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Theology

Infant baptism vs. believers-only baptism: What’s the main difference?

The fundamental difference between the two positions is revealed in how one answers this question: Is baptism primarily God’s action or is it a human response? The Bible tells us that we are dead in sin (Eph. 2:1). Consequently, it is God who makes us alive in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:4). Even our faith, which is our response to God’s great work of salvation, is of divine origin. Faith itself is gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Infant baptism testifies to the grace of God in salvation: God is the one who initiates, acts and saves. Believers-only baptism testifies to our response of faith to God’s saving work in ourselves. On this view, baptism is a sign and seal of my public profession of faith in Christ Jesus. An overlooked argument There are plenty of helpful resources on infant baptism, and most of them rightly link baptism to circumcision. In Genesis 17, God promises to be “God to you and to your offspring forever (Gen. 17:7). There is great comfort in knowing that God binds himself by covenant to infants even before they can respond to him by faith. Truly, we love him because he first loved us. Often overlooked, however, in the discussion on infant baptism are Paul’s remarks in 1 Corinthians 10:1-5. Although these verses do not provide a comprehensive understanding of infant baptism, they provide another important line of thought. Put simply: Paul assumes that New Testament baptism is the fulfillment of Mosaic baptism. Paul writes:

"For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness." (1 Cor. 10:1–5)

Four observations There are many golden truths that need to be mined from these few verses but consider the following four simple observations, which help us understand the meaning of infant baptism. 1. The Church is the new Israel First, in 1 Corinthians 10, Paul applies lessons from Israel’s history to the church. Paul can do this only because he sees the church as the fulfillment of Israel: the church is the new Israel (Gal. 6:16). More specifically, Paul sees Mosaic baptism as having relevance for the Christian church. This explains why Paul can tell the Corinthians that this event – Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea – is an example for them (1 Cor. 10:6). The Old Testament is not a random collection of stories in which God interacts with a people that have no connection to us. No! For Paul, the Old Testament is part of our story. The story of Israel is the history of the church. These are our parents - these are our “fathers” (1 Cor. 10:1) – and since God does not change, he continues to relate to us in the same way he related to Israel: by means of the covenant. 2. In this case all means all Second, Paul notes that all of Israel was baptized, ate the same spiritual food, and drank the same spiritual drink. In this case, “all” means “all.” The elderly, the infants and everyone in between were baptized. Whatever else we can say about this passage, it is clear that infants were baptized when they crossed the Red Sea, as they escaped from Egypt. And if infants were baptized, numbered among God’s people, and partook of Christ in the Old Testament, it only makes sense that they would enjoy the same privileges and blessings today. 3. The Red Sea was the work of God Third, Israel’s baptism was pre-eminently the work of God. It was God who led our fathers by pillar of cloud. It was God who opened wide the Red Sea and provided the dry ground. It is true that the adults had to respond to God’s work by faith – they had to walk on the dry ground. And it is also true that the infants who could not walk, but were carried by their parents, were beneficiaries of this baptism. They were delivered from Egypt along with their parents. 4. Baptism is not a guarantee Fourth, baptism does not guarantee salvation. Paul says that God was not pleased with most of Israel, and they were overthrown in the wilderness. Who were these people? They were the adults who rebelled against God and the leadership of Moses. They wandered in the wilderness for 40 years until they died off and their baptized children were old enough to enter the Promised Land. God was indeed the God to these children despite the apostasy of their parents, and their baptism reminded them of God’s faithfulness toward them. Conclusion There is much more than can be said about this passage. However, these brief observations are sufficient to lead us to the following modest conclusion: The Apostle Paul retells the story of Israel’s baptism in the Red Sea because he believed that they participated in an event that corresponds to the sacrament of Christian baptism.1 Endnote 1 Meredith G. Kline, By Oath Consigned: A Reinterpretation of the Covenant Signs of Circumcision and Baptism(Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 67.

Rev. Garry Vanderveen blogs at Show, Don’t Tell where a version of this first appeared. It is reprinted here with permission.

Documentary, Movie Reviews, Theology, Watch for free

The Marks of a Cult: a biblical analysis

Documentary 2005 / 115 minutes Rating: 8/10 How would you define a cult? Some think of them as being deadly, like the 900 followers of Jim Jones who, in 1978, committed suicide en masse by drinking cyanide-laced kool-aid (this is the origin of the phrase "drinking the kool-aid"). What this documentary focuses on are religious groups that have some connections to biblical Christianity, but which have departed so far from it, that they are worshipping another God. Overview One of the film's objectives is to give Christians an easily understandable way of spotting those departures. And to make it memorable, host Eric Holmberg uses the four common math symbols: +– x ÷. As he explains it, "A group can be classified as a cult when they: Add to the 66 books of the bible... Subtract from the triunity of God by either denying the personhood or the deity of one or more members of the Godhead Multiply works necessary for salvation Divide the loyalties of their followers from God..." These math symbols are then used as the documentary's four "chapters" and serve as logical breaks for any who might prefer to digest this 2-hour documentary in chunks. 1. Additions (starting at 24:50) Holmberg explains that the first sign of a cult is that it will add to God's Word, "relying on some new, so-called revelation. either new scriptures, or by the discovery of some new interpretive key to the Bible that has somehow been hidden from the historic church." But why would such additions be needed? As Dr. Curtis Crenshaw notes: "If anything is contrary to Scripture, it is wrong. If anything is the same as Scripture, it is not needed. If anything goes beyond Scripture, it has no authority." 2. Subtraction (starting at 47:30) Cults will also subtract from the "triunity of God." Sometimes this involves denying the Holy Spirit's deity, but more often, it involves a denial of Jesus as being fully God. 3. Multiplication (starting at 1:11:35) Another sign of a cult is that they multiply the works needed to be saved. This springs directly from the subtraction or undermining of Christ's deity because, as Jerry Johnson highlights, when Christ is no longer God (or at least fully God), then his sacrifice will no longer suffice. And then Man will have to step in and do his own "share." "To downplay the divinity of Christ is to ultimately to surrender the doctrine of justification. Now, why is that? We must remember that God is holy, holy, holy. He is a thrice-holy God. Our mildest sin offends Him greatly....God doesn't wink at our sin. God is offended by it. He doesn't even want to look on us because we are not reflecting the character of being made in His Image. And when we think about that, and think about the fact that Christ came as deity to die in our place, that's because our sins are an infinite offense to the infinite nature of God, and therefore an infinite payment had to be made, and we couldn't make it. So to take away the deity of Christ does what? It opens up the door. You have got a satisfaction that isn't a full satisfaction. It's a partial satisfaction. And therefore, something else has to be added to it. And that's what the cults always do. None of them believe in justification by grace alone through faith alone. They always add some works to salvation. Christ's work is not complete, because Christ is not diety. 4. Division (starting at 1:35:40) A fourth sign of a cult is that they will divide their followers from God so that their first loyalty belongs to the group or to the group leader, rather than to God. Conclusion Marks of a Cult is a lot of things: a history of how some of the biggest cults began; a rebuttal to some of their aberrant theology; an explanation of how they have different definitions for key theological terms like grace and justification; and a primer on the beliefs that Christiandom hold in common. It is also entertaining – this is education made, if not easy, then at least engaging. But it's also important to mention what this is not: this is not a film you'd show your Mormon or Jehovah's Witness friend to convince them they are worshipping a false god. This is a film for Christians, intended to clarify the conflict more than argue for the historic Christian side. That makes it a great introduction to the topic of cults. Those who want to go deeper can turn to the resources suggested throughout the film, including the likes of Dr. James White's The Forgotten Trinity and Dr. E. Calvin Beisner's God in Three Persons. Overall, Marks of a Cult is an outstanding documentary, and what's even better, you can watch it for free below! ...

News, Theology

A conversation on authority

It was the type of conversation that, in other circumstances, the two friends might have had at a quiet pub, over a couple of beers. But with the pub closed, and travel restricted, Zach and Owen were making do: beers from the fridge, a couple of comfortable office chairs, and a Skype call to bridge the distance between them. Zach was the one who had suggested the chat. One of his go-to verses, Proverbs 27:17, spoke of how, like iron sharpens iron, one man sharpens another, so he was grateful that Owen had been up for it. After some opening how’s-the-weather small talk, Owen got them right to the topic at hand: “Okay, Zach, how about you start us off by defining the two sides of the debate as you see them?” The two sides? “Sure, I can give that a go. There are all sorts of related issues, but I’m most concerned with the government-ordered church lockdowns. I think we’d agree that we don’t like them – the government shouldn’t be treating the church as “non-essential” or, as is happening in some places, closing churches while leaving bars and strip clubs open. But the real question is, how should we respond to that order? The two stands I’m hearing are: Churches should listen because we should submit to the government. Churches shouldn’t listen because the government doesn’t have the authority to close churches. “I think I fall in with the first group, and from what you’ve been posting on social media, you seem to be in the second.” “I do probably fall on a different side of this than you,” Owen agreed, “ but I’d define the two sides differently. I think a lot of people are framing it just the way you did, but defining the sides that way also defines away any possibility of common ground: either a person is for listening, or he’s against it. What if it wasn’t two entirely opposing sides, but instead was two different emphases? God calls his people to submit to authority. Not every order is an authoritative order. “Like you, I believe we are called to submission. And when I argue against church lockdowns, I’m not rejecting God’s call to submission – that’s not where we differ. What I’m arguing is that the order isn’t legitimate. If my son ignores what you order him to do, that isn’t a rejection of parental authority. He just doesn’t believe that your orders have parental authority for him. I think this is the same type of thing.” Two reasons to obey: submission and agreement Zach nodded slowly: “I appreciate that clarification. Your approach – seeking out the common ground – makes me want to take a step back and see where else we might agree.” “Sounds good. Why don’t you start us off with why we should submit?” Zach clicked on his mouse to pull up a document he’d written earlier: “The big reason has to be because in passages like Romans 13:1-6, 1 Peter 2:11-20, Titus 3:1, and Deut. 5:16, God makes it a command. He’s telling us to submit to the authorities that He has put in place, so children should submit to parents; a wife to her husband; the congregation to the elders; slaves to their masters; and citizens should submit to their rulers.” “Right, and let me offer a second reason: agreement. This might seem to go without saying, but Christians who don’t believe we have to submit to a lockdown order might still want to suspend their church services if members comes down with COVID. I don’t think the government has the authority to issue that order, but I wouldn’t want my congregation to ignore it just for the sake of ignoring it. Listening might be the sensible thing to do.” One reason to disobey: obeying God rather than Man “Okay, Owen, we basically agree on those points, but now we’re back to when and why it would ever be right to defy a government order. I can start us off with one ‘reason to defy,’ but I’ll add I don’t think it applies to these lockdowns.” “Okay, go ahead Zach.” “In Acts 4-5, Peter and John are commanded by the authorities to stop talking about Jesus, and their response is, ‘we must obey God rather than Man.’ I guess this would be related to what you were saying about not every order being authoritative. All authority comes from God, so if some lower authority issues orders that conflict with God’s own orders, then we should listen to God, and can, in good conscience, ignore the orders from Man.” “Can you give me an example outside the Bible of that happening?” Zach smiled: “I’m not going to say the church lockdown but…” “Go on.” “Well, I’ve heard some people pointing to church closures in China. The government there is ordering some churches to close permanently, and when members defy those orders and continue meeting in secret, I think that’s a case of obeying God rather than Man. But I don’t think you can link that to what’s happening here in the West. China’s church closures are because the State there is deliberately attacking the Church. Our church closures are in response to a health crisis. And our closures are temporary – however long that temporary had been – or only partial, and we can still hear the preaching of the Word via technological means.” “Can you think of that kind of obeying-God-rather-than-man situation happening closer to home?” Owen asked. Zach considered the question for a few moments before shaking his head. “No. But it seems like you’ve got something.” “I do. It’s actually what’s happening on the home front that has me almost happy about these hard conversations that we’ve been forced to have right now. It’s stressful and it's been divisive, but the silver lining – one of the ways I can see God turning this to our good (Rom. 8:28) – is that these are conversations churches and Christians in the West need to have. In the past, submission was our unthinking default. And, I guess, it should still be our default now – I heard one pastor put it this way: when the Church does have to defy the government, our reputation for honoring and respecting the authorities should be such that the government’s response is ‘What? You guys?’ But trouble is coming, and we need to understand the limits of our governments’ authority if we’re going to be ready for it.” Zach leaned forward: “Okay, you’ve got my attention.” “The most recent example,” Owen continued, “of a government order that runs right up against God’s commands is the conversion therapy ban that’s been passed in different Canadian municipalities. The gist of it is that pastors and Christian counselors could get in legal trouble for pointing homosexuals and transsexuals to God and trying to help them turn away from their sinful lifestyles. This ban looks like it’ll pass federally too. The government would be telling us to leave these troubled individuals alone. But we’d have to defy that order because our Greater Authority has told us to love our neighbors. Another example might be the Canadian government’s ban on corporal punishment for children under two. God has specifically given us a tool for nurturing and disciplining our children, and the government has specifically said that we can’t use it for the first two years.” “You want to spank newborns?” Owen put both of his hands up, and though he was smiling, his voice took on an insistent edge: “I’m not saying that, and I don’t remember when we first spanked our kids. But I am certain that at, say, 18 months, they sure benefited from it. But now, following God’s instructions on this point, we would risk having the State take our kids. That’s scary!” “Okay, good point. And bad joke on my part. I don’t have kids yet, so I haven’t really thought through spanking, but I think I’m mostly on board with what you’re saying here. I’ve answered a few of your questions, so let me ask you one: do you think there are other reasons we can disobey the government?” Another reason: the authority isn’t actually in authority “I do,” Owen said, “I gave the example before that it isn’t insubordinate for my son to ignore orders from you. He has to listen to orders from his parents, but that doesn’t mean he has to listen to orders from any and every parent. It’d be the same sort of situation if the Premier of Alberta started ordering around folks in Newfoundland. They wouldn’t listen, not because they are rebelling, but simply because the Premier of Alberta has no authority over them. Sometimes an authority isn’t actually in a position of authority…no matter what they might be claiming.” Zach nodded: “Okay, I’m with you so far.” “So let me ask you a question: in what ways is a government’s authority limited?” “Well, with your Premier of Alberta example, you’re showing that their authority can be limited by geography – it doesn’t go beyond their boundaries.” “Anything else?” Owen asked. “Well, I guess their authority is also limited by things like constitutions and Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I’ve been reading about how John Carpay’s Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is appealing to the Charter to argue that the Alberta government exceeded its authority in their latest round of COVID restrictions. In the US, some churches are appealing to their country’s constitution to argue governors don’t have the authority to shut down church services. But while they’re winning some of those cases, they’re losing others.” “Sure,” Owen agreed, “but for our purposes here, what’s relevant is that Man’s authority can be limited by Man himself. We can write up laws that restrict what the government can do. And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the countries that put the tightest restrictions on their government are ones with a Christian heritage. We remember Samuel’s warning about kings (1 Sam 8:10-22).” Spheres vs. chain of command “But,” he continued, “there’s another sort of restriction on government authority that we haven’t talked about yet. A Dutch theologian, Abraham Kuyper, called it Sphere Sovereignty, and it’s the idea that God gave authority, not just to government, but to the family, and to the Church too. When John MacArthur’s church started meeting regularly again, in defiance of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s closure orders, the church issued a statement that appealed to this divvied-up notion of authority. Let me read you something from that statement: Insofar as government authorities do not attempt to assert ecclesiastical authority or issue orders that forbid our obedience to God’s law, their authority is to be obeyed whether we agree with their rulings or not. In other words, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 still bind the consciences of individual Christians. We are to obey our civil authorities as powers that God Himself has ordained. However, while civil government is invested with divine authority to rule the state, neither of those texts (nor any other) grants civic rulers jurisdiction over the church. God has established three institutions within human society: the family, the state, and the church. Each institution has a sphere of authority with jurisdictional limits that must be respected. A father’s authority is limited to his own family. Church leaders’ authority (which is delegated to them by Christ) is limited to church matters. And government is specifically tasked with the oversight and protection of civic peace and well-being within the boundaries of a nation or community. God has not granted civic rulers authority over the doctrine, practice, or polity of the church. The biblical framework limits the authority of each institution to its specific jurisdiction. The church does not have the right to meddle in the affairs of individual families and ignore parental authority. Parents do not have authority to manage civil matters while circumventing government officials. And similarly, government officials have no right to interfere in ecclesiastical matters in a way that undermines or disregards the God-given authority of pastors and elders. When any one of the three institutions exceeds the bounds of its jurisdiction it is the duty of the other institutions to curtail that overreach. Therefore, when any government official issues orders regulating worship (such as bans on singing, caps on attendance, or prohibitions against gatherings and services), he steps outside the legitimate bounds of his God-ordained authority… (Matthew 16:18-19; 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2).” “That’s a lot to take in,” Zach commented. “It is. But the gist of it is that the Grace Community Church was saying they weren’t actually defying the governor. They were arguing that whether the church opens or closes is under Church, and not State, authority.” “I think I get it,” Zach said. “They were saying that the authority that comes from God isn’t a chain of command with the State at the top and the Church and family somewhere underneath.” “Right. And while I think Grace Community is right, I’ll add that the Bible doesn’t make clear where exactly one sphere of authority ends and another begins. I think we’d both agree the State shouldn’t be dictating doctrine to a church, but do they have an interest in public health? And if so, would that give them the authority to close a church in pandemic circumstances? That’s what muddies things: these spheres of authority overlap. To give a different sort of example, it’s a family’s business to raise and educate their children, but if they were to abuse any of those children, then the State’s responsibility over justice would give them authority to intervene.” Charity Zach gave one last long draw on his beer before continuing. “I appreciate our conversation, but I’m not sure if it clarified or complicated things for me. So, let me put it to you plain: does a church have the authority to keep its doors open when the State orders them shut?” Owen gave a tug on his chin. “Would you be satisfied with an ‘I think so’?” “I guess I’ll have to be. But maybe I can finish us off with something I am sure about, and which I know we can both agree on?” When Owen gave a nod, Zach continued. “In all of this, we want to honor God, and if we’re less certain about how to do that in some ways, we know exactly how to do it in others. We know what God meant when He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to do unto others as we would want done to us. In our COVID/lockdown discussions, it means working at producing more light than heat by assuming the best of, and listening carefully and charitably to, brothers and sisters we might disagree with, just like we’re hoping to get the same back from them. That’s how we can have fruitful ‘sharpening’ discussions. ‘Doing unto others’ also means having patience with the authorities. Most don’t have God’s Word as their guide, so on the one hand, it’s no wonder they’re acting fearfully, and on the other, that might even be a reason for more, and not less charity towards them…even when they are overreaching.” To that, all Owen could add was a heartfelt, “Amen!”...

News, Theology

More birds than believers in church

This past Sunday I had the privilege of leading worship in my home congregation just outside of Hamilton, Ontario. I arrived about ten minutes before the service began. Everyone was already in church … all three of them! One elder, one brother taking care of sound and video, and one sister playing the piano. No more fellow believers joined us in the church building, although with a congregation of some 450 members, many were joining us from their homes via a livestream connection. Alas, we have been living with this reality for about ten Sundays in a row here in Ontario. It is much the same in many other – but not all – places. To curb the spread of COVID-19, governments around the world have restricted large public gatherings. In Ontario (at the time of writing), no more than five are permitted to gather publicly. That is why there were only four of us in church. But what about the birds? As I entered the building, one brother cheerfully quipped, “You have competition this morning. The birds are back.” You see, at present our congregation worships in a gymnasium. Resourceful feathered creatures somehow discovered a little gap somewhere up there in the roof. Are you also thinking of Psalm 84 in the Book of Praise? The sparrow finds a home to rest The swallow builds herself a nest By the volume of sound coming from that avian choir in the rafters, I would hazard an uneducated guess that there were more birds than believers in church this past Sunday. In Article 27 of the Belgic Confession, we affirm that the church is “a holy congregation and assembly of the true Christian believers.” When more birds than believers have assembled in a church building on Sunday, we have reason to grieve. Caught between commands? At least three divine commandments intersect in this circumstance. 4th Commandment As part of the fourth commandment, we confess that we must “diligently attend the church of God to hear God’s Word, to use the sacraments, to call publicly upon the Lord, and to give Christian offerings to the poor” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38). So long as you have a good Internet connection and your local congregation has livestreaming equipment, you can still see the preacher and hear the preaching quite well. Similarly, the minister can still lead us in public prayer, and by sending an e-transfer we can still give Christian alms. All of this is not nothing. But so much is missing as well. In places where the restrictions are more severe, it is well nigh impossible to administer the sacraments. We sing psalms and hymns in our homes, but it does not even come close to the uplifting experience of singing together with hundreds of fellow believers in a building that is acoustically alive. In short, did we “attend the church of God”? Well, sort of but not really. Psalm 122 rings in our ears and weighs down our hearts: “I was glad when they said to me, let us go to the house of the Lord,” not stay in our own houses. 5th Commandment At the same time, in the fifth commandment, the Lord requires us to respect and obey our governing officials. Consider the words of Romans 13:1-2 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities…. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” Those words are both blunt and inspired. This command still applies when governing authorities are unjust or unwise. The apostle Peter wrote, “Be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust” (1 Pet 2:18). But there is a limit to this, as well, for the same apostle said to the Sanhedrin, “We must obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Do we have to break the fifth commandment and contravene the restrictions on public gatherings in order to keep the fourth commandment and assemble in church to worship God? 6th Commandment Answering that question is already complex, but now add the sixth commandment. This command not only prohibits murder but also calls us to “protect from harm as much as we can” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 40). What now? If we fulfill the fourth commandment and attend the church of God, do we (potentially) break the sixth commandment by putting fellow believers, and by extension others with whom they may have contact, in harm’s way? We feel caught between the commands. Our consciences are hung up on the horns of a three-way dilemma. What is a sincere Christian to do? Some historical perspective As the Preacher teaches us, nothing is new under the sun (Eccl 1:10). Serious pandemics have afflicted the world before. For the sake of public health, governments have shut down church buildings before. For example, between 1576 and 1578, during the plague of Milan, fifteen percent of that city’s population died. At the peak of the infection curve, the city closed all “non-essential shops” and put into effect a “general quarantine,” which also meant that public worship services were not permitted.1 Sound familiar? The archbishop, a certain Carlo Borromeo, co-operated with local officials and organized the publication of booklets containing penitential Bible passages, prayers, and songs. These were then distributed, free of charge, to the citizens. At set times, when the church bell rang, everyone was to come to the doors and windows of their homes. Together the city recited prayers and sang songs. The cobbled streets of Milan, rather than the marbled nave of its cathedral, resounded with congregational singing. Can you imagine? Similarly, in the fall of 1918 the so-called Spanish flu ravaged Philadelphia. On October 3, the city officials closed all schools. On October 4, they closed all saloons, theaters, and churches as well. For the balance of the month, everyone lived through a complete lockdown, other than doing what was necessary to feed their families and care for the sick, the dying, and the dead. By the end of the month, though, the infection rate subsided and things opened up again. As a sure sign of a different era, “the first step in removing the ban allowed churches and synagogues to open,” although, at least in the case of the churches, “…without Sunday school.”2 History is interesting and instructive. We are certainly not the first generation to live through times like these. Still, history is not authoritative. The question remains: in the sight of our God, what are sincere Christians to do? Do not subdivide the commands Difficult circumstances can either push us apart or pull us together. Let us earnestly pray that it would be the latter. It is hard, though, to keep our minds simultaneously focussed on all the commands involved. One believer quickly zeroes in on the fourth commandment: God calls us to assemble for worship, therefore, we must assemble for worship. The heart of the next child of God, though, is gripped by the truth of the fifth commandment. God warns that if we resist the authorities he has put in place, we will incur judgment. Surely we need to take that seriously, don’t we? Then, yet another brother or sister in the Lord feels the burden of the sixth commandment, being concerned that he or she might seriously endanger someone else’s health. Asymptomatic transmission is a reality, after all. Different people emphasize different commands, and if they do it too aggressively, they may inadvertently push us apart from each other. We will need to have patience with each other and be mindful of each other’s consciences. Beyond that, though, be assured that there is no three-way dilemma in the Word of our God. Just as surely as Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35), it cannot be sub-divided either. The whole law is fulfilled in one key word: love (Matt. 22:37-40; Gal. 5:14; Lord’s Day 2). Intertwined love for God and our neighbour will provide the unifying departure point for us all. Walk forward in love “I love the Lord” (Ps 116) and “I love your saints” (Ps 16) are the twin-engines of holy desire that propel us out of bed, into our cars, and on toward our church buildings twice a Sunday. Right? But that plush recliner in my family room is more comfortable than the oak pew in church, isn’t it? And an extra hour of sleep on Sunday morning is rather nice, too, isn’t it? The Lord can, and will, use the COVID-19 pandemic to refine our love-filled loyalty to him and burn away all dross of custom, superstition, or hypocrisy in our obedience of the fourth commandment. If our souls are yearning to be back in the courts of our God with our fellow believers (Ps 63), then our God is fulfilling his promise to take evil and turn it to our benefit. Next, holding the fourth and sixth commandments together is already familiar territory for us. I long to attend the church of God, but if I’m seriously sick with an infectious disease I’ll have to stay home or take other significant precautions so that I don’t harm others. In such a case I am not breaking the fourth commandment in order to keep the sixth. Why not? Because in God’s law love for him and love for the neighbour do not compete; instead, they complement. For example, in the OT when some of his own people had serious diseases, God himself quarantined them “outside the camp,” thereby also keeping them away from public worship (Lev. 13, 14). To be sure, these laws were more than a public health matter. They also involved other, deeper, spiritual lessons. But as a loving Father, our God also ensured that public worship gatherings would not become seedbeds for the spread of serious sickness. Under certain circumstances, then, loving both God and our neighbour means we may need to stay away from public worship. These biblical principles also apply as we deal with COVID-19. On the one hand, excessive fear of viruses should not stop us from assembling for worship. The Holy Spirit teaches us that the wise man will not be immobilized by unwarranted fear of lions on the road or, by extension, of viruses in the pews (Prov. 26:13). On the other hand, love for the neighbour and for our heavenly Father who upholds our neighbour’s health will compel us to exercise all due caution. In short, love and wisdom pave a path that holds the fourth and sixth commandments in harmony. Fulfilling the fifth commandment in these present circumstances is more challenging but not impossible. In the final words of his Institutes, John Calvin reminds us that government officials may well have to correct some of their fellow officials when they act unjustly or unwisely (Institutes 4.20.31). Faced with the double affliction of both plague and persecution, Theodore Beza, Calvin’s successor, also recommended working through the “lower magistrates” in order to redirect “higher magistrates,” who may fail to uphold what is right and wise in the eyes of God. This approach fits well with Romans 13. In verses 1–2, we read how the Lord instituted “governing authorities,” not authority. The plural noun is significant. Not one single person in authority embodies all the wisdom required to rule, especially in challenging circumstances like COVID-19. If some governing officials are acting unwisely or unfairly toward the church, even if their intentions are noble, then believers can work with and through other officials in order to promote the necessary corrective re-balancing. In this way, we honour all the authorities in their God-given calling and in doing so, honour God himself. Again, love for the neighbour and love for God cohere rather than conflict. Thankfully, in some areas, we even have members of our Reformed congregation serving as government officials in town councils, provincial, and federal parliaments. Without denying the value of other efforts and initiatives, let us earnestly support and spur on these fellow believers, as well as any other elected representatives who will lend a sympathetic ear. The goal will be that, under the Lord’s blessing, as soon as it is safe to increase the size of public gatherings, the church will be the first in line to benefit, not the last. This approach also holds together the fourth and fifth and sixth commandments. May our God swiftly bring the day when the believers again far outnumber the birds in church. And may our chorus of congregational praise soon drown out their beautiful little chirps with a mighty sound that shakes the ground (Psalm 150, Book of Praise)! Endnotes 1) Chiu, Remi. “Singing on the Street and in the Home in Times of Pestilence: Lessons from the 1576–78 Plague of Milan,” in Domestic Devotions in Early Modern Italy, ed. Corry, Maya (Leiden: Brill, 2018), 28. 2) Stetler, Christina M. “The 1918 Spanish Influenza: Three Months of Horror in Philadelphia.” Pennsylvania History 84, no. 4 (2017): 477.  Dr. Jason Van Vliet is Principal and Professor of Dogmatics at the Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. This article first appeared in Clarion and is reprinted here with permission.  ...

Theology

Bill, and The Brothers Karamazov, on the Problem of Evil

“All right, so this passage shows Jesus’ lordship and control over all creation.” Bill glanced at his watch. It was already 3:45 and his class started at 4:00. It was at least a 10-minute walk across the campus. “Are there any questions?” Bill hoped that the passage was clear enough to Victor, the only visitor at the Bible study. The group of four sat in silence staring at their Bibles briefly. Then Peter spoke up, “Well, there aren’t any questions, I guess we can close in prayer. Steve, could you close with us?” During the prayer, Bill felt his stomach tighten. The next two hours were going to be rough. As Steve finished, Bill added a few extra words asking God to strengthen him for what was coming. “Well, I’d love to stick around and talk, but I really gotta get going. My class starts in 10 minutes. See ya!” Bill walked briskly into the cold October air. The darkening dusk added to the tension in Bill’s body. He quickly ran through in his mind the topic for the Intellectual History seminar. He thought of whether he should just keep his mouth shut. “Maybe,” he thought, “maybe I should just go home and skip.” But then he remembered how many classes he’d already missed. It wasn’t an option. ***** In the seminar room, the prof and most of the students were already seated. The professor, Dr. Hamowy, was a short man, but he compensated for his stature with an antagonistic personality and sharp tongue. He gloried in debate and loved the thrill of the attack. Bill took his place at the end of the long table, opposite Hamowy. With two minutes left, Bill quickly reviewed the book to be discussed. A couple more students drifted in – it was time. “Okay, today we’re looking at Dostoevsky. You guys’ll like this. Always creates a good debate. Who’s giving the introduction? Miss Hogan? All right, go ahead.” Hogan launched into it. Bill had heard her talking with some of the other students and she mentioned something about going to a Lutheran church. Could she be a Christian? Bill listened intently. Not a word about Dostoevsky and Christianity. “Thanks, Miss Hogan, but that was rather superficial. I’m wondering, why didn’t you mention anything about Dostoevsky and Christianity?” Hogan’s face bleached. “Umm…I just didn’t think it was that important.” “Miss Hogan, did you even read the book?” “Sure, but I didn’t really see anything religious.” “Miss Hogan, next time you better do a closer reading of the book. If you’d thought about it or even done some research, you’d see we can’t understand this thinker apart from religion. Come on guys, get your act together.” The first part of the class was over. It was now completely dark outside. “Okay, let’s get the discussion going here. We’re especially interested in what Dostoevsky has to say about the problem of evil. You’ve read the book, so you should know that Dostoevsky approaches the problem religiously. Open your books to page 240 and we’ll start reading that second paragraph and go to the end of the following page. Mr. Kosinski, could you read it for us?” Bill opened his copy of The Brothers Karamazov and followed along. Ivan was complaining to his brother Alyosha: “People sometimes talk of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. I’ve collected a great deal about Russian children, Alyosha. There was a little girl of five who was hated by her father and mother…” Ivan went on to describe how this little girl had been horribly abused by her parents. He concluded by asking Alyosha if he would design the world in such a way that little children suffer so terribly. Kosinski stopped reading and looked up. Hamowy started the discussion. “Okay, what’d you guys think of this?” Silence. “Come on, somebody must be thinking in this room!” More silence. Bill felt his stomach tighten more. He leaned against the table and slightly pulsated back and forth with the rhythm of his thumping heart. One of the other students raised his hand. “Good, Mr. Bosley. You’d like to comment?” “Yeah, this book pretty much nails it right on. How could anybody believe in God when there’s so much evil in the world? Think of the Holocaust, all those Jews dying, where was God then? How could anyone believe in a powerful good God who could control all this evil, but doesn’t?” “Thank you, Mr. Bosley. Anyone else? Surely you don’t all agree with Mr. Bosley?” It was time for Bill to strike. He slowly raised up his hand, but Evans beat him to it. “Okay, Miss Evans, enlighten us.” “I agree. Believing in a good God in a world where there’s suffering is completely illogical. I don’t get all these god-freaks. Are they even thinking with their brains? We aren’t going to get anywhere in dealing with evil as long as those brain-dead ideas are around. We’d be better off with something like when we’re all god and we all work together.” “All right, thanks Miss Evans. There seems to be a consensus developing. What’s wrong with you guys? Mr. Gordon, I saw your hand. What do you think?” Finally, Bill had his opportunity. “It intrigues me that everyone agrees there’s such a thing as evil and wickedness.” Bill’s heart beat faster and harder and his voice trembled. “I’d like to just ask a question to all of you: can we all agree that sexually abusing children is absolutely immoral?” Most students nodded their head in agreement. Only Bagchee didn’t. “Mr. Bagchee, you disagree with Gordon? Why?” “Well, there may be some societies where adults having sex with children is completely normal. In my country, in some of the cultures, it was at one time custom to make mothers sleep with their boys. In other cultures, teenage girls must be deflowered by tribal leaders to prepare for their arranged marriage.” Hogan couldn’t restrain herself. “I think that’s completely disgusting! Sexual abuse is wrong no matter what!” Dr. Hamowy smiled as the class finally heated up. “Miss Evans, you have something to add?” “Yeah, Subhash you can say that about your country or other cultures, but what if part of their culture was to smash their children’s head against rocks while sexually abusing them, would that be okay too? And what if it was you or your child?” Bagchee shrugged. “Mr. Gordon, where’d you want to go with this? “Well, pretty much everyone agrees there’s an absolute moral rightness or wrongness to certain things, like sexually abusing children or brutally murdering them.” Bill’s voice was quivering again. “But when you ask how can there be a God with so much evil in the world, you’ve missed the hidden assumption in your question – that there is such a thing as evil. And the fact that you get upset about evil in the world shows that in your hearts you know there is such a thing as absolute good and evil. But when you deny the God of Christianity, you deny the possibility of there even being absolute right and wrong. Apart from God, morality is an individual or cultural matter, and like Subhash’s examples, sexually abusing children could conceivably be acceptable. But we’ve agreed that it’s absolutely not. When you ask the question, you’re stuck. You’ve betrayed yourself and the real nature of your problem with Christianity.” “Umm, thanks Mr. Gordon. Okay, what’d the rest of you think of those comments?” Kosinksi leapt in again. “Yeah, I think Bill’s wrong. You’ve got a contradiction in your idea here. You say God is good. You say God is powerful, right?” Bill nodded. “But you say evil exists! You’ve got a contradiction, ‘cause if God was all-good and all-powerful, there’d be no bad stuff. So, ya see, Christianity isn’t so true after all.” Bill thought carefully for a moment. “Joe, you just said God is all-good and I completely agree with that – it’s found in the Bible. His character defines right and wrong. God is all-good and because I’m a Christian, I look at everything in the light of that. And so when I see evil, I can be consistent by inferring God has a morally good reason for the evil we see around us. Any evil we see must somehow fit with God’s goodness. Look at Jesus for example. Jesus was crucified. It was an act of evil – he was 100% innocent. But the cross fit in with God’s good plans to rescue those who’d believe in him. God therefore has a good reason for the wickedness in the world and there’s no contradiction. It all fits.” Bill took a long deep breath and carried on. “But within the non-Christian way of looking at the world, you can’t justify your contradiction between having absolute moral standards and not having an absolute source for those standards. If all we are is ooze, what difference does it make if one glob of ooze sexually abuses another glob of ooze? Who cares? Only with Christianity can absolute standards of good and evil have any meaning. And I think that was the point Dostoevsky was trying to make too.” “Okay, thanks Mr. Gordon. Anyone have anything to say? Mr. Bosley?” “Yeah, this is stupid. What about the influence of Dostoevsky on feminist scholarship?” ***** The rest of the seminar rambled in inanities. Bill’s heart rate and blood pressure were still coming down 20 minutes later when the class ended. As he got up to leave, he tried to make eye contact with some of the other students. He made his way out and walked down the hall of the history department. Hogan came up behind him and stopped him. “Bill, I really liked all those things you said. That was really good.” “Thanks.” Bill walked away wondering why no one ever spoke up in class to support him. As he stepped out into the chilly darkness, he still felt the aching of his chest and the tightness in his stomach. The only thing not bothering him was his conscience. Dr. Bredenhof blogs at yinkahdinay.wordpress.com where this first appeared....

News, Theology

Calvinism in the time of coronavirus

When I was about nine or ten, at the height of worldwide panic about AIDS, I stumbled across a newspaper article that outlined the symptoms of the dreaded disease. I can still recall reading, to my horror, that one of the telltale signs was “thick, white matting on the tongue.” You see, I had a few small but obvious patches of white matter on my tongue. And my ten-year-old self became utterly convinced: I had AIDS. The fact that I was in the world’s lowest-risk category didn’t matter, nor did the fact that I was asthmatic and regularly took large doses of medication that left white deposits on my tongue. For at least a week, I was convinced that my end had come. In my early 20s, it was a brain tumor. After all, I had a few really bad headaches on the way to university one week; what else could it be?! As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become slightly more sanguine, but I’m still highly susceptible to fear setting in. Honestly, I feel like I’m tempting fate (even though I totally don’t believe in “tempting fate”) by even writing this piece. I am a card-carrying hypochondriac. So you can imagine how the last few weeks have made me feel. I’ve had to dig in and battle hard to not give in to the paralyzing fear of the coronavirus that’s been sweeping the globe. How have I fought this battle? I’ve armed my household with facts, vitamins, soap, and statistics (but no, not with extra toilet paper as yet – I live in New Zealand, not Australia). I’ve chewed off my wife’s ear about how the media is blowing it out of proportion, mostly preaching to myself in the process. But underneath all those strategies, I’ve fallen back on one simple, underlying reality: God is completely sovereign. I’ve always found it slightly surprising that Christians find the notion that God is completely sovereign (sometimes called “Calvinism,” after theologian John Calvin) to be so controversial or complex. Maybe it’s the way Calvinism was initially taught to me when I was a young Christian. It was totally plausible, and just seemed the obvious, inevitable conclusion that anyone should reach from studying the Scriptures: God is completely in charge of everything, and nothing takes him by surprise. Don’t get me wrong: I’m not belittling anyone who finds it hard to grapple with the many thorny issues that this topic raises. Far from it. A high view of God’s sovereignty doesn’t numb the pain of real-life or provide cheap, easy answers. We should all sympathize with the Psalmists who bring their laments to God and cry out, “How Long, O Lord?” But the basic concept itself has (thanks be to God) always just seemed obvious to me. Can I really conceive of the God who spoke the universe into existence now sitting fretfully on the edge of his throne, desperately hoping that everything will pan out? Can I picture the God who raised Jesus from the dead muttering, “That wasn’t supposed to happen! Oh well, I guess I’ll try again tomorrow”? But more than that, I’ve also struggled to understand why some people see this as an obscure, irrelevant question – a topic for the “ivory tower – rather than as a real-life game-changer. As I was once told, there is nothing as practical as good theology. The sovereignty of God has been an enormous comfort to me again and again and again in my life. So while we may be tempted to think that the panic-inducing Covid-19 is no time to get all theological, nothing could be further from the truth. It’s moments like these where we need the deep realities about God to sustain us. If, like me, you’re even slightly given to extra nervousness at a time like this, it might be worth stepping back and planting your flag on some simple yet marvelous truths about our great, sovereign God. Remember, there is no such thing as "luck" – even moments that seem totally random are controlled by God (Proverbs 16:33). Remember, not even a tiny, insignificant sparrow falls to the ground without God’s say-so – and you are worth more than many sparrows (Matt 10:29-31). Remember, God shapes the decisions and the fate of the world’s most powerful people (Proverbs 21:1). Remember, whether or not your plans for tomorrow come to fruition depends far more on God than on you (James 4:13-15). Remember, God can do all things (that’s a lot of things) and no purpose of his can be thwarted (Job 42:2). Remember, God works all things (which, again, really is a lot of things) according to the counsel of his will (Ephesians 1:11). Remember, God is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask him to do and all we think He can do (Ephesians 3:20). Next time you get sick, remember that God never faints or grows weary, not even for a second (Isaiah 40:28). Remember, God never sleeps or slumbers; He never takes a day off (Psalm 121:3-4). Remember, even the very faith that you place in Jesus is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9), and God is in charge of the fruitful spread of the gospel (Mark 4:14-25). Remember, God forms the light and creates the darkness; He makes well-being and He creates calamity (Isaiah 45:7). And even if some things – including coronavirus – remain a mystery to us, we can trust that He’s using his sovereign power for our ultimate good. For He didn’t even withhold his own Son from us; we shouldn’t doubt that He’ll also give us the other good things we need. (Romans 5:6-8; Romans 8:32) Remember, the days God formed for you were written in his book before you lived even one of them (Psalm 139:16). When the whole world is in a panic, when people are inexplicably hoarding in a desperate attempt to calm their fears, when our neighbors fear that the sky is falling, it’s easy to join them and give in to anxiety. But it’s unnecessary. And it’s wrong. One of the best ways for Christians to love one another, love our neighbors and honor the Lord during this time is simply to “be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:8-9) That promise was to Joshua, but we have even more reason than Joshua to be sure that those words apply to us. We have the gospel of Jesus. We have a Savior who has promised to be with us, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:20). We have a loving God who is not far away, but who is near to all who call on him, and who is mighty to save. Knowing all this, we are invited to entrust ourselves to God: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:6-7) Trust the sovereign Lord of the ages who is working out his plans and purposes for the world, and for you, moment by moment, even (especially) when things are scary or unknown. Tell your children that God can be trusted more than hand-sanitizer. Boldly bear witness to a frightened world – a world that’s having the deceptive veil of safety and security pulled back before its very eyes – that there is a genuine, lasting source of security and peace. Take your stand on the Bible’s great truths about our sovereign God, now and forever. And try not to touch your face. This article first appeared at GeoffRobson.com and it is reprinted here with permission....

Religion - Roman Catholic, Theology

What must Ben Shapiro do to be saved?

Does a person need to put their faith in Jesus to be saved? That was the underlying question conservative political commentator Ben Shapiro put to Roman Catholic Bishop Robert Barron in episode 31 of his Sunday Special. Ben Shapiro pulls no punches when he asks, What’s the Catholic view on who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t? I feel like I lead a pretty good life—a very religiously based life—in which I try to keep, not just the Ten Commandments, but a solid 603 other commandments, as well. And I spend an awful lot of my time promulgating what I would consider to be Judeo-Christian virtues, particularly in Western societies. So, what’s the Catholic view of me? Am I basically screwed here? Same question, different responses In asking this, Shapiro is asking the same question as the rich young ruler—albeit in a less elegant way. It’s the most important question a person can ask: What must I do to inherit eternal life? Like the rich young Jewish ruler from the first century, Shapiro qualifies his question with a list of good deeds. Both young Jewish men boast of their religiosity and their sincerity to keep the Law. Although their questions are similar, the answers they each receive are different. In Jesus’ response, He shows the rich ruler that he—like all of us—falls short of God’s perfect standard (Mark 10:21). In fact, he has not even kept the greatest commandment to love God above everything else, including his wealth. Jesus’ point is clear: You can’t enter God’s kingdom by working. Paul makes the same point in his letter to the Romans. He says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). Paul adds, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith” (Rom. 3:23–25a). In His short encounter with the rich ruler, Jesus illustrates how not to inherit eternal life. But, in an encounter with another Jewish ruler, He explains how to inherit eternal life. Speaking to Nicodemus, Jesus says, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Here’s what we learn from Jesus’ interactions with these two Jewish leaders. First, good works won’t work. Second, eternal life is received by faith—believing in Jesus. Contrast Jesus’ response to Bishop Barron’s: No. The Catholic view—go back to the Second Vatican Council says it very clearly. Christ is the privileged route to salvation. God so loved the world He gave His only Son that we might find eternal life, so that’s the privileged route. However, Vatican II clearly teaches that someone outside the explicit Christian faith can be saved. Now, they’re saved through the grace of Christ indirectly received, so the grace is coming from Christ. But it might be received according to your conscience. So if you’re following your conscience sincerely—or, in your case, you’re following the commandments of the Law sincerely—yeah, you can be saved. Now, that doesn’t conduce to a complete relativism. We still would say the privileged route—the route that God has offered to humanity—is the route of His Son. But, no, you can be saved. Even, Vatican II says, an atheist of good will can be saved. The belief that someone can by saved today without explicit faith in Christ is called inclusivism. Barron does a good job laying out the inclusivist position—a position taught by the Roman Catholic Church. Unfortunately, Bishop Barron doesn’t give any biblical support for the view. Why I am not an inclusivist There are a number of reasons why I am not an inclusivist. One of the most compelling arguments against inclusivism is found in the account of Cornelius. In Acts 10 and 11, Luke records what Cornelius is like. At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. (Acts 10:1–2) Cornelius seems to have a lot going for him. But he’s got a problem: He’s never heard the gospel. Knowing how Cornelius has responded to the light he’s been given, God gives him more light. He sends him a vision. In the vision, an angel tells Cornelius to send for a man named Peter. And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, “Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” (Acts 11:13–14) Notice the text says that Cornelius isn’t saved at this point. He has to hear “the message” by which he can be saved. God-fearing? Yes. Devout and sincere? True. Generous and religious? Absolutely. Even Peter is impressed by Cornelius’s spiritual accolades. Now notice what Peter doesn’t do. He doesn’t reassure Cornelius that he has been saved “by grace indirectly received”—as Barron put it. He isn’t saved by “sincerely following his conscience.” He doesn’t speak of two routes to God: a “privileged route” received by faith in Christ and another route where faith in Christ isn’t required. No, the text says Cornelius needed to hear a message “by which he will be saved.” What was that message? We are not left guessing. Peter tells us, And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name. (Acts 10:42–43) Even with all of his spiritual nobility and religious sincerity, Cornelius was still lost and in need of salvation. If inclusivism were true, Peter would not have needed to make a trip to Cornelius. But Peter had to make the trip because—as Paul says—“How will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14–15). How can people call on Jesus if they have not believed in Jesus? The answer is, they can’t. How are people going to believe in Jesus if they have never heard of Jesus? The answer is, they can’t. How are they going to hear the good news if no one tells them the good news? The answer is, they won’t. Paul’s line of thinking is clear and straightforward. If no one is sent to these people, then there will be no one to preach the good news. If no one preaches to these people, then they will not hear the good news. If these people do not hear the good news, then they cannot believe. And if they do not believe, then they cannot be saved. One way to be saved In sum, Paul tells us that the people need to hear and believe the gospel in order to be saved. There is no other means of salvation. By the way, this is consistent with Peter’s testimony. He says, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Notice he doesn’t merely say that there is no other savior. He says there is no other name. His name—Jesus’ identity—seems necessary. That’s why Peter tells Cornelius, “Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43). The story of Cornelius should be an encouragement to us because it shows the lengths to which God will go to make sure people seeking after God will hear the gospel so that they can be saved. God had given Cornelius some light—through creation and conscience—but this was not enough light to save him. Since Cornelius responded positively to the light he was given, God gave him more light—specifically, the gospel. Inclusivism is a bad idea Ideas have consequences. And bad ideas have victims. Inclusivism is a bad idea because it gives people—like Shapiro—false hope that they can have eternal life without coming to Jesus on His terms. Those who refuse to come to Jesus will not receive life (John 5:40). Jesus explicitly states, “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Bishop Barron is wrong. Shapiro cannot be saved by “following the commandments of the Law sincerely.” Paul addresses this very thing in his letter to the Galatians. He says, Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified” (Gal. 2:16). Shapiro’s good works will never be enough. Only those who put their trust in Christ will receive eternal life. The answer to Shapiro’s question isn’t hard. In fact, the apostle Paul answers the question “What must I do to be saved?” in a single sentence. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). This article is reprinted with permission from Tim Barnett and Stand to Reason (str.org) where it first appeared here. The Ben Shapiro picture has been adapted from one copyright © by Gage Skidmore and is used here under a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license....

Science - Creation/Evolution, Theology

The cost of an old earth: Is it worth it?

Until recently, most Christians believed that the Bible teaches us that the earth was only a few thousand years ago. This contradicts mainstream science, which holds that the earth is billions of years old. Consequently, many Christians, have modified their reading of the Bible accordingly. At first sight, this may seem rather harmless. The age of the earth hardly seems to be a doctrine essential to the Bible's main message of salvation. Yet, much more is at stake than first meets the eye. Accepting mainstream science on the age of the earth entails that we accept the reliability of its dating methods, with all the underlying presumptions. It entails also that we should likewise accept other results of mainstream science that are based on similar assumptions. Let’s see what this implies. The order of creation  We note first that mainstream science challenges not only the timescale of the Genesis creation account but also its order. Genesis 1 says: Day 1 – Water, earthly elements, then light Day 2 – Firmament, then oceans, atmosphere Day 3 – Dry land, then land vegetation, fruit trees, grass Day 4 – Sun, moon, stars Day 5 – Marine life, then birds Day 6 – Land animals, then humans Mainstream science says: 14 billion years ago – light/light elements, then stars/galaxies, then heavy elements/water 4.58 billion years ago – Sun 4.54 billion years ago – earth 550 million years ago (mya) – first fish 440 mya – first primitive plants 360 mya – first land animals – reptiles 245 mya – first mammals 210 mya – first birds 140 mya – first flowering plants 70 mya – first grasses, fruit trees 2 mya – first tool-making humanoids Note that the two orders differ at many places. For example, Genesis has fruit trees first, then birds, and then land animals; mainstream science has exactly the reverse. Genesis has the earth before the Sun and stars; mainstream science has stars and Sun before the earth, etc. Since it does not help to simply recast the creation days as long periods of time, most commentators trying to accommodate mainstream science now advocate that Genesis 1 has to be taken as a purely literary structure, with no real historical information – other than stating that God created the entire universe. The effect of the Fall A second consequence concerns the Fall of Adam. Calvin (and Kuyper) believed that predation, death, disease, thorns, earthquakes all arose as a result of the Fall. Viewed in terms of the traditional reading of Genesis, the fossil record reflects events that all happened after the Fall. Acceptance of an old earth, on the other hand, entails that the fossils we observe mostly reflect life before the Fall. Predation, pain, suffering, disease, earthquakes and the like, must then have existed already before the Fall. The fossil record, thus viewed, implies that the Fall did not have any observable effects on the earth or on non-human life. It follows that proponents of an old earth must minimize the physical consequences of Adam's fall. Traditionally, all animal suffering is seen as a result of human sin. But now it must be seen as part of the initial “very good” creation. Further, if the current world is not a world that has fallen from a better initial state, how can there be a universal restoration (cf Romans 8:19-23; Col. 1:16-20)? There are other difficulties. For example, how could Adam name all the animals if by then more than 99% had already become extinct? Human history Consider further the implications for human history. According to Genesis, Adam and Eve were created directly by God (Gen. 2) about 4000 BC (Gen. 5 & 11). They were the parents of all humans (Gen. 3:20). The Bible describes Adam as a gardener, his son Abel as a shepherd, and his son Cain as a farmer who founded a city (Gen. 4). Tents, musical instruments and bronze and iron tools were all invented by the offspring of Cain (Gen. 4), who were later all destroyed by the Flood (Gen. 6-9), which destroyed all humans except for Noah and his family (cf. 2 Pet. 2:5). Within a few generations after the Flood there is a confusion of language and people spread out to populate the earth (Gen. 11). Mainstream science, on the other hand, gives the following outline of human history: 2 million years BC – homo erectus, anatomically very similar to modern man 200,000 BC – oldest anatomically human Homo sapiens fossils (Ethiopia) 40-50,000 BC – oldest artistic and religious artifacts 40,000 BC – first aborigines in Australia (and continuously there ever since). 9000 BC – first villages 7500 BC – first plant cultivation, domesticated cattle and sheep (neolithic era) 5000 BC – first bronze tools 3000 BC – first written records 1600 BC – first iron tools The Biblical account is clearly at odds with the mainstream interpretation of the archaeological and fossil evidence. For example, if Australian aborigines have indeed lived separately from the rest of the world for 40,000 years then the Flood, if anthropologically universal, must have occurred more than 40,000 years ago. But Genesis places the cultivation of plants and cattle, metal-working, cities, etc., before the Flood. Mainstream science places these events after 10,000 BC. Hence, according to mainstream science, Noah’s flood could not have occurred before 10,000 BC. Consequently, an old earth position forces us to demote the Genesis flood to a local flood that did not affect all humans. Likewise, the tower of Babel incident (Gen.11) must now be localized to just a portion of mankind. Consider also the origin of man. Since Adam’s sons were farmers, mainstream science sets the date of Adam no earlier than 10,000 BC. This entails that the Australian aborigines are not descendants of Adam. Thus Adam and Eve are not the ancestors of all humans living today. This undermines the doctrine of original sin, which the confessions say was propagated in a hereditary manner from Adam to all his posterity (Belgic Confession 15-16; Canons of Dordt 34:2-3). This, in turn, undermines the view of Christ’s atonement as a penal substitution where Christ, as a representative descendent of Adam, pays for the sins of Adam’s race. Many of those who accept an evolutionary view of man have thus re-interpreted the work of Jesus as merely an example of love. Further, given the close similarity between human fossils of 10,000 and 2 million years ago, it becomes difficult to avoid concluding that Adam and Eve had human-like ancestors dating back a few million years. But that entails that Adam and Eve were not created directly by God, contrary to Gen. 2, and that human suffering and death occurred long before Adam’s fall, contrary to Rom. 5:12. Conclusions To sum up, embracing mainstream science regarding its assertion of an old earth entails the following consequences: Both the timescale and order of the creation account of Genesis 1 are wrong. The Flood of Gen. 6-8 must have been local, not affecting all humans. The Babel account of Gen. 11 must have been local, not affecting all humans. Adam’s fall – and the subsequent curse on the earth – did not significantly affect the earth, plants, animals, or the human body. Adam, living about 10,000 BC, could not have been the ancestor of all humans living today. Hence the doctrines of original sin and the atonement must be revised Adam had human ancestors Hence human physical suffering and death occurred before the Fall and are not a penalty for sin. These, in turn, entail the following constraints on the Bible: 1-11 does not report reliable history. Hence the Bible cannot be taken at face value when describing historical events, in which case we cannot believe everything the Bible says (cf. Belgic Confession 5; Heidelberg CatechismQ/A 21). In sum, acceptance of an old earth has dire consequences for the rest of Gen. 1-11, for Biblical clarity, authority and inerrancy, and for the essentials of salvation. Worldviews come as package deals. One cannot simply mix and match. Logical consistency dictates that those who do not whole-heartedly base their worldview on the Bible will ultimately end up rejecting it. A better course of action would thus be to hold fast to the full authority of the Bible, to re-consider the presuppositions leading to an old earth, and to interpret the data in terms of scientific theories that are consistent with Biblical truths. This article first appeared in an Oct. 24, 2009 post on Dr. John Byl’s blog Bylogos.blogspot.com and is reprinted here with permission. Dr. John Byl is a Professor emeritus for Trinity Western University, and the author of "God and Cosmos: A Christian View of Time, Space, and the Universe" and "The Divine Challenge: On Matter, Mind, Math & Meaning.”...

Theology

On angels and guardian angels

Does everyone have a guardian angel? Many people are convinced that they have an angel as their special protector. In the film City of Angels, actor Nicolas Cage plays a guardian angel who protects Meg Ryan, an overworked doctor who is caught in the tiresome repetition of everyday life. This idea, of a guardian angel, offers comfort and solace. And efforts such as this, to capture angels on film, have enormous clout in shaping popular understandings of these spiritual beings. Can Hollywood convey a fair, helpful, or faithful presentation of angels? Unfortunately, no. They have distorted Biblical truth and misled viewers about the nature, character, and purpose of angels. The concept of an individual guardian angel for each one of us taps into our popular, individualistic culture, which is searching for spiritual experiences, comfort, and hope. The Roman Catholic Church and guardian angels When did the idea of guardian angels first come about. While the early Apostolic Fathers spoke of angels only incidentally, some of them had the opinion that every believer has his or her guardian angel. And very early in the history of the Church, the belief that an angel was assigned to each human being as a guardian gained currency. The Roman Catholic Church deemed the angels' guardianship over mankind sufficiently based on revelation to demand belief. But as Roman Catholic scholar J. Huby points out, the most important "canonical books" for the knowledge of angels are Daniel, the apocryphal books of Tobias (aka Tobit) and 2 Maccabees, and the book of Enoch which is not in the canon of the Protestant or Roman Catholic churches. The Roman Catholic Church claims human life is surrounded by the watchful care and intercession of angels from infancy to death. Its catechism says, "Beside each believer stands an angel as protector and shepherd leading him to life.... The Church venerates the angels who help her on her earthly pilgrimage and protect every human being." Pope Clement X set aside October 2 as a feast day in their honor, celebrating their protection of human beings from spiritual and physical dangers, and their assistance in doing good. The Bible and guardian angels So what does the Bible say about each of us having a guardian angel who protects us? Very little! Some point to Matthew 18:10 to support the idea: “See that you do not look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” This does speak to God caring for us through angels, but doesn't show that each of us is paired with an angel. Another passage often pointed to is Acts 12, where Peter is freed from jail by an angel and, when he arrives at the house of Mary the mother of John Mark, those there couldn't believe it was him, and wondered if it was "his angel." This shows that people of that time may have believed everyone had their own angel, but it isn't the Bible endorsing the idea. God's Word does not support the notion that each believer has his or her own personal guardian angel. And while it also doesn't speak clearly against the idea, Reformed theologian Wilhelmus a Brakel (d. 1711) has good guidance for how we should think on this matter: "God's Word does not say anything about it, and one must not be wiser than what is written." But, again, the Bible does say that God cares for us through His angels. Their intervention is not an everyday occurrence, but occasional and exceptional - not as their own option, but only as it is permitted or commanded by God. It is sufficient to know that they are employed for the good of the Church. John Calvin comments: For if the fact that all of the heavenly hosts are keeping watch for his safety will not satisfy a man, I do not see what benefit he could derive from knowing that one angel has been given to him as his especial guardian. Indeed, those who confine to one angel the care that God takes of each one of us are doing a great injustice both to themselves and to all the members of the church; as if it were an idle promise that we should fight more valiantly with these hosts supporting and protecting us round about! (Institutes I,xiv,7) The ministry of angels Angel appearances are not rare as we usually think. Many stories in the Bible reveal the visible and audible manifestations of angels. Repeatedly, we read of those surprised by them. Yet we should not be surprised. Angels do minister to believers. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Heb. 1:14). The Puritan theologian John Owen (d. 1683) comments on this text that God employs angels "for the good of them that are heirs of salvation, to manifest unto them the greatness and glory of the work of the gathering, preserving, and redemption of his church." Angels have a special role in the execution of God's providential care. God instructs His angels to keep vigil for our safety and to take care that harm will not come to us. In Psalms 35 and 91 we read that God will encamp around those who fear Him and guard them in all their ways. Even archangels have been put to work in the interest of God's elect (Luke 1:11-38; Jude 9). In times of danger we may freely ask God to send an angel for our protection. And some have received the aid of an angel without even asking for it. When the prophet Elijah, exhausted with the relentless persecution he suffered from Queen Jezebel, "lay down and slept under a broom tree....and behold an angel touched him and said, 'Get up and eat.' Elijah looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank... and strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God" (1 Kings 19:5-8). When Dothan was surrounded by the Arameans, Elisha's servant was deadly afraid. The prophet reassures him, "Don't be afraid. Those who are with us are more than those who are with them." Then Elisha prays, " O Lord, open his eyes so he may see." The servant is astonished to see the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha (2 Ki. 6:8-17). Angels guarded Daniel who, when falsely accused, was thrown into the lion's den. He told the king Darius, "My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions. They have not hurt me, because I was found innocent in his sight" (Dan. 6:22). Although the Great Commission was given to the Church (Matt. 28:19-20), angels take an active part in the spread of the Gospel. They cooperated with the church in its mission outreach. They saw to it that unbelievers could hear the Gospel despite opposition to the Church. In the book of Acts, the great missionary record of the early church, angels are mentioned 21 times. Angels displayed miraculous powers on behalf of some of the apostles. Apostles were arrested and put into jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the jail doors and brought them out. "Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell all the people the full message of this new life" (Acts 5: 17-20). James and Peter were imprisoned for preaching the Gospel. Peter, expecting to be executed, was rescued by an angel. A heavenly light shone, an angel poked Peter and said, "Quick, get up!" He led him past two guards, through an iron gate, down the street, and to freedom. Only then did Peter realize that God had sent an angel to rescue him from King Herod's clutches (Acts 12:1-11). Philip, the evangelist, was preaching the Gospel in Samaritan villages, when an angel came and told him to "get up and go south." Philip obeyed the angel, and explained to an important Ethiopian official the good news of the Gospel taught in the book of Isaiah, and led him to the Lord (Acts 8:26-40). Angels today G. K. Chesterton said that the most wonderful thing about miracles is that they do sometimes happen. And this is true also of angels' interventions today. Why should God not send His angels to minister to the saints in the third millennium? Centuries do not make any difference to the eternal and unchanging God. Elizabeth Elliot tells about a blind man her father knew, who was to step into what he thought was his cabin aboard ship. It was in fact a hatchway, but he felt a hand on his chest pushing him back. He asked who was there. There was no answer. Was an angel sent to rescue him? Dr. B. Wielenga in his book Het Huis Gods (The House of God) notes when the Secessionists were persecuted in 19th century Netherlands, it was a time of miraculous answers to prayer. Angels watched over the safety of the faithful believers in all their ways. The history of missions records many authentic stories of heavenly assistance received in critical times. Missionaries have shared amazing experiences about the mysterious intervention of angels when their lives were threatened. G. Van Asselt, a 19th century missionary in Sumatra recalled that one of the Bataks had seen a double row of guards surrounding his house. They stood hand in hand and had shining faces. The Bataks suspected that the missionary had hidden soldiers in his home during the day, but after he was allowed to search Van Asselt's house, he had to admit that he was wrong. When the Batak asked Van Asselt why he had not seen the guard of angels, Van Asselt replied that this was not necessary for those who trust in God's Word. God's providence Many Christians have testified that in times of critical danger they suddenly felt an unseen hand. Some tell of a mysterious warning not to proceed with their travel plans and then to discover later that the plane they were booked to fly with had crashed. Playwright Tony Kushner was greatly troubled by the belief that angels appear to some people and not to others. He said, "I find that horrendously offensive. The question is, why are you saved with your guardian angel and not the woman who was shot to death shielding her children in Brooklyn three weeks ago? That suggests a capricious divine force. If there is a God, he can't possibly work that way." Christians do not subscribe to a New Age theology which says that we live in a benign universe where all you have to do is ask an angel for help. Our view of angels and their activities is formed by Scripture. Any other view is either a fiction or a counterfeit. Since the Bible teaches that God employs angels for our good, we know He uses them to guard us. As the Puritan Thomas Watson (d.1686) testified, "The angels are of the saints' life-guard...The highest angels take care of the lowest saints." But God does not always come to the rescue. Faith in Him does not depend on miracles and angelic interventions. Faith is a relationship to the sovereign God through Jesus Christ, independent of the miraculous. Christians too get into fatal car accidents. In the early church, the first martyr Stephen died by stoning, though God could have prevented it. James the brother of John was executed, though Peter was miraculously rescued from the same prison. But this same Peter, according to tradition, was crucified upside down in Rome. The apostle Paul died in Rome under the cruel persecution of Caesar, though John survived his exile on Patmos under similar persecution and came home to die of old age. God's ways with His people are mysterious. They are beyond our human understanding. Christians don't pretend to know all the answers. Who can understand the mind and ways of God? (Rom 11:33ff). The Bible record of miraculous interventions enriches and encourages believers, as we can see in Hebrews 11:32-40, where we read of those "who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword, " and of women who "received back their dead, raised to life again." However, "others were tortured and refused to be released." There were those who faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put into prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword." Some were rescued; others were not. Yet, they were all commended for their faith. They did not count the cost of their faith walk. They lived in complete obedience to their Lord. They were not preoccupied with the ministry of angels. Their faith was not shaken or weakened by the lack of divine interventions. They believed that they were not their own, but belonged body and soul, in life and in death, to their faithful crucified and risen Savior Jesus Christ. A version of this article was first published in the March 2001 issue, under the title "Surprised by Angels." Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years and many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections....

Theology

Mike Ditka and Abraham Lincoln’s temporary comfort

Pithy bits of folks wisdom are everywhere – kitchen counters, business meeting room walls, even email tag lines display sayings like "Everything in moderation, and moderation in everything" or "Actions speak louder than words." Usually, there's some truth to these aphorisms, but this past week, when I received a promotional email from Thinkspot.com, I was struck again by how insufficient they often are. Thinkspot is the Facebook alternative that Jordan Peterson and others are trying to put together, and in this email they shared examples of the content they'll have, including one nugget from a Beta user touting the merits of the mantra: "This, too, shall pass." Football fans of a certain age might remember that phrase from famed Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. When he was fired he told reporters and fans again and again that, “This, too, shall pass.” The aphorism seemed a comfort to him that no matter the pain and disappointment he was feeling, it was only going to be temporary. Ditka attributed the phrase's origins to the Bible, but it can’t be found there. Instead, there is a connection to Abraham Lincoln, who, while not taking credit for it, also thought it a fantastic line. In an 1859 speech he presented it to an audience of farmers, perhaps because of the frequent ups and downs of their weather-dependent occupation: “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: ‘And this, too, shall pass.’ How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” The reason Ditka and Lincoln and many others have been helped by this phrase is that there is truth to it. Whether we’re changing our sixth dirty diaper of the day, or celebrating with family and friends at our wedding, it is worth reflecting that both are only temporary. Knowing it is only for a time can help us endure trials and keep us grounded in triumphs. But, like so much of man's wisdom, this aphorism gets it only partly right. This is the stoics’ comfort, which keeps us from falling too low only by keeping us from rising too high. But Christians know – and need to share with the world – that not everything will pass. There is a lasting joy, and a complete comfort, to be found in knowing that whatever else might be temporary, our God is, always was, and always will be. As David in Psalm 23 proclaims: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  ...

Theology

“Whose am I?”

Are you your job? Does your gender define who you are? Your ethnicity? Your feelings? Or is your identify found in a truth far more substantial and stable…and controversial?  ***** Crazy, out-dated, offensive– these are a few of the words we could expect to hear if, in the midst of our culture’s identity debates, we offered up this answer: “I am not my own…” This is the first line of the very first answer in the Heidelberg Catechism and it’ll seem all the more absurd when we share the question that prompts it: “What is your only comfort in life and in death?”It’s common enough for people to struggle with their purpose in life, and to want to know what happens after death, so the world can appreciate a question like this one. But the answer? That’ll strike most as incredibly out of line with 21stCentury thinking! I couldn’t agree more. A stumbling block… The first question and answer in the Heidelberg Catechism is more relevant and more revolutionary today than when it was first penned. Here is Lord’s Day 1 in full: What is your only comfort in life and in death? That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him. The confession that “I belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ” may be a stumbling block for many. My body is not my own? My life is not my own to do with as I please? What do you mean, “Christ has fully paid for all my sins…?” He bought you and He set you free? How does that work? Doesn’t His purchase of you, make you His? If you are His, are you really free? Isn’t it hyperbole to suggest that “without the will of your heavenly Father not a hair can fall from your head?” Why would God care about such minute details? If God controls all these things, are you experiencing true freedom? These are real objections that people utter when they consider what it means to become a Christian. They find the instruction of Christ in Luke 9: 23- 24 too much: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.” While Christians understand that their identity is in Christ, others cannot fathom giving up their autonomy, denying themselves, or submitting their entire being to Him. They would rather create their own sense of identity, and they might even consider adding a slice of religion to their life…but only a slice. Christians confess Christ as Lord of their whole life but the world says, “I am my own god. They put self at the center, and rank everything else by how relevant it is to the all-important me. Whether it is my job, my sexual orientation, my race, my religion or lack thereof, my children, my spouse, etc., these are just aspects that contribute to my self-made identity. When we are Christ’s it changes everything When we die to sin and self, and have Christ as Lord of our life, it’s then that we find our true identity. As a result, it is not my job, my spouse, my children, or my race that give me my meaning. It is belonging to Christ, living by the power of the Holy Spirit, and being a child of the Father, that sets me free! The implications of this are profound! This changes how I view my wife, a fellow believer and saint belonging to Christ. She is not simply a spouse; she is a sister-in-Christ, with whom I have a very special relationship. She is a gift of God and I must treat her as Christ treats the church. I must do all that I can to husband her and to cause her to flourish. This has implications for me as a dad. I do not just have children; I have covenant children. My wife and I must work in harmony with God’s Word and Spirit, together, to train and instruct our children in the way that they should go. When they grow older, this training will not leave them (Prov. 22:6). I need to disciple my children and care for them as a representative of the Father’s perfect love for us. It impacts my work. I am not simply a teacher – I am a teacher of God’struth, and I need to work hard to ensure that this is what students receive. I am a teacher of God’s covenant children and need to assist parents in training the youth of the church in godliness, training them to fulfill the calling they have as children of God. This also has implications for how I treat my physical self. My body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, the living God! My body, heart, soul, and mind belong to him! I need to be intentional in what I let my body and my mind ingest. I have to treat my body as God so desires and that means being faithful to my wife, even prior to marriage. I have to be careful with my heart, fighting against covetousness and discontent. That means waking up every day with an attitude of gratitude – this day provides me another opportunity to serve Him; may all my efforts be directed rightly! Conclusion The list could go on and on, couldn’t it? There is not a single corner of my life that is not under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. The way I spend money, time, and other resources, the kinds of friends I keep, the movies I watch, the attention I give to my Winnipeg Jets – all of this is under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! This is truly a marvel: I am not my own, I belong to Jesus Christ; He paid for me and He set me free! He set me free to serve Him, to find my identity in Him. My life, my entire life is hidden in Christ! I am free indeed! If this freedom eludes you, reach out to those you know who have this joy. It is not frivolous, meaningless, or constant. This joy ebbs and flows with the challenges of every day life. But it is deeply rooted and gives true meaning and purpose to life. This joy and freedom lets us live in joy under our King, Jesus Christ. I am not my own, I belong to my faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ. To Him alone belongs all glory! Chris deBoer is the Executive Director of the Reformed Perspective Foundation and host of the Focal Point podcast....

Theology

Countering Tim Keller's case for evolution

Examining Tim Keller's white paper Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople **** Tim Keller’s trusted place among Reformed and Presbyterian folk is well-earned, but not when it comes to his views on evolution. In a discussion paper of some years ago for the Biologos Foundation he provided Reformed scientists with a theologian’s suggestions about how one might apparently help others keep the faith and accept evolution. His 13-page white paper, entitled Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople, has been referenced favorably by scientists and theologians in conservative Reformed churches.(1,2) In his paper, Keller explores the critical questions of concerned Christians and deals with them head-on. While his forthrightness is commendable, most of his answers are not. What this debate is not about It’s important to situate accurately our debate with Keller. The debate between us is not whether the Christian faith and current science (or what is claimed to be science) are irreconcilable, for we all agree that in many respects they are reconcilable while in some respects they are not. The debate, rather, is in what particular respects they are and are not able to be reconciled. The debate between us is not whether evolution is a defensible worldview that gives us the basis of our views on religion, ethics, human nature, etc. We all agree that it is not the “grand theory/explanation of everything.” We all agree that there is a God and he is the God of the Bible – Triune, sovereign, covenant-making, gracious, atonement-providing, and bringing about a new creation. Nor am I debating whether Keller is an old-earth creationist aka progressive creationist or an evolutionary creationist or a theistic evolutionist. His own position is a bit unclear so I will simply deal with what he has published in this paper.(3) The debate between us is not whether matter is eternal; whether the universe’s order is by sheer chance; whether humans have no purpose but to propagate their own genes; whether humans are material only; whether human life is no more valuable than bovine, canine, or any other life; whether upon death all personal existence ceases; or whether ethics is at root about the survival of the fittest. We all agree that none of these things are the case – Scripture teaches differently. We are not debating these points. What it is about – 3 key questions Our differences emerge in the compatibility of Scripture with biological evolution, namely, whether Scripture has room for the view that humans have a biological ancestry that precedes Adam and Eve. Is this a permissible view? The first thing to realize as one reads Keller’s paper is its context and purpose: Delivered at the first Biologos “Theology of Celebration” workshop in 2009, Keller lays out 3 concerns that “Christian laypeople” typically express when they are told that God created Adam and Eve by evolutionary biological processes. Keller advances strategies to help fellow Biologos members allay these fears of Christian laypeople. The context thus is that biological evolution is a permissible view; the scholars just need to figure out how to make it more widely accepted. Keller deals with the following “three questions of Christian laypeople.” If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally? If biological evolution is true – does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection? If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from? These are excellent questions! But what sort of answers does Keller propose? Q1. IF EVOLUTION IS TRUE, CAN WE TAKE GENESIS 1 LITERALLY? Keller’s first question is, “If God used evolution to create, then we can’t take Genesis 1 literally, and if we can’t do that, why take any other part of the Bible literally?” Keller’s short answer is, The way to respect the authority of the Biblical writers is to take them as they want to be taken. Sometimes they want to be taken literally, sometimes they don’t. We must listen to them, not impose our thinking or agenda on them. At first glance this is a solid answer – the Bible has authority! But Keller has more to say. Genre and intent He expands upon his answer first by delving into the genre of Genesis 1 because “the way to discern how an author wants to be read is to distinguish what genre the writer is using.” “How an author wants to be read” is a bit ambiguous, but I’ll take it to refer to authorial intent  – Keller’s point is going to be whether or not the author wants us to read Genesis 1 literally and chronologically. The link he proposes between genre and authorial intent, however, is not straightforward. Someone can use widely differing genres to communicate the same intended message. Consider this example: If I use poetry to communicate to my wife how much I love her, my intentions are just the same as if I had written it out in a regular sentence or two. I could even send the same message via a syllogism: All my life I have loved you; Today is a day of my life; Therefore I love you today. Whether poetry or prose or syllogism (or, as my wife would call it, a silly-gism) my message remains the same. Now it’s true that in poetry I’m more likely to use figures of speech but that doesn’t mean poetry as a genre can’t recount history. See Psalm 78 for a good example of poetry replete with historical truth. Genre of Genesis 1 Keller next asks what genre Genesis 1 is and starts his answer with the conservative Presbyterian theologian Edward J. Young (1907–1968) who, he says, “admits that Genesis 1 is written in ‘exalted, semi-poetical language.’” Keller correctly notes the absence of the telltale signs of Hebrew poetry. Yet he also points out the refrains in Genesis 1 such as, “and God saw that it was good,” “God said,” “let there be,” and “and it was so,” and then Keller adds, “Obviously, this is not the way someone writes in response to a simple request to tell what happened.” He completes this part of the arguments with a quotation from John Collins that the genre of Genesis 1 is “what we may call exalted prose narrative. . . by calling it exalted, we are recognizing that we must not impose a ‘literalistic’ hermeneutic on the text.” Thus this argument is now complete: Keller is saying that the genre of Genesis 1 prohibits us from reading it literally. Misleading appeal to E. J. Young However, if we follow the trail via Keller’s footnote to E. J. Young’s, Studies in Genesis One, we discover that Keller sidestepped Young’s real point. Here’s the fuller quote, “Genesis one is written in exalted, semi-poetical language; nevertheless, it is not poetry” (italics added). Young continued by pointing out what elements of Hebrew poetry are lacking and by urging the reader to compare Job 38:8-11 and Psalm 104:5-9 to Genesis 1 in order to see the obvious differences between a poetic and non-poetic account of the creation. Prior to this paragraph Young had written, Genesis one is a document sui generis ; its like or equal is not to be found anywhere in the literature of antiquity. And the reason for this is obvious. Genesis one is divine revelation to man concerning the creation of heaven and earth. It does not contain the cosmology of the Hebrews or of Moses. Whatever that cosmology may have been, we do not know . . . Israel, however, was favoured of God in that he gave to her a revelation concerning the creation of heaven and earth, and Genesis one is that revelation. Young elaborates further, For this reason we cannot properly speak of the literary genre of Genesis one. It is not a cosmogony , as though it were simply one among many. In the nature of the case a true cosmogony must be a divine revelation. The so-called cosmogonies of the various peoples of antiquity are in reality deformations of the originally revealed truth of creation. There is only one genuine cosmogony, namely, Genesis one, and this account alone gives reliable information as to the origin of the earth (italics added). With these words of Young guiding our hearts, we turn back to Keller’s statement that it is “obvious” that someone would not compose an account in the exalted style of Genesis 1 “in response to a simple request to tell what happened.” Really? But what if the things therein described happened exactly in that exalted way? Of course, we are reading “exalted prose” – precisely because the things described are so wonderful! The literary style not only fits but even reflects the miraculous events. God is glorified repeatedly, all the more because it is literally true. An old canard: Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2 Keller’s second reason – and strongest, he says – why he thinks the author of Genesis 1 didn’t want to be taken literally is based on “a comparison of the order of creative acts in Genesis 1 and Genesis 2.” This argument is a bit more complicated and deserves closer scrutiny than I will give it here. But the basic point is that Genesis 2:5 apparently speaks about God not putting any vegetation on the earth before there was an atmosphere or rain or a man to till the ground. This, says Keller, is the natural order. Genesis 1 is the unnatural order, so it’s not literal. His argument is an old canard, but really it is a lame duck. Let’s examine it: Keller says that Genesis 1 has an unnatural order because: light (created on Day 1) came before light sources (created on Day 4) vegetation (Day 3) came before an atmosphere and rain (which he says was created on Day 4) Let’s consider this second point first. Keller reads the text too quickly here, for the separation of waters above and below occurs on Day 2, thus allowing rain before vegetation. And even if there was no rain, a day without light or water wouldn’t kill these plants anyway. Now regarding the first point, the “light before lightbearers” problem, it might strike us as interesting that God created light on Day 2 before there were any light sources – the sun moon and stars were created on Day 4 – but why should it strike us as a difficulty? God has no need of the sun to make light (Rev. 21:23). To continue: the order of events in Genesis 2, especially verse 5, is not in the least contrary to Genesis 1. Rather, whereas Genesis 1:1–2:3 refers only to “God” and focuses on the awesome Creator preparing and adorning the earth for man, Genesis 2:4–25 focus on this God as “Yahweh” who lovingly and tenderly creates the man and the woman, prepares a beautiful garden for them, and who thereupon enters into a loving relationship with them. Each chapter makes its own contribution to the story, with chapter 2 doubling back in order to more fully explain the events of the sixth day. This is a common occurrence in Hebrew prose. Further, we can easily fit 2:4–25 chronologically in between 1:26, “Let us make man in our image” and 1:27, “So God created man in his image . . . male and female he created them.” Finally, Genesis 2:4 begins the first “toledoth” or “generations of” statement, which after this becomes a structural divider in Genesis, occurring nine more times. Young argues that we should translate “toledoth” as “those things which are begotten.” If we follow this suggestion, we see that Genesis 2:4ff tell us about the things begotten of the heavens and the earth, such as the man, who is both earthly (his body) and heavenly (his spirit), or the garden, which is earthly, yet planted by God. When Genesis 2:5 states that “no shrub of the field” had yet grown and “no plant of the field” had yet sprouted, it portrays a barrenness which sets the stage for the fruitful garden (2:8–14) and the fruitful wife (2:18–25). Further, the “shrubs” and “plants” of the field likely point to cultivated plants that require human tending. Adam will be a farmer. If so, the point of 2:5 is not the lack of vegetation altogether, but the lack of certain man-tended kinds, such as those Yahweh God would plant in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, we ought to conclude the very opposite of Keller. Whereas he argues that we cannot read both chapter 1 and chapter 2 as “straightforward accounts of historical events” and that chapter 2 rather than chapter 1 provides the “natural order,” we most certainly can read both as historical and literal. Keller pulls together both the genre and the chronology arguments and concludes, So what does this mean? It means Genesis 1 does not teach us that God made the world in six twenty-four hour days. Of course, it doesn’t teach evolution either . . . However, it does not preclude the possibility of the earth being extremely old. However, both of Keller’s grounds for not taking Genesis 1 literally have been exposed as weak at best.(4) In contrast, E. J. Young’s strong arguments for the literal, historical reading of Genesis 1, a few of which we reviewed here, remain firmly in place. Exalted prose indeed, and true! Whose authority? Before we move on to Keller’s second question, a word about the authority of the text: Keller states that we must “respect the authority of the Biblical writers.” His wording is similar to that of John Walton’s in speeches Walton gave at a conference I attended in September 2015.(5) Walton frequently spoke of “the authority of the text” and stated that it rested in the original meaning “as understood by the people who first received it.” But missing from both Keller and Walton is the recognition that all Scripture is breathed by God (2 Tim. 3:16) and that therefore the primary author is the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). We are not called just to respect the authority of human writers or of the text, but of God himself! That’s why there are passages of Scripture for which the first intention of the human writer – as far as we can discern it – does not reach as far as the divine intention. (Consider, for example, certain Messianic Psalms such as 2 & 110, or the injunction about the ox not wearing a muzzle as it treads out the grain – Deut. 25:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:9; 1 Tim. 5:18). In fact, Peter tells us that the Old Testament prophets searched with great care to find out the time and circumstances of the things they prophesied about Christ – implying that the prophecies went beyond the knowledge of the prophets themselves. He adds that these are things into which even angels long to look (1 Pet. 1:10–12). Thus, it’s clear that the primary author of Scripture is the Holy Spirit and that the authority of the text resides in his intentions first of all. This is why one of the primary rules of interpretation is to compare Scripture with Scripture. This book is God’s Word! Let us take great care in handling the Word of God – greater care than Keller does on this point. And let us conclude that the text of Genesis 1 itself clearly indicates it is to be read literally, historically, and chronologically (Keller, at least, has not proven otherwise). Q2: IF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IS TRUE, DOES IT EXPLAIN EVERYTHING? So let us move on to Keller’s second question. This “layperson” question really gets at a problem: “If biological evolution is true, does that mean that we are just animals driven by our genes and everything about us can be explained by natural selection?” Keller’s provides this short answer, “No. Belief in evolution as a biological process is not the same as belief in evolution as a world-view.” Two senses of “evolution” – EBP vs. GTE In explaining this question and his response, Keller distinguishes evolution in two senses. Evolution as a means God used to create. Or as Keller puts it, “human life was formed through evolutionary biological processes” (EBP). Evolution “as the explanation for every aspect of human nature,” which he calls the “Grand Theory of Everything” (GTE). The problem Keller is addressing is that self-described “evolutionary creationists” – such as those at Biologos tend to be – end up hearing the same critique from both creationists and evolutionists: both argue that you can’t hold the theory of biological evolution without at the same time endorsing atheistic evolution as a whole. Essentially both critics assert that evolution is a package – a worldview, a big-picture perspective – and you can’t just isolate one part of it. Keller suggests to his fellow Biologos members that most Christian laypeople have a difficult time distinguishing EBP from GTE. They have a hard time understanding that it is possible to limit one’s commitment to evolution to “the scientific explorations of the way which – at the level of biology – God has gone about his creating processes” (Keller quoting David Atkinson). “How can we help them?” Keller asks, for “this is exactly the distinction they must make, or they will never grant the importance of EBP.” He simply states that Christian pastors, theologians and scientists need to keep emphasizing that they are not endorsing evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Keller’s helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything To support this, Keller provides a brief but helpful analysis, showing that evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE) is self-refuting. He touches on this in the paper, and expands on it in an online video from which I’ll also quote. Basically, according to those who hold to evolution as the explanation of everything (GTE), religion came about only because it somehow must have helped our ancestors survive (survival of the fittest). In fact, they say, we all know there’s no God, no heaven, no divine revelation. Such things are false beliefs. But if that is the case, argues Keller, then natural selection has led our minds to believe false things for the sake of survival. Further, if human minds have almost universally had some kind of belief in God, performed religious practices, and held moral absolutes, and if it’s all actually false, then we can’t be sure about anything our minds tell us, including evolution as the grand theory of everything. Thus, with reference to itself, evolution as the GTE is absurd. In the online video Keller is dealing with the problem that opponents of Christianity and of religion generally try to “explain it away.” He states, C.S. Lewis put it this way some years ago, “You can’t go on explaining everything away forever or you will find that you have explained explanation itself away.” Keller, following Lewis, illustrates “explaining away” with “seeing through” things: A window lets you see through it to something else that is opaque. But if all we had were windows – a wholly transparent world – all would be invisible and in the end you wouldn’t see anything at all. “To see through everything is not to see at all.” How does that apply to our discussion? Keller then shows that many universal claims are self-refuting. If, as Nietzsche says, all truth claims are really just power grabs, then so is his, so why listen to him? If, as Freud says, all views of God are really just psychological projections to deal with our guilt and insecurity, then so is his view of God, so why listen to him? If, as the evolutionary scientists say, that what my brain tells me about morality and God is not real – it’s just chemical reactions designed to pass on my genetic code – then so is what their brains tell them about the world, so why listen to them? In the end to see through everything is not to see.(7) As usual, Keller is an insightful apologist for the Christian faith. He helps us oppose evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything. Just the same, I heard another prominent evolutionary creationist, Denis Alexander, answering questions at a recent conference (2016) and musing about our lack of knowledge as to when “religiosity” first evolved among our ancestors. So, Keller’s helpful critique notwithstanding, at least one of his co-members at Biologos appears to think that religiosity is an evolved trait (or at least allows for this view). But Keller doesn’t prove that EBP doesn’t lead to GTE Although I’ve highlighted something helpful in Keller’s white paper, the main point he needed to do was to prove that one’s commitment to the theory of evolutionary biological ancestry for humans (and all other living things) does not entail holding to evolution as the grand theory of everything. He didn’t prove this, and didn’t really make the attempt. He might not have felt the need to, because of the setting in which he spoke – he delivered this speech to Biologos, an organization which is committed to EBP but wants to avoid GTE because the members are Christians. Nevertheless, this is the real point at issue. Can and will Christians be able to hold to EBP without moving to GTE? I seriously doubt that Christians can or will be successful in adopting evolution as EBP while avoiding the trajectory that moves toward evolution as GTE. Here’s why, in short. It seems to me that as soon as one adopts EBP, the following positions come to be accepted (whether as hypotheses, theories, or firm positions): Adam and Eve had biological ancestors, from whom they evolved – some sort of chimp-like creatures. These “chimps” in turn had other biological ancestors and relatives, as do all creatures. In fact, there is an entire phylogenetic tree or chain of evolutionary development that begins with the Big Bang. All living things have common ancestry in the simplest living things, such as plants. At some point before that the transition was made from non-living things to the first living cell (some evolutionary creationists assert that God did something supernatural to make the transition from non-living things to living).(8) Evolving requires deep time. “Multiple lines of converging evidence” apparently tell us the universe is 14.7 billion years old; the earth is about 4.7 billion, life is about 3 billion, and human life is probably about 400,000 years old (these numbers may vary; I happen to think 6-10 thousand is rather ancient as it is!). Humans do not have souls; they are simply material beings. This is being promoted by Biologos and other theologians and philosophers.(9) Not all evolutionary creationists would agree; some say God gave a soul when he “made” man in his image, others that the soul “emerged” from higher-order brain processes at some point in the evolutionary history. The world is getting better, on a continual trajectory from chaos to increasing order, or from bad to good to better to best. This creates great difficulties for one’s doctrine of the fall, redemption in Christ, and the radical transition into the new creation. The earth, as long as it has had animal life, has been filled with violence. Keller admits in his paper how critical this is: “The process of evolution, however, understands violence, predation, and death to be the very engine of how life develops.” This presents enormous difficulty for one’s doctrines of the good initial creation, and the fall into sin. God must have been more hands-off. The universe’s order arises mainly due to the unfolding of the inherent powers and structures God must have embedded in that initial singularity called the Big Bang. There is a movement toward Deism inherent in the theory. Much of what the Bible ascribes to God’s creating power and wisdom actually belongs to his providential guidance, which itself was probably a rather hands-off thing. God’s nature needs to be understood differently – particularly his goodness – if creation was “red in tooth and claw” from the beginning.(10) Scripture needs to be reinterpreted. The authority of God’s Word falls under the axe due to the exegetical gymnastics required to accommodate EBP. Scripture apparently no longer means what it appears to mean. This opens up the reinterpretation of everything in the Bible. Where is the line between? In sum, Keller provides a helpful critique of evolution as the Grand Theory of Everything (GTE). However, he fails to demonstrate that holding to evolutionary biological processes (EBP) does not, in itself, open one up to evolution as the GTE, and may in fact ultimately make it impossible to avoid more and more of evolution as the GTE. This is surely because for the most part evolution as such depends upon atheistic presuppositions. And in fact, it’s actually quite hard to determine just where the line is between evolution as EBP and GTE. I’m afraid that’s a sliding scale, depending upon which scientist or theologian presents his views. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent... you know the rest. The academic and religious trajectories of scholars who were once orthodox and Reformed shows how hard it is to maintain evolution as EBP only. I’m thinking of such men as Howard Van Till (who is now more of a “free thinker”),(11) Peter Enns (who now only holds to the Apostles’ Creed and treats the Bible as arising from the Israelites, not from God)(12) and Edwin Walhout (who advocated rewriting the doctrines of creation, sin, salvation, and providence).(13) There are whole swaths of theologians and scientists associated with Biologos, the Faraday Institute, and the Canadian Scientific and Christian Affiliation who are trying valiantly to hold together their Christian faith with evolutionary science. And the money of the Templeton Foundation will ensure that pamphlets, presentations, conferences, and books, will bring these views to the Christian public. Holding to Dooyeweerdian philosophy’s sphere sovereignty may help some of these Christians compartmentalize their biology, geology, and their faith, but that philosophical school has been subject to severe criticism in our tradition, and on precisely this point.(14) I fear that the dissonance of EBP itself with the historic, creedal Christian faith will prove to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for Christians to keep their faith and EBP together. I also doubt that one can very easily maintain evolution as EBP only. Q3: IF BIOLOGICAL EVOLUTION IS TRUE, WHENCE SIN AND SUFFERING? One question remains. Keller words this “layperson” question as follows, “If biological evolution is true and there was no historical Adam and Eve how can we know where sin and suffering came from?” He responds in short, Belief in evolution can be compatible with a belief in an historical fall and a literal Adam and Eve. There are many unanswered questions around this issue and so Christians who believe God used evolution must be open to one another’s views. Keller finds the “concerns of this question much more well-grounded” than the first two questions. With reference to the first two, he summarizes, “I don’t believe you have to take Genesis 1 as a literal account, and I don’t think that to believe human life came about through EBP you necessarily must support evolution as the GTE.” But as regards this third question he wants to maintain that Adam and Eve were historical figures and not mere symbols. In this regard he differs from those who are more liberal with the text of Genesis 1–3. In part agreeing with Keller As with the last question Keller entertained, I again find him making some strong and valid points but ultimately proposing solutions that don’t work. He is concerned that if the church abandons belief in a historical fall into sin, this might “weaken some of our historical, doctrinal commitments at certain crucial points.” Two such points are the trustworthiness of Scripture and the scriptural teachings on sin and salvation. He correctly asserts that, “the key for interpretation is the Bible itself.” He adds that he doesn’t think Genesis 1 should be taken literally because he thinks the author himself didn’t intend this. However, we have earlier weighed his case and found it wanting. His principles sound good, but he doesn’t practice them. Moreover, he fails to talk about the ultimate author of Scripture, the Holy Spirit. When Keller favourably quotes Kenneth Kitchen to the effect that the ancients did not tend to historicize myth, that is, think that their myths really were history, but rather tended to turn their history into myths, celebrating actual persons and events “in mythological terms,” we can again agree. This supports the view that the original message is the truth we find in Genesis, and that the myths of the surrounding nations adulterated this.(15) The Derek Kidner model In 1967 Derek Kidner, a British Old Testament scholar ordained in the Anglican Church, published a commentary on Genesis in which he surmised that the creature into which God breathed life (Gen 2:7) could have belonged to an existing species whose “bodily and cultural remains” (fossils, bones, cave drawings, I presume) show that they were quite intelligent but were not up to the level of an Adam. Keller concludes, “So in this model there was a place in the evolution of human beings when God took one out of the population of tool-makers and endowed him with the ‘image of God.’” However, a problem arises regarding all the other tool-makers. They would have been biologically related to Adam but not spiritually related. Kidner then proposed a second step: “God may have now conferred his image on Adam’s collaterals, to bring them into the same realm of being.” Then, if Adam is taken as the representative of all, they might all be considered by God to be included in the fall even though they are not physically descended from Adam and Eve (this sort of move, by the way, has been welcomed by certain Reformed theologians who emphasize Adam’s federal or covenantal headship, though historically Reformed theologians never separated this from his physical headship). “Let us make man in our image” What is lacking in Kidner’s account and Keller’s consideration is more attention to the language of Genesis. God did not simply appoint an existing being to be endowed with his image. Rather God conferred within himself and specifically uttered his determination, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule . . .” (Gen 1:26). Then verse 27 three times uses the word “created,” when it says, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Thus, God spoke of “making” and “creating” man in chapter 1, while in chapter 2 the manner of this creating was specified in that God “formed the man of dust from the ground” and “fashioned/constructed a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man” (2:7, 22). Speaking of a mere endowment or bestowal of God’s “image” on an existing hominid, Neanderthal, or whatever it was, doesn’t do justice to such terms as “created,” “made,” “formed,” and “fashioned.” Suffering and death before the fall? Moving on to the problem of death before the fall, Keller acknowledges that this is a very prominent question. He doesn’t propose a fulsome answer, but offers a number of points by which his Biologos fellows could help Christians overcome these concerns. He does this by highlighting aspects of the creation which, in his view, show that “there was not perfect order and peace in creation from the first moment” (italics added). These aspects include the initial chaos which God had to “subdue” in the successive days of creating, the presence of Satan, the fact that the world was not yet “in a glorified, perfect state” and the view that surely there had to have been some kind of death and decay, else the fruit on the trees would not even have been digestible. What response can we give to this? First, we must emphasize what the Scriptures emphasize, “And God saw all that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31), the climax of all the other affirmations of the goodness of creation in that chapter (Gen 1:4,9,12,18,21,25). Second, we can agree that good bacteria were present, to digest food, for God gave all the plants for food (Gen 1:30; cf. Gen 9:3) and even in the new creation the tree of life will bear fruit every month and its leaves will be used for healing (Rev 22:2). Although Revelation describes this symbolically, the idea of plant death in some sense is not averse to the new creation (cf. Isa 65:25). Thus digestion and plant death before the fall are something good, not something evil. Third, God did not have to subdue the chaos as though it were an active power against him. Rather, he took six days to form and shape what he had initially produced on the first day so that he would set the pattern of our lives and manifest himself as a God of power, wisdom, order, and love. Finally, the presence of Satan did not make God’s creating work as such incomplete or evil. Rather, Satan had chosen to rebel, had destroyed the peace of heaven, but had not yet instigated our human rebellion. So none of Keller’s points stand and certainly none of them provide any scriptural evidence whatsoever of suffering and death before the fall. We must shun any suggestion that God is the one responsible for sin, evil, and suffering, or that suffering and evil are just natural developments and not a result of our sin. Spiritual death, not physical? One final attempt by Keller to find some room for suffering and death before the fall emerges from the distinction between physical and spiritual death. If one treats the threat of death in Genesis 2:17 and the curse of death after the fall as simply indicating spiritual death, then all of the hundreds of thousands of years of animal death before Adam and Eve are no problem. As Keller writes, “The result of the Fall, however, was ‘spiritual death’, something that no being in the world had known, because no one had ever been in the image of God.” Note that this is simply a consistent application of the idea that God “bestowed” his image on at least two hominids (or whatever they were) and thereby “elected” them to be humans. Before this all creatures were only animals. However, this separation of physical and spiritual death is artificial. The refrain of Genesis 5, “and he died,” underlines how the curse on creation was effected in a very physical way. We realize that Adam and Eve did not drop dead physically, the moment they disobeyed. But at that very moment they put themselves on the path of death, rebelling against God, and running from the Author of life. Only in the promise of the Seed could they still find hope – both physical and spiritual. Conclusion I don’t think Kidner’s model or Keller’s attempts to provide rhetorical suggestions to his fellow Biologos members have any scriptural weight behind them. These are attempts to accommodate theories that simply do not fit the message of Scripture. Nor do I agree with Keller that the right attitude for the church is to have a “bigger tent” in which we can peacefully discuss together the ways in which we as Reformed Christians might accommodate to Scripture the view that humans descended from other species by evolutionary biological processes. I am convinced that such views are serious errors that need to be kept out of the church of Christ. They disturb the peace. Defending the church against them preserves the peace within. While I appreciate many of Keller’s writings on apologetics and church planting and have expressed my appreciation in particular for the way in which he pointed out the absurdities of holding to evolution as the “explanation of everything,” I hope that this review essay will help Reformed and Presbyterian churches maintain adherence to their confessional statements. God created all things good in the space of six days. He made us – from the moment of our existence – as his vice-gerents, representing him to creation and responsible to him. We pledged allegiance to his enemy when we yielded to Satan’s suggestion. Thus we are responsible for sin and death; it is our fault, not God’s. But thanks be to God that his work of grace in Jesus Christ has opened the way for forgiveness, new life, and ultimately, a new creation. Footnotes 1) Keller’s paper can be found online at http://biologos.org/uploads/projects/Keller_white_paper.pdf. Accessed 25 Mar. 2016. 2) See http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/tim-keller-on-evolution-and-bible.html. Accessed 27 Feb 2016. 3) For this debate see https://adaughterofthereformation.wordpress.com/2012/04/04/is-dr-tim-keller-a-progressive-creationist/. Accessed 27 Feb 2016. 4) In addition, Keller’s note 17 on page 14, linked to a different section of his paper, asserts that prose can use figurative speech and poetry can use literal speech. It appears, then, that he undercuts his own argument. 5) See my blog entry at http://creationwithoutcompromise.com/2016/02/03/the-lost-world/. 6) See, for instance, http://reformedacademic.blogspot.ca/2010/03/response-to-clarion-s-ten-reasons.html. Accessed 24 Feb 2016. 7) See http://veritas.org/talks/clip-explain-away-religion-tim-keller-argues-we-cant/?ccm_paging_p=6. Accessed 24 Feb, 2016. 8) As an example of an evolutionary creationist attempting to defend the evolutionary link from egg-laying reproduction to placenta-supported reproduction, see Dennis Venema’s recent essays on vitellogenin and common ancestry at Biologos. See http://biologos.org/blogs/dennis-venema-letters-to-the-duchess/vitellogenin-and-common-ancestry-does-biologos-have-egg-on-its-face. Accessed 25 Feb 2016. 9) See my essay entitled, “In Between and Intermediate: My Soul in Heaven’s Glory,” in As You See the Day Approaching: Reformed Perspectives on the Last Things, ed. Theodore G. Van Raalte (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock, 2016), 70–111. 10) See https://sixteenseasons.wordpress.com/2014/12/04/evolution-and-the-gallery-of-glory/. Accessed 27 Feb 2017. 11) See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2012/12/25/howard-van-tills-lightbulb-moment/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016. 12) See his book, The Evolution of Adam (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press 2012), ix–xx, 26–34. 13) See https://yinkahdinay.wordpress.com/2013/05/08/walhout-gets-it/. Accessed 26 Feb 2016. 14) For example, see J. Douma, Another Look at Dooyeweerd(Winnipeg: Premier Printing, 1981). 15) See remarks from E. J. Young in the discussion of the genre of Genesis 1. Dr. Ted Van Raalte is the professor of Ecclesiology at the Canadian Reformed Seminary in Hamilton. This article first appeared in the April 2016 issue under the title "Countering a Reformed conservative’s case for evolution: Examining Tim Keller’s white paper 'Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople'" and a slightly different version of this article can be found at CreationWithoutCompromise.com. ...

Science - Environmental Stewardship, Theology

Global warming crisis? A brief biblical case for skepticism

The media tells us that the question is settled, there is a 97% consensus, and that anyone who has questions is a “denier,” likened to those who are either so foolish, or malicious, as to deny the reality of the Holocaust. But there are reasons to question. And while climate science might be beyond most of us, God has given us another means – a far more reliable means – of discerning truth, via His Word. Gender: the Bible shows the way Sometimes it doesn’t take much Bible study to be able to discern truth from error, and that’s certainly true in today’s gender debate. Young children are being surgically mutilated and hormonally sterilized and yet the government, doctors, psychologists, and media are applauding. While it might not be at 97% yet, the consensus is growing such that fines are being issued, teachers fired, students expelled, and Twitter mobs set loose on any who disagree. Despite the pressure, few Christians are being fooled, though that might be due as much to the newness of the debate as it is that Evangelicals are turning to their Bibles for guidance. But if they do open His Word it won’t take a believer long to figure out God’s position. In Genesis 1:27 we learn it is God, not Man, who determines our gender: “So God created Man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” Population: following the Bible would have saved tens of millions The overpopulation crisis has a longer history to it and, consequently, many more Christians have bought into it. Since the 1950s we’ve been hearing that sometime soon the world’s population will outstrip the planet’s resources. In his 1969 book The Population Bomb Paul Ehrlich warned: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” You would think that by now it would be easy to see that these overpopulation fears were mistaken. As economist Arthur Brooks has noted, what’s happened is the very opposite of Ehrlich’s dire prediction: “From the 1970s until today the percentage of people living at starvation’s door has decreased by 80%. Two billion people have been pulled out of starvation-level poverty.” Yet the overpopulation hysteria has never gone away. And the damage it has done has been on par with that of a Hitler or Stalin – tens of millions have been killed. Under threat of this crisis China implemented their infamous one-child policy, with its fines and forced abortions for couples who tried for two. And the deaths weren’t limited to China; overpopulation fears were used to justify the push for legalized abortion in countries around the world. Murdering your own children wasn’t cold and selfish anymore; now it was a woman doing her part to save the planet. Christians opposed abortion, of course, but some believers started questioning whether overpopulation concerns might be correct. Maybe God’s call to “be fruitful and multiply” and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28) was just a temporary directive that we’ve fulfilled and should now treat as being over and done with. But it takes only a little more digging to find out that’s not what God thinks. Overpopulation proponents saw children as more mouths to find – they saw them as a problem – but God speaks repeatedly of children as a blessing (Ps. 113:9, 127:3-5, Prov. 17:6, Matt. 18:10, John 16:21). And opportunities present themselves when we see children as God sees them. When we understand they are a blessing, then we realize that not only do children come with a mouth that needs filling, but they also have hands that can produce even more than their mouth consumes. And they have a brain to invent and problem solve. When we see children this way – as a blessing and not a curse – then we'll realize there’s a real practical benefit in having lots of them: as we’ve been told, many hands make light work, and two heads are also better than one! That’s why it shouldn’t have surprised Christians when in the 1950s and 60s a group of inventive sorts, led by American Norman Borlaug, helped develop much higher-yielding strains of cereal crops. This “Green Revolution” turned wheat-importing countries into wheat exporting countries by more than doubling yields. And while there are no prophecies in the Bible specifically mentioning Norman Borlaug, Christians could have seen him coming, and in a sense some did. Those who continued having large families, despite the dire predictions, could do so confident that any problems caused by the innumerable nature of their progeny would be solved by something like the Green Revolution happening. Today, decades later, we can look back and see that a country like China, that ignored what God says about children, is facing a different sort of demographic crisis. A young Chinese couple will have two sets of parents and four sets of grandparents to look after and support, but have no siblings or cousins to help them. As soon as 2030 China will see their population start to decline, with not nearly enough working age citizens to provide for their aging population. It’s not all that different in the Western world where, even without government coercion, our families have been shrinking and women are averaging far less than two children each. We aren’t as near the crisis point as China, but by aborting a quarter of the next generation, we’ve created our own coming demographic crisis. Global warming: a biblical case for skepticism The population and gender debates remind us that the Bible is more reliable than any-sized consensus no matter how big. They also teach us that the world can get things not just completely wrong, but monstrously so, leading to the deaths of tens of millions. That’s why when it comes to global warming, where we’re being told once again that the fate of the planet is at stake, we want any and all guidance we can get from God’s Word. Cornelius Van Til once noted: “The Bible is thought of as authoritative on everything of which it speaks. Moreover, it speaks of everything. We do not mean that it speaks of football games, of atoms, etc., directly, but we do mean that it speaks of everything either directly or by implication.” The Bible does speak to global warming, but not directly. This isn’t like the gender debate, which runs smack up against Genesis 1:27 (“male and female He created them”) or the overpopulation crisis, which directly opposes the very next verse (“be fruitful and multiply”). When it comes to global warming the Bible isn’t as direct. But there are lots of implications. Time and space only allow me to present a half dozen texts. I’m not pretending that any one of them makes the definitive case for skepticism. But I do think that together they start pointing us decidedly in that direction. "You will know them by their fruits" – Matt. 7:15-20 In Matthew 7 Jesus tells us that we can tell a good tree from a bad one by the fruit on it. His concern wasn’t with trees though, but with telling false prophets from good ones. When it comes to global warming the science is beyond most of us, but we can evaluate the people. So let’s return to this 97% consensus we’ve heard so much about. This statistic is used to argue that there is no question but that the planet is headed to catastrophic climate change. But is this a reliable number, or is it like the greatly exaggerated 10% figure commonly given for the homosexual population? The figure has a few different origins, but one of the more commonly cited is a paper by John Cook and his colleagues reviewing 11,944 published peer-reviewed papers from climate scientists. Did 97% of those papers’ authors agree with the statement “humans are causing global warming”? That’s what we would expect. But instead of 10,000+ papers with that position, there were 3,894, or approximately 33%. So how did the 97% figure come out of that then? Well, it turns out only approximately 34% of the papers took a position one way or the other, with just 1% disagreeing or uncertain, and 33% agreeing. Thus, of the 34% who took a position, 97% agreed that humans are causing global warming. Is it honest to ignore the two thirds who didn’t state a position, and say there is a 97% consensus and no room for a debate? How this statistic has been used reminds me of a trick from another debate – equivocation about the definition of “evolution.” In his book, The Greatest Show on Earth, Richard Dawkins notes that when poachers shoot elephants with long tusks, the next generation is liable to have shorter tusks. Okay, but creationists also believe species can undergo changes over time. We’re the folks arguing that the array of cats we see today are all modified versions of a single cat kind brought on the ark. Dawkins has presented “minor changes over time” – a definition of evolution so broad that it enfolds even creationists into the evolution camp – as if it were proof of the from-goo-to-you sort of evolution that is actually under dispute. Similarly, the 97% consensus is being presented as if all those counted hold that the warming is catastrophic, humans are the primary cause, and there is a need for immediate, drastic, global action. But the agreement was only that “humans are causing global warming.” And that’s a statement so broad as to enfold even many of the so-called “deniers.” So on a statement we can verify – whether there really is a 97% consensus on catastrophic global warming – we find “bad fruit.” There are many other facts and claims we can’t evaluate, but doesn’t this tell us something about the “tree”? “The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.” – Proverbs 18:17 God says that to find the truth good questions are helpful. That’s not going on here, where questioners are likened to Holocaust deniers. But here’s a few questions worth considering: Aren’t there bigger priorities than global warming, like the millions who will starve to death this year, or the billions who lack basic access to clean water and sanitation? If fossil fuels are harmful, and solar and wind problematic, why aren’t we turning to nuclear? How will the world’s poor be impacted by a move away from fossil fuels toward more expensive alternatives? Are we again (as we did in response to overpopulation fears) seeking to save the planet by harming those who live on it? Samuel’s warning against kings – 1 Samuel 8:10-22 President Obama’s chief of staff famously said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste” and if you want to understand what he meant, looking no further than Justin Trudeau’s proposed ban on single-use plastics. This past year a video of a sea turtle with a plastic straw stuck up deep inside his nose went viral, alerting the tens of millions of viewers to the growing problem of plastics in our oceans. The movement to ban plastic straws has taken off since then. But will Trudeau’s single-use plastics ban save turtles? No, because our straws don’t end up in the ocean. Of the mass of plastic in the ocean it’s been estimated the US is responsible for one percent, and it’d be reasonable to conclude that Canada is responsible for far less. So how, then, does all the plastic end up in the ocean? It turns out that the vast majority of it comes from poorer countries that don’t have proper trash disposal. They simply dump their waste into the ocean and into their rivers. Trudeau’s ban will do nothing to help the turtles…but it will expand the government’s reach. The proposed solutions for climate change all involve expanding the government too, giving it a larger role in directing all things energy-related. So, how is 1 Samuel 8 relevant? Here we find Samuel warning against an expansion of government – get a king and he’ll start intruding into all areas of your lives. If there is a biblical case to be made for limited, small government (and there is) then Christians have a reason to question crises that seem to necessitate an ever-expanding role for the State. “…and it was very good.” – Gen. 1:31 While we no longer live in the perfect world Adam and Eve started with, we have only to wriggle our toes, or watch a ladybug crawl across the back of our hand to recognize that God’s brilliant design is still evident and at work all around us. We are on a blue and white marble, spinning at just the right angle, and orbiting at just the right distance from the sun, for it to rain and snow in season. We have a moon just the right size, and circling at just the right distance for us to study our own sun, and to bring the tides that sweep our beaches each day. And our planet is graced with a molten iron core that generates the very magnetic field we need to protect us from the solar winds, which would otherwise strip away the ozone layer that protects us from ultraviolet radiation. It is wheels within wheels within wheels, and while we can do damage to it, when we appreciate how brilliantly our world is designed we aren’t surprised there is a robustness to it. Meanwhile, the unbeliever thinks our world is the result of one lucky circumstance after another – a tower of teacups, all balanced perfectly, but accidentally. If the world did come about by mere happenstance, then what an unbelievable run of happenstance we’ve had, and isn’t there every reason to fear change? Sure, the teacup tower is balanced now, but if we mess with it, how long can we count on our luck to hold? “He who oppresses the poor taunts his Maker” – Prov. 14:31 At first glance, this text might not seem to provide much direction in this debate. After all, couldn’t a Christian who holds to catastrophic man-caused global warming cite it in support of their position too? Yes they could. If climate change is real, then the oppression it would bring on the poor would be a reason to fight it. Yet this text does provide a very specific sort of direction. It lays out limits on what sort of global warming plans Christians should view as acceptable: any plan to save the planet that does so by hurting the poor is not biblical. That means increasing energy costs has to be out. Millions are starving already and raising energy prices will only increase those numbers. “Be fruitful and multiply” – Gen. 1:28 Children come with an inevitable “carbon footprint” which is why some global warming proponents echo the same sentiments as the overpopulationists before them. “Save the earth; don’t give birth” is catchy, but if that was the only possible way we could lower carbon emissions then Christians could, on that basis, conclude there was no need to worry about CO2. Because God tells us children are a blessing, not a curse. Of course there may be other ways to lower carbon emissions. But the more we hear people portraying children as a problem, the more we should recognize there is an element in the global warming movement intent on attacking God’s Truth, rather than taking on any real problem. Conclusion Other passages could be mentioned like Genesis 8:22, Romans 1:25 and Psalm 102:25-26 but this is good for a start. And that’s what this is: a start. My hope here is to encourage an exploration of what Scripture says that’s relevant to the issue of global warming.  The Bible isn’t silent on this topic; we need to look at global warming biblically....

Theology

Anger is not your friend

Anger: sometimes it just feels right. Anger is happy to assume its place as your advocate, your defense against unfair actions.  And we are all too happy to welcome it. It just feels right! When your spouse is insensitive, when the kids are selfish and squabble constantly, anger stands ready to come to your defense. When others are selfish, anger is there to encourage you. When your pride is wounded, anger offers its supposed “healing power”. But the reality is that when human anger is embraced, good things will not happen. But what about righteous anger? Paul says in Ephesians 4:26 that in your anger you should not sin. So, since it is possible to be angry and not sin, it easy to welcome anger like a friendly ally when others sin against you. But righteous anger results in God being honored, not you being justified. Ephesians 4:26 is not all that Paul has to say about anger. Read just a few more sentences down to verse 31 of chapter 4 and you see that Paul commands that you must get rid of all anger! Is Paul contradicting himself? No, he is not. Anger does have its place, but that place is not one of self-defense. When anger leads to justification for your sinful responses, it is never a good thing. Paul says that you must be clothed in kindness and compassion towards others. You must follow the example of Christ. Anger will be of no help here. This is why he says to get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger. Relational anger will keep you from showing the love of Christ to those whom you love. You must learn to ask this one question when anger offers you its assistance: “Am I showing the kindness and compassion of Christ or am I justifying my behavior?” Instead of engaging in anger, show the compassionate love of Christ when you think others fail you. Isn’t that what God does for you when you sin against him? If God treated you as your sins deserve, you would not survive another minute! Take another look at Ephesians 4:31-32. Anger is not your ally. It is a tool of the enemy to damage your relationships, causing you to feel alone and bitter. Listen carefully to Paul. Get rid of your anger! Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Jay Younts is the author of Everyday Talk: Talking freely and Naturally about God with Your Children and Everyday Talk about Sex & Marriage. He blogs at ShepherdPress.com, where this article (reprinted with permission) first appeared. ...

People we should know, Theology

Jonathan Edwards: The pastor who packed them in the pews while preaching the wrath of God

Much like today, during the early colonial years in America, preachers rarely spoke about the wrath of God – this did not seem the type of topic to draw in the masses. One man, however, thought very differently. He brought the message of God’s wrath and, in doing so, ignited a revival which spread throughout the colonies. Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut and began preaching in 1722. Although hell and God’s wrath are unpleasant topics, Edwards became one of America’s best-known evangelists by preaching on just these topics. We can get an understanding of how God used him to spark a revival across the colonies by looking at three specific sermons Edwards delivered at different points throughout his ministry. Through these sermons he taught the reality of God’s wrath by: showing how it will destroy unrepentant sinners explaining that it is the power of God which can save them from this wrath warning that those who do not glorify God are deserving of destruction Edwards knew that the themes of wrath and hell needed to be taught to cause the hearts of those listening to be convicted about their sins and to realize the reality of eternal punishment. #1: When the wicked have filled up the measure of their sin… He began preaching on the subject in May 1735 when he delivered his sermons “When the wicked shall have filled up the measure of their sin, wrath will come upon them to the uttermost.” Edwards’ text was 1 Thessalonians 2:16, which reads, “To fill up their sins always; for the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.” He immediately presented a picture of hell and never let go of that illustration throughout the sermon. He clarified that God enacts His wrath “very dreadfully in this world; but in hell wrath comes on them to the uttermost.” God executes his wrath on the sinners in this world to a smaller extent, either outwardly on the body or inwardly on a mental or emotional scale. However, “these things are only forerunners of their punishment, only slight foretastes of wrath.” When God’s full wrath comes upon them, it will come with no restraint and no moderation of degree, for “His heavy wrath will lie on them, without any thing to lighten the burden or to keep off, in any measure, the full weight of it from pressing the soul.” Perhaps the most powerful point Edwards made in this sermon is that once the day of judgment comes, the wicked are sealed in their punishment eternally. There is no longer any chance for repentance or forgiveness once death has come. This is a message that the content Christians in the pews needed to hear. Without knowing the reality and severity of hell, the sinner did not feel a need to repent. Edwards concluded by noting how dreadful the wrath will be, for it is given by the One who created the universe, shakes the earth, rebukes the sea, and shines His majesty over wicked men. The judgement of God is certainly coming, but it will not be known until it comes. Therefore, Edwards begged everyone listening to “haste and flee for their lives, to get into a safe condition, to get into Christ.” This sermon carefully presents the danger of those who are content with living in sin, and it presses the message of hell to convict them of their rebellion. The reaction to this sermon inspired many in New England to change their lives. However, much more was to come when, six years later, Edwards preached his most famous sermon. #2: Sinners in the hands of an angry God On July 8, 1741 Edwards delivered “Sinners in the hands of an angry God” in Enfield, Connecticut. He was not supposed to preach that night, and he had preached that same sermon before at his home church. He happened to have his manuscript with him, and after receiving the last-minute request to fill in for the pastor, he preached a message that had an amazing effect on many of the hearers, spurring on a revival. Jonathan Edwards was born on October 5, 1703, in East Windsor, Connecticut to his father Reverend Timothy Edwards and his mother Esther, the daughter of Reverend Solomon Stoddard. Stoddard would become a mentor to Jonathan. Edwards attended Collegiate School, later called Yale College, graduating in 1720. In 1722, he accepted a call to a Scotch Presbyterian church in New York. He then went to Bolton, Connecticut in 1723. In 1724, he became a teacher at Yale College, and finally succeeded his grandfather Reverend Stoddard at Northampton, Massachusetts in 1727. The text of this sermon was Deuteronomy 32:35, which says, “Their foot shall slide in due time.” Edwards opened his sermon by saying: “In this verse is threatened the vengeance of God on the wicked unbelieving Israelites, who lived under the means of grace…yet remained void of counsel.” He began by stating that all sinners are exposed to destruction, a destruction that is unexpected and brought about by the sinner himself. The only reason why this destruction has not yet come is because of the mere mercy of God, which He gives under no obligation but by grace. Edwards was keen on portraying the power of God by reminding his listeners that even the strongest man has no power over God, and not even the mightiest fortress can defend against Him. He emphasized the fact that sinners deserve to be cast into hell, saying that they are the objects of the anger and wrath of God. He painted a vivid picture by declaring: “the wrath of God burns against them, their damnation does not slumber; the pit is prepared, the fire is made ready, the furnace is now hot, ready to receive them.” Edwards revealed the reality of death and claimed that God is under “no obligation by any promise” to keep sinners out of hell. God is provoked by sin, and nothing can be done by sinners to appease that anger. Edwards was trying to “awake unconverted persons in the congregation… who find are kept out of hell, but do not see the hand of God in it.” Edwards ended his message by urging the congregation to consider the danger that they were in, that if they did not change their lives for Christ they were in danger of suffering an everlasting wrath, where “it would be dreadful to suffer…one moment; but you must suffer it to all eternity.” The Christians of the early British colonies had forgotten that if God withdrew His hand from them, they would fall into the depths of hell. This is what it means to be in the hands of an angry God, that sinners are born again and made new creatures because the God of wrath and justice found pleasure in making the damned soul worthy of salvation. Edwards pushes the reality of God’s wrath and hell, a topic which was rarely preached. It is this topic which ignited a revival. The effect of this sermon was immediate and powerful. According to one listener, even before the sermon was done “there was great moaning and crying out – ‘What shall I do to be saved?’… amazing and astonishing power of God was seen.” Another eyewitness, Stephen Williams, wrote: “Mr. Edwards of Northampton…preached a most awakening sermon…‘Oh, I am going to Hell,’ ‘Oh, what shall I do for Christ,’ and so forth…went out through whole .” Edwards was able to vividly portray the wrath of God on sinners, causing those who heard him to know the true condition of their hearts. A revival swept through the towns. Hymns were sung, taverns were closed, and young people poured into churches. Congregants arrived at church hours before the service in order to get a seat in the sanctuary. It is estimated that 10 percent of New England was converted during this time. That is equal to 28 million people today. Clearly, Jonathan Edwards sparked a revival in Enfield. #3: Wicked men useful in their destruction only While that might have been Edwards’ most famous and impactful sermon, he continued to tell the people of New England about the reality of God’s wrath. In July 1744, he preached a sermon called “Wicked men useful in their destruction only,” and as the title suggests, his main point was that “if men bring forth no fruit to God, they are wholly useless, unless in their destruction.” His message was from Ezekiel 15:2-4, which asks what the worth of a dead vine is. The answer is that “it is cast into the fire for fuel; the fire devoureth both the ends of it, and the midst of it is burned” (Ezek. 15:4). Edwards expanded on this passage by comparing sinners to the vine, saying that the dead vine which is good for nothing deserves the same fate as a dead sinner: utter destruction. Edwards claimed that the only two ways in which a person is useful is either in acting or in being acted upon. A person is useful in acting when they display the “fruits of the Spirit” and use them for the love of God and neighbour. If, however, a man does not do this, then there is no purpose for him to exist. Yes, there are other uses for mankind, as man was made for one another to be friends and neighbours. However, these are inferior ends and are subordinate to the main purpose, which is to serve and glorify the Creator. Therefore, since a wicked man cannot glorify God, he is only useful passively by being destroyed. Edwards claimed that it goes against God’s justice to let wicked men “live always in a world which is so full of divine goodness…that this goodness should be spent upon them forever.” Even though the world is full of sin, so much of God’s undeserved blessings can be seen and enjoyed. The rest of creation is made subservient to mankind, which is wasted on men who bear no fruit for God. The only use that wicked men can be is in their destruction for God’s glory, by both having God’s majesty and justice acted upon them and by being an example to the righteous, giving them “a greater sense of their happiness and of God’s grace to them.” Edwards applied his point so that all may learn the justice and righteousness of God. God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but no one blames a farmer who cuts off a tree which no longer bears fruit. Edwards is calling his congregation to consider all the good things God has bestowed on them, including having a soul which houses the Holy Spirit and by having hosts of angels working for them. All of creation works for man’s pleasure, so “how lamentable it is, then, after all these things he should be a useless creature.” The one who is useful will experience pleasure in this world, and the pleasures will be even more wondrous in the world to come. However, those who do not continue “to bring forth any fruit to the divine glory, hell will be the only place fit for … nature ceases to labour any more for sinners.” Again, Edwards is stressing the point that God’s wrath is real, and unrepentant sinners will suffer it. Conclusion Jonathan Edwards inspired many revivals through his preaching by talking about God’s wrath and hell, topics that were unpopular to the crowd and avoided by other preachers. Through this unpleasant topic, Edwards ignited a fire of repentance in the hearts of the people of New England. His sermons presented God’s wrath by showing how He will destroy unrepentant sinners utterly, how it is the power of God which can save them from His wrath, and how those who do not glorify God are only useful to be destroyed. Texts are quoted as Edwards translated them in his sermon manuscripts....

Book excerpts, Book Reviews, Theology

A passage from "The Hiding Place" I can't manage to read out loud...

Corrie Ten Boom's autobiographical The Hiding Place is best known for its account of her war time experiences. But one of the many powerful sections in the book is about something that happened decades before, in the year 1919. Corrie's describes her Tante Jans as a Christian social activist, who helped the poor, and also wrote tracts and pamphlets decrying such evils as mutton sleeves and bicycle skirts. In other words, a busy, well-meaning, but generally humorless lady, who was trying to earn her way to heaven. When the doctor diagnoses her with diabetes it is quite a shock as there was no real treatment at that time. It meant that Tante Jans had very little time left, maybe a few years. Her response? "And from then on she threw herself more forcefully than ever into writing, speaking forming clubs and launching projects." But then one day her weekly blood test came back black. Black meant she not longer had years or months, but merely days, three weeks at most. The family learns this before Tante Jan, and as they consider how to tell her Corrie's father hopes that: "Perhaps she will take heart from all she has accomplished. She puts great store on accomplishment, Jans does, and who knows but she is right!" So upstairs to her room they all go. "Come in," she called to Father's knock, and added as she always did, "and close the door before I catch my death of drafts." She was sitting at her round mahogany table, working on yet another appeal... As she saw the number of people entering the room, she laid down her pen. She looked from one face to another, until she came to mine and gave a little gasp of comprehension. This was Friday morning, and I had not yet come up with the results of the test. “My dear sister-in-law,” Father began gently, “there is a joyous journey which each of God’s children sooner or later sets out on. And, Jans, some must go to their Father empty- handed, but you will run to Him with hands full!” “All your clubs…,” Tante Anna ventured. “Your writings…,” Mama added. “The funds you’ve raised…,” said Betsie. “Your talks…,” I began. But our well-meant words were useless. In front of us the proud face crumpled; Tante Jans put her hands over her eyes and began to cry. “Empty, empty!” she choked at last through her tears. “How can we bring anything to God? What does He care for our little tricks and trinkets?” And then as we listened in disbelief, she lowered her hands and with tears still coursing down her face whispered, “Dear Jesus, I thank You that we must come with empty hands. I thank You that You have done all – all – on the Cross, and that all we need in life or death is to be sure of this.”...

Theology

Whom Do You Serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power

Children are often told to obey many different folks. Listen to your mom and dad. Listen to the policeman. Listen to your teacher. Listen to the pastor. Adults too are encouraged to obey various authority figures. Which raises a question: what happens when demands of the State and demands of other authorities clash? Whom do we obey? The Dutch philosopher, theologian and prime minister Abraham Kuyper developed a system of thought to assist in understanding the authority structures in the world. The system is called “sphere sovereignty” and it helps answer the question, “Who do we obey when various demands on us and our behavior clash?” GOD OVER ALL Kuyper argued and demonstrated from the Bible that God has created in society a number of different institutions or spheres, each with their own respective roles and responsibilities. Three of the most important institutions created by God are: the CHURCH– starting with Adam, and continuing through Noah, Abraham, the people of Israel and the New Testament church the STATE– whose role is set out in various places including Psalm 72 and Romans 13 the FAMILY – begun with Adam and Eve In the Bible, God gives each of these spheres a distinct task and role. So, for example, the sphere of State is sovereign in matters properly within its jurisdiction as given and defined by God. Some of those matters would include criminal law, national defense, and maintaining a fair and impartial justice system. The sphere of Church (or synagogue/mosque/temple/monastery, etc.) is sovereign over areas within its jurisdiction: theology and doctrine and church discipline and membership. And within the sphere of family lies responsibility for issues of child education and discipline, religious instruction, sexual ethics, moral development, etc. In the graphic accompanying this article, you’ll notice other spheres: a larger sphere of Society and smaller spheres which are each sovereign in their own right: the market, the academy, charities and the individual. Academics will argue over how many separate spheres there might be, but while the number and boundaries of the smaller spheres is a source of debate, there is agreement about the obvious biblical basis for the first three. God has instituted the Church, the State and the Family and invests each with its own specific sphere of authority. There is, of course, some overlap from sphere to sphere. Fraud can’t be limited to the market sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the consumer. Physical assault of a child can’t be limited to the family sphere; it requires the State criminal law power to protect the child. Restorative justice can’t be limited to the State sphere; it requires the family sphere and the church sphere to mend broken relationships. However, there are also boundaries between the spheres. These boundaries are critical. History has taught us that great harm can be done when one sphere takes over the role of another. For example, problems abound when the State interferes in church doctrine issues. This was the greatest problem during the bloody Reformation era. The State used the sword to enforce church doctrine, which was a total abuse of its power, and a violation of the principles of sphere sovereignty. A modern example would be the Ontario human rights tribunal ordering a Roman Catholic bishop to explain himself to the Tribunal for not allowing an openly gay man to serve as an altar boy (this occurred in Peterborough, Ontario in September 2009). A similar violation of the boundaries between the spheres happened when the Ontario Minister of Education, standing outside the Ontario Legislature, declared that Christian schools could not teach that abortion is wrong, since such a teaching was “one of the most misogynistic actions that one could take.” (That statement was made by Minister Broten in October, 2012.) And in the not too distant past, churches and families tried to keep certain criminal acts (child abuse, for example) quiet and internal, when it ought to have been reported immediately to the State. Having shown the boundaries that exist between these spheres, we need to turn our attention to the key of Kuyperian sphere sovereignty: over each and every sphere reigns Christ as sovereign. Kuyper’s famous saying applies here: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” As a Christian country, we once recognized this, and it wasn't even that long ago. The preamble to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (added to our Constitution in 1982) still states, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…” Recognizing the supremacy of God is necessary in public policy because, when we fail to do so, someone or something else will take God’s place as supreme authority. THE STATE/LAW OVER ALL For example, take a look at the concept of sphere sovereignty through the eyes of our former Chief Justice, the Right Honorable Beverley McLauchlin. We can see in some or her statements a recognition that there are some spheres in life which are distinct: the sphere of society, spheres of religious communities and families and the sphere of the State. But we should take careful note of where, in her mind, the State sits in relation to the other spheres. In a speech delivered in October 2002, Her Honor stated that: the rule of law exerts an authoritative claim upon all aspects of selfhood and experience in a liberal democratic state… influenc local, community, and familial structures. The authority claimed by law touches upon all aspects of human life and citizenship… It makes total claims upon the self and leaves little of human experience untouched. These “total claims” on us as legal subjects, she said, “flow from a conception of authority rooted in the sovereign .” Invoking Kuyper, one could paraphrase what the Chief Justice said in this way: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which the Law, which is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Admittedly, Her Honor does believe that Law must carve out space for religious communities to live according to their particularities. However, it’s Law (and the State, as the authors of the Law) who makes space and accommodations for religion. For our chief justice, law remains the supreme authority. So there remains a tension between the Law of the State and religious precepts, familial obligations, and individual responsibilities. THE ROAD TO TYRANNY Without something (or, more properly, Someone) over all spheres, tension breaks out between the spheres, and a struggle ensures to see which sphere will reign as supreme. Now, of all of the spheres (the State, the Church, the Family, the Market, etc.) which has the most power? Quite obviously, the State does. As the Apostle Paul once wrote, it “bears the sword.” It has unlimited financial resources, it has coercive powers, it writes the laws, and it has lethal force. So, if God is removed as sovereign, who becomes sovereign? The State does. This is absolutely evident in every officially atheist country from the last century: the USSR, China, North Korea, Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy. When the State raises itself above God, then God becomes a problem for the State. And know this: as the State replaces God, or makes itself god, then it naturally also begins to compete with the family, substituting itself for the family. (It’s no coincidence that the leader of North Korea is referred to as “father.”) And when we, free citizens in a free country, begin to think that the State will provide everything for us, not just national defense or a fair justice system (as it ought to) but also total healthcare, education, food, clothing and shelter, unemployment wages, settlement of petty disputes with our landlords and employers, and on and on, then we are looking to the State not just as god, but also as savior. Lord Acton once wrote, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” That dictum is true for all of mankind because of our innate sinfulness and our covetous lust for more. This may be why the LORD never allowed all three offices of the Old Testament to be vested in a single person, though there were exceptional cases where a single person was both a prophet and a priest. Think, for example, of the punishment of King Uzziah when he tried to act as priest and burn incense before the Lord (2 Chronicles 26). Applying this anecdotal evidence for division of power to our civil government, we see a three-fold division of power there too, between the judiciary, legislature, and executive. The Canadian Constitution holds all three branches of government in check – each have power to limit the powers of the other. But if that balance is ever upset such that one person (or one small group of people) becomes lawmaker and law interpreter and law enforcer, we will have tyranny. Expanding out from the Biblical offices and expanding out from civil government, we see that there is a natural protection against tyranny in the dispersion of power. Lord Acton also wrote, “Liberty consists in the division of power. Absolutism, in concentration of power.” So we see that for mankind’s good, God gives some power to the church, some power to families, and some power to the State. But if the ultimate power concentrates (as it is tending to do these days) in one of these spheres, we also have tyranny. One example would be in the realm of education: God gives authority over education of children to parents, with the church assisting parents in that calling historically. But in the last century, the State took over, first from the church, and now more and more from parents, such that even the most intimate and personal educational material is being taught by State bureaucrats, often without parents knowing (think of some of the graphic sex education curriculum for grade 3 and 4). REMINDING OUR NEIGHBORS OF GOD'S PLACE One of our responsibilities as Christian citizens in a free country is to keep the State in its proper place, and to remind fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State. This is where you come in. Use the graphics in this article to show your friends and colleagues that we all must be under some ultimate authority. The question is simply, which one? Are we willing to submit ourselves fully to the State? Isn’t the Lordship of Christ infinitely better? We must remind our fellow citizens of what their responsibilities are apart from the State, and explain to them the effect of subjecting everything to the ultimate authority of the State – it means losing the freedom to live as we ought to live. Failure to understand this important concept means subjecting our institutions, our businesses, our families, our churches, subjecting even our very selves to the sovereign will, not of God, but of the State. So, to answer the question I posed at the beginning of this philosophical discussion – who do we obey when demands of the State and demands of parents or pastors or professors conflict? The answer is: it depends. It depends on whether the parents or the professors or the pastors or the State are authoritative in the sphere in which they are making the demands. This approach to understanding the very limited authority of the State should not be interpreted as a proposal for anarchy. I once swore an oath of allegiance to the country I love, my Canada, an oath which I stand by to this day. I pray for her leaders every day. I strive to obey all her laws. But here’s the rub: when those in power begin to legislate in areas over which they have no jurisdiction, my trust in the government plummets. And when those in power dare to legislate in such a way that I must either obey the State’s law or violate my conscience, then I say loudly with the Apostle Peter, “I must obey God, rather than men.” One key to a free, prosperous, democratic society is for the State to back off from taking authority unto itself that was not its to begin with, to not arrogate unto itself powers which are not its own. When the State learns restraint, we can and do enjoy freedom. When our society and culture recognizes a Sovereign high above the State, as we once did, then we certainly will enjoy freedom. This article first appeared in the November 2014 issue under the title "Whom do you serve? Sphere Sovereignty and the need for limits on power." Illustrations were created by Lynn VanEerden. André Schutten is the Director of Law and Policy for ARPA Canada. POSTSCRIPT: QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER While sphere sovereignty is a helpful tool, like any other tool it has limitations. For example, while the first three “spheres” of Church, State and Family are quite clearly instituted by God, we could have endless debates about just how many other spheres there might be. In Canada we could list the federal government as one sphere, and the provincial governments as another, but what about towns and cities? Do they get their own sphere? Is Academia a sphere? What about the Market? Also, while the spheres are a helpful concept, defining the exact borders between each of them is hard to do. So the author wants to emphasize that this is not meant to be the Reformed paradigm through which Christians ought to view the world, and he welcomes feedback on the ideas expressed here. What is helpful about this model, and how might it be improved? André Schutten talks about the sphere of the Church as separate from Family and State. Where does a mosque, synagogue or temple fit in? God instituted the State, the Church, and the Family, but did He institute the mosque? We don’t think the State should interfere with mosques, synagogues and temples so they do seem to exist in a separate sphere apart from the State, but is that separate sphere grouped with the Church, or is it, perhaps, under the Family? Or might it be something else entirely? In Western countries it often seems the State that is trying to take Christ’s supreme position. What might the interloper be in countries like Saudi Arabia or Iran? And if a libertarian were going to make their own sphere sovereignty model, who would they put in place of Christ? ...

Theology

Should we baptize infants? Resources that make the case

On the evening of Sept. 27, 2018, two Reformed pastors debated "Should we baptize infants as well as adults?" (A 2-hour edited recording of that debate is now available here). Pastor Jared Hiebert, of the Covenant Reformed Church of Stienbach holds to Adult baptism / believer's baptism / credobaptism. This is the belief that while someone need not necessarily be an adult ("adult baptism" is a bit of a misnomer) before being baptized, they do need to be old enough to be able to understand, and confess, their dependency on and devotion to our Lord. Pastor James Zekveld of the Canadian Reformed Church in Niverville holds to Infant baptism / paedobaptism. This is the belief that God's covenant promises are available to the children of believers, and thus these promises can be given not only to adults, but to infants – baptism is for babies too. Reformed Perspective holds to a paedobaptism position, and in preparation for the debate we shared a list of some of the very best resources available in defense of infant baptism. Audio Baptism debate with R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur (2 hours) Two Reformed stalwarts go head to head in this debate, with each given an hour to lay out their best case. R.C. Sproul argues for paedobaptism, and John MacArthur makes the case for credobaptism. Article-length treatments A brief defense of infant baptism by Kevin DeYoung Why I changed my mind on infant baptism, by Liam Goligher Not your average paedobaptist by Jared Oliphint Shortest argument In Jay Adams’ book Greg Dawson and the Psychology Class, the author poses an intriguing argument for infant baptism. One of the characters in the book, Brian, is trying to convince his girlfriend that infant baptism is biblical, and shares with her this scenario: “It’s the day before Pentecost. Andrew, a pious Jewish father, has just had his child circumcised. He is happy because he now knows that little Simeon is a part of the covenant community – the visible church. The next day, he hears Peter preach and believes the Gospel. Now, according to Baptist thought, his child is no longer in the visible church. In for one day and out the next.” Books worth buying Jesus loves the little children: why we baptize children by Daniel R. Hyde 96 pages / 2006 At under 100 pages, this book by United Reformed pastor Daniel Hyde can be read in just a few evenings, and it provides a solid foundational understanding. Children of the promise: the biblical case for infant baptism by Robert R. Booth 190 pages / 1995 This will take some time to work through, but with short narrative bits to start each chapter, it is incredibly readable. And with recommendations from Greg Bahnsen, Vern Poythress and Douglas Wilson, it seems everyone likes this book. Baptism: three views edited by David F. Wright 200 pages / 2009 Able defenders of three views – paedobaptism, credobaptism, and the dual view (that both are legitimate) – make their case, and then get to interact with the other two as they critique the offered argument. Video Paedobaptism vs Credobaptism (6 minutes) This, from the producer of the documentary Calvinist, gives a very brief and balanced presentation of the two sides. The intent here is to help define the two sides of the debate, rather than to defend one side or the other. Did the early Church baptize infants (2 min) W. Robert Godfrey explains how much we can know about the practice of baptism in the first 300 years of church history. ...

Theology

#3 - The unknown Commandment

“You shall not take the Name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain.” – Exodus 20:7 ***** It takes just a quick flip through the TV channels to find someone using God’s name in vain. CLICK! An old Friends rerun, and there’s Phoebe using it as a synonym for “okay!” CLICK! A few channels further one of Doctor Who's companions is using God’s name instead of exclaiming “oh no!” CLICK! On the sports channel a commentator decides that “Wow!” just doesn’t suffice. Yes, it’s easy to find people using God’s name in vain, but it’s hard to figure out why they do it. It doesn’t make sense. While TV writers and producers regularly offend viewers, they rarely do so without reason. In a show like Game of Thrones, for example, the producers show a steady diet of sex and violence, knowing it will offend some viewers. But even as Christians are turning off the program, countless others are tuning in for the sex and sleaze. So TV producers are willing to offend, as long as it get them more viewers than it loses. That’s why it’s hard to understand why anyone swears on TV. Using God’s name in vain is sure to offend some viewers, but it’s doubtful anyone out there really watches a show for the swearing. So why do they do it? The same question could be asked in a number of other settings as well. Why is God’s name misused in newspapers, at the office, and in casual conversations? In many of these same settings the dialogue will be remarkably free from crudities – the f-word and others are strictly off limits. But God’s name is still open to abuse. Why? Ignorance isn’t bliss I’m convinced the answer is ignorance. God’s name is abused because Christians don’t object, and because we don’t object, TV scriptwriters, newspaper columnists and even our friends don’t realize that using God’s name in vain is offensive. They’re totally clueless. How clueless? Some years back, when I screwed up the courage to ask a teammate on my rec-league basketball team to stop swearing he was quite willing to oblige. So the next time he missed a shot, instead of stringing God’s name together with the word d--n (as was his usual habit) he restricted himself to just misusing God’s name. He knew d--n was a swear, so he stopped using it, but he continued using God’s name in vain because no one had ever told him it was offensive. Not everyone is this clueless, but it is surprising how many are. It is even more surprising how willing people are to accommodate a request not to swear. When our basketball team’s manager called an impromptu meeting about swearing everyone agreed to try and curtail it. (One player noted that a similar request had been made when he played college ball. Interestingly enough, on that team it wasn’t a Christian who had made the request, but a Mormon.) The non-Christians even had a bunch of questions about which words were more and less offensive. Many of them still swore afterwards, but it was a habit they were trying to break. And all we had to do was ask. How do you ask? The toughest part is the asking. How do you bring it up without sounding holier than thou? The manager on our basketball team took the straightforward approach. He announced that since there were a number of Christians on the team, we would appreciate it if people didn’t swear using God’s name. He said it, everyone agreed, and it was done with. He made it look so very simple. And it should be simple. Not easy, mind you; as simple as it looked, he was the only Christian on the team to actually get up and say what needed to be said. It still takes courage. One of my aunts uses a rather different technique. When someone misuses God’s name while talking with her, she interrupts and asks, “Are you praying?” This generally prompts a very puzzled reply, something to the effect of, “What? Why would you think I was praying?” “Because you just mentioned God’s name, and since we weren’t talking about God, well, why else would you be mentioning God? Or were you just using God’s name for emphasis? Maybe you don’t know, but using God’s name like that is very offensive to Christians, and to God Himself. Please don’t do that.” A friend has written to a popular newspaper columnist who blasphemed. He alerted her to the offensive part of her column and then continued: …many people don't know this, but the way you used God's name there would actually be a violation of the third commandment - You shall not take the Name of the Lord your God in vain. Obviously it would be fine to use God's name if you actually were addressing Him, but in this instance you used it more like an expletive, or as a way to emphasize your point. I know that columnists don't seek to offend without purpose (sometimes they do so with purpose, but that is part of the job) so I thought I would make you aware of this, and ask you to please be careful about it in the future. Thank-you. The columnist never replied but, in the days and weeks that followed, did not abuse God's name again. Conclusion Not everyone is going to honor a request to stop swearing. Some will swear just to tick us off. But our friends and neighbors will care. Employees will listen, if only to cozy up to the boss. Waiters will want nice tips. TV scriptwriters want us to watch their shows. All these people have reasons to listen to what we like and don’t like. We don’t like it when they use God’s name in vain, so let’s let them know....

Theology

PAUL vs. JAMES? Dealing with Bible difficulties

“For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” - Paul, writing in Romans 3:28 “You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone.” - Jam­­es, writing in James 2:24 **** Supposed contradictions in the Bible can be unsettling. I had a few aggressive professors in university who offered up Biblical contradictions in a proselytizing sort of way. They were looking to win converts to their atheistic (or, in one case, theistic evolutionary) ways by attacking the trustworthiness of the Bible. I had attended a Christian high school and had almost entirely Christian friends, so I’d never run into this type of attack before. I didn’t know how to respond. Did trusting God mean just ignoring these challenges? Should I just keep believing despite all these seemingly irreconcilable difficulties being offered? Well, contrary to some popular Christian notions, our faith in God isn’t meant to be blind. We trust Him, not despite the evidence, but because of His track record – He has proven Himself trustworthy again and again. And because we can trust Him, we can go all “Berean” on these supposed contradictions. We can look at them closely, without fear, knowing that because God is true, these contradictions are no contradictions at all. Now, not only can we proceed without fear, we can even delve into these with a spirit of anticipation. Why? Because some of these “contradictions” are among the most enlightening passages of the Bible – we can look closer knowing that by better understanding these difficult passages we are learning more about our God. A CLOSE LOOK AT ONE DIFFICULTY One of the most illuminating “contradictions” occurs in James 2. It’s here that James seems to take a direct shot at much of what Paul writes. In Romans 3:28 and James 2:24 the contrast is clearest. Here Paul takes a stand for faith apart from works, while James is certain that both faith and works are needed. This is a big problem here – the Bible appears to contradict itself about the most important of matters: how we are to be justified! We aren’t the only ones confused. In his book Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament Robert H. Stein calls James 2 the one biblical passage that has “probably caused more theological difficulty than any other.” Martin Luther, who loved Paul’s book of Romans, also had problems with the book of James, in part because of this seeming works vs. faith dilemma. ENGLISH TEACHERS TO THE RESCUE? There is a problem here, but it turns out it is the sort of problem that can be solved by any decent high school English teacher. It was your English teacher who taught you words can have multiple meanings. For example the word bad means both not good (“You are a bad boy!”) and very good (“You is bad boy!") depending on the context. While words have a degree of flexibility to them, there are limits to this flexibility – if a word could mean absolutely anything, no one would know what it meant (the word bad might mean both not good and very good but it doesn’t mean blue, root beer, or canoeing). FAITH The word faith also has a degree of flexibility and even has numerous dictionary meanings. As Robert Stein notes, it can mean any one of the following: a religion (the Hindu faith) a branch of a religion (the Protestant faith) a specific set of theological doctrines (A church’s statement of faith) a living vital trust in God (she has real faith) The problem that many people have with James 2 and the contrasting passages written by Paul, is that they assume both James and Paul are using the word faith in exactly the same way. This isn’t so. If we take a look at the context in which Paul uses the word we find him speaking of: faith that seeks to please Christ (2 Cor. 5:7-9) faith coupled with love for the saints (Ephesians 1:15) a faith like Abraham’s (Romans 4:9) and a faith that is accompanied by the Holy Spirit (Gal. 3:14). James uses the same word quite differently. He talks of: a faith that allows Christians to see brothers in need and ignore them (James 2:14-16) a faith that is purely intellectual (James 2:19) and a faith that even demons have (James 2:19). James and Paul are not using this word the same way! WORKS There is also a notable difference in the way that James and Paul use the word works. Paul talks about works as something men boast about before God (Romans 4:2) or as a legalistic way of earning salvation (Gal. 5:2-4) or as something that people rely on instead of God’s grace (Romans 11:6). James on the other hand talks about works as the natural outgrowth of faith. James’ use of the word works includes Rahab’s hiding of the spies (James 2:25) taking care of the poor and other acts of compassion (James 2:15-16) and works as acts of obedience to God (James 2:21). So again, Paul and James’ meaning is significantly different. THE VALUE  If Paul and James mean different things when they use the words faith and works, then the apparent contradictions between Romans and James, turn out to be no contradictions at all. But it is only by studying these “contradictions” that we can get a proper understanding of the relationship between works and faith. James’ book can be seen as a rebuke to Hyper-Calvinists – people who take the doctrine of salvation by faith alone to mean they don’t have to do good works. Paul’s many letters are a rebuke to people on the other end of the spectrum – Pelagians who believe that they have to earn their own way into heaven by doing good works. And in between these two polar opposites are Calvinists who know that faith without works is indeed dead, but that our works do nothing to earn us salvation. It is indeed by faith alone. And by grace alone. The result of wrestling with this seeming contradiction is that we’ve gained in our understanding of what God has done for us, and what God expects from us! CONCLUSION  So how then are we to deal with supposed Biblical contradictions? Ignorance is not bliss. We don’t need to turn a blind eye. God is trustworthy and that means we can trust that His Word will not contradict itself. We can trust that examining the Bible closely will not be dangerous, but only to our benefit. Trusting God also means that when answers are not so easily had, or just aren’t coming at all, that shouldn’t lead to doubt. We will be able to resolve the vast majority of troubling texts presented to us but we also need to understand some difficulties will remain, and some questions may not be answered for years. Why is that so? Because omniscience is one of God’s attributes, not one of ours. We aren’t going to understand everything. But even if we are limited, there is still so much more we can learn about God. So trust Him enough to seek solutions to any biblical difficulties you’re presented with. And trust Him enough to be content when you only get 9 out of 10 questions answered. There are a number of very helpful books for digging into Bible difficulties including Robert Stein's "Interpreting Puzzling Texts in the New Testament," James W. Sire's "Scripture Twisting: 20 Ways the Cults Misread the Bible," D.A. Carson's "Exegetical Fallacies," and Jay Adams' "Fifty Difficult Passages Explained." ...

Theology

Forgiveness

What a wonderful word! Yet, what does it mean? How do you grant forgiveness; and, for what? As much as Christians talk about forgiveness, you’d think they could tell you all about it. Yet, there is hardly one in a thousand who can give sound, Biblical answers to the questions above. Forgiveness of others is to be modeled on one’s own forgiveness by Christ: “… forgiving one another just as God, in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). Forgiveness must be extended to all who say they repent – even if the offense has been repeated (Cf. Luke 17:3). But it is only to be granted to those who confess wrong-doing, claim to be repentant, and ask forgiveness (Prov. 28:13). In Mk. 11:25, Jesus tells you to forgive those who wronged you when you pray, thereby avoiding bitterness and resentment (Eph. 4:32). But, that is different from granting the wrongdoer forgiveness. You do that only when he repents. Forgiveness of others must reflect god’s forgiveness; He forgave you when you repented. Forgiveness is others-focused Some Christians advise forgiving another whether or not he confesses sin. But they misunderstood forgiveness. They urge this to benefit the one who forgives. Yet, it was for your benefit that God forgave you. Their self-centered concept of forgiveness is unbiblical. God did not forgive you until you repented, admitted you were a sinner, and believed. Indeed, even now, when God dispenses parental forgiveness, He says, “…if you don’t forgive men, then your Father won’t forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:15). Some think when Christ prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them,” He forgave apart from repentance. But Jesus granted no one forgiveness by those words. He was asking God to forgive. Did God answer? Yes. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of those same people were converted, and their sins were forgiven. But, that did not happen apart from the means. Peter called on them to repent and believe in order to receive forgiveness (Cf. Acts 2:38). Pre-emptive forgiveness prevents pursuit Because in forgiving one promises not to bring up the offender’s sin, to him, to others, or to himself, it is not right to forgive before repentance. Jesus requires you to confront an offender (Matt. 18:15ff) in order to bring about reconciliation. If he refuses to listen to you, instead of forgiving him, you must tell one or two others. If he won’t hear them, then you must tell the church. Indeed, apart from repentance, the matter, must be brought up to an increasingly larger number of persons. Why? Through their aid to win the offender. In love, true forgiveness seeks not to relieve the forgiver, but to deliver the offender from his burden of guilt. Out of concern for the other person, the offended party pursues the offender until the matter is settled before God and men. Any bitterness on his part, Jesus said, must be dealt with in prayer. Because forgiveness is a promise not to refer negatively to the offender’s sin any more, it would be utterly inconsistent to forgive an unrepentant person before Church discipline has been successfully used. People who try to be kinder than God, end up becoming cruel to others. The kind thing is not to focus on relief for one’s self, by forgiving others whether they repent or not, but by every Biblical means to win offenders. It may seem unkind to bring matters up again and again when an offender refuses to be reconciled, but you must do so, not to irritate, but to help relieve him of the burden of his sin. To ignore him and focus on one’s self, saying, “feel better since I forgave Bob, even though he didn’t seek forgiveness,” is the epitome of the modern, self-centered psychological heresy. Apologizing is not repenting Seeking forgiveness is not apologizing. There is nothing in the Bible about apologizing – the World’s substitute for forgiveness that doesn’t get the job done. You apologize, and say “I’m Sorry,” but have not admitted your sin. The offended party feels awkward, not knowing how to respond. You are still holding the ball. You asked him to do nothing. But, confess your sin to him saying, “I have asked God to forgive me, and now I’m asking you,” and you pass the ball to the other person. You ask him to bury the matter for good. Jesus commands him to say “yes,” thereby making the promise that God does: “Your sins and you iniquities will I remember against you no more.” That brings the matter to a conclusion. Apologizing does not. Don’t wait! Is there someone to whom you should go ask forgiveness? Has someone sought it from you to whom you said “Once, yes; twice, maybe; three times, no!”? Perhaps there is someone whom you have never confronted about a matter that has brought about an unreconciled condition between you. Are any of these problems outstanding? Then you have business to attend to. Why not settle the matter today? You don’t have to feel like it to forgive. Forgiveness is a promise that you can make and keep, whether you feel like it or not. And, it is easier to forgive another – even when he sins against you seven times a day – when you remember Christ’s great sacrifice for you sins by which He forgave you. And, then too, remember how many times a day He forgives you ever since you have become a believer. One other fact may help. If you have truly forgiven, it isn’t the fifth, or the third; it’s not even the second time. If you have truly buried the matter, truly forgiven – it’s always the first. Dr. Jay Adams is Dean of the Institute for Nouthetic Studies and the author of more than 100 books. This post first appeared on his blog at www.nouthetic.org and is reprinted here with permission....

Humor, Theology

What is humor?

What is humor? It seems a simple question, with a very obvious answer: humor is whatever makes us laugh or smile. But then what of all the cruel pranks and the sacrilegious gags that make so many laugh? Even the crudest of comedians can get big laughs. The fact is, we laugh at a lot of things that just aren’t funny. So we aren’t interested in simply what makes us laugh. Instead we’re going to explore genuine humor, the sort of humor that gets laughs but can be shared without shame – we’re going to explore Christian humor. DEFINITION OF HUMOR Humor is a term used in English since the early eighteenth century to denote a type of writing or speech whose purpose it is to evoke some kind of laughter. So laughter is a key element. But we want to go deeper – we want to go beyond the knock knock joke. Instead of being something merely light or superficial, the best humor depends upon profundity. "A humorous rejoinder, " said Kierkegaard, "must always contain something profound." For example here’s a joke about a person getting their just deserts (as described in Galatians 6:7-8):  While doing his daily rounds a prison chaplain stopped in on a prisoner who had been assigned the task of making pillowcases for the entire 5,000 inmate prison. “Good morning,” said the chaplain, “Sewing, eh?’ “No, Chaplain, “ replied the prisoner with a grim smile. “Reaping.” Elton Trueblood observed that humor takes intelligence: "It is not possible to have genuine humor or true wit without an extremely sound mind, which is always a mind capable to high seriousness and a sense of the tragic." THE NEED FOR HUMOR Sometimes humor is dismissed as being trivial but genuine humor is an important and effective tool in many settings. Properly used, it can allow us to see our lives in more realistic proportions, restrain an explosion of anger, and deliver us from pessimism and despair, and do so much more. For example, it can be a wonderful educational tool and a means to restoring order in a classroom with a smile. It can even be a way to ensure better parent/teacher relations as a wise Grade 1 teacher was said to have done by sending the following note home on the first day of school: "If you promise not to believe everything your child says happens at school, I'll promise not to believe everything he says happens at home.” Humor is a necessity within the church as well. When we lose our sense of proportion and humor, controversies in the church become battlefields. We look for "heretics" in each corner and even tend to look under our bed before we dare to go to sleep. We can be so busy with controversies we can no longer hear the footsteps of our approaching Lord, whose coming is at hand. And how sad it is to see people spend time and energy to paint their position in bright colors and put others in worse light than warranted. We may not build bomb-free shelters where criticism cannot enter. Humor should not be overlooked in evangelism either. It is easy to visit people who are with you, but it is hard when they are filled with bitterness against the Lord and His church. With tact and humor we can make contact with people who are filled with criticism against church members, and especially ministers. Real humor blossoms only where God's Word has taken root. "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones," says Solomon (Prov. 17:23). So a Christian remembers that he is always in the presence of God, and his speech is the gift of the Creator. As Augustine put it: "Speech is not simply our possession; it is God's gift to us. To recognize and acknowledge this gift in truthful words is to offer grateful praise to the One from whom it comes." LAUGH AT YOURSELF All of us ought to be ready to laugh at ourselves because all of us are a little funny in our foibles, conceits and pretensions. What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. The ability to laugh at oneself shows we understand some of our imperfections. A Christian who understands he is living his life under the judging eye of God does not boast about his moral achievements. He understands that is pride and folly. One of the qualifications of a missionary is a sense of humor - while learning a new language and new customs it is easy to make embarrassing blunders. When we were serving in the Philippines, I made my share, and a good laugh at myself helped me survive. But there is another side to laughing at oneself. If we keep laughing when we have done something wrong, if we cannot recognize the real evil of sin, laughter turns into folly. If we continue to laugh after having recognized the depth of evil we have committed, our laughter becomes the instrument of irresponsibility. DISTORTED HUMOR It is easy indeed for humor to be distorted. A.D. Dennison, a Christian cardiologist, says in his 1970s bestseller Shock it to me Doctor that he recalls one man who sped up to a drugstore and asked the druggist if he had anything for hiccups. The druggist, without a word, hit the man between the eyes and knocked him to the floor. The man slowly got up and graciously asked again, "Sir, do you have anything for hiccups?" The druggist replied, "You don't have them any more do you?" The man responded, "No, I never did, but my wife out in the car does." This may be a clever joke, but it’s is devoid of compassion and respect for others. Is this Christian humor? A type of humor often used during war is called "gallows humor." Soldiers are known on occasion to engage in hysterical laughter when nerves are tense before the battle. They speak flippantly of the possible dire fate which might befall this or that man of their company. "Sergeant," a soldier is reported to have said before a battle, "don't let this little fellow go into battle before me. He isn't big enough to stop the bullet meant for me." The "joke" was received with uproarious laughter by the assembled comrades. But when the "little fellow" died in battle the next day, everyone felt ashamed of the joke. At any rate, it was quite inadequate to deal with the depth and breadth of the problem of death. But as the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr points out: "If we persist in laughter when dealing with the final problems of human existence, when we turn life into a comedy, we also reduce it to meaningless. That is why laughter, when pressed to solve the ultimate issue, turns into a vehicle of bitterness rather than joy." HUMOR IN THE BIBLE If we are going to investigate true humor, then we must not overlook the Bible. The Bible deals with very serious subjects – heaven, hell, sin and salvation - but that should not cause us to overlook its literary beauty, and the humor in the Bible. There are critics who regard the Bible as deficient in the sense of humor and they can point to the fact there is little laughter in the Bible. But the Bible is filled with humor. Humor in the Bible appears especially when idolatry is mocked. One powerful example occurs when Isaiah pokes fun at a man who carves an idol from wood. In chapter 44:15-17 he describes in some detail the absurd process: "It is a man's fuel for burning, some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares a meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, ‘Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.’ From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, 'Save me; you are my god.'" GOD LAUGHS  The only instance in which laughter is attributed to God occurs in Psalm 2:4, which says, "The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” This is not a happy image – God is pictured laughing at man and having him in derision because of the vanity of his imagination and pretensions. God mocks kings who plan to divide the world amongst each other, while God says to the Messiah, " I will make the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession" (vs. 8). But the humor in the Bible is not limited to that of derisive laughter. Throughout Scripture God reveals a real sense of humor. When the human race wanted to build a city with a tower that reaches the heavens so that they could make a name for themselves, "the Lord came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building (Gen. 11:5). God acts as if the tower of Babel is so small that He can't see it from heaven – He had to come down to see it. And when Israel is threatened by the Philistines, God uses a most unlikely means to save His people so that the Messiah could come in the fullness of time. What does He do? God writes history with a small stone from a brook. Young David with a small stone smites Goliath and Israel was rescued. JESUS AND LAUGHTER The Heidelberg Catechism confesses that the eternal Son of God took to himself, “a truly human nature so that he might become David's true descendant, in all things like us his brothers except for sin” (Q&A 35). So when we speak about Jesus and humor, we are not disrespectful, We accept His incarnation as real. He was seen as the carpenter's son. Christ's characteristic humor depends, for the most part, upon a combination of ideas rather than upon a combination of words. But it is very important to understand that the purpose of Christ's humor is to clarify and increase understanding rather than to hurt. When Jesus teaches His disciples about being light bearers in this dark world, he uses sly humor about where to put light. The message is about the necessity of witness, but the failure to be a witness is rendered laughable when Jesus asks, "Is a lamp brought in to be put under a bushes, or under a bed, and not on a stand?" (Mark 4:21). Since the lamp mentioned has an open flame, and since the bed is a mattress, it is easy to see that in this situation the light would be suffocated or the mattress would be burned. The appeal here is to the patently absurd. The sensitive laugh; they get the point. When Christ said not to cast pearls before swine (Matt. 7:6), He was again employing the patently absurd to make His point. Christ tells us that we are not to waste precious words or time or effort on those who chronically resist the Gospel. We must remember, of course, that the joke about casting what is precious before the pigs was even more preposterous for a Jewish audience than it is for us. The rejection of pork was deep-seated in their consciousness. Christ's major weapon against the Pharisaic attack was laughter, and He used it fully. The point at which they were most vulnerable was their manifest self-righteousness. There is no one more ridiculous than the sinner who claims to be perfect. Jesus asked the Pharisees, who accused Jesus of casting demons in the name of Beelzebub, "If I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out?" (Matt. 12:27). Jesus pokes fun at the critics, since everyone who listens will realize that the subtle question has no possible answer. Christ's question really means, "By what demonic agency do you perform your miracles?" It is easy to see that the humorous question is a far more effective rejoinder than a serious argument about demons. The severest critics of Christ could not stand ridicule, for seriousness was their central strength. CONCLUSION What then is the secret of true humor? The answer is found in the Gospel. It is to know that you are a forgiven a sinner, to have no illusions about the self, and no inclination to appear morally better than you are, either in the sight of man or of God. Our release from bondage of sin gives joy. This joy expresses itself in an exuberance of which laughter is not the only one, but certainly one, expression. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections....

Adult non-fiction, Theology

Heaven: what can we know?

A summary review of Randy Alcorn's Heaven **** Christians don't seem to speak about Heaven as much as in the past. There is more interest in establishing the Kingdom of God on earth than in preparing for the afterlife. SLOPPY THINKING When Christians do think about Heaven, they seem disconnected from the Scriptures. According to popular thought, where Christians go when they die is the same place they will spend eternity. Even contemporary believers base their thinking on Heaven more on sloppy, syrupy, sentimental television programs than on any clear teaching of Scripture. There is a hint in our attitude toward Heaven that it will be "angelic," that we will end up playing harps on a misty cloud in the "heavens." We will be wearing long white robes, and talking pious talk forever and ever. Some even picture Heaven as a boring place. But these conventional caricatures of Heaven do a terrible disservice to God and adversely affect our relationship with Him. Heaven is not a sing-along in the sky, one great hymn after another, forever and ever. Hell will be deadly boring. Heaven is exciting! Everything good, enjoyable, refreshing, fascinating, and interesting is derived from God. When we have an infinity of newness to explore, we can never be bored. THINKING ABOUT HEAVEN 560 pages / 2004 So why think about Heaven? Because the Scriptures remind us to think on things above. Doing so gives us insight into the brevity of our time on Earth and the value of life eternal. The doctrine of Heaven then, should not be marginalized by the church. Rather, it should be preached, taught, studied and loved. In calling us to this end, theologian/novelist Randy Alcorn, prolific author, founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, has made a beautifully written contribution with his book Heaven. Is Heaven a real place? It's as real as a morning cup of coffee. Ah, but will we drink coffee in Heaven? Alcorn asks, "Can you think of any persuasive reason why coffee trees and coffee drinking wouldn't be part of the resurrected Earth?" His answer? "No." Despite biblical references that this Heaven and Earth will pass away, Alcorn strongly argues – from Scripture, word studies, and historical theology – that the "destruction" of the current Heaven and Earth will be temporary and partial. He firmly believes in the literal fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecies about the Messiah's second coming and the New Earth because Isaiah's detailed prophecies regarding the Messiah's first coming were literally fulfilled. The ultimate fulfillment of hosts of Old Testament prophecies will be on the New Earth, where the people of God will "possess the land forever" (Isaiah 60:21). Alcorn states, therefore, that God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of a New Heaven and a New Earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with the resurrected Jesus. THE RESURRECTION The key to understanding the New Earth is the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are told that Jesus' resurrected body on Earth was physical, and that this same, physical Jesus ascended to Heaven, from which he will one day return to Earth (Acts 1:11). Alcorn states that the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of redemption – both for mankind and for the earth. Indeed, without Christ's resurrection and what it means – an eternal future for fully restored human beings dwelling on a fully restored Earth – there is no Christianity. Because we know that Christ's resurrected body is physical and that our resurrected bodies will be like his, there isn't a compelling reason to assume that other physical depictions of the New Earth must be figurative. Consequently, the predominant belief that the ultimate Heaven that God prepares for us will be unearthly could not be more unbiblical. Earth was made for people to live on, and people were made to live on Earth. Alcorn also believes that Christ's redemptive work extends resurrection to the far reaches of the universe. "The power of Christ's resurrection is enough not only to remake us, but also to remake every inch of the universe – mountains, rivers, plants, animals, stars, nebulae, quasars, and galaxies." THE INTERMEDIATE STATE Christians often think about Heaven as their final destination. However, this belief is not based on Scripture. Alcorn explains the difference between the present (or intermediate) Heaven, where Christians go when they die, and the ultimate, eternal Heaven, where God will dwell with his people on the New Earth. When we die in Christ we will not go to Heaven where we'll live forever. Instead, we'll go to an intermediate Heaven. In the intermediate Heaven, we'll wait for the time of Christ's return to Earth, our bodily resurrection, the final judgment, and the creation of the New Heaven and New Earth. The intermediate Heaven then is a temporary dwelling place, a stop along the way to our final destination: the New Earth. In the intermediate Heaven, being with God and seeing His face is its central joy and the source of all other joys. We will be fully conscious, rational, and aware of each other. We will know what is happening on Earth. We will be distinct individuals, live in anticipation of the future fulfillment of God's promises. We will be reunited with believing friends and family. We will be one big family. We will be aware of passing of time. But we will never be all that God has intended for us to be until body and spirit are again joined in the resurrection. CHRISTOPLATONISM Why do we find it so difficult to grasp that the intermediate Heaven is not our final destination? Alcorn rightly blames the influence of the ancient Greek philosopher Plato. Plato believed that material things, including the human body and the Earth, are evil, while immaterial things such as the soul and Heaven are good. He asserted that the spirit's highest destiny is to be forever free from the body. This view is called Platonism. The Christian church, highly influenced by Platonism, came to embrace the "spiritual" view that human spirits are better off without bodies and that Heaven is, therefore  a disembodied state. From a christoplatonic perspective, therefore, our souls merely occupy our bodies, like a hermit crab inhabits a seashell, and our souls could naturally – or even ideally – live in a disembodied state. Christoplatonism has had a devastating effect on our ability to understand what Scripture says about Heaven, particularly about the eternal Heaven, the New Earth. The Bible, however, contradicts Christoplatonism from the beginning of Genesis to the end of Revelation. It says that God is the Creator of body and spirit; both were marred by sin, and both were redeemed by Christ. THE NEW HEAVEN AND EARTH  The New Heaven and Earth is a real, tangible place. The New Earth has dirt, water, rocks, trees, flowers, animals, people, rain, snow, wind and a variety of natural wonders. An Earth without these would not be Earth. Alcorn believes there will be animals from various nations. He believes these animals have souls, though not the same type as humans. Alcorn firmly believes that we will be eating and drinking in the New Earth. However, there won't be marriages. Alcorn notes that the institution of marriage will have fulfilled its purpose. The only marriage will be between Christ and His bride – and we'll be part of it. The city at the centre of the New Earth is called the New Jerusalem. The ground level of the city will be nearly two million miles. Alcorn suggest that we will walk on streets of real gold. The New Jerusalem will be a place of extravagant beauty and natural wonders. It will be a vast Eden, integrated with the best of human culture, under the reign of Christ. More wealth than has been accumulated in all human history will be spread freely across this immense city. We will also have our own homes. In this New Earth we will also enjoy periods of rest. Alcorn says that God prescribed rest for sinless Adam and Eve, and He prescribed it for those under the curse of sin. Hence, regular rest will be part of the life to come in the new universe. Alcorn argues that there will be a government on the New Earth. The need of government didn't come about as a result of sin. God governed the universe before Satan fell. Likewise, He created mankind as his image-bearers, with the capacity for ruling, and before Adam and Eve sinned, God specifically commanded them to rule the Earth. On the New Earth there will be no sin. Therefore, all ruling will be just and benevolent, devoid of abuse, corruption, or lust for power. As co-rulers with Christ, we'll share in the glory of the sovereign ruler himself. We will become the stewards, the managers of the world's wealth and accomplishments. Alcorn believes in the transformation of the entire universe. If the new creation is indeed a resurrected version of the old, then there will be a New Venus, after all. In the same way that the New Earth will be refashioned and still be a true Earth, with continuity to the old, the new cosmic heavens will likewise be the old renewed. It will provide unimaginable territories for us to explore and establish dominion over them to God's glory. And if Christ expands His rule by creating new worlds, whom will He send to govern them on his behalf? His redeemed people. Some may rule over towns, some cities, some planets, some solar systems or galaxies. Alcorn comments, "Sound far-fetched? Not if we understand Scripture and science." CULTURE Alcorn notes that Scripture is clear that in some form, at least, what's done on Earth to Christ's glory will survive. But he also argues that cultural products of once pagan nations will be brought in by its people "proclaiming the praise of the Lord" (Isaiah 60:6). Treasures that were once linked to idolatry and rebellion will be gathered into the city and put to God-glorifying use. Alcorn believes that Isaiah and Revelation indicate that these products of human culture will play an important role on the New Earth. But the idea of bringing into the New Heaven and Earth cultural products is also a much disputed idea. Will we still want these treasures when our whole environment will be different? He says that there will be technology, machinery, business and commerce. There will be music, dancing, storytelling, art, entertainment, drama, and books. We will design crafts, technology, and new modes of travel. We will not only work in the New Earth, we will keep on learning. Alcorn looks forward to reading nonfiction books that depict the character of God and the wonders of his universe. "I'm eager to read new biographies and fiction that tell powerful redemptive stories, moving our hearts to worship God." Interestingly, he also believes that the Bible will be in Heaven. "Presumably, we will read, study, contemplate, and discuss God's Word." But why would there be a Bible in Heaven? The Bible serves God's people in this world as a guide for their lives and to strengthen their faith. In Heaven there is no need for the Bible. We see then God face to face. We witness then the fulfillment of His promises. ETERNAL REWARDS  Alcorn argues that God will hand out different rewards and positions. He says that our works do not affect our salvation, but they do affect our rewards. The rewards hinge on specific acts of faithfulness on Earth that survive the believer's judgment and are brought into Heaven with us. Alcorn believes that the position of authority and the treasures we're granted in Heaven will perpetually remind us of our life on Earth, because what we do on Earth will earn us those rewards. IMAGINATION AND SPECULATION Alcorn asserts that God expects us to use our imagination in describing Heaven, even as we recognize its limitations and flaws. He states that because the Bible gives a clear picture of the resurrection and of earthly civilization in the eternal state, he is walking through a door of imagination that Scripture itself opens. He writes: "If God didn't want us to imagine what Heaven will be like, he wouldn't have told us as much about it as he has." But at times his imagination gets the best of him. He repeatedly uses the words "perhaps" and "speculation." For example, he claims that perhaps intermediate bodies in the intermediate Heaven – or at least a physical form of some sort – serve as bridges between our present bodies and our resurrected bodies. He suggests that our guardian angels or loved ones already in Heaven will be assigned to tutor us. We could also discuss ministry ideas with Luis Palau, Billy Graham, or Chuck Colson. He also argues that we will explore space. He suggests that to view the new heavens, we might travel to the far side of the moon and other places where stargazing is unhindered by light and atmospheric distortions. HEAVENLY MINDED. EARTHLY GOOD.  Thinking about Heaven should impact the way we live on Earth. Alcorn comments that understanding Heaven doesn't just tell us what to do, but why. It is incentive for righteous living to the glory of God. Anticipating our homecoming will motivate us to live spotless lives here and now. In other words, what God tells us about our future lives enables us to interpret our past and serve Him in our present life. EVALUATION Alcorn quotes frequently from the writings of many Reformed authors, including Francis Schaeffer, Al Wolters, Anthony Hoekema, Herman Ridderbos, Jonathan Edwards, John Calvin, Cornelis Venema, Paul Marshall and Richard Mouw. He is also greatly indebted to writings of C.S. Lewis and A.W. Tozer. His work clearly shows the impact these scholars made on him. But Alcorn also adds his own perspectives on the life to come. He writes: "I will try to make the case carefully and biblically. There is plenty in this book for everyone to disagree with." I have already stated a few of my disagreements, so let me now state a few more. Alcorn overly quotes from his own writings. His "works equal rewards" theology is questionable. I can't find any Biblical support for his suggestion that God might create new beings for us to rule over in the afterlife. The rich concept of Sabbath rest gets short thrift – rest is not something physical; it is spiritual. It is not negative, what we do or not do, but positive, something we have. This rest is a gift from God, something we enjoy in close association with Him. I suggest that Alcorn thinks about Heaven too much from an egocentric viewpoint – focusing in on what interests us the most. With all the discussions of what we may do in Heaven, we easily forget that Heaven is the place of habitation of the Triune God. I also have questions about the purpose of Alcorn's speculations. We must not say more than Scripture. God has not revealed to us what the new cosmos will be like. We don't know anything about extra territorial space travel. We easily forget that the apostle Paul says: "No eye has seen no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit" (1 Cor. 2:9,10). But my critical observations don't take away the appreciation I have for Alcorn's work. He gives new insights, and makes you think about the best that is yet to come for God's people. Rev. Johan Tangelder (1936-2009) wrote for Reformed Perspective for 13 years. Many of his articles have been collected at Reformed Reflections. This article first appeared in the 2005 July/August issue....

Theology

Did Abraham really exist?

Evangelicals are debating the historicity of Adam, but they are too timid. It is time to reject fundamentalist distortions of the Abrahamic narrative just as decisively as we have abandoned literalistic readings of Genesis 1–3. Clinging to discredited biblical accounts of Abraham as if these events actually happened makes us look like Neanderthals, undermines the plausibility of our witness, and ultimately overturns the Gospel. To defend the Gospel and uphold the authority of the Bible, we need to reckon with the myth of Abraham. So starts a brilliant piece of satire by Dr. Peter Leithart, a minister of the Communion of Reformed Evangelical Churches. Here are some further excerpts: The historical evidence is overwhelming and need not be rehearsed here. It is sufficient to point the curious reader to Hans Georg Unglauber’s definitive study, popularly known as Die Suche nach dem historischen Abraham but originally published as Abraham: Historie oder Pferd-Geschichte? Unglauber shows that there is not a shred of independent evidence for the existence of Abraham, much less for any of the events recorded in Genesis. But our faith does not stand or fall on the uncertain deliverances of historical scholarship. Scripture is our rule. The biblical writers deployed the full arsenal of ancient literary conventions, and their texts are full of sly authorial signals that they are not supposed to be taken literally... The story of Abraham’s exodus (Gen. 12:10–20) is obviously modeled on Israel’s Egyptian sojourn and exodus (which most likely never happened either). By shaping this narrative to mimic later myths, the author indicates that the episode is not to be taken seriously as history. Genesis 12, like the exodus narrative, teaches that God delivers. It does not matter whether or not God has ever actually delivered anyone. The moral stands: God is our deliverer... After we dispose of Adam and Abraham, Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, and Jeremiah are next. And why stop there? Like Genesis, the Gospels are ancient literature. The Evangelists were no more concerned about facts than the authors of the Pentateuch, and for those enlightened enough to see, the Gospels are replete with hints that they are mythic symbolizations of profound, enduring truth. Only when it is stripped of the mythology of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus will the Bible be firmly established as our inerrant rule of faith. We must die to our modern demand to know “what happened” and recognize that Scripture is infallible only when it is thoroughly de-historicized. Then we will arrive finally at the fullness of Christian faith, the Church of Christ Without Jesus. The full article, "The Abraham Myth", was published at First Things. Addressing Faulty Hermeneutics Dr. Leithart's parody is aimed at Biblical scholars, such as Dr. Peter Enns, who question much of the historicity of Gen.1-11. For example, Enns has argued: Paul, as a first-century Jew, bore witness to God’s act in Christ in the only way that he could have been expected to do so, through ancient idioms and categories known to him and his religious tradition for century upon century.  One can believe that Paul is correct theologically and historically about the problem of sin and death and the solution that God provides in Christ without also needing to believe that his assumptions about human origins are accurate.  The need for a savior does not require a historical Adam.... ....A proper view of inspiration will embrace the fact that God speaks by means of the cultural idiom of the authors – whether it be the author of Genesis in describing origins or how Paul would later come to understand Genesis.  Both reflect the setting and limitations of the cultural moment.  – The Evolution of Adam, p.143 Enns has in fact responded to Leithart, defending his approach. Interestingly, Enns doesn't rule out Leithart's argument that Enns' demythologization of Adam might equally well apply to Abraham: Even though the literary styles of Genesis 12 and chapters 1-11 are consistent with each other, thus suggesting one narrative, their content is quite different, which is why biblical scholars don’t call the Abraham story “myth” but something else – like legend or political propaganda. In other words, what holds for the Adam story may or may not hold for the Abraham story. Leithart, in his reply to Enns, stresses his main point: that the same sort of arguments that Enns and others use to dismiss the historicity of Adam can equally well be applied elsewhere in Scripture. Also, he notes that Enns often accepts as fact that which is merely archaeological conjecture or scholarly fad. Moreover, Enns is mistaken to think that we can give up Paul's belief in a historical Adam while retaining Paul’s doctrine of Adam. The Bible is not a collection of stories illustrating doctrine and morals. It’s a record of God’s actions in history for the redemption of the world. We cannot peel off the historical husk of the Bible and retain its nourishing didactic kernel. Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? And why stop at Abraham? Richard Klaus has remarked on the close similarity between the argumentation used by Enns to argue against an historical Adam, and that of others to argue against the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ. Both maintain, for example, that the mythological worldview of ancient Israel has been invalidated by modern science, that we should not read the Bible in a naive literalist sense, that the Bible writers were just children of their time, that the Bible's theological truths don't demand historical veracity, etc. Consider, for example, an interview with retired Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong. Spong insists that Christianity doesn't need a supernatural miracle to be established: I don’t think the Resurrection has anything to do with physical resuscitation, I think it means the life of Jesus was raised back into the life of God, not into the life of this world, and that it was out of this that his presence — not his body — was manifested to certain witnesses. He thinks the Resurrection must be placed in its proper context to be correctly interpreted and understood: I tried to help people get out of that literalism... When people hear it, they grab on to it. They could not believe the superstitious stuff and they were brainwashed to believe that if they could not believe it literally they could not be a Christian. A Christian is one who accepts the reality of God without the requirement of a literal belief in miracles...What the Resurrection says is that Jesus breaks every human limit, including the limit of death, and by walking in his path you can catch a glimpse of that. And I think that’s a pretty good message. It's no message at all, according to Paul: "If Christ has not been raised then your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins" (1 Cor.15:17). Here, with Spong's denial of the Gospel, we reach the logical conclusion of Enns' demythologizing trajectory. Happily, Dr. Enns still affirms the physical resurrection of Christ. But on what basis? Not on the grounds of a simple, "because the Bible tells me so." This article is reprinted with permission from a 2016 post on Dr. John Byl's blog Bylogos. The picture is by Guido Reni with his “St. Joseph” standing in for Abraham....

Theology

Dealing with the Bible’s troubling texts

Whether it's passages about slavery, or gender roles, or the imprecatory Psalms, some sections of Scripture make Christians uncomfortable. God’s command to kill all the Canaanites in Deut. 20:16-18 is one example. Here we read: But in the cities of these peoples that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance, you shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall devote them to complete destruction, the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, as the Lord your God has commanded, that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices that they have done for their gods, and so you sin against the Lord your God. When confronted with a text like this, a liberal Christian will offer a full-throated apology. “The text doesn’t mean what it says,” he’ll explain, “because the writer was confused about what God wanted Israel to do – God didn’t want anyone killed.” The conservative Christian, who professes the Bible to be the Word of God, knows better than to explain away the passage. If God said it, it must be right – that’s what our heads tell us. But our hearts might say something different – this is genocide! So we split the difference and instead of an apology, we are simply apologetic. We try to modify the apparent nastiness by focusing on whatever good we find, maybe noting that this was just a one-time command, for only a particular situation. And we’ll point out that this same God who is punishing the Canaanites is also the loving God who took our deserved punishment on Himself by coming to earth in the person of the Son. Good points, all. But there is more going on here, and being apologetic is getting in the way of understanding what God is telling us about Himself, and about ourselves in this passage. It’s only when we approach a troubling text like this in humility, with a desire not simply to get past it but actually understand it, that we can search its depths. A closer look at Deut. 20:16-18 will reveal that God’s command here should be understood in the context of Genesis 15:13-16. It’s there that God tells Abraham his ancestors are going to have to wait 400 years to take possession of the land of Canaan. Why so long? Because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.” What was this “sin of the Amorites”? Leviticus 18 details it as including incest, adultery, homosexuality, child sacrifice, and bestiality. So, it’s by digging into these passages on the Canaanite destruction that we learn: God is holy – We minimize evil, especially when it’s our own. But God will not overlook evil. We think we’re not so bad – In objecting to the destruction of the Canaanites, we misunderstand our sinful nature. Sure, as Christians, we speak of deserving hell…but we don’t really believe it, not of ourselves, and not of the Amorites. We object to their destruction because we think they couldn’t actually have deserved it. But in sharing this passage, God wants to clear away that kind of delusion… about the Amorites, and ourselves. God is patient – He waited 400 years to deliver a deserved judgment, and today too, even as the West kills millions of its own unborn children each year, God is being patient. But as Proverbs 29:1 makes clear, if we stubbornly reject His rebukes, our destruction could happen suddenly. We should not put off our own repentance. God is gracious – There is a reason these lands were taken from the Amorites, but the Israelites hadn’t done anything to deserve getting them. It goes to show there’s lots to love in troubling texts! And if we avoid a passage like Deut. 20, then we rob ourselves of a better understanding of our own depravity, our need for a Savior, and the holiness and graciousness of God. Worse when we are embarrassed by such passages we are judging God and saying, at least implicitly, that He isn’t living up to our standards. That is an arrogance that we need to repent of. Now, that doesn’t mean we have to pretend there are no troubling passages in the Bible. It only means we need to recognize the fault lies with us, not God....

Theology

Heaven-bound: What will it be like?

We've all been told there's no such thing as a stupid question. And we all know that just isn't so. That may be why in our desire to avoid the embarrassment of asking that big dumb one, many seemingly silly, but actually good, even important, questions go unasked. And I think that's particularly true when it comes to the topic of heaven. So, for example, many of us may remember back in our younger years, wondering if heaven was going to be boring. The idea of strumming on a harp and singing all day, every day, isn’t appealing to most children (nor to many musically inept adults). But while this question bothers many kids, few will ask it out loud – even at a young age they’ve discovered asking these sorts of questions can be embarrassing. Adults also have “heaven questions” that go unasked. What is heaven going to be like? When we get there will we remember our time here on earth? And will we recognize each other in heaven? When these questions are raised they rarely get treated with much respect. Instead of garnering thoughtful responses, questions about heaven are usually answered with another question: Does it really matter? After all, we’re going to get to heaven soon enough and then we’ll find out exactly what it’s like, so what’s the use in thinking about it now? What’s the point? Comfort and correction Well, when we turn to Scripture we find out there are at least two reasons to learn more about heaven. First, many of the heavenly descriptions are a means of comfort to us. Those who weep now will laugh in heaven . Mourning, crying and pain will end and God himself will wipe away every tear from our eyes . Yes, here on earth we may have to suffer, stumble, and endure but we can do so knowing that God has prepared a heavenly reward for us . And God does more than comfort us with His descriptions of heaven – He also uses them to correct our misdirected desires. You see, Satan loves to use our desires, even our desires for God and heaven. If he can twist them, just a bit, he can use them to point us in exactly the wrong direction. For example, a friend recently told me about his desire for a “great teacher.” He had learned from some of the smartest men alive, and yet, ultimately, they had all disappointed him. They might provide great insight in one area, and yet be blind in another. This friend wanted to be able to sit at the feet of a great teacher, and just learn. He was very surprised when I told him that what he was really looking for was Jesus. He had wasted all this time trying to satisfy a desire that couldn’t be met here on earth; it was one that could only be fulfilled in heaven. In his book In Light of Eternity Randy Alcorn gives another example of this misdirected desire. A couple in his congregation wanted to give more to the church but also had a strong desire for a “perfect home” in the country. Was that desire wrong? “Not at all,” Alcorn noted. “In fact the dream of a perfect home is from God. It’s just that such a dream cannot and will not be fulfilled in this life.” That perfect home does exist though, but we have to look to heaven for it, where Jesus has prepared just such a place for us . All of us have misdirected desires. We might be looking for that special someone who will finally complete us, or the friend who will totally understand us, or that career that will fulfill us. All of us are busy storing up treasures here on earth, investing our time and energy into things that will rust away or be broken, the sorts of things that will be destroyed by fire when Christ returns. If we focused more on heaven, talked more about it, and thought more about it, perhaps then we would start trying to store up treasures there instead of here. So will heaven be boring? That’s why it’s worthwhile thinking about heaven. Now what will it actually be like? Let’s try and answer a few of those questions.  When we get to heaven will we remember our time here on earth? It would seem we will have to remember our time on earth, as we are going to be called to give an account for our every earthly word and deed . Works done in faithfulness will follow us into heaven, where we will be rewarded for them . so it seem clear we will remember these acts as well. Revelation 6:9-11 gives a glimpse into heaven where the martyrs there remember what happened to them on earth – they call out to God to avenge their blood. And the fact that the crucifixion scars remain in Christ’s eternal resurrected body seems to be conclusive proof that we will remember earth. These scars will forever bear witness to what He did for us; they will be a constant reminder of just how undeserving we were, and how gracious and merciful God is. Since we are gong to remember our time on earth that means what we do here is a foundation for our eternal life. This is only the beginning, but it is a beginning we will build on later in heaven . Will we recognize each other in heaven? Some think that since in heaven we will “no longer marry nor be given in marriage”  we will no longer recognize our marriage partners or any of our other past relationships made on earth. But that reads far too much into a single text. Many other passages in the Bible would suggest that we will recognize each other. For example, in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus , the rich man recognizes both Lazarus and Abraham in heaven. When Moses and Elijah come down from heaven for Jesus’ Transfiguration  they were still recognizable as Moses and Elijah. And according to Luke 16:9 the friends we make through our generosity here on earth will remember us in heaven and welcome us into their eternal dwellings. So friendships, interrupted for a time by death, can continue on in heaven. Will heaven be boring? One of Satan’s biggest lies is his portrayal of heaven as a tedious place of idleness and enforced endless singing. We are not going to be idle in heaven – we’re going to reign with Christ, and be assigned responsibilities based on what we did on earth – and when we sing it will be because we can’t contain the praise within us (and even the musically inept will now be able to carry a tune). Have you ever been to a wedding where the bride beamed happiness? Where the joy just spilled out of her? Her joy is but a pale reflection of the greater Joy we will experience in heaven. Everything good and amazing here on earth, from the Niagara Falls to the Grand Canyon to the intricacy and wonder of a single living cell, reflect only a tiny part of the glory of their Creator. And in heaven we will finally be able to see Him face to face . Face to face! Heaven will be the very opposite of boring! Though most every reader will find some points of disagreement, Randy Alcorn's book "Heaven" is a great, biblically-rooted look at what God has planned for us after this life. It is an encouragement and challenge to Christians - highly recommended! https://youtu.be/zOL8jkWy8MY...

Theology

Did Adam have enough time to name all the animals?

Some people argue that the activities assigned to Adam on the sixth day, described in Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:19-20, were too many for him to have been completed in a single 24-hour day. The activity of naming all the animals, in particular, would have needed much more time. And if he couldn't have done it in 24 hours, then this would contradict the literal interpretation of the six days of creation, forcing us to opt for a non-literal interpretation of these days. Let us examine this argument more closely to see if it is valid. Adam finished the task In Genesis 2:19-20 we read: "Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him." According to this text, Adam actually finishes naming the animals that God has shown him – he completes all this activity even before the creation of Eve. We can see, then, that this wasn't a task Adam was supposed to accomplish over the course of the rest of his life, or which he could have shared with his future wife, or which he could have passed on to future generations (as it was the case for the mandate to rule over the earth and over the animals). Adam indeed named all the animals that God has shown him before the end of the sixth day. God presented the animals to Adam So we can see that Adam had some tight time constraints. But we also read, concerning the animals that Adam had to name, that God "brought them to the man." This detail is not trivial. Adam did not need to go everywhere looking for these animals. The Lord brought them to him. We can well imagine that this would make greatly increase the speed at which Adam could name the animals, greatly reducing the duration of the naming process. The species of animals named were limited We should remember that Adam wasn't called to name every animal. The animals named were "all livestock," "every bird of the heavens," and "every beast of the field." The latter category may correspond to terrestrial mammals. The text doesn’t say anything about Adam naming the fish of the sea, other marine organisms, insects, arachnids, reptiles or dinosaurs (distinguished from terrestrial animals in Genesis 1:24), which excludes a large number of species. For example, the arthropods – excluded from this list – are by far the phylum that counts the greatest number of species of the animal kingdom (80% of known species, more than one and a half million living species: trilobites, crustaceans, arachnids, insects, etc.). For this first exhibition of animal kind, God left aside the strangest "creeping and crawling" creatures and presented to Adam only the most useful (livestock) and beautiful (birds, mammals) specimens of His collection. Thus Adam named only a small fraction of all the animals created by God, which greatly reduced his work. The sort of naming Adam was doing On the sixth day, Adam was not doing taxonomy, in the sense that he did not need to describe the living organisms or to classify them in a specific system. All that God proposed to him was to name them. It was not necessary for Adam to give names that would be used as a basis for a rigorous classification. Furthermore, it seems that God did not give any specific orders to Adam about this activity. The text simply says that God "brought them to the man to see what he would call them." Adam did not have to give specific names to each animal neither was he requested to follow a rigorous method. It is therefore possible that God presented to ​​Adam successive groups of birds gathered according to what we call genus, family, or even order. Genesis says that Adam named all livestock, all the birds of heaven, and all the beasts of the field. However, this can be achieved in various ways. Today the class called "birds" lists almost 10,000 known species, distributed in 29 orders, including more than 200 families and 2,200 genera. As for the class called "mammals" (including marine mammals), it includes more than 5,400 species, distributed in 29 orders, 153 families, and 1,229 genera. God may have presented to Adam a first group of birds that included every type of pheasants, partridges, cocks, quails, that Adam could have generally named chickens. Then God could have presented another group of birds including mergansers, scoters, mallards, teals, etc., that Adam could have all named ducks. It was legitimate for God to do so for practical reasons of simplicity and efficiency. Although less detailed than if he had named all the specimens to the species, this way of naming fully complies with the nature of the activity of naming according to the Bible. There was no problem, therefore, to do all this work in less than half a day. There were fewer species We must also understand the phenomenon of speciation, which took place during the period of time between the creation of the first "kinds" of animals and today. Speciation is a rapid increase in the number of species due to the loss of genetic information in the genera originally created by God. This is a phenomenon that goes in the opposite direction to the transformism taught by the neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. Evolution in the technical sense (and not the blurred meaning of "change"), involves a slow but significant increase in genetic information in order to achieve the tremendous transformation involved in the production of a man from the first tiny living cell (a phenomenon never observed by any modern scientist, admitted by Richard Dawkins). Speciation, in contrast, is a scientific phenomenon frequently observed, that some Christians mistakenly call "micro-evolution" (a very unhappy and confusing designation, since speciation has nothing to do with evolution, which goes in the opposite direction). For example, the initial "canine" genus created by God on the sixth day could have contained in its genetic material all the genes capable of producing all the many breeds of dogs and wolves that we know today. In order to subsequently see the appearance of the many breeds of modern dogs, with the observable traits of each race (phenotype), the process of speciation had to happen. To have dogs with short legs only, it was necessary to remove from the line all individuals with long legs, thereby eliminating the genetic information "long legs" from this line. This loss of genetic information occurring in only a few generations has resulted in a rapid increase in the number of subspecies. In many cases, speciation is so marked that it is impossible for different lines coming from the same original "kind" to reproduce together. It is quite possible that in the beginning God created a couple of big cats, producing thereafter all extant species of cats (lions, leopards, tigers, etc.) through the rapid process of speciation. The same applies to other kinds of mammals and birds. In short, the species included in the "livestock," the "birds of heavens" and the "field animals" that God presented to ​​Adam were probably far fewer than today. Obviously, God gave Adam less work than he gave to modern taxonomists. Adam was smarter than us Theistic evolutionists and progressive creationists often make the mistake of projecting the conditions of life as we know them today on the special and unique period during which God performed His creative works. Thus they think that Adam had similar capabilities to ours. But what do we know exactly about Adam’s intellectual capacity to claim that he was unable to perform the task of naming the animals in only one day? It is extremely difficult for us to imagine a man who could have had much greater intellectual abilities than us. But the brain of Adam was undoubtedly greatly superior to those of Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein together, because man had not yet suffered the destructive effects of sin greatly affecting our present intellectual capacity. We must let Adam have the freedom to have been much smarter than us and to have been fully capable of naming in a single day all the animals that God has shown him, without even becoming tired. Why would God made ​​Adam languish? Note that the activity of naming the animals is surrounded by the "problem" of Adam’s solitude. First, God noticed this loneliness and expressed His intention to create a companion for him. "The Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (2:18). Then God came to present the animals to Adam, to see what he would call them, which Adam did (2:19-20). Finally Adam himself expressed his newly discovered emptiness, as a clear conclusion of his naming of the animals. "But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him" (2:20). From this text it seems clear that one of the main purposes for which God presented to ​​Adam the animals was to awaken him to the reality of his solitude. As he watched all these animals that were passing before him, Adam must have realized that they were all male and female, while he had no "female" with him. In sum, the development of a taxonomic system was not the sole purpose of the presentation of these animals (otherwise God would have asked Adam to also name all the fish of the seas and all the other small terrestrial creatures). This exercise was also intended to make Adam sigh and to prepare him to be grateful for the wonderful gift that God had already planned to give him. So why would it have been necessary for God to impose upon Adam an activity requiring a long period of time? This would have suggested either the stupidity of Adam – who would have needed a lot of time before realizing he had no companion of the opposite sex with him – or the perverse pleasure of God in making Adam languish before finally giving him the companion after which he sighed. Adam was not stupid and did not need a long time before realizing his loneliness. As to his Creator, He had no malicious intent and even longed to give him this much needed companion. God therefore had no reason to prolong the activity of naming the animals before finally giving him the gift of a wife and of marriage. This activity was accomplished in less than one day In conclusion, the argument claiming that Adam had to do too many tasks in one day – supposedly causing a problem to the literal interpretation of the days of creation – seems to be an ad hoc argument, created from scratch to annoy and disrupt those who believe in literal days. There is no reason to doubt or to question that all the activities of the sixth day – listening to God’s mandate to keep the garden, being ordered not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, naming the animals and finally rejoicing with his wife – have occurred within a day of normal length, the literal sixth day of creation. All this to the glory of God alone and to the greatest good of man… and woman! End notes For a complete catalogue of the birds of the whole world, one may consult with profit and wonder the fabulous website The World Bird Database, administered by the Quebec ornithologist Denis Lepage For a complete catalogue of the mammals of the whole world, see the wonderful website Mammal Species of the World See the list of pure and impure animals in Leviticus 11, named according to broader categories than the species, nevertheless sufficient for the Israelites to be able to clearly distinguish them. We know the example of the mule, a hybrid of a horse and a donkey, but unable to reproduce. It is astonishing to see some scientists today who can produce what they call "zorses" (hybrid zebra/horse), "zenkeys" (hybrid zebra/donkey), "ligers" (hybrid lion/tiger), "wholphins" (hybrid whale/dolphin). An eloquent testimony to the speciation that happened not so long ago! I suggest that you consult the famous website creation.com and that you look for the word "speciation." You will find many articles about this subject. We may say something similar about the number of species that embarked into Noah’s ark. Rev. Paulin Bédard is an ERQ minister, and pastor of the Reformed Church of Saint-Georges, Quebec. He is the author of In Six Days God Created, which analyzes and rebuts the Framework Hypothesis, and tackles other figurative interpretations of the days of creation. ...

Theology

What leads to true repentance? Godly vs. worldly sorrow

A child caught stealing a cookie may burst out in tears. But what is it that they are crying about? Is it for their sin? Or is it for getting caught? And even if they are sad about what they've done, is that any assurance that they won't be back at the cookie jar once their guilt feeling fades? Adults, too, feel sorrow when they are caught sinning. But is this sorrow evidence of true repentance? Charles Spurgeon addressed these questions in a July 31, 1881 sermon exploring what God tells us in 2 Corinthians 7:10: "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death." There we learn that there are two kinds of sorrow for sin, and that only one of them produces true repentance. What follows is a modernized excerpt from his sermon. ***** Some seem to think that merely being sad about a sin is repentance; but it is not. Read the text, and you will at once see that it is not. "Godly sorrow produces repentance." It is an agent employed in producing repentance, but it is not itself repentance. Sorrow is not repentance We see that out in the world, where there is a great deal of sorrow on account of sin that is certainly not repentance, and never leads to it. Some are sorry for only a time; they are convicted of guilt, but that soon passes. Others are sorry for their sin because of the consequences it will have on their lives here on earth, while many more are brought to grief thinking about sin's eternal consequences – they are afraid of hell. This last group would be delighted if it could be proved that there is no God. They are actually fond of their sins and would love to keep on committing them, but they sorrow because they know how a just God will deal with them. That kind of sorrow is also not repentance. A moth may burn its wings in the candle, and then, full of pain, fly back to the flame. There is no repentance in the moth, though there is pain; and so, there is no repentance in some men, though there is in them a measure of sorrow on account of their sin. Do not, therefore, make the mistake of thinking that sorrow for sin is, or even necessarily leads to, repentance. No repentance without sorrow Next, do not fall into the other mistake, and imagine that there can be such a thing as repentance without sorrow for sin – there can never be such a thing! I heard a person say, quite flippantly, that it was a great thing to know the Greek language because then you could discover that repentance "simply means a change of mind." Yes, it does mean a change of mind, but what a change of mind! It is an entire and total change of mind, a turning of the mind right around, so that it hates what once it loved and loves what once it hated – it no longer puts bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; darkness for light, and light for darkness. It judges righteous judgment, for the change of mind is thorough and complete; I therefore say that there is no repentance, that is worth anything, which is not accompanied by sorrow for sin. Just consider the matter for a moment. Here is a man who says, "I repent." But are you really sorry that you sinned? "No," he replies. Then, my dear sir, you cannot have truly repented, for even someone who has not yet repented will often still be sorry for having done wrong. So much more then, when a man is convinced that he has transgressed against God, he ought to be sorry. So if you tell me that there can be such a thing as spiritual repentance, and yet no sorrow for having broken the law of God, I tell you that you do not know what you are talking about. The thing is clearly, on the very face of it, impossible. There must be a deep hatred of the sin that you have committed, and even of the thought of ever committing that sin again. There must be sincere sorrow that you should ever have transgressed against God, and that you should be liable to transgress again. If there is no such sorrow as that in your heart, one of the things which are necessary to a genuine repentance is absent. No threshold that must be met I have tried so far to correct two mistakes, but there is a third that I must point out to you. Some seem to think that we must reach a certain point of wretchedness, or else we are not truly repentant. They imagine that we must grieve up to a certain level, or we cannot be saved; and they watch the convicted sinner to see when he gets near to what they consider to be a sufficient measure of brokenness of heart. But there are different methods of measuring this state of the spirit and some apply a very long measure indeed to all cases of this kind. I remember that one young friend, after I presented the gospel to him plainly and simply, said to me, "But is that all I have to do? I have only to believe in Christ in order to be saved? Why, my father was troubled to the depths of his soul for six long months before he could find the Savior, and part of the time he was so bad off that he had to be put in a lunatic asylum." Yes, that is the kind of notion some people have: that there is a certain amount of alarm, distress, apprehension, and fear which a man has to feel before he is up to the mark in this respect; but there is nothing at all in the Word of God to support that idea. I will not waste time by dwelling upon it, because it is altogether a baseless supposition. We are not saved by any feelings or alarms that we may have. The source of eternal life is yonder, on that cross; and he who looks there shall find salvation. So away with the notion that there is a certain degree of wretchedness we must feel before we can come to the Savior! It isn't just one-time Then, again, there is another mistake made by many: that this sorrow for sin only happens once, as a sort of squall, or a hurricane, or thunderstorm, that breaks over a man once, and then he is converted, and he talks about that experience all the rest of his life, but he has nothing more to do with it. Why, dear friends, nothing could be a greater error. For myself, I freely confess that I have a much greater sorrow for sin today than I had when I came to the Savior more than thirty years ago. I hate sin much more intensely now than I did when I was under conviction; I am sure I do. There are some things that I did not know to be sin then, that I do know to be sin now, and therefore I strive to be rid of them. I have a much keener sense of the vileness of my own heart now than I had when first I came to Christ, and I think that many other believers here will say that it is the same with them. It is a sweet thing to be sorrowful for sin, to be sorrowful for impurity, to be sorrowful for anything that made Jesus sorrow; it is not a thing that happens once, and then is done with; the godly sorrow of a believer lasts throughout his life. Godly sorrow is no misery I want also to correct another mistake, namely, that sorrow for sin is a miserable feeling. The moment the word "sorrow" is mentioned, many people suppose that it must necessarily be grief of a bitter kind. Ah, but there is a sweet sorrow, a healthy sorrow! In honey, there is a sweetness that cloys after awhile. We may eat too much of it, and make ourselves ill; but in repentance there is a bitter sweetness, or a sweet bitterness – which shall I call it? – of which the more you have the better it is for you. I can truly say that I hardly know a diviner joy than to lay my head in my Heavenly Father's bosom, and to say, "Father, I have sinned, but you have forgiven me; and, oh, I do love you!" It does not spoil your happiness, my brother or sister, to confess your sin; the unhappiness is in not making the confession. The older ones among us can recollect that, when you were boys at home, and you had done wrong, you sometimes said, "I won't own up to it." And all the while that you hardened your heart against repenting, you were miserable – you know that you were! You missed your father's goodnight kiss and your mother's smile; and although, as long as you stubbornly held out you thought yourself very brave, yet you were very miserable. But do you also remember what it was like, afterwards, to go and say, "Father," or "Mother, I was very wrong to do what I did, and I am truly sorry"? Then, as you received the kiss of full forgiveness, I do not suppose you ever felt more happy than after that. That is the way for God's child to always act: whenever you have done wrong, go at once to your Heavenly Father, with godly sorrow for that sin, and receive again the sweet kiss of his forgiving love. That is not misery; it is happiness of the highest kind! Godly sorrow is concerned with God We are told there is a godly sorrow, which "produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted." This is the sorrow that recognizes the enormity of what has been done, because this sin has been committed against God. That is the very heart of godly sorrow, as penitent David cried, "Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done this evil in your sight;" and as the prodigal said, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight." Any hypocrite is sorry for sin that hurts his own interests, or which may damage his reputation among men. But men do not generally trouble much about wrong done to God. A crime is usually a wrong done to man, so we think it is a horrible thing. But a sin, inasmuch as it is against God, is something many people don't care about at all. Let me illustrate further – if I were to say, "You are a sinner," you would reply, "Yes, that is true." But if I were to say to you, "You are a criminal," you might become angered. After all, a criminal is one who offends men, and that is, in our view, a very horrible thing; but a sinner being only one who offends against God, that is not, according to most people's notion, anything in particular, so they do not care much about it. However, when a man is really awakened, he sees that the enormity of offense is that it is an offense against God; that is the worst part of the offense, as he rightly judges, and he therefore sorrows over it. This is a sorrow which is to be cultivated by us, the mourning over sin because it is committed against God. SUMMARY: Godly vs. worldly sorrow Godly sorrow that produces repentance leading to salvation is:   sorrow that recognizes the enormity of the offense done to God sorrow that understands no payment is sufficient, but seeks to repair what has been broken and heal the harms they have done, so much as they are able sorrow arising out of an entire change of mind sorrow which joyfully accepts salvation by grace sorrow leading to future obedience sorrow which leads to perpetual perseverance – the sinner now flees from sin The sorrow of the world that produces death is: sorrow that is self-centered, despairing at the consequences faced (either here, or in the hereafter) rather than the harm done sorrow that seeks forgiveness from, but not healing for, those they have injured sorrow arising from the shame at being found out sorrow which seeks self-justification, by pointing to the sin of others (Genesis 3:12) sorrow leading to a return to their folly (Proverbs 26:11) sorrow which does not concern itself with fleeing from temptation Spurgeon's collected sermons amount to more than 20 million words, or the roughly the equivalent of the complete Encyclopedia Britannica. This sermon has been abbreviated and modernized by Jon Dykstra, and cut from its original 7,000 words to just under 2,000. If you want to read the original (including some very good material that had to be cut only for space reasons) you can find it at here....

Theology

The problem with "pan-millennialism"

“I’m not amillennial, postmillennial, or premillennial. I’m pan-millennial.” “Huh?” “Yep, I’m pan-millennial—I believe it will all pan out in the end!” I’ve occasionally heard this humorous remark made when the end times are discussed. Technically, if we believe in the biblical gospel, we should all be panmillennialists. The risen and ascended Christ will return and everything will “pan out” for believers who will ultimately enjoy “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13). But the person who tells the “panmillennial” joke, and really means it, isn’t interested in details about the end times. He realizes that eschatology (the study of last things) is loaded with difficulties, and says, “I’m not going to think much about end times doctrine anymore. Jesus is going to make everything right when He comes again, and that’s good enough for me.” This man hasn’t just given up on figuring out what “a thousand years” means in Revelation 20, but has decided that thinking about the end times beyond generalities is just too hard and ultimately fruitless. There’s a major problem with the panmillennial mindset. The Bible does speak about the particulars of the end times, so to ignore those verses is to disregard what the Holy Spirit made sure was included. Furthermore, when we skip over those passages, we lose more than just knowledge. God has spoken in understandable ways about the end times to give us hope and joy Transforming grief The Thessalonian believers enthusiastically awaited the return of Christ (1 Thess 1:9-10). But after Paul was forced out of town by persecution, some believers died, sending the remaining Christians into a state of hopeless grief (4:13). They didn’t just miss the deceased believers, but apparently thought the dead believers would miss out on some blessing at Christ’s return. Paul addressed the Thessalonians’ ignorance by speaking of some of the details about the day of Christ’s return. In 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17, he gave an order of some of the events of that day: “The Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord.” In the first frame of a Peanuts comic strip, Lucy is looking out the window and says, “Boy, look at it rain… What if it floods the whole world?” Linus responds, “It will never do that…In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that it would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow.” Lucy replies, “You’ve taken a great load off my mind…” So Linus concludes, “Sound theology has a way of doing that!” Paul wrote to the Thessalonians about the return of Christ and the resurrection of the dead in order to give them sound theology so they could take a great load off of their minds. They needed to know that their beloved sleeping believers (4:13) wouldn’t miss anything when Jesus came back. Instead, they would have front-row seats! With that kind of information, their grief would undergo a dramatic transformation. Paul refused to ignore the details about the return of Christ in addressing the Thessalonians, because he understood how relevant and encouraging that information really was. He even charged them to “encourage one another with these words” (4:18). What words? The specific words about the believers who had died and their participation in the events surrounding Christ’s return. Blessed is the one… Revelation is full of end times information, yet it is one of the most neglected books of the Bible due to interpretive difficulties. However, in his opening comments John promises, “Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear, and who keep what is written in it, for the time is near” (1:3). We should humbly admit when we are confused about certain aspects of Christ’s return. Yet, not everything that God has said about the end times is puzzling. Read those verses carefully and thoughtfully, and blessing is sure to follow. Copyright © 2013 Steve Burchett (www.BulletinInserts.org). Permission granted for reproduction in exact form....