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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Free Will

It's interesting. Two Christian scholars wrote two books on one subject -- the human will. Martin Luther wrote The Bondage of the Will and Jonathan Edwards wrote Freedom of the Will. Both agreed. "Oh, now, hang on!" you'll want to protest, "Aren't 'bondage' and 'freedom' opposites?" Indeed, they are. But, as it turns out, both "bondage" and "freedom" are valid descriptors of the human will.

What is the will?

It is generally the ability of the human mind to be able to choose or initiate action. It is voluntary, in opposition to fate or coercion. For someone, walking off a cliff may have been a choice (will), but the fall that occurred was not; that was gravity.

Free will assumes certain conditions. There must be a mind associated with it. Blind choices are not "free will". There must be a reason, a motive. Random choices are not "free will". There must be culpability. A person who makes choices by means of a free will is responsible for those choices; a person who makes choices because they were coerced is not.

Note, then, that the will is not a "power source", so to speak. That is, it isn't generating itself; it is the product of something else. And we know this to be true. For example, you cannot simply will to fly without some apparatus to fly because you lack the inherent ability and no amount of willing makes it so. Instead, your choices are determined by your desires, your preferences, your values, your appetites. Put simply, choosing what you don't desire, prefer, or want would clearly not be classified as "free will". Thus, free will is driven by what the Bible refers to as "the heart" or "the mind" or "the inner man" (Eph 3:16). Jesus said, "From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery ..." (Mark 7:21). Solomon wrote, "As a man thinks in his heart, so is he" (Prov 23:7). The will, then, is driven by the heart or mind of its owner.

Do we have free will?

Lately there has been a rise among materialist atheists that demand that humans actually do not possess free will. Since everything in their worldview is rooted in the material world, any choices made are the product of DNA, chemistry, hormones, whatever physical agents are acting on the person at the time. Thus, to them, free will is an illusion. On the other side, there is an entirely different set of people that argue that humans make no real choices at all. It is all fate. Everything is not simply determined, but hard-coded. You make no free choices.

In between these two are the two "softer" views. One is the "Libertarian Free Will". The other is "soft determinism". And, of course, there are gradations between these two. Libertarian Free Will declares the ability for a human being to make selections without any determination of the nature of the person or any divine agent. They argue further that if there is any determination of choices based on human nature or divine determination, it is not free will. Loosened slightly from this absolute (and illogical) freedom is the more reasonable concept of free will that assures us that humans can choose whatever they want. Pelagius suggested that this would include the ability of the will to reject evil and to seek and to serve God. You could choose to be moral enough to make it to heaven. Pelagius argued for Libertarian Free Will and was condemned as an heretic. Soft determinism suggests that humans make uncoerced choices, but always within the confines that God allows.

So apart from some atheist views on one end and some fatalist views on the other, most believe we have "free will", at least in some sense.

How free is it?

Ah, now, here's the rub. Are you going to answer based on how you would like it to be or how you think it should be, or are you going to answer as God says it is? Important first question. You see, the Bible isn't unclear.

I've already offered (yesterday) several examples of times in the Bible in which God intervened in human will. And still does (Phil 2:13). While this doesn't eliminate free will, it certainly requires that the will is not perfectly free. Solomon wrote, "The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps." (Prov 16:9). This is in keeping with the overall biblical claim that "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3).

In other texts we read of the inability of Man. For instance, "The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." (Rom 8:7-8)[1]. That's "cannot". That is an inability. In John 12 we read that the Pharisees "could not believe" (John 12:39). Inability. Paul wrote, "Natural Man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor 2:14). "Not able." Inability. We cannot choose to do that which we are unable to do.

The will is free, but only so far as it is ... willing. To violate what you want is not "free will". And what the Bible says the unregenerate person wants is not obedience, repentance, agreement with God, etc. We always choose according to our strongest inclinations ("free will"), and God says, "The inclination of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen 8:21). How free, then, is your will?

I need to mention, here, what "cannot" means. Using biblical examples, there are various versions of "cannot". For instance, "Isaac was old and his eyes were dim so that he could not see." (Gen 27:1). This is a physical inability. He could not see. But a few chapters later we read, "When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him." (Gen 37:4). This is a different "cannot". Isaac lacked the physical ability to see; these brothers of Joseph did not lack the physical ability to speak peacefully to him. They lacked ... the inclination. Without the inclination, they lacked the ability. In Genesis 41:49 it says that Joseph stopped measuring the stored grain because "it could not be measured." He lacked the physical capability of measuring all the grain. On the other hand, just a couple chapters later we read "They served him (Joseph) by himself, and them (his brothers) by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because the Egyptians could not eat with the Hebrews, for that is an abomination to the Egyptians. (Gen 43:32). "Could not eat with Hebrews." Clearly this isn't a lack of physical capability. Their mouths still opened, their teeth still chewed, their throats still swallowed ... they had the ability to eat with Hebrews. They did not have the inclination and, as such, lacked the ability ("could not").

In conclusion, then, I think it is abundantly clear that humans have free will. But unless we are careful with that, we can follow that "free will" term down a false trail. The Bible clearly indicates that God intervenes at times in human choices, and this demonstrates less than a totally free will. The Bible clearly indicates that God works all things after the counsel of His will, and this demonstrates less than a totally free will. The Bible plainly states that there are things we cannot do, either by physical inability or by a counter inclination, and this demonstrates less than a totally free will. Thus, Luther's claim that our will is in bondage is in agreement with Scripture in that we are bound by our nature and the nature of sinful man is sinful, and Edward's claim that our wills are free is in agreement with Scripture in that we are free to choose, but only in accordance with our nature. Can we choose? Biblically, yes. But don't understand that to mean that we are totally autonomous, completely without limitations. It is not, in fact, a contradiction to call a limited free will "free will". It is a contradiction to claim an unlimited free will in light of both Scripture and logic.
[1] Note that the text goes on to indicate who is "in the flesh" and who is "in the Spirit". "You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Rom 8:9). Natural Man, then, before the indwelling of the Spirit, is in the category of "the mind that is set on the flesh".

Monday, September 29, 2014

"God is a Gentleman"

"God is a gentleman and does not force Himself on anyone." How many times have I heard that one? Maybe not word for word, but certainly sentiment for sentiment. God doesn't want robots. God wants us to be free. Whatever God does, He does not interfere in human free will.

Of course, that all sounds well and good ... unless you hold it up against the Scriptures.

In Genesis we read of Abraham going to Gerar where, fearing for his life, he told his wife to tell people she was his sister. Abimelech, the king, liked that and took her for his own. Soon thereafter God visited Abimelech in a dream, threatening to kill him for taking Abraham's wife. "I didn't!" he assured God. And here's what God told him. "Yes, I know that in the integrity of your heart you have done this, and I also kept you from sinning against Me; therefore I did not let you touch her." (Gen 20:6). God claims that the underlying reason that Abimelech didn't have relations with Sarah was that God stopped him. Interesting, isn't it, that Abimelech thought he did it himself? But there is no room for question. God intervened in Abimelech's will.

It's not like he was the only one. In Exodus God commands that the people of Israel go to Jerusalem to worship three times a year. Then He says, "No man shall covet your land when you go up three times a year to appear before the LORD your God." (Exo 34:24). See that? "Look," He told them, "don't worry about your property while you're away. I'll see it that no one around has any desire for your things while you're coming to worship Me." That is divine intervention in human choices.

Take Pharaoh. Before Moses even started the work of freeing God's people, God told him, "When you go back to Egypt see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders which I have put in your power; but I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go." (Exo 4:21). "I will harden his heart." And He did ... over and over. "Oh, no," you will assure me, "that just means that He pushed Pharaoh in the direction he already was going." Well, okay, if you want to think that, but He pushed Pharaoh. That's intervention in human choices.

Take the story of Joseph. His brothers sold him into slavery where "the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands" (Gen 39:3). Not Joseph; the Lord. Joseph was imprisoned on false charges and we read, "The LORD ... gave him favor in the eyes of the chief jailer." Not Joseph; the Lord. When it was all said and done, Joseph assured his brothers, "God sent me before you to preserve life." (Gen 45:5). Not them; God.

Or how about when Israel moved out of Egypt? Did you know they went away rich? Why? Because "The LORD gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians." (Exo 11:3). That's intervention in human choices.

Some of the clear passages are in the New Testament. We read without batting an eye of Lydia in Acts, "The Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul." (Acts 16:14). There was no permission granted on her part. It simply says He did it. He opened her heart. One of the more disturbing passages is in John's gospel. Lazarus has been raised (John 11) and this is causing a stir (read "making the Pharisees really, really mad"). Jesus comes into town and receives a victor's welcome (John 12:12-19), angering the Pharisees further. And then we read, "Though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him." (John 12:37). Odd. But John doesn't fail to explain why. He says,
Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." (John 12:39-40).
Look, I didn't write that. It's not some odd translation. John wrote both "They could not believe" (a failure of ability) and gave the reason that "He [God] has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart." Why? "Lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their heart, and turn, and I would heal them." John says that God blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts specifically to prevent them from repenting.

Now, we can do a variety of dances to try to mitigate that. "It was their choice" or "Like Pharaoh, they were already blinded and He just reinforced it" or whatever. But no matter what we do with it, the fact remains that God claims to have intervened in their lives in a way that affected their choices ... as He has in so many others.

Still not convinced? One last passage. You know, if you are a Christian, that you seek to please God, that you try to obey, right? So, how do you do that? "By my will," you might say. Here's what Paul says.
It is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Phil 2:23).
According to Paul, you do indeed "work out your own salvation", but you do it by means of God working in you to will and to do. However you choose to see that, it is undeniably true that God is affecting your will.

There is no shortage of passages in Scripture where God explicitly and directly intervenes in human free will. By no means is it every time. But it is undeniable that He does it. We may like that "God is a gentleman" concept and hang our hats on the whole "God doesn't want robots" thing, quite confident that God does not intervene in human free will, but it's not a safe place to stand when it is in direct opposition to the explicit teaching of Scripture. Do we have free will? Yes, certainly, but not as free as you might think. Not if the Bible is to be trusted.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Be Thou My Vision

Solomon wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law." (Prov 29:18). "No vision." What is that? Many have concluded it was a reference to leadership. Leaders must have a vision, a direction to go, a plan, even big dreams. Using invariably the King James Version ("Where there is no vision the people perish"), they use this as proof of the need to dream big. As it turns out, the idea in Solomon's text was a direction from God. The text, in fact, tells you where to get that "vision" by contrasting with the happy person. He "keeps the law." Thus, "vision" is God's Word and "no vision" is disregarding God's Word.

So what is the vision found in the hymn, Be Thou My Vision?
Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul's Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven's joys, O bright Heaven's Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.
Typically attributed to Dallán Forgaill in the 6th century, this Irish hymn was translated by Mary E. Byrne in 1905 and put to verse by Eleanor H. Hull in 1912. The poem was set to an Irish folk tune in 1919. And this one appears to be without confusion. Clearly it is in the same sense as the author of Hebrews intended it:
Since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Heb 12:1-2)
This vision is looking where you're going. Where does the hymn suggest? "Be Thou my vision."

Excluded, then, would be just about anything you might want to think. Riches, praise, family, inheritance, self-preservation, dignity, pleasure ... let's see ... what's left? Nothing. The song calls on God to be the sole sight, the only direction, the single vision. In Him we find wisdom, guidance, family, protection, dignity, joy, shelter, inheritance, treasure, and a future.

When contemplating this wonderful hymn, I came across an interesting feature. Now, mind you, it may simply be the difference between English in 1909 versus modern English, but note the first two lines: "Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart; Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art." Okay, let's first work through the unfamiliar language. "Lord of my heart, please be my focus." Fine. Easy stuff. And then a little more difficult. "Naught be all else to me" -- "Let nothing else be everything to me." If nothing else is to be everything to me, what is? Here's where the language gets interesting. "Save that Thou art." Now, perhaps there is a glitch in understanding. Maybe "that Thou art" is meant to convey "as much as You mean to me." "Let nothing else mean as much to me as you mean to me." But that's not what the words say. The words, taken at face value, say, "except that You are." Okay, hold on. Let me put that together in our English. "Let nothing else mean all to me except that You exist."

If this is accurate, the song is calling on us to love God simply for His being. It isn't loving Him for what He provides which is great. It isn't loving Him for loving us which is marvelous. It is loving Him because He is. It is the language found in Jeremiah's lament.
Surely my soul remembers and is bowed down within me. This I recall to my mind; therefore I have hope. The LORD'S lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. "The LORD is my portion," says my soul, "Therefore I have hope in Him." (Lam 3:20-24)
In this amazing passage of Scripture, Jeremiah hits bottom. He experiences hopelessness. What rescues him from hopelessness? It is not the promise of something better. It is simply the Lord. "The LORD is my portion," he says, and that is His reason for hope.

Let nothing mean as much to me as the fact that you are, dear God. You be my vision.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Hear Me Out

Why do people say that? "Hear me out." Well, it's because they have been or expect to be interrupted -- to not be heard.
Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger. (James 1:19)
Why would James write this? Well, probably because he expected people to be slow to hear, swift to speak, and swift to anger. And most of us would have to admit, if we were really honest, that it would be a reasonable expectation.

Back in August Cindy Brandt wrote How I Kissed Evangelism Goodbye for the Huffington Post. Now, I think Cindy missed some important issues. (She uses the term "evangelized" in a way that doesn't fit with any of the definitions I can find -- certainly not in the sense of "preaching the good news" as the term would normally require. She takes issue with "evangelism" meaning the telling of only one story which, as it turns out, is the point of the "good news" ... and that one story is not about you. It's called "the gospel of Jesus Christ" for a reason.) But her primary point is ... listen. And, according to James, she's right on that point.

We are not good listeners. By "we" I don't mean "Christians". I mean "humans". We are, on the whole, much better at talking than listening. We are much faster to speak than to hear. It's not just Christians and it's not just unbelievers; it's people everywhere.

And we, as Christians, are commanded to "be quick to hear" and "slow to speak". Do you see what that does? For those who aren't much concerned about God and His commands, listening is a fine tool that wise people will acquire. For believers (Jesus said, "If you love Me, you will obey my commandments."), it is a matter of sin to fail to listen more than you speak.

Now, the world can tell you all sorts of good reasons to learn to listen. You can gather information, understand, learn, and even communicate better. All good things. But I would have to think that "God said so" would be another serious motivation for Christians to be known as listeners.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Everyone wants to have a purpose. Why am I here? Some strive for "higher purpose" and others just want a basic reason. No one, for the most part, cares at all what God's purpose is. As it turns out, God made everything that exists for a purpose. Fortunately we don't have to guess. Unfortunately it may not be what you thought.
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen. (Rom 11:36)

For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things have been created through Him and for Him. (Col 1:16)
First, He didn't make it for you (or me). He made it for Himself. "To Him are all things." "All things have been created ... for Him." Not much of a question there. So when we begin to think it's about us (as we seem to do constantly), it's time to rethink. It's all about Him.

But we can do better. For Him, sure, but for what for Him? Look over in Ephesians. There Paul begins, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3). Now, that starts out exciting enough. Terms like "has blessed us" -- not a pending blessing -- and "every spiritual blessing" -- not holding back. But read on into the "every spiritual blessing" of which Paul is speaking.
He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace which He lavished on us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, that is, the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth. In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, to the end that we who were the first to hope in Christ would be to the praise of His glory. In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation--having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory.
(Eph 1:4-14).
Now, I know that's a lot to read, and maybe you didn't do it. Hopefully it's because you already have it memorized. (Yeah, right.) But if not, I wish to point out a repeated phrase which should help you get the gist of it. "To the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph 1:6). "To the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:12). "To the praise of His glory" (Eph 1:14). Hey, is that a pattern? Well, yes, I think it is. Oh, wait! As it turns out, it's a biblical pattern.
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!" (Isa 6:3)

The heavens declare the glory of God (Psa 19:1).
Do a search sometime for just the phrase "the glory of God". Here are the kinds of things you'll find. It glorifies God to conceal a matter (Prov 25:2). Sickness and death can be for the glory of God (John 11:4ff). Our salvation is to the glory of God (Rom 15:7). Christ fulfills His promises to us to the glory of God (2 Cor 1:20). Even our good works are for God's glory (Matt 5:16). Everything is for the glory of God.

Paul offers more clarification. "That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made" (Rom 1:19-20). And then we find out the problem. We all know that Man has a sin problem, but what is the core of that sin problem? "Even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks" (Rom 1:21). He repeats this problem in the third chapter. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23).

So we have this clear presentation of God's purpose. He made everything for Himself. Not you. Not me. Himself. He made everything in order to display Himself, to demonstrate His glory. Over and over. Our problem? We fail at that. We stand in the way of God's primary purpose of making everything that is. I don't know about you, but at that point it starts to look like "sin" is much more than "doing bad things". And sin starts with "It's all about me." Not His purpose.
Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor 10:31)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sovereignty and Evangelism

It has been suggested that God is ... mostly sovereign. It has been argued that He sovereignly surrendered His sovereignty to Man's Free Will. It has even been suggested that, as such, now He's ... well ... kind of stuck with it. A friendly commenter here has argued that God does not work all things after the counsel of His will. A well-known apologist argued "God has to play the hand He has been dealt." A well-known professor of theology argued that God is in some sense dependent on His creation. A famous pastor and professor of theology claimed that everything does not happen for a reason, but some evil is random and God cannot or will not interfere. All of these add up to a sovereign not-sovereign. If you're paying attention, that's what's known in Aristotelian logic as a logical contradiction.

So what? What if God did surrender His will to His creation, at least to some extent? What would it matter?

I was thinking about this in church on Sunday because the pastor was preaching a missions sermon. Where would he go? Well, the Great Commission, of course. There we read,
"All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matt 28:18-20)
Now there's a lot to go over here. "As you are going" is the beginning of the commission. Go do it. Do it as you go. Wherever you are, do it. "Make disciples." Not "converts". "Disciples." Genuine followers of Christ. "Of all nations." Not a small task. From every people group on the planet. "Teaching them ..." Again, not converts, disciples. These disciples are to be taught. And not some -- "all that I commanded you." Everything. A lot there. In fact, if you ask me, too much.

This is why the previous statement is so important. "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth." Not some. Not local. Not just "heaven" or "earth". All authority. All authority everywhere. This has a two-fold impact. First, "Go and do all that I've just told you because I said so." He has the authority. He is Lord. We must obey. But the other side is equally important. "Since I have all authority, I have the authority to enable you to pull it off." Now that's a good thing. Because that's a tall order. But, hey, if Christ has all authority, we ought to act on it and we can do so with confidence because He has all authority. We can't fail. There can be no obstructions. As God sends, we can go with confidence, knowing that He will accomplish through us what He intends to accomplish because He has all authority.

Or ... does He? You see, if God is a sovereign non-sovereign, a dependent God on His creation, forced to play the hand He has been dealt, enduring random evil outside of His control, well, then, can we truly believe that "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth"? Because apparently it hasn't.

That was the question. "So what? What if God did surrender His will to His creation, at least to some extent? What would it matter?" Well, for starters, you'd be obeying a command too big to accomplish with no reason to expect success. Evangelism would be a hit-or-miss proposition. Sometimes God could pull it off; sometimes you'd miss out because of random evil. Of course, the good news isn't quite as good as we'd like when the Savior was wrong, though, is it? So there's that, too.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Question of Free Will

I wanted to do a brief thought experiment.

You're in a dark room. You want to escape. You don't feel safe. You notice light under a door, so you go to the door and open it. It leads outside. You step out and close the door behind you. Then you notice that you're in a narrow alley with no openings for a hundred yards. You're torn. Do you go ahead, or do you go back to the room? You debate with yourself for a bit, then decide to head on down the alley.

Now, here's the question. Was your decision to go down the alley free will or not since you didn't realize that the door had locked behind you and you had no other options? You could not do anything but what you did, but you didn't know it. Does that mean you didn't make a free choice?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


I read this the other day. It was written by a prominent theologian on the topic of the Sovereignty of God.
In sum, then, relational theology or theism is any view that imports the creation into the life of God so that God is in some way dependent on it for the whole or part of his experience.
This theologian preferred this view in explaining God's sovereignty. (The drop of the capital "s" in this use of "sovereignty" was not an accident on my part. I did it on purpose.) This version says that God "views us as genuine partners with and sometimes against God" and that a picture of an invulnerable God "undermines participation in the mission of God towards God’s kingdom". He argues that God's sovereignty is a relational one "that regards God’s will as settled in terms of the intentions of his character but open and flexible in terms of the ways in which he acts because he allows himself to be acted upon."

Me? I'm baffled. A God that makes Himself dependent on His creation cannot, it seems to me, be defined as God. Indeed, this being, whatever it is, doesn't align with the biblical version. In the biblical version God says, "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine." (Psa 50:12). When He introduced Himself to Moses with the famous "I AM THAT I AM" (Exo 3:14), it wasn't a Popeye concept; it was the idea of full and complete self-sufficiency. It doesn't align with logic. A God who can speak into existence light, matter, and all that is does not need the light, matter, and all that is to exist. In fact, the psalmist tells us, "Our God is in the heavens; He does all that He pleases." (Psa 115:3). He has made Himself dependent on His creation? In any sense?

If that's true, then God's "I the LORD do not change" (Mal 3:6) has lost its meaning. Jesus's "the same yesterday and today and forever" (Heb 13:8) isn't true. And the claim that God "causes all things to work together for good" (Rom 8:28) or "works all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph 1:11) are not reliable ... since His will and work are dependent on His ever-variable creation.

You may not buy that God is absolutely Sovereign as I think it abundantly clear in Scripture, but buying into a God who has made Himself dependent on His creation should be a place you're not willing to go if you're a Bible-believing Christian. It just doesn't make sense.

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Contradiction

I've found it! An actual Bible contradiction! Task complete!

First we read in Romans 12, "God has allotted to each a measure of faith." (Rom 12:3). Fairly straightforward. Easy to see. But wait! Then we read this. "Not all have faith." (2 Thess 3:2). Oh, now see? One text says God gives everyone faith and the other says not everyone has faith. Now what's up with that?

Okay, there are answers, and you're going to have to figure out what, but this is a common problem. One side will say, "Look! It says that God gives everyone faith!" and leave it there. The other side will say, "Not all have faith" and leave it there. And very few try to make sense of it.

Consider a larger example. First, we know this:
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim 2:3-4).

The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. (2 Peter 3:9).
It is God's plan, God's good pleasure, that everyone gets saved. And don't forget, "Whatever the LORD pleases, He does, in heaven and in earth, in the seas and in all deeps." (Psa 135:6). So, does He do what He desires? Let's let Scripture say.
"Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29).

"For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him." (John 3:17).

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (1 Cor 15:22).

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. (2 Cor 5:19).

We have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. (1 Tim 4:10).

We have seen and testify that the Father has sent the Son to be the Savior of the world. (1 John 4:14).

But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves. (2 Peter 2:1).
How much more explicit can it get? He desires to save everyone and He "takes away the sin of the world", He came so that "all will be made alive", He was "reconciling the world to Himself", He is "the Savior of all men", the "Savior of the world". He even "bought" everyone. What more do you need? On what possible basis -- given the mass of Scripture, God's clearly documented desire to save everyone, and the repeated statements that He has saved everyone -- could you say that anyone isn't going to heaven?

Now, you have to know. I do not believe that the first contradiction I listed is an actual contradiction. And I realize that very, very few look at these Scriptures I've listed and understand any of them to actually mean that the Bible teaches Universal Salvation. Why? Because that would be a genuine contradiction. And yet, if someone (say, someone like me) suggests that these texts do not mean that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, that person is heartily rebuffed as an heretick. (I like that Old English spelling.) So, here's what I'm hoping. Whether you do it here or on your own, I'm hoping that you would spend some time actually examining the Scriptures to see what they do say and find out what they do mean rather than haphazardly using texts to prove your point at one moment and then denying those same texts when they disprove your point. The Bible is God's Word. Make sense of it.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

When You Walk through the Fire

"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isa 43:1-3)
This is a great passage of Scripture. Yes, it is specifically to Israel, but it is also to the redeemed. It is a comforting statement from a loving, sovereign God regarding His care for us in our tough times. In the floods and fires of life, you will not be consumed. He is with us.

It's interesting, though, what He does not promise. He does not promise to keep us from the fire or the flood. We are not promised a warm, happy, comfortable life. In fact, the word is "when", not "if". When you pass through the waters and when you walk through the fire. Or, to put it another way ... "Oh, you will."

From an experiential vantage point, we know this to be true. Everyone experiences difficulty. Everyone. To me, then, it is a great comfort to know not that God failed to stop it, but that He's in it with me. That it's not out of His control. That He will protect me even in the hardships. It's a little difficult, perhaps, to say "Fear not" and "You will go through fire and water" in the same sentence, but it should be the ultimate comfort to know He's in it with us and controlling the outcome. That's a good thing to remember when we find ourselves up to our necks in water or out of the frying pan and in the fire as we all seem to do from time to time.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

What If?

Growing up, I became aware that much of our current circumstances have been determined by previous events. Consider technology. When videotape came on the market, we had two options: VHS or Beta. Beta was, essentially, a superior product. But VHS had better marketing. So we got an inferior product because of marketing, not technology. Or consider PCs. Apple and IBM had their versions out in a similar time frame, but IBM had what was called "open architecture" -- they allowed outsiders to have access to programming instructions. So IBM became the market standard and Apple is only recently recovering from that blow.

I remember an episode of the '60's TV show, Dennis the Menace, where Dennis tried to win a car for his mom by guessing the number of balls in a jar. An elderly lady won, but when she heard why Dennis wanted to win, she donated her old car to Mrs. Mitchell. It was ... get this ... an electric car. Yes, back in 1960 there were still some electric cars to be had. So, why are they new on our market? Because the gas engine was developed to have greater range and speed on newer and better roads. So ... what if the electric car was pursued instead? Market forces would have driven us to a different place, a place the industry is only now trying to achieve.

These were the kinds of things I mused about (occasionally) growing up. "What if?" You couldn't know, actually, but it was an interesting thought experiment. There was no way to compare two possible technology lines to see which would have had what affect on society this far down the road. Just a matter of interest.

This isn't always the case, however. It is possible, for instance, to ask, "What if Christianity had not had such an effect?" A lot of what we see in modern society today was built on the back of 2,000 years of Christendom. Christianity has influenced morals, laws, worldviews, science, philosophy, medicine ... just about any major component of Western Civilization. Asking, "What would it have been like without that?" is actually possible, though, because there have been examples. We know how civilization progressed with Christian influences. Under Christendom we have nice things like human rights endowed by a Creator, world charities, and hospitals. Modern science owes its beginnings to the Christian belief that a rational God made a rational universe, and we could follow it out. Capitalism is a product of the Puritan work ethic. Martin Luther King based his civil rights movement in America in his Christian beliefs. We can see what effects Christianity has on societies. What about ... not?

You can find societies that have not been influenced by Christianity. There aren't too many left, of course, but go to some jungle tribe in South America and see how that works for you. For a more sophisticated version, try out the historical Soviet Union or Communist China. These were societies built on an atheist worldview. How did that work for them? Stalin executed an estimated 20 million people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn estimated that 66 million political prisoners died in prison under Soviet communism. Mao is estimated to have had 40-70 million executed. Another communist, atheist dictator, Cambodia's Pol Pot, is reputed to have killed 1.7 million. It's not that atheism killed these millions. It's that the removal of the premise of a God who endows people with rights removes the reason to not eliminate anyone that is in the way. So when the Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its own oppression of its people and the decline of its economy, it was not unexpected. Without religious influence, it would be mandatory.

I don't know what life would have been like if Beta became prevalent rather than VHS. I can't say for sure how things would have been different if electric cars were developed rather than gasoline-driven vehicles. Would we live in a better world if Apple had been the primary PC rather than IBM's version? Who knows? But I can tell you this. Given examples on both sides, I can say with certainty that the world is a better place because of Christianity. I can go one step further. The more a society (oh, say, like our own) distances itself from Christian moorings, the farther away from quality it will get. We've seen it. It's not pretty.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spare the Rod

The concept of corporal punishment in Christianity has been a given for ... well ... forever, I think. I offered a host of passages that describe parenting with the use of this method. A common tool of discipline described in these passages is the "rod". That's why a particular segment of our society, bent on changing this forever-concept of corporal punishment as a biblical tool for parenting, have decided to revisit the texts to redefine the concept. Eliminate the biblical concept and you eliminate the parenting concept for Christians, right? So, here's what they do. "You know," they tell you, "you've all misunderstood that term 'rod' as it is used in Scripture."

Go, first, to the passage that everyone seems to know -- the 23rd Psalm. You know it. Quote this part with me.
Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me (Psa 23:4).
(Isn't it funny that everyone quotes that in King James English?) There it is; that word "rod". David says it comforts him. Now, look, in what possible sense would anyone say that "That device you use to inflict physical harm to me brings me great comfort"? There, you see? Can't be that the rod is a method of discipline. What then?

Many in the "pro-corporal punishment" side will tell you of the story of the shepherds who, in order to teach wayward lambs not to stray, use their rods to break the lamb's leg and then nurse it back to help. Nice story. Doesn't actually seem to be possible in real life. And no existing shepherd would likely allow it. The "anti-corporal punishment" side will argue (rightly) that this story is a fabrication. They'll argue that the rod was not a tool for injuring sheep, but for "a variety of purposes, primarily to protect the flock from enemies, direct behavior and examine the well-being of individual sheep." There you have it! Not for whacking! Done! But is it? As it turns out shepherds use their rods, as indicated in the quote, to "direct behavior" by throwing the thing at the sheep. That's right. Not too hard. Don't harm the sheep, of course. But give that sheep a thump to get his attention. So, apart from nice analogies without any real-life sources, what does the Bible mean when it speaks of the "rod"?

Here's what we know. It comforted David (Psa 23:4). It was used as a product of love (Prov 13:24). It was not drastic, not supposed to be fatal (Prov 23:13-14). It was used to strike (Prov 23:13-14). In Ezekiel we read of "passing under the rod" (Ezek 20:37). This appears to be a counting method (Lev 27:32). God outlawed killing a slave with a rod (Exo 21:20). He spoke of disciplining with a rod which would produce "stripes" (2 Sam 7:14; Psa 89:32). It was used on the back (Prov 10:13) Job found the rod to be difficult to tolerate (Job 9:34). Solomon compares it to a whip and a bridle (Prov 26:3). It was used to beat things (in this example, dill) (Isa 28:27). Paul gave his readers the option: "Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?" (1 Cor 4:21). In Revelation the rod was used for measuring (Rev 11:1; 21:15-16). Another version was "a rod of iron" which appears to be threatening (Rev 2:27; 12:5; 19:15).

That's what we know. Arguing that "the rod is a gentle device used just to be nice to sheep", you'd have to discard what we know. It is unavoidable that the rod was used to strike as well as to count, measure, and other non-violent things. It is used in Scripture repeatedly to point to painful events. So when you hear it argued that we've all misunderstood "the rod" for all these centuries and are fed a nice version based first on "that kind of rod wouldn't comfort me", don't listen. Be consistent with the Scriptures when you're looking to the Scriptures. Always a good plan. And then you might want to reexamine what comforts you. Does it comfort you that God conforms to what you like, or does it comfort you that He always does what is right, even if that's painful?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ordained to Life Everlasting

In Acts 13 we have the account of Paul and Barnabas setting out from Antioch on their missionary journey. The two of them were set apart by God (Acts 13:2) for this task. They sailed, then, to Cyprus (Acts 13:4) and, after an interesting time there (Acts 13:4-12), went on to Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:14). Here Paul gives a sermon to the Jews (Acts 13:15-41), was rejected for it (Acts 13:45), and declares his intent to take the Gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46-47). And then we find this fascinating verse:
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).
What an interesting text. It's interesting to me because it's out of the blue. In the midst of the Jews reviling Paul and Paul pulling out the Gospel from them, the Gentiles rejoice and glorify the word of the Lord. From the conflict comes glory. It's interesting because many believed at this point -- in the midst of the conflict. But it's also interesting because of the particular text of that last phrase.

First, many believed. Good. But not all. And not a few. Many. This number was, in fact, determined: "As many as were appointed to eternal life". Those who were not appointed to eternal life did not believe.

Second, that phrase "appointed to eternal life". It appears in this text that those who believed did so because they were appointed. The Greek word is τάσσω -- tassō. They were arranged or assigned or ordained to eternal life. Now, we kind of all agree on that, except this appears to indicate that "ordained to eternal life" occurs before "believed". "Appointed to eternal life" seems to be the cause of "believed".

Third is the interconnection of these two phrases -- "many" and "appointed to eternal life". The text says that "as many as were appointed to eternal life believed." Not one more. Not one less. No one wanted in but couldn't get in because they didn't believe. No one who was appointed to eternal life prior to this failed to believe. Just "as many" and not one more or one less.

We see in this simple, unassuming account that a specific number believed and did so on the basis of being appointed in advance to eternal life. Isn't that interesting?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Known by Love

Some time ago I wrote about the difficulty of breaking into a church -- how hard it is to go to a new church and become part of that church body rather than an outsider looking in. I think I've discovered the difficulty.

Churches generally have good plans and programs. They'll have large groups and small groups so you can go where you feel comfortable. They'll have large teaching venues and small teaching venues so you can go where you learn best. They'll have church groups and home groups so you can go where you best fit in. Many will even have interest-specific programs -- divorcees, singles, youth, sports, that kind of stuff -- so you can find like-minded people. All good. But it misses the point.

Jesus said, "By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35). Funny thing. He didn't say we would be known for our adaptable groups, our generous teaching, our home groups, or how well we meet the special interests of believers. No, it was "love for one another." And that, I think, is what I am finding lacking in so many churches.

Oh, they're not unkind. They're not mean. They're friendly enough and all. The greeter at the door greets with a smile. They'll shake your hand in the "Let's all say hello to each other" part of the service. Someone will call you if you fill out the card. I don't mean that it's hostile. It's just not ... love. They might invite you to their group or call you to thank you for coming or see if you have any questions, but what is missing is actually caring. We've checked off the box -- invite or call or thank -- but do we care? Do we care about others? Are we concerned about their well-being? Do we love?

We are all commanded to love, but Christians are supposed to be known for their love for one another, something above and beyond that command to love your neighbor. No church program or policy is going to accomplish this. It has to come from people with hearts not twisted by the world of self-serving but hearts transformed by the renewal of the Spirit. Too many of us are satisfied with programs and procedures; we need to love.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

When It's Okay to Beat Your Kids

Adrian Peterson, a running back for the Minnesota Vikings, made the news last week when he was arrested for child abuse. Recognizing that there is more than one question involved here, Peterson has at least been the source of a whole new discussion on the topic of corporal punishment. To borrow from Shakespeare, "To spank or not to spank; that is the question."

First, science has a very clear answer: spanking doesn't work. Of course, it is also possible to find studies that say the opposite. But studies also show that prayer doesn't work, so do I go with the studies or do I go with the Word of God?

I, of course, would need to respond from a biblical worldview. What does the Bible tell me is true? If it's God's Word and God is always right, I have to go with that, regardless of your friendly studies. What does God say about it? First, what the Bible does not say: "Spare the rod; spoil the child." An ever popular but non-existent biblical quote. What does it say?
Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him. (Prov 13:24)

Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him. (Prov 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol. (Prov 23:13-14)

The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Prov 29:15)
The Bible is not silent on the topic. Nor does God's Word subscribe to current science's certainty of the negative effects of spanking. Instead, the Bible argues that a failure to spank is hate while spanking is love, that spanking helps remove childish foolishness, that spanking has a saving effect, that spanking even produces wisdom. Odd. None of these appear to be negative.

It is argued by some who call themselves Christians that the Bible is wrong on these counts, but others argue that it isn't so much wrong, but that taking them as they are written is wrong. It's cultural, or it's old, or it's misunderstood. We know better now. This sounds very intelligent and even compassionate, but you really run into a problem when you see the Bible claiming that God Himself disciplines with corporal punishment. In the Old Testament God affirmed that if Israel chose to go contrary to God's commands, "I Myself will discipline you sevenfold for your sins." (Lev 26:28). That word, translated in the ESV as "discipline", is yâsar, which means literally to chastise with blows. In the New Testament we are assured, "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives." (Heb 12:6). The first word, "disciplines", means to train up a child -- benign enough -- but the second is μαστιγόω -- mastigoō -- meaning "to flog". Sorry. Can't get around that. Both Old and New Testaments tell us that God Himself uses painful methods to train those whom He loves.

"So, then, you'd favor child abuse?" You see, that's where it always goes. "When it is okay to beat your kids?" I'd say "Never." I'd suggest, in fact, that this is the problem with science's studies. There is no differentiation between loving discipline and beating your kids. Here, let's look at the easiest place to see the problem. In the famous "Love chapter" from Paul's first epistle to the church at Corinth we read, "If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Cor 13:1). "Umm, Stan ... there's nothing there about spanking." Yes, I know but think about it. What defines "good things" in this text? "Speaking in tongues", "prophesy", "wisdom", "knowledge", "generosity" -- all of these are "good things", but Paul says that without love they are completely useless ... at best. And that's where studies (and even many proponents of corporal punishment) fail. The key ingredient to effective discipline is love.

Look at that first text up there from Proverbs. Notice the cause and effect. "He who loves" a child ... disciplines. The rod of Proverbs is described as the product of love. How it is, then, that so many well-meaning parents use it without love? And why would anyone (professing Christian, genuine Christian, or your average pro-spanking parent) think that training kids without love would be effective?

I would argue, then, that we can actually glean a little more from Scripture on the subject of spanking:

1. Always in love (1 Cor 13:1-3). If you are going to spank your child because you're angry or "I'm gonna teach that boy a lesson!" or anything except a genuine concern for his or her best interests, don't do it.

2. Never too much (Eph 6:4). We read, "Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord." It's a balance between too much -- provoking your children -- and not enough -- failing to bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

3. Limited use (Prov 22:15). I draw this from the texts above. Nothing in the texts suggests corporal punishment for ignorance or stupidity. They didn't hear. They forgot. A beating to remind them isn't in view here. "Folly" -- that's in view. Direct disobedience. Willful. Foolishness is knowing what is right and refusing to do it. The word is most literally translated "perverse" -- showing a deliberate and obstinate desire to behave in a way that is unreasonable or unacceptable. That's the idea.

4. Always in love. Yeah, I know, I said that, but it can't be stressed enough.

I'm quite certain that the world's version of "spanking" and the Bible's version are not the same. The world's version is "a beating". I'd agree with the studies that beating kids is not helpful. But I also believe that the Bible is abundantly clear that parents who love their kids will use corporal punishment as part of the training of their kids. I believe it is equally clear that love must be at the core of this process. Care needs to be exercised in this. Training is in view. Parents must impose limits on themselves. But if we are to accept God's Word as the Word of God, a parent who loves his or her child will, of a necessity, find it necessary at some point or another (preferably very early on) to train with the use of non-abusive, lovingly administered, carefully applied pain. God does it. I don't suppose we're better parents than He is.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Importance of Being Us

You have have heard this before. If not, you may have thought it. Or, more likely, felt it. One way or another, I think this idea is extremely common. "God must have found us pretty important if He sent His Son to die in our place."

Nice idea and all. Sounds good, but that's largely because it's coming from our inherent self-centeredness, our humanism. When laid up against Scripture, I think, it becomes problematic. You see, The Word says, "Know therefore today, and take it to your heart, that the LORD, He is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other" (Deut 4:39). There is no other. Not even me. Or us. God is the highest and best. He is the one and only. He is the Creator. There is no other.

You see, if God is going to be consistent with reality, He must regard Himself as the highest being. So when we think that God found us important enough to surrender His own will or desires or even His Son, we've missed it.

Would you expect different? If your friend, Bob, made a really cool vacuum cleaner and then chose to consider it more important than himself, would you congratulate him on his insight or have him seek professional help? But us? We're thinking that God ought to think more highly of us than He ought to. We've missed it.

God didn't make us because He thought we were important. He made us for His glory. The error of sin isn't because we're naughty children. It's because we fall short of the glory of God. We miss the point. God made us for His glory. He made us as a gift for His Son. Because His Son is of equal importance and deserving equal love.

Now, imagine this. I love my wife. (Okay, that doesn't take imagination; I really do.) So let's say that my wife loves special orchids. (Now that is imaginary.) Her birthday is coming, so I decide to grow her a special orchid for her birthday. This orchid is special because it is sentient, and it is special to me because it is a gift for my wife whom I love. So I spend time tending to my orchid. I feed it and water it and give it sunshine and nutrients and ... everything it needs. What would such an orchid begin to think? Well, of course, it would conclude, "He must have found me pretty important if he spends so much time on my needs." Easy to think that way, really. Understandable. But wrong. Because I love my wife, and I care for the orchid because I love her. The orchid is important to me because I love her and it's a gift for her.

Before time began, God promised us to His Son (Titus 1:1-3). We are a love gift to His Son. We are important and loved in so far as God loves His Son. So He sent His Son to make us a suitable gift ... for His Son. Indeed, the ever popular verse, John 3:16, says that "For God loved the world in this manner; He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." It is a special love placed on those who believe. And we are made for good works that glorify Him (Matt 5:16; Eph 2:10). We are in work to be conformed to the image of His Son (Rom 8:29), a Bride suitable for the King of kings. We are His love gift to His Son. That's the importance of being us. We are important simply as a gift for God's Son. It is not for nothing that we are warned "not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think" (Rom 12:3).

Sunday, September 14, 2014

How Great Thou Art

O Lord, my God, when I, in awesome wonder,
Consider all the worlds Thy hands have made,
I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,
Thy power throughout the universe displayed.

Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
Then sings my soul, my Savior, God, to Thee,
"How great Thou art! How great Thou art!"
This (one of my all-time favorites) was originally a poem entitled "O Store Gud" written by a Swedish pastor after experiencing the might of God's nature in a thunderstorm and the beauty of God's nature in the forest and stream he speaks of in the second verse. He wrote it in 1886, but it was translated in the 1930's by a missionary to Russia, Reverend Stuart K. Hine. Reverend Hine added the third verse in Russia, and the fourth in England.

The song is a prayer. One of the fascinating aspects of this prayer is that there are no requests. It is a prayer of adoration. This is almost unheard of in our time. We are a generation of self-centered people who defend and encourage self-centered attitudes and actions. We are the focal point of our own universe. Even in our prayers we are asking God for what we want, for what would make us happy. This prayer focuses entirely on God and His greatness.

Let's listen in as the hymnist talks to God. Note first the address: "O Lord, my God." "Lord" speaks of God's sovereignty, His lordship. In theological terms, it speaks of the transcendence of God, the God above all.

"Lord" isn't a familiar term to modern day Americans. We are an independent nation that worships freedom and independence. We prefer not to recognize anyone as master over us. We have no present-day role to use as an example of the meaning of the term. But we must learn to recognize -- "realize" (that is, to make that which is true real to ourselves) -- that God is Lord. This isn't an opinion. This isn't an option. Any view that strays from the position of God's absolute sovereignty is in error.

The second aspect of the address, "O Lord, my God," is the term "my". To call Him God is correct. There is none other. He is the one and only God. But the term "my" personalizes the relationship between God, the Sovereign, and me. Theologically, this speaks to His immanence -- his near and personal nature.

Martin Luther said that Christianity is a religion of personal pronouns. We constantly read expressions like "my God," "My people," "my Lord." This points to the personal facet of God, the amazing truth that God is interested in me. No other religion in the world carries this concept of personal relationship. But Jesus said that God knows the number of hairs on my head. That's personal. He wants us to know Him. That's astonishing. We can pray with Moses, "Teach me Thy ways, O Lord, that I might know Thee." (Exo. 33:18-23)

The prayer goes on to recognize God through creation. This is a common occurrence in Scripture (e.g., Psa. 19; Rom. 1:20). All of creation points to its Maker. All created things bear the fingerprints of their Creator.

One consideration of nature is "worlds". The word covers many concepts. Above us there are a myriad of galaxies, stars, solar systems -- worlds. But in the microscopic level there are chemical structures made up of molecular structures comprised of atomic structures -- worlds. In our world there are food chains, life cycles, ecosystems, weather patterns -- worlds. God’s hands, the hymnist says, made each of these. (This takes us back to the personal God.) And each of these, as in the thunderstorm, is a picture of God's power.

The only reasonable response to a glimpse of this sovereign, yet personal, transcendent, yet immanent God is, "How great Thou art!" The hymnist sings it with his innermost being, his soul. The soul encompasses one's mind, will, and emotions. A glimpse of God must impact us at these deepest of levels, or it wasn't real. The soul turned toward God has no room for self.
And when I think that God, His Son not sparing,
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in;
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing,
He bled and died to take away my sin.
Paul says "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:8) The recurring theme of God's love appears all through Scripture (e.g., John 3:16; Phil. 2:5-11; Rom. 8:32). It seems, however, that we have taken that grace for granted, as if we somehow deserve God's love. The hymnist didn't see it that way. "I scarce can take it in," was his thought.

Romans says that God was perfectly willing to reveal His glory by demonstrating His wrath (Rom. 9:22). We have gone to great effort to earn His wrath (Romans 6:23). We are, according to Scripture, God-haters (Rom. 8:7; James 4:4). Yet, Christ demonstrated grace - unmerited favor - on the cross. If I have personal worth, intrinsic value, then there is no grace. He merely practiced wise economy. But the fact is Christ died for us because He wanted to, not because I was so valuable.

"On the cross . . . He bled and died." Crucifixion was the worst way to die. Physically, it was designed for the utmost in pain and torture without immediate death. The whipping, the nails, the continuous physical torture of merely breathing while every bone came out of joint, all designed for slow death. Emotionally, it was devised to humiliate. It was a public torture in which the criminal carried his own instrument of death. He hung naked on the cross in front of all that watched. But the only record of Christ crying out was at the spiritual torment of the cross. At the moment of separation from His Father, He cried, "My God, why have You forsaken Me?" He had never been separated from God. He had never known sin. Yet He became sin for us.

Perhaps most remarkable about that day on the cross was the simple, inescapable fact that Jesus chose to do it. No one required it of Him. He could have said, "No." The hymnist recognized this fact. "My burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin."

How can we see this and not answer with the writer, "Then sings my soul, 'How great Thou art!'" When we take for granted the immense love and grace demonstrated on the cross, we display our ignorance and self-centeredness.
When Christ shall come, with shout of acclamation,
And take me home, what joy shall fill my heart!
Then I shall bow in humble adoration
And there proclaim, "My God, how great Thou art!"
The last verse is a common concept among hymn-writers. Many hymns looked to the return of Christ, to the day that we would be with Him. It was a joyous thought. The prospect of being in the presence of the Almighty God, the company of our Lord and Savior, was too wonderful to imagine.

We were designed for that condition. It was Adam's original condition in the garden, walking with God. We are incomplete here without that fellowship, so we immerse ourselves in spurious pursuits to fill that void. Meanwhile, Jesus promised to prepare for our arrival (John 14:2,3). What delight to know that He is anticipating our coming! Would that we would see it with such joy.

Hine had no misconceptions about that day. We have ideas of sightseeing in heaven or visiting with biblical characters. He saw his proper response to God's presence as bowing in "humble adoration." Bowing to anyone is not a popular concept in our culture. We are proud people who defer to no one. But Scripture readily reveals that this is the most common position of anyone who came in contact with God. We have failed to see the difference between coming boldly into the presence of God and coming arrogantly into the presence of God. That we can stand in His proximity at all should utterly amaze us. Somehow we have contracted a cavalier attitude that God is some "big guy" upstairs who winks at our sin because He loves us. We mustn't fall into that thought trap.

The hymn is aptly titled, "How Great Thou Art!" It speaks of God's sovereignty as Lord - His transcendence - as well as his personal care for us - His immanence. In it we see Him as the joy of our souls and the sole worthy focus of our hearts. And we see ourselves as needy, sinful people. We see the need to turn the eyes of our souls to Him. He must increase, and I must decrease.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The Tide Rolls In

Okay, in case you were unclear, here's how it works.

Two Arizona men went to California to get what California calls "married". They went to California because the Arizona State Constitution does not recognize marriage as the union of a man and a man. So they went to where it was recognized. "So?" you may ask. "What difference does that make?" Well, you might think it makes no difference. Marriage is still defined as the union of a man and a woman in Arizona. But it may not last.

As the story unfolds, one of the two men died of cancer. The surviving man sued to have his name listed on the death certificate as "surviving spouse", making him eligible for death benefits. Sued? Yes, because the state didn't recognize him as married. But U.S. District Judge John Sedwick allowed it and "signaled that Arizona's gay marriage ban may not hold up after he hears a broader challenge to the constitutionality of the law."

You see, that's how it works. The plaintiff, Fred McQuire, said it was "something as simple and sensitive as a death certificate." No big deal. But it isn't the case. No matter how it is accomplished, marriage will be overridden. Californians voted to put it in their state law and the courts threw it out as unconstitutional. So they voted to put it in their constitution and the courts threw it out again. Now any state that stands for a definition of marriage that has been the traditional, longstanding, historical definition is being sued. And other methods, like this "We'll go someplace where it's legal and then force the place we live where it isn't legal to recognize it and that should help eliminate the longstanding, traditional, historical definition."

Why did the judge rule in his favor? The judge ruled that McQuire "demonstrated that he faced irreparable emotional harm" from not being allowed to be listed as the surviving spouse. Note that it was specifically not financial consequences. When we start determining truth from a person's perception of "emotional harm", we are lost.

Now, I could complain again about the false statement that Arizona has a ban on gay marriage, but who's listening, right? Clearly it is not a matter of logic, a matter of history, a matter of reasoning, a matter of the will of the people, a matter of what's right. It's a matter of an extreme minority coercing an entire population to redefine a key societal concept and claiming it is a constitutional right so loudly that no one seems to be able to hear the truth anymore.

And here's the kicker paragraph in the story.
"The court has not yet decided whether there is a conflict between Arizona law and the Constitution, but the court has decided that it is probable that there is such a conflict that Arizona will be required to permit same-sex marriages," said Sedwick, who was nominated to the federal bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush.
First, there is no recognition that "same-sex marriage" is a non sequitur. Fine. Second, there is no recognition that Arizona already answered the question because the courts -- the courts, mind you -- are going to decide that "Arizona will be required" to redefine marriage. Most chilling, though, is the tail tacked on the end. This judge was an appointee of a conservative president.

So all of you that urge me to vote for the most conservative candidate even if he's not a good candidate because "Think of the judges he may appoint", you're going to have to do better than that. Because these judges appointed by conservative presidents do not have a very good track record.

Friday, September 12, 2014

God Repents

When I wrote recently about the view that many have, either implicitly or explicitly, that God has failed in some sense or another, one commenter assured me that it was, in fact, biblical. God fails to accomplish His will. End of story. As proof, he offered several passages of Scripture.

One that was typical was Genesis 6:6 (which, humorously, was listed as "6:66" ... which is the number of the mark of the beast, is it not?). The text in question is, "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart." (Genesis 6:6 NASB). Well, now, that's quite clear, isn't it? It says He was sorry. Other translations say "it repented" Him (KJV, DRB) or that He "repented" (LITV, YLT) or the like.

The Hebrew word is nâcham. It means, most literally, "to sigh". As such, it implies "to be sorry, console or rue; or to avenge (oneself)" and is translated in various places as "comfort (self), ease [one’s self], repent (-er, -ing, self)" (KJV). The word and its ambiguous translation ("was sorry" or "repented" -- not quite the same thing) appears in a couple of Old Testament places, such as 1 Sam 15:11 and 1 Sam 15:35 with the same sense. God was nâcham about something. Now, the meaning of words in the Bible is very important, but, as in all languages, the meaning is determined in part by the word and in part by the context. In fact, all of Scripture is the context for Scripture, so it is important to compare the context of Scripture with the word in question to see if it fits.

So here's what we do know. We know that "The Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind." (1 Sam 15:29). (interesting, isn't it, that it's in the same context as two of the nâcham references?) God does not change His mind. There is no ambiguity there. We know that "In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them." (Psa 139:16). There is no ambiguity when God says, "Remember the former things long past, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, 'My purpose will be established, and I will accomplish all My good pleasure.'" (Isa 46:9-10). If God, from the beginning, declares the end and, in ancient times before things are done, declares what will be done, we know He knows everything that will occur. So, here's what we know for certain. When it says, "The LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth", it does not mean that He was surprised or changed His mind.

So, we have some options here. We can choose to read the text to say that God does repent -- change His mind because He has new information -- or we can say that this is not the proper understanding of the text. If we choose the former, we also have to figure out why all of Christendom got it wrong all these centuries and why the Holy Spirit failed in His task of leading us to the truth. We have to conclude that God does change His mind and does not know the end from the beginning or record the days of your life before you're born. We can safely conclude that Scripture is actually in contradiction to Scripture, God is not believably represented in the Bible, and the book we have for defining our faith is not a reliable book.

So ... if these "God repents" texts do not mean that God was surprised or repented or changed His mind, what do they mean. Well, if we interpret from the explicit to the implicit, keeping in mind the word in use, I don't think it's too hard to see. God sighed. That's the literal wording, isn't it? God saw where His creation had gone and sighed. He knew it was coming and He knew what would happen and it was, in fact, His plan, but like Jesus at Lazarus's grave -- knowing He would be raising him from the dead -- He was sad that it came to this.

This isn't too hard to see, even in human terms. A couple days ago we here in Arizona had the single highest rainfall in a single day in our recorded history. It wasn't the hundred year flood or the five hundred year flood; it was the thousand year flood. Homes were inundated, roads were covered, the interstate was closed. It was a mess. In an interview with the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) representative about how it happened that I-10 could be flooded, he said it was to be expected. You see, Arizona doesn't place a high budget on flood control because, well, we don't have floods like this. This guy knew it would happen someday and wished they could have put more money toward it and all that, but he was still sad that it happened and still was going ahead with what had to be done. That's God. He knew when He made Adam that he would sin and knew when He didn't terminate Adam and Eve that some day He'd have to wipe out the world. It wasn't pleasant, and God ... sighed. But He didn't change His mind and He didn't get caught by surprise and He did proceed to accomplish what He intended to accomplish. And He still does.

Or, as I said, we don't have a God who can declare the end from the beginning, write down your days before you're born, work all things after the counsel of His will (Eph 1:11), or actually be the God described in the Bible.

Update: (Oct 8, 2014)

Interesting that Kevin DeYoung and John Piper are just two teachers who say the same thing I do on the topic.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Christians in Foxholes

Today is the 13th anniversary of the infamous attack on America by a terror group intent on killing Americans because they are Americans. The event was devastating. The aftermath was harsh. And still we remember.

The responses to the attack were interesting. The shock and terror, of course, was expected, and even the patriotic, "God bless America!" even though we're largely a nation that has evicted God from the public square. Some Christian leaders had to foolishly voice their opinion that this was God's judgment on America. A popular response was, "This wasn't God's fault; it is the fault of Man's Free Will." Based on conversations I've had since, it appears that this is the prevalent view. God has His hands tied by His creation when it comes to the bad things that happen. Hurricanes hit and, boy, was God sad that that happened, but, hey, what's a God to do? Terrorists blow up buildings and, oh, my goodness, doesn't God just wish He could have done something about it but, well, He isn't going to interfere. One well-known Christian woman assured us "God is a gentleman and won't interfere." Really? Is that the God we have? Did He not know or was He powerless to stop it or both?

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

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

I am the LORD, and there is no other, the One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these (Isa. 45:6-7).
These are words from Isaiah, but they are God speaking about Himself. He says that from His viewpoint human beings are "like grasshoppers". He says that He "reduces rulers to nothing". He says that He destroys their crops. He says that He plans to destroy their fortified cities, and He brings it to pass. In Isaiah 45, God Himself declares that He creates calamity. This is the image God is presenting concerning Himself.

Does God cause bad things? It is important, in answering the question, that we understand that God does not cause sin. Very clearly, "God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone." (James 1:13) But don't be deceived into believing that God does not cause unpleasant events. He says He creates calamity. And even in the sin of Man, God is not out of control. He doesn't cause evil, but He surely ordains it. Our clearest proof is our most blessed event, the death of Christ. No sin was more heinous than Judas Iscariot's betrayal of Christ. Of this event, Jesus said, "For indeed, the Son of Man is going as it has been determined; but woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!" (Luke 22:22) In other words, God planned for Judas to do what Judas would do. It was foreordained. Judas still bore the responsibility of his choice ("Woe to that man by whom He is betrayed!"), but his sin did not mean a deviation from God's plan. God predestined it (Acts 4:27-28).

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

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

Consider Daniel's viewpoint of his God:
The Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the vessels of the house of God; and he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and he brought the vessels into the treasury of his god (Dan. 1:2).
This is a key example of God at work. Today's Christian would say "God does not do bad things; these things are caused by Man's sinful Free Will." The events described in Daniel are as bad as they come. Judah was overrun and sent into captivity. The Temple was overrun and its holy vessels were put to profane use in a pagan temple. It doesn't get any worse. But Daniel starts with the very clear statement as to who was in charge in all of this. "The Lord gave" them over. It wasn't pleasant, and it wasn't pretty, but this same Daniel who believed that God had actually given His people into captivity and His holy vessels into pagan use still stood firm in his faith, as evidenced by the rest of the book of Daniel. In Daniel's view, God Himself brought all this to pass, and in Daniel's view God was allowed to do so – it was "fair".

Consider Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego's viewpoint of their God:
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego answered and said to the king, "O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up" (Dan. 3:16-18).
These three men stood on the brink of disaster. They were about to suffer a horrible death. So hot was the fire they were to face that it killed those who threw them into it. They spoke confidently, as we would have our heroes do. "Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire." "You tell them, guys," we cheer. "God can deliver you. Trust in Him." We're behind them. But they aren't lost in a false sense of "God only wants us to be comfortable". They recognize that this may not be His plan. "Even if He does not . . . we are not going to serve your gods." Here we would typically draw the line. If God, in our estimation, is going to be fair to these guys, He must reward their faithfulness to Him by saving them. To do otherwise would not be right. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego disagree. To them, God decides who lives and who dies, and God is just in doing so. His saving them from the fire is not the expected result of their faith. To them, this is right. Their God is the One who decides. Their God is right in what He decides.

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Kindness and Repentance

If you've been in a church at all, you most likely know that "God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance" (Rom 2:4). Ahhh, yes. A warm feeling, isn't it? Especially after all that "fire and brimstone" of yesteryear. "You see," they tell us, "we need to focus on God's kindness, not His wrath or judgment. Because, after all, that's what this verse tells us. And we want to follow what God's Word tells us."

True, we do. So ... is that what it tells us?

In fact, that's not at all what it's talking about. Check the verse itself:
Do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? (Rom 2:4).
Oh, now, see? That's not quite so friendly, is it? The context is presuming on the riches of His kindness. But let's take a broader look. What's around the verse?
We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed (Rom 2:2-5).
Now, if you're paying attention, I think it becomes abundantly clear that "Let's not talk about God's judgment" is the farthest thing from the context of this passage. Instead, God's judgment is the context. It is the context of the text. It is the context of the context (Rom 1:18-3:20). The point is that we are all sinners (Rom 3:23) all due judgment (Rom 6:23) and all in need of a means of escape. It's the "Bad News" that precedes and defines the "Good News".

So what is Paul saying? Paul is explaining that we're all in trouble. We all justly deserve God's wrath. He will "render to each one according to his works" (Rom 2:6), and that's not a good thing for us. Paul is stating the problem. Explaining clearly, then, God's righteous wrath and judgment, we are left with a question. "Okay ... now what?!" And the answer ... is God's kindness. Having necessarily and clearly explained the trouble we're in, we are left with a kind opportunity from God to repent and get right with Him. That's the message.

But, that's not the meaning of the verse in question. The verse in question is a warning. We are procrastinators when it comes to doing what is good and right. We don't think "it will happen to me" when it surely will. We think "I've still got time" when we don't. We ... presume on the riches of His kindness and forbearance and patience. And that, Paul tells us, is dangerous.

God's kindness means that He offers repentance when He doesn't need to offer repentance. That's good news! When people procrastinate on that good news, they do so at their own peril. It isn't an eternal offer. This is a limited-time opportunity. Watch out! And that's Paul's message. So the next time you think, "Perhaps we shouldn't be talking about judgment so much since it's God's kindness that leads us to repentance," ask yourself how it would appear to be kindness if they don't know it's needed or it's for a finite time? Maybe we should continue in the tradition of the prophets, the New Testament writers, and Christ Himself because God's judgment is real, right, and coming, and we have the message to help avoid it as long as we tell people they need it.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Christian Humanism

We're all aware, I'm sure, of the prevalence of Secular Humanism in our world. You know what that is. It's the premise that there is no God, making humans the focus of attention. As it turns out, Humanism has many shades. Secular Humanism is only one of them. Modern humanism started in reaction to medieval Christianity, trying to merge Christianity with philosophies like those of Plato and Aristotle. The idea offered by Thomas Aquinas was that humans have within themselves the full capability to answer all of life's most pressing questions. The drift, then, was a man-centered drift. The drift was what has become known as Renaissance Humanism. That was just the beginning.

There is a version called "Christian Humanism" that views Christianity as self-fulfillment by Christian principles. (I'm not writing about that.) Western Cultural Humanism focuses attention of the culture on humans. Science, politics, ethics, law -- all originate with and for Man. Modern Humanism is more of a rejection of the supernatural in favor of Man as the source of morality and anything else worth having. It starts with and for Man. So, in the final analysis, all humanism is the same -- a center on Man.

What surprises me is the number of Christians that operate as Christians from a humanist base. Here's how it works. God is all about us. If He is to be a good God, He has to be good to us. For instance, if He allows suffering and death, that's bad. Bad God! So we'll try to make excuses for Him. "He is limited by Man's Free Will." "He cannot know the future." The alternative, of course, is "Well, then, He's not a good God and I'm rejecting Him." Which, as it turns out, is an extremely common starting place for most atheists. They are or were mad at God because God didn't do for them what they wanted Him to. And that's humanism. It's all about us.

So God is required to be nice to humans. He must focus His attentions on us, work hard to make us happy, healthy, and comfortable, and this all while we are mostly rejecting the noxious "Name it and claim it", Prosperity "Gospel". Any Christian who has read the Bible with any sincere effort can see that this is a stupid theology, but we then proceed with our own humanistic Christianity based on God's obligation to Man. He must save us. Or try to. At least really, really want to. Because we are, at heart, humanists.

"History" is not a mere word. All of the history of Mankind is His story. It's about God. It's about His work and His glory and His interests. Our intrinsic starting point, Man, is the wrong starting point in a theistic universe -- the one we live in. The correct starting point must be, "What has God revealed about Himself in His Word?" and work our way down from there. Because I'm pretty sure that, when you do that, you'll find some rather startling and humbling conclusions about the centrality of Man ... or the lack thereof.