only lives as she fights, and rides forth conquering and to conquer.

God deliver us from the self-congratulatory spirit, however it may come, and make us long and pine after something better!