Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Book Review: "Power from on High" by Charles Finney


Many people are unaware that Charles Finney was actually a very dangerous heretic. Today he remains a little popular in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles; I think because these circles are easily attracted to passionate individuals. But as Paul the apostle warned, there is a zeal without knowledge that is deadly (Romans 10:1-4).

Charles Finney did not understand and did not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He created his own systematic theology that was based on the wisdom of man and was not based on the Scriptures. Finney knew nothing of the righteousness that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the works of law (Romans 1:17, 3:21-26). To Finney, a person could only be saved if they stopped sinning and obeyed the law of God. Righteousness was based upon works, not the death of Christ and faith alone in Him. Such is human, natural wisdom that seems to make sense but is actually death, because the Scriptures teach us that no one can be justified before God by their works (Rom. 3:19-20, Gal. 3:10), and our own experience shows us this is true. The law of God can only condemn us. While it seems to make sense that we should obey God's law in order to be right with Him, such a path leads to destruction. The wisdom of God is Christ. As guilty sinners we look away from ourselves and from our works and put our trust completely in another for our righteousness and our salvation. Finney sadly did not understand this.

This book is filled with that human wisdom which says: if you want God's blessings you need to obey God's law. If you want power, you need to work for it. Finney lays down all sorts of rules which have an appearance of wisdom but will ultimately not help and will only harm a person who follows his advice. It reminds me exactly of Paul's saying in Colossians 2:23:

"These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Everyone who has followed Finney's advice has experienced what Paul has said. Even in Finney's day, the young men who followed him got burned out and many eventually fell away from the faith. Please beware of this false teacher. Satan sends his ministers as "ministers of righteousness" but they are not true ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).

Let me strongly encourage you to read Horatius Bonar's book "God's Way of Peace." This is one of the greatest books on the gospel one can read. Reading it will be one of the best things in life you've ever done.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8... 

Beware of Charles Finney



A reply to someone who asked me about Charles Finney's book "Power from on High".

Greetings T----,

Many people are unaware that Charles Finney was actually a very dangerous heretic. Today he remains a little popular in Pentecostal/Charismatic circles; I think because these circles are easily attracted to passionate individuals. But as Paul the apostle warned, there is a zeal without knowledge that is deadly (Romans 10:1-4).

Charles Finney did not understand and did not preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. He created his own systematic theology that was based on the wisdom of man and was not based on the Scriptures. Finney knew nothing of the righteousness that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ apart from the works of law (Romans 1:17, 3:21-26). To Finney, a person could only be saved if they stopped sinning and obeyed the law of God. Righteousness was based upon works, not the death of Christ and faith alone in Him. Such is human, natural wisdom that seems to make sense but is actually death, because the Scriptures teach us that no one can be justified before God by their works (Rom. 3:19-20, Gal. 3:10), and our own experience shows us this is true. The law of God can only condemn us. While it seems to make sense that we should obey God's law in order to be right with Him, such a path leads to destruction. The wisdom of God is Christ. As guilty sinners we look away from ourselves and from our works and put our trust completely in another for our righteousness and our salvation. Finney sadly did not understand this.

This book is filled with that human wisdom which says: if you want God's blessings you need to obey God's law. If you want power, you need to work for it. Finney lays down all sorts of rules which have an appearance of wisdom but will ultimately not help and will only harm a person who follows his advice. It reminds me exactly of Paul's saying in Colossians 2:23:

"These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh."

Everyone who has followed Finney's advice has experienced what Paul has said. Even in Finney's day, the young men who followed him got burned out and many eventually fell away from the faith. Please beware of this false teacher. Satan sends his ministers as "ministers of righteousness" but they are not true ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15).

Let me strongly encourage you to read Horatius Bonar's book "God's Way of Peace." This is one of the greatest books on the gospel one can read. Reading it will be one of the best things in life you've ever done.

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8... 

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

A Christ-Like Gift

I wrote the following for the local Herald Journal newspaper as a response to someone who commented on the recent same-sex marriages that took place in Cache County, saying that they couldn't think of a more "Christ-like" gift.

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Hello,
You mentioned that you couldn't think of a more Christ-like gift. But let's think for a moment about what would qualify a gift as "Christ-like".
A Christ-like gift would not be a gift that disregards the Word of God. It would not be a gift that disregards right and wrong, and that conforms to whatever is popular. For this very reason a Christ-like gift would not be much appreciated by a God-hating world.
When we read in the Bible about Christ (which is where we learn about Christ and what a Christ-like gift is) and when we read about the gift that He gave to the world, it was the gift of Himself dying on the cross for our sins. His gift is the forgiveness of sins, not the ignoring of sins; His gift is reconciliation to God because of a violated law, not the nullification of the law of God. Christ was rejected because of His stand for the Word of God. Christ upheld the law of God and therefore no Christ-like gift would condone homosexuality, which is explicitly condemned in the law (Lev. 20:13). These are simply the facts.
Before it is pointed out that the law also supports certain things that we don't practice anymore (such as stoning and not eating pork), it is essential to understand that there are many things in the law that were strictly ceremonial and with the coming of Christ they have ceased to be obligatory. But the moral aspect of the law never changes because it is the expression of the righteous character of God who never changes.
The reason we don't stone people anymore is not because sins have ceased to be sins, nor have they ceased to be serious. The reason why stoning shouldn't happen is because, as Jesus said, "He who has no sin cast the first stone." (John 8:7) We are not to think that today nobody deserves death according to God, but rather, according to Romans 1:28-32 we ALL deserve death and therefore no one is qualified to be the judge but God alone. God alone is the judge of the world and He has every right to throw stones, but at Christmastime we remember that He sent His Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but to die for the world, on the cross for our sins, so that we would not have to die but can have eternal life. This is God's great mercy towards sinners, which includes all of us.
So a true Christ-like gift would look like forgiving others even though they are sinners and don't deserve it. Forgiveness isn't about worthiness and deserts, but, as the Bible shows us, it's all about grace. Let's all give the Christ-like gift of forgiveness this year and always. That doesn't mean nullifying the law and saying things aren't sins when they really are, but it does mean forgiving and embracing each other as sinners, and helping each other through our trials and temptations. I can't think of a more Christ-like gift than that.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Paul Speratus - Salvation Unto Us Has Come

This is a beautiful hymn written by a brother in the 16th century, during the days of the Reformation. You can pick up on his wonder and joy in the rediscovery of the old gospel!

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"Salvation unto us has come
By God’s free grace and favor;
Good works cannot avert our doom,
They help and save us never.
Faith looks to Jesus Christ alone,
Who did for all the world atone;
He is our one Redeemer.

What God did in His law demand
And none to Him could render
Caused wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the Law requires,
And lost is our condition.

It was a false, misleading dream
That God His Law had given
So sinners could themselves redeem
And by their works gain Heaven.
The Law is but a mirror bright
To bring the inbred sin to light
That lurks within our nature.

From sin our flesh could not abstain
Sin held its sway unceasing;
The task was useless and in vain,
Our guilt was e’er increasing.
None can remove sin’s poisoned dart
Or purify our guileful heart—
So deep is our corruption.

Yet as the Law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and hath God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He hath for us the Law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ hath full atonement made
And brought us to salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Thy grace alone, dear Lord, I plead,
Thy death is now my life indeed,
For Thou hast paid my ransom.

Let me not doubt, but trust in Thee,
Thy Word cannot be broken;
Thy call rings out, “Come unto Me!”
No falsehood hast Thou spoken.
Baptized into Thy precious name,
My faith cannot be put to shame,
And I shall never perish.

The Law reveals the guilt of sin
And makes men conscience-stricken;
The Gospel then doth enter in
The sinful soul to quicken.
Come to the cross, trust Christ, and live;
The Law no peace can ever give,
No comfort and no blessing.

Faith clings to Jesus’ cross alone
And rests in Him unceasing;
And by its fruits true faith is known,
With love and hope increasing.
Yet faith alone doth justify,
Works serve thy neighbor and supply
The proof that faith is living.

All blessing, honor, thanks, and praise
To Father, Son, and Spirit,
The God that saved us by His grace—
All glory to His merit!
O triune God in Heav’n above,
Who hast revealed Thy saving love,
Thy bless├Ęd name be hallowed."

---- Paul Speratus, 1523

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Free to Do Whatever You Want

Here is a comment I made on Facebook in a discussion over this board of Brad's:


The way that I read Romans 6-7, a Christian is now able to not let sin have mastery over him (6:12). This is not the case for the non-Christian, so I agree with J-- that there is an existential difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. However, it seems clear to me also that the REASON for the difference - the reason why sin doesn't have to have mastery over a Christian but why sin does have to have mastery over a non-Christian - is because the Christian is not under law while the non-Christian is (6:14, 7:1-6). What this means is that when we are under law and its obligations, sin stirs us to rebel (7:7-24), so that anyone under law and obligations must be a slave to sin. The law is what gives sin its power: the "have to" makes us "not want to". But since the Christian is freed from law and obligation, having died with Christ, they are now free to pursue goodness because they "want" to and not because they "have" to, and it is only in this situation of fresh air that sin doesn't gain mastery. So ironically, the very good law is our problem, not because the law is bad but because we are. Only when I am free to do whatever I want am I free to do whatever I want! I am not suggesting that Christians can just sit back and relax and expect to produce goodness - no! It is not automatic. Doing good requires effort, diligence, focus, desire, etc. We are exhorted repeatedly to do good as Christians in the New Testament... but we are never threatened! The Christian can do good if he wants to, and the trick now becomes making the Christian WANT to do good, through showing him the beauty of God in Christ, the value of his neighbor, the consequences of his actions, etc. But the key is: he is henceforth never ever to do good because he HAS to, under threat. That is the law, and that is what the Christian is freed from forevermore. So the truth is, Christians are justified and are justly free to do whatever they want. Amen. Now let us pursue goodness, because we can.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

John Piper: A Brief Theology of Sleep

Found this precious piece from John Piper online. The theology of sleep! May we all truly take this to heart.

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A Brief Theology of Sleep
At 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning the world is not dark, but there is no color. Everything is black and white and grey, except for the orange light on the garage across the street that shines through my bedroom window. There is no breeze, and the poplar leaves are caught like a snapshot in stillness. The stars are gone but the sun is not up yet; so you can’t tell if the grey sky is overcast or clear. Very soon we will know.
I sit on the edge of my bed trying to develop a theology of sleep. Why did God design us to need sleep? We sleep a third of our lives. Just think of it: a third of our lives spent like dead men. Just think of everything being left undone that could be done had God not designed us to need sleep. There is surely no doubt that he could have created us with no need for sleep. And just think, everyone could devote himself to two careers, and not feel tired. Everyone could be a “full-time Christian worker” and still keep his job. There is so much of our Father’s business we could be about.
Why did God imagine sleep? He never sleeps! He thought the idea up out of nothing. He thought it up for his earthly creatures. Why! Psalm 127:2 says, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved in his sleep.” According to this text sleep is a gift of love, and the gift is often spurned by anxious toil. Peaceful sleep is the opposite of anxiety. God does not want his children to be anxious, but to trust him. Therefore I conclude that God made sleep as a continual reminder that we should not be anxious but should rest in him.
Sleep is a daily reminder from God that we are not God. “He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). But Israel will. For we are not God. Once a day God sends us to bed like patients with a sickness. The sickness is a chronic tendency to think we are in control and that our work is indispensable. To cure us of this disease God turns us into helpless sacks of sand once a day. How humiliating to the self-made corporate executive that he has to give up all control and become as limp as a suckling infant every day.
Sleep is a parable that God is God and we are mere men. God handles the world quite nicely while a hemisphere sleeps. Sleep is like a broken record that comes around with the same message every day: Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Man is not sovereign. Don’t let the lesson be lost on you. God wants to be trusted as the great worker who never tires and never sleeps. He is not nearly so impressed with our late nights and early mornings as he is with the peaceful trust that casts all anxieties on him and sleeps.
In quest of rest,
Pastor John

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Book Review: "Believing Christ" by Stephen E. Robinson

I am not a Mormon, but I live in Utah and spend much of my time talking about Christianity with Mormon friends and students at the university. This book was recommended to me many times by many people, usually after discussions regarding the controversy of grace and works, and so I finally got around to reading it.

I can say without exaggeration that this was one of the worst books I have ever read. It was theologically shameful. It was full of platitudes. It was full of the wisdom of man, that devilish wisdom that James warns about which is contrary to the wisdom of God. It was an attempt to relate and compare our relationship with God to our relationship with human beings, ignoring everything the Bible has to say about God's ways being higher than our ways. Reading this book was painful, and I truly pity all those who have read this book and indicated that they liked it.

Plato's probing question "What is righteousness?" is the most important question a person can ask. The Bible is chiefly concerned with this question, and also the question of how a person can be righteous before God. Robinson addresses himself to this question in the book, and amazingly defines righteousness as "being relatively righteous compared with the rest of the world" (p. 27)! Throughout the book Robinson never states what righteousness actually is, and what is required of us by God, but continues to use ambiguous phrases like "better than others", "doing what can reasonably be expected of you", "trying your best", doing what you can", etc. Well, the great question would then be "What can reasonably be expected of you?" Robinson never explains. We are left in the dark, with nothing more than the supposedly good news that we must simply try, and not worry if we fail, because we can repent and try again, and again, and again... for now at least. Robinson continues to inform us that this ambiguous process of failing and yet feeling good about ourselves will one day come to an end when we actually have to do it.

Robinson actually says on page 88-89 and 103-104 that the "aim" of Christ's covenant is to make you independent of Christ Himself. The goal is for you to become self-sufficient so you no longer need Jesus. He is only necessary as a stepping stone for now, but later you will not need Him. Then there will be a little backyard party in heaven for you celebrating your arrival to self-sufficiency. Congratulations! You don't need Jesus anymore! How wonderful. This is blasphemy of the highest kind. One only needs to read the Bible to discover that righteousness can never be obtained through our obedience to the commandments, and that complete trust in Jesus Christ alone is the only way to be righteous before God, both now and forever. There will never be a time when we will not need Jesus. We will never be righteous on our own. Jesus is not a temporary welfare program "for now": He is our everlasting righteousness (Dan. 9:24).

The Parable of the Bicycle confirms the continued emphasis of the book that salvation is a team effort and partnership with Christ; that you and Christ are co-Saviors. You have to do your part, and if you do, then Christ will do His part. Salvation is thus not only conditional on your own works, but is a team effort according to Robinson. If you don't give your little jar of pennies to Christ (which when translated to real life means doing all you can do, and that is no little jar), only then will Christ pay for the rest of the bike. And Robinson states on page 33 that the actual end goal is for you to pay for the bicycle all on your own! What a goal. In the words of Boyd K. Packer:

"The mediator turned then to the debtor. 'If I pay your debt, will you accept me as your creditor?'

'Oh yes, yes,' cried the debtor. 'You saved me from prison and show mercy to me.'

'Then,' said the benefactor, 'you will pay the debt to me and I will set the terms. It will not be easy, but it will be possible." (The Mediator)

So the little girl has to pay daddy back after all. Is this a gift? What if she doesn't pay? Who ultimately is the savior?

On page 36 Robinson defines a covenant as always and only being two-way. This is what Mormons have been taught to believe, even though the very first covenant ever mentioned in the Bible is a one-way covenant without any conditions for man to fulfill (Genesis 9). In this way the glory of the gospel covenant is nullified, and an endless and impossible two-way covenant is entered, which never can give peace to the individual. Simply face reality: you are failing at the so-called New Covenant of Christ. You don't do your best. You don't do what is reasonably expected of you. The Bible does not speak of the gospel this way. Christ did not come to make a deal or partnership with you, but He came to save you. He came to save sinners by His grace. Simply trust in Him to do all the saving. No one who ever trusts in Christ to save them will hear from God on judgment day: "I'm sorry, you should not have been trusting in Christ so much. You should not have thought He was so good. You should have kept the commandments... more."

All Robinson is essentially saying in this book is that you don’t need to actually obey the commandments of God to be forgiven. You just have to try, and not actually do it (though what is trying? He does not say). All he is actually doing is lowering the standard so the guilty can feel good about themselves rather than admit their guilt. It is the work of the devil to suppress the truth, and to make you feel like you are obedient when you are not. When you feel guilty (because you are guilty), Satan comes along and says "Don't feel guilty. God won't punish you. Besides, you're trying. You aren't perfect, but God doesn't require that. "All" doesn't really mean all, and "always" doesn't really mean always. I don't know what God requires, but whatever it is you are okay. Don't give in to your guilty feelings. Trust that you are a good person. Trust that you are going to make it because Christ believes you can do your part." (Who is doing the believing? Are we believing in Christ or is Christ believing in us?) God wants you to trust in Christ, that He saves guilty sinners. God wants you to look away from your own goodness and trust in grace. The truth is, we are all guilty, bad, hell-deserving sinners. In the light of this, the amazing news is that God loves guilty, bad, hell-deserving sinners, and that Christ died to save us freely by grace. There are no conditions of works. Trusting Christ is not a work, but a ceasing to work; a ceasing from thinking you have to be good to be saved, and a believing that Christ will save the ungodly (Romans 4:5), just as He said. This is really good news for those who know the truth, but upsetting news for those who want to pretend that they have personal righteousness.

This book is just another proof that Mormonism is based upon doctrine of devils and not the Word of God. Mormonism draws your attention and hope away from Christ and makes you focus on yourself. Please consider your ways.

"They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace; when there is no peace." (Jeremiah 6:14)

Monday, September 30, 2013

Book Review: "The Art of Manfishing" by Thomas Boston

This is an impressive little volume considering the fact that Thomas Boston wrote it when he was only 22 years old. Also, considering the fact the entire book is written to himself, addressed to his own "soul", Boston's "The Art of Manfishing" is a fascinating window into the mind and inner machinations of a young Puritan.

Since "The Art of Manfishing" is a Puritan book, it is both deeply helpful and deeply flawed. The Puritans are deeply helpful in that their sobriety about life is contagious. They took life seriously and they took God seriously. They kept the reality of death and judgment to come in view in all that they wrote and did. We all can have more of this. On the other hand, the Puritans were deeply flawed in that they understood the gospel in a kind of schizophrenic way: on the one hand they believed in the gift of righteousness that is by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone, but on the other hand they also believed that God would be angry with them and punish them if they sinned or disobeyed Him. Thus their joy in the gospel was practically nullified, and many Puritans lived discouraged lives, hoping in the grace of God yet lamenting the feeling that God was constantly displeased with them (see the case of John Bunyan in this regard).

The most valuable issue Boston raises in the book concerns Jesus' saying: "Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men." Boston asks the question, "How does Christ make men fishers of men?" Is it that He only makes them fishers by office, regardless of their success, or does He also make them successful fishermen? In other words, according to this saying, when a man follows Christ, does Christ promise success at fishing, or only that the person will become a fisher? This is an excellent question, worth asking. Boston answers affirmatively, that Christ will make a man both a fisher by office and also successful, provided that the man follows Christ and imitates Christ's example. Boston doesn't set out to prove his point in the book, but only proceeds to lay out the example of Christ for us to follow. Therefore the question remains an excellent question to explore with others.

Boston challenges preachers of the gospel to study the life of Christ, to examine why they are preaching (for what end and for whose glory?), and to see their need for following Christ's example in manfishing.

The example of Christ is laid out by Boston in eight points (the following is in my own words):

1. Christ preached because He was sent.
2. Christ sought to glorify God.
3. Christ had the good of souls in view.
4. Christ was emotionally affected by men's state.
5. Christ was much in prayer.
6. Christ shunned man's praise and material security.
7. Christ sought for souls in private.
8. Christ sought for souls in public.

These points are all very true and good. I especially thought his first point was profound, though I feel like he himself did not grasp the profundity of it. Boston made much of being ordained by the Church to preach, but didn't talk as much about the sense of being called by God to preach. According to the Scriptures the Church is commanded by Christ to preach the gospel into all the world. Stress does not need to be laid upon personal unique callings, but upon the universal call that we, the Body, have already received. Since Christ preached with the knowledge that He was sent, and with the awareness that He was not preaching of His own accord, so the Church must also preach with the crucial awareness that we are not preaching of our own accord and initiative, but that we, like Christ, are sent as well. Good preaching is preaching with this sense, or awareness, of calling.

Another good point Boston made was the need to care about souls and to be emotionally affected by their case. He highlights how Jesus had compassion for souls and wept over their case, and how Jesus was grieved for souls because of the hardness of their hearts. Christ was not careless and emotionally removed. He knew the value of souls. How can a fisherman be successful if he doesn't see the value of fish? He will not make a very good effort, and use all his skill in order to catch fish if he doesn't see the value of them. Boston exhorts us to have the mind of Christ in this regard.

Probably the main point Boston makes in the book is the need for prayer. One will not be successful in manfishing if one is not praying. Christ prayed. Prayer is so important to Boston, that little else is. We need to beseech God to use our preaching, to break hard hearts, to drive the fish into the net, to keep the devil away, to keep us healthy and capable, to give us clarity and power in preaching, etc. This can only be good advice. While we are prone to wonder what good prayer can do, and we wonder why God even wants us to pray since He already knows everything before we ask, nevertheless we have the example of Jesus Christ before us. If the Son of God prayed, it doesn't really matter what our doubts may be. We, too, need to pray.

"The Art of Manfishing" is a good book. I wouldn't say that it is a great book. It contains much of what you will find in any book on evangelism. Boston's Puritanism gets in the way too much of the time, and as I said, this has a good side and a bad side. Nevertheless, I appreciate our brother's passion for souls and his desire to follow Christ's example. His sobriety about life is so important for our age to understand. I pray that we may all have the same passion for souls in our hearts, and the same desire to follow the One who makes us fishers of men.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Socrates on the Existence and Goodness of the Divine

I came across this remarkable passage in Xenophon's Memorabilia, Book IV, Chapter 3, in which Xenophon records a dialogue he heard between Socrates and a young man named Euthydemus regarding the existence and goodness of the gods. It immediately made me think of Paul's saying in Acts 14:15-17,

"We preach unto you that you should turn from these vanities unto the living God, who made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein: who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless He left not Himself without a witness, in that He did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness."

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“Tell me,” said he, “Euthydemus, has it ever occurred to you to consider how carefully the gods have provided for men everything that they require?”    

“It has indeed never occurred to me,” replied he.

“You know at least,” proceeded Socrates, “that we stand in need, first of all, of light, with which the gods supply us.”

“Yes, by Jupiter,” answered Euthydemus, “for if we had no light, we should be, as to the use of our eyes, like the blind.”

“But, as we require rest, they afford us night, the most suitable season for repose.”

“That is assuredly,” said Euthydemus, “a subject for thankfulness.”

“Then because the sun, being luminous, shows us the hours of the day, and everything else, while the night, being dark, prevents us from making such distinctions in it, have they not caused the stars to shine in the night, which show us the night-watches, and under the direction of which we perform many things that we require?”

“So it is,” said he.

“The moon, too, makes plain to us not only the divisions of the night, but also of the month.”

“Assuredly,” said he.

“But that, since we require food, they should raise it for us from the earth, and appoint suitable seasons for the purpose, which prepare for us, in abundance and every variety, not only things which we need, but also things from which we derive pleasure, (what do you think of such gifts?)”

“They certainly indicate love for man.”

“And that they should supply us with water, an element of such value to us, that it causes to spring up, and unites with the earth and the seasons in bringing to maturity, everything useful for us, and assists also to nourish ourselves, and, being mixed with all our food, renders it easier of digestion, more serviceable, and more pleasant; and that, as we require water in great quantities, they should supply us with it in such profusion, (what do you think of such a gift?)”

“That also,” said he, “shows thought for us.”

“That they should also give us fire, a protection against cold and darkness, an auxiliary in every art and in everything that men prepare for their use, (for, in a word, men produce nothing of any consequence among the various things necessary to life, without the aid of fire,) (what do you think of such a gift?)”

“That, likewise,” said he, “excels in philanthropy.”

“That they should diffuse the air also around us everywhere in such abundance, as not only to preserve and support life, but to enable us to cross the seas by means of it, and to get provisions by sailing hither and thither among foreign lands, is not this a boon inexpressibly valuable?”

“It is indeed inexpressibly so,” replied he.

“That the sun, too, when it turns towards us in the winter, should approach to mature some things, and to dry up others whose season (for ripening) has passed away; and that, having effected these objects, he should not come nearer to us, but turn back, as if taking care lest he should hurt us by giving us more heat than is necessary; and that when again, in his departure, he arrives at the point at which it becomes evident that, if he were to go beyond it, we should be frozen by the cold, he should again turn towards us, and approach us, and revolve in that precise part of the heaven in which he may be of most advantage to us, what do you think of things so regulated?”

“By Jupiter,” replied Euthydemus, “they appear to be appointed solely for the sake of man.”

“Again, that the sun, because it is certain that we could not endure such heat or cold if it should come upon us suddenly, should approach us so gradually, and retire from us so gradually, that we are brought imperceptibly to the greatest extremes of both, (what do you think of that appointment?)”    

“I am reflecting, indeed,” said Euthydemus, “whether the gods can have any other business than to take care of man; only this thought embarrasses me, that other animals partake in these benefits.”

“But is not this also evident,” said Socrates, “that these animals are produced and nourished for the sake of man? For what other animal derives so many benefits from goats, sheep, horses, oxen, asses, and other such creatures, as man? To me it appears that he gains more advantages from them than from the fruits of the earth; at least he is fed and enriched not less from the one than from the other; and a great portion of mankind do not use the productions of the earth for food, but live by herds of cattle, supported by their milk, and cheese, and flesh; and all men tame and train the useful sort of animals, and use them as help for war and other purposes.”

“I agree with what you say on that point,” said Euthydemus, “for I see some animals much stronger than we, rendered so subservient to men that they use them for whatever they please.”

“But that, since there are numberless beautiful and useful objects in the world, greatly differing from one another, the gods should have bestowed on men senses adapted to each of them, by means of which we enjoy every advantage from them; that they should have implanted understanding in us, by means of which we reason about what we perceive by the senses, and, assisted by the memory, learn how far everything is beneficial, and contrive many plans, by which we enjoy good and avoid evil; and that they should have given us the faculty of speech, by means of which by information we impart to one another, whatever is good, and participate in it, enact laws, and enjoy constitutional government, what think you of such blessings?”

“The gods certainly appear, Socrates, to exercise the greatest care for man in every way.”

“And that, since we are unable to foresee what is for our advantage with regard to the future, they should assist us in that respect, communicating what will happen to those who inquire of them by divination, and instructing them how their actions may be most for their benefit, (what thoughts does that produce in you?)”

“The gods seem to show you, Socrates,” rejoined he, “more favor than other men, since they indicate to you, without being asked, what you ought to do, and what not to do.”

“And that I speak the truth, you yourself also well know, if you do not expect to see the bodily forms of the gods, but will be content, as you behold their works, to worship and honor them. Reflect, too, that the gods themselves give us this intimation; for the other deities that give us blessings, do not bestow any of them by coming manifestly before our sight; and he that orders and holds together the whole universe, in which are all things beautiful and good, and who preserves it, for us who enjoy it, always unimpaired, undisordered, and undecaying, obeying his will swifter than thought and without irregularity, is himself manifested (only) in the performance of his mighty works, but is invisible to us while he regulates them. Consider also that the sun, which appears manifest to all, does not allow men to contemplate him too curiously, but, if any one tries to gaze on him steadfastly, deprives him of his sight. The instruments of the deities you will likewise find imperceptible; for the thunderbolt, for instance, though it is plain that it is sent from above, and works its will with everything with which it comes in contact, is yet never seen either approaching, or striking, or retreating; the winds, too, are themselves invisible, though their effects are evident to us, and we perceive their course. The soul of man, moreover, which partakes of the divine nature if anything else in man does, rules, it is evident, within us, but is itself unseen. Meditating on these facts, therefore, it behoves you not to despise the unseen gods, but, estimating their power from what is done by them, to reverence what is divine.”

Monday, September 02, 2013

A New Heart I Will Give Them

Hey D----, thanks so much for the encouragement you've been to Brad and I. I thank God for the fellowship that we share in the knowledge of Christ, even though we've never met. My prayer is that our knowledge might become crystal clear in the great mystery of the gospel so that we may abound in love (Philippians 1:9-11). None of what we believe is merely mental: it is truth that is meant to fill our minds, then affect our words and actions. Unfortunately there are many obstacles each step of the way. May God enable us to clear them all!

Your question is so important, because this matter of the new heart is at the forefront of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:33). Obviously if we want to understand the New Covenant (and therefore Christianity) we must know what this means. It should be easy for us to see that misunderstanding this point will have tragic consequences. Since the Biblical language is not completely unambiguous, and since we all often approach the Bible with lots of preconceived ideas and/or lack of needed information, it is no wonder that there are different views, or absence of views, in the Church. I want to offer some observations that I hope will be helpful, and try steering the interpretive ship in what I believe is the right direction.

Though it may often be taken for granted, it is helpful to notice that the passages in Ezekiel (11:18-20, 36:25-28) and the Jeremiah/Hebrews passages are all speaking about the same thing, even though they use different wording. In fact, the different wording enables us to see multiple aspects of the same phenomenon. All of them are referring to the salvation of Israel, the phenomenon of conversion from darkness to light, of being delivered out from under the curse of the law into God's blessing. The knowledge of God is central to each of them; Israel goes from not knowing God to knowing Him. The forgiveness of sins is explicit in the Jeremiah/Hebrews passages and is the linchpin upon when all the other blessings depend. The forgiveness of sins is also in the Ezekiel passages, though implicitly and not explicitly. If it were not, then nothing that Ezekiel says would happen.

In Jeremiah/Hebrews, the wording is that God will "put His laws in their hearts, and write them in their minds." The fact that Heb. 8:10 and 10:16 reverse the order of "heart" and "mind" shows that they are synonymous. In the Ezekiel passages, the wording is different: "A new heart will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you; and I will take away your stony heart, and give you a heart of flesh." But though the wording is different, are they speaking about two different things? Or should we understand them to be speaking about one thing from different perspectives?

It has been my experience (maybe you have found otherwise?) that most commentators interpret the Ezekiel passages without any mention of the law. They tend to interpret the "heart of stone" being turned into a "heart of flesh" as a general transformation of the nature of man from being insensible to spiritual things (in general) to being sensitive to and conscious of spiritual things (in general). They draw much attention to the differences between "stone" and "flesh", as to how one is insensible to talk and touch while the other is sensible. Matthew Henry is typical - notice the key word "insensible" and the words that are related to it, as well as how generally he speaks:

"That, instead of a heart of stone, insensible and inflexible, unapt to receive any divine impressions and to return any devout affections, God would give a heart of flesh, a soft and tender heart, that has spiritual senses exercised, conscious to itself of spiritual pains and pleasures, and complying in every thing with the will of God." (Commentary on the Whole Bible, Ezekiel 36:26)

Actually, there are two distinct things that Henry points out. One is insensibility, and the other is inflexibility. The first has to do with the fact that a stone doesn't sense anything. The second has to do with the fact that a stone is difficult (if not impossible) to bend. A thing may be insensible and flexible, like clay. Most of what Henry says has to do with sensibility. Only the last phrase about "complying" has to do with flexibility, and that regarding generalities.

I personally believe that the emphasis upon "sense and sensibility" (to borrow a phrase from Jane Austen!) that pervades most interpretations is incorrect, and that the real point of Ezekiel's prophecy has to do with flexibility: a heart that listens, or complies in the words of Henry, versus a heart that is stubborn and rebellious. We seem to mean this when we speak of someone being "hard-hearted." We mean they are stubborn, and that they rebelliously won't listen, rather than that they can't listen. In fact, it would seem that, Scripturally, insensibility is the fruit of a stony rebellious heart (Ezekiel 12:2), and not to be equated with it. People cannot hear because they will not hear; so really, the emphatic problem is not insensibility but stubbornness. Now if this is true, we need to ask about what it is they will not/cannot hear. We need to ask whether Ezekiel is speaking in generalities or if he has something specific in mind. In Jeremiah/Hebrews the issue is specifically about God's law being written on their hearts and minds. But in Ezekiel, is it just that Israel will one day comply "in every thing with the will of God" generally? That is, for example: Israel will stop being stubborn and will believe in six-days creation, etc.

The context of Ezekiel 11:18-21 and 36:25-29 should provide us with sufficient clues that Ezekiel is not speaking generally but is speaking about the same specific thing that Jeremiah is talking about: God's law. In both passages, the converting, saving work of God immediately follows a time of judgment upon Israel in which they are scattered and afflicted throughout the nations. This should at once make us think about the law and the curses that were promised by God if Israel failed to obey the law. The final and most prominent curse is that Israel would be kicked out of their land and scattered among the nations (Lev. 26:33-39). But hear what God says next:

"If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land... and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes." (Lev. 26:40-43)

See how the heart is spoken of! The proud heart is humbled and thus it acknowledges that it has sinned and has been punished by God because of its sin. The humble heart accepts the truth of the law: 1) that it is guilty according to the law, and 2) that it has been punished according to the law. It accepts the truth that it has despised God's judgments and abhorred God's statutes. On the opposite hand, a proud heart refuses to acknowledge the truth that it is sinful, and that God has punished it on account of its sins. It refuses to accept the truth that it has despised God's judgments and abhorred God's statutes.

The fact that Ezekiel, in both passages, mentions Israel as scattered throughout the nations immediately prior to their salvation shows us that the central issue of the law is in view. Furthermore, both passages in Ezekiel tell us that the direct result of Israel receiving a new heart is complicity with the law:

"And I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within you; and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh: that they may walk in my statutes, and keep mine ordinances, and do them: and they shall be my people, and I will be their God." (11:19-20) "And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." (36:27)

This must not be missed: the new heart has everything do with the law. Once Israel receives the new heart, they will walk in the law of God. It is only when the law of God is kept that Israel can dwell securely in the land (11:17, 36:28) thus explaining the central place that this heart conversion has in relation to the land. I believe we can now safely say that when Ezekiel prophesies about God removing Israel's stubborn heart of stone and giving them a complicit heart of flesh, he is not thinking in generalities (i.e. that Israel will one day comply with God in a general way, as Matthew Henry said), but he is thinking in specific: one day Israel will humbly acknowledge what she has for so long been stubborn to acknowledge: God's law. Consider, as conclusive proof of this interpretation, the words of the prophet Zechariah who came some years after this prophecy of Ezekiel:

"But they refused to hearken, and pulled away their shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts has sent in His spirit by the former prophets: therefore came a great wrath from the Lord of hosts." (Zech. 7:11-12)

Their heart is stone because they stubbornly refuse to hear the law of the Lord. One day they will have a heart of flesh, and they will humbly hear the law of the Lord.

So this brings us back to Jeremiah/Hebrews and the original observation that Jeremiah/Hebrews and Ezekiel are all talking about the same thing from different perspectives. All have to do with the heart, and all have to do with law. In one it is emphasized that Israel will have the law written in their heart. In the other the emphasis is that God will give them a new compliant heart that walks in the law. The one emphasizes God's saving action in changing a rebellious heart to acknowledge the law; the other emphasizes the law, the thing that is written in the heart by God. Put even more simply, Jeremiah says that the law will be written on Israel's heart by God. Ezekiel says that the law will be written on Israel's heart by God. Jeremiah is looking at the conversion of Israel from the perspective of what Israel will one day come to understand. Ezekiel is looking at that same conversion from the perspective of why Israel will one day come to understand it. Both Jeremiah/Hebrews and Ezekiel finish their "heart" prophecies by saying: "And I will be their God, and they will be my people."

In light of all this, how are we Christians, informed as we are by the New Testament, supposed to understand this salvation phenomenon?

First of all, we must acknowledge that the changing of a man's heart from proud (and therefore insensible) to humble (and therefore attentive) is the sovereign work of God. This, I believe, is the lesson we learn from Ezekiel. I am not now making any statement as to how God does this, but only that it is His work. God knows the ways to humble man and to get man's attention. But the truth is that He does this, because in His love and mercy God does not allow the entire world to plunge headlong into perdition through pride and folly. By doing this He is good, not obligated; treating us in a way that we do not deserve.

More important is Jeremiah's emphasis upon what is written in the heart. What does it mean that God's law is written in the heart? What does it mean that we shall walk in the law of God and do His commandments?

Let's consider Jeremiah 31:33-34, the New Covenant. There are four main elements to the New Covenant. I'll list them in the order that they appear in the passage, and apply them to the New Covenant member:

1) a man in the New Covenant has the law written in his heart
2) a man in the New Covenant is one of God's people
3) a man in the New Covenant knows the Lord
4) a man in the New Covenant has all of his sins forgiven

Every one of these things is true for any believer in Jesus. A Christian is a New Covenant man. A Christian is not trying to get his sins forgiven, is not trying to know the Lord, is not trying to become one of God's people, and is not trying to have the law written in his heart. These are all things that are already true for him.

Every one of these things is true for any believer in Jesus because of the blood of Christ. The New Covenant is in the blood of Christ: "This cup is the New Covenant in my blood, which is shed for you." (Luke 22:20, 1 Cor. 11:25) It came became a reality because of Jesus' death, and without that death there would be no New Covenant. We can therefore say that a Christian has his sins forgiven because of the blood of Christ, knows the Lord because of the blood of Christ, is one of God's people because of the blood of Christ, and has the law written in his heart because of the blood of Christ.
While all these things happen the very moment a person becomes a Christian, we can probably outline a cause and effect relationship between each of the elements. This is the logical order; it has nothing to do with time. First, God writes His law in our hearts. Then we receive the forgiveness of our sins. Then we know the Lord and become one of God's people. That the first and the last element are together in Jer. 31:33 shows that being God's people is the end result, and this happens, fundamentally, when the law is written in our hearts. This "having the law written in the heart" is obviously a huge deal that must be unpacked; it is shorthand for much; it contains everything that takes you from being without God to being God's own. God's people are the people who have the law written in their hearts. 31:34 is probably giving us more insights into the inner workings of verse 33. When God takes out my stony heart and gives me a heart of flesh, I acknowledge the law for what it is, moral perfection with wrath against disobedience; I see my guilt and I realize I am under condemnation; I then turn to Christ in order to be justified through faith, and am forgiven of all my sins through faith in Christ; having been forgiven, I have now come to know God for the kind of God that He is (Ex. 34:6-7, John 1:18), a God of perfect righteousness and grace; I am now one of God's people.

As you can see, I am interpreting "the law written in the heart" as acknowledging the law for what it is (or, understanding the law). Remember in Hebrews 8:10 and 10:16, how "mind" and "heart" were interchangeable? So also Jeremiah 31:33, the place where the law is written is in the "inward parts" and the "heart"; both which are interchangeable. The meaning of the Hebrew word "qereb" (translated "inward parts") is the thoughts of man. Beautifully, the Septuagint translates it as "dianoia", which explicitly means the mind (the author of Hebrews follows the Septuagint, using the word "dianoia"). "Heart" of course can mean many different things, from thoughts, to will, to emotions, etc. The context must determine which of these is being pointed to. What does "heart" mean here? Since it is paralleled and interchangeable with the mind, we are to understand "heart" as synonymous with the mind. Therefore (and not surprisingly when seen of the light of the New Testament!), the whole point of the New Covenant is that the law will be written in our minds.

Since the mind is in view, we are not to think that Jeremiah is talking about the law becoming an "inner principle" as opposed to an external commandment. Not only is that neglecting the key point of the mind in the passage, it does nothing to explain how the law becomes an "inner principle". Jeremiah would then be leaving us with an inexplicable statement. Does God just magically do it? Do I just suddenly and inexplicable want to obey the law from the heart once I become a Christian? Is the New Covenant really just about a mystical constitutional make-over? No! There is no bypassing of the moral universe here. The New Covenant is all about God humbling our hardened hearts so that we have ears to hear the law of His lips. The law of God tells us loudly and clearly that which our consciences whisper day in and day out: moral perfection, moral perfection, moral perfection (aka. righteousness), which mankind absolutely hates hearing about due to pride. They are stubborn and not complicit in their hearts toward this truth about righteousness, because they know that it will kill them, stamping out their pride. But it is hearing the truth about righteousness that not only kills us, but makes us alive. Through understanding righteousness we come to know ourselves to be sinners, but more than that, we come to know God as our Savior. By seeing righteousness we see our own unrighteousness, and we see His righteousness, and we see the gift of righteousness that His love wondrously provided for us through Christ. This is how crucial it is to understand righteousness, and this is what it is to have the law written on our hearts/minds.

"Hearken unto me, you that know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law." (Is. 51:7)

There it is (the parallel)! Those who know righteousness are the people of God. To know righteousness is to have the law in your heart. To have the law in your heart is to know righteousness.

Now the effect of this knowledge, as I have said, is eternal salvation. However, included in this new mind is also is the key to a transformed life right now (Rom. 12:2). Every Christian has the law written in his/her mind, understands righteousness, and has consequently been justified through faith in Christ. No matter what kind of day they are having, good or bad, this is objectively true for them as members of the New Covenant. Yet every Christian has the daily task of remembering and reckoning these great objective truths to be so (Rom. 6:11, Eph. 2:11-13, Col. 3:1-3, Titus 3:8, Philemon 1:6, 2 Pet. 1:12, etc.). Forgetting them does not mean that you don't believe them, it only means that you cease to be affected by what you believe. Remembering and reckoning the truth about the law, righteousness and our identity in Jesus Christ is, according to the New Testament, what empowers and motivates our lives to serve God. The man who has learned to fill his mind with the things of the Spirit on a daily basis is the man who is keeping in step the Spirit (Gal. 5:25). The fruit of the Spirit are the fruits that blossoms when we remember the amazing gospel truths that we as Christians believe. This is the way that the New Covenant truth about the law written in our minds is practical. God's law is already in our minds if we are Christians. The question is: are we daily bringing it to remembrance?

Due to the fact that we live in a fallen world, have a fierce and powerful adversary, and are full of weaknesses, it is not likely that we will perpetually set our minds on things above so as to walk in unbroken perfection of love, joy and peace (though I think that some have gotten much farther than others settle for; for example, Paul).This shouldn't discourage us, because we are not saved through remembering but through faith. If anything, knowing these obstacles should stir us up to more diligence. One day, when we are face to face with Christ, forever beholding Him with our eyes, we shall be like Him, never again to sin, for everything will then be based upon sight, not faith. Then our lives will be practically what they are now objectively: blameless. Not that we will, at that future time, possess our own righteousness by which we can stand, but our lives will remain transformed only because we will ever see that there is no other righteousness except the one righteousness from God that is freely given through Jesus Christ. Our standing will be forever in grace, and our lives will be forever transformed by this truth. It will be true forever what is true today: the Lamb of God, Who is the revelation of God's law and God's love in the gospel, is He Who empowers us and inspires us to love (1 John 4:19).

This then is the meaning of Ezekiel's prophecy: "And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them." (36:27) First, that through faith in Christ I am counted as righteous before God, as one who blamelessly walks before God without turning to the right hand or to the left, a man in whom the righteousness of the law is fulfilled. I have done righteousness when I put my faith in Christ. Through faith I join the ranks of Abel, Noah Abraham and Job. Through faith apart from my works, I am counted as having done all that is required. Secondly, the fruit of love (which is the essence of the law) is practically produced in my life at the present time through remembering and reckoning the truths that I believe. This is not now perfect, but one day it will be. In glory I will love God perfectly when I see His love for me perfectly, without weakness and distraction. Ezekiel is indeed referring to that future time when Christ returns and Israel will have this glorious vision. For us Christians today, we walk by faith and not by sight. By faith we know what will yet be seen. As for right now, we see through a glass dimly, and await the fullness of the glorious vision ourselves.

This is how I understand the "heart" prophecies of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. I'd love your feedback and any criticisms you might have. We are straining to see together, and if we can help each other clear away obstacles and misconceptions so that we can see the Lamb more fully, we will have done a great service.

In His amazing grace,
-Eli

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Church

It does not matter what a church's historical connections may be. It does not matter if a church was founded by Peter or Paul, or if a bishop had Saint John's hands laid on him to commission him for ministry. It does not matter if a church sings the ancient songs of Christianity or reads from the ancient Scriptures, or practices the ancient Christian practices.

If a church does not believe the teaching of Christ, then that church is not a Christian church. God has nothing to do with that church.

"Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9)

The Church is not a sporting club that can be passed from one management to another regardless of their teaching. The Church is the one, ever present Body of Christ, made up of many members from every tribe, tongue and nation: people, all over the world and also in heaven, who believe the teaching of Christ. These people are the Ekklesia, the Church. They are the called out ones, who are set apart from the world by their faith, not by their physical appearance, practice and location. This is the one true Church. It has always remained and will always remain.

"Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God!" (Galatians 6:16)

Friday, August 09, 2013

The Supreme Problem of Guilt

There is no one on earth who can live his life in guilt and fear of a wrathful God and be content with himself. All people everywhere want to reconcile themselves to their physical and mental environment; that is, they want peace. Yet the way to peace is not by denying the reality of those things which rob us of our peace, but by being reconciled to those things; by dealing with them. For example, if I am hiking one day and happen to encounter a grizzly bear, suddenly my physical environment has lost its peace and I experience fear. I want to get back to peace as soon as possible. The way to peace is not by denying that the bear exists, but by dealing with the problem of the bear. Who can live in the presence of a dangerous physical threat like a bear? No one. But how do we go about solving the problem? Denial of reality or dealing with reality?

Applying this to guilt, guilt is one of the most objective and significant realities in our lives. The fear that guilt brings, whether the fear of the reaction of other people or of God, is real. We not only live in a physical world but in a moral world that is just as real and just as controlled by moral laws as the physical world is real and controlled by physical laws. We must come to terms with total reality. Every person has a moral sense; a sense of justice and of behavioral rightness; a sense of how we should and should not act. This sense has no other explanation than that we are made in the image of a God who Himself is by nature love. Everyone knows the language of love. If we seek to explain this sense of righteousness apart from God, we are actually seeking to explain it away, for morality has no basis apart from God. Yet no matter how much men may attempt to explain it away, it cannot be eradicated because it is a true sense for we are truly made in the image of God.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Book Reviews

"Apology" by Plato
"Believing Christ" by Stephen E. Robinson
"Commentary on Galatians" by John Calvin
"First Epistle to the Corinthians" by Clement of Rome
"How Good Do We Have to Be?" by Harold Kushner
"Joy Unspeakable" by Martyn Lloyd-Jones
"Justification" by N.T. Wright
"On the Freedom of a Christian" by Martin Luther
"On the Incarnation" by Athanasius
"Power from on High" by Charles Finney
"Straight Talk to Elders" by Frank Viola
"The Art of Manfishing" by Thomas Boston
"The Brothers Karamazov" by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
"The Free Offer of the Gospel" by John Murray
"The Great Tribulation" by David Chilton
"The Kingdom of God" by John Bright
"The Knowledge of the Holy" by A.W. Tozer
"The Latent Power of the Soul" by Watchman Nee

Book Review: "The Knowledge of the Holy" by A.W. Tozer

 

A.W. Tozer (1897-1963) was an prominent author and pastor in the 20th century, who, along with other men like Leonard Ravenhill, were critical of the Church's apathy and compromise and called her to examine the reality of her faith. His influence has outlived his life. Whether that influence is a good influence or a bad influence is debatable. I believe it was largely bad.

Unlike Ravenhill, Tozer proves himself in this book to be a serious intellectual. He is well read and displays a sharp mind. However, men who have sharp minds and are well read are not in any way immune to error, and I believe Tozer spoils an otherwise excellent book by his errors.

The Knowledge of the Holy is Tozer's call for the Church in the 20th century to re-acquaint herself with God and return to the knowledge of the one true God. He understood that what we think about God will effect everything else that we do. He saw that in his day people were perverting the knowledge of God, seeing God as one like themselves who simply desires to help humanity accomplish their own desires. He laments the lack of reverence and wonder of the Almighty God. He wrote the book to correct this.

The book covers the usual attributes of God that one would find in a standard theology textbook. The metaphysical attributes are covered in the first half (omniscience, eternality, infinitude, immutability, etc.) and the moral attributes in the second half (faithfulness, goodness, grace, love, etc.). One error Tozer introduces early in the book, and then afterward repeatedly contradicts himself, is that he states that faith is not based upon evidence. This is by itself false, for faith is, by its dictionary and Biblical definition, a "conviction", and a conviction is always based upon evidence. Tozer then contradicts himself throughout the book by providing evidence for why we should believe such and such attributes of God. However, if you can see past this common error that many make, the book can still be a blessing.

I think Tozer does just as good a job of discussing the metaphysical attributes of God as any introductory theology textbook would do, and with this bonus: Tozer is not dry. Theology should never be dry, and Tozer shows us that. I found myself greatly blessed as I meditated with Tozer on the majesty and the magnitude of God.

The second half of the book, however, which deals with God's moral attributes, is the weakest half. The average evangelical pastor could (hopefully) write just as good a discussion of the grace and love of God as Tozer did; and perhaps even better than he did. This is because Tozer's understanding of the gospel was sadly not very clear. Tozer, along with Ravenhill and many other criticizers of the Church, did not understand the central doctrine of righteousness through faith apart from works as well as he probably thought he did. You can see this throughout the book, because whenever Tozer talks about salvation it is far more focused on man than on Christ; on our cross rather than Christ's cross; what we need to do and how we need to repent rather than what Christ did for us and how we simply are to rest in His finished work through faith. Tozer is either ambiguous on conversion or worse. This is why his discussion of the moral attributes of God was not very good, leaving many important things to be desired.

The most ironic thing about this is that the moral attributes of God are the essential attributes that show us who God really is. When God showed Moses His glory, He did not pass by Him and proclaim "The Lord, the Lord God, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal, infinite, etc." although all these things are true and wondrous about God. But the Lord proclaimed "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in goodness and truth, etc." (Ex. 34:6) Jeremiah the prophet wrote that through the New Covenant all Israel will know God, from the least of them to the greatest, because God will forgive their sins and remember their iniquities no more (Jer. 31:34). The apostle John wrote that it is Jesus Christ who came "full of grace and truth" that alone reveals to us the Father (John 1:14-18). He who does not know God as the loving God of saving grace in Christ, although he know all the metaphysical qualities of God, does not truly know God. It is the grace and love of God revealed in Christ that is the supreme revelation, that gives us the knowledge of the holy, without which we do not know God. Yes, we need to fall on our faces in reverent wonder that God is the eternal and self-existent God. I do not in any way intend to suggest otherwise. But until we also stand up and rejoice in the God who gave His blood to wash away our sins by His pure, undeserved, free, and unconditional grace, we do not yet know and worship God.

It is too bad that this is the case with Tozer's The Knowledge of the Holy, because I would otherwise have highly recommended it as an exciting and lively introduction to the attributes of God.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Evangelism and Hell

A letter written to a sister in Christ regarding evangelism and the idea of hell.

That is awesome, P----! Praise the Lord!

Sounds like you handled it great! These kind of conversations about righteousness are the ones we need to have with people, and I'm sure they now have plenty to think about. There's always that "something else I could have said" when a conversation is over, but we can trust that what was said was of God and that He will use it.

Amen on your observation that Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses don't appreciate the consequences of sin. Amen, amen. Reminds me of a very good saying of Anselm: "You have not yet considered the gravity of sin." A couple nights ago I got to talk with B-------'s uncle who is a Jehovah Witness and we were talking about hell and I said this very thing to him: that in my experience those who don't believe in hell don't appreciate how bad sin really is. The correlative to this is that they don't appreciate how good righteousness really is. They think righteousness is merely being a "commonly decent" person, and that sinning is merely making mistakes. According to this view, what possible place is there for hell? To speak of hell is to speak of a bad God.

But righteousness is perfect love, moral wholeness, and everybody knows that this is good and beautiful. Any deviation from this is disgusting. Furthermore, the Creator of the universe holds us to the standard of righteousness, and to not obey the law of perfect love is to not only reject goodness but it is also to reject God (to reject God's command, yes, but also to reject God nature because goodness is God's nature and goodness does not exist apart from Him). And furthermore, any deviation from perfect love is a willful choice, not an involuntary lapse, in which we are fully responsible. We simply choose to do evil despite the beauty of the good and the command and nature of God. We are all sinners, enemies of God, and objects of His just wrath. Due to the nature of the case, there is no appropriate punishment for sinners other than hell. That is the interesting thing: the world thinks hell means God is bad, and Christians think hell means God is good; that if there were no hell, God would be unjust! Crazy extremes.

Be sure to always take a person to their own performance. If they say that obedience to the law is required for salvation, as well as showing them the Scriptures that state that salvation is by grace, hold their feet to the fire and ask them if they obey the law. Since they say they have to do it, ask them if they do it. If they make excuses, deal with their excuses; show them that there are no excuses, and their disobedience is willful. They aren't trying their best. This part, I believe, is so crucial.

Keep it up, P----! Every witnessing opportunity is a huge blessing for you and for the person you're witnessing to. We are all growing and learning.

Love you, sister! Give my love to M--- and the rest of the family.
-Eli

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Some Thoughts on the Veracity of the New Testament

A letter to an atheist friend who had some questions after reading Lee Strobel's "The Case for Christ."

The study of the New Testament is an enormous discipline that has had more thought and academic labor put into it than any other field of science. The fact that Lee Strobel's book is written for a popular audience means that the reader will not fully appreciate the enormous amount scholarship that lies behind the many quick conclusions he makes. He is ultra-condensing. That is the strength and weakness of the book; a strength in that it makes the otherwise imposing New Testament scholarship accessible to laymen, and a weakness because the person demanding more will be disappointed. The book should serve as a launching pad for further discussion and delving deeper into his conclusions. That is why Strobel has a list of suggested reading after each chapter.

One of your complaints is that he does not interview anyone from the opposing side. I agree with you that this is another weakness of the book. It is obvious that any book would be far greater if it fully presented the other point of view and then showed why that view was wrong, and "The Case for Christ" is no exception. Then again, it is "The Case for Christ" and not "The Case against Christ". The scholars that he interviews do in fact (albeit briefly) deal with the major arguments against the trustworthiness of the New Testament. Whether you like it or not, the scholars he interviewed are in fact the experts, and are qualified to make the statements that they do. Another problem with interviewing the opposing side is the problem of choosing which opposing view to showcase, because opposition scholarship is not in agreement in its quarrel with the New Testament. I think Strobel did the right thing in choosing the format he did, and if I were to seek out expert advice on why we can trust the New Testament, I would not have gone anywhere else.

Now let us come to the most important thing. Your point, that using the Bible to prove the Bible is circular reasoning, is flawed. You are failing to appreciate that the Bible is the source-book on the life of Jesus and the early Church, and it must be recognized as the true source-book that it is. This is not circular at all because we are not talking about whether the Bible is inspired Scripture or not. Now if we were to say, 'the Bible is true because the Bible says it is' we would have a problem. However, that is not what we are doing. We are examining the Bible just as we would any other historical book, and are evaluating its claims for what they are. We then arrive at the conclusion that it is trustworthy and inspired only after the study of it. To say that one cannot turn to the Bible in order to examine the trustworthiness of its claims is nonsense.

You are absolutely right that one of the major arguments for the trustworthiness of the New Testament is that due to the early date of its composition, if the information in them was false the whistle would have been blown on it. This is a powerful argument, not easily dismissed. I believe you are failing to see its power (your objections show that failure). You say that Christians think it takes a long time for legends to form. That is not the argument at all. Legendary tales can obviously form immediately after an event, and that is easily proved as you have shown (Smith and Washington). But this is the actual argument: a controversial legend cannot form in close proximity to its reported occurrence without some form of refutation if the event was public and not private by nature. Many of the most important events in Christ's life cannot be legendary because the reports of them were given in close proximity to their occurrence and did not receive refutation though they were public and not private by nature. For example, the Gospels claim Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey accompanied by crowds of people waving palm branches and singing his praises. It reports that the religious leadership was disturbed by this and confronted Jesus, commanding him to put a stop to it. It reports that this occurred just a week before his very public trial and crucifixion. It reports that his death was instigated by the religious leadership in Jerusalem and permitted by Pontius Pilate. These events were publicly proclaimed and interpreted by the apostles in Jerusalem not long after Jesus's crucifixion and alleged resurrection. The point is: if these were false stories, the opponents of Christianity could easily have refuted them, and due to the controversial nature of Christianity, they would have had perfect incentive to do so. However, what these reports did receive from the opponents of Christianity was reinterpretation, never refutation: that is, the earliest opponents of Christianity never refuted the reported events of Christ's life, but reinterpreted them, arguing that Jesus was a false teacher, sorcerer, was crucified as an object of God's wrath, and that his disciples stole his body from the tomb on the third day. Make no mistake: the Jews did not want Christianity to succeed. They actually boasted that the Pharisees did the right thing in condemning Jesus to death. But never did an opponent say, "That never happened! I was there!", though they would have had ample opportunity and incentive to do so. Rather, they repeatedly gave a different interpretation of the events than the disciples gave. The fact that the Gospels record all sorts of controversial public events in Jesus' life within a short time of their purported occurrence is powerful evidence for their truthfulness in light of the absence of refutation from the opposition, and the presence of reinterpretation by the opposition. That is the argument.

Regarding your second point about eyewitnesses, all of the Gospels were written within a relatively short time of the life of Jesus. As you have said, even many liberals date the Gospels within a early window (50-100 AD), while conservative scholarship dates them even earlier. Some of the letters of the New Testament were written even earlier than the Gospels and contain all the relevant information about Jesus contained in the Gospels, thus confirming the veracity  of Gospels. Many studies have shown that an internal examination of the Gospels reveal them to be eyewitness accounts. While certainly drawing from a common tradition, they also bear enough discrepancy to show that they are actually independent of one another (adding even more credibility). The unanimous testimony of the early Church writings confirm that they were eyewitness accounts or were based upon eyewitness accounts. In short, we have many solid reasons to believe they were eyewitness accounts and no reason to believe that they weren't. Hostility to the Gospels stems not from the facts, but from a disinclination to believe the Gospels claims.

Your question about the Mormon eyewitnesses is a good one. I answer by saying that there is no comparison with the Gospel eyewitnesses and the Mormon eyewitnesses. Their claims were not public but private, and an examination of their lives lead many to believe that they were liars seeking gain. By contrast, the claims of the eyewitnesses of Christ were public, and an examination of their lives lead even the toughest critics to believe that they were sincere. They gave their lives for their faith in Christ, and taught the highest moral truth known to earth. Anyone who reads the New Testament with a thoughtful heart cannot but be struck by this.