Biblical Foundations of Justice

Paul, the Apostle, wrote to the Church in Corinth:

The weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ… (2 Corinthians 10.5)

Taking our thoughts “captive” simply means to be aware of what we are thinking, and exercising control over our thoughts by subordinating them to what God says; it is forming our opinions and convictions upon Scripture above any other sources of information. Even over our own experiences.

To the Romans Paul wrote similarly:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12.2)

Again, Paul is asserting the importance of thinking biblically.

As a culture, we are thinking and talking politically and sociologically about justice, but not theologically or Biblically.  Perhaps this is what we ought to expect of the culture. But it is also true of the American Church. It is true of the Church, largely, because we are not, and we have not been, talking about the issues in our churches.  Consequently, church members, Christians who are inundated with the socio-politcal perspective from the daily news and common rhetoric don’t have a biblcial framework through which to filter, and talk about, these issues.

This panel discussion, from The Gospel Coalition 2015 Conference, consisting of panelists Tim Keller, Voddie Baucham, Thabiti Anyabwile, John Piper, and Miguel Núñez, is five years old, but it is compellingly applicable to our current cultural discussion.

Knowing God

Thinking Man (B&W)

More than 200 names for God are recorded in the Bible.  All of them are important.  Each of them reveals and affirms certain characteristics of God.  While God is incomprehensible – we will never exhaust what there is to know about Him – He is nevertheless knowable.  He has revealed himself to us.  To know God is to recognize what He is like – and what He is not like.  As J.I. Packer once said:

“Those who know God have great thoughts of God.”

So what is God like?

This is not an academic question.  Though certainly there are some Academics in the news recently who may have been well served to have given a little more thought to the question before holding a press conference only to display syncretistic ignorance.  But even in that instance the question is not merely academic.  It is personal.

When asked: “What is the greatest commandment?”,  Jesus unhesitatingly declared: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”  (Matthew 22.36-40; Deuteronomy 6.1-7) So let me ask a somewhat rhetorical question: “How can one love God if little to nothing is known about God?  Further, even if it is possible to love a god one knows little about, (and I suspect that it may be possible,) how can we claim to be keeping the command to “Love God with all your mind” if we do not engage our minds to learn more and more about him?

Now let me be clear about something: If you are reading this post, and you feel you are less knowledgeable theologically than you think you ought to be, I am not trying to shame you.  Truth is this: I am fairly theologically educated.  If you have any knowledge of God at all, the difference between your little knowledge and my educated knowledge is so minimal when compared to what knowledge there is to be known about God, that any sense of haughtiness I might be inclined to project would be laughable, if such pomposity would not be so pathetic.  My concern is not who knows more than who, but rather whether we  know God, and whether, in keeping with the greatest command, we are engaging our minds to be continually growing in our knowledge of God.

If you have a desire to love the Lord with all your mind, let me offer a handful of suggested books about God with which to feed your mind.  None of these are technical, but all are excellent. (To my mind, these are actually better than most of the technical theological books I have read.)

This list is far from exhaustive. There are many excellent books on this subject, and I welcome anyone who would like to add to this list to do so in the comment section.  Sadly, there are many, many, bad books under this heading as well.  Some of the better books I left off this list are Knowing God by J.I. Packer and Reason for God by Timothy Keller.  While I enjoyed and highly commend both of these, the list above reflects a thorough introduction and/or reflection, yet easy reads.  Keller’s is excellent for those asking the question: Is There a God? Packer’s would be on my list for next steps.

I will end with this: Earlier this year I heard a statement, attributed to John Piper (though I have been unable to confirm it is his), that stuck with me, resonates, and is appropriate to ponder:

“The mind provides kindling for the heart.”

Male & Female He Created Them

Being part of one of the relatively few denominations that still ordains to church office only those who meet the Biblical criteria, I sometimes resonate with whoever the comedian or cartoon character was who was noted for saying: “Nobody understands me.”  While that is a bit of an overstatement, as I do not stand alone, I do often find that there is need to explain myself; to defend the basis of our practice.  This is especially true as it applies to restriction of the office of Elder to men only.

I am not a sexist.  So I understand the raised eyebrows implicitly questioning if my church and I are somehow stuck in a time warp.  I understand the perplexity when I have the audacity to declare that I believe, and our church believes, in the equality of men and women.  If we truly believe in “equality” how can we continue with our traditional practices?  I will get to that in a moment.

Compounding the misunderstanding, I am afraid, are those who share our same practice, but have an entirely different attitude behind it.  Some even within our denomination. Those to whom I refer are those who embrace a position of patriarchy. (I often refer to these folks as the “He Men Women Haters Club”.)   Often such people refer to their position as “Biblical Patriarchy”, but aside from a few anecdotal illustrations they find in the Bible (usually devoid of appropriate context) I would suggest there is little to nothing Biblical about their position.  Nevertheless, I find that, because of our practices, many people see little difference between our views and and the patriarchy proponents.

Part of the reason for this misunderstanding is that many people seem to have bought into the premise that there are only two views on the subject: Patriarchal or Egalitarian. In short, Patriarchy is the view that men are created to and commanded to rule. Egalitarianism is the view that not only are men and women equal, they are essentially the same, and therefore interchangeable.  While in no way endorsing patriarchy,  I suspect the egalitarian view has contributed to the rise of gender confusion, though that is an entirely different subject, and outside the scope of my intent for this post.  Nevertheless, if it were true that there are really only these two theoretical options, then it would be reasonable to judge someone on this issue bases upon how close to which he or she stands, or how close church practices stand, in proximity to either of these two poles.

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Heaven is for Real… But What About Near-Death Experience Claims?

Stairway to Heaven

Debuting this weekend in theaters across the USA is a heart tugging film, Heaven is For Real.  Based on the book of the same title, the story is about a young boy who ostensibly died and revived. In between his death and his resuscitation he made a brief stop-over in heaven.  At least that’s the story.  In the story, as I understand (having not read the book), the “risen” boy gains inexplicable knowledge, compelling his skeptical family of the genuineness of his experience, and thus the reality of heaven.

This is just one of scores of such books – people claiming to have “seen the light”, then returning to this present life.  Perhaps most well known, at least before this weekend, is Don Piper’s 90 Minutes in Heaven.  (Though I wonder how many people who bought his book mistakenly thought it had been penned by JOHN Piper.)

I suppose the intrigue with such books is understandable.  People are looking for hope and assurance. And what better way to learn about heaven than to hear testimonials of those who have ostensibly been there?

And I get why the release of a film like Heaven is For Real would be scheduled for Easter weekend.  Easter is a day associated with religious hope, resurrection, etc.  So a film like this, especially in a widely biblically illiterate culture, tugs the heart strings while feeding religious (and superstitious) hunger pangs.  I suspect that the film will widen the belief in – or at least interest in – many such claims to these experiences.

But what should a Christian think about such claims?

While I cannot claim definitive expertise on this subject, I have some significant qualms about claims to near-death experiences.  For one reason, it seems to me that “near-death” is like “near pregnant” – either one is, or is not.  I get that some flat-line and then resuscitate.  But is that actual death?  Second, the claims I have heard regarding this experience are dubious.  For instance, I have read that in the case of the Heaven Is For Real kid, that there is no record of him having coded…  My greatest skepticism is because few (if any) of those who claim to have gone to heaven for a time make any mention of necessity of Jesus for access.  While this may not be troubling for non-Christians, the Believer must reconcile these claims to what Jesus taught us in such passages as John 14.6.

Scripture is largely silent about this subject.  In fact, when I think about it, I find it interesting God did not include a testimony from Lazarus about his experience or the reality of heaven anywhere in the New Testament. Perhaps that is because there are things about heaven that are intended to remain a mystery to us for a time.

In a recent podcast, John Piper does discuss this subject.  In short, Piper says: “If books go beyond scripture, I doubt what they say…”  But take a moment to listen to what Piper has to say:  Heaven Is For Real

John Piper is BAD

Michael Jackson asked:

“Who’s BADD?”

The answer, apparently: John Piper.

I don’t know if it is because John Piper staunchly believes in the doctrine of Total Depravity (as do I) – which recognizes that as a consequnce of the Fall all humnaity is infected by sin in every aspect of our personality – or if there is some other underlying motive, but someone has produced this clever video:

Just in case you are curious, Piper has seen the video and he thinks it’s funny.

Suggested Reading for Season of Lent

The Season of Lent is a time of preparation and anticipation.  It is a season that should be characterized reflection, soul-searching, repentance, and ultimately looking forward to celebration – the celebration of all Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross. As Daniel Montgomery, of Sojourn Church writes: “Lent helps us focus on why He had to die.”

Traditionally speaking, Lent is often associated with fasting – whether from certain foods, or some other habit or practice.  It is important we understand that there is no merit n fasting. Benefit, maybe. Merit, no.  The purpose of fasting is to remind us how dependent we become on things rather than God.  This reveals to us our need to repent. It whets our appetite for the grace of God in Christ.

With this in mind, here are a few readings I suggest for the Season of Lent:

4 Thoughts About True Spiritual Worship

John Piper has astutely asserted:

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man. When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more. It is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.

So why do so few Christians seem to value or even understand worship?  I do not recall the actual statistics, but I remember hearing George Barna say that his polling showed only a small percentage of Christians actually worship even when they gather together on Sunday mornings (or whenever their fellowship assembles).  According to Barna, shockingly few say they have ever experienced the presence of God in the midst of a worship service.

So with such widespread tepidness where worship is concerned, I think these 4 sage thoughts from J.C. Ryle about True Spiritual Worship are worth some contemplation:

1) True spiritual worship affects a person’s heart and conscience.

True spiritual worship will make a person feel more of the sinfulness of sin, and their own unworthiness. This will lead to a deeper humility and inner life. It will strengthen a person spiritually, thus enabling them to grow in the Christian life; whereas false worship can only weaken a person spiritually.

2) True spiritual worship will draw a person into close communion with Jesus Christ.

True worship lifts a person above the need for material adjuncts to the King Himself. The more they worship the more they will be satisfied with Christ alone. In the time of need they will turn instinctively to Christ and not to some external helps.

3) True spiritual worship will extend spiritual knowledge.

True worship leads to a more full knowledge of self, God, heaven, duty, doctrine, practice and experience. A religion with these points is very much alive. On the other hand, false worship is dead, and although it involves much hard work, it never leads to any increase at all.

4) True spiritual worship leads to an increase in holiness.

True worship causes a person to be more watchful about their daily life and habits. They begin to use their time and abilities in a Christlike way, and their conscience guides them more decidedly.

► Summary: Such true worship will stand the test of Christ’s great principle, “By their fruits you shall know them”. It sanctifies the Christian’s life, and makes them walk with God, lifting them above fear and love of the world. It enables a Christian to show God to other people. Such worship comes from heaven, and has the mark of God upon it.

NOTE: Taken from Ryle’s book Worship: It’s Priority, Principles, and Practice


Is John MacArthur Getting Crotchety?

Is John MacArthur getting crotchety in his old age?  I will leave that for you to decide.   My guess is opinions will vary. Some may even muse about the verb  “getting”.  But after watching a couple of brief videos he has me wondering.

Before commenting on the videos let me say that I think John MacArthur has earned respect.  He has labored to faithfully proclaim the Word of God, in depth, for decades.  He is a living example of someone who sees the message as sovereign and not the audience.  For that he should be applauded.  He will never be open to the accusation of “tickling the ears” of a fickle generation.  That said, I will confess that while I respect MacArthur I have long found him a bit polemic for my tastes.

In a relatively recent interview with MacArthur demonstrates why I both respect and am perplexed by him.  Below are two videos related to the discussion of the near future of the American Church. In particular is his prediction that the current Reformed Resurgence will reverse.

Beneath each video I will comment on what MacArthur says.

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My Lukewarm Heart

Here are a couple of question to ponder from Ole Hallesby:

Do I really desire to be set free from the lukewarmness of my heart and worldly life?

Is not my Christian life always lukewarm and half-hearted for the simple reason that deep down in my heart I desire it to be that way?

If you find this to be true of your heart, as I sometimes do, you may find John Piper’s book, When I Don’t Desire God, to be beneficial.  It is  available free from Desiring God Ministries: here

The Original Missional Calvinist

John Calvin often gets a bad rap.  But David Mathis offers us another perspective.  In the Introduction to a book he co-edited with John Piper, With Calvin in the Theater of God, Mathis writes:

“Calvin so believed in the importance of the everyday activities of Christian life and mission that he had a strange but telling practice in Geneva. He was eager to see Jesus’ church gathered on Sundays, but he was not happy for his flock to retreat from everyday life and hide within the walls of the church during the week. So to prod his congregants to be fully engaged in their city of Geneva – in their families, in their jobs, with their neighbors and coworkers – he locked the church doors during the week. It must have been hard not to get the point. He knew the place of God’s people – gathered together to worship on Sunday, but during the week not hidden away behind thick walls of separation, but on mission together in God’s world, laboring to bring the gospel to metro Geneva in their words and actions, in all their roles and relationships.”

Critics who suggest Calvinism discourages evangelism and is inherently anti-mission might want to rethink their attitudes about the reformer.  Calvin’s outwardly focused missional mindset ought to be applauded, and in many cases even adopted.  While Mark Driscoll has popularized the term Reformissional, John Calvin was the original Reformission Rev.

NOTE: The entire book can be uploaded and read free.  Click: With Calvin in the Theater of God

Hellacious Discussions

I am coming to the dance late, but it appears the party is not yet over. So late may not be too late.  What party? Well, the  “Hell-acious” party that has been going on in the blogosphere.

Apparently the debate was kicked off by Rob Bell and his new book titled: Love Wins.  Apparently the video promoting the book leans a little too close to affirming Universalism.  Having watched it, I can see why there is some concern.

There is little I will add to this discussion, other than to affirm that the Bible is clear about Hell being an actual place.  Any notions that the reality of Hell somehow diminishes Grace or is a stain on God’s character are just uninformed and/or thoughtless.  More than that, such theories are not rooted in Scripture.  Thus we can assume they originate from the pit of… well, you know…

Some notables responding to Bell were:

John Piper & Josh Harris on Twitter:

Kevin DeYoung

Justin Taylor

Tim Keller also republished a post titled The Importance of Hell

  1. Hell is Important Because Jesus taught on it more than all other Biblical authors put together.
  2. Hell is Important because it shows how infinitely dependent we are on God for everything.
  3. Hell is Important because it unveils the seriousness and danger living life for yourself.
  4. The Doctrine of Hell is Important because it is the only way to know how much Jesus loved us and how much he did for us.

John Armstrong chimed in on the debate, and suggested that some of the responses were just knee jerk reactions.  Armstrong advocates waiting for the book to come out before developing any conclusions about Rob Bell.  Caution and charity is almost always good counsel.

But, while this discussion is still in vogue, I thought I would direct those interested to a few other resources.  In particular 9 Marks Sept-Oct ’10 e-Journal was devoted to it.  Click: Remembering the Awful Reality.   Two articles from that edition I find worth consideration are summarized below:

How Does Hell Glorify God? by James Hamilton.

  • Hell shows that God keeps his word.
  • Hell shows God’s infinite worth.
  • Hell demonstrates God’s power to subdue all who rebel against him.
  • Hell shows how unspeakably merciful God is to those who trust him.
  • Hell upholds the reality of love by visiting justice against those who reject God, who is love.
  • Hell vindicates all who suffered to hear or proclaim the truth of God’s Word.
  • Hell shows the enormity of what Jesus accomplished when he died to save all who would trust him from the what they (we) deserved. If there were no hell, there would be no need for the Cross.

Why is Hell Integral to the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert

  1. Hell shows us how heinous our sin really is.
  2. Hell shows us how unimpeachably just God really is.
  3. Hell shows us how horrific the cross really was, and how great God’s grace really is.
  4. Hell focuses our minds on the task of proclaiming the gospel.

One final word.  This is not a one sided discussion.  Many are picking up where Bell left off – or where they think he left off.  Wherever Bell will come out on this issue, some folks are running with their own half-baked theories… they are running fast like bats out of… well you know.

The Glory of the Gospel

The Gospel would not be good news if it did not reveal the glory of Christ for us to see and savor. It is the glory of Christ that finally satisfies our soul. We are made for Christ, and Christ died so that every obstacle would be removed that keeps us from seeing and savoring the most satisfying treasure in the universe—namely, Christ, who is the image of God.

~ John Piper, God is the Gospel, p. 62.