30 June 2010

You: Burden

by Frank Turk

I'm short on time (again) this week, so I am pre-blogging my Wednesday entry in the hopes of getting it out there for your edification, and so that I can work 12 hours on Wednesday and hopefully get my desk cleared off so I can go on vacation.

Here's the thing: yesterday, Dan had a great post in which there was this bit:
And then I saw Romans 15:13 — "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." God gives joy and peace. Thank God. How does He give joy and peace? In believing. But wait — I'll believe when I feel joy and peace! That will tell me I'm really a child, an elect child of God!

"No," Paul would say to me, to you: "you have it backwards. You don't get joy and peace, and then believe. Believe, and then you will know joy and peace."

Right? Amen?

In which Dan rightly intended for you, the smoldering wick, the bruised reed, to take refuge. How you "feel" should be about knowing Christ is the one who gives you what you need, not in how you have given what you need to give.

And many people needed to hear that. I needed to hear that. Inside my personal echo chamber, the me I see in there is the me who doesn't do what he ought, and does what he ought not to do, and who can save me from this wretched state? Praise be to God: it's the Lord Jesus Christ.

And I can see me that way. You can see you that way.

But the real trick in the Christian life is to see others that way. That is: just as you are Christ's in spite of your pitiable state, the other believers you encounter are Christ's in spite of their pitiable state. Maybe they work too much. Maybe -- though of course this can't be true in Reformed circles -- they are social misfits. Maybe they are essentially emotionally blank. Maybe they have never thought about a stranger's impressions of their actions.

Maybe they are just tired and they don't have the energy for you. You are a burden, you have to admit, even after a good night's sleep.

So that refuge in which we can rejoice in Christ for our own personal sake, and escape the real and right fear of our sins in Christ -- it's actually bigger than us. It's bigger than one person.

Paul said it this way:
But now in Christ Jesus you-all who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

And he came and preached peace to you-all who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you-all are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you-all also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. [Eph 2]
See: it's somewhat basic to say, "Christ died for me." It's probably the most basic thing you have to get to start this discussion. But Christ didn't die for "me" -- He died for "US".

If there's a refuge against the dark shadow of doubt in Christ for you personally, it should be greater than just you personally. It should be the place where you overcome the smallness of you and get joined together in the holy temple of our God -- which is not a building, but a body and family.

The joy for you is all our joy. You should come and see it with us -- in spite of us, and because of Christ.

29 June 2010

The Struggle for Assurance

by Dan Phillips

We get letters

I have a general (and well-known) rule of thumb for a wide variety of questions that folks write to me. My first question is, "What did your pastor tell you?" Because while I may be a pastor, I'm not your pastor, and you need to be personally involved in a local church and under toe-to-toe pastoral oversight. I'm not that guy. When I don't get a response, that is usually the end of the conversation.

One letter came to me from someone in great despair, struggling with depression and lack of assurance. As I would always do in such a case, I pointed him to his pastoral leadership

Thank God, and bless his heart, he followed that counsel, contacted his church leadership, and began getting some help. I continued praying for him, and followed up, asking from time to time how he was doing. It's not an easy road, and in one particular email he shared that he struggled badly with assurance of salvation.

In this correspondence, I realized that I haven't said much about my own struggles, beyond an allusion here and there. The causes of reluctance are many. Largely, there's a level of transparency we do, and do not do, here, tempered by what is to God's glory and our readers' good. Nobody comes (nor should come) here wanting to hear more about me as an individual, what I'm feeling, and blah blah blah. It ain't American Idol.

Yet, writing this person, I thought of what encouragement I've received in reading Spurgeon's candid words about his own bitter battles with depression, in particular; and how richly he is able to speak to me (and countless masses), as a result. I recall hearing an excellent sermon of Phil's, in which he mentioned how he responded when depression crossed his path. I could go on, but it's heartening to find such a point of connection with someone, when you might imagine otherwise. The 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 principle forms a motivating imperative, which pressed on me as I thought about it, overcoming my reluctance.

So I thought it might be helpful to share one of my edited emails with you, as an opening sally on the subject. Then we'll see how it goes.

_____, as I alluded, what you lay out actually has been a huge struggle for me, at one time or another, for my entire Christian life.

While the same grounds of assurance are provided to all Christians, it seems to me that the degree to which one emotionally enjoys assurance varies from person to person, as temperaments vary from person to person. Some people hear the word of promise, accept it, are saved, know it, and never look back. Blessed souls! Wish I were one of them.

Others, not so much. Like Thomas, they hear the same joyous news; but like Thomas, they are slow to believe. It isn't a virtue, but it's their reality, our reality.

Then other people are absolutely assured, without the least doubt... and they really, really shouldn't be.

I spent the first months, perhaps years, of my Christian life in terror that I'd fall away. It was a wrenching struggle. The Holy Spirit had so revealed my sin to me that I knew I was capable of anything, apostasy not the least. I saw myself in every "soil" except the fourth, in every warning in Hebrews, and of course in the unpardonable sin.

I still don't always feel the sense of assurance that I believe is a Christian's birthright. But I strive for it. I know from experience how hard it can be to feel that you can't do anything, if you don't have Square A settled: can I, or can I not, assuredly call God my Father?

Here's some of what I've come to see, though.

Assurance is a matter of faith, as is everything else (at bottom) in the Christian life.

Think it through with me: God tells me I'm a sinner. I believe Him. God tells me Christ is my only hope. I believe Him. God tells me I must repent and trust in Christ. I believe Him in that, too. God tells me I must trust Christ alone, and not lean on works or any other false hope. I believe Him in that, and I do it.

But Christ also tells me that if I come to Him, He will not cast me out (John 6:37). He tells me if I believe in the Lord Jesus, I will be saved (Acts 16:31). He tells me no power in heaven or on earth can part me from Him and doom me (John 10:28-29; Romans 8:38-39).

Now, my attitude has sometimes been, "I will believe that when I feel assured of it" — but do you see the trap in that thinking? Jesus told Martha that, if she believed, she would see the glory of God (John 11:40). Not the reverse.

So, _____, my game plan is to bank on Jesus' word of promise, regardless of my feelings, with no Plan B. He said come (Matthew 11:30-31). By grace, I came. He said, if you come, there's no way I'm casting you away (John 6:37). I plan to take that one to the Throne. He said. Is there a better basisHe said!

And then I saw Romans 15:13 — "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope." God gives joy and peace. Thank God. How does He give joy and peace? In believing. But wait — I'll believe when I feel joy and peace! That will tell me I'm really a child, an elect child of God!

"No," Paul would say to me, to you: "you have it backwards. You don't get joy and peace, and then believe. Believe, and then you will know joy and peace."

I hope those truths are of some help to you. They've been lifesavers to me. Maybe take it to your counselor, who (unlike me) knows you. See if he finds something there he can use in encouraging you.

I hope so!

In Christ,

In future posts, I may focus on some of the threats to or enemies of assurance, and how Biblically to do battle with doubts.

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28 June 2010

My Semester with an Evolution-Nazi

by Phil Johnson hen I was in college (Southeastern State University, Durant, OK) and still a fresh convert to authentic Christianity, one of the hardest challenges I faced was what to do with the claims of secular scientists. I had a biology professor who was an ardent evolutionist.

Strike that. He was a fanatic who talked about little else, and he took up the subject on day one of the first semester.

His claims were so bold and his attitude so cocksure and self-satisfied that I was intimidated. He was quick-witted, sharp-tongued, and hard-core. After day one, neither I nor anyone in the class had the courage to raise any questions, because he made it clear from the start that he would ruthlessly mock students who dared to question anything. And I'm talking about conscientious students who asked honest questions, not argumentative people who challenged him. No one would have dared to challenge him.

At first.

I had grown up in a liberal denomination, a believer in theistic evolution, and yet this fanatic evolutionist's lectures were what first got me to think seriously about the questions of human origins and the creation of the universe. The more I tried to absorb the things this fellow was teaching, the more the ramifications of evolutionary theory troubled me. But the professor blew past or dismissed all the difficult (and, to me, obvious) questions his lectures raised.

Finally after several weeks of silent note-taking, I summoned the courage to ask about abiogenesis; and the second law of thermodynamics; and the presence of intelligent, ordered data in DNA; and the scarcity of intermediate forms in the fossil record; and whatnot. I didn't raise those questions all at once, but over a period of two weeks or so. I gradually got to the point where I suppose I was asking a question or two every day.

And something very quickly became obvious: this guy had no good answers to the hard questions. He had never really thought through those issues. He was a doctrinaire evolutionist whose presuppositions were dogmatically atheistic, and he had never seriously considered any arguments against his views. When I (and soon others) began to question his claims, he knew he was in over his head. His cool braggadocio gave way to agitated frustration.

So for three weeks he brought in a guest lecturer from the department of geosciences at the University of Texas in Dallas. And you know what? That guy had no sensible answers either. All the two of them could do was mock and fulminate against whoever was raising the questions. And trust me: they did plenty of that, laughing at one another's jokes and competing with one another to see who could treat the questioners in the class more condescendingly.

It turned out there were a dozen or so other Christians and lots of open-minded students in that biology class. The whole class collectively could see the lameness of the "answers," so they kept raising questions. Good ones. In the end, the geology "expert" took to cursing the questioners and then simply stopped taking any questions—giving long, tedious, angry lectures instead. Then when his three weeks were up, the whole topic of evolution was declared off limits, and we focused the rest of the semester on real biology.

If you analyze the fulminations of the New Atheists and the amateur atheist brotherhoods on the Internet, they are basically of that same type. Moreover, my impression is that science departments in most secular universities are even more despotic in their promotion of atheism today than they were when I was in college.

So my advice to students: summon the courage to challenge your professors. Ask the hard questions. It may cost you academic stature and several grade points, but I predict you'll discover what I did: naturalism is a religion, and an ill-tempered one. It's not really based on rational proof (as most naturalists claim). It's a dogma of the same style and with the same destructive potential as the Roman Catholic dogma of papal infallibility.

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27 June 2010

Impersonal Chance vs. Our Personal God

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "God's Thoughts and Ours," A sermon preached on a Thursday evening, 19 March 1868 at the Met Tab in London.

ome people seem to be always struggling to get away from the thought of one true personal God,—Creator, Preserver, Redeemer, and All-in-all to his people. Those who deny the inspired record of the creation would have us believe that we are descended from monkeys, or from something with even less intelligence than an ape possesses; but I could gather no comfort from such a belief as that if it wore true. It fills me rather with pity or contempt for those who can be so foolish as to cherish such a delusion.

But when I come back to the revelation of the Bible concerning a personal God, a revelation which has been confirmed by my own spiritual experience, and when I realize that this personal God takes a special interest in me, and thinks of me with tender, loving, gracious consideration, then I lift up my hands in adoring wonder, and say, as David did, "How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! how great is the sum of them!"

Yes, there is great comfort in being able truthfully to say, "Our Father, who art in heaven;" and those who are really the sons and daughters of the Lord Almighty find it to be their chief delight that he thinketh about them, and planneth all that is for their present and eternal good.

C. H. Spurgeon

26 June 2010

A Coda on the Week's Discussion

posted by Phil Johnson

An anonymous commenter named David was active in two or three comment-threads this week, taking BioLogos's side against our critique of that organization's skeptical approach to Scripture. His comments so closely followed the BioLogos party line that many of our commenters assumed he was a professing Christian from the BioLogos community. In the end it became clear that David was actually a devoted atheist trolling for controversy.

At the end of Monday's thread, Dan Phillips made the following comments. Since lots of our readers never delve into the comments, I wanted to bring these points to the front page. (Dan's original comment inadvertently had two points 4, so I have renumbered the list; and point 7 below is added to Dan's original list from a subsequent comment Dan himself made well down in the morass of yesterday's comment-thread.)

My thanks to Dan for these comments. I couldn't watch the discussion as closely as I would have liked, but Dan's closing comments perfectly reflected my own thoughts about Genesis and modernist skepticism.

—Phil Johnson

Summing Up
by Dan Phillips

     would hope a few things became apparent to all despite the efforts of a few dedicated individuals to cast as much murk on the issue as possible:

  1. The language of Genesis 1 is not problematic. The style is prose, and the words are straightforward. One has the impression of six normal days of creative activity beginning with 1:1. Exodus 20:11 cements that understanding as being the same as Moses', which means that it was God's intent as well.
  2. Given that Genesis 1 flows right into the rest of the book's sequential narrative, whose genealogies mark it as a tale of millennia and not endless eons, the universe is thousands of years old, not gazillions.
  3. Evidence is not self-interpreting.
  4. We have in Genesis the one and only utterly unimpeachable eyewitness account, with its own interpretive keys to assure that we do not miss the meaning. Words mean things; God spoke to be understood by us (Hebrews 1:1-2); great doubts are not obscuring the text taken on its own terms. Possessing the text, we posses what we need for an interpretive grid for the evidence.
  5. By contrast, the dominant school that has printed up the "I Am the Only Real Scientist" T-shirts for our day is (A) in possession of a tiny fragment of evidence; (B) driven by philosophical and religious pre-commitments which assure misinterpretation of the evidence; and (C) arrogant out of all proportion to reality.
  6. I hope that the TE/OE compromisers learned a very important truth from the sneering visitors. By your compromise, (A) you are not winning them over, but (B) are signalling to them that they are winning you over. They will simply wait you out, until you continue in your process of jettisoning everything the world hates about you as a Christian.
        After all, if they can get you to toss such a straightforward chapter, the rest should be child's play.

    I add this:
  7. It is instructive that many commenters could not tell David apart from a "Christian" old-earther/evolutionist. The contempt towards the Biblical text, and the fawning, unquestioning faith in (today's dominant, self-proclaimed version of) science were indistinguishable to many.
The lesson goes out to all. Some will admit it, some won't.

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25 June 2010

Middle of the Road: R.I.P. Kermit

by Phil Johnson

ur friends at BioLogos are feeling the pincers of criticism. On one side are doctrinaire materialistic atheists; and on this side are those of us who actually believe the Bible.

BioLogos has deliberately staked out a middle-road position between these two irreconcilable worldviews. They say they are determined to find and develop common ground between both sides. But this week they've been discovering what any highway engineer will tell you: on a freeway where heavy traffic is moving at high speed in opposing directions, there's no such thing as "common ground."

Furthermore, you won't get very far pretending the yellow line is the common-ground marker. You're liable to get clobbered by traffic from both sides.

So anyway, Dr. Darrell Falk, president of BioLogos, e-mailed me Thursday morning to say he had prepared a response to Monday's Pyro-post. I read it eagerly, hoping he would respond to the substance of my critique. Instead, he spent most of his time pandering to Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and others on the doctrinaire-materialistic-atheist side.

He was keen to assure them that "BioLogos exists in no small part to marginalize [belief in the historicity of the Genesis account] from the Church." Specifically, the BioLogos team have targeted the notion that Adam was a special creation—fashioned in God's own image rather than evolved from higher primates. "A fundamental part of our mission is to show that [the Genesis account of Adam] is not tenable," Falk solemnly (and somewhat fawningly) assured Dawkins. (Read his post for yourself if you think I am exaggerating about the obsequious tone he takes with Dawkins.)

Dr. Falk's whole response to my post was basically: You have your interpretation of Genesis; we have ours. He seems to be suggesting that because interpretation by definition has an element of subjectivity to it, everyone is free to interpret however he or she prefers, and everyone's interpretation deserves equal respect. That may seem a nice-sounding platitude in our current postmodern context, but it is by no means a biblical value.

And it's no real answer to any of the points I made.

Indeed, Dr. Falk's one complaint about my post focused on the wording of my closing paragraph, where I wrote:
If BioLogos is willing to throw away so much at the very foundations of our faith and at the very beginning of God's revelation, I can't imagine why they would want to keep up the pretense of being Christians at all. Selectively admiring the Bible's moral teachings is not the same thing as actually believing the Bible.

Naturally, Dr. Falk did not like my suggestion that genuine faith can't be as skeptical and selective with God's revealed truth as the BioLogos team wants to be.

He also objected to Travis Allen's post at the GTY.org blog. Travis (quoting from 1 Timothy 6:20) said: "It's time for Christians to return to the self-attesting authority of God's Word and forsake the 'vain babblings and oppositions of science, falsely so called.'" Dr. Falk wasn't happy to have such harsh words (written by the apostle Paul, not by Travis Allen, as Falk seemed to think) applied to his views.

He wrote,
I do wish though, that we would not be put forward as those who, according to the above quotations, live under the "pretense of being Christians," or that we be represented as "vain babblers." At various times, we have written respectfully that we understand why this issue is so important to you. We love and respect you for the sincerity of your position, but please don't call us "vain babblers" any more, and please don't imply that we are only "pretending" to be Christians.

So I'd like to clarify a couple of things: First, despite Dr. Falk's verbal reassurance, most of the contributors at BioLogos clearly have no clue "why this issue is so important." It's painfully obvious that theology is very low on BioLogos's list of priorities. In fact, one of the besetting sins at BioLogos is a blithe lack of concern for some of the most foundational doctrines of Christianity and their implications. I'm thinking especially of the authority and inspiration of Scripture and the doctrine of original sin.

Second, I stand by my statement that the blend of scientific skepticism and moral piety being peddled over at BioLogos isn't authentic Christianity. That's based on the fact that the authority of Scripture and the doctrine of original sin are and always have been deemed Christian essentials by every major branch of the church—and BioLogos does seem very keen to do away with both doctrines.

For example, BioLogos's relentless attack on the historicity of Adam entails an implicit denial of the doctrine of original sin (or in the very best case, a totally different, extrabiblical re-imagination of how humanity fell). Dr. Falk himself rejects the views of those who believe in the historicity of Adam and the Fall. In his reply to Dawkins he seems to be pleading for patience as they seek a way to humor the minority in the BioLogos community who crave the "comfort" of believing all humanity descended from a single pair—not a specially-created Adam and Eve, mind you, but a pair of humanoids who evolved from the higher primates. I thought that part of his post came across as especially condescending and dismissive. You can decide for yourself whether I'm reading too much attitude into it.

In any case, his rejection of the historicity of Adam and the Genesis account of original sin simply isn't consistent with biblical and historic Christianity. The doctrine of original sin is and always has been the starting point of Christian soteriology and the doctrine of atonement. Ecumenical councils, Catholic Church councils, and mainstream Protestants (including Calvinists and evangelical Arminians alike) have always explicitly, emphatically, and repeatedly affirmed original sin as a cardinal doctrine of the Christian faith. Denying original sin is the identifying mark of Pelagians, rank heretics, and quasi-Christian cults.

The authority, inspiration, and inerrancy of Scripture is a matter of similar import, and this too has been the subject of sustained and systematic attack at BioLogos. Remember, in their president's own words, BioLogos "exists in no small part to marginalize this view" (i.e., the view "that Adam and Eve were created with apparent age"). That goal obviously will require a systematic campaign to undermine Christians' confidence in the Genesis account, starting with an open attack on evangelical convictions regarding biblical inerrancy.

Which of course is precisely what the team at BioLogos are currently doing.

BioLogos is by no means the first group in church history to attack the foundations of the Christian faith in the Name of Christ—shamelessly pleading for charity and acceptance as true believers from the very saints whose faith they are determined to dismantle. (Read the saga of Arius and Athanasius if you want a gripping tale of doctrinal intrigue and heresy in the name of Christian brotherhood. It'll cure you of thinking it's uncharitable to take a hard-line stance against heresy.)

In short, I don't apologize for saying that the worldview BioLogos promotes is a challenge to—and by no means an affirmation of—the authentic, biblical, and historic Christian faith.

I'm certain that fact will become more and more obvious the more material BioLogos publishes. But for those still in doubt, here's a simple test: Apply their Genesis hermeneutic consistently to the bodily resurrection of Christ (or the deity of Christ, for that matter), and see what you come up with. Then ask how reasonable it is to accord the BioLogos worldview the right hand of Christian fellowship.

Over at the Grace to You blog Travis Allen has posted a response to yesterday's BioLogos piece. Check it out.

Also, Fred Butler has weighed in here, replete with a quotation from Mr. Miagi.

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24 June 2010

Read Frank's post

by Dan Phillips

We got a little tangled yesterday, but don't miss Frank's post from yesterday, which is under Phil's. It was a twofer-day; you shouldn't miss his.

My next post, Lord willing, will be today or tomorrow.

(This doesn't count.)

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23 June 2010

Humanistic Religion and the Origin of Life

by John MacArthur

The following article is taken from John MacArthur's foreword to Terry Mortenson and Thane H. Ury, eds. Coming to Grips with Genesis: Biblical Authority and the Age of the Earth. The book is a festschrift in honor of Dr. John Whitcomb.

he apostle Paul closed his first epistle to Timothy by urging the young pastor to guard the deposit of truth that had been entrusted to him, "avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge" (1 Timothy 6:20-21). In the King James Version, the text famously speaks of "science falsely so called."

Over the course of human history, all kinds of speculative ideas have been falsely labeled "science" and mistakenly accepted as true and reliable knowledge by otherwise brilliant people. The now-discredited dogmas of older scientific theories are numerous—and in some cases laughable. They include alchemy (the medieval belief that other base metals could be transmuted into gold); phrenology (the Victorian belief that the shape of one's skull reflects character traits and mental capacity); astrology (the pagan belief that human destiny is determined by the motions of celestial bodies); and abiogenesis (the long-standing belief that living organisms are spontaneously generated by decaying organic substances). All those false beliefs were deemed credible as "science" by the leading minds of their times.

Consider just one of those—abiogenesis. Popularly known as "spontaneous generation," this idea has long been, and continues to be, one of the archetypal expressions of "science falsely so called." It is also one of the most persistent of all demonstrably pseudoscientific fictions. The notion that aphids arise naturally from dew on plant leaves, mold is generated automatically by aging bread, and maggots are spontaneously begotten by rotting meat was more or less deemed self-evident by most of humanity's brightest intellects1 from the time of Aristotle until 1861, when Louis Pasteur conclusively proved that non-living matter cannot spawn life on its own.

It is one of the great ironies of scientific history that the first edition of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species was published exactly two years before Pasteur's famous experiments proved that life cannot arise spontaneously from non-living matter. The publication of Darwin's book marked the apotheosis of evolutionary theory, and it was rooted in the basic presupposition that under the right circumstances, life can spring on its own from non-living matter.

In other words, two years before abiogenesis was scientifically debunked, it was in effect canonized as the central dogma of modern secular belief about the origins of life. The discovery that fleas don't magically form out of decomposing dander on the backs of dirty dogs did not dissuade most in the scientific world from embracing the theory that all life in the universe arose by itself out of nothing. The belief that life spontaneously came from non-life remains to this day the great unexplained (albeit easily disprovable) assumption underlying the dogma of evolution.

The irony of that is utterly lost on many in the scientific community today, where evolution has become an article of faith—unshakable faith, it turns out.

Evolutionists have conveniently "solved" the problem of abiogenesis by repeatedly moving their estimates of the earth's age backward toward infinity. Given enough time, it seems, anything is possible. Trying desperately to keep the biblical concept of eternity at bay, evolutionists have thus devised an alternative kind of infinitude. Every time a challenge to current evolutionary theory arises, geologists and astronomers dutifully tack billions and billions of eons onto their theories about the earth's age, adding however many ancient epochs are deemed necessary for some new impossibility to be explained.

In the introduction to my 2001 book, The Battle for the Beginning, I suggested naturalism had become the dominant religion of contemporary secular society. "Religion is exactly the right word to describe naturalism," I wrote. "The entire philosophy is built on a faith-based premise. Its basic presupposition—a rejection of everything supernatural—requires a giant leap of faith. And nearly all its supporting theories must be taken by faith as well."2

Here, then, is a classic example of what I was talking about: the typical evolutionist's starting point is this notion that life arose spontaneously from inanimate matter sometime in eternity past. That requires not merely the willful suspension of what we know for certain about the origins of life and the impossibility of abiogenesis—but also enough deliberate gullibility to believe that moving-target estimates of the earth's antiquity can sufficiently answer all the problems and contradictions sheer naturalism poses.

Meanwhile, in the popular media, evolutionary doctrine and ever-expanding notions of prehistory are being promoted with all the pious zeal of the latest religious sect. Watch the Internet forums, programs on the Discovery Channel, interviews and articles published in the mass media, school textbooks, and books aimed at lay readers—and what you will usually see is raw assertions, demagoguery, intimidation, and ridicule (especially when the subjects of biblical theism and the Genesis account of creation are raised).

But question the dogma that all life evolved from a single spontaneously-generated cell, point out that the universe is full of evidence for intelligent design, or demand the kind of proof for evolutionary origins that would ordinarily pass scientific muster, and the ardent evolutionist will simply dismiss you as a heretic or a bigot of the worst stripe. What they are tacitly acknowledging is that as far as they are concerned, evolution is a doctrine that must be received with implicit faith, not something that can be scientifically demonstrated. After all, the claims of true science can always be investigated, observed, reproduced, tested, and proved in the laboratory. So to insist that evolution and so-called "deep time" doctrines must be accepted without question is really just a tacit admission that these are not scientific ideas at all.

Consider these quotations from typical evolutionist writers:

  • No biologist today would think of submitting a paper entitled "New evidence for evolution;" it simply has not been an issue for a century. (Douglas J. Futuyma, Evolutionary Biology, 2nd ed., Boston: Sinauer Associates, 1986, p. 15)
  • It is time for students of the evolutionary process, especially those who have been misquoted and used by the creationists, to state clearly that evolution is a fact, not theory. . . . All present forms of life arose from ancestral forms that were different. Birds arose from nonbirds and humans from nonhumans. No person who pretends to any understanding of the natural world can deny these facts. (R. C. Lewontin, "Evolution/creation debate: A time for truth," Bioscience (1981), 31:559)
  • Here is what separates real scientists from the pseudoscientists of the school of intelligent design. . . . One thing all real scientists agree upon is the fact of evolution itself. It is a fact that we are cousins of gorillas, kangaroos, starfish, and bacteria. Evolution is as much a fact as the heat of the sun. It is not a theory, and for pity's sake, let's stop confusing the philosophically naive by calling it so. Evolution is a fact. (Richard Dawkins, "The Illusion of Design," Natural History (November 2005), 53)
But as those statements themselves show, evolution is a dogma, not a demonstrable "fact." I stand by the position I took in The Battle for the Beginning: "Belief in evolutionary theory is a matter of sheer faith. [It is] as much a religion as any theistic world-view."3

I'll go even further: science cannot speak with any authority about when the universe began, how it came into being, or how life originated on earth. Science by definition deals with what can be observed, tested, measured, and investigated by empirical means. Scientific data by definition are facts that can be demonstrated by controlled, repeatable experiments that always yield consistent results. The beginning of the universe by its very nature falls outside the realm of scientific investigation.

To state the case plainly: there is no scientific way to explain creation. No one but God actually observed creation. It did not happen by any uniform, predictable, observable, repeatable, fixed, or natural laws. It was not a natural event or a series of natural events. The initial creation of matter was an instantaneous, monumental, inexplicable miracle—the exact opposite of a "natural" phenomenon. And the formation of the universe was a brief series of supernatural events that simply cannot be studied or explained by science. There are no natural processes involved in creation; the act of creation cannot be repeated; it cannot be tested; and therefore naturalistic theories purporting to explain the origin and age of the universe are unverifiable.

In other words, creation is a theological issue, not a scientific one. Scripture is our only credible source of information about creation, because God Himself was the only eyewitness to the event. We can either believe what He says or reject it. But no Christian should ever imagine that what we believe about the origin of the universe is merely a secondary, nonessential, or incidental matter. It is, after all, the very starting point of God's self-revelation.

In fact, in its profound brevity, Genesis 1:1 is a very simple, clear, and unequivocal account of how the universe, the earth, and everything on the earth came to be: "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth." That is not an ambiguous statement. Until Darwinian evolution undertook a campaign to co-opt the story of creation and bring it into the realm of naturalistic "science"—and especially before modernist skepticism began to seep into the church—no one who claimed to be a Christian was the least bit confused by the Genesis account.

Christians should not be intimidated by dogmatic naturalism. We do not need to invent a new interpretation of Genesis every time some geologist or astronomer declares that the universe must be older than he previously thought. Nor should we imagine that legitimate science poses any threat to the truth of Scripture. Above all, we must not seek ways to circumvent the clear meaning of God's Word, compromise our trust in the Creator, or continually yield ground to every new theory of falsely-so-called science. That is precisely what Paul was warning Timothy about.

Sadly, it seems evolutionary thinking and qualms about the Genesis account of creation have reached epidemic levels among professing Christians in recent decades. Too many Christian leaders, evangelical schools, and Bible commentators have been willing to set aside the biblical account of a relatively young earth in order to accommodate the ever-changing estimates of naturalistic geologists and astronomers. They have thrown away sound hermeneutical principles—at least in the early chapters of Genesis—to accommodate the latest theories of evolution.

When I encounter people who think evolutionary doctrine trumps the biblical account of creation, I like to ask them where their belief in the Bible kicks in. Is it in chapter 3, where the fall of Adam and original sin are accounted for? In chapters 4-5, where early human history is chronicled? In chapters 6-8, with the record of the flood? In chapter 11, with the Tower of Babel? Because if you bring naturalism and its presuppositions to the early chapters of Genesis, it is just a short step to denying all the miracles of Scripture—including the resurrection of Christ. If we want to make science the test of biblical truth rather than vice versa, why would it not make just as much sense to question the biblical record of the resurrection as it does to reject the Genesis account? But "if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! . . . If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable" (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

John MacArthur's signature

1: Alexander Ross, an early seventeenth-century Scottish writer and intellectual, harshly criticized Sir Thomas Browne for questioning the dogma of spontaneous generation. Under the heading "Mice and other vermin bred of putrefaction, even in mens bodies," he wrote: "He doubts whether mice can be procreated of putrefaction. So he may doubt whether in cheese and timber worms are generated; Or if Betels and wasps in cowes dung; Or if butterflies, locusts, grasshoppers, shel-fish, snails, eeles, and such like, be procreated of putrefied matter, which is apt to receive the form of that creature to which it is by the formative power disposed. To question this, is to question Reason, Sense, and Experience: If he doubts of this, let him go to Egypt, and there he will finde the fields swarming with mice begot of the mud of [the Nile]." Arcana Microcosmi, (London: Newcomb, 1652), book 2, chapter 10, 156.

2. The Battle for the Beginning, Nashville: W Publishing Group, 2001, p. 11.

3. The Battle for the Beginning, p. 12.

We were Enemies

by Frank Turk

So, where am I going with this little series? I lead off with Ray Ortlund’s exhortation to love people of other theological traditions. And then I got all specific on you last week by pointing out that some of the heroes of the faith are not really in your theological tradition – assuming, of course, that you’re a TeamPyro reader and of a roughly-reformed tradition (which may span from Presbyterianism to independent Congregationalist). We love Augustine for refuting Pelagius, for example, but we don’t talk much about the fact that his theology of the Eucharist is essentially the theology which yields what the WCF calls the “the Popish sacrifice of the mass, as they call it, … most abominably injurious to Christ's one, only sacrifice, the alone propitiation for all the sins of the elect.”

We want our heroes to be just like us, and our perceived enemies to be completely unlike us, with nothing in common as if we are not all of Adam’s race, and as if the sin which cannot be forgiven is only possible in someone else’s ballywick.

That’s the elephant in the room, btw: the way we toss people out of our circle of church with complete regard for their faults and no regard for their merit in Christ.

Let’s face it: we say we believe this --
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die -- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. [Rom 5]
I mean: that’s straight up-the-middle Book of Romans. It’s the Reformed Home Court. This is the promise those who have faith and have repented, and if you’re really ready to go for the gusto, those who have been baptized for the sake of faith and repentance, ought to all share.

Paul says in this we ought to rejoice -- so all the smart remarks about the Apostle John and John the Baptist being a real gas at parties and whatnot ought to take its snark to Paul and see what he has to say about that.

But this is still the PyroManiacs blog, y’all. Phil has just spent a good bit of time telling us about the BioLogos affront to orthodoxy – am I jumping ship here to say that Phil’s wrong to shake a finger at people who are bent on dismantling the faith for the sake of elevating science, implying that at least some of them are not Christian at all? Dan has recently chastised those who leave church because of the dreaded “Reason X”, implying that these people are, by and large, not operating in good faith and probably not in faith at all. Am I parting company with my good and godly friend over his reproach of the unfaithful?

In a word? No.

See: for all the assurance we can derive from Rom 5, and all the exhortations of Paul to be unified under Christ and to let Christ be the basis for unity and fellowship – which, it seems to me, is Pastor Ortlund’s point – we also have James telling us this explicitly:
My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. [James 5]
One simple sentence, but I think we lose the force of it often. Here’s what I think we should read when we see this:

Some people – like you -- will from time to time wander away into sin.

This premise, btw, is how you tell serious people from hobbyists in the Christian life: the personal recognition that all Christians turn away from the truth from time to time. They all sin and fall short of the Glory of God. Including you personally, and including me personally.

That’s not a license to stay that way or not wage war on sin: but it is the license to treat others the way you have been graciously treated – which is with forgiveness and sacrificial love.

Because you get grace, you can give grace. You in fact ought to give grace. It’s a great place to start.

Wandering people who have turned away from the truth can be turned back.

This is the one thing I think we lose track of: that we mostly aren’t supposed to rebuke people in order to spin them off from the life of faith, the fellowship of the church, and the good graces of God. We are supposed to turn wandering people back from their lostness and toward Christ, toward the church, toward the only hope they have. They can be turned back.

When these people turn back, they turn from death to life.

And in fact the must turn back. If they don’t, they’re going to die not just in this life, but they will be under the judgment of the one who can destroy both body and soul in Hell. That’s the danger they are in.

Other people are the instruments of turning the wanderers back to Christ.

Not only can they be turned back, but they can be turned back by us. We can ourselves turn them back – but I suggest that we can’t do that when we only use whips and hand-grenades. We have to turn them back the way James himself would turn them back.

Like this:

James has the audacity to call both the wanderers and those who turn them back "My brothers".

Isn’t that crazy? Doesn’t that point us exactly to the same place Paul points us to – which is a refuge in Christ when we are confronting people who we believe are turned away from Christ and toward sin? James says that our approach to them, and our reproaches to them, ought to be as brothers and not as toward lawless men or people who are not in our own family.

You could do it, folks. If you are in Christ, you can do it. You can start by being with the Lord’s people on the Lord’s day in the Lord’s house.

22 June 2010

It was a dark and stormy night (the saga of Das Book)

by Dan Phillips

Gather 'round, children, and I'll tell you a tale.

It's a tale of adventure, suspense, intrigue, board meetings, contracts, and of hope found, lost, and found again.

Well, anyway, it's got board meetings.

It's actually about my book, my other book, the one I told you about here. You'll note that post is just over a year old. Some have wondered, "Dude, we know you just sent in a Proverbs manuscript to Kress... but what about that other book?"

This, Dear Readers, is that story.

What happened is that Brian Thomasson, the good brother who had brought me to David C. Cook, later parted ways with Cook to pursue other ventures. That left me (and my contract) with Cook, as I continued to work on my manuscript, merrily bringing it to readiness for submission.

When I was literally within a day or two of sending my completed manuscript to Cook, I got a phone call. It was very kindly explained to me that, given the rough economy, Cook had felt forced to eliminate a number of upcoming titles from their roster. One of those titles was — you guessed it — your humble correspondent's.

I understand Cook's decision, and there are no hard feelings. They dealt kindly with me, and offered help in finding my manuscript a home. Still, I can't say the call made me happy. But dear bro Phil Johnson was very encouraging. Phil had read an early form of the manuscript and was very enthused about it. He never doubted that the manuscript would be published. It was just a matter of who would be the publisher. His confidence helped keep my spirits up.

Wellsir, I knocked on this door and I knocked on that door, showing my poor homeless waif hither and yon. The long and short of it is I eventually talked with Ed Komoszewski, who works with Kregel Publications. Ed, God bless 'im, took a fancy to my baby, and introduced it with great verve to the decision-makers at Kregel. Result: now we have a home! I have in my possession a signed contract which calls for me to have my manuscript submitted by July 1, 2010.

However, the manuscript was already basically done. I gave it another thorough going-over, consulted their style-manual and made it Kregelicious, and have already submitted it. In other words, "Hulk smash puny deadline!"

(Readers: "Over-eager, much?")

I'm happy and grateful to be with Kregel.  Back in the 70s, when I worked in Christian bookstores, I mostly knew Kregel as re-publishers of solid works. But for years Kregel has been putting out a wide array of Christian resources, including some very solid, Biblical material right in the same doctrinal groove I inhabit. Check out the academic products and the catalogs.

In fact, in one of life's little providential ironies, two years ago I gave a favorable review to a solid book (A) published by Kregel and (B) co-written by m'man Ed. Then one year ago, another favorable review to a "three views" book about the will of God, also from Kregel. The former had endnotes (boo), the latter footnotes (yay). I've already pled that mine have footnotes. (There aren't that many footnotes in this book —as opposed to the Proverbs book, which literally has more than 500 of them.) (The typist for my Proverbs thesis back in '83 complained that half the thesis was in the footnotes.) (Rats, I'm doing that parenthesis-thing.)

And meanwhile, remember m'other man Brian Thomasson? He currently has my Proverbs manuscript in hand, to edit it for Kress Biblical Resources. (I seem partial to the velars, don't I? Cook, Kress, Kregel.)

So now you know all that. Praise God with me, and pray for the process of moving the manuscript to publication. When I know a publication date, of course, I'll let you know. Could be that 2011 will be a double-Dan year.

Whatever, exactly, that will mean.

Dan Phillips's signature

21 June 2010

Trojan Horse

by Phil Johnson

Some Background

f you follow the buzz in the blogosphere, I'm sure you have heard about The BioLogos Forum, with a slick website and blog that launched last year. Their stated goal is to "promote and celebrate the integration of science and Christian faith."

Well, about two weeks ago, Darrel Falk (president of The BioLogos Foundation) Fedexed me a copy of a letter he wrote to John MacArthur. It seems the staff at BioLogos had been reading a series of posts about Genesis and the biblical account of creation on the Grace to You blog and they were convinced MacArthur's critique of uniformitarianism missed the mark.

"Uniformitarianism does not dictate that the earth has never undergone catastrophes," Falk wrote. (He was refuting an assertion MacArthur had never made in the first place). "Rather," Falk continued, "it says that the same processes we see shaping the earth today have been at work since God created the world."


Falk's own shorthand definition of uniformitarianism strikes me as something no sober-minded, Bible-believing individual could possibly affirm. In fact, it sounds very much like a denial of practically everything the Bible says about creation.

Hear it once more: "The same processes we see shaping the earth today have been at work since God created the world."

Really? What about the curse? For that matter, what about days two through six of the creation process? And what about the flood?

I know, of course, that old-earthers like to fudge on the questions of whether all creation (or Eden only) was a perfect paradise; whether the six days are a chronological account of creation or merely some kind of poetic framework; whether the flood was a global or regional deluge, and whatnot. But regardless of what hermeneutical machinations one imposes on the text, I can't see how any reasonable person—someone for whom words are in any sense truly meaningful—could think it possible to reconcile the first nine chapters of Genesis with the bald assertion that "the same processes we see shaping the earth today have been at work since God created the world."

Anyway, Mr. Falk's letter to John MacArthur informed him that BioLogos was about to do a three-part response on the subject, defending uniformitarianism. So I figured I would wait and read what they have to say.

What a disappointment. It seems to me the whole BioLogos response is merely a drawn-out way of saying "Nuh-uh!" You can read their responses for yourself: here, here, and here.

In the first article, Stephen O. Moshier essentially argues that uniformitarianism itself has never really been uniform. He says the term "as it is used by geologists today [is different from] the 19th century definition." Supposedly, Dr. MacArthur did his readers a disservice by not chronicling the evolution of uniformitarian definitions.

That's fine, but utterly beside the point. Don't the curse and the flood still refute the uniformitarian presupposition? Biblical arguments are missing from Moshier's article (oddly titled "The Biblical Premise of Uniformitarianism").

Well, OK, biblical references are not entirely missing. I should mention Moshier's one lame appeal to the words of the sage in Ecclesiastes 1:9: "That which has been is that which will be, and that which has been done is that which will be done. So there is nothing new under the sun."

As if that disproved the Genesis account and settled the dispute on the side of the skeptics in 2 Peter 3:4.

And that was the entire series' best biblical argument. Parts 2 and 3 of the BioLogos response were devoid of any serious appeal to Scripture. Part 2 was an extended but facile attempt to equate uniformitarianism with the doctrine of divine Providence—as if the only alternative to uniformitarianism were a scenario where God always acts directly through miraculous or catastrophic acts. (The whole article makes no actual reference to the biblical text, except for one throwaway reference to Genesis 1, where God rested—as if that "rest" established the legitimacy of uniformitarianism.)

Part 3, by Gregory Bennet, takes the bankrupt "providence" argument a step further, declaring that you can't reject uniformitarianism without also rejecting divine providence. But Bennet makes no argument to support that assertion, which is easily refuted by the mere fact that every biblical creationist who rejects uniformitarianism strongly affirms divine providence.

Oh, and that third blogpost made no argument from Scripture whatsoever. The only mentions of Scripture were offhand references—one of which cited some miracles in the gospels. But Bennet never even seemed to notice that miracles by definition are extraordinary departures from the normal working of divine providence—which is the very reason uniformitarians are naturally skeptical of the Bible's miracles, starting with creation! He actually shot his own argument in the foot in that paragraph.

The whole 3-part series never really dealt with the central argument biblical creationists are making: The biblical accounts of creation, the fall, the curse, and the flood surely mean something. They are irreconcilable with uniformitarianism, if you take Scripture seriously.

Moreover, the New Testament treats the account of Adam, the fall, the curse, and original sin as history (Romans 5:12-21). That's irreconcilable with uniformitarianism. People who insist that they are serious about both science and Scripture ought to be at least as interested in dealing with the biblical data as they are defending the presuppositions of their scientific theories.

BioLogos's low view of Scripture

The problem is that BioLogos clearly does not take scripture seriously, despite the claims of their PR department.

Some of the initial fanfare about BioLogos implied that the organization (though heavily funded by the John Templeton Foundation) is safely evangelical. Supposedly, they were set to offer a thoughtful defense of old-earth creationism without equivocating on the authority of Scripture and without compromising the essentials of the Christian faith.

Good luck, I thought when I read the early hype about BioLogos. Few old-earthers truly grasp how much their capitulation to evolutionary theory compromises when it comes to hamartiology, hermeneutics, biblical history, biblical anthropology, and the authority and reliability of the Scriptures. But it would be nice to see a conscientious effort from old-earthers to deal with Christian doctrine and the foundations of Christian faith seriously.

Instead, in every conflict that pits contemporary "scientific" skepticism against the historic faith of the church, BioLogos has defended the skeptical point of view. BioLogos's contributors consistently give preference to modern ideology over biblical revelation. Although the BioLogos PR machine relentlessly portrays the organization as equally committed to science and the Scriptures (and there's a lot of talk about "bridge-building" and reconciliation), the drift of the organization is decidedly just one way. That should be obvious to anyone who ignores the organization's own carefully-crafted PR and simply pays attention to what the BioLogos staff and contributors actually blog about.

For example, BioLogos is where Bruce Waltke posted a video declaring that denying evolution is cultish. (Waltke resigned his professorship at RTS in the ensuing controversy.)

Lately, BioLogos has consigned biblical inerrancy to the dustbin of outmoded ideas, alongside creation ex nihilo. They have been floating multiple alternatives to the historicity of Adam and Eve, viz.,—
  • Peter Enns: "The Adam story could be viewed symbolically as a story of Israel's beginnings, not as the story of humanity from ground zero."
  • Alister McGrath (summarized in the words of the BioLogos editorial staff): "It makes even more sense to say that Adam and Eve are stereotypical figures—represent [sic] human potential as created by God but also with the capacity to go wrong."
  • N. T. Wright: "I do think it matters that something like a primal pair getting it wrong did happen. But that doesn't mean I'm saying that therefore Genesis is kind of positivist, literal, clunky history over against myth. Far from it."
And so on. Of course BioLogos's creators and contributors don't believe in a global flood, either. So creation, the fall, the curse, and the flood all ultimately fall victim to BioLogos's skeptical, rationalistic, modernistic approach to "harmonizing science and religion." The original promise (in the words of BioLogos contributor Tim Keller)—"that biological evolution and biblical orthodoxy can be compatible"—turns out to be a lie. "Biblical orthodoxy" has no clear meaning in the BioLogos lexicon. In all candor, it seems as if sound doctrine is simply not matter of major concern for most BioLogos contributors.

If BioLogos is willing to throw away so much at the very foundations of our faith and at the very beginning of God's revelation, I can't imagine why they would want to keep up the pretense of being Christians at all. Selectively admiring the Bible's moral teachings is not the same thing as actually believing the Bible.

Phil's signature

PS: Al Mohler's message last week at the Ligonier Conference is a great answer to what BioLogos is peddling. Challies' notes are a good summary, but you really ought to listen to the whole message.

19 June 2010

Purgatory and Assurance Don't Mix

Your weekly dose of Spurgeon
posted by Phil Johnson

The PyroManiacs devote some space each weekend to highlights from The Spurgeon Archive. The following excerpt is from "Full Assurance," a sermon preached on Sunday morning, 28 April 1861, just one month after Spurgeon's congregation held their first worship service at the new Metropolitan Tabernacle, London.

f course, the Papist does not like full assurance. And why? The Pope and his priest would have a lean larder if full assurance were well preached.

Only conceive my brethren, if the Roman Catholic could get the full assurance of salvation, surely the Cardinals would hardly find money enough to buy their red hats. For where were purgatory then?

Purgatory is an impossibility, if full assurance be possible. If a man knows himself to be saved, then he is not to be troubled with a silly fear about waiting in the intermediate state, to be purified with fire, before he can enter into heaven.

Purgatory is only acceptable to those poor trembling souls who know of no sure salvation here, and are glad of this deceptive hope of a salvation to be wrought in the world to come. Purgatory being thus builded upon a lying imposition—on the fears of ignorant consciences—becomes what brave old Hugh Latimer used to call it, "Purgatory Pick-purse," to the poor sinner, and Purgatory Fill-purse to the vagabond priest.

Once let full assurance be given to all Christian men—first make the Romanist a Christian, and then let him be fully assured of his interest in Christ, and away goes purgatory, and there will never be a soul found to tremble at it any more.

C. H. Spurgeon

18 June 2010

How Can God Justify the Ungodly?

by John MacArthur

This is part 3 and the last of a series begun here and continued here. At the end of Monday's entry, we were seeing that Scripture says the justification of a sinner is utterly impossible on purely legal grounds.

ow, then, can we be justified? How can God declare guilty sinners righteous without lowering or compromising His own righteous standard?

The answer lies in the work of Christ on our behalf. In Galatians 4:4, the apostle states that Jesus Christ was born "under the law." Obviously, this does not mean merely that Jesus was born Jewish. It means that He was under the law in the Pauline sense, obligated to fulfill the law perfectly as a means of justification.

In this same context, in the span of two verses, Paul twice employs the phrase "under the law." There is a clear logical connection between the last phrase in verse 4 and the first phrase in verse 5: Christ was "made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law.

We've already said that the law cannot be a means of righteousness for sinners. But Christ was no sinner. He lived impeccably "under the law." Hebrews 4:15 tells us He "was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin." He fulfilled the law perfectly, to the letter. First Peter 2:22 says He "did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth." Hebrews 7:26 says He is "holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens." Thus His flawless obedience to the law earned the perfect merit that is necessary to please God.

If Christ was perfectly sinless, then He did not deserve to die. As one "under the law," He would have been subject to the curse of the law if He had violated even one command, but of course He did not—He could not, because He is God. He fulfilled every aspect of the law to the letter—to the jot and tittle.

Yet He did die. More than that, He suffered the full wrath of God on the cross. Why? Scripture tells us the guilt of our sin was imputed to Him, and Christ paid the price for it. Consequently, the merit of His perfect obedience can be imputed to our account. That is the meaning of 2 Corinthians 5:21: God "hath made [Christ] to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."

His death takes care of our guilt, and His perfect life supplies us with all the merit we need to be acceptable to God. That is how God overcame the two great obstacles to our justification. And as Paul says in Romans 3:26, that is how God can remain just, and justify those who believe in Jesus. Christ has personally paid the penalty for their sin, and He has personally obtained a perfect righteousness on their behalf. So He can justify the ungodly (Rom. 4:5).

Scripture teaches no other means of justification. This is at the core of all gospel truth. As early as Genesis 15:6, Scripture teaches that Abraham was justified by an imputed righteousness. Anytime any sinner is redeemed in Scripture, it is by an imputed righteousness, not a righteousness that is somehow earned or achieved by the sinner for his own redemption.

Romans 4:6-7 says David also knew the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works. In fact, this is the whole point Paul is making in Romans 4: Justification has always been by faith, not by works, and through a righteousness that is imputed to the believer. Abraham understood the doctrine of justification that way. David knew the same truth. So from the beginning of Scripture to the end, we are taught that the only merit God accepts is a merit that is imputed to our account. He never pronounces us righteous because of our own works of righteousness.

On the contrary, God says all our righteousnesses are fatally flawed. They are of no more value to God than filthy rags (Isa. 64:6). But that is how God sees our works—no matter how good they are by human standards. They are unacceptable, filthy, to God.

That is why our obedience can never be good enough. That is why those who hang their hope of heaven on their own good works only doom themselves.

How Deadly is Legalism?

All of this should make it very clear that the legalism Paul condemned as "another gospel" is a brand of legalism that seeks to ground our justification in personal obedience rather than the imputed righteousness of Christ. How deadly is such legalism? The apostle Paul suggested it was precisely what caused the majority of Israel to reject Christ: "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:3). Turning aside from the perfect righteousness of Christ (which would have been imputed to them by faith), they opted instead for an imperfect righteousness of their own. They mistakenly assumed, like most people today, that the best they could do would be good enough for God.

Here is the good news of the gospel: for everyone who believes, Christ's blood counts as payment for all our sins, and His fulfillment of the law counts as all the merit we need. Romans 10:4 therefore says, "Christ is the end [Gk., telos, "the thing aimed at"] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Christ is the fulfillment of everything the law intended. In Christ, the ultimate goal of the law—a perfect righteousness—is made available to every believer. His righteousness is imputed to us by faith, and that is why God accepts us in Christ and for Christ's sake.

To the apostle Paul himself, this truth had deeply personal implications. He had labored his whole life as a legalistic Pharisee trying to establish his own righteousness by the law. He described his efforts in Philippians 3:4-8:

If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ . . .

What was so important to Paul about dumping all his own righteousness? Why did he count a whole lifetime of good works as mere rubbish? Because he knew it was flawed. And he knew that in Christ he would be the recipient of a perfect righteousness. Notice verse 9: " . . . and be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith."

Any righteousness other than the imputed righteousness of Christ is mere legalism. It is incapable of saving anyone. More than that, it is an affront to God—as if we were to offer him soiled rags and expect Him to applaud us for doing so. That kind of legalism is spiritually fatal.

How Is Christian Obedience Different from Legalism?

It has become fashionable in some circles to pin the label of legalism on any teaching that stresses obedience to Christ. At the beginning of this series I quoted someone who stated that "the whole difference between legalism and true Christianity" is sewn up in the issue of whether we view obedience as a duty.

Biblically, there is no basis for such thinking. The Christian is still obligated to obey God, even though we know our obedience in no sense provides grounds for our justification. That is precisely why our obedience should be motivated primarily by gratitude and love for the Lord. We are free from the threat of eternal condemnation (Rom. 8:1). We are free from the law of sin and death (v. 2), and empowered by God's grace both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). We have every reason to obey joyfully—and no true Christian will ever think of obedience as something optional.

We are not under law, but under grace. Far from being a manifesto for antinomianism or a authorization for licentious behavior, that important truth teaches us that both our justification and our obedience must properly be grounded in Christ and what He has done for us, rather than in ourselves and what we do for God.

The doctrine of justification by faith therefore provides the highest, purest incentive for Christian obedience. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the mercies God displays in our justification provide all the reason we need to yield ourselves to Him as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). Freed from the penalty of the law—loosed from the threat of condemnation for our disobedience—we are thus empowered by grace to surrender to God in a way we were powerless to do as unbelievers. And that is why the Christian life is continually portayed in Scripture as a life of obedience.

John MacArthur's signature