Thursday, August 31, 2006

Faith vs. Faith: An Apologetic Dialogue-Part 4

By Joseph E. Torres

Tom: [Closing Statements] Your transcendental argument is just another more clever and harder to refute explanation for Christianity. I would have to concede that your gift of the word and skills in field of debate don't permit me any reasonable chance of influencing you in any way and all I've got is something in my heart that tells every fiber of my being that Christianity stinks. Something at its core is false.

Why all the ambiguity? All it would take to make a believer out of me, and all of the world, is one more global divine intervention. I hope in my years to come I can put my instincts into the form of a more intelligent argument than what I have presented so far. I believe all we have in life is the progression of human thought, and TAG doesn't require that. It seems to have done all the thinking for us.

You once asked me if I'm a materialist. I guess you could say so. I think everything has a physical explanation, but of course I don't believe all physical explanations have been accounted for, nor do I believe they will be anytime soon. There is simply too much in our universe and our minds to have it explained in the mere 50,000 years of intelligent thought our species has known thus far. Again, your skill with the written word is too cunning for my 19 years of experience to compete with. All I have is what you would call faith; faith that your worldview is complete and wrong, and that mine is very much incomplete but at least heading in the right direction. Thanks for a good discussion.

Joe: [Closing statements to readers of the original conversation online]: To the readers of this post, I ask a series of questions. Were Tom's objections to Christianity really based upon logic, reason, and superior moral reasoning? Was the real issue at hand that we Christians operate on "blind faith" while atheists reason from "the facts"? Or, perhaps, is it one type of faith against another type of faith? I submit to you that in this conversation is the collision between two antithetical worldviews. This is the difference between blind faith and faith in the objective revelation of God's word.

I have argued that unless the Triune God of the Bible lives, there are no such things as objective moral values, no uniformity to nature (making the start of science impossible), no human dignity, or laws of rationality to be violated in intelligent debate. Tom, on the other hand, has brought to the facts a philosophy that he would have us believe he derived from the facts. But this is not so. Have we attempted to argue consistently from within our worldviews? Yes, I believe that we both have. But I assert that Tom has had to borrow from my worldview in order to launch an attack against it. I, on the other hand, argue that unless my worldview is already true then rational discourse doesn't even make sense; it is not intelligible. I've tried to present arguments that prove the truth of the Christian worldview from the impossibility of the contrary. This is what is called a transcendental negative argument.

I would, in closing, like to make one thing perfectly clear. I do not claim to be wiser, more intelligent, or more righteous than any of those with whom I speak. I did not cleverly work my way up the philosophical ladder to figure out the existence of God. God has revealed himself in Scripture. I examine myself and my world in light of this Word. I, too, once rejected God's word, and thus am no better than anyone. If anything, I have been humbled because of his gracious and sovereign love for me and love that I did not and still do not deserve. God, through his Spirit, has given me new eyes to see the world with the lenses of Scripture. I thank you for your time, and Tom for his cooperation.

Closing Comments to Current Readers

My hopes for my current readers regarding this dialogue are: 1) that the confusion and repetition of concepts will not turn off close analysis of what's going on there; and 2) that the jargon used will not hinder understanding. Now, I'd like to interpret what has happened in these last few pages.

The transcendental apologetic formulated by Cornelius Van Til is largely unknown by most unbelievers. Those of the evidentialist camp are far better at popularizing their arguments than are the presuppositionalists. Because of this, most unbelievers don't know what to do with a transcendentally oriented apologetic argument. It offends their sensibilities, but a cogent or informed refutation is difficult to construe. I believe that evidentialists have too often argued what I call "second order" arguments. I define these as arguments that work from common grace benefits (beliefs in design, morality, science, logic, etc.). Now, there's nothing wrong with building on shared premises, that is until the unbeliever self-consciously argues epistemologically. When this happens, a "first order" argument is needed (arguments that challenge the unbeliever to account for the intelligibility of such notions).

First order arguments can easily expose the rationalist/irrationalist dialectical tension in non-Christian thought. Tom sought to construct a worldview based upon naturalism, stating, " I think everything has a physical explanation". This is rationalism in the Van Tillian sense; Tom explicitly says "everything". But, exposing his irrationalist streak, he added, "But of course, I don't believe all physical explanations have been accounted for, nor do I believe they will be anytime soon". Here Tom engages what Francis Schaeffer called an "upper story leap". Though without proof, or any rational explanation on his own basis, he insisted that such necessary concepts (love, justice, rationality, the uniformity of nature, morality, etc.) must, and one day will, be explained naturalistically. This is irrational belief that runs contrary to the worldview he espoused.

In closing, I offer the words of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:20-24:

Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. (1Cor. 1:20-24 NASB)


1.Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 1:11-12; 6:12; Jam. 1:17

Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 12, March 19 to March 25, 2006

Praise the Lord, Pass the Ammo: A new video game uses violence and murder to spread the love of Christ

By Skye Jethani

One of the reoccurring debates on this blog has been whether cultural forms used in ministry are neutral, or do forms possess inherent value that may or may not be compatible with God’s kingdom. For example, Andy Stanley shared his conviction that all leadership principles are created by God, and are therefore available for use in the church. I disagreed, arguing that some popular leadership models contradict biblical values. And Shane Hipps has written about the way technology and video preaching impacts the message we are seeking to convey.

Invariably, when the debate over the neutrality of cultural forms arises many people quote 1 Corinthians 9:22 (“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some”). Well, Tyndale House—the publisher of the immensely profitable Left Behind books—is poised to test your utilitarian philosophy of ministry.

Tyndale’s new video game, Left Behind: Eternal Forces, is set for release in October, and its already coming under fire from both conservative and liberal Christians. Set in present-day New York City, the game pits the army of the Antichrist against born again Christians. Players are rewarded for winning converts or killing those who resist the gospel. Dialogue in the game includes Christians shouting “Praise the Lord” before blowing away unbelievers.

Players may also switch sides and fight for the Antichrist with an army of cloven-hoofed demons that feast on the faithful. One of the game’s creators finds the “prayer button” particularly nifty. Before going into holy war, a Christian may pray to boost their “Spirit Points.” Honestly, I’m not making this up—I wish I was.

Tim LaHaye, author of the Left Behind books, says the video game was created to reach a new population with the gospel. “We hope teenagers like the game,” he said. “Our real goal is to have no one left behind.” So far Christian video games have been unsuccessful at breaking into the very lucrative youth gaming market, but Eternal Forces’ co-creator Jeffery S. Frichner is hopeful. “It’s got all the Christian stuff, and it’s still got all the cool stuff.”

Troy Lyndon, the CEO of Left Behind Games, says the game will probably appeal to the same audience that was undisturbed by the violence and gore in “The Passion of the Christ.” Lyndon says he anticipates those on the liberal left will criticize Left Behind: Eternal Forces, "but megachurches are very likely to embrace this game." And they will be the main marketing outlets for the product.

Jack Thompson, a Miami attorney and critic of video game violence, is quoted in a Washington Post article. He says Tyndale’s game “breaks my heart.” He continues, "The game is about killing people for their lack of faith in Jesus. The Gospel is not about killing people in the name of the Lord, and Jesus made that very clear."

After seeing Tyndale’s Left Behind game Thompson cancelled a publishing contract he had with the company.

The same article quotes Heath Summerlin, a Christian gamer who believes Eternal Forces "could reach a broad spectrum of people who wouldn't necessarily be exposed to the [Left Behind] books or go to church." Yes, but reach them with what message? Convert or we’ll kill you? The message is more al Qaeda than agape; more Bin Laden than Bible. It makes me wonder if anyone who developed the game has ever actually read the New Testament.

The popular notion that forms are neutral, that the medium can change as long as the message is the same, that we can and should use any means necessary to spread the gospel— has finally reached the level of absurdity. Did anyone at Tyndale stop and consider that maybe packaging the gospel of love in the form of a murderous video game is poor brand management? Or was the game produced simply with profitability and nothing else in mind?

Perhaps this is the wake-up call the church in America has needed. The ends don’t justify the means. The medium does impact the message. And proof texting 1 Corinthains 9:22 is a sad excuse for a philosophy of ministry.

By Skye Jethani

The Value of a Local Church Where God Is

By Paul W. Martin

Israel had split into two nations, the 10 tribes in the North, with Judah and Benjamin in the south. Jeroboam had led the northern tribes away from the Lord years earlier, but the southern tribes were still seeking Him, even after a few spiritual potholes and detours along the way.

Having fought off the “million man march” of warring Ethiopians, King Asa of Judah had proven that the Lord would help “the weak” even if they faced the mighty. Perhaps it was this grand display of God’s presence with Asa that caused a minor exodus out of the northern 10 tribes.

“for great numbers had deserted to him [Asa] from Israel when they saw that the Lord his God was with him.” (2 Chronicles 15:9b)

In other words, when it was clear that God was with Asa – that is where the godly went. For many, it meant severe upheaval, the purchase of a new home, long travel, and the accusation of desertion.

In my summer travels I was alarmed the lack of churches preaching Jesus. Others have written of the same thing. Even in a city the size of Toronto, there are comparitively very few churches where one might say, “God is with them.”

I have also been thinking a great deal about the brevity of life, being 40 and all... and that leads me to this conclusion. I think Christians ought to do whatever it takes to be a part of a church where God is present. I have met too many that try to “get by” in a place where He is not. Worse, I have seen some determine their home by elevating temporal values above eternal. What I mean is folks pick a place to live based on its supposed safety, home value, nice neighbourhoods, and overall “pleasantness and potential.” I think this sniffs of idolatry. As nice as these things are, do they matter if you do not have a church where God is present? In our shortsightedness we often get this confused.

I am proposing that there may come a point in a Christian's life where it is obvious “the Lord has left the building” and it is time to find out with whom He is meeting so you can be there. I am not promoting hero worship or personality cults, nor suggesting that you should "take off" the first Sunday your pastor strikes out or someone sins against you! Rather, I am suggesting that being in a good church is worth living in a less desirable place and incurring a cost to get there.

It certainly was to the families from Ephraim, Manasseh and Simeon who pulled up anchor in the north to stick with God in the south.

Don't Miss the Point: The Gospel

By Wayne and Josh Mack.

When I started this book, my wife was concerned that I would become a Christian. That didn’t happen. But I have become a fan, not just of the music, but of Christians, and of Jesus himself. To me, the message of the Gospel is love one another, look out for the less fortunate, and try to walk gently on the earth. And I love that… To anyone struggling with Christianity, my advice is try to keep your eye on the big picture, not a verse here and there. Love God, if you are so inclined, and one another. Sort out the rest using those principles as a lens.”
–Andrew Beaujon, author of Body Piercing Saved My Life: Inside the phenomenon of Christian rock

I’m glad Andrew likes Christians.

I’m not surprised that he didn’t become one. Because unfortunately, it seems he missed the point of the gospel. The message of the gospel is not about something we do.

I just hope that he missed the message of the gospel because he missed it not because he spent all that time researching Christian music and came away with that impression about it.

The gospel is good news.


It’s not a philosophy of life. It’s not a way to live life. The gospel is about an event that took place. The central message of Christianity is not that we need to love each other. The central message of Christianity is about the way that God loved us by sending His Son to die in our place for the forgiveness of our sins and to rise again for our justification.

"If Jesus Walked On Water So Can I . . . Glub, Glub, Glub"

By Kim Riddlebarger

For those who say studying things like hermeneutics is a waste of time, consider the following story in the Daily Record (UK). Click here: The Daily Record - NEWS - MIRACLE IS SUNK


A PRIEST has died after trying to demonstrate how Jesus walked on water.

Evangelist preacher Franck Kabele, 35, told his congregation he could repeat the biblical miracle.

But he drowned after walking out to sea from a beach in the capital Libreville in Gabon, west Africa.

One eyewitness said: "He told churchgoers he'd had a revelation that if he had enough faith, he could walk on water like Jesus.

"He took his congregation to the beach saying he would walk across the Komo estuary, which takes 20 minutes by boat.

"He walked into the water, which soon passed over his head and he never came back."


I know I should be saddened at the man's death, but there is a certain sense in which we must realize that our actions do have consequences, even our misreading of Scripture.

Isaac Watts' Questions for Ministers, pt. 2

By Tom Ascol

Here are parts 3-5 of Isaac Watt's questions for young ministers. As I mentioned previously, old ministers can benefit from this kind of internal investigation, as well. If these questions seem over-scrupulous I would argue that the reason is to be found more in the laxity of our day regarding pastoral ministry than in any tendency toward morbid introspection in Watts' day.

Section III
Of Constant Prayer and Dependance
  1. Do I "give myself to prayer, as well as to the ministry of the word?" Acts vi. 4.
  2. Do I make conscience of praying daily in secret, that I may thereby maintain holy converse with God, and also, that I may increase in the gift of prayer? Matth. vi. 6.
  3. Do I make it my practice to offer "prayers, supplications, and intercessions for all men," particularly for our rulers, and for my fellow labourers in the ministry, and for the church of Christ, and especially for those to whom I preach? 1 Tim. ii. 1. Rom. i. 9, 10. Phil. i. 4.
  4. Do I seek by prayer, for divine direction and assistance in my studies, and in all my preparations for the public? and do I plead for the success of my ministry with God, in whom are all our springs? Eph. iii. 14-19. Phil. i. 8, 9.
  5. Do I ever keep upon my spirit a deep sense of my own insufficiency for these things, that I may ever depend and wait on the power of Christ for aid and success? 2 Cor. ii. 16. and iii. 5. and 2 Tim. ii. 1.

Section IV
Of Self-Denial, Humility, Mortification, and Patience
  1. Do I endeavour to please all men for their good, and not make it my business to please myself? Rom. xvi. 2. But to become all to all, that I may win their souls, so far as is consistent with being true and faithful to Christ? 1 Cor. x. 23, and ix. 19, 22.
  2. Do I behave myself before men, "not as a lord over God's heritage, but as a servant of all for Christ's sake?" and do I treat them not as having dominion over their faith, but as a helper of their joy?" 2 Cor. iv. 5. and i. 24.
  3. Am I "gentle and patient towards all men, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves?" 2 Tim. ii. 24, 25.
  4. Do I "approve myself in all things as a minister of God; in much patience possessing my own soul," and having the government of my own spirit? 2 Cor. vi. 4.
  5. Do I, as a man of God, whose business is heavenly, flee from covetousness and the inordinate desire of gain; not seeking my own things so much as the things of Christ? 1 Tim. vi. 10, 11. But having food and raiment, have I learned therewith to be content? 1 Tim. vi. 8.
  6. Am I willing "to endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ?" 2 Tim. ii. 3. and am I learning to bear whatsoever God calls me to, "for the sake of the elect, that they may obtain salvation with eternal glory?" 2 Tim. ii. 3. 10.
  7. Am I more and more fortified against shame and suffering for the testimony of my Lord Jesus Christ? 2 Tim. i. 8-12.
  8. Am I willing "to spend myself and to be spent for the good of the people, or even to be offered up, as a sacrifice for the service of their faith? and do I count nothing dear to me, that I may fulfil the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus?" Phil. ii. 17. 2 Cor. xii. 15. Acts xx. 24.

Section V
Of Conversation
  1. It is my constant endeavour to "hold fast the true faith, and a good conscience together, lest making shipwreck of one, I should lose the other also." 1 Tim. i. 19.
  2. "Do I so walk as to be an "example of Christian, in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in purity?" 1 Tim. iv. 12; that in "all things I may show myself a pattern of good works?" Tit. ii. 7.
  3. Do I endeavour to walk uprightly amongst men, and do nothing by partiality? 1 Tim. v. 21.
  4. Is my conversation savoury and religious, so as to minister edification to the hearers? Eph.. iv. 29.
  5. Do I "shun youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, charity, and peace with all them that call on the Lord, out of a pure heart? 2 Tim. ii. 22.
  6. Do I avoid, as much as possible, the various temptations to which I may be exposed, and watch against the times, and places, and company which are dangerous?
  7. Do I practise the Christian duty of love and charity, to those who differ from me in opinion, and even "bless and pray for them that are my enemies?" Rom. xii. 14; and xiv. 1.
  8. Do I behave myself blameless as a steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, nor filthy lucre, no brawler, no striker; a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate? Tit. i. 7, 8.
  9. Do I daily endeavour "to give no offence in any thing, that the ministry be not blamed?" 2 Cor. vi. 3.
  10. Do I watch over myself in all times, and places, and conversations, so as to do and to bear what is required of me, to make a full proof of my ministry, and to adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour? 2 Tim. iv. 5. Tit. ii. 10.

Isn't Premillennialism the Historic Position of the Christian Church?

By Kim Riddelbarger

Tim asks (March 2, 2006)

I've been told that Covenant Amillennialism is "a radical departure" from the views of the early church. Is this true?

Jon Welborn asks (July 23, 2006)

I would like to mirror the question of Tim on March 2, 2006. It seems that our premillenial friends are quick to retort that all ancient church fathers were chilial. While recognizing that this is not entirely true as we see the likes of Justin Martyr and Irenaeus readily acknowledging opposing millennial views from orthodox Christians in the early church, what would bo your response to the statement that "From a theological perspective -- specifically an eschatological one -- the Edict of Milan also signaled a monumental paradigm shift -- from the well-grounded premillennialism of the ancient church fathers to the amillennialism or postmillennialism that would dominate eschatological thinking from the fourth century AD to at least the middle part of the nineteenth century...the groundwork for this shift was laid long before Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in AD 313. In the two centuries that led up to the edict, two crucial interpretive errors found their way into the church that made conditions ripe for the paradigm shift incident to the Edict of Milan. The second century fathers failed to keep clear the biblical distinction between Israel and the church. Then, the third century fathers abandoned a more-or-less literal method of interpreting the Bible in favor of Origen's allegorical-spiritualized hermeneutic. Once the distinction between Israel and the church became blurred, once a literal hermeneutic was lost, with these foundations removed, the societal changes occasioned by the Edict of Milan caused fourth century fathers to reject premillennialism in favor of Augustinian amillennialism.?"

Kim Riddlebarger’s Answer:

Tim and Jon, this is a common argument and widely accepted, since a number of the Church Fathers (i.e. Irenaeus) were premillennial (chiliasts).

I would recommend that you track down the book by Charles E. Hill, Regnum Caelorum: Patterns of Millennial Thought in Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001). Dr. Hill was a classmate of mine at Westminster Seminary California and is now associate professor of New Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando.

Hill makes the case that while there were a number of premillennarians among the Church Fathers, there was also a group (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Melito, Hippolytus, and Clement), who believed that the first resurrection came at the time of conversion (or death). This means that a chiliast tradition existed alongside a non-chiliast tradition. In other words, then, as now, there were both premillennarians and amillennarians, side by side, in the church.

I find Dr. Hill’s case both clear and compelling.

Esteeming One Another in a Conflict

Last week Rob Wilkerson blogged on How to Treat Others With Whom You Disagree. He applies the gospel to a disagreement and counsels:
Try this next time you find yourself disagreeing with a brother or sister in Christ, especially over something that gets your feathers ruffled...something that makes you irritated...something that hurts your feelings...something that offends you. Repeat to yourself the gospel truths about how God views you.
  • You've been made right God through Christ.
  • God has forgiven you of all your sin - past, present, and future because of Christ.
  • God has poured out the riches of His blessings on you in Christ.
  • You have peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • You've been reconciled to the Father and made His friend.
  • He has promised His eternal love and favor toward you because of Christ.
  • He will never allow anything to remove you from His preserving Hand.
Now, apply these same gospel truths to the one with whom you disagree, the one who offends or irritates.
Of course, we should still work to resolve the differences. The gospel enables us to treat the other person with esteem and not hatred.

Church Membership

By James White

The strongest argument I know regarding the biblical nature of church membership is probably the most obvious. What are the duties of elders? We can find their qualifications listed by Paul in writing to Timothy and Titus (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-11)and from these glean much about their duties. And we have the plain statement of Peter,
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; 3 nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:1-3).
The argument is simple: shepherds must know their sheep to be able to fulfill their duties as shepherds. Its just that simple. You cannot shepherd the flock of God when you havent a clue who the flock of God is. Every good shepherd knows his sheep. Only the hireling does not know the identity of the members of the flock. And, of course, the relationship is mutual. The sheep know their shepherd. They will not listen to anothers voice because they have been with the one shepherd so long they know his voice over against any pretenders or strangers. Such involves a relationship over time, just as the Christian elder is not to be a hireling, some young gunbrought in from outside, but should be one who ideally fulfills the commandment of Paul, The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2 Timothy 2:2). The gospel is something that is precious, and you entrust it to the next generation. But it is the elders who make this decision, as they have to decide just who is truly faithfuland who has the ability to teach others. All of this requires community, exposure, contact, once again demonstrating that the shepherd must have direct knowledge of the identity, personally, of the sheep who have been entrusted to his care.
Further, Peter speaks of exercising oversight. While we may discuss the exact nature of what this means (and allow for differences given culture and geography and the like) one thing is for certain: it cannot be done without a relationship of some kind that involves real life. Obviously, this involved teaching and exhortation and discipline on the part of the elder. He is to be an example. You cannot be an example from a distance. You cannot be an example through a television screen or through the pages of a book. Modeling Christian maturity takes contact, exposure, and a reciprocal relationship that involves at least some kind of personal, communal, corporate context. All of this proves that despite the lack of the specific term membership rolls(something that would have been pretty dangerous at that point in time anyway), the activities of the elders and the form of the church itself requiresone to see the necessity of commitment to a particular fellowship identifiable by a particular group of elders. And if these texts were not enough, surely this command to all obedient Christians should be:
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:17).
Here the Christian duty of obedience and submission, coupled with a need to make this work on the part of the elders of the congregation one of joy rather than grief, is enjoined upon all. This is not a command to servility, nor does it grant to Christian leaders despotic powers. But it does require believers to know who their leaders are. It is empty to say, "Jesus is my leader!" for the writer to the Hebrews did not say your "Leader" but your "leaders," plural, and he would distinguish between them and the Great Shepherd only a few lines later (13:20). Nor does it do to claim to be in obedience and submission to men who do not see your face but once or twice a year. How can they give an account when they have no meaningful knowledge of your life, your Christian experience, your growth in godliness? How can they do so when you never attend upon their teaching or encounter them in the congregation?

Unity Across Denominational Lines

By Phillip Johnson

Here's a fact many miss: To a very large degree, the unity Christ prayed for does exist among genuine believers, and it is a unity that transcends denominational lines.

All Christians are "in Christ"; therefore they are all one with the Father, and one with each other as well. Notice carefully what Christ says in Jn. 17 verses 22-23: "[I pray] that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity." The basis of that unity is not a denominational affiliation; it is our position in Christ.

Faithful evangelical Protestants believe God is answering that prayer of Christ even now. We enjoy an amazing degree of unity with one another, despite our denominational distinctions. In other words, the kind of spiritual unity Christ prayed for does exist in the true body of Christ worldwide despite denominational barriers. Our Lord's prayer for His church has not gone unanswered.

Christ's true church is not confined to a single congregation, denomination, or earthly organization. The church is composed of all true believers in Christ, regardless of denominational affiliation or membership in any earthly assembly. In the words of the Westminster Confession of Faith, "The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of him that filleth all in all" (25.1). When the Confession speaks of the church as "invisible," it does not mean the church is inconspicuous or utterly hidden from view. It means that its precise boundaries cannot be detected through human perception. There are people who claim to be, and appear to be, part of the body, but they are not. Others, perhaps unknown to us, are true believers and members of the body. The exact boundaries of the true church are not always easy to discern. But nonetheless genuine believers are "all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:28)—united with Him, and therefore united with one another. "For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:12-13).

During His earthly ministry, Christ told the disciples: "I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd" (Jn. 10:16). The "one shepherd" is Christ himself, not an earthly vicar. And the "one flock" is also a spiritual reality even now, with believing Jews and Gentiles united in one new body, and the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile having been broken down (Eph. 2:14-16). The perfect manifestation of that unity awaits fulfillment in a future time, when "we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ" (Eph. 4:13). In the meantime, to settle for the superficial unity imposed by a monstrous worldwide ecclesiastical hierarchy would be a serious mistake.

The unity Christ prayed for has always existed in the true body of Christ. It is an organic, not an organizational unity. It is a spiritual, not a corporeal unity. And it is not a unity without diversity. (If He had wanted unity with no diversity, He would not have gifted us with different spiritual gifts.) But the kind of unity Christ prays for is a unity in spite of our great diversity.

The truth is that on the vital issues there is far more agreement among Protestants than Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church leaders would like to admit. All evangelical Protestants are in agreement on the doctrine of justification by faith (sola fide) and the authority of Scripture (sola Scriptura).

Proof that unity is the rule among believers despite their denominational differences can be seen in a survey of the denominational backgrounds of the men who have contributed to this book. We may not always agree on every point and every particular of secondary doctrinal questions. But on the essential gospel truths we are in full agreement. And our unity in Christ is unbroken by denominational lines between us. We embrace one another with sincere love as members of the one body of Christ. We are one in Christ.

The evangelical school where I studied is an interdenominational Bible institute. My professors were Presbyterians, Baptists, Congregationalists, and Independents. Students came from an incredibly diverse array of Protestant denominations. We prayed together, studied together, and did evangelistic work together. Our denominational differences were no barrier to our unity in Christ.

The church I'm a member of now is a non-denominational church. Our members come from backgrounds as varied as Baptist, Brethren, and Presbyterian congregations. Our pastor is regularly asked to speak in all kinds of denominational settings. In recent years he has spoken in Anglican churches, Baptist conventions, Presbyterian conferences, and charismatic congregations. We do enjoy a tremendous unity with all those who truly love Christ and are faithful to his word—regardless of our denominational differences.

The limits on this trans-denominational unity are set by Scripture itself. We cannot welcome into our circle of fellowship people who deny truths that are essential to the gospel (2 John 7-11); and we cannot embrace people who affirm a gospel Scripture condemns (Gal. 1:18-19). The gospel and all truths essential to it are therefore nonnegotiable points of doctrine, and unity on these matters is a prerequisite to any other kind of unity.

But there's nothing inherently sinful with holding denominational convictions on secondary issues. Denominations in and of themselves are not necessarily an obstacle to true Christian unity, and Protestants should not be bullied into conceding otherwise.

Of course, when differences on secondary issues are magnified and used to promote strife and hostility between brothers and sisters in Christ, that is sectarianism. It's the very attitude Paul condemned in Corinth when some of the believers there were dividing in groups loyal to Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, and refusing fellowship to members of the competing groups. Such sectarianism is certainly sinfully divisive. But that is not a necessary result of denominationalism. And those of us with broad denominational associations and close friendships in Christ across denominational boundaries are living proof of that.

There is room for brethren to disagree within the bonds of unity, and sometimes those disagreements can be sharp (cf. Acts 15:36-39). In fact, it is unlikely that there are any two Christians anywhere who will agree completely on the meaning of every passage of Scripture. Unity does not mean that we must agree up front on every point of truth. But unity certainly does not mean that we should ignore the issue of truth altogether and settle for a superficial organizational unity.

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Is Christianity rational?

By Dan Phillips

A Mormon friend, in passing, remarked that religion is not rational, so he didn't expect it to make sense. It's a matter of faith, not reason.

You might think, "Right: Mormon. I don't expect rationality, either." Hang on.

He went on to give an example—but the example was not how a human could become a god, or how there could be only one god and many at the same time, or how God can keep changing His mind about things, or how two equally-inspired books could contradict each other. His example was the virgin birth. I said there was nothing irrational about the virgin birth, and the conversation simply moved on elsewhere. (I now wish I'd asked instead of stated; still looking for a do-over.)

But was he right? Is religion irrational?

"Religion," maybe. Christianity, no.

Now, before we stay too focused on my friend's Mormonociousness, I'd add that some Charismatic friends have said the exact same thing. Try to follow out some thinking to its uncomfortable conclusion, and you get a shrug and a dismissal. It doesn't have to make sense. It's faith, man. "A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with an argument," I heard a Charismatic church elder say.

Perhaps definitions are part of the problem. There is a world of difference between rational and rationalism. The latter is a philosophy, a worldview that asserts that man can know truth by the use of his unaided reason. The former merely means that something is in accord with reason, it doesn't violate fundamental canons of thinking such as the law of non-contradiction.

Is Christianity rational? Without re-writing van Til, Gordon Clark, Carl Henry and the gang (—as if I could), I'd rather just focus on one generality and two specifics.

First, some who karaoke this tune are actually simply anti-intellectual. Their religion is a Schleiermacheranian mish-mash of feelings and sentimentality; and, lazily, they like it that way. Like Alice's queen, they have "believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." They can splop! down an absurd statement and, when challenged to try to make any kind of sense of it—let alone Biblical sense—they can loftily murmur that their religion is a matter of the heart, not of the mind.

This is of course to stand Biblical religion on its head (pun noted, but not intended). As soon as you assert anything about God, life, reality, you find yourself in the arena of thought and ideas. Even the assertion that nothing can be asserted about God is an assertion about God, open for analysis, criticism, acceptance or rejection.

This is by the design of God, who crafted us to analyze, understand, exercise dominion (Genesis 1:26-28). Thus He positions the first commandment as "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind"(Matthew 22:37; cf. Deuteronomy 6:5).

The resurgence of the irrational is not new, either. It was in vogue in the seventies, but was already old then. J. Gresham Machen had fought and slain this dragon a half-century earlier -- nor was he the first. The shade of rouge, the odor of the cheap perfume, and the color of the plastic jewels change, but it's the same old whore.

But second, even among Christians who are not anti-intellectual jellyfish, I've met some who very reverently think that some of our beliefs simply are not rational. They're mysterious, they have to be held by faith, not reason.

To this I'd just begin by noting that the opposite of faith is not reason; it is sight (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:7).

But are some of our faith-tenets irrational? Two that I hear cited specifically are the Trinity, and the Virgin Birth.

The second example is just plain silly. I have never understood how this can be an issue to anyone who grants the premise of a God who created everything out of nothing. It's like saying, "Everything out of nothing? Sure! But make an existing egg alive without a sperm? No way!" Canons of rational thought are not even stretched, let alone violated, by the fact of the Creator and Ruler thus operating within His creation.

How about the Trinity? Surely the doctrine that God is three and one is not rational?

When I informally debated a Jesus-only heretic on the radio once, he described the Trinity as the belief that "God is three people and one person at the same time." That belief is irrational; if that were what the doctrine of the Trinity meant, I would agree with him. God is not one in one way, and three in the same way.

Yes, the Trinity, stated that way, is irrational. That statement is also irrelevant. Because Biblically-instructed Christians do not believe this.

(By the way, this is a classical straw man argument. You'll meet it in every anti-Trinitarian cultist or heretic. The procedure is as old as dirt: mis-state, then refute the mis-statement, then declare victory. This is yet another reason why it is so vital that we know what we believe better than those whom we seek to evangelize.)

The Trinity is the Biblical teaching that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God is Father (2 Peter 1:17), Son (John 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The simplest way I have been able to understand and express the truth is that God is one in one way, and three in another. Or, we could say that God is one "what" (i.e. one as to His essence), and three "who's" (i.e. three as to His persons).

Now, do we understand the Trinity exhaustively? Of course not! How exactly does God manage being what He is? We don't really need to know, since we'll never need to be God. Nor should the finite expect to understand the infinite exhaustively. It is as C. S. Lewis says:

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan: 1960], p. 145.)
But we know enough to love Him, to worship Him, and to discern truth from error. And we know enough to know that there is nothing irrational about the doctrine.

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it's the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

Put another way: if it isn't rational, it isn't Christianity.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Church GPS: Where are we and where should we go?

David Fitch was recently invited by Trinity Evangelical Divinity School to speak on a panel during their new student orientation. Each of the five panel members was to present a response to the question: “Where is the church now and where should it go?” Fitch, who is a pastor, professor, and regular contributor to Out of Ur, shares his response with us in this post.

Where is the church now and where should it go? When I say church here, I speak about the evangelical church, the church where I have been born, become a pastor and an ordained servant of Christ. I believe we as a church in America are in trouble. I believe we’ve lost our way. I believe we have a.) accommodated ourselves to American culture in such a way that we have become another example of the mistake of protestant liberalism. And in the process, I believe we have b.) lost our calling that is given to all “the saved,” that is the calling to be the embodiment of Jesus Christ amidst society and the nations.

In regard to a.) I believe the evangelical church in its attempt to reach those without the gospel has accommodated itself to the languages of individualism, the habits of consumer capitalism, and the organizational forces of American business. We could do this because we have viewed salvation as largely an individualist transaction instead of the participation of God’s people in the cosmological salvation of God through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We could do this because we placed such faith in secular discourses like modern science and business technique (apologetics, business principles of leadership). In the process we have organized church life around the busy lives of Americans living the dreams of capitalism and democracy that leave little time for mission, community and worship. I fear the “church” for evangelicals has in George Hunsberger’s words, become “the distributor of religious goods and services.” As a result, I fear we evangelicals are becoming less and less noticeable and barely distinguishable as a people from the rest of our society who live as if God does not exist.

In regard to b.) I believe that evangelical church has lost the calling of God upon us to be the church of Jesus Christ in society. We evangelicals don't need the church to live salvation because we have personal salvation augmented by reason, science and immediate experience it seems. In some ways frankly, we can do without the Church. And so, the church in essence is left to be a sideshow to what God is doing for, in and through individuals. We no longer have a need for the church to be the social manifestation of His Lordship where He reigns over the powers of sin, evil and death, the very inbreaking of the kingdom of God, where His mighty works are made manifest and put on display before the world (1 Pet 2:9), where hospitality is such an overpowering ethos that the lost in this world are compelled by this invitation. As it is right now, we lack a way of life that people look at and see and say, “Look what manner of life has been made possible in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Our witness has been lost because we don't see “the church” as God’s strategy for the salvation of the world.

Where we must go? Let us reclaim the practices of being His Body. I count these as community, hospitality, embodied witness, truthful formative worship, preaching of the Word, justice both internal and then external to His body, spiritual formation as a Body, and the catechesis of our children as a community. The church becomes a culture in order to engage a culture. The church is the social strategy. We cannot know what parts of culture, justice or works of righteousness are faithful in the world, until we have discerned them as His Body from which we engage the world and perhaps make partnerships in the world, all under the Lordship of Christ. In short, let us embody the mission of Christ, in not just what we do or say, but also in who we are.

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Faith vs. Faith: An Apologetic Dialogue-Part 3

By Joseph E. Torres

Tom: The uniformity of nature has nothing to do with God. I don't believe many deductions can be taken as certain by themselves, but when many deductions from differing perspectives come together to the same conclusion, the certainty becomes undeniable. The uniformity of natural law certainly falls under this sort of irrefutable deduction.

Joe: In order for your comments on scientific "deduction" to make sense to me, I'll have to reread it while inserting the word "inductions" where you write "deduction." Science works off of the inductive principle. Deductive conclusions are not 100% certain if built on inductively constructed premises. But read this way, your comments become viciously circular. We can justify belief in induction because induction has never failed us before? But that's an inductive argument! That's the same as saying we can ground the uniformity of nature in the uniformity of nature. It's like saying, "We believe that the future is going to be like the past because it has always been like the past before." This is not a scientific statement; you've made a bold declaration of faith! Your comments are circular in two senses. First, in the sense that I've noted above, and second, because they assume that there's no such thing as miracles that have ever taken place. But, isn't part of the very thing we're arguing over? You're boldly assuming naturalism in order to establish naturalism. I submit to you that you indeed, in your heart, know God. No, this doesn't necessarily mean you're blatantly lying to me, but only that there's a strong possibility of self-deception occurring. You know these things exist because you are created in the image of God, and because his stamp of his creatorhood is clearly impressed into your very nature.

I have attempted to demonstrate that your reason for denying God's right as your King is not rooted in intellectual difficulties. The ultimate issue here is not that you cannot believe in God, but that you will not believe in him.

Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 12, March 19 to March 25, 2006

Pray for Your Pastor!

By Tom Ascol

This story (and this one, and this one) from South Florida of a popular pastor's demise is tragic. It is also a sober reminder and warning that no one is beyond temptation. It is tragic that he did not have some faithful men in his life who could have kept him accountable and perhaps pursuing an honorable course. The reported stories contain enough sadness to make anyone who loves Christ's church weep. They also raise (and leave unanswered) so many other questions that an honest journalist could stay busy pursuing them for the next 6 months.

Pray for Brother Flockhart. Pray for the church...and pray for his enablers.

Isaac Watts' Questions for Ministers, pt. 1

By Tom Ascol

The warnings in the Scripture to take heed to ourselves and beware of being deceived--either by others or through self-deceit--need to be taken to heart by ministers of the Gospel. None of us is immune to disqualifying himself from pastoral ministry. It is wise and profitable for a pastor to stop and examine himself periodically, in light of what the Bible calls him to be and do.

Isaac Watts drew up a list of questions designed to help young ministers do exactly that. These questions are useful for more than young ministers. Any pastor can benefit from them. Watts divided the questions into 5 sections. Today I am posting the first two of those. I will follow up the the last three in the next post. The full title is "Questions Proper for Young Ministers Frequently to Put to Themselves, Chiefly borrowed from the Epistles to Timothy and Titus."

Section I.
Of Faithfulness in the Ministry
  1. Do I sincerely give myself "to the ministry of the word;" Acts vi. 4. and do I design to make it the chief business of my life to serve Christ in his Gospel, in order to the salvation of men?
  2. Do I resolve, through the aids of divine grace, "to be faithful to him who hath put me into the ministry," and "to take heed to the ministry which I have received in the Lord that I may fulfil it?" 1 Tim. i. 12. Col. iv. 17.
  3. Do I honestly and faithfully endeavour by study and prayer to know "the truth as it is in Jesus?" Eph. ix. 21. and do I seek my instructions chiefly from the "holy scriptures which are able to make me wise unto salvation, through the faith that is in Christ, that I may be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work?" 2 Tim. iii. 14. 17.
  4. Do "I hold fast the form of sound words," as far as I have learned them of Christ and his apostles? 2 Tim. i. 13. That I "may by sound doctrine exhort and convince gainsayers;" Tit. i. 9. and do I determine to "continue in the things which I have learned, knowing from whom I have learned them?" 2 Tim. iii. 14.
  5. Do I resolve to give the people the true meaning of Christ in his word, so far as I can understand it, and "not to handle the word of God deceitfully, but by manifestation of the truth commend myself to every man's conscience in the sight of God?" 2 Cor. iv. 2.
  6. Am I watchful to "avoid profane and vain babblings?" 1 Tim. vi. 20. and do I take care to "shun foolish questions, which do gender strife, and disputing about words, which are to no profit, but the subversion of the hearers?" 2 Tim. ii. 14, 23.
  7. Do I study to show myself approved unto God, rightly dividing the word of truth; 2 Tim. ii. 15. giving to every one, viz. to saints and sinners, their proper portion?
  8. Do I make it my business to "testify to all men, whether Jews or Greeks, the necessity of repentance towards God, and faith in Christ Jesus;" and that "there is no other name under heaven given whereby we may be saved;" making this gospel of Christ the subject of my ministry? Acts xx. 21. Acts iv. 12.
  9. Do I constantly affirm that "those who have believed in Christ Jesus should maintain good works, and follow after holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord?" Titus iii. 8. Heb. xii. 14.
  10. Do I teach those that hear me to "observe all that Christ hath commanded us, nor shun to declare to them at proper seasons the whole counsel of God? Mat. xxviii. 20. Acts xx. 27.
  11. Do I preach to the people, "not myself, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and myself as their servant for Christ's sake?" 2 Cor. iv. 5.
  12. Do I, in my study and my preaching, "take heed to my doctrine and my exhortations, so that I may save myself and them that hear me?" 1 Tim. iv. 16.
  13. Do I "watch over the souls of men as one that must give an account, being solicitous that I may do it with joy, and not with grief?" Heb. xiii. 17.

Section II

Of Diligence in the Ministry
  1. Do I "give attendance to reading," meditation and study? Do I read a due portion of scripture daily, especially in the New Testament, and that in the Greek original, that I may be better acquainted with the meaning of the word of God? 1 Tim. iv. 13.
  2. Do I apply myself to these things, and give myself wholly to them, that my profiting may appear to all? 1 Tim. iv. 15.
  3. Do I live, constantly, as under the eye of the great Shepherd, who is my master and my final judge; and so spend my hours as to be able to give up a good account of them at last to him?
  4. Do I not "neglect to stir up any of those gifts, which God has given me, for the edification of the church? 1 Tim. iv. 14. and 2 Tim. i. 6.
  5. Do I seek, as far as possible, to know the state and the wants of my auditory, that I "may speak a word in season?" Is. i. 4.
  6. Is it my chief design, in choosing my subject, and composing my sermon, to edify the souls of men?
  7. Am I determined to take all proper opportunities to preach the word in season and out of season, that is, in the parlour or the kitchen, or the workhouse, as well as in the pulpit; and seek opportunities to speak a word for Christ, and help forward the salvation of souls? 2 Tim. iv. 2.
  8. Do I labour to show my love to our Lord Jesus, by "feeding the sheep and the lambs of his flock?" John xxi. 16, 17.
  9. Am I duly solicitous for the success of my ministry? and do I take all proper methods to inquire what effects my ministry has had on the souls of those who hear me?
  10. Where I find or hope the work of grace is begun on the soul, am I zealous and diligent to promote it?

Articles on Conflict Resolution has listed quite a few articles on Conflict in the Church. The article A Guide to Godly Disputation by John Newton comes highly recommended by the site. It was written by Newton in response to a minister who was about to write an article criticizing a fellow minister for his lack of orthodoxy. Newton's counsel included this:
This leads me, in the last place, to consider your own concern in your present undertaking. It seems a laudable service to defend the faith once delivered to the saints; we are commanded to contend earnestly for it, and to convince gainsayers. If ever such defenses were seasonable and expedient they appear to be so in our own day, when errors abound on all sides and every truth of the gospel is either directly denied or grossly misrepresented. And yet we find but very few writers of controversy who have not been manifestly hurt by it. Either they grow in a sense of their own importance, or imbibe an angry, contentious spirit, or they insensibly withdraw their attention from those things that are the food and immediate support of the life of faith, and spend their time and strength upon matters that are at most but of a secondary value. This shows, that if the service is honorable, it is dangerous. What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made? Your aim, I doubt not, is good; but you have need to watch and pray for you will find Satan at your right hand to resist you; he will try to debase your views; and though you set out in defense of the cause of God, if you are not continually looking to the Lord to keep you, it may become your own cause, and awaken in you those tempers that are inconsistent with true peace of mind, and will surely obstruct communion with God.

A Good Offense

By Mark Dever

I'm in the midst of finishing writing a little book on evangelism. In one chapter, I'm making some specific suggestions about how to evangelize, and one piece of counsel I give is to "Be Clear." Here's some of what I'm hoping to say about being clear:

When you share the Gospel, think carefully about the language you use. One of the best conversations I can remember having about evangelism was with a secular Jewish friend of mine. I was to give talks soon on a college campus about evangelism. And I decided to ask my friend about it. We’ll call him “Michael.” (In fact, that was his name!) “So Michael,” I said, “have you ever been evangelized?”

“What’s that?” he asked. “You know,” I said, “when someone who is a Christian starts talking to you about God and Jesus and asking if you’re saved.” “Oh, that!” he said. “Yeah, I guess I have been.”

Anyway, Michael and I got into a long and good conversation. Now, the truth is that I had evangelized Michael a number of times before then, but he thought those were conversations. As we talked about it, he thought evangelism was something that someone did to him. And he didn’t understand it very well.

I realized in talking with him that I couldn’t take the meaning of words for granted. “God”, “prayer”, “heaven”, “good”, “moral”, “judge”, “sin” were all words which I realized I had not done a good job defining. I could have misunderstood what Michael thought if I had simply gone through a quick, persuasive sales presentation and gotten him to say “Yes!” He would have been saying “yes” to much that he didn’t understand.

None of us ever have a complete understanding of the Gospel, but we must have a clear idea of what the basics of our message are, and we must be clear in our expression of them. If there is a likely misunderstanding, we should address it. We should speak in such a way as to be understood. (“Contextualization” is the big theological word for this.) So when we talk about justification (and we should) we should make sure to define it. Justification is being declared right with God. But we sin, we’re not right with God. So how can we be declared right? We can’t, if God is truly good. Unless, that is, we have someone act as a substitute for us. “Justification” then gets us talking about all kinds of issues right at the heart of the Gospel.

So, when we’re talking to non-Christian friends about the Gospel, we want to make sure they understand what we mean. Christians in the Bible had a great concern about this. So it’s often been noted that Paul would begin with the Old Testament when he was speaking to Jews, but when he began to speak to a group of Greeks in Athens in Acts 17 he begins by quoting their own sayings. As he wrote to the Corinthians “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. . . . To those not having the law I became like one not having the law . . . so as to win those not having the law,” (I Cor. 9:20-21).

One part of clarity sometimes missed by earnest evangelists, however, is the willingness to offend. Clarity with the claims of Christ certainly will include the translation of the Gospel into words that our hearer understands, but it doesn’t necessarily mean translating it into words that our hearer will like. Too often advocates of relevant evangelism verge over into being advocates of irrelevant non-evangelism. A gospel which in no way offends the sinner has not been understood.

Look at Peter at Pentecost in Acts 2. He wanted to be relevant. But that relevance gave his words more bite, not less. How did Peter witness to those he wished to see saved? He said to them, among other things, “let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ,” (Acts 2:36).

Relevant? Yes. Pleasing? No. Clear? Undoubtedly.

Be clear about the fact of sin (Isa. 59:1-2; Hab. 1:13; Rom. 3:22-23; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5; I John 1:5-6). Be clear about the meaning of the cross (Matt. 26:28; Gal. 3:10-13; I Tim. 1:15; I Peter 2:24; 3:18). Be clear about our need to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ (Matt. 11:28-30; Mark 1:15; 8:34; John 1:12; 3:16; 6:37; Acts 20:21). What would it mean to evangelize without being clear about what the Bible says about these issues?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Faith vs. Faith: An Apologetic Dialogue-Part 2

by Joseph E. Torres

Tom: Morals have nothing to do with God. I knew right from wrong long before I had any concept of God, and I continued to hold true to my ideals of reciprocity long after I heard of, and disagreed with, the concept of God.

Logic has nothing to do with God. I will take a bit out of Michael Martin's TANG argument. According to the brand of Christianity assumed by TAG, God created everything, including logic; or at least everything, including logic, is dependent on God (i.e., it is contingent on God). Moreover, if principles of logic are contingent on God, God could change them. Thus, God could make the law of non-contradiction false; in other words, God could arrange matters so that a proposition and its negation were true at the same time. But this is absurd. How could God arrange matters so that New Zealand is south of China and that New Zealand is not south of it? So, one must conclude that logic is not dependent on God, and, insofar as the Christian worldview assumes that logic is dependent, it is false. Logic is simply a byproduct of the observable and deductible universe.

Joe: Tom, I'm beginning to think that at some level we're speaking past one another. As I read your replies I continue to think that you're missing my point. I am not saying that non-Christians do not lead moral lives. You explain that you learned morality apart from a conscious belief in God. Fine, I never said, nor do I believe, the opposite. I'm not asking about how we came to learn the details of morality. Rather, I'm asking: What is the ultimate authority behind moral injunctions? I am arguing that it cannot be reduced to personal preferences or societal consensus. You've mentioned examples of people having a moral sense apart from theistic belief, as if this were a refutation of my position. But Tom, it is not. I am not saying that non-Christians do not think rationally. I'm asking the question: What would have to be true of the world in order to justify our everyday assumption regarding morality, logic, science, values, etc?

The TANG argument misunderstands the Christian doctrine of God. God cannot violate his character or change his essential nature1. When logic is properly conceived and applied, it reflects the consistency that has already characterized God's thoughts. We, as creatures created in his image, can thus reflect his thinking on a finite scale. Thus, the example that Dr. Martin provides of God possibly changing things around arbitrarily is a straw man. One cannot go about arguing against a generic concept of God. I defend the biblical God. Thus, arguments against such a God must be familiar with the nature of the biblical God.

1.Num. 23:19; Mal. 3:6; Tit. 1:2; Heb. 1:11-12; 6:12; Jam. 1:17

Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 12, March 19 to March 25, 2006

Unity and Holiness

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By Kirk Wellum

In Psalm 133 David writes:

How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!
It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron's beard, down on the collar of his robe. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

Unity is a great blessing indeed and I have been reflecting on it since our faculty meeting today. It is wonderful, joyful experience to be able to work together with brothers and sisters in the greatest cause of all: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is one of the sweetest blessings of God.

However, this divine blessing reminds us that one of the enemy's favorite tactics is to divide and conquer and it is a strategy that he has used effectively time after time. It is something he is able to do without much effort because there is so much that he can use against us. Pride, envy, bitterness, discouragement, weariness - to name just a few - can be used by our adversary with great effectiveness if we are not careful to stay close to the Lord.

Near the end of the letter to the Hebrews, we read: "Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son" (12:12-16).

This interesting collection of exhortations is far from random or haphazard. Lack of holiness in general, and bitterness and immorality in particular, will destroy unity and make it impossible for anyone or any group to make progress in the things of God. Unfortunately, these sins are more common than they should be and hence the apathy, deadness, deviousness and the superficiality that marks too many who call themselves "Christians".

May God awaken in us all a hunger for himself that drives us to strive for better and greater things not merely as individuals but as a mighty army of God's people who are determined to give him glory and praise!

Dealing with Persistent Sin

Brian Chesemore has a short article on “How do I maintain perspective when I am so often sinned against?” in a marriage relationship. He emphasizes the need to focus on the gospel:
... the gospel reminds us that God sent his blameless Son to die for such sins.

Such a gospel reminder, rightly meditated upon, will keep your heart full of mercy towards your spouse. A sinning spouse needs your prayers. Their tendency to sin against you only reveals their primary need for the fear of God and humility before him.

But not only does the other person's tendency to sin reveal their need for the gospel. We also need the gospel. Which is Chesemore's second point: "Your spouse’s sin must never be more grieving to you than your own sin against God."

Monday, August 28, 2006

Faith vs. Faith: An Apologetic Dialogue-Part 1

by Joseph E. Torres


This conversation is excerpted and adapted from a message board discussion regarding theistic arguments. After I presented the transcendental argument for the existence of God [TAG], another participant [we’ll call him Tom] took issue with my argument.


Joe: The transcendental argument for the existence of God [TAG] is more than an argument for the existence of the triune God of Bible. It is actually an argument for the truth of the entire Christian worldview. As opposed to the traditional arguments, which tend to focus on God being the first cause, the grand designer, or the most perfect being, TAG argues that it is God who makes cause, purpose, design, morality, science, and logic even intelligible in the first place. Without this particular God, nothing is intelligible, meaningful, or valuable.

Tom: I read a small amount of each link you posted before I realized that it was all taken out of the Bible and put into some semi-scientific language, and presented as a model for the history of the universe and the physical world. You are under the impression that without God, there can be no basis for science or morals. Science is observation based on thorough mathematic deduction, which does not appear to require God. Moreover, arguing that morals cannot exist without God sounds like arguing that children who do not learn right from wrong from their parents can never learn right from wrong from anyone. But if one were to live by the law of reciprocity, one would lead a truly moral life without the need for deity. Likewise, the Ten Commandments were not the origin of moral reasoning; they just took common beliefs and put them in the form of a command from God so that they would receive more respect.

To be honest, the only book about Christianity I’ve dabbled in is the Bible, which is marginally factual at best. To believe in Jesus as the Son of God, the Lord and Savior, takes more than blind faith; it takes a blind eye to the process of logical deduction, the scientific process. There is no logical way, through direct or indirect observation, using sound scientific method, to deduce that Jesus Christ was in any way divine. It's just another part of another one of earth’s countless belief systems. It has no basis in fact, it is a belief.

Joe: Thanks, Tom, for your comments. But you seem to miss the transcendental thrust of my arguments. I’m not saying that people cannot live morally, cannot do science, and cannot think rationally if they’re not Christian. What I’m saying is that their worldview cannot account for it. It cannot explain why it is that we can do science. It cannot explain the laws of logic, or human dignity, or the authority of morality. Non-Christians do know, in their heart of hearts, that God exists. I am simply saying that they borrow Christian principles in order to argue against Christianity.

Your reasons for rejecting Christianity are not concrete. In fact, they make tons of assumptions that you are unable to justify. For example, you assume repeatedly that evolutionary theory has discredited the scientific respectability of Christianity. But, as I’ve mentioned earlier, science depends upon the inductive principle; that the future will be like the past. Science needs the uniformity of nature in order for it to proceed with repeatable observation. But science cannot prove induction (because it’s not observable); induction must be established on other grounds. So, on what grounds do you justify induction? According to Darwinism, the universe has no structure that governs exactly how things occur. In a reality of chance, why expect the future to be like the past? After all, anything is possible! Remember, that’s how Darwinists say the world came into being.

I have a question for you. Are you a materialist? Do you think that all that is real is physical? If so, how do you explain the existence of laws of logic? You’ve said many times that Christian belief is sub-rational. But, how do you explain laws of logic? Are they just rules agreed upon by a bunch of people? If they are, why ought we to follow them? If they’re not absolute, what’s the big deal if we think out of accord with them? On the other hand, if they are universal, and binding upon all minds, how do you explain them? Are they physical objects? Do they exist in space somewhere? Do they exist in a world of Platonic forms?

My challenge to you is to account for the uniformity of nature, the authoritative nature of moral absolutes, and laws of rational thinking on a materialistic account. Unless you can justify these things, then it is you, not I, that operates on blind faith.

Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 8, Number 12, March 19 to March 25, 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

All Things To All Men

In The Nick of TimeFew passages of Scripture are more popular among contemporary Christians than 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23. Especially fashionable is Paul’s line in verse 22 about becoming “all things to all men.” This passage is commonly taken to mean that effective evangelism requires Christians to imitate the people around them. Many evangelicals cannot even imagine this interpretation being mistaken. It is even repeated by some fairly reputable commentators (Gordon Fee, for example) who, however, offer few reasons for accepting it.

Few such reasons exist. The popular interpretation is far more influenced by wishful thinking than it is by any factor in the context of 1 Corinthians 9. In fact, a careful study of the passage in its context yields quite a different interpretation.

1 Corinthians 9 is the center of an extended section dealing with meat offered to idols. This kind of meat was sold at a discount in the shambles and was often served in the homes of non‐Christians. Apparently, the Corinthian believers had asked Paul whether Christians could be permitted to eat meat which had been consecrated in idolatrous worship.

Broadly, Paul answers this question in two ways. In chapter 8, he argues that an idol is nothing. Since meat offered to idols has in reality been offered to nothing, it is not intrinsically tainted or polluted. All other things being equal, it may be eaten with safety.

In chapter 10, however, Paul argues that all other things are not necessarily equal. A key concept in 1 Corinthians 10 is identification. Paul notes that the Israelites were identified with (“baptized into”) Moses, and consequently with Christ, in the cloud and in the sea (1‐4). Because they were identified with God and His work, any subsequent identification with idols was intolerable (5‐10). Their experience serves as an analogy to instruct believers today (11‐14), and underlines the importance of keeping away from idolatry. Eating the Lord’s Supper identifies the believer with Christ (15‐17), just as eating from the altar identified the Levitical priests with God’s work (18). In the same way, eating idol‐meat can sometimes identify a person with idolatry, which is implicitly to identify with the demon who stands behind the idol (20‐22). This identification is a terrible sin that provokes the Lord to a dangerous jealousy. Clearly, Paul thinks that Christians should never do anything, including eating meat offered to idols, that would identify believers with demons.

Not only is eating to be restricted by the principle of identification; it is also to be restricted by the principle of avoiding offense. Paul names three categories of people: Jew (unsaved Israelites), Gentile (unsaved pagans), and the church of God (New Testament Christians). If eating offends any of these groups, it must be avoided (31‐33).

How far is this principle of avoiding offense to be taken? Paul actually addresses this question in chapter 8, where he gives one example of what it means to offend. Paul assumes that Christians must never defile their own consciences, even in circumstances under which they may actually have liberty (7). In other words, if a believer thinks it is wrong to eat meat offered to idols, then it actually is wrong for him or her. What if such a “weak” believer were to observe another Christian eating and enjoying the meat? Then the weak Christian might be emboldened to eat, even at the cost of transgressing conscience. Under these circumstances, not only has the weak Christian sinned by violating conscience, but the stronger Christian has also sinned by setting a bad example (9‐12).

Paul takes this very seriously. He states emphatically that if meat is going to cause his brother to offend, then he will not eat meat as long as the world stands (13). This seems like an extreme statement, and a reader might think that Paul is hyperbolizing. Evidently, Paul anticipated that the Corinthians might read his words with some incredulity. Therefore, he goes on in chapter 9 to assure them that he means exactly what he says.

Chapter 9 is Paul’s extended insistence that he is perfectly willing to surrender all sorts of rights and privileges. First, he establishes that he actually has certain rights and privileges: he has a right to sustenance, to take a wife, and to expect financial support (3‐6). These privileges are grounded in his apostleship (1‐2), in the example of the other apostles (5), in natural law (7), in the moral precedent of Mosaic legislation (9‐10), and in the relative value of spiritual and temporal goods (12). Paul insists that just as the Aaronic priests derived their living from the sacrifices of the altar, God has ordained that vocational preachers of the gospel should derive their living from their preaching (13‐14).

These are Paul’s rights. Yet he insists that he does not use them (12, 14). What matters is the preaching of the gospel (15‐17). The advance of the gospel is far more important than the exercise of any right or authority (18). Therefore, Paul’s actual conduct confirms that he means what he says about not eating meat if it offends a brother. He is perfectly willing to limit his rights for the sake of the gospel.

This entire discourse provides the context for 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23. These verses are popularly taken as Paul’s description of his positive strategy to gain a hearing for the gospel. People often assume that Paul attempted to imitate the customs, habits, and mores of those to whom he ministered, acting like a Jew when with Jews, a Gentile when with Gentiles, a weak person when among the weak, and so forth.

Some Christians go a step further. They find in this passage permission, or even an obligation, to adopt the same evangelistic strategy. To reach Goths, for example, they get tattooed and pierced and dress in black. To reach bikers they wear leather, and maybe even colors. The mind staggers to imagine their ministry among nudists or transvestites.

Paul’s point, however, is not that he imitates the customs, habits, traditions, mores, or even the look and feel of his intended audience. Rather, his point is about the exercise of his rights and liberties. When among Jews, he exercises no right that would be offensive to Jews. Among the weak, he does nothing to offend the weak. Among the Gentiles, he does nothing that would offend a Gentile. Paul’s point is that rights and liberties are to be freely surrendered for the sake of the gospel.

Perhaps we should mimic the customs and even the preferences of those to whom we minister. If so, that will have to be justified from some other passage. 1 Corinthians 9:19‐23 simply teaches us not to offend those whom we love.

Meditation 1

Edward Taylor (1642‐1729)

What Love is this of thine, that Cannot bee
In thine Infinity, O Lord, Confinde,
Unless it in thy very Person see,
Infinity, and Finity Conjoynʹd?
What hath thy Godhead, as not satisfide
Marriʹde our Manhood, making it its Bride?

Oh, Matchless Love! filling Heaven to the brim!
Oʹre running it: all running oʹre beside
This World! Nay Overflowing Hell; wherein
For thine Elect, there rose a mighty Tide!
That there our Veans might through thy Person bleed,
To quench those flames, that else would on us feed.

Oh! that thy Love might overflow my Heart!
To fire the same with Love: for Love I would.
But oh! my streightʹned Breast! my Lifeless Sparke!
My Fireless Flame! What Chilly Love, and Cold?
In measure small! In Manner Chilly! See.
Lord blow the Coal: Thy Love Enflame in mee.

Kevin Bauder

This essay is by Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of Central’s professors, students, or alumni necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses. In The Nick of Time is also archived here.

Kitsch and Christ

Kitsch and Christ -- Jason Janz returns from the recent Christian Bookseller’s Association (CBA) convention in Denver with an excellent post on "Jesus Junk":

Picture this. A man, dead in trespasses and sins, sits on Waikiki Beach as he gazes across the mostly naked bodies baking in the sun. He decides to take a stroll/strut down the water’s edge to “see what he can see.” Luckily, he glances down and sees an impression in the sand—right there in bold letters on the sand “Follow” and a little further “Jesus.” His eyes follow the footsteps and sure enough. About 15 feet further down the beach is a beautiful babe wearing just enough clothes to keep a squirrel warm on a windy day. Conviction overwhelms him as he gazes at her. He runs to her and grabs her hand and says, “Please, give me a reason for the hope that lies within you.” She says, “I’d love to. I’ve been waiting for this divine appointment.” He takes in her breath, recently made fresh by her Scripture Mint. And right there, she flips her hair over her shoulder, takes out her EvangeCube, kneels with him on the beach, and leads him in the sinner’s prayer. As they part, she encourages him to take her sandals and continue to spread the Word wherever he goes. After all, how beautiful are the feet of them . . .

If you give people Scripture mints or wear Virtuous Woman perfume and think your are fulfilling the Great Commission, then you must read this post -- and repent of your misguided ways.

Friday, August 25, 2006

CD Review - Valley of Vision

By Tim Challies

Contemporary praise and worship music has achieved a poor reputation. It is often regarded as being of poor quality both musically and lyrically. Sadly, this critique is often accurate. Yet there are some who swim against this current. It is only in the last year or so that I have been introduced to an organization that produces music to which these critiques cannot apply. Sovereign Grace Music has released a wide variety of albums which provide not only top-quality music, but excellent, God-glorifying song-writing. The latest project, released only a couple of weeks ago, Valley of Vision, is based on the classic book of Puritan prayers of the same name.

Why would Sovereign Grace create a project based on the prayers of a bunch of dead guys? "That's an easy one. Puritans like John Bunyan, Thomas Watson, Richard Baxter, and Isaac Watts knew their hearts, their Bibles, and their God much better than we do. Many of them wrote down their prayers not to be published, but to assess their own spiritual growth and to encourage themselves in times of spiritual dryness. These prayers reveal a personal, humble, passionate relationship with an awesome God, a living Savior, and an active Spirit. Reading their meditations inspires us to pursue the same level of reality as we worship God." The two-fold purpose of this CD is to encourage the listener deepen his relationship with God as he becomes more aware of his own sin and God's holiness and that the listener will be inspired to read the book of prayers that inspired the album. "We pray that you won't simply read them, but that they will become a springboard for your own prayers and meditation in your relationship with our great, merciful, and changeless God who is, ever and always, there to meet us in the Valley of Vision."

The CD begins with "In the Valley," sung by Shannon Harris. Shannon has a stunningly beautiful voice, though having heard it live at the WorshipGod06 conference, I have to admit that I love the purity of her voice in a live performance just a little bit better than the slightly more engineered sound on the CD. She sings a powerful song based on the prayer "The Valley of Vision" and asks God to let her find His grace, life and joy. For sake of comparison, here is the original prayer and the song based on it:

Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold Thy glory. Let me learn by paradox that the way down is the way up, that to be low is to be high, that the broken heart is the healed heart, that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit, that the repenting soul is the victorious soul, that to have nothing is to possess all, that to bear the cross is to wear the crown, that to give is to receive, that the valley is the place of vision. Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter Thy stars shine; let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.

And here is the song:

When You lead me to the valley of vision I can see You in the heights And though my humbling wouldn't be my decision It's here Your glory shines so bright So let me learn that the cross precedes the crown To be low is to be high That the valley's where You make me more like Christ

Let me find Your grace in the valley
Let me find Your life in my death
Let me find Your joy in my sorrow
Your wealth in my need
That You're near with every breath
In the valley

In the daytime there are stars in the heavens
But they only shine at night
And the deeper that I go into darkness
The more I see their radiant light
So let me learn that my losses are my gain
To be broken is to heal
That the valley's where Your power is revealed

A couple of up-tempo songs follow. "All That I Need," sung by Stephen Altrogge, declares that Jesus Christ is the believer's only hope and the only one who can satisfy the heart's deepest longings. "Heavenly Father, Beautiful Son" is a song of thanks to God for His work of election and for providing His Son as Savior. "How Deep" explores the love of Christ and the mid-tempo "I Come Running" is a song of praise to Jesus, written and performed by Mark Altrogge, acknowledging our need of the Savior. My favorite track on this album, and one we sang near the close of the WorshipGod Conference, is "Let Your Kingdom Come," written by Bob Kauflin and based on the prayer "God's Cause." It is a perfect choice to end a service or conference and calls upon God to let His kingdom come. "Let Your Kingdom Come / Let Your will be done / So that everyone might know Your Name / Let Your song be heard everywhere on earth / Till Your sovereign work on earth is done / Let Your kingdom come." Perhaps it could have been the final track on the album!

This is followed by "O Great God," a hymn eminently suitable to corporate worship that celebrates the sovereignty of God and His work of redemption. "Help me now to live a life / That's dependent on Your grace / Keep my heart and guard my soul / From the evils that I face / You are worthy to be praised / With my every thought and deed / O great God of highest heaven / Glorify Your name through me."

The CD continues with "It Was Your Grace," "Only Jesus," "The Precious Blood," "It Was Love," and "Who Made Me To Know You." Each song explores a different theme and each centers upon the gospel of Jesus Christ. These songs feature vocals by Kyle Davis, Shannon Harris and Megan Russell. Standout tracks, and ones that are most suitable to corporate worship, include "Only Jesus" and "The Precious Blood."

Valley of Vision is a unique concept and one that could easily have fallen flat. Thankfully, Sovereign Grace did the project justice and have created an album that is beautiful, inspiring and full of the gospel. With many tracks suitable to corporate worship and all suitable for private worship (or for just singing with the car windows wide open), Valley of Vision is a worthy addition to any CD collection. Like previous Sovereign Grace music projects, it is well-written, well-produced and of the utmost quality. I heartily recommend it.

Valley of Vision is available for purchase from the Sovereign Grace Store. Be sure to take a look at the other CD projects available such as Songs For The Cross Centered Life and Awesome God. Sample audio clips, lead sheets and chord charts for this album are available for no cost from the Sovereign Grace Ministries.