Freedom: Part III

Freedom: Part II

Freedom: Part I

The Underwhelming Bible

Underwhelmed

It’s Good Friday, 2015. I’ve just been bombarded by trends in digital Christendom through feeds from popular Christian thinkers and posts from famous Christian bloggers. And there is a staunch, crispy realization bubbling underneath the rhetoric of the dozens of one-liners, clever graphics, and sentimental tweets overflowing my conscious: I don’t know if the church has ever been so underwhelmed by the Bible.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

In Luke 16:19-31, you’ll find one of my favorite parables, often called “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Jesus essentially lays out a scene where an unnamed rich man goes to hell and a named beggar goes to heaven (parenthetical point: this is the only time Jesus has ever given a name to a character in a parable, so it’s critical that we, as the audience, do not identify with Lazarus but find ourselves first in the shoes of the condemned rich man).

In the climax of the story, realizing how horrendous hell is, the rich man asks Abraham, who he sees in heaven from hell, to send someone to his father’s house and to warn them, convinced that if they saw Abraham resurrected, they’d surely believe. But in a climactic kicker and heavy conclusion, Abraham says to the rich man, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them… If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:29, 31).

In other words, the rich man (perhaps like many of us today) isn’t convinced that the Bible is enough. He is convinced that they need some kind of a sign, a lot like the crowds in Luke 11:29 (whom Jesus called an evil generation). For the rich man, there needed to be something more substantial, something more powerful, or something more significant than simply God’s eternal decrees and the story of His powerful, redemptive history. But Abraham essentially tells the rich man, “There’s actually nothing more substantial, nothing more powerful, and nothing more significant than God’s Word.”

But I don’t know if many Christians really believe in that anymore.

Sola Scriptura: “By God’s Word Alone”

Throughout the Bible, over and over again, writers follow in the footsteps of James and repeat the same commission: “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (Ja. 1:21). Much like Abraham told the rich man, James is saying that there is only one thing that can save: receiving God’s Word.

This is why the Apostle Paul makes such extreme claims like, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17) while saying “…since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). Saving faith—you know, that thing that makes everything in Christianity possible—simply comes from receiving God’s Word. Nothing else.

Likewise, Paul elsewhere says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). He goes on to emphasize the point by saying, “And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling [or meekness], and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit of power, that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” So in case you missed it, Paul just said that we should rest our faith in the power of God, demonstrated by the Spirit—and the Spirit demonstrated God’s power by Paul’s speech and message, which eventually, as we now see it, becomes part of the Bible (or, God’s Word).

Discovering the Overwhelming Word

For some, God’s Word is insufficient in light of music, glamour, and lights. For others, God’s Word is insufficient in light of dogmatic tradition and cultural routine. And for others, God’s Word is insufficient in light of service, miracles, or ministry. In any case and in any church, there is a level by which people—both before and behind the pulpit—are no longer impressed by God’s Word, no longer desperate for every letter and every word spoken by God through it, no longer starving for the Bread of Life, who Himself says that Moses and all the Prophets concern and point to Him (Luke 24:25-27). Instead, like the condemned rich man or like the slow disciples on the road to Emmaus, the church finds God’s Word utterly underwhelming, needing things attached to it, music and majesty surrounding it, stipulations and requirements following it.

Friends, where is our meekness? How proud of a culture are we to assume God’s Word is not enough—and in light of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, how condemned are we as a result?

Eventually, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus found a burning in their heart—a phrase that captures the glorious and powerful work of the Spirit; however, it wasn’t found through music, art, service projects, programming, tradition, liturgy, or fellowship. Their hearts were overwhelmed and burned in their core like Jeremiah’s bones (20:9) as Jesus opened up Scripture to them.

Today is Good Friday—but you’ll never know why this day is so overwhelming good without God’s overwhelming Word.

Written by Phillip Lee

Millennial Deism

The Extraordinary Individual

Elbert Hubbard once said, “One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men but no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.” The late 18th century American novelist penned these words in the midst of a technological boom that would inaugurate the famous “Roaring 20’s,” when the American economy and morale reached record heights—a period of time that would have been challenged by the notion that one, extraordinary individual could catalyze society to even greater extents than the phenomenon of technological advancement and efficient machinery.

Today, however, this sentiment does little to challenge the average young American. Instead, quotes likes these confirm something that we arguably already know—that we already are extraordinary, that the self is certainly supreme, and that we are far more capable of advancement when we are unaided, unsuppressed, and liberated by our own capacities for achievement.

In other words, perhaps more than ever before in history, we consider ourselves far more extraordinary than our predecessors and even our successors, convinced that we are the catalytic hinge between past and present and, simultaneously, the everlasting precedent for the future generations that will require our expert contributions.

A Generation of Gods

The ultimate product of such coddling and curating of the supreme self is a generation of young Americans who find even the slightest notion of limit and inability as a stifling agent against the infinite measure of our grand abilities. Told that we are special by default, intrinsically deserving, and naturally qualified, young Americans are in hard pursuit of not merely cultural innovation or social progress—they are in pursuit of personal catharsis through the means of self-promotion and self-aggrandizement.

We have essentially become gods, convinced we are smarter and faster than every generation passed and pivotal to every generation to come—and for this reason, young Americans today are arguably the hardest demographic to receive and accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Default Depravity

At its very origin, the Gospel of Jesus Christ begins with an infinite and eternal need: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The natural nature of mankind is not a state of deserving worthiness or infinite capability; it is depraved worthlessness and eternal condemnation resulting from the guilt of original and unavoidable sin. The goodness of the Good News of Jesus Christ is a product of one’s genuine understanding of this concept—the great Reformer John Calvin explained it as so:

But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity… And, as Augustine expresses it (in Psalm 144), since we are unable to comprehend Him, and are, as it were, overpowered by his greatness, our proper course is to contemplate his works, and so refresh ourselves with his goodness. (Institutes, 1.2; 5.9)

How then, can anyone come to understand how good the Good News of Jesus Christ is if he or she fails to understand the need that makes the news itself so good? Simply put—a shimmering oasis is only good to those who recognize their thirst, and our current culture is trending towards a horizon where we are far from dehydrated and no longer thirsty; rather, we are stuffed to the brim with ourselves, having filled our internal longings with our own achievements and the entitlements gifted to us in childhood.

A New Age of Evangelism

Some years ago, Dr. Michael Horton expressed in an article in Modern Reformation that true, Biblical evangelism ought to be centered on the historicity of Christ, trusting that the news of Jesus’ life and love will soften the hardest of hearts and turn even the most stubborn of tides towards belief. Meanwhile, other scholars countered Horton’s views by arguing for a scientific and cosmological emphasis in evangelism, supported by proponents like Dr. William Lane Craig. Today, however, I would argue that modern evangelism needs to return to one simple, Biblical, and logically profound concept: “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.”

To a logically illiterate generation of young Americans, the basic principle that we are not extraordinary is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to defend—and yet, this is the first concept that needs to register in the hearts and minds of millennials, as the push to preserve one’s incredible value and one’s sufficient knowledge immediately encourages the disbelief of any deity that would rob the individual of his or her infinite capacities or stifle his or her natural goodness.

No longer is science the cause for our disbelief; no longer is the validity of Jesus the cause for our disbelief; today, we are the cause of our own disbelief, as we trust none other than the deistic nature of ourselves.

Repentance and Kingdom

If we were to return, however, to a simple method of evangelism based on the concept of “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near,” what immediately surfaces are two fundamentally undeniable truths:

First, if Heaven is true, what is the measure for goodness to enter into it? If we define our own measure for who enters into it, then how can Heaven truly be good as it would be subject to our limited understanding of goodness. Heaven, in other words, can only exist in a universe where an absolute and objective goodness defines what is good for the individual—not the other way around. Anything short of this would mean that Heaven is a place of preference—not of goodness—and, therefore, does not require good to get there (which means criminals and the objectively evil could easily be permitted).

Second, if Heaven is objectively good, then the only possible response is to readjust one’s value from deistic to depraved as the objective goodness of Heaven will always trump the subjective goodness of the self since Heaven always has to be and remain to be good while we, as individuals crafted by culture and society, shift in both our understanding and grasp of goodness.

Thus, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is near” is far less of a religious notion and much more of a logical commission for individuals to recognize an ethical dilemma that can only be solved in absolute, eternal terms, motivating the necessity for a God who requires a readjustment of the individual.

Redeemer and King

Jesus Christ, on the cross, provides a means for the individual to encounter absolute readjustment, regardless of culture or context. His love and grace, shed upon the cross in crimson, readjusts our individual values as both infinitely depraved and yet eternally saved.

This news, however, will never be received as good so long as we enable logical illiteracy and encourage natural capacity—to assume we are good simply because we are born is to rob the King of Kings of His infinitely painful and destructively devastating work on the cross. Instead, let us return to a sober understanding of ourselves—and, therein, a desperate need for Christ our Redeemer and King, ascribing all goodness to Him and discovering our own goodness as His.

Written by Phillip Lee

Living in Denial Versus Pursuing Real Joy

Social media is good for a lot of things. I never knew it would be such a great place to learn philosophy. Here is one of the latest happy face slogans, “Happiness is the ability to move forward, knowing that the future will be better than the past. Today, I choose happiness!” Yes, I am somewhat of a curmudgeon. At the same time, sayings like this sadden me. In many ways the modern feel good, positive thinking philosophy is a denial of some very basic realities of life, and in a very real way, instead of producing joy, such philosophy prohibits true joy. Let me explain.

Christians are at the same time the most negative and the most positive of people. On the negative side we believe that the world and everything in it is seriously broken. Mankind is not by nature good. He is controlled at the core of his being by self-interest, and that self-interest is the root cause of every one of our personal, political, and societal ills. Regardless of how much we attempt to progress, we get nowhere. The great optimism of the late 19th century which believed that mankind had actually gained ground against the great evils of the world was shattered royally by the Great War, a war which saw atrocities that were inconceivable for a progressed civilized society. Then came the next great war. Then came terrorism and an endless parade of civil wars and the resulting famines around the globe. What is next? If we are honest, we have to admit that corruption exists on every level. Men and women use and abuse one another for personal gain, even at the earliest age. We can’t simply blame it on our environment or lack of education. Some of the most educated and privileged have demonstrated the worst evil. Do I need to say more? It appears we have not progressed much at all.

To have a “smiley face” attitude towards a world like this is the vain attempt to anesthetize ourselves against the pain it brings. For too many the purpose of life is little more than to be happy, and pain then becomes the great enemy of life. Pain is meaningless and destructive. Therefore, we despair to stop the bleeding we cannot fully escape by pretending it does not exist.

The unintended effect of a numbed life is that it also numbs us to the pain of others. If we live to avoid the real pain of our own life, then we cannot and will not step into the pain of others and walk with them in their shoes. We can do no more than sugar coat it and preach from a comfortable distance “Think positive!” as they bleed and weep. People suffer real abuse and heartache, and babies die. Divorce, disease, racism, hunger, violence, and death are all real. A smiley face gives little hope and little light to darkness that is incurable by our hands in this life. Therefore, to put hope here is foolish at best.

Whoa, that is dark! Yes, it is. I call it soberly realistic. For Christians, though, it is not the end of the story, an epic story of this world moving from darkness to light. We believe that, though lasting happiness might not be found in the present day, there is a day coming when we will experience so much more than momentary relief from pain. We will know what the Bible calls Shalom. That word in Hebrew most often is translated “peace”, but it’s true definition is much richer that English can capture. It carries the idea of things being as they were meant to be. Shalom means everything is right. No more disintegration of the human psyche. No more breakdown in relationships. No more cursed world that fights against us at every turn. No more injustice and violence. Instead, peace. I will no longer hurt those I love. I will no longer know anxiety, fear, hunger, loneliness, or emptiness. Peace. I will be as I was made to be and find life as it was meant to be.

What am I made for? If what the Bible says is true, I am made for eternal love and joy. I was made to be a bride, a bride who relishes and is enraptured by the love of her bridegroom. The joy of a wedding day is unmatched in this life. On that day I am the beloved. I am embraced, loved, cherished, and enjoyed as on no other. My deepest dreams are fulfilled. Of course, in this life the joy of the wedding is often dampened by the hardness of life. Not in the shalom that is coming. The Christian awaits the promised coming of the ultimate “Prince Charming”, one to whom no fairy tale prince can compare. Eternity, then is so much more than just a place where our golf shots always fly straight and our singing is always on key. It is the celebration of the passionate joy of lovers, an elaborate (to say the least) wedding feast and party like no other.

The Christian might endure pain and hardship now, in the moment, but he knows that a day is coming when pain will be no more. He does not look to ignore evil, even the evil that resides within. Instead, he looks to the One who will forever eradicate evil from our existence. He is not satisfied with appeasement of suffering. He wants it completely erased. He looks to the day when abuse, suffering, violence, hatred, cancer, and tragedy will be banished from life once and for all. He even more looks for the day when the evil within, that self-centered and self-serving bent to his heart is softened and made pure. What a glorious day that will be!

The Christian can know these promised realities in the here and now. It is not just in the great by and by. Even now I am being transformed into the beautiful bride that I am promised I will be. Even now I am tasting “integration” within myself and with my relationships with others. I also know now that everything around me, as dark as it might be, is only temporary, and the redemption of all things is on the way. Everything from the smallest atomic particle to the grandest vista will be made new. And even now I can know intimately the One I was made to love. To Him I have been fully reconciled. He is the One who loves me deeply, the One who delights in me joyously, and the One who gives Himself to me lavishly. The fulfillment of all of my dreams has come. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” (Song of Songs 6:3)

From this position I have something valuable to give to those who suffer in the moment—hope.  For those who trust in Jesus, that pain is momentary. A glorious feasting day is coming. That pain also has a purpose. The pain we go through has become the very tool our bridegroom uses to reshape us and wean us from the empty pursuits of this life. It is the loss of the cheap imitation to be replaced with the genuine. In Christ I no longer have to run from pain or fear stepping into another’s pain. I know its end, and I know the One who endured that pain on mine and their behalf and who now walks with us in and through the pain.

For me to resolve to find satisfaction in a fleeting painless pretend moment is sad and pointless. It also means I have nothing of substance to give to anyone else. The one who is truly wise will look at the reality of this life and world soberly, seeing the corruption and ugliness for all it is. In Christ we can do that without fear. For only then will we look beyond this life for true joy and the ultimate fulfillment of delight. Only then will we have the means to endure pain in the moment with hope and even joy, and only then will we have the tools to bring real lasting hope to those who suffer.

Written by Ron Clegg

Holiness and Joy: An Unbeatable Combination

In Nehemiah 8, Nehemiah has successfully overseen the completion of the city wall’s reconstruction. Yet, that was not all that he needed to do in his return to Jerusalem. The spiritual decay of the people was evident, and reforms had to be instituted. All of the people were called together before the recently rebuilt temple, and Ezra read the Law, adding to it explanation that the people would gain understanding. That was a shocking experience. Apparently most had never heard the Law, because when they did, they were, as AC/DC would say, “Thunderstruck!” Immediately grieving set in because their sin was now exposed. The very same reasons that God years ago evicted their fathers could get them banished as well.

In vs.9 Nehemiah intervened. He writes,

“This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. 10 Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” 11 So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” 12 And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them.”

A couple of things strike me in this. The reading of God’s Law is a game changer, or should be. When we understand what God requires of us, we can do nothing but fall down on our face and plead for mercy. Way back in Deuteronomy, when the people renewed their covenant to serve the LORD only, Moses told them that they would not be able to do it. That proved true back then and is proven out every day of our lives. Therefore, one of the chief works of the Law is to bring us into touch with a dual reality, the reality of who God is and the reality of who we are. Grieving over the gulf that divides us and over our failure is a natural and good thing.

Secondly, there is a connection Nehemiah makes that might seem different. He tells the people not to mourn because “this day is holy to the LORD.” Because of the holiness of the day, instead of mourning, they should have a great joyous party. We don’t often equate holiness with overflowing joy, but that is clearly the case here. This is even more astounding in the face of why they were grieving. The Law had done a good work in their hearts producing conviction of sin. Yet, instead of mourning over sin, they were being commanded to rejoice. That’s not the way we would typically go.

Holiness in this context means that this day was set apart by God and consecrated for a special purpose. That purpose was to celebrate the work God had done in the wall redo and in His great faithfulness to His covenant people. That day was a celebration of God’s gracious lovingkindness to a hard hearted people, people He never abandoned. Instead He constantly pursued them and blessed them. To celebrate this day, the people were commanded to break out the wine and steaks, and invite all the kinfolk to a grand bar-b-cue.

Is this what “holy” means? Too often we think of something set apart as holy as that which is pure, designated for a formal religious purpose. Holy things cannot be touched. They are not for common usage. We transfer this idea of holiness to our practice of Sabbath keeping. The Sabbath is a holy day, and generally not considered a day for fun. Yet, what God called for on this day was fun, nothing less than raucous enjoyment. Maybe the Sabbath was created for a purpose different from just prohibiting the good things so we can attend church services. Maybe worship is to be done in a way that we would want to do little else. Maybe the Sabbath is to be the party day of the week, the day we can celebrate all of the bounty that God is and does for us.

The command to rejoice is even more astounding if we look at the immediate context of Nehemiah. The people stood condemned by the Law, and yet God commanded them to rejoice. Were they to ignore what they heard? Maybe there was in the Law provision made for their sin. Maybe their rejoicing was to be in how the LORD could embrace them even as the sinners they were. Maybe this rejoicing was to be about the full extent of God’s faithfulness and how far He would go to bring them near.

This is critical for us. How can we face real, deep conviction without being devastated? It is because God has made provision. The price has been paid. We grieve, but we also more fully comprehend the depth of the mercy and grace of God, for it is His mercy and grace that has already made us to be holy. How glorious! How beautiful! How satisfying! Let the party begin!

Written by Ron Clegg

Egalitarian Complementarianism

Resurgent Complementarianism

I want to begin this post with gratitude: I am deeply and devoutly grateful for the Lord’s resurgence of both Reformed theology and complementarianism in the modern, evangelical church. It is not only an incredible encouragement to see men herald the Good News and its commission for men and women to uniquely pursue a Christ-like, Christ-centered, and Christ-driven masculinity and femininity—but it is an even greater encouragement to see this commission presented through a central and supreme view of Scripture, returning to its necessity and holding fast to its authority through texts like Ephesians 5:25-28…

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.

While texts like these have recently prompted and promoted a very high view of God’s calling towards men to humbly, faithfully, and courageously love their wives and lead their families, rising out of boyish adolescence into masculine maturity, I cannot help—prior to jumping on this growing and resurgent ideology—but resist and rest in an even more central, even more necessary, and even more essential call:

Simple Christianity

While there are treasures of truth in Ephesians 5:25-28 for men to return to bold masculinity (and for women, likewise in Ephesians 5:22-24, to return to humble femininity), God’s Word calls both men and women to first simple Christianity: in Ephesians 5:1-2, long before 5:22-28, Paul says, “Therefore, be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

In other words, Paul’s theology first calls the individual to his or her spiritual identity versus sexual responsibility. Before answering the question, “What does it mean to be a man?” or “What does it look like to be a woman?” Paul answers the question, “What does it mean to be children?” rooting the complementarian identity of both men and women deep into the foundational and egalitarian work of Christ as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God for the salvation and sanctification of His people.

Dangers of Modern Complementarianism

While I cannot stress how grateful I am for the orthodox teaching of complementarianism to make such a come back, I am thoroughly convinced that Christians ought to discern the dangers of dissecting Christ’s work between genders, immediately identifying one’s self through the scope of sexuality prior to identifying one’s self through the scope of Christianity: as a Christian, you are first a Christian—discover, therefore, full and well what that means as a child of God before you try to learn what that means as a man of God or as a woman of God.

This means taking modern, complementarian trends with caution and care, receiving the convictions and concerns that stem out of them with a forward look towards sanctification, not an immediate look down or backward towards identity and justification. Biblically, this means Ephesians 5:1-2 comes before 5:22-28 while Genesis 1:26 comes before 2:4-25. Therefore, root your salvation and everything to follow first in the work, in the will, and in the wonders of Christ crucified, considering first, “How do I simply live as a God-glorifying child?”

The Incapability of Practicality

Recently delivering a workshop on the Biblical and complementarian roles of men and women, I was asked multiple times, “What does a Christian man or a Christian woman, in light of God’s call and commission to each, look like in reality?” While I attempted to articulate an answer by using a husband and wife I deeply respect and know, I ultimately could not provide a more substantial answer than, “he behaves like this, she behaves like that, and it seems good for you to either act like him or act like her.” But what I failed to communicate was that both the Christian man and Christian woman should first and foremost act like Christ:

To our dearest sisters in Christ: may you not hold so highly the requirements and expectations of men as a result of a sermon or study, for they are but depraved, dehydrated, and dilapidated sinners. Instead, before expecting a man to behave as a Biblical man, consider first: does he act like a Biblical Christian? Hold him to the standard you should and need to be holding for yourself—that of God-centered imitation—and be less concerned about how he (as well as you) pursues Christ as a man (and as a woman) and more concerned about whether or not Christ is humbly, diligently, and faithfully pursued, period.

Likewise, to our dearest brothers in Christ: may you not hold yourselves to such stringent and supreme expectations as a result of someone’s stardom preaching. Before considering how much of a “man” you are, consider how much of a “Christian” you are because I absolutely guarantee that your failures to achieve the latter utterly disqualify you from even attempting the former. In Christ and by faith, imitate God—not a relevant preacher, a powerful pastor, or a charismatic leader—and humbly long, with devout desperation, for all that He is.

For both sisters and brothers in Christ: consider how audacious and yet how crucial Paul’s imperatives are in Ephesians 5:1-21—the verses leading up to 5:22-33—as they are commissioned to everyone, regardless of gender, age, or background. It is to our great detriment that we would skip the incredible necessities of these first 21 verses and focus so microscopically on the last 11 verses, depriving ourselves of receiving this powerful and refining chapter as a complete, interwoven, and egalitarian-complementarian whole.

Egalitarian Complementarianism

While the debate between the two ideologies has surfaced time and time again throughout the course of redemptive-history, I am humbly convinced that the two views are not exclusive to one another but ultimately enhance and beautify each other. When a Christian first recognizes, as a deeply foundational realization, that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, he or she cannot help but to receive and recognize others as utterly no different than him or herself: we are eternally crippled by our sin—and the magnitude of that sin does not take into account whether one is a man or a woman but utterly disregards gender, age, experience, culture, race, and intent. Sin is ultimately genderless because hell is egalitarian.

That said, however, the beauty of Christ’s redemption is that while it begins as an egalitarian seed, it flourishes into a complementarian grove wherein battered men and broken women discover their genderless, ageless, and race-less redemption in Christ—and, soon enough, along with this discovery, these redeemed men and rescued women receive a commission and call to uniquely promote one another’s flourishing in specialized and complementary ways.

Written by Phillip Lee

Is the Bible Reliable?

Once again at this time of year (and we will indeed see it again at Easter), under the guise of “objective journalism”, the foundations of our faith are under assault. In the latest issue of Newsweek, a front cover story questions the reliability of the Bible. The writer tries to give the impression that he has carefully studied all sides of the issue and has come to the only logical and rational conclusion, which is that the Bible is not reliable in its current form. Therefore, nothing we say based on the Bible about homosexuality or other sin or issue is to be trusted. He does do some very limited research, but unfortunately that research comes only from one side of the equation. He does not even acknowledge another well researched, well attested viewpoint. His study concludes that, among other things, the Bible is not accurate but a product of poor copying and biased translation, the doctrine of the Trinity is a later theological construct which is not biblical, and the contradictions within the Bible make it little more than another book, though with some useful wisdom. And, because Christians do not use the Bible accurately, they cannot be trusted either. They are in fact guilty of sin. You can find a well written, detailed critique of this article by Al Mohler on his blog.

These kinds of attacks are regular, and they offer nothing new. The points the author makes are old rehashed claims of corruption in translation and irreconcilable contradiction. They have been thrown at the church for centuries. My question is how we are to respond to such attacks. We might be tempted to go to Facebook and other public venues and rail at the journalistic bias, claiming we are being persecuted. We worry that our voice will no longer be heard in our society. While these responses might not be all bad, my contention is that our response needs to primarily be “in house” rather than in the public square. Let me explain.

There are several angles we must consider. First, as good and logical as our arguments are, they will never be accepted in the public square, simply because the natural mind of man is in rebellion against God and actively “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness.” (Rom.1:18f) This is not to say that we should not debate these issues publicly. I think we should. We can stand confidently on the reliability of Scripture because of good scholarship, not in spite of it. We have nothing to fear from worldly attacks on the foundations of our faith. We can and must refute the biased, one-sided research of these “objective” scholars who are in realityon a mission to render the church obsolete. The Apostle Paul did this regularly in the cities where he traveled. At the same time, we have to realize that those efforts will make little headway in convincing the world of the truth of Scripture. Those we debate dwell in the darkness of spiritual ignorance, and they simply do not have the tools to embrace the truth. They live in darkness and actually fight against the light of truth. The only way they will come to the rightness of what the Bible teaches is through a work of the Holy Spirit enlightening their minds. So, this is not the primary place we must answer our critics.

Secondly, the real danger in such publications is to the church. If the foundation of the scriptures can be undermined, then our confidence will wain when we are called upon to stand firm in our faith. Our faith will lose its moorings. Take for instance the issue of the Trinity. If writers like this are successful in producing cracks in our theology and biblical understanding on something this significant, that undermines our whole understanding of the Gospel. If the Trinity is not an objective reality, we have no faith, no salvation, and no hope. If we cannot trust this, what can we trust? So goes the slippery slope. The church must do a good job of making a case for the reliability of the Bible that those in the pews hold in their hand. What we stand on is true, rational, logical, and accurate. Our faith does not rely solely on logic and reason to be true, but neither does it fly in the face of reason and logic. We have a reasonable faith that can and will stand up to all scientific and scholarly investigation, if done honestly. The followers of Jesus must know this in order for their faith to stand firm in the heat of battle.

Thirdly, one of the biggest arguments that the writer in Newsweek made was that obviously very few, if any, Christians today have really read their Bibles. He quotes some research done by George Gallup that shows that evangelicals have only slightly higher biblical literacy than do atheists. I don’t wholly disagree with him here. We are generally illiterate when it comes to biblical teaching, which poses a great problem. We say a lot of things that we think the Bible teaches which are not there, or which are only sort of there. If the whole of our faith rests on an understanding of the Scriptures, then many of us are standing on shaky ground. Do we know what God really promises to His people? Do we know what He really commands? Do we know what He is really like, as demonstrated in the Scripture? If we say the Bible is that valuable to us, then we should demonstrate that value in how we approach it and worry less about weak and worn out public attacks.

I so wish that the public square would be a place of honest and objective debate, but it is not and never will be this side of heaven. The tables are tilted against us, and we will not be given a fair hearing. Nonetheless, we must not forego doing good scholarship, making a reasonable and rational defense of the faith we proclaim. Yet, primarily, we need to protect ourselves by being strong students of the Scriptures. They are much more than a collection of writings by human authors. The Scriptures are the revelation of God, His Word to us, that we might know Him rightly, know ourselves, and understand the world which He created. Through the power of the Holy Spirit the Scriptures guard our hearts against the constant attacks from an unbelieving world. Such lies are the weapons the enemy uses to weaken the advancement of the Kingdom by weakening our confidence in the Kingdom. We can fight these attacks by becoming good students of the Word, anchoring our faith in the solid ground of the truth of Scripture. In our study we also have the Spirit dwelling in us to give us the light of truth, testifying to our hearts that the Word is true. In the end, that is enough. To borrow words from Martin Luther, “Here we stand; we can do no other.”

Written by Ron Clegg