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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

What Makes Christianity? The Trinity

Here's a recap so far. I am looking at what makes Christianity different than all other religions. The primary difference is the phrase, "saved by grace through faith in Christ". Having established that, I wanted to go through particular doctrines that would be necessary to maintain Christianity as a distinctive religion ... not just another among many. First I covered the inerrancy of Scripture and why it was necessary. Then we went through Man's Sin Condition -- his debt to God and his inability to repay it. From there we naturally went to the Atonement, the price Christ paid on our behalf to cover that debt. In that piece, however, I mentioned some of the conditions that would be required to make that payment valid. One was sinlessness. Another was that Christ would have to be more than a man for His payment to cover more than one man. Clearly this leads to another essential ingredient of Christianity. That is, if He was not more than a man, the payment wouldn't be valid and Christianity would be finished. So, what essential doctrine does this lead to?

Of much controversy is the doctrine of the Trinity. It shows up, in varying forms, on most lists of "essentials", but it is always under attack. Skeptics assure us that it's neither essential nor true. "It's not even in the Bible!" "Proponents" argue that it's true but not essential and then typically go on to describe a belief that is not the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, let me remind you, my goal is not to make arguments about what makes the doctrine true. The primary discussion here is about what makes it essential. Why is the doctrine of the Trinity essential to Christianity? Remember, we are looking at "saved by grace through faith in Christ." So, what part of this defining concept is modified or lost if the Trinity is modified or lost?

The part in question here is the last part: Christ. The premise of Christianity is that Christ alone can save. On what is that salvation based? Salvation is predicated on God being both just and justifier by providing His Son to pay for our sin. That payment could only cover one man's debt if Christ was only a man. Was He more? The Bible says so.

John presents an interesting, unavoidable concept. "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1-2). Here we have "the Word". Whatever else we may know about this "Word", we have two solid facts: 1) "The Word was with God", and 2) "The Word was God". Both are true. This "Word" was both God and in the presence of God. In other words, this Word is both deity and in the presence of deity. Now, since all of Christianity has always maintained monotheism -- only one God -- we have an interesting premise here. This Word is both with the one God and is the one God. Another thing we know about this "Word" -- it refers to Jesus Christ (John 1:14-17). Whatever else we have going on here, this gives us a "di-unity", two in one. Given the numbers of Scriptures that give a similar view of the Holy Spirit -- assigning to the Holy Spirit attributes of God -- we're left with a tri-unity, a Trinity. Two things we know about this Trinity. 1) There is only one God, so all are God. 2) They are referenced individually and distinctly, so while they are not separate, they are all distinct. One in essence, three in persons. Despite what you may have heard, it is a unique concept. Other approaches have been things like tritheism which gives three gods (violating the first thing we know) or modalism which says that one God was first Father, then Son, then Spirit, violating the "with God" concept. (If the Son was originally the Father, to whom was Jesus praying when He prayed to the Father, and who did Jesus promise to send if the Spirit was Himself? Makes no sense.)

In the Trinity, then, we have a cohesion with Scripture that doesn't work any other way. (Without the doctrine of the Trinity, for instance, you can make no sense of John 1:1-17.) In the Trinity, we have a specific, unique character of God that is different from any other religion. Finally, in the Trinity, we have a Son who is God. He was God from the beginning, He arrived on earth as God, and He is still God today. This person of the Godhood was the only one qualified to die for our sin. Think about that. While the doctrine of the Trinity maintains that there are three persons (personas) in the Godhood, only one was qualified to pay for our sin. He had to meet very specific criteria. He had to be human because it was a human debt. He had to be God because a human could only cover one debt. No one else -- no other human, not the Father and not the Spirit -- qualified for that role.

Some people debate the Trinity. Even though it appeared to be settled centuries ago, some still arise today and twist it or toss it. They do so at their own peril. Without the Trinity we don't have a qualified Savior. Without a qualified Savior we don't have Atonement. Without Atonement we don't have salvation. Without salvation we have no hope. Or, to put it another way, no Trinity, no Christianity.

(For a expansive listing of Scriptures on the topic of the Trinity, see my blog entry here.)

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

What Makes Christianity? The Atonement

We're looking at the unique nature of Christianity. Christianity differs from all other religions in a lot of ways, but the key area is "saved by grace through faith in Christ." What doctrines are essential to the structure of Christianity and why are they essential? We have now seen that the Bible is mandatory as a source document. I've discussed the condition of Man and why that's important. Now what?

The next plainly obvious doctrine of key importance is the doctrine of the Atonement. Given the condition of Man -- sinful to the core and justly deserving damnation -- what hope is there? If we asked the question solely from the position of God's justice, the answer would be "None." But God (one of my favorite phrases in all of Scripture) is also merciful and gracious. Now, He cannot violate His own nature, and justice is part of His nature, so God had to plan a means of satisfying both His justice and His merciful grace. Enter the Atonement.

According to Colossians 2, "You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the certificate of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:13-14). There was, then, a "certificate of debt" -- something we owed -- and that debt was set aside by "nailing it to the cross". Paul wrote that we "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. This was to show God's righteousness, because in His divine forbearance He had passed over former sins. It was to show His righteousness at the present time, so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Rom 3:24-26). In this passage we see the term "redemption", an oft-repeated concept throughout Scripture in which we are bought back from a slave condition. There is also the lesser known word, "propitiation". This term references the appeasement of an angry God. Christ, "by His blood", bought us back from slavery to sin and removed the just anger we faced from God. This whole concept (called "the Atonement") was designed by God as a demonstration of His righteousness "so that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." In sending His Son to pay for our sin on our behalf, God satisfied both His justice and His mercy.

Now, please note. There are a few necessities for this doctrine to be in place. First, the price that was paid was the death that was required for sin. Second, that price could not be paid by someone who owed it, or it would cover only their debt. Christ, then, had to be sinless or He would have owed His own debt. Third, for this payment to cover more than one man, Christ had to be more than a man. Well, you can see that this is going someplace ... later.

Take away the atonement and what do we have? We have no payment. We have the problem of Man's condition without a solution. If God is just, He must carry out the just sentence of death. If God does not receive payment for our debt and simply forgives the debt, we would certainly say He is merciful, but He is not just. A "saved by grace" of this sort violates the nature of God and, thus, produces no salvation at all. It simply produces a lesser god who is warm and merciful but not just. It isn't the God of the Bible. And Christianity collapses on the injustice of mercy.

The Atonement has been debated quite a bit. Most of the debate is not about its reality, but its particulars. In other words, most of those debating it aren't asking, "Was the price paid?" Without a price being paid, we have no hope. The debate is over to whom the price was paid. That would qualify as "non-essential". Remove the Atonement and there is no means by which we can be at one with God. If the certificate of debt is not paid and no propitiation made, God will remain in His necessary wrath against sin. We may disagree about some particulars of the Atonement, but the fact of the Atonement is not negotiable. It is an essential element of Christianity.

More Reading on the Atonement:
The Doctrine of the Atonement
The Atonement
The Atonement of Christ

Monday, September 28, 2009

What Makes Christianity? Man's Condition

So far in the series, "What Makes Christianity?", I have laid out the initial premise. Christianity is a religion (by English definition), but it is a unique religion. The primary belief that makes Christianity stand out from all other religions is in the phrase "saved by grace through faith in Christ." It is that premise from which I'm working. In the first entry, then, I explained how the doctrine of Inerrancy of Scripture is essential to Christianity. It is the basis from which we work. I listed that one first not because it's most important, but because I plan to lean on it for the rest of this discussion. So, what else is essential and why?

Most people like to think that humans are basically good. Oh, sure, you'll get a bad one from time to time, but deep down, people really want to be moral, nice, to get along. Anyone who says otherwise is just a negative thinker, a pessimist, a cynic. Assuming this as a valid description of the Nature of Man, we can pretty much eliminate Christianity as a viable religion. Christianity makes the stunning claim that "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23). There is none among us who is exempt (Rom 3:10-12). Despite the notion that all people are basically good, the Bible claims that all people are, at their core, basically sinful. The problem here is that God, Himself perfect, requires perfection as a prerequisite to having a relationship with Him. Now, if all have sinned, Christianity would say that all are in trouble. The just result of this sin condition, according the Christianity, is ... death (Rom 6:23). (Perhaps "in trouble" is a large understatement.) So humans at their core stand in opposition to God. From God's perspective -- referencing only His justice -- He is obliged to execute all humans. And since their crime is against the Supreme God, their execution must be supreme -- eternal death. No exceptions. No hope.

That is the basic Christian doctrine about the condition of Man. We are sinners, every one of us. We have earned damnation and have no means in ourselves of earning anything better than damnation.

So what if we mitigate that? What if we say, "Oh, that's too extreme"? What if we move Man's condition from "rotten to the core" to something ... not quite so bad? How is it essential? Well, first off, having established that the Bible is true, we would be violating that first point. But moving from there, if it is not true that all humans are sinful -- that "all have sinned" -- we find ourselves in contradiction to our basic premise: "saved by grace through faith in Christ." It has been argued from Pelagius through Charles Finney all the way up to today that "this whole 'Mankind is basically sinful' thing is not right. It is possible for humans to be good enough (by various means, depending on the arguer) to get to heaven. This whole 'saved by Christ' thing isn't necessary. Oh, maybe it's good, but it's not necessary." And we've just managed to turn Christianity into ... every other religion. Be "good enough" and you will be fine. You don't really need to be "saved". You simply need to be "good enough". Now, we can debate what "good enough" means, but unless it is "perfection", this approach eliminates Christianity at its core.

In order for people to need salvation, they have to be in peril. The Bible argues that all have sinned, that Man is basically sinful and stands in peril of eternal damnation. It is the first point, in fact, of the Gospel, the Good News. The Gospel tells us that "You're in danger of Hell" followed by the solution to that problem. Eliminate that problem and you eliminate the Gospel and Christianity. So the basic doctrine of Man's Sin Condition is an essential doctrine, not open to negotiation. It is an essential doctrine of Christianity.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

In everything give thanks ...

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5:16-18).
When a promotion that you never expected comes through, complete with a raise ...

When your husband surprises you with a gift for no reason and whisks you off to dinner, just the two of you ...

When you pay all your bills and find out that there is still money in the account ...

When you spend some remarkably close time with the Lord ...

When you pray for something you desperately want and God says, "No" ...

When you apply for that new job ... and find out it's already filled ...

When your neighbors yapping dog wakes you up in the middle of the night ... for the fourth night in a row ...

When your wife forgets to wash the clothes you intended to wear to work this morning ...

When your boss tells you, "I'm sorry, but we're going to have to let you go" ...

When the doctor looks at your test results, shaking his head ...

When there is a policeman at the door and you don't know where your son is ...

When the bank statement says your account is empty and the landlord says your rent is due ...

When your parents demonstrate, once again, that they really don't understand you ...

When your store is robbed ... again ...

When the person you love and hope to marry tells you, "Let's see other people" ...

When your daughter shows up on your doorstep with three little kids and no husband ...

When the man you didn't vote for gets elected president and starts making changes you are opposed to ...
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thess 5:16-18).

Saturday, September 26, 2009

What Makes Christianity? - the series

Christianity is a religion. (To those of you who would disagree, I can't do anything about the English language. If "religion" is defined as "a belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe, and the personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship", then Christianity qualifies.) We live in a world of many religions. What makes Christianity different? We believe that Christianity is the truth and the rest are not. What is different about Christianity?

The singular most obvious difference between our Faith and the rest of the world's religions is summed up in one phrase: "Saved by grace through faith in Christ." Christianity assumes that Man is sinful (where other religions disagree) and in need of salvation (where other religions disagree). Christianity holds that this salvation can only be given by unmerited favor (where all other religions hold that it is earned by being "good enough"). Christianity holds that the sole "qualifier" for this salvation is a singular reliance (faith) on a singular person (Christ) (where other religions have a variety of qualifiers). Christianity is the one religion that replaces the focus of "us" with "Him", a change of perspective from "How am I doing?" to "Every knee shall bow", a radical shift from anthropocentricism to theism.

Now, the world around us, filled with a whole host of other religions, has a tough time seeing these fundamental differences. Where Christianity claims that Christ is the only way, the world around us is quite content with "There are many ways to God" (or even "There is no God"). Part of the reason for this is that we've allowed it. Well-meaning folks have made it their purpose in life to soften the edges, to make Christianity more palatable to the masses, to avoid being a problem to non-Christians. In so doing, the central doctrines that make Christianity Christianity have been blurred or discarded ... and we end up with not-Christianity.

These central doctrines are what would be called "essentials". I wrote a post a short time ago about the essentials of Christianity. It wasn't popular, I know, and, to my discredit, neither was it supported. So I wanted to look briefly at what makes these things essential. Why are these things so important that they cannot be negotiated? I will address them from this premise: Christianity is unique because of the phrase "saved by grace through faith in Christ".

The first question is "Why do you think that this phrase is what makes Christianity unique? On what do you base this phrase?" Most of us should recognize that the phrase is almost a direct quote from Ephesians. "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Eph 2:8-9). "Ah," the skeptic would say, "so you're basing it on that book." Yes. Christianity is not unique in deriving its doctrines from a book. Most religions have a book. We're not unique in referring to them as "sacred Scriptures". Christianity appears to be unique in that our Scripture alone seems to be under attack. Question the content of the Quran and you're simply being petty. Ask about the sacred Hindu writings and you're being stubborn. Raise your hand about the Book of Mormon and you're being prejudice. You can't question these Scriptures. They're sacred to their believers. The Bible, on the other hand, is both questionable and unreliable. It is at the very least open to wide (and apparently valid) interpretation. It is certainly not a unique book in any way. It is, just like all the other Scriptures of all the other religions, right in some places, misunderstood in many, and wrong in others.

If that's where we stand, Christianity ceases to be Christianity. Our certainty, for instance, that Christianity's uniqueness lies in a phrase found in a letter written by Paul to the church at Ephesus is mere opinion -- certainly not certainty. I mean, really, did Paul even write that? And why is it right? Or what makes you think you understand it correctly? "No, no," the argument goes, "this whole 'sacred Scripture' thing is just an outlandish belief common to most religions and perpetrated only by those evil, right-wing 'fundamentalists' (meant in the most pejorative sense possible)." In other words, strip off the Bible, and Christianity has nowhere to stand. It is just, as the world suspected, another religion among many religions. There is nothing particularly unique about this one. You Christians are making a mountain out of a mole hill.

The ground on which Christianity stands is, on the face of it, a singular book. That book claims to be "God-breathed", a term that goes beyond anything we know today. It isn't merely "inspired writings". It is breathed out by God to individual writers who, through their own words and personalities, expressd what God intended to have expressed. Quibble about details if you wish. Evidence, logic, experience, and history all provide us with a Bible that is reliable. If it is God-breathed, it is, as God is, without error. These are not negotiable because without them we do not have a reliable source document for Christianity and Christianity goes undefined, a vague idea based on individual preference and feeling. Remove a solid ground upon which to base Christianity and the discussion about the uniqueness of Christianity is over. It's just another religion like any other religion and you mad, right-wing wackos are the ones making it the "only way" by your crazy view on your "sacred Scriptures". Without this "crazy view", Christianity falls. Thus, this view is essential to Christianity.

I haven't offered here any arguments for the inerrancy of Scripture. I haven't given reasons why you should see it as such. I've simply tried to explain why such a view would be essential to Christianity in general. I've listed below resources for you to examine that offer arguments on the subject. Do your own homework. I'm not making the argument that it's true, here. I'm making the argument that it is essential. You can look at some of these arguments and see if it's true. If you have other favorite sources, feel free to list them in the comments section.

Sources on Biblical Inerrancy:
Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
Is the Bible Inerrant?
Inerrancy and Infallibility of the Bible
Response to the Arguments Against
Defending Biblical Inerrancy
Is the Bible Authoritative? (Greg Koukl -
My own defense

Friday, September 25, 2009

Art and Life

In comments on one of my recent posts, my son and I joked back and forth about the "flux capacitor". He used it as an illustration of a point. I kidded him, "You know they're not real, right?" He kidded back, "Yes they are! I saw it on TV." All in good fun. But it got me to thinking. How much of my reality is determined by TV (or the media)?

Back in December I wrote a post about the problem of the news media. The news, by its very nature, reports the unusual. (We don't need to be told about the usual.) The unusual is then held up as the prevailing conditions and we begin to make our choices based on ... the unusual. The other day I told my wife, "Don't put the mail to go out in our mailbox. I'll drop it in the mailbox on the corner." She said, "They're breaking into mailboxes." She was concerned about a news item she had heard about some break-ins to those mailboxes on corners. Three of them had been robbed. So I was supposed to be worried that the letters I was sending (not checks, money, personal info, etc.) were in danger because three mailboxes had been vandalized in the past six months. I am not suggesting that my wife was out of bounds. I'm suggesting that, due to our current culture, she reacted perfectly normally. The reports of the unusual determined, in this case, her reality.

We often think that art imitates life, but, as Oscar Wilde said, "Life imitates art far more than art imitates life." I gave an example of the news media creating reality. What about the rest? Let's try some examples. If you've seen Enemy of the State, you likely now think that the U.S. government has secret organizations capable of reading license plates from outer space. For some reason, they are not capable of seeing faces from outer space because apparently faces are at the wrong angle, but license plates are not. (Go figure.) If you've watched any crime shows at all, you're pretty clear that DNA testing takes little more than an hour and crime solving is likely done in a day ... two at most. Certainly the majority of crimes these days are solvable because of modern forensics. Well, at least murders. I would guess, just from the stuff I've seen on commercials, that most people are pretty sure that sex early in any relationship is normal, that kids are much wiser than parents, that the American population is much more entertained by crude and rude humor than clean humor.

And on it goes. Since we tend to absorb rather than evaluate stuff fed to us via video screens, we allow our realities to be shaped rather than mirrored by the media. We assume the values of what we watch rather than questioning them. We assume things of those around us based on what we watch rather than asking those around us. We derive our worldviews and perceptions not from life, but from art. And then, when someone questions it, we are puzzled, confused, even irate.

The whole multimedia phenomenon in the last half of the 20th century has been an interesting experiment. It provides possibilities that were previously outlandish. It offers mass communication, nearly instant news, and vast resources of information and interaction. It is, however, still limited. It is influenced by Man's sin nature, corrupted by evil intentions, twisted by personal views handed off as "good" (or, even better, "neutral") to the masses. There can be valuable uses and useful information, but I begin to wonder if the dangers (which are far more than what I'm referencing here) outweigh the value? It would be impossible, likely, to actually evaluate those dangers and the benefits and do a comparison, but I'm thinking that we've created a system that already has and will continue to do increasingly grievous harm.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

It is a Gift of God

I left you yesterday with the necessity of writing this entry today when I said, "The faith that the Bible references is not something we drum up. It is something given by God. No, it isn't given to everyone. It is given as He chooses." "Oh? Really?" you might say. "Let's see you argue that idea with any real substance." Okay, let's do.

First, the perception begins with the certainty that faith is something we muster up. It's something that we bring to the table. It's something that we provide and God recognizes and then justifies. That's a nice concept. Is there any reason to think it's not true? Is there any reason to think that faith is given rather than developed?

The first and easiest spot to look is Rom 12:3 where Paul says, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." Conclude what you will about how, when, who, or any other question, whatever else Paul is saying here he is definitely saying that God allots faith. Faith is a gift. Now, most people, seeing this, would likely conclude, "Oh, well, okay. Then faith is given to all people and we decide what to do with it." The first problem with this is that Paul isn't writing to "all people". He's writing to the saints in Rome (Rom 1:7). Then there is a logical problem. We know that justification is by faith. So consider the logical syllogism:

1) We are justified by faith.
2) All humans have faith.
3) Therefore, all humans are justified.

That is a perfectly logical syllogism, but we know it's not true. Still, we need to be more sure of this. Certainly the Bible isn't silent on the subject, is it? No, indeed. The Bible has much to say. We know, for instance, that Jesus is "the author and finisher of our faith" (Heb 12:2). He is the one who begins and completes our faith. In Acts 13:48 we read "... as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." The obvious implication is that those who were not appointed did not believe (did not have faith). 2 Tim 2:25 says that God grants (or doesn't grant) repentance to people. Paul also says, "It has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in Him but also suffer for His sake" (Phil 1:29). We all get that. We are being given the privilege of suffering for Christ. Don't miss, however, the first mention. We are granted "not only to believe", but to suffer. Believing is a gift, a grant. Of course, there's always the ever-popular Eph 2:8-9. Most who make the claim I'm making go here first. I'm going here last because it's only a piece of the puzzle. Paul says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast." In normal Greek and English usage, a prepositional phrase references the thing before it. The "not of yourselves", then, would suggest that "faith" is in mind. Faith is not of yourself -- it is a gift of God. Some are inclined to argue. "No, no, the real reference is to salvation." So, faith is not a gift, but salvation is. The argument leaves me flat because there is a missing component in the sentence that is skipped. Three pieces make up the first phrase: Grace, salvation, and faith. Something there is "not of yourselves". They argue it's salvation. So we conclude that faith ... and grace are something we produce. Wait ... no ... that's not right. It seems to me that the "not of yourselves" is referencing the entire previous statement: "By grace you have been saved through faith." So grace, salvation, and faith are "not of yourselves". This is buttressed with the next statement: "Not a result of works, so that no one may boast." No matter how you cut it, if I provide the faith and the faith is the key ingredient, I have something to boast about. But, if God provides the faith, we have nothing left to boast about.

One other relevant passage came up in my examination of the question. In 2 Thessalonians, Paul asks the Thessalonians to pray for him and his team:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one (2 Thess 3:1-3).
We saw in Rom 12 that God allotted to each a measure of faith. Now we see the reverse: "Not all have faith." Paul goes on to say that "the Lord is faithful" and that "He will establish you and guard you".

We are really reticent to think that we have nothing at all to do with our own salvation. Most people think "If you're good enough you'll get to heaven." "Good enough" doesn't work. We Christians realize that we're not good enough and we need a Savior. But we're still unwilling to give up our own contribution. Surely we contribute something. "I know! We contribute faith! Yeah! We exercise our own free will and we muster up the faith that is required and that's our small but extremely significant part in our own salvation. That's right!" Both logic and the Word seem to disagree. While we are certainly required to exercise the faith given to us, it would appear that even that faith that we are to exercise is a gift from God, not something that we produce. Or, in the words of the author of the hymn, Rock of Ages, "Nothing in my hand I bring; Only to Thy cross I cling."

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Must I Do to be Saved?

Given yesterday's post ("This is not what it takes to be a Christian, but Christians do these things"), this would be the next obvious question, wouldn't it? It was the famous question from the Philippian jailer. It was simple, straightforward, to the point. Actually, you don't hear it too often, and that's too bad. And Paul gave an equally simple, straightforward, to-the-point answer. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved." Ah, yes, that's it. We're done. Let's bow in prayer, pass the offering plates, and go home.

Is it that simple? Is there more to it? Let's look. Without straying beyond the confines of the textual question/answer, is there more to this simple conversation that we need to see? Yes. First, the question presupposes prior information. It presupposes that the questioner knows he/she is lacking something, is in danger, needs rescue. ("Saved" has become so overused that people miss the point.) To ask the question first requires that the questioner recognizes personal peril (I'm in real trouble here) and personal need (I don't know how to get out of the trouble I'm in.) Therefore, the question itself addresses a prerequisite condition -- the recognition of guilt and separation from God. In other words, the question won't get asked if the person doesn't see the problem or the need. Second (and this seems painfully obvious but isn't), the question presupposes an answer. It presupposes that there is a solution to the personal peril and the lack of ability to avoid that peril. It assumes that God has put into place a means of ... salvation. So we have basic premises that underlie the question to begin with.

Moving on, then, assuming that the questioner knows of their spiritual peril and lack of ability to fix it and that God has supplied an answer (the one they're seeking), what is the answer to the question? "Believe." What could be simpler? Just ... believe. Mentally acquiesce. Accept as true in your mind. Believe. Unfortunately, today's English "believe" is not quite the equivalent of the Greek word that is behind Paul's answer. That Greek word is pisteuo. It is more accurately "have faith". "Faith" is not merely mental acquiescence. It is a confidence in, a reliance upon, placing one's weight on the thing believed. It isn't like believing in George Washington. This kind of belief is only genuine when you place your weight on it, when your reliance is there and only there. Faith in Christ is also an obligation of loyalty and fidelity to Christ. Faith is not simple mental belief; it is something that produces a response. Now, step back a moment. Remember, the prerequisite for the question is "I am in peril with God, have no means to fix it, and believe that He has." This faith, then, says, "There is no other means by which I can solve this problem. I am relying solely on this solution."

Now, having cleared up what "believe" means, we come to the object of that faith -- the Lord Jesus Christ. We can debate (as others have) whether that requires that the believer recognize that Jesus is Lord (see "Lordship salvation"), that He is Messiah, that He is God Incarnate (another implication of "Lord"). I think there are some parts of this that are genuine and some too far off. To be saved, though, isn't simply, "Yeah, yeah, I believe there was a Jesus." There is more than His existence. As a minimum, He must be the Jesus who is Lord, who was Messiah ... that Jesus. As Lord He demands obedience and as Messiah He came to save His people. A "Jesus" who is neither Lord nor Messiah is not the same Jesus that Paul is referencing. A deep, extensive knowledge and agreement with Messianic theology, Trinitarian theology, and the far-reaching implications of Christ as Lord is not in mind here, but neither is "whatever Jesus you have in mind" an acceptable possibility. It must be the same Lord Jesus Christ that Paul knew, the same one that walked with the Apostles, the one with the mission and authority to save and to rule. It cannot be the "analogy Jesus" who never actually lived but is a fine story about how to live (as some hold) or the "'brother of Lucifer' Jesus" who is one of many gods (as others argue) or some other variation. There is one and only one -- the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a problem with all of this that is rarely addressed. I bemoaned the fact that the question isn't often asked. Scholars question whether the jailer actually meant what we see there. Was he saying, "How do I avoid eternal damnation at the hands of God?" or was he saying, "How do I avoid getting fired (or killed) by my employers?" Was it a genuine spiritual question, or did Paul simply provide the man with the better answer? We do not and cannot know. The real problem is this: Since humans are naturally dead in sin (Eph 2:1), hostile to God (Rom 8:7-8), and incapable of understanding (1 Cor 2:14), what would make them ask the question or be capable of understanding the answer? On the one hand, the question and answer are simple. On the other, a genuine question and a genuine understanding of the answer are not. At the mental level, it's all an easy thing. We understand all the words. We get all the components. That's fine, thanks. But at the spiritual level, both genuine understanding and genuine faith are impossible. You see, the faith that the Bible references is not something we drum up. It is something given by God. No, it isn't given to everyone. It is given as He chooses. (I'm leaving off the arguments and references here because I'm setting myself up for another blog entry, see?) So, while Natural Man can nod and say, "I understand all those words and I believe what it says", it is entirely possible (nay, an actual given) that such a person will think he or she is among the saved when he or she is not. How will I provide correction? I can't. That is God's job. He has to do an awakening (we call it "regeneration" or, in the King James vernacular, "quickening"). He has to provide the necessary faith. So while the concepts are easy to explain and clear enough, it isn't, in the final analysis, in our hands, but in God's hands. Careful analysis of word and context, clearly written explanations, and concise process steps don't produce either the faith or the understanding for this whole thing. That would be God's job.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Fruit and Nonsense

Those who have faithfully followed my blog along with the comments will remember [a guy who will remain nameless but made a lot of comments that you can read at your leisure]. [This guy] (quite understandably) took offense when he asked me a direct question -- "Do you think I'm not a Christian?" -- and I gave him a direct answer -- "No, I don't think you're a Christian." We aren't supposed to do that, are we? I mean, it's wrong to question other people's faith, isn't it? [The guy] was right to be offended, wasn't he? I mean, after all, he claimed to be saved by grace through faith in Christ. Who am I to question that? What kind of Pharisee am I ... making up other things regarding salvation that are not in the Bible? Didn't Paul answer the jailer's "What must I do to be saved?" with "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved"? How dare anyone ask anything else?

I have to admit that it sounds convincing. It sounds like anyone who questions someone who claims "I am saved by grace through faith in Christ" is questioning Christianity itself. Hey, the phrase is even biblical, isn't it? So I take a half step back and ask myself "Is [the guy] (and all those others who openly or silently complained) right?"

Then I run across some very odd (or, rather, perhaps not so odd) stuff in my Bible. Jesus warned, for instance, of wolves among the sheep. He said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). So ... now we're to become fruit inspectors? What fruit? Jesus goes on in that very context to say, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" (Matt 7:21). Apparently, then, there are going to be those who come to the Day of Judgment completely convinced that they view Jesus as Lord ("faith in Christ") but are completely misguided. The problem, according to Jesus, occurred long ago: "I declare to them, 'I never knew you ...'" (Matt 7:23). The relationship never started.

Well, it's all well and good for Christ (the perfect Judge) to inspect fruit and to determine who is or isn't saved, but what about us? Shouldn't we keep our noses out of it? I would say that, to some extent, yes, we need to avoid too much action here. In the parable of the tares among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30), the master tells his servants not to tear out the tares in the wheat because it would damage the wheat. Of this Jesus said, "The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers ..." (Matt 13:41). Removing the tares from the wheat is His job, not ours.

On the other hand, does that mean, then, that we are to be silent? If we are, the Bible is full of sinful writing. Paul wrote things like:
When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord (1 Cor 5:4-5).

Purge the evil person from among you (1 Cor 5:13).

Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9-10).

For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God (Eph 5:5).
It would appear that Paul is laying down these instructions to act as markers to tell if someone is in or out of the kingdom. In fact, the basic purpose of the John's first epistle is just that. It is largely a series of "test questions" for his readers to determine if they have a relationship with God or not. Indeed, the Bible is full of differentiators -- ways to determine "Christian" or "not Christian".

Now, the first problem here occurs when we think, "These things determine if a person is saved." No, genuine "faith in Christ" determines if a person is saved. These things are not the things that determine if a person is saved. They are things that indicate it. They are, to use the biblical term, fruit. An fig tree is a fig tree because it is a fig tree, not because it bears figs. But a genuine fig tree will bear figs. And it was Jesus who said "You will recognize them by their fruits." So, what "fruits" are there? We're not left to guess. We know, for instance, that there is "the fruit of the Spirit" (Gal 5:22-23). John has a whole listing of stuff in 1 John. But Paul makes an interesting summary: "The fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, and righteousness, and truth" (Eph 5:9). Isn't it interesting that the fruit includes virtue (goodness), holiness (righteousness), and truth? Now, Paul is not saying, "In order to be saved, you must be virtuous, holy, and right." What Paul is saying is that those who have the Spirit begin to produce -- bear the fruit of -- virtue, holiness, and truth.

My concern way back then when I was upsetting readers with my concerns about their spiritual well-being was this. It wasn't "Have you come to faith in Christ?". Genuine faith in Christ makes a Christian. It was "When confronted with truth, do you recognize it or reject it?" Recognizing truth doesn't make you a Christian, but Christians (those with the Spirit of God in them) have certain characteristics and those who lack them ought to be concerned about whether or not what they thought was "faith in Christ" was genuinely faith in Christ. I'm not saying, "You need to do these things or believe these things to be saved." I'm saying, "True believers -- those who are saved -- do these things and believe these things." I'm not saying, "You have to bear figs to be a fig tree." I'm saying, "Fig trees bear fruit." Now, the folks of this world [like the guy I referenced at the start] would prefer that I shut up about this stuff. You know, let 'em go and let God sort 'em out. (No, they'd say, "Don't impose your views on others" which, by the way, is imposing a view on me.) I suppose that's an approach, but it sure seems like a cruel one to me. If I have information that people might need and withhold it, especially when it affects their eternal destination, is it kind of me to keep silent or to say something? I can't seem to conclude that the kindest thing for me to do is shut up about it. You decide.

Update: Edited to put the actual name of someone in brackets to remove his real name because he was offended that I referred to him.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Crucial Conversations

I'm currently in the midst of an interesting book. The title is Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes are High, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler, and Stephen R. Covey. These guys set out to discover what it is that sets successful businesses apart from less successful businesses. In their study, though, they found out that the primary difference between the two was people. So they studied further what sets successful people apart from less successful people. As they studied this concept, what they found was that successful people had an approach to communication that differed from everyone else. Thus, the book is about crucial conversations rather than successful people or businesses.

What I have found fascinating thus far is that these men did not set out as Christians to produce something Christian, but what they have produced sounds decidedly Christian. The secret, they suggest, to successful interactions with people is to "start with heart". Now, of course, there is a lot more to it and I'm still working my way through the book, but at the core, they say, the best way to have proper dialog with people in the most productive way possible is to care about the people with whom you are having the dialog. The book even points out, "This is not a technique." You can't fake it. You have to genuinely care about the people with whom you are interacting if you want to have the best possible outcome. Funny thing. The command of Scripture is "love your neighbor." Kind of like "You have to genuinely care about the people with whom you are interacting." This, they say, is the absolute core and fundamental key to success in conversations at work, at home, wherever you care to go.

I am convinced that truth is truth. Or, as the saints before me put it, all truth is God's truth. Science equivocates. Philosophy meanders. Psychology wanders about. But in the end, I suspect, the truth will be that God was right from the beginning. People work better when they care about each other. Life is better lived with concern for our fellow man. Things are a lot smoother when we aren't self-centered. And I could go on, but it would start to get a bit pointed ...

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Great is Your Faithfulness

Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other so that man may not discover anything that will be after him (Eccl. 7:13-14).
I recently used this reference in a post about the sovereignty of God when things are unpleasant. It says that God makes both days of prosperity and days of adversity. In the first we are to be happy. In the second we are to take it from the hand of God. All well and good.

I wanted to look at the last phrase. It gives, from Solomon's perspective, the reason why God gives both prosperity and adversity: "So that man may not discover anything that will be after him." What an interesting reason! Now, I'm quite sure there are a host of other reasons. I don't suppose that Solomon intended "This is the only reason God does this." But it is a reason. The reason is so you won't know tomorrow what God intends to do.

Lots of people like to guess when bad things happen. Job's friends in the book of Job were very happy to offer advice as to why bad things happened to Job, for instance, and they represent a fairly common approach. "Bad things happen to bad people; good things happen to good people." And it's just not true. People like to guess "It's a judgment from God." And it may or may not be true. It's one of the popular methods of determining success, too. "If things don't work out, it must mean that you're not doing what God wanted." Again, perhaps true and perhaps not. Specifically what Solomon claims here is that you cannot know. God does what He does -- pleasant or unpleasant -- for His own good reasons and we're not wise to try to guess at what that is without specific instructions to do so.

So, what's the alternative? If we can't guess, "This is why God did what He did when that unpleasant thing happened", how are we to respond? We are to respond as Jeremiah did: "This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. 'The LORD is my portion,' says my soul, 'Therefore I have hope in Him'" (Lam 3:21-24). Hope in the Lord and His character, not in better circumstances. It's a much more stable place to be because we "may not discover anything that will be after".

Saturday, September 19, 2009


Look, it's Saturday and not a lot of people are reading this, so I'll do a "Saturday-lite" post. Everyone okay with that?

I have friends out there who read my blog (or, perhaps, who don't) and who don't blog themselves. Some of them blog a little, but not much. Most of the people I know don't blog at all. So, this one is for all you who read my blog and either blog a little or not at all.

It is my strong recommendation that you blog. Okay, maybe not blog. But write. Why?

Well, writing gives you the chance to put down your ideas in a "solid" form. When you write, you are required to pull ideas out of your head, examine those ideas, put them in an explainable order, and then evaluate the explanation. Blogging (or something similar) has the added advantage of allowing others to evaluate the explanation of your ideas and say, "No, that doesn't make sense" or "Yes, you're right on that point."

I am of the opinion that people don't think so much these days. We are pretty happy with the feed we get from the television and the radio and the Internet and we don't really need to evaluate much at all because, happily, someone else is doing it for us. So we pick up the ideas that "feel" best to us and stand our ground on them ... without ever making them our own or even fully understanding them. We are in too many cases, I'm afraid to say, mentally lazy. And then we assume others did their thinking right and absorb their errors without analysis. Sometimes it really makes us look stupid. Most of the time, though, no one else is really evaluating these things, so no one notices that we might look stupid. Besides, the emotional debate is far more popular than the reasoned one.

"Oh," you say, "I can't write. I have no writing skills. I'm not good with words." Two points here. First, the quality of the writing isn't the point. Conversely, writing down your thoughts gives you the chance to improve the quality of your writing (among other benefits). No one writes well who has never written. If "I can't write" was the decision point for anyone who wrote, then no one would start writing. And the second point is like unto the first. I'm not suggesting that you aim to be the next bestseller author. I'm not suggesting you try to be some riveting writer with clever turns of phrases and spellbinding thoughts ... you know, like me. (Kidding ... just kidding.) I'm suggesting that you write for your own benefit.

So ... if you want to stand out, if you want to be a reasonable person, if you want to ... how about this? ... renew your mind, I would recommend you blog. Blogging is free so you don't have a cost problem. It forces you to think to some degree (the more the better). It requires that you explain yourself. It offers your ideas to others who may benefit from them and can also help you critique them. The added benefit of blogging is that you will very possibly have to interact with people who disagree with your ideas. If you use the opportunity properly, it might help you learn to interact with civility and argue with charity. But, hey, that's up to you, isn't it? (Trust me ... I've seen enough bloggers who don't see any requirement to offer civility or charity.) As a benefit to you, then, I say, "Blog!"

Friday, September 18, 2009

Pet Peeves

Through the years I've discovered that there are little things that bother me that, frankly, shouldn't. But they do. I'm not talking about the things people do or say that are seriously wrong. I'm talking about little things ... or at least little things to me. You know, little things like rotten grammar or poor spelling when it shouldn't be so hard. Usually I overlook it, but when it comes from people that appear to be just too lazy to bother, it bothers me. But there are worse things to me.

I really dislike it when people say things "I really hate it when ..." without actually meaning hate. I prefer it when people reserve the right words for these things. But we throw around words like "love" and "hate" and "good" and "evil" without really considering them. Is the thing of which you speak really that good/bad/right/wrong/wonderful/horrible? Or not?

It irks me when Christians defend their positions from the Bible. No, no, that's not right. Not at all. But two Christians will be discussing differing opinions on a topic, both deriving their view from Scripture, and one will say, "Well, Luther said ..." and the other will trump them with, "Well, I get my idea from the Bible." The suggestion is, "You don't." The implication is, "My view is the only right view because (apparently) I can't be wrong in my interpretation ... and since you are using other sources, I'll assume you're not using the Bible." When Christians discuss differing views of Scripture, can't we just admit that we're both talking about Scripture and drop this failed trump as if the other isn't using the Bible? A hint to Calvinists and Arminians, Presbyterians and Baptists, pre-millenialists and amillenialists, paedobaptists and credobaptists: both sides will be using Scripture. Show a little charity, okay?

A close relative is "The Lord showed me the meaning of that passage ...". I see. You have a special connection with God that I don't. And usually "the Lord" shows these people meanings of passages that no one has ever seen before. Really? You have that special a connection? Don't go there.

Of course, it really bugs me when people cannot discuss ideas with charity. At some point, it seems, it becomes personal. This one may comment negatively on a pet concern of that one and suddenly we're no longer discussing those ideas; we're discussing me. "Are you calling me stupid?" Or something like it. Even if it doesn't get said. There are triggers for all of us, it seems. Just mention the word "socialism" and I'll get angry responses from all directions (not necessarily aimed at me ... just angry). Just drop a word like "abortion" or suggest "homosexual behavior is sin" and people will be coming out of the woodwork not to argue the point, but to fight ... and from both directions. Can't we discuss ideas without getting personal? "I think that some of President Obama's plans are wrong" could very likely get a response of "racist!". Really?

But, then, maybe I'm just too sensitive. I tend to view most things with a bit of humor. Maybe I should practice more of that.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Why Be Moral?

There are plenty of times that I've been told, "Keep your Christian morality to yourself." I've even heard it from "Christians". (The quotes there are my way of being generous. They may or may not be Christian ... I'm just not calling it into question right now.) Somehow there is an underlying conviction that morality is negative. It is a thrill-kill, a sad thing. It is a limitation, a mean streak, an overbearing belief. And it is, of course, individualistic. There is "your morality" and "my morality" and these are both equal in value and validity. So keep "your morality" out of my face.

I would guess that this belief is rather prevalent. Sometimes we see studies aimed at showing that God's version of the best family (mother, father, children) is wrong or that sexual purity is pointless. But most of the time we're just told, "Believe what you want; just don't force it on me." The term "force", explicit or implicit, suggests something "wrong". So encouraging moral behavior ... is wrong.

So I have to ask, why be moral? Why would I bother saying out loud that homosexual behavior is wrong? That's just my belief, right? I'm just being intolerant, right? Why would I hold in public that abortion is murder and murder is wrong? Why can't I let those others who believe that "it's a woman's choice" do what they believe is right? Why would I be so judgmental? And the Christians who say it are urging me away from these things because "it will push people away from the Gospel" or some such. So ... why be moral?

I believe that there is more to "moral" than rules. It's not simply "right or wrong". It's not simply "be good or not". It is much, much more. I am convinced that being moral is best. Now, let me say here clearly and quickly that being moral doesn't give you heaven. But what it does do is to make the "machinery" work best. What do I mean?

I believe that the man who is faithful to his wife is much happier than the man who is not. There may be some temporary pleasure, some immediate gratification, but in the end, recognized or not, the faithful husband is happier than the cheat. I believe that a person of integrity is better off than a liar, a cheat, a thief. I believe that those who give are more blessed than those who receive, that those who love are more fulfilled than those who demand love, that those who seek the welfare of others are more satisfied than those who seek their own personal pleasure. In other words, while being moral may not get you to heaven (because the demand of heaven is perfect morality), it will certainly make your life much better.

So I ask myself, "Why are they telling me to keep it to myself? Why is it judgmental or intolerant to want what's best for others? How is it more caring to keep the truth from others?" I imagine a fellow picking up a bottle of poison. Maybe it's a slow poison, taking years, prossibly, to end his life. But it is poison. He tells me, "Mmmm, I just love this stuff." And the people around me, seeing I'm about to say something, shoosh me. "Don't say anything," someone near me whispers. "Keep your opinion to yourself. He likes it. There's no need for you to foist your views on him. If you do, he may not even listen to you anymore. Don't be so judgmental and intolerant." Seriously, people, would I be more kind, loving, caring if I kept my mouth shut while this fellow poisoned himself? I don't think so.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Dead Right

"Dead" ... we all know what that means, right? It means "lacking life". Or does it? Similar but different, we might say after a long, hard day of work, "Man am I dead?!" No one thinks we're devoid of life. We're just tired. It is possible for silence to be dead, as in "dead silence". That would suggest absolute silence. A "dead shot" would be someone with excellent accuracy. And if you hit a nail "dead center", there is no variation from center. So what is "dead wrong"? That generally means "totally, absolutely, completely dead center of 'wrong'."

Funny thing. You don't often hear the term "dead right". Is it possible to be dead right? Well, if you mean "completely, totally, absolutely, completely in the center of being right", I suppose so. But how about if you mean "lacking life"?

Calvinists carry around two interesting "accusations". First, they are considered by many to be "the most logical" when it comes to their theology. Mind you, those who say that generally don't mean "right" or even that it's good. But one of the marks of Calvinist theology that it is a rational system. The other accusation seems to play off the first. Calvinists are often cold in their theology. And that is the clue as to why the accusation of "most logical" is intended as an assault rather than a compliment. Admittedly you won't likely walk into a Calvinist church and find them swaying to the praise band music or lifting their hands in worship. It's not impossible, but it's not likely.

Now, to be fair, it's not accurate to say that Calvinism and religious emotion are contrary to each other. Jonathan Edwards, one of the best known Calvinists, wrote A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections. His claim was that, while emotional responses to God don't prove genuine faith, it is not actually feasible to have genuine faith without an emotional response. And if you take a moment to think about it, you'd see that Paul said the same thing: "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control ..." (Gal 5:22-23). These things all carry an emotional component, and they are the fruit of the Spirit. Or consider a current Calvinist, John Piper. Dr. Piper is known as "the Christian hedonist". He believes that "God is most glorified when we are most satisfied with Him." And no one can accuse Dr. Piper of lacking emotion.

All this to say that while being right may be a good thing, it is possible to be dead right. It is possible to be right and be dead. The problem, of course, is that if you are accurate in the area of faith and practice and dead, you end up dead wrong.

Why? There are a lot of folks that argue that orthopraxy is more important than orthodoxy. (Orthopraxy is "right practice" and orthodoxy is "right doctrine".) Many seminaries today teach up-and-coming pastors to leave off the doctrine because doctrine isn't nearly as important as practice. "Teach the right practice," the thinking goes, "and your doctrine should be fairly accurate." The truth is, however, that orthodoxy produces orthopraxy. The truth is that if you get ahold, for instance, of the genuine Sovereignty of God, it cannot fail to have an impact on your life, your thinking, your living, your emotions. Truth shapes choices. Truth produces emotions. So if you're dead right, you're missing something somewhere, because "So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; it will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, and without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it" (Isa 55:11).

There are times that I find myself "dead right". I am right (to the best of my knowledge), but sometimes I just don't care. I am able, at times, to argue for truth without being concerned about the listeners, the feelings of others, how people will respond to your comments, and not operating out of genuine love for others. When I recognize it in me, it grieves me. It is possible to be dead right, but if the true mark of a believer is love, it's not a good thing to be both dead and right. Truth ought to change you, move you, alter not just your thinking, but your feelings. "Dead wrong" is clearly a bad thing, but "dead right" is not necessarily a good thing.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

If I Were King

Two of my friends (my "amen corner") disagreed with me when I said that President Obama was not a socialist. Since I am not the type to think I cannot be wrong, I looked into it. I don't have an answer.

There are a whole bunch of folks, starting with the president, who will tell you "No, he is not a socialist." Multiple articles from multiple sources with multiple agendas all argue that he is not. Socialists themselves won't accept him as a socialist. On the other hand, some voices are making good arguments to the contrary. He may deny it and they may deny it, but if it walks like a duck and it talks like a duck ... well, you get the idea.

My friend, Dan, pointed out, "If the president were king instead, I'm sure his socialist worldview would be evident." In truth, I cannot know. (Hey, I have a hard time figuring out what my own worldview is, let alone what it would be given different circumstances.) But I understand his perspective there. You see, I've often wondered (not broadly, but in specific circumstances) what I would do if I were king. I'm sure I'm not alone. My grandfather, for instance, told me years ago, "If I were king, I could put an end to the drug dealing problem. I'd just order public executions of all drug dealers. It would end quickly." Maybe it would and maybe it wouldn't, but you could see how my grandfather viewed things "if I were king". Me? While I love our country and I believe this is likely the best country in which to currently live, I'm not so sure, if I were king, if I would keep it like it is. I'm not so sure, for instance, that a democracy is the best choice for people so willing to discard community and morality in preference for pure self-interest. Maybe a benevolent dictatorship would be better. I'm not so sure that taxation is the way I'd do it if I were king. I'm not at all sure that I wouldn't change some things in the justice system especially. I particularly dislike the notion of genuine criminals getting off on a technicality. For instance, if a police officer did an illegal search and turned up solid evidence, I wouldn't delete the evidence; I'd prosecute the police officer (after convicting the criminal). So there are lots of things I'd do different ... if I were king.

Is President Obama a socialist? I don't know. I do know that "socialism" is a bad word these days. I know that throwing the word out in public is like throwing out a stick of dynamite. It will cause an explosion ... from those for and those against. I do know that labeling the president "socialist" will terminate a lot of conversations. And I know that what I support now and what I would do if I were king are different. So I suppose I'll just avoid the conflagration and say that the president is not operating as a socialist ... completely.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The New Barbie

More than once I've written something about the push these days to eliminate gender differences. Now, to be completely fair, no one is saying, "Men are women and women are men." Okay, almost no one. Everyone understands and agrees that they are different. No, what's really going on is the annihilation of gender roles. The goal, it seems, is to say that women can do anything that men can do, that there is no "guy things" or "gal things" in life, that we all do the same stuff. (Funny thing ... no one seems to be saying, "Men can do anything women can do." Why is that?)

Enter the latest entry -- Barbie and the Three Musketeers. It's a straight-to-video CGI movie where Barbie plays a girl named Corrine (Ahem ... does anyone realize that Barbie is a doll, not an actress?) (And is it wrong these days to call females who act "actress"? Or are they only "actors" because we're trying to erase gender differences? But I digress ...) who wants to be a musketeer. Now, the dictionary says that a musketeer is "A member of the French royal household bodyguard in the 17th and 18th centuries." Actually, they existed in China, India, Spain, Russia, France, Sweden, Britain, and Poland. They were the soldiers who carried the muskets. Who they were and that they were only male is not up for discussion. But the makers of Barbie want these nice little girls to know that they, too, can be weapon-toting, gun-slinging, killing machines. Don't let your gender slow you down. You can be anything you want to be!

Seriously, people, is this really the place we want to go? Christians ought to have no question. The Bible clearly differentiates between roles of men and women ... and they aren't the same. They are complementary (not complimentary). We work best in the God-given roles of male and female and operate best as a team of both male and female. Do we really want to blur the lines? Haven't we already done enough damage there? Seriously.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Disciples, the Sequel

In August I wrote a piece on the Great Commission about how we ought to be discipling, not simply making converts. I had a follow up thought that perhaps might benefit you.

The command is "Go therefore and make disciples" (Matt 28:19). My original post was on how we ought to be going and doing that. But what about the reverse? We are part of the Body of Christ, an interconnected group that is to be marked primarily by love for one another. If we are to be discipling others, isn't it obvious that we ought to be discipled? So ... are you?

It has been my prayer for a long time that I would be given a "Paul" for whom I could be a "Timothy". I've asked people at times, but for the most part I've just kind of "waited on the Lord" as if it's solely His responsibility to make that happen. Not a wise approach. It seems to me that if we are designed to be interconnected and the Great Commission is about discipleship, then we ought to all be in the midst of discipling and being discipled.

So ... if you are not being discipled (as I suspect the case with the majority of Christians), do you know someone you could ask? And when are you going to ask them? I know, I know ... I'm meddling. But I believe that if we Christians got ourselves more interconnected (instead of independent), operated more like a Body rather than lone rangers, and actually became both disciples and disciplers, we would begin to see some changes in the fragmented and independent Church we see today in America. But that happens one at a time ... starting with you and me. So the question is who are you discipling ... and who is discipling you?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Socialism is coming!

If you haven't heard it yet, you just haven't been paying attention. The right is surging back against the president's left because "We don't want socialism in America!" In the demonstrations and blogs and news and practically everywhere you look, angry Americans are protesting the socialism that is just around the corner. This whole "health care reform" thing is the current catalyst for the fire, but we saw it before when the "financial recovery" plan hit the news and so on. "We don't want socialism in America!"

Now, I don't mean to defend the president's financial choices nor do I plan to offer support for his health care reform plans, but I do need to say something here. Get over it, folks. You don't want socialism in America? It's too late. It's already here.

Socialism is an economic system. While capitalism encourages private business ownership and minimal government interference, socialism advocates government or public ownership of the resources and production of goods. Capitalism operates on the "earn your way" process while socialism goes with an egalitarian approach where everyone gets the benefits rather than simply those who work for it. Now, it is true that we are largely a capitalist society. Most businesses are privately owned. In a majority of the cases each person gets what they earn, not what they don't earn. We're mostly capitalist. But don't fool yourself into thinking that we are all capitalist.

Where do we find socialism in America? Well, besides the obvious (There is a socialist movement in the country.), how about the very popular idea that it's good to take from the rich and give to the poor? That's not capitalism. That's egalitarianism. Encouraged by class wars and urged by the left, this idea is getting more and more traction. Whether it is right or not is irrelevant. It is not capitalism; it is socialism. But we've instituted genuine socialism already in various places. Our sense of compassion for the elderly led us to put in Medicare. This system provides health care for the elderly regardless of what they own or earned. It takes from the rest and gives to them. It is a prime example of socialism. Or how about the welfare system? That is clearly a product of socialist thinking. Take from those who have to give to those who do not (regulated by the government, of course). The Postal Service is a clear case of American socialism, a government-owned business. And none of this has anything at all to do with the current president.

When the Obama administration nationalized something like $85 billion of American corporate and business assets, it was a step into socialism. Support it or decry it, it is still the case. When the government takes ownership of a health care option, even if it is only one, it is socialism. The president is not a socialist, but he seems more comfortable with a more centralized control of the economy than leaving it in the hands of private enterprise. And he's not finished tinkering with things yet.

In other words, the president is certainly leading us toward more socialism. You may disagree. You may agree and be happy about it. I don't think it's a real question. But all this "We don't want socialism in America!" stuff is nonsense, folks. It's already here. We let it happen. We even like some of it. So let's stop clamoring against the cows we already let out of the barn and figure out if they're better off out there and, if so, maybe we should let out some more ... because I'm pretty sure we won't be closing the door on socialism any time soon.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Foxholes and Christians (a reprise)

This is a repeat from 2006. I know it's longer than my normal post (which is likely too long anyway), but when times are tough (as they are today), I think it bears remembering, and we were all on the same "tough times" page on Sept. 11, 2001. I wrote this soon after that fateful day and will share it again because, after all, most of you have never read it.

The events of September 11 and following have been shocking, frightening, unnerving, devastating. They have stirred emotions and responses that one wouldn’t have found a week before the aircraft hit those buildings and killed thousands of Americans. In the aftermath, an interesting series of events has unfolded. A resounding "God bless America!" has been shouted around the country that has resoundingly evicted God from America. The masses have flocked to prayer services. Leadership has called on God for support. The President has declared that God is on our side. The old saying, "There are no atheists in foxholes", has been demonstrated once again. My question, however, isn’t about these frightened people who are turning to God in time of trouble. My question is about Christians. In this new surge of spirituality, what is the Church offering? What are the Christians doing in the foxholes?

The public responses have been embarrassing at best. One Christian leader has stated that America got what it deserved. This is a running theme in many churches. We are a decadent country, and God is judging America. Others are backpedaling. "God didn’t have anything to do with this," they assure us. "God is a gentleman." Some religious leaders are on a similar bandwagon. "This isn’t God’s fault – it’s the fault of Man’s Free Will." Private responses have been similar. Christians have responded with everything from "Kill ‘em all and let God sort it out" to "God loves everyone and would never allow this to occur." So, with this gaping national wound bleeding from our televisions and a mad rush for support and answers to the best place to find support and answers – the Church – all we have to offer is either an angry God who smites His enemies or an uninvolved God who was just as appalled as we were and wishes He could have done something about it.

What ever happened to the God of the Bible? This God seems to be a different sort of God than the one of which we’re hearing from Christians. This is what God says about Himself in the words of Scripture:
Do you not know? Have you not heard? Has it not been declared to you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth? It is He who sits above the vault of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is who reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they been planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them, and they wither, and the storm carries them away like stubble. "To whom then will you liken Me that I should be his equal?" says the Holy One (Isa. 40:21-25).

Have you not heard? Long ago I did it, from ancient times I planned it. Now I have brought it to pass, that you should turn fortified cities into ruinous heaps. Therefore their inhabitants were short of strength, they were dismayed and put to shame; they were as the vegetation of the field and as the green herb, as grass on the housetops is scorched before it is grown up (Isa. 37:26-27).

I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these (Isa. 45:6-7).

These are words from Isaiah, but they are God speaking about Himself. He says that from His viewpoint human beings are "like grasshoppers". He says that He "reduces rulers to nothing". He says that He destroys their crops. He says that He plans to destroy their fortified cities, and He brings it to pass. In Isaiah 45, God Himself declares that He creates calamity. This is the image God is presenting concerning Himself.

Does God cause bad things? It is important, in answering the question, that we understand that God does not cause sin. Very clearly, "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." (James 1:13) But don’t be deceived into believing that God does not cause unpleasant events. He says He creates calamity. And even in the sin of Man, God is not out of control. He doesn’t cause evil, but He surely ordains it. Our clearest proof is our most blessed event, the death of Christ. No sin was more heinous than Judas Iscariot’s betrayal of Christ. Of this event, Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) In other words, God planned for Judas to do what Judas would do. It was foreordained. Judas still bore the responsibility of his choice ("Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"), but his sin did not mean a deviation from God’s plan.

Do not be deceived. God is sovereign. He plans the events that bring us happiness. He plans the events that bring us sorrow. It is all in His hand, and it is good.

Solomon writes on the same topic in Ecclesiastes.
Consider the work of God, for who is able to straighten what He has bent? In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider -- God has made the one as well as the other so that man may not discover anything that will be after him (Eccl. 7:13-14).

Solomon claims that God has made both the day of prosperity and the day of adversity. He claims that God does it for a reason.

Interestingly, throughout Scripture we see people who understand this and accept it. Job says, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord" (Job 1:21). We would look puzzled at Job. "The Lord took away? And you say He is to be blessed?" But God’s perspective on Job’s comment is "Through all this Job did not sin" (Job 1:22). We see the same concept from Sarah in Genesis. She tells her husband, "The Lord has made me barren" (Gen. 16:2). Clearly Sarah is not happy about it, but there are two features present that we lack today. First is the absolute certainty that God is in charge. It wasn’t "a fluke of nature" or "a string of bad luck". The Lord did it. The second is that, while she may not have liked the condition, she accepted it and worked with it rather than complaining. She worked in the wrong direction, but to her it was not "unfair" of God to do what He had done. To her, God had the perfect right to do what He would do, and He did.

This God is a different God from is being offered to many within the Church today. This God is a God who is intimately involved in everyday existence. This God doesn’t retreat from saying "I am the One creating calamity." Instead we read that God "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). David rejoiced in the knowledge that God had ordained all his days (Psa. 139:16).

Consider Daniel’s viewpoint of his God:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Dan. 1:2).

This is a key example of God at work. Today’s Christian would say "God does not do bad things; these things are caused by Man’s sinful Free Will." The events described in Daniel are as bad as they come. Judah was overrun and sent into captivity. The Temple was overrun and its holy vessels were put to profane use in a pagan temple. It doesn’t get any worse. But Daniel starts with the very clear statement as to who was in charge in all of this. "The Lord gave" them over. It wasn’t pleasant, and it wasn’t pretty, but this same Daniel who believed that God had actually given His people into captivity and His holy vessels into pagan use still stood firm in his faith, as evidenced by the rest of the book of Daniel. In Daniel’s view, God Himself brought all this to pass, and in Daniel’s view God was allowed to do so – it was "fair".

Consider Jeremiah’s viewpoint of his God:
He has filled me with bitterness, He has made me drunk with wormwood. And He has broken my teeth with gravel; He has made me cower in the dust. And my soul has been rejected from peace; I have forgotten happiness. So I say, "My strength has perished, and so has my hope from the LORD."

Remember my affliction and my wandering, the wormwood and bitterness. Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Thy faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him. It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the LORD. It is good for a man that he should bear the yoke in his youth (Lam. 3:15-27).

Here we have Jeremiah standing in the ruins of his homeland. There is no doubt that Jeremiah is unhappy. Faith in God’s sovereignty does not necessarily mean bliss. He says he has no peace. He says that he has even lost hope. Then something occurs to him that renews his hope. What is that? "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness." We know these words. They’re in our songs. But Jeremiah lived them. He understood that nothing around him brought comfort; nothing around him gave reason for hope that circumstances would improve. His single source of hope was in the simple, sure confidence that God was God. While we clamor for joy or peace or blessing, Jeremiah said, "I’ve lost all that . . . but God is good enough." Paul says the same thing. "I count all things as loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ." (Phil. 3:8) Knowing God is enough.

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s viewpoint of their God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).

These three men stood on the brink of disaster. They were about to suffer a horrible death. So hot was the fire they were to face that it killed those who threw them into it. They spoke confidently, as we would have our heroes do. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." "You tell them, guys," we cheer. "God can deliver you. Trust in Him." We’re behind them. But they aren’t lost in a false sense of "God only wants us to be comfortable". They recognize that this may not be His plan. "Even if He does not . . . we are not going to serve your gods." Here we would typically draw the line. If God, in our estimation, is going to be fair to these guys, He must reward their faithfulness to Him by saving them. To do otherwise would not be right. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disagree. To them, God decides who lives and who dies, and God is just in doing so. His saving them from the fire is not the expected result of their faith. To them, this is right. Their God is the One who decides. Their God is right in what He decides.

This is not the vengeful God being portrayed on one end, the "hands off" God in the middle, or the "He loves us too much" God being offered on the other end. This is the God who is intimately involved in the everyday existence of human beings. This is the sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient God who brings both affliction and comfort, justice and mercy. This God answers our cries of "That’s not fair!" with the simple retort, "Who are you, O man, who answers back to God?" (Rom. 9:20) This God grants us suffering (Phil. 1:29). This is the God who leads us through the valley of the shadow of death. There may be painful and frightening things in this valley, but "I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me." This is the sovereign Lord who "comforts us in all our afflictions" (2 Cor. 1:4) and provides a peace that passes understanding (Phil. 4:7) by never leaving or forsaking us (Heb. 13:5). We don’t have confidence in God because He makes us comfortable. We have confidence in God because He is God, because He is sovereign, and because He will always do what is best.

We have attempted to "fill in the blanks" where God is concerned, and we have failed badly. When some in Jesus’ day tried to do that, Jesus responded accordingly:
Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5).

Jesus’ disciples made the same mistake with the man born blind.
His disciples asked Him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:2 3).

In both cases, people grossly misjudged the circumstances. As Job’s "friends" who gathered to inform him that his suffering was the result of his sin, these assumed that bad things do not happen to good people. The premise is "If something bad happens to you, it’s because you did something wrong." Jesus disagrees. "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?" Jesus makes two clear points. First, not all unhappy events are punishment from God. Second, we all deserve unhappy events. We have tricked ourselves into believing that we deserve pleasant circumstances, and God is unfair or angry if we don’t get them. What we have missed is that we deserve Hell, and any pleasant event in life is an act of sheer grace on God’s part.

In fact, Jesus holds that unpleasant events can actually be God’s plan, "in order that the works of God might be displayed." From the perspective of our Lord Jesus, our dire circumstances are God’s opportunity to shine, to display His power, to show His strength. God told Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness" (2 Cor. 12:9). We view our pain and suffering as things to escape. God views them as opportunities for Him to declare His glory.

Did God judge America? Perhaps. Or did He merely withdraw His hand of protection? Could be. But it is folly to try to explain God’s intent in the events of September 11 without a specific word from God. It is foolish to assume, for instance, that they are God’s judgments and chastening for specific sins. Instead, we need to recognize that every bad thing that happens is part of God’s curse upon humanity for our rebellion against Him in our father Adam. We dwell in a cursed world. So we should not jump to the conclusion that all bad things that happen are God’s acts of retribution for specific sinful actions. Jesus’ teaching in Luke 13:1-5 makes this clear. Every evil that befalls us beckons us to return to God Himself. We need to flee the anemic God offered by our therapeutic culture who loves everybody without discrimination. We need to flee the irate God of the other view that capriciously smites His enemies with wild abandon. The God we need is the God of Daniel, who sovereignly ordains calamity for good purposes. The God we need is the God of Jeremiah who removes tranquility while remaining faithful. The God we need is the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who may not meet our expectations of what we might like, but is certainly to be trusted to perform what is best. We need to see, with Joseph, that "you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen. 50:20). This God is not a powerless god who cannot intervene, nor is He a "gentleman" who does not intervene. He is not subject to Man’s Free Will nor given to fits of temper. He is the LORD God Almighty (Rev. 4:8), the King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14), the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end (Rev. 22:13). He is God of all, over all, through all, and in all (Eph. 4:5), for Whom and through Whom are all things (Heb. 2:10).

It is only in that sovereign, good, faithful God that we can find a peace that passes understanding in times of harsh crisis, and it is only that God that we can offer to the hurting world around us. Any other God is not God at all, but a caricature of the True God – an idol carved by human hands.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Finding Myself

Do a search on "finding myself" and you'll get millions of hits. It's a big question, it seems. "I need to find myself. How do I do that?" People are writing in for advice. "I want to leave my spouse of x years so I can find out who I am." There is an entire article in wikiHow about how to find yourself. has multiple questions/answers on "finding myself". It's a big, big thing.

The thing is ... I haven't got a clue what it is ... or why it is that you have to rip off the people around you to do it. Apparently you can't do this while connected to anyone else. It is, by all appearances, a totally self-absorbing, self-centered process. It would seem that "finding self" requires no interaction with others.

wikiHow has a nice little article on how to find yourself. It illustrates, to me, the total contradiction. For instance, Step 1: "Develop your own moral conduct and practice sticking to it. Remove vice from your life. Smoking, over-eating, and over-drinking will prevent you from functioning at your peak." Wait a minute ... if you are developing your own moral conduct, how can they dictate to you that smoking, over-eating, and over-drinking are wrong? You're developing your own moral conduct. Second, if it is your own moral conduct, in what sense is it "moral"? It's simpy what you decide is right or wrong, not actually "moral". Or how about Step 2? "Forget about what everyone else thinks!" How nice! Paul says, "As much as within you, be at peace with all men." In other words, "care about others and their feelings". But apparently finding yourself means not caring. Step 3 is "Find solitude." You cannot find yourself if you are not by yourself. I guess your "self" is traveling and you need to go where it is, because it is not where others are.

I have to tell you. I hate this stuff. We feed this stuff to each other in our culture. "Forget about everyone. You are the only important person. Shirk your duties. Violate your promises. Ignore your responsibilities. Do whatever it takes ... but find yourself." What if ignoring those around you, failing to be what you ought and surrendering integrity are all things that violate yourself? Then running from what you are won't help you find yourself, will it? Encouraging total immersion in self-centeredness is the wrong way to go. That kind of sin is never the right answer. Besides, I suspect that what you find there won't be pleasant. I, for one, recommend against it.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

American Independence

I'm not writing this around July 4th because I'm not thinking about American independence from Britain. That's likely the first thing that comes to mind when I use that phrase: American independence. That use of the term "independence" would be defined as "not subject to another's authority or jurisdiction". I'm not talking about that version. What I want to look at is this one: "not dependent; not depending or contingent upon something else for existence, operation, etc.; not relying on another or others for aid or support; rejecting others' aid or support; refusing to be under obligation to others."

Oh, that "independence". Yes, we Americans value that oh so highly. We respect those who can stand on their own two feet. The "self-made man" is greatly admired. We love the theme song, "I Did It My Way". I have to ask, though ... is this a good thing?

We all know the old adage -- "No man is an island." Humans are gregarious beings, operating best in groups. We were designed for society rather than isolation. We are created to be connected. We work best both when we lean on others and are available to be leaned on. So how is it that we have so highly elevated "independence" as a virtue?

Scripture is quite clear. There is command after command about how we are to relate to one another. Love one another. Giving is better than receiving. Love your enemy. The Body of Christ is described as "made up of many parts" and not working well as independent beings. And so it goes. Nowhere in the Bible is there praise for the self-made man. Nowhere do we find "personal independence" as moral excellence. So how is it that we have so highly elevated that trait as a virtue?

As an example of the problem, look at families today. According to statistics, 50% of marriages end up in divorce. Interestingly, the highest divorce rates for first marriages is among the 20 to 24-year-old age group. Older than that, and the rates drop drastically. Why is that? Well, there are lots of theories. Childless couples have higher divorce rates than couples with children. Couples who live together before marriage have higher divorce rates. Despite Barna's argument that Christians have a higher divorce rate than atheists and agnostics, it appears that statistically the lowest divorce rate is among Christians who are deeply involved with their church. It seems to me quite obvious that interdependence puts a family on stronger footing than independence. The family that is internally interdependent as well as closely tied to wider family and friends ends up with greater accountability and stronger support. In other words, independence in marriage is a bad thing.

We haven't always been this way. There was a time when the family was tied together. To this day in other cultures the wisdom of age is revered and the ties of family are nearly unbreakable. It isn't a virtue to be apart from the ties that bind. It's considered foolish, painful, and dangerous. So how did we get here?

When all of God's Word tells us how to relate to one another, and we find it best to "do it my way", you can pretty well tell where that voice is coming from. That wouldn't be God. So the message wouldn't be a good one. When God built us for interdependence, and the voices around us are praising independence, you can be pretty sure about the source of that voice.