30 July 2008

My Hope and Refuge, Inc.?

by Frank Turk

Briefly today, (no, seriously) I wanted to say something about idolatry.

I was the last man out that my bookstore yesterday, and as I was locking up I started praying about God's provision for me and my family. I don't know about you, but my kids are brilliant and healthy, my wife is brilliant and loving, and frankly we have never spent a day without a meal or a roof over our heads. That's not bragging: that's just what it is, and I know that some of our readers may have had parts of their lives which have not been so fortunate.

Those readers probably know something the rest of us don't know -- because the rest of us live in what can only be called ridiculously-opulent wealth. Most of us don't consider ourselves "rich" -- because we compare what we have to what the top 5% of Americans make and have, and we see our lives as quite modest compared to people with multiple, gigantic houses and so on.

But you know something: when we are in danger of losing what we have in this life -- for example, because our employer has a business model that's not expanding and what we do is in danger of being "right-sized" -- I think many of us are afraid that God doesn't love us anymore even though we have more wealth and more opportunity for wealth than 99% of all people who ever lived.

When our hope lies in money or in some job in particular, we are idolators. And while it is a wholly-biblical axiom that if you don't work, you don't eat, our hope for our provision shouldn't come from some job or career. God is still God when you have to find a new job. Some trust in chariots, some trust in paychecks. We trust in the name of the Lord our God. Please, God: don't let the one we trust have an "Inc." at the end of His name.

I'm as-guilty of this stuff as anyone, so consider this a protestant act of confession.


Just in case you think I forgot about the God and Politics stuff, I haven't. But last week, Dr. John Piper podcasted a little something that was relevant to that topic, and I was edified by it. My edification, btw, came not from his clarity and simplicity but from his own admission, as you can read below, that this is a very difficult ball of twine to untangle:
Bob Allen: Should we try to legislate the Bible in today's society?

Dr. Piper: It's not inappropriate to seek to apply the Bible, provided that we apply it wisely. And the wisdom lies in realizing that—since coerced faith and coerced obedience are unbiblical—the Bible itself provides the guidance and the ground for making space for a culture in which people have the right to choose which moral elements they will or will not obey. It sound almost contradictory. In other words, the Bible insists that there must not be coercion for every single moral command that it contains.

For example, "Thou shalt not covet." Are you going to make that into a law? No, because coerced non-coveting won't work. It's a self-contradiction. It's the same thing with belief in Jesus. The Bible clearly commands, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Should we turn that moral religious command into a moral law? No, because a law-constrained faith in Jesus is unbiblical and has no validity. Therefore, in a sense, the Bible shows that we should not turn all of its commands into law.

So your question boils down to, Well, which ones then?

Don't kill? - We all agree on that one. Make that a law.
Don't steal? - We all agree on that one. Make that a law.
Don't commit adultery? - Hmm. Now what about that one?
Remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy? - We used to have laws about that.

The way it works practically is that for the laws where we can get overwhelming consensus in the culture we're going to use coercion. The irony is that we believe in using coercion as a culture for the things that don't seem to matter very much. For example, I've got to get all the dog poop out of my back yard or I'm going to get cited, and coercion will be used to make me cut my grass or clean my yard. And yet, we can't use coercion legally to save a baby's life if he is still in the womb.

What we need to do is find those things in the Bible that we believe should be lived by, and then try as Christians—through preaching, teaching, and prayer—to bring about as much consensus as we can. And yet we will not press for the legislating of things where there is massive unwillingness to do it, because we would wind up making coercion the ground of our morality.


Jonathan Moorhead said...

Franklin, in regards to the money issue, my eschatology tells me that an economic downturn will happen - it is a sobering thought to consider that loss of income is not a matter of if, but when. Is it our generation or the next, or . . . but it will happen.

Let us live eschatologically.

Anonymous said...

Your post couldn't be more timely Frank.
As I write, I am sitting at my desk awaiting my turn in the boardroom to find out what my future in this firm will be.
They are relocating a further hour or two from my house (depending on traffic), making the commute somewhere in the 2-3 hour range, seomthing I cannot do.

Pray for me if you would. I'm trying to trust, but it is a little stressful.

Patrick Durkee said...

Piper makes some good points - and Postmillennialism aside, I find it difficult to reconcile the idea of theonomy with reformed theology.


Dave .... said...

One of the simplest ways to put things in perspective is to prepare and pray over your budget. And begin with "thank you". "I have learned in whatever situation I am to be(B) content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." Phil. 4:11b-12

m.e. said...

In regards to Piper's comments,

"try as Christians—through preaching, teaching, and prayer—to bring about as much consensus as we can"

So.. if we are not to coerce, but rather first achieve a consensus, then the question in my mind is: How do we go about attaining that consensus? Is that not at the essence of some of your prior posts? What does the involvement of the local church in politics look like?

Strong Tower said...

By the sweat of your brow was a curse. It is good that God gave us vocation, but it is such a burden. We love others, we love ourselves. And even if we love God above all, day to day living is still a burden which God has place upon all. There are cares that even though we know that we are not to dwell upon, they still demand our attention and draw it away from what the old guys called Providence, capital P. It is hard to detach from the produce of our hands.

That was a nice linking to political action. Much of the basis for Christian political action is not benign seeking of righteousness, but born out of a covetous fear that if we do provide the means to meet our needs, God will not. The adage God helps those who help themselves, so filled with pragmatism, nearly gains the status of Scripture when it comes to social religion.

As we are being nationally bounced around like a dingy in twenty foot swells by what seems to be the perfect storm of woes, the pressure is even greater to assume that by the means of our sweat we, and not God, can provide what is needed.

m.e.- It looks like individuals who believe it is their vocation to be involved who have learned to make friends with the unrighteous mammon of men so that we might live. We stand, whether in pulpit or pew, according to truth. The church's responsibility is to instruct and declare, making disciples and teaching them, and it is its membership who are to live it out in this world.

Jim Crigler said...

Re: "When our hope lies in money or in some job in particular, we are idolators."

I work in a factory that employs union labor on the assembly line (and in other places). Are the hard-core unionists guilty of idolatry in this way? What if some are Christians — are they eating meat sacrificed to idols even if they don't participate in the "worship"?

jodiraeofsunshine said...

Thank you for this post. My heart needed that.

M.W.C. Barker said...

With regard to your thoughts on the relationship of Scripture to the political realm, I would encourage you to consider Francis Turretin's lengthy comments on it in his Institutes of Elentic Theology, under his discussion of the difference between church authority and political authority, or, anything by Dr. David Van Drunen.

Even if you don't agree, it would be well worth your time to turn their considerations over in your mind. If nothing else, they will provide a conversation partner in answer to the questions: (1) How ought consensus be achieved? (2) What should count as biblical consensus?

Drew said...

I couldn't agree more.

Odds are that the unionists and the owners are all idolaters. Most of us, including many who bear the name Christian, are idolaters.

Top three idols in my congregation?

1. Money (especially that of the endowment)

2. The building (and our ancestors that labored to build it)

3. American religion (don't think its' an idol? Suggest taking down the flag.)

Frank Turk said...


I think that a union can be a reasonable step for employees to take when management, frankly, treats them like lumber.

I think a union is problematic when it ceases to see that the employees' well-being is related to the ultimate well-being of the business.

I think a union can be idolatrous when it convinces its members that they cannot survive and have no hope without the local.

That's as far as I'll go.

Rick Frueh said...

How can we achieve "moral concensus" with dead people? Are they just spiritually and morally dead in our systematic theology, or are they actually totally depraved with whom we should, and in reality can't, have moral covenants?

Either we live by our theology or we do not. We seem to desire to have it both ways. The government is a God ordained institution usually comprised by depraved men and women who we entrust God to work through, many times in a way that is difficult to detect.

Anonymous said...


We achieve consensus with non-believers at work don't we?
How is the public square any different?

Rick Frueh said...

There is an observable differnce between deciding what type of tile to lay and joining with unbelievers in deciding and standing for God's moral law. To me, one is earthly labor while the other is unequally yoked.

Susan said...

Frank said: " Some trust in chariots, some trust in paychecks. We trust in the name of the Lord our God."

Thanks, Frank. Ps. 20:7 is such a comforting reminder.

~Mark said...

I'd like to say thanks for the reminder but frankly, after the day I've had (allowed myself to have is more accurate) all I can say is


I've been a fool.

Will repeat 50 times "My hope is in the Lord my God."

ReformedMommy said...

My (brilliant, hard working, God-honoring) husband spent almost two years unemployed, just after he had been reassured that he was indispensable, and only three months after he became a father and I left my job to stay home. It's been almost four years since that time, but I remember so vividly the cycles of doubt and trust, Spirit-filled hope and fleshly despair we went through. For me, the hardest moment was when he was rejected for a job that he was easily the best candidate for, and I still remember how God showed me how I had begun to replace trust in Him with trust in the common sense of a hiring manager to know a perfect candidate when he saw it!

Beyond that, what really helped me was studying the prayers of the Old Testament saints, who would regularly recite lists of ways God had been faithful in the past as a way to remind them as they prayed that God would be just as faithful in the future. So I began to write my own list to use- reminding myself of how God saved me, brought my husband and I together, protected me from certain-death in a car accident, etc. As I did, I would end up repenting of my lack of trust in Him for our future as I recalled what He'd done in the past. Now my list includes how God brought my husband his current job, where we have seen seasons of financial blessing and now a season of financial struggle. (We've had to switch from Pellegrino to regular water, and I don't buy Prosciutto any more - pray for us in our suffering.) I'm sure there are hundreds of other Pyros with the same stories, and who will all pray with confidence for God to show Himself faithful to you.

trogdor said...

This morning I was sent this article about how truly good life is in America, and how people who've been materially blessed more than almost anyone in history can't stop complaining.

Then I read an update from my friends working in Gabon among people in extreme poverty. Yesterday's message was about how even though they have next to nothing, materialism is shockingly rampant.

All I could think was that "man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD." Jesus quotes this when he'd been starving forty days in the desert; in its original context in Dueteronomy 8 the Israelites had just had every need met perfectly for forty years in the desert. And it's followed by a warning - you're about to get overwhelming wealth, don't let your hearts drift. So whether you have nothing, or exactly as much as you need for each day, or an exceeding abundance, the test is the same - will you turn from God and place your hope in bread?

Frank Turk said...

reformed mommy:

Let me say frankly that when God asks you to stop buying Prosciutto, clearly he is sanctifying you for some greater purpose.

Missing the garlic and leeks or Egypt is one thing, but to go without Prosciutto? Clearly His ways are not our ways.

Frank Turk said...


you scare me. I can't hear what you're saying because your burnination gets in my ears.

Traditions ~ 2 thess.2:15 said...

Thanks for the posts Both are excellent....and helpful..keep up the Good work.

Dave .... said...

Oh, Frank, everything's better with bacon! Forget the Prosciutto.

At work I serve the one who pays me until he asks me to be disloyal to the One Who saved me. I have refused to follow immoral union instructions and I have wound up on the bench at the hall waiting for work on account of it. And I have been shaft by the union when I asked their help in a dispute. The union is just another master, if you let it be. So culd be the employer. Depends on which one is the dirt bag.

If you work for the government you have a REAL quandery.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder regarding job-olatry that all of us (especially us males) are prone to. It's easy to teach Biblical truth regarding these things as I do all the time, focusing on the real and eternal identity of the believer in Christ, and the security inherent in that identity. But then along comes a personal situation (like I had a few years ago, having to reapply for my job - and not getting it) that brings the application automobile right into my own garage. So what did God do? He provided a better job, with the same company in the same location and the same department. Not better as in more money. But better in the sense of being a job that I am much less wrapped up in, that I can much easier hold loosely, one that takes less of my time and energy so I have more available to do other stuff...like ministry.

Impacted Wisdom Truth said...

What happened to the pig floating above the power station?

CR said...

Frank quoting John Piper: snip snipAnd yet, we can't use coercion legally to save a baby's life if he is still in the womb.

Hmmm...I'm surprised John Piper would say it exactly that way, that's the problem when you say things on the fly.

Piper had a great Tast and See Article, called Making Room for Atheism sayin that we make clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order—not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God.

But the very reason and existence of government is to defend and protect life and property. The government shouldn't be coercing some one into believing in Christ, (because it essentially, cannot do that). It is not charged to do that. But the government is charged and ordained by God to be an instrument and bear the sword to punish evildoers - to defend the innocent.

Instead the government is sanctioning abortion. So, I think Piper chose poorly on the use of words.

Finally, what about gay "marriage?" Someone might say, aren't we coercing a sector of the community to believe in marriage between a man and a woman. To that, I say no. If you think about all the relationships that exist, male/female, female/female and male/male, the most permiscuous of the groups are male/male. Male homosexuals have hundereds and over a lifetime some have a thousand partners. So, we're not forcing them to accept marriage between one man and one women, because they don't even live by their "ideal" of one man with one man.

And one might ask, well, why are they pushing for gay marriage. It's because they are in rebellion against God. They realize that morality of marriage between a man and a woman excludes them and while none of them really intend on having one partner they still hate it (marriage) and are rebelling against God. It has nothing to do with the notion they want to stay with one man. They want to destroy the institution because they hate God.

And the government should not allow an institution of God be destroyed just because one sector of a community hates God and wants to rebel notwithstanding the fact that the destruction of that institution will be bring greater judgment by God on us and the building blocks of the family institution will crumble.

robert.johnson4 said...

Help! What does TIWIARN mean?

Mike Riccardi said...

"This is where I am right now."

I feel for people who can't decode the acronyms. I was there not too long ago.

And... WYWTWIWYWTT is: "What you win them with is what you with them to."

Bo Salisbury said...

Right on, Frank! I've always been blessed with plenty, but God has been gracious to me... He hasn't let me become too complacent and I've been given glimpses of poverty...

When I woke up in the ICU burn unit after ten days in a coma, I knew we were in deep, deep trouble, financially. I had a vision of an odometer with dollar signs, spinning every minute I spent in the hospital. Looking back, I worried too much and it affected my recovery. But, the Lord provided beyond our wildest dreams... to the tune of about $1.5 million.

After dodging that bullet, two trips to Uganda showed me real poverty, starvation and death. Yes, we live in a Christian Disneyland here. Much has been given -- much is required of us.

So, I still haven't had to live this passage to the degree Paul did, but I've had a taste of what it requires and I don't fear it now, praise Jesus:

Philippians 4:12 & 13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.