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Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Story of Rebellion

Rebels seize one third of the country.

A quarter of the government troops surrender to rebel forces.

Government-owned military bases seized by rebels.

Government outpost defends itself against attack, falls to rebel forces.

President calls for troops to restore order.

Chief of military resigns and joins rebel forces.

Rebel forces defeat government troops as they approach the capital.

Rebel forces seek European assistance.

Military forces attack and retake two government military installations.

13,000 government troops killed in surprise attack by rebels.

Fierce fighting near the capital forces government retreat.

European mercenaries assist rebel forces.

More than 26,000 killed in one day of heavy fighting between government and rebel troops.

Rebel forces cause costly losses in battle with government elite forces.


Has anyone figured out what story I'm writing here? If you weren't paying attention, you might think I was describing the fighting in Libya. You might be baffled a bit by the details, but it sounds like what we're getting on the news. Well, it's not. This is a description of the first two years of ... wait for it ... the American Civil War. Now, I'm not saying that the government of Libya is right and I'm certainly not saying that Libya's president is on a moral crusade, but I find it hard to believe that this is not viewed as a civil war instead of a "battle for freedom". I recently heard a report about how government troops were killing Libyan citizens in the fighting. "He's killing his own people," one person complained. In the American Civil War, no numbers of civilian deaths were kept, but estimates place it at around 50,000 people. That's an astounding and horrible number. Still, Americans believe that America was right to terminate the rebellion in the 1860's but applaud the rebels in Libya today. Why? What's different? And are we so sure?

We don't know who the rebels are. We do know that they are backed by the same people that fought the U.S. in Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein. We aren't pleased at all with Libya's president, but does that mean that we should be opposing his what would appear to be legitimate attempts to reunite his own country? Or should we say that Europe should have intervened in the 1860's and ensured that the rebels remained independent? At least, if we were going to be consistent, that would seem to be the case.

Friday, April 29, 2011

The Ultimate Egotist

Egotism refers to "preoccupation with one's ego or self. Egotism is the common word for obtrusive and excessive reference to and emphasis upon oneself and one's own importance." We understand that. Egotism is not a good thing. Conceit. Bad.

Enter God. God declares that everything that was made was created through Him and for Him (Col 1:16). Talk about an ego! According to Christianity, the chief end of Man -- the primary reason for which we were made -- is "to enjoy God and glorify Him forever." Or, as Piper puts it, we are made to enjoy God by glorifying Him forever. And with this claim comes the accusation that God is the ultimate egotist.

There are two considerations when thinking about this. First, the concept of egotism assumes that the preoccupation with self is a faulty one. It is an inflated one. And, indeed, since human beings tend to think of themselves as the center of the universe, that would qualify as egotism. But God is not in the same category. He is the center of the universe. His view of Himself isn't overblown; it's accurate. He thinks of Himself as the Ultimate Being because He is the Ultimate Being. As such, God is not technically an egotist; He's a realist. In fact, if it is wrong to worship anyone in place of God, then God would be wrong to worship anyone in place of Himself.

If that were the end of the conversation, it would be sufficient. He demands glory because He deserves it. We are to focus on Him because He is the highest possible One on which to focus. It's reality, not egotism. Still, that's not the end of it.

According to Scripture, we were made for the purpose of glorifying God. Isaiah says, "I will say to the north, 'Give them up!' And to the south, 'Do not hold them back.' Bring My sons from afar and My daughters from the ends of the earth, everyone who is called by My name, and whom I have created for My glory, whom I have formed, even whom I have made" (Isa 43:6-7). The blessings that believers are given are "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph 1:6, 12, 14). It is our purpose in life.

So consider this. It is reasonable to say that a greyhound is a runner. These dogs are built for speed. They love to run. It is their joy in life. Buy a greyhound and keep it in a cage in your backyard, and you might have a safe greyhound, but it will be a miserable greyhound. These dogs find their greatest fulfillment in running.

Even so, we were built to glorify God. Now, God deserves our attention and is due all the glory we can give Him, but it doesn't stop there. In offering Himself to us to glorify Him, He's not simply using us for His ends. He is giving us our greatest pleasure. He is offering us our fullest joy. By allowing us to glorify Him, He is giving us life abundant.

Are we being used? If "being used" means "seeing the reality of who God is and exulting in it", then we are being used. If "being used" means "allowed to enjoy all of our existence to the fullest extent", then we are being used. And if recognizing and acknowledging the truth about Himself without exaggeration or diminishing the truth is egotism, then God is the ultimate egotist. And all of that is a good thing -- a very good thing.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Bought with a Price

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor 6:19-20).
This phrase, "your body is a temple", is one that even unbelievers know. It isn't uncommon to hear that kind of thing from an athlete, for instance. It's typically used in terms of healthy living. And it's commonly used by those who would like to tell you that it means, "Thou shalt not smoke."

Funny thing. The context is not about healthy living. The context is about sexual sin. "The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body" (1 Cor 6:13). In fact, if you use it as a warning to live a healthy life, you're likely to run into all sorts of trouble. For instance, we know that living in urban areas is not good for your health. Air pollution, noise pollution, the stresses of working and living in these areas all are bad for your body. Or how about Twinkies? Oh, sure, not just those little gems, but all of that kind of eating. We know that they're not good for you. Do you drive? Likely not a good thing, since the environment of the roads and the car are all bad for you. So, if you're going to make this about healthy living, then smoking would be a sin, sure. And so would eating Twinkies, driving a car, and living in the city. Time to make some changes, Christians, eh?

No, this passage isn't about healthy living. It's about godly living. "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). Instead of these Paul says, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything" (1 Cor 6:12). Godly living. He is, in fact, telling us not to use our freedom as license, but to call ourselves to a higher standard. We aren't to ask, "Is it bad to ...?" but "Is it profitable to ...?"

The other funny thing is the way we get bogged down in these statements. In our squabbles about "Is it really talking about homosexuals?" and "Doesn't this teach that we shouldn't smoke?", we miss the primary point. It is, in fact, the point we most often miss and most badly need. Let's see if I can crystallize it for you. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God."

Now, to the 1st century Christian that wouldn't sound so dramatic. The concept of a lord, a master, a sovereign with the right to tell you what to do and the right to terminate your life if he so desired was no big thing. It was common. But Americans have prided themselves on freedom, on having no lord or master or sovereign. Independence is the thing. In his book, Now, That's a Good Question!, R. C. Sproul tells about a friend who came from England to be an Episcopalian priest in Pittsburgh. He was visiting Philadelphia and looking at some of the mementos from the Revolutionary War. There were placards that said "Don't tread on me" and "No taxation without representation", but the one that caught his eye was the one that said, "We serve no sovereign here." How does the American culture deal with the concept of God's sovereignty with that mindset as a starting point? Yet here is Paul in the 1st century telling American Christians in the 21st century, "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price."

"Not your own." No tougher words were ever spoken to fiercely independent American Christians. We want to be obedient and we want to be godly, but we also want to make our own choices. "Free will" is the larger god of the day, it sometimes seems. Tell us that homosexual behavior is a sin and tell us that sex outside of marriage is evil and even tell us that it's wrong to smoke, but do not suggest that I am not my own. That is heresy.

But those are the questions we are to be asking in our everyday existence. Not "Is it wrong?", but "Will it master me?" Not "What is the minimum obedience?" but "Is it profitable?" Not "Am I free to ...?" but "Does it glorify God?" And, from what I see, there is no limit to the question, "Does it glorify God?" Does it glorify God how I dress? Does it glorify God what I do for a living? Does it glorify God how I drive? It is, in fact, an incredibly invasive question. But, then, that shouldn't be a problem for us. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price." I joked above that it might be time for Christians to make some changes. It's no joke here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Too Heavenly Minded

My son, David, sent me this piece he wrote. "If it's any good, I thought maybe your readers might be interested." It's good. So here it is.

Anyone that has spent any time in church knows someone that is just so theologically minded that they seem to do nothing but spout scripture verses for any situation. We often roll our eyes at that person and think they don’t do much that’s of use in this world because they are too concerned with their theology to actually apply it. Too heavenly minded to do any earthly good. Logically, it makes sense. What good is all that theology if it doesn’t do anything for those around them? But biblically, that’s exactly how we’re supposed to be.

In my NASB, 2 Peter 1 has a heading “Growth in Christian Virtue”. Starting in the second half of verse 1:
To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ. Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence.
Now, there is a lot of theology that is in there, but this is just the beginning of my argument that there is no such thing as “too heavenly minded”. Notice HOW grace and peace are multiplied to us, “…in the knowledge of God…”. Knowledge of God increases our grace and peace.

Chapter 1 goes on to list a sequence of actions that grow on each other when practiced: moral excellence, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love. Each one allows the next to grow. The more we know about God, the more we are able to control ourselves. The more we control ourselves, the more we are able to persevere through the trials in our lives. The more we persevere, the more we grow in godly living. The more we grow in godliness, the more we practice brotherly kindness because we are able to see our fellow believers as our family. As we demonstrate brotherly kindness we develop love.

The chapter goes on to say that if we practice these qualities we will not prove useless or unfruitful, but if we don’t practice them, we lose sight of where we were before Christ, and forget the cleansing work of His work. As we grow in them, we grow in our diligence to affirm our calling and election, and will stop stumbling. Ultimately, they will hold open the entrance to the Kingdom of God supplied by Jesus.

According to 2 Peter 1, there is no such thing as being too heavenly minded to do any earthly good because the more heavenly minded we are, the more we are able to do in God. The next time your brother or sister starts to talk about what they think about God, or what they found in the Bible, don’t roll your eyes and smile and nod. Remember that you were lost, but now are saved. You have been given the chance to know your Savior and learn more and more about Him, which in turn will make you a better person.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Touch of the Master's Hand

I was in the Air Force at the time. I actually liked being in the Air Force. I was an instructor and I enjoyed my work. I might even stay for the whole 20 years to get a retirement, but there were rising concerns. There was talk of limiting promotions, blocking retirement options, and even decreasing benefits like health care.

I got a call from a guy I had worked with years before. He was working for a company in California that wanted to hire me. I told him I was interested, but it was not possible. I couldn't get out to California for an interview and I still had two years on my current enlistment. So he had the vice president of the company fly to Syracuse to interview me. He liked what he saw, so he offered me a job with a salary $10,000 a year higher than I thought I needed in civilian life in California. "Well," I told him, "I'm certainly interested, but I still have two years on my enlistment." "The offer will remain open," he answered.

The next week the Air Force announced a major force reduction. "Anyone who wants to get out can get out." It was unprecedented. So, with a job offer in hand, I notified my supervisor that I planned to get out. "Oh, you can't," he assured me. "We're making this base the training location for the entire northeast quadrant of the United States. We need you and two more like you." Well, okay, but I filed the paperwork anyway. No way to lose, you know. I liked being in and I had a good offer if I got out.

My supervisor was astounded when the paperwork came back approved. So I started a month of terminal leave, packed up the family, and headed to California (our original home). Once there I contacted my friend and told him I was ready to start work. "Oh, no," he said. "We've hit a downturn. We're laying people off and can't hire anyone." So there we were, our little family of four, staying with my parents while I valiantly looked for work as my terminal leave from the Air Force counted down.

My father came back from a visit to Orange County and brought me a newspaper. I looked through the want ads and contacted all the possible places I could work. One called me back for an interview. During the interview, one of the vice presidents asked me how I had heard about them. I told him about the ad in the paper. "But," he said to the other interviewer at the time, "we didn't put an ad in the paper." All three of us were baffled.

I was offered the job and would start work a few days before the end of my terminal leave. "We don't actually hire right off," my new supervisor told me. "What we do is have you work for us from a temporary service. After 90 days, if it all works out, we hire you and then your benefits go into effect." That was 90 days without health insurance and such. But it was a job and a good one, so I would cross my fingers and go ahead. Of course, crossing fingers isn't nearly efficient as Providence. When I started work my boss told me, "We've decided to waive the 90 day requirement and you're hired outright. Your benefits will be effective immediately." So when my military benefits terminated, my civilian job benefits were in place and my family was covered.

We had gone from military to civilian, from enlisted to unemployed to well employed. We did it with job offers that didn't pan out and want ads that were never placed. All very confusing, I'm sure, but one thing of which I was quite sure. I had just witnessed the touch of the Master's hand.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Tracing the Hand of God

I remember when I met the woman I planned to marry, I was cautious. I didn't want to rush into anything, you know? I mean, I wanted to marry the one that God intended me to marry. So I threw up obstacles. "God," I prayed, "I will ask her father if I may marry her. If he says 'No', I will not marry her." He didn't. But I had a bunch of them. In the time between asking and marrying I had a host of things that were designed more to prevent the marriage than to encourage it. And in every case I got the "go ahead". So, we married.

For us the honeymoon ended quickly. She was pregnant after a short time, and then, right on the heels of that announcement I was unfairly fired from my job. Now I had a pregnant wife and no income. I got work as a night watchman, but security work did not provide a livable income. I decided to try the Air Force. I took the ASVAB, the test to see if you have the basic requirements to get into the military. At the end of the test was a question and answer set that was not a pass/fail, but simply an opinion survey. What do you like? What don't you like? Would you like to work with computers? "Yes!" Have you ever fixed a toaster? "No!" Are you any good with languages? "Yes!" Do you like to work on stereos? "No!" I answered a variety of questions, but every single question involving electronics was a "No!"

When the results were in, they were happy to have me join. "You scored well. You can do anything ... except mechanical stuff." Fine with me. I just wanted some sort of job training that would give me a career. I looked through a variety of things and picked out accounting. I could do that quite well, I was sure. And it would give me a job on the outside -- my goal. "Okay, Mr. Smith," the reviewer told me, "we'll give you a job in accounting. Your opening will be in October." October? Wait, this was June and my wife was pregnant now and we were in need of help now. "What would I have to do to get in sooner than October?" I asked. "Well, you can come into the station here and wait every day. If someone can't get in to go to their assignment -- say, an injury or sickness or something -- and you're qualified to take their place, we will let you go in their place."

The next day I was waiting. It didn't take long for someone not to show up. A broken leg. "Well, Mr. Smith, it looks like you qualify for his job. You can go in today." What was his job? Open electronics. Of course, the one thing in which I had zero interest. But, I reminded myself that my goal was a career and electronics would be just that, so I took it. Once in training, I got my specific electronics assignment ("Open electronics" meant I could do anything from servicing instruments on aircraft to fixing radar sites.) I was going to be an Avionic Navigation Systems Specialist.

I've been in electronics ever since. It turned out that avionic navigation systems was the last field that allowed the full range of electronic maintenance. I worked on aircraft, black boxes, circuit boards, solid state devices, even vacuum tube systems. I learned all sorts of things that would not have otherwise presented themselves. Today I have more than 30 years in electronics. I not only found the work bearable; I found it enjoyable. I've been told I have a natural aptitude for troubleshooting. It was my early experience that got me the job in civilian life that allowed me to rise from test technician to test engineer. It included building, testing, troubleshooting, documenting, even programming. And I've enjoyed it all.

Some might call that a tremendous coincidence. I call it Providence. Some might say that I really got lucky. I call it the Hand of God. Some would say that I've been a fortunate fellow. I'd say I've been blessed. There have been times that I've been able to trace the hand of God in my life. It makes it all the easier, then, to trust Him when I cannot.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection

There are some today who question the Resurrection of Christ. Oh, they're okay with a "spiritual resurrection" of sorts. You know, spirituality is quite popular today. I mean, it's a popular theme that when someone dies they're "up there in heaven, looking down on us." Nice. And that was Jesus, too ... right? No, not right. The bodily resurrection of Christ is not negotiable, nor is it minor.

The Resurrection assures us that there is a God. Its violation of the "Laws of Nature" simply prove that God is the Master over Nature, something we desperately need to know when considering a world where Nature is sometimes not too friendly.

The Resurrection demonstrates a victory. The Cross was a victory over sin, but the wages of sin is death, so we needed another victory. The Resurrection demonstrates Jesus's victory over death. It is in the Resurrection that we can exult, "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?" (1 Cor 15:55).

It was in the Resurrection that Jesus was ultimately vindicated. It is entirely possible for one to be wrongly convicted and put to death for crimes he didn't commit. That's sad. Did that happen to Jesus? We wouldn't actually know if it weren't for the Resurrection. By rising again, bodily, He demonstrated that His death was necessary and complete, but not the end of the story. He wasn't simply killed by injustice; He died on our behalf and rose again to new life.

It is this new life that is really in focus at the Resurrection. "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (Rom 6:4). That "newness of life" is what the Christian life is all about. All things have become new. Indeed, "eternal life" was the whole idea. A Savior who promises new life and then doesn't actually continue to live is no savior at all. Christ did.

The bodily resurrection of Christ is non-negotiable. Paul said, "If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain" (1 Cor 15:14). He goes on to say, "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied" (1 Cor 15:17-19). Instead, Paul assured his readers that the risen Lord had been seen by the original disciples as well as more than 500 more, "most of whom are still alive". In other words, "Go and ask them!"

There are other important matters that the Resurrection answers. If "They shall look upon Him whom they have pierced" (Zech 12:10), but He is dead and buried, how will that happen? He promised to "destroy this temple" and raise it up again in three days. His integrity was in question if He didn't rise again. Appearing first to the women was a message to all of the importance of women in Christianity in the midst of a culture that demeaned them. His physical resurrection was the sign needed to convince Thomas, the doubter, and continues to convince others today. His Resurrection made Him the "first fruits", the forerunner of what we can expect for ourselves. It is the promise of our own bodily resurrection. "What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Cor 15:42-43).

The Resurrection is an absurdity to the unbeliever. Without it, we are without hope. But since it is a reality, we have every reason to rejoice. Some may quibble over it today, but as for me, I will exult in my Risen Savior. The Lord is risen! The Lord is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

That's Just Foolish

The Bible talks about three levels of "knowing", so to speak. There is, at the bottom, knowledge. At this level you have the awareness of the facts. Next up is understanding. At this level you have a comprehension of the facts and a sense of how they fit together. The top level is wisdom. At this point you know the facts, comprehend their meaning and how they fit, and are now able to accurately apply them to living.

I'm sure you can do the math and figure out that there would also be three levels of ... not knowing. The level that, in this direction, would be the top level would be ignorance. At this level you just don't know the facts. After that comes stupidity, where you do know the facts but can't comprehend what they mean. Finally there is foolishness, where you would appear to have the facts and know what they mean but cannot apply them to life.

In normal circles, calling someone "ignorant", "stupid", or "foolish" would have the same basic meaning, but I'm sure, when you think about it, that you can see that these are different. To call someone "ignorant" is not to demean their intelligence. It simply says that they are not in possession of all the facts. Indeed, no human being is in possession of all the facts, so all of us are ignorant in some areas or another. Of course, to what level we are ignorant varies, but it is, on the surface, no shame to be ignorant. "Stupid", on the other hand, is demeaning someone's intelligence. They have the facts and should have no problem seeing what they mean, but they don't. That's just ... stupid. Often it is even willful stupidity. The facts may be laid out for anyone to see, but some choose to ignore the plain reality and claim, in essence, to be stupid. The worst, of course, is the foolish person. This person is without excuse. While an ignorant person has never had access to the necessary information and the stupid person apparently lacks the necessary intelligence to comprehend the information, the foolish person has both and cannot figure out what to do with it. Foolishness, biblically, is typically a matter of sinfulness. Proverbs 9:4-6 speaks of the "simple" or "naive", what I've termed "ignorant", and urges them to turn. To the stupid (my term) -- those who lack understanding -- wisdom urges them to pursue wisdom and forsake folly (the biblical term for "foolishness"). But the fool is another story. The fool is immoral, a seductress that draws others away. The fool says "There is no God" either in words or in lifestyle. The fool may actually be strong in the "wisdom of the world", but the biblical fool is lacking in spiritual wisdom. Remember, "a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised."

So, let's review. Where do we not want to be? We want to avoid "foolish", which is a product of sin, an either intentional or practical refusal to recognize God as God. Above the fool is the stupid, the one who has information but lacks comprehension. They need clarification. Not as bad as the stupid are the ignorant. They simply lack the knowledge and that can be provided. Of course, from there we know that there are those who know. They have the facts. Better than that are those who understand. They know how the facts fit together. Ultimately we want to be wise, knowing how to apply the truth to life. Wise is the place to be, having knowledge and understanding especially in spiritual matters. Denying God in any form, whether intentionally or by practice ... well, that's just foolish.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Tale of Two Trees

The tree stood alone in the garden, the only one of its kind. It was a beautiful tree. It wasn't an apple tree or a fig tree or a cherry tree. It wasn't a pine tree or a cedar. It was the Tree of of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Anyone could see that it was "good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise." And the tree, as it turned out, when Man ate of it, resulted in death for all.

The tree was an ugly tree. Rough hewn, it had no beauty of its own. It was the Tree of Death. In human terms, it represented the most horrible means of execution devised by Man. To the Son of God, it represented the worst possible suffering. He knelt in the garden and begged His Father to let Him avoid it if there was any possible way. There wasn't. And when He partook of it, it resulted in the possibility of life for all.

Adam failed to follow directions and took the fruit from the Tree of of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In that disobedience, sin came into the world. Jesus followed His Father's command and ate of the fruit of the Cross. In that final act of obedience, salvation came into the world. Today we celebrate that Cross and His Resurrection. He brought life by embracing that certain death. And His Resurrection shows us that He defeated death for us all.

We still have the option. We can embrace the Tree of of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and continue to die, or embrace the Cross and participate in life. Praise God for the two trees, and the Savior who obeyed, taking the curse for us.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


One mistake that we all make is the assumption of homogeneity. Okay, so maybe most of us wouldn't use that term. We assume that we're all alike. Where I fail, I would assume you fail. Where I have no problem, I would assume neither do you. It's easy to assume that lots of other people think like I do and, when I find that they don't, I'm baffled. "What ... how could you not see that?" In subtle and unconscious ways, we assume, even though we deny it, that we're all alike.

Take, for instance, the area of pornography. There are assumptions and stereotypes at work there that will cause problems because we assume we're all alike. So, what do we assume? We assume that it's a "guy thing". We assume that guys who watch porn do so out of lust for the women they watch. So we have guys lusting after strange women and when we approach a remedy for this problem we approach those factors. So ... what if those are not the factors?

As it turns out, increasing numbers of women are becoming addicted to porn. "At Quit Porn Addiction, the UK's main porn counselling [sic] service, almost one in three clients are women struggling with their own porn use." Who would have thought? That changes the face of the problem and, thus, the solutions. And one assumption -- "it's a 'guy thing'" -- takes a hit.

Additionally, not all men who are addicted to porn (I'm using the term "addicted" not as a clinical term, but as a concept, the idea of people who struggle with the urges to involve themselves with it and cannot seem to get them under control) are lusting after the women they see. The most common response of a wife who finds her husband is battling the problem seems to be "What's wrong with me? Aren't I enough?" That may not be the valid question at all. So the fight moves away from the real problem and focuses on trying to get him to be satisfied with his wife when it's not a problem of sexual satisfaction at all. According to the Guardian article, involvement in porn "releases a dopamine-oxytocin high that has been compared to a heroin hit, and many regular users of internet porn report experiencing an almost trance-like effect that not only makes them feel oblivious to the world, but also gives them a sense of power that they don't have in real life." You see, sexual satisfaction is not the question. And another faulty stereotype will lead you down another wrong road.

Pornography is problem. For many it is a serious problem. The problem is compounded by faulty stereotypes which lead to faulty conclusions about those who are involved and faulty solutions about how to fix the problem. We have long been told that rape is a crime of power, not passion. It is my deep suspicion that it is a similar problem for many struggling with sexual addictions. And these problems are further compounded by the stigma they bear. A guy fighting urges toward pornography is anathema. A girl fighting those problems is unheard of. So where do either of these go for help?

Ladies, one thing I'd like to share with you that you might not know. Not all men are lusting after women when they fight this problem. It may not at all be about you. It may be a problem with them. Support, then, is needed, not condemnation. And to you guys who are fighting this, there's something I'd like to share with you. (This also pertains to those women who are in the same situation.) Today is Maundy Thursday, the day we commemorate Christ's trials. Tomorrow is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ's crucifixion. Christ died for your sins, including the things you struggle with most. If it is a struggle (as opposed to an indulgence, something you are a bit concerned about but not overly), then know that Christ's death was for you and for this problem (1 John 2:1-2). Repeated failures, though a big problem, are not the end of the story.

We humans have problems recognizing "harm". We have problems recognizing the problems. We have problems determining what the problem is and how to solve it. However, solutions to problems like pornography for those who are fighting those urges do exist and should be pursued. The first solution, of course, is the power and work of Christ in the believer. Beyond that, practical suggestions are out there. John Piper has a nice piece on fighting the problem that he calls ANTHEM. Good, generic approach, not too fraught with the problems of false stereotypes. Tim Challies has written a fine little book called Sexual Detox on the topic. It provides some excellent insights. You can buy it (eBook, audio, etc.) or just read it in parts (it came from posts on his blog) with all the necessary links here. I dream, of course, of an additional approach. It's my own, prompted by something silly that I once read (I just read it the other day again, which prompted this post) which said, "Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal 6:1-2). Yeah, I know, silly, isn't it? Suggesting biblical solutions to life's modern problems? But that's me, just wacky.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011


This is one of my question entries. I have a situation to examine and I'm hoping you will help me out. It is a genuine dilemma as opposed to one for which I already have an answer, so your input would be appreciated.

Here's the notion. It is an example, so if it doesn't fit your viewpoint, substitute a similar one. But since I suspect that most of my readers don't believe in infant baptism, this should fit most of my readers. So, let's say you have a brother in Christ, a genuine believer, who happens to be convinced that infant baptism is biblical and, therefore, right. He moves to a new town and is going to a church that he and his family enjoy very much. Further, the church is the only one in the area that is remotely suitable. So he decides that they should join the church. In the membership process, they find that one requirement for membership at this church is to be baptized. "But," he tells them, "I have been baptized. I was baptized as an infant." He sees this as a non-issue. It is "biblical baptism" to him and can't imagine why it would be a problem. "No," they tell him, "we only believe in 'believers baptism.' If you are going to be a member of this church, you will need to be baptized again." Now, this is a problem for him. You see, he believes that a second baptism after that one as an infant would represent a violation of faith. It would be like telling God, "I know You did it once, but it wasn't good enough. We're going to need another one." It would be an offense to God.

So you can see his problem. He can discard his beliefs and join the only church in his vicinity that provides the teaching and fellowship he and his family needs. Or he can retain his beliefs and not join the church. (Note that "joining the church" is no small matter. It is the only way in which the church allows genuine involvement like teaching, serving, ministry, that sort of stuff. It's the only way to really be part of the church.) So, assuming you disagree with his belief in infant baptism, what would you advice this friend? (If you believe in infant baptism, your approach would obviously be different. That's the "doesn't fit" part and you may need to approach the concept from a different set of particulars.)

I can see at the outset that you might set out to convince him that he needn't hold on to his infant baptism beliefs. You may try to show him that Scripture doesn't support it. You may discard his argument that the Early Church held to it. You may even suggest that his belief that a second baptism would be an offense to God is faulty. But, assuming he is not lightly entrenched in those positions, but thoroughly dug in, you're back to the beginning of the question.

So, what do you suggest? Would you tell him that he should join the church and keep his beliefs quiet and "God will forgive your offense for a good cause"? Would you suggest he go to another church which would coincide with his beliefs (assuming it's even possible) even if it means traveling a great distance and, likely, a much smaller opportunity for involvement? Or perhaps you'd be so opposed to his belief that you might suggest he repent and receive Jesus as his Savior ... and be baptized? "If you're going to hold to that belief and call yourself a Christian, I'm going to have to sever my ties with you." What would you suggest? What would you do? I really want to know because I'm not getting a clear path on this one myself.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Thieves Among Us

I get it. Some people don't like what Christianity teaches, so they don't want to be part of Christianity. I mean, that makes sense. What I don't get is that other category of people who don't like what Christianity teaches ... so they try to subvert it.

Since the beginning of Christendom there have been those who are false, those who are "from us" but "not of us", wolves in sheep's clothing, tares among the wheat. It's not new. Nor is the concept baffling. Satan will try to corrupt God's truth at every possible turn. Got it. But I just don't get this idea of "I don't like it, but I want it."

For the past month or so Rob Bell and his non-Hell and apparently Universalist views have made the news from the Internet to Time. Rob Bell and his compatriots have made an attempt to redefine Christianity while continuing to call themselves "Christians". The Time article refers to him multiple times as an "Evangelical", where the capitalized "E" denotes not that he is "giving out the good news", but that he is part of the component of Christendom known as "Evangelicalism", a part of Christianity that has aimed to more closely ally itself with the Bible and with conservative rather than progressive views of Christianity. So we read from the Time account things like this:
Bell ... suggests that the redemptive work of Jesus may be universal — meaning that, as his book's subtitle puts it, "every person who ever lived" could have a place in heaven, whatever that turns out to be.

Bell's arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation.

Particularly galling to conservative Christian critics is that Love Wins is not an attack from outside the walls of the Evangelical city but a mutiny from within ... "I have long wondered if there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian," Bell says.
Now, I'm not arguing about the veracity of Bell's view. I'm not going to defend the doctrine of Hell. I've done that already, and others have as well far more capably than I have. But if Rob Bell believes that "there is a massive shift coming in what it means to be a Christian" -- if his views knowingly defy the standard view of Christianity in general and the Evangelical worldview in particular -- then I cannot fathom why he feels the need to remain within "the walls of the Evangelical city", as Time puts it. I mean, I get that he doesn't agree with historic biblical Christianity in the area of the fundamental belief in the reality of eternal punishment, but why does he feel the need to stay in the arena? Why not go his own way? Why not step out and say, "I'm no longer able to believe what the group with which I've been associated believes and I'm starting my own group"? Why steal from the Church?

Time goes on to say, "Like the Bible — a document that often contradicts itself and from which one can construct sharply different arguments — theology is the product of human hands and hearts." And there you have it. If this rightly represents Rob Bell's view, then there is no reason in the world to try to remain in the Church. Theology is the product of humans. Do what you want with it.

I don't want you to lose focus here. Rob Bell is not the issue. He's an example. New Jersey Presbyterians founded Princeton University in 1746 in order to train ministers dedicated to their views. Princeton no longer retains their views. Harvard was founded in 1636 based on Puritan philosophies. Harvard has long since lost those philosophies. Fuller Theological Seminary was founded in 1947 for the purpose of tying fundamentalism and evangelicalism to intellectual pursuits. By the 1970's it had abandoned biblical inerrancy and succumbed to "the realities of American cultural and intellectual life", issuing in the "new evangelicalism". Fuller no longer stands for what it stood for. Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, was listing badly to the left until Dr. Albert Mohler became president and righted it again. In his book, Evangelicalism Divided: A Record of Crucial Change in the Years 1950 to 2000, Iain H. Murray shows how Evangelicalism has been reshaped from integrity to the Gospel to an allegiance to "unity" and "results". As I said at the outset, the Church has endured a history of attempts at subversion from within. It still continues today.

Here's all I'm trying to figure out. If you don't like what the Church teaches, why stay in the Church? Why attempt to alter the Church? If you don't like the fact that the Church has historically, from the beginning, held that homosexual behavior is a sin, then don't be part of the Church. Do what you want. If you find the biblical claim that Christ is the only way to salvation is offensive, go whatever way you wish to whatever salvation you want, but don't try to undermine the Church. If you don't like that the Bible clearly holds to a patriarchal hierarchy, don't try to change the Church. Go ahead and form your own organization if you wish, but don't try to change the Church. It's not the same as the Reformation, where the goal was to return the Church to its earlier beliefs. Things like Hell, the sin of homosexual behavior, the respect for Scripture, the dedication to God's truth, even a patriarchy (consider the standard reference to God as "Father"), have always been part of the Church. And it's not like the racism in America fostered by some in the Church. It was not part of the Church teachings, not biblical Christianity, and by no means a fundamental, historical perspective. Sure, where the Church errs, as in those cases, it should be reformed. But when people come to Christianity with views counter to basic, biblical, historical Christianity, I cannot fathom why they think their job is to steal it from under orthodoxy. It is theft, pure and simple. I say, "Go out from among us; it will make your position clearer."

Monday, April 18, 2011

Eternal Security

One of the earliest distinctions I knew between Arminian and Calvinist theology was the notion of Eternal Security. Pure Arminians argued that salvation could and was often lost. Calvinists held to the doctrine of "Eternal Security", "Once Saved, Always Saved" (OSAS), that sort of thing. They were quite sure that, once you had been born again, you had eternal life and that meant that you had life eternal. I mean, if you could lose eternal life, in what sense was it eternal?

Well, both sides have had various manifestations. On the "conditional security" side, it appeared in most cases like you could certainly lose it if you didn't remain faithful, but if you lost it, you could get it back again. No problem. Just repent again. Poof! You're saved again. Rarely did they face the specter of Hebrews 6, although they liked to use the passage as proof against the Calvinists.
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding Him up to contempt (Heb 6:4-6).
"There, see? If you 'have fallen away', then you lose your salvation!" Okay, fine, but note that it says that "it is impossible ... to restore them again to repentance". So if you go with "conditional security", rather than the "Once Saved, Always Saved" view, you would necessarily need to hold the "Once Lost, Always Lost" position. So some Arminians would concede the point and others would deny it.

Likewise, Calvinists vary in their view on Eternal Security. Some are happy with the OSAS view, not realizing its tacit approval of antinomianism. "It doesn't matter what you do; you can never lose your salvation." Really? It doesn't matter? What about all the warnings? Why bother, then, to be obedient at all? Are you sure you want to hold that extreme of a position? More "center" are the Eternal Security folks. They focus more on the certainty that it can't be lost without suggesting that "It doesn't matter what you do." That is, they rest on the certainty of salvation without examining the reasons for it. And, of course, then there are the "far right" types. They believe that salvation can be lost, but that it never is because God insures that it doesn't happen. That is, from a human perspective diligence and obedience and "working out your salvation" is required, but from the divine perspective, all of that happens because God is at work in His people. In this view, it does matter what you do, but in the end it is still God who accomplishes it in the Christian.

The notion of Eternal Security has always been problematic. Not that it was problematic biblically. It is a practical problem. Here's the standard complaint: "If you tell people they can't lose their salvation, they won't be obedient." That is, if you argue that we can't lose it, then you're giving people a license to sin. So how does one who believes that when Jesus said, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life" (John 3:36), He meant "has" and not "might have" or "has at least at the moment" ... how does someone like that defend this objection of license to sin? Well, usually they don't. They simply deny it. I'd like to suggest a better approach.
No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).
This statement of John's is quite overwhelming. I suspect this is one of the reason we so rarely dwell on it. The statement has two components: There is a "does not" and a "cannot". The "does not" is the practice of sinning, and the "cannot" is "because he has been born of God". Indeed, connecting John's "born of God" concept, we also know, "Everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world" (1 John 5:4). It would appear, then, that the Bible teaches that those who are true believers, those who are "born of God" -- those who have been regenerated, made new, filled with the Spirit -- that these genuine Christians cannot make a practice of sinning. Now, I'm not suggesting in the least that they can't sin. That's a given (1 John 1:8-2:1). We sin. No, it's the practice of sin that cannot be accomplished. It's the continuous, unaltered, unfettered sinning here, the habitual sin. It is contrasted with 1 John 1:9, the confession of sin. It is the position that, when faced with the fact one is sinning, would defend rather than repent of sin. "Yeah, I know it's sin, but I'm going to do it anyway and I think it's fine." According to John, this is not one born of God.

Does "Eternal Security" breed license to sin? Well, in a way, it does. It gives those who think they are saved an excuse to sin with impunity. John claims that those who are born of God cannot sin with impunity. So if it produces license, the likelihood is "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us" (1 John 2:19). The end game, then? "Brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall" (2 Peter 1:10).

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Good News

Paul is famous in his letter to the Galatians for his "anathema" against false gospels.
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel -- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed (Gal 1:6-9).
There is, then, only one Gospel; there is not "another one". But what is that Gospel?

The context should fill you in just fine. What else does Paul focus on in this epistle? Legalism. The Gospel that Paul defends here isn't so much the "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved" part, but the "what comes after" part.
Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh (Gal 3:2-3)?
The portion of the Gospel that covers salvation is pretty clear. "Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness" (Gal 3:6). But it is what comes after that is in view for Paul here. It is the part that comes after that is "the Gospel". Do you know what Paul is defending here against the legalists? It's not salvation. It's sanctification!
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me (Gal 2:20).
That's the Gospel. It is we who "work out your salvation" and it is we who "do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). It is we who "through love serve one another" (Gal 5:13). There is stuff we're supposed to do. All true. But it is not we who, in the final analysis, do it. It is Christ in us.

That's the Christian life. Christ in you. It is Christ's life then lived out now in you and me. The "false gospel" that Paul was fighting was salvation by works, to be sure, but it was also sanctification by works -- full-blown legalism. The Gospel is the mysterious union of Christ and His own, where the Spirit is at work in us giving us the will and power to do what God has prepared beforehand for us to do. It is the work and rest of being a believer. It is about gratefully following our Savior without being caught in "the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world" (Gal 4:9), heirs to the Father (Gal 4:7), not under the Law, but not without it. It is Christ working in you and then rewarding you for your faithfulness. That's the Gospel. That's the Good News.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Less Expensive Option

The recent debates (and, oh, they're not over, really) in Congress over the budget had the funding of abortion as a key component. For some reason, only the Republicans were ideologues. The Democrats' demand for the funding abortions was not ideological. For some reason, only the Republicans were obstructionist. The Democrats' requirement to fund Planned Parenthood or shut down the government was not obstructionist. For some reason, only the Republicans failed to compromise. The Democrats were happy to compromise as long as the Republicans did whatever they demanded. At least, that's what I saw. But, hey, I'm not privy to all the goings on in Washington, so who am I to say, right?

In reviewing the lies shouted from the floor of Congress (e.g., "Republicans are waging a war against women"), I wondered about the current level of federal funding for abortions in the U.S. In my research, I came across the thoughts of our beloved ACLU. It was an article on the Hyde Amendment, the one that excludes abortion funding from comprehensive health care provided for low-income Americans through Medicaid. They recommended eliminating this rule. Well, you can review the thoughts there for yourself, but I came across this thoroughly astounding statement in their commentary.
Will it cost taxpayers money to fund abortions?

No. Because the costs associated with childbirth, neonatal and pediatric care greatly exceed the costs of abortion, public funding for abortion neither costs the taxpayer money nor drains resources from other services.
Now, without delving into the truth of their claim that it wouldn't cost the taxpayer money, did you get the underlying argument? We should allow federal funding of abortions because killing the baby is much cheaper than "childbirth, neonatal and pediatric care." Kill the baby; save some dough. I don't know ... sounds like a winning slogan for "women's health" to me.

Now, you Republicans, be honest. You Tea Party folks, check yourself. You want to decrease the deficit and cut health care costs and save America money. Why not choose the less expensive option? Kill those babies before they're born. Hey, there are other gains here. The environmentalists will be happy because less humans means less drain on our already strained environmental resources. Eliminating larger numbers of children will surely decrease the amount of childhood obesity. The cost of education will go down because the numbers of kids needing education will decrease. Oh, yeah, lots of benefits.

Is anyone really listening? Are they still going to stand on the argument that killing babies is a matter of "women's health issues"? While they accuse the "right wing" of trying to prevent women from getting the health care they need, who is defending the children's right ... to breathe? I'm pretty sure about the ACLU, but has our government completely lost its mind, too? America needs an adjustment, and it's not going to come from Congress or the White House or even the voters. And it won't likely be pretty.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Cause and Effect

The concept of cause and effect is easy to grasp, but in practice it can become hard to figure out. As an example, science tells us that in the brains of a large number of self-identified "homosexuals" there is a small abnormality. "In 1991, brain scientist Simon LeVay reported that the hypothalamus, which is involved in sexual behavior, tended to be smaller in gay men." "See?" one side cries, "They're born that way!" But we have to ask, is that a cause ... or is it an effect? Determining if something is a cause or an effect can be difficult on its own. Throw in the fact of life that there are typically groups of causes and groups of effects and further interlinking in the mix, and it can get nearly impossible to determine cause and effect.

One thing, though, of which we're quite sure -- it is the belief of millions, the certainty of just about everyone but the atheist ... even Christians believe this -- if we're good, God will love us. Cause and effect. God is pleased with good people and displeased with bad people. In Jewish terms, God turns His face toward those who obey Him and turns away from those who don't. We know this to be true. In a complex and mixed up world of cause and effect, this is something on which we can all agree.

That is, until I read this the other day at the end of Deuteronomy:
"[The LORD] loved His people, all His holy ones were in His hand; so they followed in Your steps, receiving direction from You" (Deut 33:3).
Note that this is exactly opposite of what we might expect to see. Here's what our standard view would give us: "They followed in Your steps and received direction from You, so the LORD loved His people and kept His holy ones in His hand." See? That's much better. Maybe we should check with Moses. Probably just a typo on his part, right?

No, here we see an explicit cause and effect in Scripture. According to this verse, the cause of having God's people follow God's directions is that He loves them and holds them in His hand. That is, His love and holding precedes their obedience. And, as cause and effect work themselves out, the obvious conclusion is that the love and holding of God necessarily produces the obedience of His people.

Okay, so that's a pretty bold statement, I think you'd agree, and it is just one verse. So ... is there any reason to think it might be so? Why, yes! Thanks for asking.
"You do not believe because you are not part of My flock". (John 10:26)

Therefore, my beloved, ... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God (1 John 3:9).
In truth, that's just a smattering. There is more -- much more. It would appear that the biblical position is that God's "set-apart" (holy) people are obedient because God sets them apart and has His hand on them and not vice versa. Or, as Paul wrote to the Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:8-10).
Thus, the cause of salvation is "the gift of God" and the effect of salvation is "good works", the product of the workmanship of God.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

A Question of Drawing Skills

And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to Myself" (John 12:32).
Jesus said it. What does it mean? Well, first, you need to know why it comes up. You see, some of us believe that God is Sovereign in salvation, that He initiates the saving of the Elect by first changing their natures, that He "draws them" in a far more powerful sense than "woos" or "urges" or "calls" (note that the Greek word used is the word used for drawing water or drawing prisoners to jail -- not much of a voluntary act). Jesus said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44). So, to counter that idea, this verse in John 12 will surface. "See?" they will say, "He draws all people, not just the Elect." And the argument is done.

Or is it? Jesus said it. What did He mean? You see, there are some problems here. Perhaps we ought not to be too quick to nod and move on. Perhaps we ought to think about it more closely.

One of the problems is not from the Reformed, but from the skeptic. "Jesus said He would draw all people to Himself. It hasn't happened. He failed." That's one concern. And there are those who answer the skeptic with "Wait, it will happen. Everyone will be saved." Problem!

There is the claim from Christ that if the Father draws someone, "I will raise him up on the last day." That requires, filtering through John 12, that all people be saved, since anyone who is drawn is raised up on the last day and all people are drawn. Problem!

There is the problem of language. If you examine the words actually used, you'll find an interesting hole in the text. The actual text doesn't say "all people" or "all men" or "all anything". It's blank. It simply says "all". All what? We've filled in "men" or "people" or the like on our own, but it's not there. And the context doesn't tell us what to fill in there. Problem!

I do think it's interesting that the writer himself tells us why Jesus said what He said here. "He said this to show by what kind of death He was going to die" (John 12:33). Wait. So He did not say this to tell the expanse of this drawing? He didn't say this to tell us the result of His being crucified? Hmm. Maybe there's a clue there. Maybe the blanket "all" should simply be interpreted in terms of the manner of His death. That is, He was not telling us what He would accomplish, but how He would die. Thus, the after-phrase simply means "When I die the way I'm telling you in advance that I'll die, I will draw to Myself all that I intend to draw." Or, "My death on the cross will accomplish what I intend it to accomplish."

Some will argue from the lack of a term after "all" that it simply means "all kinds of people" or "people from all nations". "He's talking about drawing more than just Jews here." That kind of thing. Okay. Maybe you like that.

Or, maybe He simply means what so many have thought He meant -- that His death on the cross would serve as a calling for all, a general encouragement for all to come to Him. Of course, this might be problematic on its own. Not everyone hears of His crucifixion, so it's hard to say how they would be "drawn" in this manner. Many people have no interest at all in His crucifixion, so it's difficult to say how they are "drawn" in this sense. And Jesus did say that He would raise up those who are drawn, so that would suggest Universalism again. But maybe those problems don't bother you.

I'm not offering you an answer here. Well, I've offered you possibilities. Pick one. Or make your own. I'm just pointing out that to be too light, too blithe in reading the words of Christ or the rest of Scripture can get you into trouble. Part of loving God with all our minds would include paying careful attention to His Word. God and His Word certainly deserve our careful attention. Let Scripture interpret Scripture, and be sure to be diligent to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Capitalization Controversy

The title sounds imperious. It isn't. The fact is there isn't much controversy over it. Well, in some circles, but they're pretty small ones.

To what am I referring? It is the capitalization of the pronouns related to God. You see, for some time it has been the convention that references to God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit as "He" or "Him" or "His" were to be capitalized. It has primarily been a matter of respect, although at times it serves as a helpful distinction when talking about God and Man in the same sentence or context. Take, for instance, Genesis 1:27. "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." That's in the ESV. Notice the "he" and the "him" in the same phrase. Now read it in the NASB: "God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them." See it? "In the image of God He" -- and the capitalization tells you it is a reference to God -- "created him" -- where the lack of capitalization tells you it is Man being referenced. Did God create Man in his own image -- Man's own image -- or in God's image? You can't tell from the ESV pronoun. So for respect and for some cases of comprehension, capitalization can be helpful.

Since it has been my convention and since I see it as a matter of respect, I was a bit surprised when the ESV didn't capitalize the pronouns for God. My NASB did. What's up with that? What kind of irreligious folks are these ESV people? And then I did my research. Turns out that these pronouns were not capitalized in the King James version either. Nor are they capitalized in any other language. They were never capitalized in the original Hebrew and Greek. They aren't even capitalized in British English. It appears, from all I can find, that it's a relatively new, American convention. I shouldn't be getting my knickers in a twist.

Okay, fine. I still see it as a matter of respect and I still think that it can be an aid in comprehension, but I'll relegate this controversy to the "personal pile". Unlike the horrors I've seen of late in spelling and grammar in common interactions, this one is quite minimal. And it's quite personal. So, if you'll agree to bear with me as I retain the capitalization of the pronouns for God, I'll agree not to think poorly of those who don't. It's not a rule of the language or even a standardized practice. Fine. Fair enough? Good. Another controversy averted.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Light out of Darkness

You're probably familiar with Jesus's statement, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven" (Matt 5:16). Pretty good stuff. But ... did you ever stop to think about it? I mean, why will they glory the Father if I do good works? Ah! Context! Context can answer this question.
11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. 13 "You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. 14 "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matt 5:11-16).
Notice the context. Jesus isn't changing subjects when He switches from "Blessed are you when others revile you" and "You are the salt of the earth." He's on the same point here. You see, when you suffer, when you are reviled, when people utter all kinds of evil against you (falsely -- that's kind of important), that's your time to shine. That's your time to spice things up. Doing good when things are easy is like hiding a light under a basket. Turning on a light in a sunlit room is likely going to have little effect. No one will notice. But when things are going wrong and you are doing good, that's when it becomes glaringly visible.

I had the opportunity some time ago to observe a woman, a sister in Christ, who was in a bad marriage. The guy was just not a nice guy. Oh, not horrible or anything, but he just wasn't very nice. The strange thing was you'd never know it to observe this woman. It wasn't that she endured it bravely. It was as if she believed hers was a good marriage. Of course, some might argue that's delusional, but consider this. If it is true that God works all things for good to those who love Him, then it would be good by that measure, wouldn't it? If we are told to "count it all joy" when we encounter trials because that is working for our best, then it would be good by that measure, wouldn't it? And if you believed that God was Sovereign, that He worked all things after the counsel of His will, then it would have to be good by that measure, wouldn't it? No, if all this is true, then it wasn't she that was delusional; it would be the rest who didn't get it. So she didn't simply endure it; she embraced it. She was joyful, a smiling face all the time. She never complained, never even winced. She didn't "bear up" or seem to tolerate her place, but thanked God for it. She actually seemed to "count it all joy."

I have to tell you, when I saw that it was easy to see what Jesus was talking about. Doing good in good times is okay, even recommended. But rejoicing in tough times? That was a beacon of light, a ray of sunshine in a dark world. That was the kind of thing that would provide salt in a bland world, that would make people take notice, that would point to the only possible answer -- God.

Doing good is ... good. Doing good in hard times is hard, but that is the best place for us to display the glory of God, to reflect the character of Christ, to make people ask, "What has she got that I don't ... and how do I get it?" It's light in darkness. In fact, it's our calling. When you go through tough times, remember that.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Doctor's Visit

Bob was having trouble hearing. In fact, he was quite sure he had gone deaf. So he went to the doctor. "Doc," he said, "I can't hear a thing." The doctor did some tests and wrote out his prognosis for Bob. "You can't hear because you have no ears."

So there I am, reading in Deuteronomy, and I come across this from Moses to the people of Israel:
"You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" (Deut 29:2-4).
"Oh, man, here he goes again," I can hear some of you saying. And I understand the sentiment. But ... doesn't it beg the question?

Of course I read this through the lense of the rest of Scripture that I see. It seems in perfect accord. Paul speaks without ambiguity of the unwillingness and inability of Natural Man to accept or understand the things of the Spirit of God "because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor 2:14). And I understand that to mean, in Moses's terms, that the LORD has not given Natural Man a heart to understand, eyes to see, or ears to hear. Jesus repeatedly told His listeners "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." In this, He speaks of three groups of people. There are those who have ears and are not listening. There are those who have ears and are listening. And there are those without ears. And there's that same echo: "The LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." It all seems pretty clear to me. Of course, that's to me. But those who disagree don't see it that way. So ... what do you see?

I know the objections. The most common, of course, are the emotional ones. It makes Man out to be incapable and it makes God out to be less than generous. The most common biblical objection is from Romans 1.
For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Rom 1:19-20).
What can be clearer? It says that "God has shown it to them", that the existence and character of God are intrinsic to humans, that "they are without excuse." I mean, if the fact was that Natural Man was unable to respond -- especially unable to comprehend -- then what sense can we make out of this passage and in what sense would Man be responsible for not responding when he can neither understand nor respond?

Of course, I've beat this dead horse before ... over and over. I have explained that the Bible says that Natural Man lacks the ability to choose Christ. I expounded on the phrase above from Jesus regarding ears and hearing. I've offered reasons from Scripture why I hold that regeneration must precede faith. So, to me, Moses's statement to Israel isn't so surprising. But many of my readers disagree.

Here's the basic premise: Human beings, even though they are "dead in sin" in their natural condition, are fully capable of seeing and hearing the Gospel -- of grasping it as far as is necessary -- and of choosing Christ. They need some sort of encouragement, some "wooing", some "drawing", something like that, but their grasp of the Gospel and their choice of Christ is fully their own in their state of slavery to sin and hostility to God and requires no fundamental change to their being to accomplish. This change occurs after they grasp the Gospel and choose Christ. (We call it "born again" or "regeneration".)

I find this position untenable. I know that Romans says that we have built into us an intrinsic knowledge of God. I even understand that the words of God are understandable, that they can be understood by all and that they are not unclear. I get that Natural Man can learn and even repeat biblical truth. I'm clear on all that. But it appears from 1 Cor 2:14 and Eph 2:1-3 and Rom 8:5-8 and so many others including this Deuteronomy passage that there is still something missing in Natural Man. Israel, in the Deuteronomy passage, wasn't unclear on either the commands or the covenant with God. They weren't unaware of God's power or authority, as at Mt. Sinai. But despite all of that, they missed what seemed to be absolutely plain and built a golden calf to worship. There seems to be something missing -- a lack of eyes and ears, a failure of the heart to understand. The signs and wonders were there. The words were clear. And they still didn't seem to get it. So the idea that we possess within ourselves all that is necessary to come to faith in Christ seems to me to contradict all this.

But to many of my readers it's perfectly clear. "No problem. What's the objection? How can you not see it? It's obvious to us!" So perhaps some of you can make it clear to me. How do you correlate "the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear" or 1 Cor 2:14 or Eph 2:1-3 or Rom 8:5-8 with "we possess within ourselves all that is necessary to come to faith in Christ"? What is the impact of the lack of "ears"? What is the meaning of Paul's statement of Man's inability? If what I've said about it makes no sense to you, how do you make sense of it? I want to know. What does Bob do about his condition?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Bible Benefits

We've heard this one before: "The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims His handiwork" (Psa 19:1). It's the hymn of natural revelation, the Old Testament version of Paul's "What can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them, for His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom 1:19-20). God is seen in creation. Got it.

I think there are a couple other parts of the psalm that are pretty commonly known as well. I have, on the side of my blog, a slightly modified version of the last verse: "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer" (Psa 19:14). And I've heard a song made out of verse 10: "More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb." (I used the King James version there because those are the words of the song.) But I wonder if we ever actually looked at the middle part? The reason I ask is because the words of this song I just mentioned talk about "more to be desired are they". What is "they" referring to?
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether (Psa 19:7-9).
What the "they" refers to is "the law of the Lord". It encompasses all of Scripture, essentially. The Law, the testimony, the precepts, the commandments, the fear of the Lord, the rules of the Lord -- all of that is in view. The psalmist claims here that God's Word in its entirety is far more desirable than gold and far sweeter than honey. Why?

The qualities of God's Word are included in this list. His Word is perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, and righteous. The benefits of immersing yourself into God's Word are also listed, and they are not minor. It speaks of reviving the soul, making simple people wise, rejoicing the heart, enlightening the eyes.

How about you? Do you find yourself delighted with God's Word? Do you long to swim in it, to bathe in it? Is time in God's Word boring to you, or is it a wonderful thing? Or, let's compare it to your time spent in front of screens. Which is more important to you? If you have any interest in wisdom and enlightenment, any need for reviving the soul, any desire for joy, then it would seem obvious to me which of the two should be more important.

Beyond these three verses the psalmist lists one more benefit.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. 12 Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults. 13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.
How about that one? Any interest in being warned by God about sin? Any concern about your hidden errors -- sins you're not aware of? Any problems with sins that seem to beat you? Any desire to be blameless? Now, that one is big. It's a benefit of making God's Word an integral part of your life. And if you have no concern about sin in your life, I would suggest that there are bigger problems than whether or not you prefer TV to Scripture.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Complement

Compliments, we all like them. It's nice to hear good things said about you. So if we hear that God made Eve to complement Adam, we think, "How nice! God designed Eve to recognize the good in Adam." And, of course, we've misheard the words. You see (if you followed the spelling), the two words -- "compliment" and "complement" -- sound the same (homophones), but are not the same.

We're living in a society aimed at egalitarianism. Egalitarianism is the philosophy of "equal", so you'd likely say, "So?" Egalitarianism is the belief in the equality of all people, with special attention to economic, social, and political life. "We say again, 'So?'" There is even "Christian egalitarianism", a movement within Christendom that stresses gender equality -- the idea that there are no gender-based limitations of what functions or roles male or female can fulfill in the home, the church, and the society. "We're still waiting ... so?"

A nation built on equality seems a suited place for egalitarianism, and we do embrace the notion that "all men are created equal" and even that the "men" in that phrase means "people" (not just males). It seems that we've pushed the envelope of "equal" farther than the Bible and, much more importantly, God intended. But, I am not writing this to debate egalitarianism. I'm writing this to make a point about the complement.

The counter-view to egalitarianism is complementarianism. Now, I favor complimentarianism -- the belief (that I just made up) that people should express appreciation for the good things they see in others. That's not complementarianism. Complementarianism is the belief that God designed men and women as complementary, two halves that make a whole. A "complement" is that which completes what is lacking in another. In a complementary arrangement, the pieces are of equal value, but they simply differ in skills, abilities, roles, and the like. It's not about worth. In 1 Cor 12, Paul describes the body of Christ like a physical body comprised of different components. He is clear on two essential points. First, there are different parts with different roles and functions. Second, they are all of equal value. That is complementarianism. And it's biblical.

Of course, the term is used almost exclusively to refer to gender roles, so let's limit the discussion to that. And, in fact, I'm not even thinking about the debate of whether or not wives should submit to husbands (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-6), or whether or not women should take authority over men in the church (1 Tim 2:12-14) or any of that kind of "patriarchal" structure (1 Cor 11:3). No, that's not my point. What I'm thinking about (get ready for a leap) is eHarmony. ("Okay, we're not asking 'So?' ever again. That was a huge leap.") I know, but follow me. What is it that we look for in our relationships? Isn't the aim "compatibility"? That's what eHarmony offers. They've even registered the term and patented their "Compatibility Matching System". And I'm quite sure you've heard of their (again, registered) phrase, "29 Dimensions of Compatibility". Wow! Makes you just warm all over, doesn't it? So while those inferior sites offer a picture and a phrase, you can find out if you are truly compatible with someone and that makes for a long-term relationship ... right?

Funny thing. When God made Eve, He didn't speak in terms of compatibility. He spoke in terms of complement.
Then the LORD God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him" (Gen 2:18).
What interesting language! First, we see that Man (Adam) had shortcomings. Obviously one was that he was alone, and "alone" was not good (the first thing in God's creation that He said was "not good"). But clearly there was more because he needed a "helper". Beyond that, we see that his particular shortcomings were individual because Eve was designed to "fit" his particular needs. I know, I know, egalitarians are dancing about cutting themselves and calling down curses. (Okay, over the top, I know, but you get the idea.) This sounds like I'm suggesting that Eve was "less" somehow. That's like saying, "A car is valuable, but the gasoline required to run it is 'less somehow'." Yeah, right, try running the car without it and see how valuable that car is. In fact, in pure terms of money, if a car cost $25000, ran for, say, 200,000 miles, and got, say, 30 miles per gallon, at current prices you'd have spent about the same amount for the gas as for the car. No, this is not about value or worth. It is about ... complement. It is about filling what is lacking, about helping, about bridging the gaps, about making two halves into a whole. According to Genesis, that was God's design.

Imagine, then, a different approach. Imagine a fellow who, instead of seeking a "compatible mate", thought, "What do I have to offer to a potential mate?" You see, the concept of "complement" is not "We're the same", but precisely "We're different", and the differences are the gaps we can fill for each other. Imagine that kind of thinking rather than "compatibility" thinking. Imagine a single guy who approaches his relationships with women in terms of his shortcomings that match her strengths. Doesn't that elevate her value? And to the married I say this. Since I believe -- and Scripture seems to say -- that God works all things after the counsel of His will, then I'd have to believe that my spouse is God's will for me, and your spouse is God's will for you. Therefore, it would seem, if God's design carries through, that he or she is intended as your complement. Sure, sure, we need some compatibility, some commonality. For starters, we need to share a common Savior. But is it possible that, in our rush to compatibility and our embrace of egalitarianism, that we're missing a key intent that God has built into marriage in general and our spouses in particular? Is it possible that the differences are just as precious as the similarities? Is it possible that your spouse was designed by God to make your half into a whole? Well, I ask the question, but I would contend that it isn't a possibility; it's a certainty. Now, if we could learn to appreciate that in our spouses, I think it would be a good thing.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Unjust Consequences

It used to bother me a great deal. I knew that God promised eternal torment to unrepentant sinners. I knew that Hell was for eternity. I got all that. But ... why? How was it a just consequence that a life of temporal sin would result in an eternal punishment?

There came a time that it dawned on me that I was thinking about it all wrong. I was equating the time of the sin with the time of the punishment, and that made no sense at all. With that kind of thinking, the courts would say, "Well, it took him 10 minutes to kill the guy, so he is going to spend 10 minutes in prison." Of course that makes no sense. We all understand that the punishment for a transgression isn't based on the time it took to commit it, but the heinousness of the crime. Theft can be done just as quickly as murder, but they receive radically different consequences because theft is against property, but murder is against a person. (As a side note, if we're going to argue that human beings are simply biochemical bags, the product of Evolution, then our current system of justice is going to have to be revolutionized because terminating the life of a biochemical bag called "human" would be no more egregious than terminating the life of a biochemical bag called an ant. Just a thought.)

So, we understand that the seriousness of the crime determines the penalty. That's clear. We got it. So I came to think of sin as not merely "doing bad things", but in terms of Treason. And not merely in terms of Treason like it would be against a nation, but as Treason against the Most High -- a sort of Cosmic Treason. And while Treason against a temporal nation is punishable by temporal death, Treason against the eternal God would be rightly punishable by eternal death. Okay, I guess I see that.

But I still didn't get it. I mean, I thought it was clear, and I was good with that, but it has become much clearer to me as time has progressed. Consider this. If the purpose of the universe is to glorify God (Psa 19:1; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 2:10; 1 Cor 10:31), then what does this tell you about the worth of the glory of God? You see, we're human. Being both finite and sinful, we can't even fully grasp the glory of God and we fall short. The crime is monumental. The affront is vast. It is an assault on God, His glory, the entire universe. As bad as some crimes are that we recognize, this one eludes us in its magnitude. And since we tend to side with fallen Man rather than Sovereign God, we can, when faced with the specter of eternal torment, begin to think, "That's not fair!"

Don't go there. You don't want "fair". It is not justice that you seek. The stark demands of justice would require that each and every one of us spend eternity in torment. If that sounds harsh, you've missed the enormity of the crime. Maybe, just maybe, if we can begin to pay attention to the vastness of God's glory and begin to get a taste of it, we can begin to see how far off we are and how right Hell is. Then it wouldn't be Justice that we desire. It would be Mercy that we would crave, and salvation would breed overwhelming gratitude.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Morally Culpable

Are human beings morally culpable for the natural disasters we see? That seems to be a big question. Oh, you've likely never heard it put that way. More like, "Are tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes and the like God's punishment for sin?" When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, there were Christian voices that assured us it was. You know ... all that illicit gambling and such going on there. Really, that was their position. I suppose that Las Vegas is too well situated for anything like an earthquake or a hurricane or, boy, let me tell you, God would give them such a whooping!

Well, I suppose my sarcasm has let the cat out of the bag. I'm going to argue that this is not my position. Well, sort of.
There were some present at that very time who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered them, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (Luke 13:1-5)
I'm just guessing here, but it looks to me like it's not Christ's position, either. In this instance, horrible stuff happened to people. Pilate murdered some Galileans in one case and in the other a tower fell in Siloam. Note that we have two "types" here. One is man-made. Pilate killed people. The other is natural. A tower fell. And in both cases the proper response, according to Christ, is not, "It happened because they were evil."

Now, I need to be clear here. In both cases, the proper response was "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Thus, there is a sense in which we are morally culpable for natural disasters. But it's not because New Orleans was a sinful place that Katrina struck. According to Jesus, "Unless you repent you will all likewise perish." And according to Paul, "the creation was subjected to futility" and needs to be "set free from its bondage to corruption" (Rom 8:20-21). That is, because of Man's sin, creation suffers from corruption. This kind of stuff in general wouldn't happen if Adam hadn't sinned. So there is that sense of culpability.

Keep in mind, however, that there is another reason for this kind of thing. This is an important reason. When the disciples encountered a man who was born blind, they made the same assumption that those Christians made after Hurricane Katrina: The only reason that this kind of stuff happens is due to their sin. So they asked, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9:2). Can you imagine? Apparently they were right there, within earshot. Nice. But Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" (John 9:3). So, while the man and his parents were indeed sinners, this event was not a direct product of their sin. No, the intent behind this problem was "that the works of God might be displayed in him."

It could be that I'm being too vague here. Let me put it another way. We are commanded, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor 10:31). Since this universe was constructed for the glory of God and all that occurs in it is for the glory of God, I'm pretty sure that God Himself will do what we are commanded -- do all for the glory of God. Therefore, as in the case of the man born blind, it is my contention that all that occurs, whether it is a surprise promotion or a devastating earthquake, the outcome, whether or not you see it or recognize it, will be to the glory of God. Now, if you're one who doesn't care a whit about God's glory, then that's not such great news, but for those of us who are deeply delighted by the glory of God, that ought to give us great encouragement on one hand and, on the other, point out how far off we are in our thinking when we miss that realization in tough times.

Are human beings morally culpable for the natural disasters we see? Only in the general sense. God may be judging a nation or correcting a saint, but really, at the end of the day, that's not the idea. The real idea is that it's not about you. It's about God. That works for me.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

What is this thing called Atonement?

One of the basic Christian doctrines debated today is the doctrine of the Atonement. Just using that word will cause a stir of dissent in some. "'Atonement'," they will say suspiciously, "just what do you mean by that?" As it turns out, the doctrine has been debated for a long, long time. The debates go quiet at times, but then resurface. Welcome to the reemergence.

Now, those of us who are right (that's humor) would like to say, "We're simply answering from the Bible", but those who disagree will argue, "You're only answering from your understanding of the Bible", and we'd be at an impasse. So I'll show the Scriptures, lay out the possibilities, and let you decide.

First, the Scriptures. The "Atonement" concept comes from the Old Testament. "Every day you shall offer a bull as a sin offering for atonement" (Exo 29:36). Just an example. There are lots more where that came from, but you get the idea. The Hebrew word is kippur. (Yom Kippur is "the Day of Atonement".) The root word references a covering, and this word means "to expiate". There you go, clear as day. Okay, "expiate" means "to appease", "to extinguish guilt", "to make amends". That's the Old Testament version.

In the New Testament the same thought is carried into the Greek texts. Here the word is hilasterion, as in, "[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" (Rom 3:24-25). Greek word, same concept -- the appeasement of wrath. You'll find that also in Hebrews 2:17, 1 John 2:2, and 1 John 4:10. Thus, the biblical concept of "atonement" is rooted in the idea of appeasement in both Old and New Testaments. The idea there is that God's wrath is justly toward sinners, and that wrath needs to be appeased.

Note, however, that in that passage from Romans 3 there is another word -- "redemption". This term is part of the whole concept of Atonement. Now, we use the term in English somewhat loosely. We can say that something has "no redeeming value" and mean nothing having to do with any real idea of "purchase". We can "redeem coupons" by turning them in. Nothing really paid there. But that's not the case in either the standard use of English or in the Greek for this word. There are a couple of Greek words behind these instances. The one in Romans 3 is apolutrosis, which means "to pay a ransom". In Gal 3:13 we read, "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us." That one is exagorazo which means quite literally "to buy off the market". That is, in this term the idea is to buy from the market so that it is no longer available for sale. So, included in "Atonement" is the concept of "Redemption". In English and in Greek, "redemption" means "to buy or pay off" or "to clear by payment." It is a purchase.

Okay, that's the Scripture, and there is a lot of it. So what about history? What have they said? Well, the original idea of the Early Church Fathers was called "the Ransom View". They suggested that when Man fell, Satan gained certain rights to Mankind (you know, as in "enslaved to sin"). Christ, then, paid the ransom for those under Satan's domain. Now, there were arguments about to whom the ransom was paid (was it God or was it Satan?), but that was the popular early version.

Anselm in the 11th century suggested the "Satisfaction" theory. Here's the basic idea. God deserves absolute obedience from His creation. We fail miserably at it. This is why Christ had to become human. The God-Man was required because on one hand a human was required to supply perfect obedience and on the other hand this satisfaction must be infinite (since it is God's satisfaction), so God was required to supply it. Thus, the God-Man, Christ, who died for sins He never committed, perfectly and completely satisfied the just demands of God for perfect obedience and, in that sacrifice, merited a reward which was the forgiveness of the sins of those who come to Christ.

In the 12th century Paul Abelard rejected Anselm's view and preferred the "Moral Influence" perspective. In this one Christ's death was an act of such supreme moral purity that it affects those who see it. When sinners see this absolute demonstration of God's love for sinners, they will respond in love to God. How this view is "atonement" is beyond me, but there it is for your perusal.

The more common view today came from Reformers. Called "Penal Substitution", it is the idea that Christ paid the penalty for my sin. The wages of sin is death, we know, and instead of me dying, Christ took that payment on my behalf.

A newer one on the scene bears a name long associated with the older "Ransom" view -- "Christus Victor". It is not the same view, but because they call it something that was associated with the old one, they say "It's the view of the early fathers." It's not. This idea surfaced in 1931 in a book by Gustaf Aulen entitled Christus Victor. He claimed that this was the original view, then went on to explain that the original view (the "Ransom" view) was inaccurate when thought of as a ransom -- a financial transaction of sorts -- but was actually the idea of the victory of Christ. Nothing was paid here. There was no transaction ("Ransom"). No satisfaction of justice ("Satisfaction") or the like was involved. It's just that Christ won. At the cross, Christ defeated the power of the Law, since condemnation of a perfect man was unjust. Victory! (I have to mention that this cracked me up. According to this account, "While largely held only by Eastern Orthodox Christians ... the Christus Victor theory is becoming increasingly popular with ... liberal Christians and peace churches such as the Anabaptist Mennonites because of its subversive nature ..." Really? Because it is "subversive"?)

Well, there you have it. First, there is the biblical content. The components you must fill are, according to Scripture, 1) the appeasement of the wrath of God ("propitiation") and 2) buying the sinner off the market ("redemption"). With those components you can decide what sort of view you will take. Perhaps you like the Ransom theory, although you'll have to decide to whom the ransom was paid. Or maybe it's the Satisfaction theory where God's just demands were satisfied in Christ. Or, perhaps, incorporating all that, you see the Penal Substitution idea as the best in that Christ paid our debt and satisfied God's just demands. Maybe you discard all these "appeasement" and "redemption" ideas and prefer just to think that we were given an amazing display of God's love in the Moral Influence theory, or maybe that Christ's death simply broke the power of sin by suffering an unjust death as in the Christus Victor concept. If either of these is your choice, you'll have to figure out on your own how you connect those to "Atonement" or "Redemption". But there are the general options. Enjoy picking your favorite. May I take this opportunity to encourage you to take a biblically-informed position?