Thursday, March 30, 2006

Putting the Smack on Junior's Behind

In honor of lighter posting, and because my brain is toast, I thought I would share/confess something with you all about child-rearing. First off, let the record show that I am a spanker of children. I confess that I am even tempted to sometimes spank the children of other people. The truth be known, I have often seen children in the mall and other places that I had to restrain myself from begging the parents to bring out the rod.

I have plenty of Biblical reasons for this, and at least one Benjamin Franklin reason as well. Ben said, "Spare the rod; spoil the child." The Lord was a little harsher than Mr. Franklin, however, He said, "He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who doves him disciplines him promptly" (Proverbs 13:24). I love, therefore I spank.

There are, I believe, several reasons for the spanking of children. One reason is that sin has a consequence. You sin; you get punished. So, if little Ethan toddles over to daddy's cell phone, picks it up, and calls Tokyo; he gets a spankin'. He knows he isn't supposed to pick up daddy's cell phone, (he has already slimed one to death with vociferous amounts of slobber) but he does it anyway. One pop with the wooden ladle to the bad of the buttocks and the point is driven home with wailing and gnashing of teeth. Futhermore, the cell phone is rescued. It is also for correction. Hopefully, the punishment will drive away the foolishness bound up in their little hearts.

In fact, I am quite stunned at how fast Ethan learned what "no" means, and I am equally surprised at how quickly he began to completely ignore it. I have a little basket sitting on my desk that holds a good deal of change. I do not want Ethan getting that thing because, well, he'll eat all my money. I don't want to be digging through diapers to get my Susan B. Anthony back, so I am teaching him not to touch it. One day, as expected, Ethan toddles over to the basket and picks it up. I tell him no, that's daddy's, leave it alone or daddy will have to spank. He understood. I know that he understood because he immediately began crying when he realized that he couldn't play with it. This, of course, made him want to play with it even more than before. He just couldn't take no for an answer.

Unfortunately for my son, I have a sort of an analytical mind. I know from Scripture that my son is a depraved little miscreant waiting to happen. To compound the problem, hunting season is over and I have no other prey to stalk. So as an experiment, I told Ethan to leave that thing alone and I walked out of the room with him. Then...I hid and waited. Sure enough, as soon as I was out of sight, he headed into my office and straight for the little change basket. I am not kidding you, the boy is 16 months old, and when he stood in front of that basket he actually looked around to see if anyone was watching. He isn't sneaky enough yet, so he didn't spot me peering at him with a wooden spoon from behind the door. He reached out, just like that Adam of old, and grabbed daddy's change basket. HUZZAH! I jumped out like a hunter shooting ducks from a blind in the bayou. One crisp and a few tears later and junior and I had things worked out about daddy's change basket. He wasn't, of course, crying because I had really hurt him physically. He was crying because he got caught and punished and his dreams of eating my nickels and dimes had gone up in smoke.

So, there you have it. I spank my son. I like it very much when I break out the wooden spoon and my son goes limp like a spaghetti noodle. It means that he is learning that certain actions have consequences. And, in the end, it keeps him safe. I love my son, and so I spank him. I also hug him and talk to him and tickle him. But those are different topics for a different post. I'll leave you with one final nugget from Solomon the Wise:

Do not withhold correction from a child, for if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, and deliver his soul from hell.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Ethan's First Haircut

This is my son's first haircut. This may have been the funniest thing I've ever witnessed. That mullet he was growing had to come off though. Poor guy.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Fear of the Lord is the Beginning of Wisdom

I am a God-fearer. Nothing in my life has ever made me as terrified as the fact that there is a holy God who rules this universe. I have trembled at His Word. The fear of His Name has purged me of many sins. I believe that the heavens and the earth shake in His zeal for His righteousness. I believe that His mercy is all that stood between me and utter destruction.

Before I was a Christian, I always had the nagging feeling that something was not right in the world. It was something intangible that I could never quite put my finger on. I was afraid of God. I was afraid that one day He might judge me. But it was not a fear born of knowledge; it was a superstitious fear that any pagan might feel. I was oblivious to the true horror of my condition and the peril that my atrocious behavior had put me in. I had no idea that my sin had shaken the heavens with righteous indignation.

One day, I saw that very thing. I was sitting in my apartment, minding my own business, when suddenly the day dawned in my heart in the face of a crucified Christ. I knew that I was a sinner. I knew that God was holy. I knew that hell was real and deserved. Formerly, I had heard it, but now my heart had felt the weight of truth and the depth of glory. Spiritually, the veil was lifted from my heart and my blind eyes opened. What I saw was not a grandfatherly God who smiled at me and coddled me. What I saw was a magnificent, holy God dressed in battle array. The God of the Universe had armed Himself to make war with me. His honor was offended. His goodness was assailed. My rebellion had not gone unnoticed. God was coming, and He was coming for me. I knew it in my entire being. I knew that He would not spare. I knew that I deserved His wrath. At that moment, in that blink of an eye, I felt the grip of fear and knew what it was to fall dreadfully into the hands of the Living God. In that moment of fear, I became more alive than I had ever been. I dreaded Him, but I could not look away. I knew the consequences of His wrath, and for the first time, I truly worshipped.

Is that so odd to say? I worshipped the God who I was convinced was about to justly through me into hell? It may sound odd, but it is true. All doubt was driven from my mind at that time: I had seen the King of Glory and He was magnificent. I would have gone as a willing captive to His fury.

That night, I begged the King for mercy. I fell on my face and asked Him for mercy. Mercy was granted to me from that throne through Jesus Christ. I was clean. The King had frightened me to life in Jesus Christ. It was a holy moment, one for which I will rejoice for all eternity.

In this little reflection on the dawning of my salvation, I cannot reflect the greatness of that night and the glory of the God who saved me. I cannot express what I learned of Jesus Christ in those moments. But this I can say without doubt: The fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom for me. It was a real fear, more real than anything I had ever experienced or have experienced since. It made a believer out of me, and I am eternally grateful. I am forever grateful to Jesus Christ who saved me from my deserved fate that night. May God grant others the gracious gift of learning to fear Him.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Go Read Expiation Part 3, Then This Silliness

Look, there is no reason for me to be a Crunchy Critter on the Ecosystem. While I may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, I am certainly working harder than that. While I find that the Ecosystem is highly untrustworthy, I still feel in my flesh that I should have more links than I do.

Let me lay it out for you. I started this blog for several reasons. Let me list them for you:

(1) To encourage my fellow Church members throughout the week.
(2) Because writing helps me learn.
(3) Because I found out that Tim Challies and others get free books through blogging.

I believe I am fulfilling 1 and 2 perfectly fine as a cruncy critter. However, I jealously and zealously want to fulfill number 3. So help a brother out. Link me and boost my stats so I can stop spending all my money on books. My son needs to eat. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go read Out of the Silent Planet that I had to pay for but should have gotten for free. Bottom line: Link me, you link scrooges. Thank you for your participation. You may now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Expiation, Propitiation, Forgiveness and Justice Part 3

In this post, I want to deal with how I believe that a propitiatory sacrifice has practical ramifications for the believer. If you just read the word 'propitiatory' and thought, "Huh?", then you need to go back and read the other two posts. Either that or grab a dictionary and try to keep up.

Let's begin by pointing out the obvious and move on from there. If Jesus' death was a propitiation, then it means that God was angry with sin. If God is holy and without sin, then it is possible for one to be angry over sin and yet not sin through this anger. Is this difficult for a human being? Yes. Is it impossible? No, I don't think so. Anger is deadly and destructive if we do not learn how to deal with it properly, and it can certainly cause us to sin. But I believe that understanding Christ as a propitiation helps to cool the fires of anger through faith. Here is what I mean.

There are only two kinds of people in this world: Christians and non-Christians. The previous group has been atoned for; the latter group has not. Pretend for a moment (do you need to pretend?) that a Christian has sinned against you and you are angry. How do you deal with this? Do you simply "swallow" your anger and act like it didn't happen? Do you simply "forgive" and act like it didn't happen? If you forgive, on what grounds do you do so?

I have often heard people counsel others to simply "let it go". As if you can make sinful actions and their consequences disappear in a puff of smoke. Forgiveness does not work that way. To feel that injustice should be corrected and that sin should be punished is not an impulse that we should discourage. We are right to feel this way. Instead, we need to learn that forgiveness flows from the cross of Christ.

Let's begin with Paul. In Ephesians 4:32, Paul writes, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you." Here we see that if a brother sins against us, we are to forgive him as God in Christ forgave us. If Christ's death worked as a propitiation for our sin, then it worked as a propitiation for theirs as well. This means that justice has been fully satisfied for the person who sinned against you in Jesus Christ. It means that God saw how this brother treated you, He was angry about it, and He punished Christ for the sake of your brother for the very sin that angers you. Forgiveness now becomes a faith issue for you. Do you believe that Jesus Christ really suffered for the sins of the elect of God? Do you believe that He fully and totally satisified all the requirements of justice on the cross? Do you truly feel that is both "just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus"? (Romans 3:26).

Because we are fallen, we do not even know what proper punishment and justice should look like. Every parent has struggled to meet out the proper rebuke against a disobedient child. If we cannot fully understand how to behave properly against such smaller matters, how will we be certain that justice is met towards someone who has sinned against us in a larger way? Through faith in Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice, I believe that God has fully satisfied any longing for justice I may have against my brother. I believe that He will deal with my brother appropriately. This gives me freedom from my anger.

For example, let's say a brother from the Church asks me to loan him $5000. He promises that he will pay me back in six months when things work out. Though it is a burden to me, I give the brother the money. Six months go by, and I know that the brother is rolling in the dough now, but he refuses to repay. I'm angry and rightfully so. However, I believe that if he is a Christian that Jesus Christ has paid the brother's sin debt.

Now you say, "Okay, this guy doesn't sound like a real Christian. What then?" Because I believe that Jesus Christ only paid for the sins of Christians, then I believe that justice will be met against those who sin against me in hell. Hell is a place where sin such as theft will be paid for in full. If Jesus Christ did not bear it on the cross, it will be paid for in hell. Justice will be served. Vengeance is the Lord's; He will repay (Deut. 32:35).

In the end, I am satisfied that no crime goes unpunished. God is just, and He sees everything. He will balance the accounts at the end. I do not have to worry myself with it for one moment. This does not exclude confronting sinful behavior or asking for my money back. I just do not have to pursue such things out of vengful or spiteful motives. I do it in order to seek reconciliation and for the sake of the sinner. The cross of Jesus Christ frees me from sin and from worry about retribution for sin. And that is freeing indeed.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Muslim Cleric Declares: We will not allow God to be Humiliated

In keeping up with the story on Abdul Rahman, I came across an Associated Press article written by Daniel Cooney. You can read it for yourself here. The article will further open the reader's eyes to the current situation the West is facing with the East. Here is what the Muslim cleric said:

Rejecting Islam is insulting God. We will not allow God to be humiliated. This man must die," said cleric Abdul Raoulf, who is considered a moderate and was jailed three times for opposing the Taliban before the hard-line regime was ousted in 2001.

Doesn't this drive home the difference between Islam and Christianity, between Jesus of Nazareth and Muhammad? Consider this quotation after pondering the Muslim Cleric's words:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:5-8).

Pastor John Piper has also pointed out this stark difference in this article. Brothers and sisters, isn't the cross glorious? Jesus did not cling to His rightful place on the throne of God; He humbled Himself. He became a slave. He became a man. He grew tired; He grew sleepy; He hungered. He never owned a home. The world He sustains by the will of His power rejected and cursed Him. He allowed men to strike His cheek and pluck His beard. They stripped Him and beat Him. He was humiliated.

Peter could not stand the thought of such a thing. When Jesus told the disciples of the passion to come, Peter rebuked Jesus. Peter could not stand for the Messiah to endure such humiliation. Peter's words drew one of the sharpest rebukes Jesus gave in the New Testament, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men" (Mark 8:33).

Make no mistake; the words of that Muslim Cleric are the words of Satan. He is mindful of the things of men and not of the kingdom of God. Those clerics are not trying to protect God. How absurd is that? Indeed, they are trying to protect themselves. They are afraid of Abdul Rahman and of what he represents. His confession does not threaten God; his words threaten them. They fear that more and more men and women will become like Abdul Rahman. They fear that in every village and hamlet in Afghanistan there will be more Christ followers. This would shake their faith; this would destroy their power. A god that needs protection from men is no god at all.

I stand with Abdul Rahman. He is no apostate; he is a believer. He is no blasphemer; he speaks truth. May God's word be multiplied through the bold witness of this courageous servant.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Expiation, Propitiation: Forgiveness and Justice Part 2

I tried to leave you a cliffhanger in the first part of this post, but Jeremy came along with his spoiler and ruined everything. Actually, I am quite glad that he did. He made some very important points regarding hilasmos; he encouraged me by reading and interacting with the post, and he humbly rejected the title of genius. What a great guy. I have him linked over on the sidebar as Doxoblogy; it would be edifying for you to go and check him out. (By the way, I have no idea why the sidebar went wonky with the new links. I have spent far too much time trying to fix it already, and I can't figure it out. It shouldn't be doing that, but it is.)

The Doxoblogist is absolutely correct when he appeals to context to judge the meaning of the word hilasmos as to whether it means propitiation or expiation. You may find similar uses of hilasmos and the verbal form of the word, hilaskomai in 1 John 4:10 and Hebrews 2:17. Check the context of those passages, and you can decide for yourself if propitiation is the proper understanding.

An even more fundamental question to this debate is whether or not God is angry at sinners. (Somebody call Jonathan Edwards!) When Jesus suffered on the cross, was He merely trying to expunge sin, or was He also removing God's wrath upon sin committing humans as well? I believe that the latter is the case, and I believe that this concept of God's wrath being satisfied is essential for Christians to grasp with regards to our own anger issues over sinful behavior.

First off, we have to figure out if Jesus was angry at sinners. Let's turn to a few verses and see what we can deduce:

Then He said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?" But they kept silent. And when He had looked around at them with anger, being grieved by the hardness of their hearts, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." (Mark 3:4-5)

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves" (Matthew 23:15)

For the sake of brevity, I will stop at these few verses. In the first verse, we see Jesus angered at the sinfulness of those testing Him. Do you suppose that He was only angry at the sin, but not at the sinner? I am persuaded that such thoughts are misguided. Sin is not a seperate entity that posseses a man. It is conjured up by the man himself. It is a bit like saying, "I am not angry at the abortion doctor. I am angry that abortions are happening!" John the Baptist seemed certain that the wrath of God would be poured out onto the Pharisees and Saducees. Do you believe that they themselves are only collateral damage, doomed to be swept away when God punished 'sins'? Or, are they and their sinful hearts the very target of His wrath? Finally, do you believe that Jesus was happy with the scribes when He delivered His discourse in Matthew 23, or do you think He was angry when He called them "Sons of Hell"?

There are several problems and questions I have with the idea of a mere expiation of guilt:

(1) What is the purpose of hell? Is it to punish sinners or to punish the seperate thing called sin? How can we seperate the two? Should we?
(2) Are Christians supposed to be angry about sin? Can they be angry with sinners?
(3) Is all anger against others a sinful response?

Dealing briefly with the first, I have often heard this statement: "Love the sinner; hate the sin." You have probably heard it as well, but I want to tell go on record that I believe this statement is confusing and not very helpful. It creates a sort of false dichotomy that is altogether unhelpful. Let me phrase it like this, "Don't be angry at the abortion doctor; be angry about the abortion." Or how about, "Don't be angry at the pornographer; be angry at the pornography." This is ridiculous, is not? Are you going to go scold the magazine rack at your local gas station? Will you go to the pornographer and say, "Listen, when I protest against pornography, I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to your sin." You wouldn't. At least, you shouldn't.

This leads us to God's anger against sin. Sin is birthed in the hearts of men (cf. James 1:15). God is as angry against an unrepentant sinful man as He is angry at Satan. Both will pay in the same lake of fire for their sinfulness and blasphemy against all that is precious.

Now if all that I am arguing for is true, imagine the ways in which this affects your world:

(1) It affects the purpose of criminal punishment.
(2) It affects how you react when you hear of an injustice.
(3) It affects how you punish your children for sinning.
(4) It affects how you understand the sinner in yourself and in your neighbor.
(5) It affects what Jesus endured on the cross on your behalf.

Going back to the "Love the sinner; hate the sin" saying, let me be clear in saying that I do not believe it to be altogether untrue. But be real for a minute. If you come up to an artist and say, "I hate your work. It is flat, boring, and it doesn't say anything at all. I think that it is so abhorrent in fact, that you should be punished if you don't stop making it. But, I want you to know that I love you as an artist, okay?" So, in what way do I love the sinner? I love him for the potential of who he could be or who he will be in Jesus Christ.

Here is the bottom line: If someone's sin has not been propitiated, then God is still very angry at that person. He is not angry at their sin but not at them; they are the locus of His wrath. The only reason God is not angry at the believer is because Jesus Christ offered Himself as a propitiatory sacrifice on our behalf.

I'll wait for some response on this before I move on to dealing with Christian anger and how a propitiatory sacrifice is the only thing that can help us truly forgive.

Is He Mad?

If you are unaware of the plight of Abdul Rahman, then you should find out about it. He is being tried in court for being a Christian, and if he is convicted he will most likely receive the death penalty. The court in Afghanistan thinks he may be insane. What do you think? Go here and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Expiation, Propitiation: Forgiveness and Justice

Because I love those who frequent my blog, I want them to be the most brilliant and Christ-honoring people on the planet. To that end, I want to teach and to discuss some big words that are indispensable to good Christian theology. Those words are expiation and propitiation. Further, I want to press on to demonstrate the practical application of these doctrinally key terms so that Jim will keep reading and Christ will be honored. This discussion will not really help us along in our General/Particular atonement discussion, but it is an edifying and educational one nonetheless.

Before we can be educated, we must first be able to admit ignorance. So, I will give a short exam to see where we stand. It is called the "so what?" test. Here is one verse in two translations for your quiz:

"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2 New King James Version).

"And he is the expiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world" (1 John 2:2 Revised Standard Version).

Did you notice that the words in bold print are not the same? You say, "Yeah, so what?" Excellent question! We need to figure out if this really makes a difference in the grand scheme of things. I think it does, and I hope that you will soon agree.

Let's start with definitions. I doubt that many church folk can define either word, they are, after all, fairly infrequently used in speech and writing. I you are using these words frequently in speech and writing, you are are probably too smart to be reading this blog. Here are the definitions according to Wayne Grudem:

Propitiation - a sacrifice that bears God's wrath to the end and in so doing changes God's wrath toward us into favor

Expiation - an action that cleanses from sin

Here is what is at stake in the discussion according to Wayne Grudem in his Systematic Theology. You can find this quote on page 575. He writes:

Many theologians outside the evangelical world have strongly objected to the idea that Jesus bore the wrath of God against sin. (Here in a footnote he refers the read to C.H. Dodd's work, The Bible and the Greeks.) Their basic assumption is that since God is a God of love, it would be inconsistent with his character to show wrath against the human beings he has created and for whom he is a loving Father.

Now we've come to it. The word expiation does not carry the idea that the atonement of Jesus Christ bore the wrath of God. Propitiation does. Did Jesus actually bear the wrath of God for the sins of the whole world? Or did he simply cleanse the whole world of sin? Was God angry at sin or wasn't He?

Of course, as with all other dilemmas, we will simply look at the Greek word to solve this quandry. As I break out my Nestle-Aland Greek Bible, I find that the Greek word we are dealing with here is hilasmos. Let me now turn to my trusty Bauer Greek-English Lexicon. The definition states:

hilasmos - (1) appeasement necessitated by sin, expiation
(2) instrument for appeasing, sacrifice to atone, sin-offering."

Gulp! I motice that a certain word is conspicuously missing. I have a note beside the definition in Bauer to see a related word in the previous entry. That word is hilaskomai. Here is the definition:

hilaskomai - (1) to cause to be favorably inclined or disposed, propitiate, conciliate (2) to eliminate impediments that alienate the deity, expiate, wipe out.

This makes things as clear as mud, doesn't it? I have one other note that I should mention. Bauer has "see also Dodd and Hill." Hmmmm....where have I heard that name before?

Unfortunately, dear friends, our lexicons will not help us end this problem. When the scholars contest things, they even monkey with the sacred Greek definitions. And since the scholars write the lexicons, then the definitions will reflect the leanings of the authors. (Remember this the next time you hear a pastor say, "What this really means in the Greek is... Just take that sort of comment with a grain of salt.)

Translations of the Bible aren't helping us with this, and even our Greek lexicon has failed us. I spent a ton of money on that Bauer book. I think I went without food for it in seminary. Alas! What shall we say? I will leave this information for you to mull over and discuss. In the next post, I'll tell you where I side and why I believe it makes better sense and lends itself to real practical application. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 20, 2006

Persecution in India

I have been grieved recently over news that a fresh and terrible persecution has broken out against Christians in Indian. As you may know, I traveled to India last year to work with Hopegivers Ministries and to see what we could do to help them advance the gospel in that country. The history of Hopegivers and Emmanuel Baptist Ministries is too long for me to give here, and it is not the purpose of my writing this. You can find out more here at

As I traveled through India, my host was Dr. Samuel Thomas. He took our team to visit some of the orphanages, scheduled our speaking arrangements, and made our hotel reservations. More than that, we shared good times of Christian fellowship discussing the future of Christian work in India and how we might be more effective there. I enjoyed my time with Sam tremendously.

You may also be aware of the fact that while we were in India, Christians were under constant threat. Once when we traveled to an orphanage in Rajasthan, we had to be escorted out of town by the police because death threats had been made against Sam. (And us by association.) The persecution is real, and the enemy is determined.

Recently, Hindus began burning churches, obstructing the delievery of food to orphanages, and shutting down the schools. Now, Dr. Samuel Thomas has been arrested and is being held without bail on no charges. I urge you, dear readers, to go to Hopegivers to get more information. You can pray for the churches who are facing persectuion; you can pray for Dr. Samuel Thomas and his father M.A. Thomas, and you can write letters or make phone calls. Won't you at least go and find out what's going on there? Won't you at least pray? These men are my friends; they are not just names in some unknown place. I have walked with them, eaten with them, and laughed with them. I have played with their children. I have seen the love for Christ in their laugh. I plead with you to plead for them. Go to the website. Do what you can.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

A Short Examination on How a Particular Redemption Can Have General Application

One of the most difficult issues in understanding Calvinistic soteriology revolves around the "L" of the TULIP. That is, the "Limited Atonement". This doctrine is also known as "Particular Redemption", which is terminology that I prefer. However, since "TUPIP" is not nearly so catchy, it seems that we are forever stuck with a terminology that is more easily misunderstood.

A Limited Atonement or a Particular Remdemption states that when Jesus Christ died on the cross, He did, in fact, effectually buy redemption for the elect of God. In better wording from The Five Points of Calvinism Defined, Defended, and Documented, it is said that "Historical or mainline Calvinism has consistently maintained that Christ's redemmin work was definite in design and accomplishment--that it was intended to render complete satisfaction for certain specified sinners, and that it actually secured salvation for these individuals and for no one else" (pg.40).

The "L" of the TULIP teaches that when Jesus died, He died for specific people in order to save them. He did not die for everyone in the same way. Classic Arminian theology teaches a General Atonement whereby Jesus died for the "sins of the world" in the same way. However, the atonement is limited in its effectiveness in Arminian theology by the exercising of faith. Though Jesus died for all the sin of all the world, people will still perish in their sins if they do not exercise faith in Jesus Christ according to classic Arminianism. (If anyone cares, we can discuss the differences of "election" and the nature of faith in both views later.) The point that I am making here is that both Arminians and Calvinists limit the effectiveness of the atonement in some type of way.

The Arminian objection to the Calvinistic view of the atonement comes from Biblical texts like these (leaving aside philosophical discussion for a moment):

"And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world" (1 John 2:2).

"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time" (1 Timothy 2:6).

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

From these verses, it seems apparent that Jesus Christ died for the sins of the whole world. How, faced with this evidence, can a person hold to the view that the atonement is limited only to the elect in its effectiveness?

Several legitimate answers have been offered to this question. One being that the word "world" does not necessarily mean "every individual on the planet." Rather, it often means the world in its scope. In other words, it means that Jesus did not only die for Israelies, but also for Iranians, Russians, Americans, Belgians, and other various European folk.

The Arminian answer has its own problems. The natural question is that if Jesus died for all the sins of all the world, why do people go to hell? The answer normal answer is that it is because they die in unbelief. The Calvinistic response to that is, "Well, isn't unbelief a sin? And if it is a sin, didn't Jesus die for that one as well?"

All the classical questions aside, I do believe that there is a way in which the death of Jesus Christ on the cross is effective to every individual and yet remain only salvifically effective for the elect. Here is how the understanding goes. I will quote from Deuteronomy 21:1-9:

1 “If anyone is found slain, lying in the field in the land which the LORD your God is giving you to possess, and it is not known who killed him, 2 then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance from the slain man to the surrounding cities. 3 And it shall be that the elders of the city nearest to the slain man will take a heifer which has not been worked and which has not pulled with a yoke. 4 The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with flowing water, which is neither plowed nor sown, and they shall break the heifer’s neck there in the valley. 5 Then the priests, the sons of Levi, shall come near, for the LORD your God has chosen them to minister to Him and to bless in the name of the LORD; by their word every controversy and every assault shall be settled. 6 And all the elders of that city nearest to the slain man shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley. 7 Then they shall answer and say, ‘Our hands have not shed this blood, nor have our eyes seen it. 8 Provide atonement, O LORD, for Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, and do not lay innocent blood to the charge of Your people Israel.’ And atonement shall be provided on their behalf for the blood. 9 So you shall put away the guilt of innocent blood from among you when you do what is right in the sight of the LORD.

Look carefully at verse eight and what the elders ask God to do. They ask that God will not lay the charge of murder to the people of Israel. Verse nine indicates that when they do this, God will provide atonement for Israel for the murder incident. Here is my point: If God provides atonement for all Israel, does this mean that the sacrifice covers the Israelite who is guilty of the murder as well? Yes, in the sense that he will enjoy the benefits of an uncursed land, but no in the sense that God will still hold that individual accountable for the crime. In the same way, I believe, God's mercy is shown to unbelievers every day because of the atonement of Jesus Christ, yet at the same time they remain guilty even though atonement has been provided for.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Examining the Practicality of Our Doctrine

I want to interact here with some of the commentary that appeared after my second post on the call to shepherd the flock of God. My goal in the second post was to demonstrate that a mark of the ministry is a true zeal to make the truths of Scripture known to the people of God in order to obey the command of Christ to make them disciples. Certainly, our hope is that through this teaching and proclamation that the Holy Spirit will draw others to the cross and birth them into the family.

Here are a couple of comments that I believe are worth discussing:

Jim wrote: (You can check out more of his stuff here.)

I would also suggest that you get some feedback on how practical the application really is..

Jim is right about the practical application of doctrine, but not the way most folks think of it. When the average pew-sitter thinks of practical application, what they mean is they want a quick fix for a marital, monetary, job problem. Doctrine does not always work that way. Instead of taking away our problems, right doctrine helps us to endure them in a Christ-like manner.

For example, let's say you are teaching from Hebrews 1, and you labor to make the point that Jesus Christ is fully God as per verse 8. At the end of the class, you are well satisfied that you have made the point, that you have warded off heresy, and that the average class member can now take any Jehovah's Witness to task if they show up spreading Christ-dishonoring lies. Just as you are ready to pray and dismiss, some guy in the back says, "Yeah, so Jesus is God. How is this going to help me deal with my jerk-face boss? What is the practical application of all of this theological talk anyway?"

Is the deity of Christ impractical? Can this doctrine help this man deal with his boss? How about laboring to teach that God is holy? Or that He is just? How do these things connect with "real" life?

My answer to the question is this, "Well, that is a good question, let me answer briefly before we dismiss. If Jesus is God, then your fate and destiny lie in His hands. He is the Master and Lord of everything you have, hope to have, and everything that you will lose. He gave you your job, and He put your boss in charge. Further, Christ, the God of the Universe and the King of Glory, will bring to account everything that you do in your office. The Lord has commanded you to respect your boss, and that when your boss gives you a job to do, it is as if the God of the Universe Himself has told you to do that job. When you complain and call him a "jerkface", you dishonor your Lord, you trample His mercy in giving you gainful employment, and you question His wisdom in giving you such a leader. Check out Ephesians 6:5-8 and see what the Lord would have you do at the office. If you cannot remain at you place of employment and honor your boss, then quit immediately."

That, I believe, is what Jim is talking about when he mentions "practical application". There is no doctrine found in Scripture that is not imminently practical and life-changing. The job of the teacher is to connect the dots.

I want to continue later with the idea that teaching Scripture to God's people may do nothing but stoke pride, or that any real preacher could do so for the sake of Scripture knowledge only.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Are You Called to Shepherd the Flock of God? Part 2

Since the major impulse for pastoral ministry is the desire to do the work, I thought it might be helpful to describe what pastoral ministry looks like. I believe that you will see that the most pressing concern of being a pastor is educating the church in the Scriptures.

Since I have been altogether unsatisfied with modern Sunday School literature, I have taken it upon myself to write material for our church. Right now, I am preparing lessons from Hebrews for the adult Sunday School class. They are my guinea pigs for the lessons. I am doing this because I am convinced that we need a more exegetical approach to Sunday School; something with a little more meat to chew on. I also teach that Sunday School class every morning. I have targeted this class because this is the age group that will have to produce the leaders of our church. I can simultaneously model teaching and demonstrate how to study the Bible at the same time.

I also teach a Discipleship class on Sunday nights. Currently, we are going through Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. While it is not an 'exegetical' study, it is certainly biblical and systematic. Dever's excellent book demonstrates and reiterates the very points that I am attempting to model as pastor: Exegetical, expository preaching is the bedrock of forming a healthy church.

Most importantly, I spend time during the week preparing for the two sermons I deliver on Sunday morning and Sunday night. Currently, we are going through James in the morning and Mark in the evenings. It is during the preaching of the Word that I demonstrate my passion for its truth, the beauty of its power, and the seriousness of gospel proclamation. I view those two sermons as the most important things that I do all week. In that time, I reach more of the church than at any other time. Also, it is the pinnacle of my worship for the week; I both dread and rejoice at the prospect of preaching each Sunday.

Besides these things, I also have the privilege of visiting the sick and the healthy. I go to surgeries, and I make home visits. On a good week, members invite me over or we open our home to someone. These are times of fellowship and opportunities for discipleship. I treasure these times, and I endeavor to make the most of them. I am also helping to oversee the beginnings of a men's ministry, and I help with the women's ministry. That means when all the women are occupied in Bible study and fellowship, I can to help keep the nursery. We are also about to begin a small group men's Bible study in my home, and I'm trying to figure out now exactly when to do it, what to do, and how to get the word out.

If you look at this list of stuff, I hope that you will notice a pattern. That is, you might think that I am obsessed with the Bible. I teach it, preach it, write material for it, talk about it, encourage its study, and etc. If you think that, it is only because it is true. I am staking my life on the fact the the Word of God has the power to change lives. If I could boil down my life into one thing, one passion, one dream, it would be that the people that I shepherd would be a people who love the Scriptures and have learned to handle them responsibly.

Do you have the desire to teach the Bible in such a way? If you have this desire, then you may fit the mold of an overseer. Further, I believe that this desire to teach is evidenced by an insatiable desire for learning. Are you a devourer of theological books? Do you read every piece of material you can get your hands on? Do you have endless questions? Do you spend a significant amount of time pondering Biblical questions and quandries? These are also the marks of a good teacher and shepherd.

THe list of things for a pastor to do are not here exhausted, but I believe that they are an accurate reflection of pastors ought to be doing. If you are of the mind that you are gifted to shepherd the flock of God, these are some of the responsibities that you will have to shoulder. If this delights you, then I say go for it, brother

Monday, March 13, 2006

John Owen and My Pea Brain

I recently began reading John Owen's book The Grace and Duty of Being Spiritually Minded. This is my second attempt at getting through this book, and thus far my steadfastness has paid off. John Owen is not the easiest read. You actually have to think, and that's part of my problem.

I have the same feeling when I read John Owen that I have when I read Jonathan Edwards. First, I am glad that my first name is also John. There have been many brilliant men with that name, and I am part of the exception that proves that rule. My second thought is that blogs and modern technology are destroying any capacity I may have had for serious thought in segments longer than two paragraphs.

John Owen can write more about Romans 7:6 than I could put into an entire Systematic Theology. He also succeeds in deflating my pride in the realm of simple spiritual conduct and thought. And last but not least, I am also grieved that 95% of the Christian population could not read John Owen at all. They would be bored to death after five pages.

I just thought that I would share that today. I am having a creative flatline. Hopefully, I will be blessed with the ability to share something of worth in the near future. After reading Owen, I wonder if I ever have?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Today is Our Anniversary

I will not be writing anything worthwhile today. I will be spending the entire day with my beautiful bride and trying to spoil her rotten. For the record, she is the best evidence that I have that God truly and deeply loves me, and she is a constant reminder of His graciousness to me.

Houses and riches are an inheritance from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the LORD (Proverbs 19:14).

Monday, March 06, 2006

Could We Endure a Reformation?

This morning I awoke with Reformation on my mind. It is the first thought in my head in the morning, and it is the last thought on my mind as I go to sleep. In my day dreams I envision a Church submissive to its leadership; a people humble enough to face accountability, and individuals so full of grace and boldness that they shine like the sons of God they are. I dream of a church in love with her gospel. Hers in the sense that it has been entrusted to her by her beloved, and that she owns it in as much as she is enthralled by it. I imagine a church loving Scripture as it were the very bread of heaven. I imagine a people preparing themselves for a reward that will outstrip the finest fancies that this world has to offer. And then I imagine how we will get there.

My mind turns then to broken hearts, to broken relationships, to fighting and slander and envy. I think of the shock on faces and the quiver of outrage when the power of the gospel is unleashed. I think of church splits of guffaws from communities as the very house of God is shaken with truth.

We are not yet the Church Triumphant; we are the Church Militant. But for now, we are an undisciplined crew. Our rolls are filled with unbelievers who will not abide a true religious awakening. Many of those who are saved will quake at the revelation of the true greatness of God and the depravity of man. Haven't you? They will tremble to learn that there is more to Christianity than a short walk down an aisle and memorizing John 3:16. When the rain of the Spirit falls upon the seed of the gospel faithfully sown, the earth trembles as the fruit baring plant plows through the soil. No one has ever borne fruit for God whose soul has not endured such a shaking.

It is easy to talk about being a Christian; it is hard to look in the mirror of God's word and find a sinner staring back: one who is totally dependant upon an undeserved, unmerited faith. To find that one, no matter how exalted and good we used to believe ourselves to be, was truly inches from the flames of hell that can never be quenched or satisfied is a shattering experience. To awake with that understanding daily is to begin to understand the gratitude we should have for salvation.

When we pray for reformation, we are praying for God to lay people in the dust. We are praying for Him to mercilessly reveal sin and to scour away pride. We are praying for Him to turn the heat so hot that the dross will rise to the top for us to see our ugliness, and to watch helplessly as He scoops it away in His kindness and mercy. The Holy One handled my sin. He is too close for comfort, but a thousand deaths would be better than His departure. When we pray for revival we pray that we will be ashamed for God to see us as we are, and yet desperate for Him to stay and look and heal.

The Christian carries this burden: The gospel he is entrusted with demolish those with whom he shares it. The Christian carries this joy: When the gospel has shattered our self-image, it pieces it back together to form the image of God without blemish. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, and it is the power of God to damnation. Both results occur everytime we teach, preach and share. It is the meaning of life, and its rejection is the cause of death. Who is sufficient for these things?

I know that one day my vision for God's church will come to pass. I know that one day I will see Christ's bride without blemish. But I also know that it will not come without struggle and a price. I pray that God will send Reformation, and I pray that He will make me able stand when it comes.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Are You Called to Shepherd the Flock of God? Part 1

One of the most frequent and wonderful questions that I am asked as a pastor is how to know if one is "called to the ministry". I love this question on many levels. First, it brings me back to when I prayed over this issue, I want to refrain from using the word "struggle" because it gives the wrong impression. When I caught my first Redfish, I struggled to get him in the boat, but it was an exhilarating struggle. The same goes for the struggle with the ministry. It was a hard, deep, soul-searching experience. But was it a joyless struggle? No indeed! It was a struggle that taught me who I am in Christ, and I have enjoyed every moment of the process.

I take this question most seriously from those who ask because I recognize that there is much more at stake in this than vocation. This is a search for identity and purpose. This is the quest to find how one fits into the body of Christ. I encourage this journey, and I love to walk it with others. It does not matter if the road ends behind a pulpit or in a doctor's office or in a public classroom. It is an altogether important and worthwhile trip, and at journey's end (or beginning), one can live and serve with a sense of peace about God's will for one's life.

Let's begin with the basics. Our text to look at is 1 Timothy 3:1-7. First, a person called to be a pastor/overseer/shepherd/elder must be a man. It has pleased the Lord to ordain male headship in the Church of God and in the home. I will not argue this here, though later it is open game. Suffice to say for now, if you are a man, you meet one of the qualifications for pastor.

Secondly, the text here says, "If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work." The bishop is the pastor, and the qualification here is desire. This will drive your ministry from day one, and it is where you should begin your introspection. Do you desire the work, brother?

Because of the mysticism and pietism that floats about our churches today, many young men believe that the call of God must be a mystical experience. It need not be so, and truth be told, I have little confidence in such things. Did you have a dream that God told you to be a pastor? I once dreamed that I was Batman. However, I did not buy the tights and utility belt, nor do I own the Batmobile, much to my dismay. Stick to the text, dear friend; the text, after all, is what the man of God must be sticking to, is it not?

So, I counsel them not to wait for visions, promptings, still, small voices, or for their Holly bush to burst into flame and a voice cry from it, "Dear _______, You must be a PASTOR!" I do not find such things in the qualifications for the overseer. All I see here for him is that he have a desire for the work.

So what is the desire? We can hardly define this desire without defining the work itself, but I will do so here in short. It means that you are the type of person who has an insatiable appetite to know the Lord Jesus Christ, to follow Him to the death, to know His Word, and that you admire the office itself. You love the ministry and you love the office. In fact, I often find that men called to the ministry are in awe of the job, and that pleases me. I find that men often are so afraid of the responsibility that they will try to shirk it by claiming only to be called to "Youth Ministry" or to be an "Associate Pastor". Rid your head of all such notions. These positions are also Pastoral, and you will absolve yourself of no responsibility by fleeing to them. They are honorable and noble positions themselves, and they are by no means inferior or less demanding. Though the mantle of "preaching pastor" has its own level of responsibility, you must be prepared to be thrust into it.

I will end this first part of the series here with a a simple question: Brother, do you desire the work? Do you? Do not be ashamed to admit it. Next we must discern where the desire comes from and if it is a godly desire, and we will learn this by discovering what the work entails.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Falwell, Hagee, and Israel

As an update, Pastor Falwell has put out an article here. Thank the Lord that this report has been debunked as untrue. Now, are we certain that Hagee doesn't believe in the Trinity?

Some More Thoughts on Israel, Eschatology, and Evangelical Thought

In couple of previous posts I wrote about some of my reservations about Israel's exaltation in the eyes of many evangelicals. I tried to point out that there are Gentiles who are just as 'chosen' as the Jewish people of old. I never said that the church has 'replaced' Israel, and I also never said that God was going to be unfaithful to the covenant promises He made to Israel. What I was attempting to show is that gentiles are not step-children and that it does not matter if you were born Jew or Greek or Russian or Georgian, you get no special favors when it comes to the way to heaven.

Today, I get up and find this article that, I believe, illustrates my concerns. Take this quote, for examle:
An evangelical pastor and an Orthodox rabbi, both from Texas, have apparently persuaded leading Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell that Jews can get to heaven without being converted to Christianity.

Televangelist John Hagee and Rabbi Aryeh Scheinberg, whose Cornerstone Church and Rodfei Sholom congregations are based in San Antonio, told The Jerusalem Post that Falwell had adopted Hagee's innovative belief in what Christians refer to as "dual covenant" theology.

This creed, which runs counter to mainstream evangelism, maintains that the Jewish people has a special relationship to God through the revelation at Sinai and therefore does not need "to go through Christ or the Cross" to get to heaven.

Scheinberg said this has been Hagee's position for the 25 years the two have worked together on behalf of Israel and that Falwell had also come to accept it. Falwell sent a representative to the San Antonio launch of Christians United for Israel in early February, as did popular televangelist Pat Robertson.

I do not know if the Jerusalem Post is correct that Falwell believes this "dual covenant theology", or even if Hagee believes this for that matter. If they do, they are horribly, heretically, and terribly wrong. There is only one way to the Father, and it is not through ethnic descent; it is through Jesus Christ. Rejection of the Messiah of Israel is a damning choice to the Jew or Gentile. Submission to him is to share equally in the covenant promises made to Abraham. It is as simple as that.

HT: Centuri0n