Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Ten Commandments of Progressive Racialism

Sadly, racialism in America is producing a widening divide in our country and it would appear that many politicians, along with the mainstream media, enthusiastically promulgate this disease. The reader should note that by using the term racialism I am speaking of an idea that is far more specific than racism. If you are unfamiliar with the distinction between these terms, let me offer a summary, but with this important qualification: both concepts of racialism and racism run contrary to the clear teaching of Scripture (also see this article: All Men are Created Equal?). Both concepts of racialism and racism are related ideas based upon the faulty, contemporary notion that men can be distinguished and categorized by superficial distinctions. Current uses of these terms fail to recognize that the word race speaks of the concept of genealogy. In the case of the term racialism (or scientific racialism), we find a contemporary connotation which seeks to offer scientific classifications of human “races” based upon skin color and facial features, rather than genealogy. Thus, when people speak of a person’s race in view of their skin color, they demonstrate much of the confusion surrounding the word’s historic denotation. Thus, racism is an ideology which begins with the false presupposition of scientific racialism, but continues with an assumption of a natural hierarchy of the races (some races are more favorable than others). Because of this, racism is deeply flawed and contrary to all teachings of Scripture, as well as contemporary scientific analyses of the unitary nature of the human race. Despite all this, our society continues to speak, erroneously, of skin color as being the primary indicator of one’s “race. What I wish to remind the reader of is this central matter: the Bible clearly refutes the contrived concepts of racialism and racism seeing that nothing - not skin color, eye color, hair color, nor one’s genealogical background – can either augment or diminish a person’s value as a human being. Scripture is quite clear: all men were created in God’s image (Genesis 1:27) and all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23, 5:12), therefore, all men – without distinction - need the Lord Jesus Christ. Contrary to this, the teaching of racialism is a Gospel destroying philosophy that must never be tolerated by the followers of Christ.

What is sad to see amidst all the discussions of “race relations” here in America is the absence of the Bible’s emphasis on our shared humanity, no matter what our skin color. Such discussions of “race” rip us away from the precious message of the Gospel and it is for this reason that I have called racialism and racism a “Gospel destroying philosophy.” As such, it is a demonic doctrine that is relentlessly propagated by many in our nation today and it must be refuted with all vigor. In this post, I would like to describe the current manner in which such racism is being promoted within our society, to the end that we would refute this pernicious influence by the authority of Scripture. Yes, the recent events surrounding Mike Brown, Darren Wilson, and the ongoing riots in Ferguson MO have triggered this post, but I can assure the reader that what follows has been on my mind for many, many years. In doing this, I will be issuing my refutation in a slightly unique manner. I will first present The Ten Commandments of Progressive Racialism, promoting it as the Devil’s advocate. Then, we will dissect and critique this Demonic Decalogue with Scripture in order to reveal just how Gospel-destroying this philosophy is. Obviously, my Devil’s advocacy is merely rhetorical for the sake of our discussion, and my use of the name “Devil” is not hyperbolic: racialism is the Devil’s own doctrine. In the end, the following Ten Commandments are never admitted by those who use them, but rest assured, they exist and are utilized faithfully by the power brokers of racialism:

The Ten Commandments of Progressive Racialism: Whenever there is an unsubstantiated claim of racism, please remember to observe the following Ten Commandments of Progressive Racialism:

1st Commandment – Remember that Power is More Important than Truth: If an unconfirmed charge of racism arises, be sure to assess the situation’s potential for political influence, societal persuasion, and control over other people groups. If the situation supplies no such advantages, then the matter is to be ignored at all costs. If the situation does supply such advantages, then the matter is to be pursued at all costs. Before matters can be confirmed by forensic evidence, legal proceedings, and the testimony of witnesses, be sure to broadcast a narrative that will support your message. Remember that an immediate response is essential if public opinion is to be swayed prior to the disclosure of the facts of the case. As well, only use officially sanctioned words and expressions as found within The Racialist’s Rules of Etiquette. Compel others to comply with these standards without compromise. Those who violate these standards must be shamed as racists without further consideration of the context or intent of the speaker. This is the foremost commandment and, by it, many have been silenced with little effort at all. You must remember: power is more important than truth.

2nd Commandment - Give Voice to Approved Representatives Only: Before a claim of racism can be confirmed by witnesses, be sure to seek out only sanctioned spokespersons as defined by the mainstream media. Additionally, only qualifying minorities can be deemed as victims of racism and only qualifying minorities can speak publicly about racism. All unapproved spokespersons are to be shunned as ignorant, irrelevant, or even racist if necessary.

3rd Commandment – Remember that Emotionalism Trumps all Facts: Before a claim of racism can be confirmed by witnesses, be sure to make your expressions of grievance loud, persistent, and even violent if necessary. Remember: you never want a serious crisis to go to waste. The more emotional your response is the less attention there will be given to the facts and evidence of the case itself. Those who question your emotionalism should be shunned as ignorant racists through the use of rules 1 & 2 above.

4th Commandment - Observe All Sanctioned Double Standards: Remember that, in ordinary circumstances, the use of mob violence, death threats, along with the publication of personal information that can jeopardize the safety of others, is normally deemed as uncivil activity; however, all claimants of victimization, whether real or perceived, are free from all such standards of civility.

5th Commandment – Always Blame others for Your Problems: Be sure to blame those in the present day for the racism of others from the past. Such shaming of others is sanctioned conduct and can serve as crucial tools in societal manipulation. Guilt-by-association, normally seen as a faulty argumentative method, is acceptable in your case. This method of argumentation must be employed relentlessly despite all reasoned objections. It is crucial to understand that people are easily made to feel guilty concerning matters for which they bear no personal responsibility, and such guilt is a powerful means of control.

6th Commandment - Use Religion as Cover for the Cause: Another powerful tool of manipulation is Religion. Biblical texts, abused and misquoted, can help garner sympathy for your cause while inducing further guilt in others who may disagree with you.

7th Commandment - Remember that all Slander is the Purview of the Claimants of Victimhood: Though slander and bearing false witness against others is normally deemed as wicked activity, all such standards vanish for the claimants of victimhood. Through slander and unsubstantiated claims, you must advance your narrative of victimhood with anyone who will hear you while you still have the opportunity to sway public opinion. It is crucial that you destroy the reputation of others before further facts of a case are made available to the public.

8th Commandment - Remember that Violence is the Purview of the Claimants of Victimhood: Though violence against others and their property is normally deemed as wicked activity, it should be remembered that it is justified under rule #7 since the shift from violent speech to violent actions is marginal, predictable, and, ultimately, needful for the cause.

9th Commandment - Remember to Silence the Opposition: By utilizing all of the previous rules above, it is important to remember that your goal is to shut down dialogue with others. Public discourse is not our goal, but absolute domination is. It is in this sense that these Rules for Racialists are derivatives of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals and must be fully obeyed in order to bring about a radical transformation of our society.

10th Commandment - Above All, Never Let the Truth Prevail in the Public Narrative: Should you find yourself to be on the wrong side of the facts, once the evidence and witnesses have been revealed, be sure to preserve and maintain your narrative of racialism as a means of preserving the cause. Repentance, capitulation, and correction are never an option and would only serve to undermine our mission. Remember the foremost commandment: power is more important than truth.

Now let us evaluate this aforementioned Demonic Decalogue in view what Scripture teaches:

1st Commandment – Remember that Power is More Important than Truth: Lucifer fell from Heaven because of his pride and sinful desire to grasp the very power of God Himself (Isaiah 14:12-14). He could only do this by supplanting the truth that no one is like God (Psalm 86:8, Exodus 15:11). In many respects, the template and image of Satan is seen among the realm of fallen humanity. Since the fall of man, the pursuit of power over truth has plagued the human race. This very temptation and sin is at the heart of all kinds of corruption, and racism is just one manifestation of such wickedness. When men believe that they are superior to others, they entitle themselves to the Satanic delusion of power. The 1st Commandment of Progressive Racialism offers no progress to humanity at all: it is the ancient sin of men and demons, and it is all worthy of the condemnation of God Himself. God’s truth will always prevail over the “power” of men.

2nd Commandment - Give Voice to Approved Representatives Only: No one should be exempted from the important discussion about human prejudice. The moment we begin to exclude others from this important discussion, based upon their skin color, we give credence to the corruption of racist thinking itself. As believers, we need to consider what Scripture has to teach us about heralding the Gospel in a world of ethnic divide. While the believer must be careful to avoid unnecessary offense when speaking to various people groups, we must first acknowledge that we are all made of the same, stock of fallen humanity. Our differing ethnicities, skin color, eye color, hair color, facial features, and other physical distinctions among us change nothing about our shared humanity. In the end we must acknowledge that the Gospel is inherently offensive to the natural man, no matter what his background may be. Our encounters with others should be grounded in love and concern for them, but it must never be governed by a fear of man. If we are faithful to proclaiming God’s truth, then we must also accept the reality that we will end up offending some people. When Paul was in Athens, he addressed a deeply ethnocentric group of people who believed themselves to be the supreme descendants of Erechtheus – the mythological progeny of Gaia and Hephaestus who was raised by the Goddess Athena. The thought of a Jew instructing a company of proud Greek intellectuals concerning the origin of creation and the nations would have been deeply offensive and seemingly presumptuous. Despite this Paul proceeded to inform them that the one God who made the heavens and the earth is “not served by human hands as if He needed anything” and that He “made from one man every nation of mankind.” Amazingly, Paul boldly decimated the Athenians’ view of theology, creationism, polytheism, and racialism with a handful of carefully crafted statements. Paul wasn’t looking for personal popularity with his audience, nor did he worship at the altar of political correctness. Instead, he was there to tell them the lie-destroying truth (2 Corinthians 10:4-5) for the sake of their souls despite the racial and ethnic differences that stood between him and his Gentile audience.

3rd Commandment - Emotionalism Trumps all Facts: Displays of emotion and passion do nothing to change the truth. Despite this reality, we live in a world that has been using public grievances in order to advance false narratives and lies since the fall of man. It is simply not true that “the one who complains the loudest wins” in the contest over truth. Paul’s preaching of the Gospel offended the residents of Ephesus because he was informing them that “gods made with hands are no gods at all” (Acts 19:26). His preaching, along with their recognition that he was not a Greek but a Jew (Acts 19:34), stirred the city into a state of hostility such that for about two hours they cried out: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians.” Paul was an alien in every way in view of his message and ethnicity, and the inhabitants of the city let him know it, but none of this changed anything. Men can stir up all the passion and anger that they wish, but man’s emotions never change facts and reality. This is true in every aspect of life.

4th Commandment - Observe All Sanctioned Double Standards: God’s laws and commandments are universal for all mankind. It is not the case that “you shall not steal” or “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” applies to some, but doesn’t apply to others. Yet, despite this, many believe that victimhood justifies the transgression of the law: whether of God or of men. This is nothing more than a poorly reasoned form of anarchy and it is sadly promoted among those who deem themselves as victims. The great darkness and sin that we see exhibited in Israel’s ancient period of the Judges is well summarized in Judges 21:25 “…everyone did what was right in his own eyes” – this is the very definition of anarchy.

5th Commandment - Blame Society for all Your Problems: Many in our society are drowning in the slough of blame and false victimhood. The self-esteem generation of the 60’s has managed to produce scores of introspective, narcissistic individuals who have no interest in taking personal responsibility for their own lives. This is a disease that transcends all cultural and socio-economic classes of mankind. The sins of America’s historic racialism and slavery have scarred our nation significantly, but I can assure the reader that those scars will never be healed through a reversed racism in the modern day. The propagation of philosophies which seek to shame members of society today for the sins of others in the past only serves to increase the divide between men. Every generation must account for its own actions and choices. If this were not the case, the needed reforms of black civil rights would never have come into existence. In order to move forward as a people, we must learn from the past, rather than live in it, while seeking to treat one another as equals as we should have from the beginning, acknowledging that all men are created equal by the Creator. Such a thought as this fosters the much-needed understanding of a man’s personal responsibility before God who is the Creator of everything. One of the central truths of the Gospel is that men have a personal responsibility to answer to God (Jeremiah 31:30, Ezekiel 18:20-21). A father who commits a crime does not thereby make his son guilty – no matter what his skin color is. All sinners who repent and turn to the Lord will find life in Him (Ezekiel 18:21-23, Matthew 11:28). The Gospel is God’s gracious and merciful appeal to a world of lost sinners, and each individual who hears the Gospel is responsible to turn to God in view of His call to all men to believe in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

6th Commandment - Use Religion as Cover for the Cause: Men have been using religion as a cover for their ulterior agendas from the very beginning – this is not new. But true religion sees humanity as God sees it: created in God’s image, fallen in sin, worthy of condemnation, and desperately in need of the Lord Jesus Christ. Thus, rather than using false arguments of racialism in order to divide men, the Christian seeks to proclaim the Gospel of peace in order to unite all men in the risen Savior.

7th Commandment - Remember that all Slander is the Purview of the Claimants of Victimhood: Our society has learned to vilify anyone who is believed to be a racist, whether that belief is valid or not. For that matter, merely an accusation of racism can result in public shunning whether it is deserved or not. It is interesting to note that one of the great double standards of modern American racist witch hunts is that they often entail an abundance of slander, rumors, and false accusations. Prejudice against others is indeed a sin, for God Himself does not show partiality (Acts 10:34, 1 Peter 1:17). But slander, rumors, and false accusations are things that the Lord also hates: “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord…” Proverbs 12:22. When race-baiters are deeply invested in a narrative of presumption, slander, and false accusation against others, the presentation of forensic evidence and eye-witness testimony will rarely change their mindset. This is a grave and fearful sin.

8th Commandment - Remember that Violence is the Purview of the Claimants of Victimhood: According to Scripture, slander is an expression of hatred which reveals a heart of murder: Proverbs 6:16–19: 16 There are six things which the LORD hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17 Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, And hands that shed innocent blood, 18 A heart that devises wicked plans, Feet that run rapidly to evil, 19 A false witness who utters lies, And one who spreads strife among brothers [italics mine]. It doesn’t take much for a riotous mob to go from shouting to bloodshed – it is a mere shift of communication from the mouth to the hand and it is all wicked.

9th Commandment - Remember to Silence the Opposition: A society that is unwilling to listen to opposing views is a dangerous place to live. When Paul addressed the Athenians in Acts 17, he did so within a forum that invited open discourse [Acts 17:21]. In his address, he didn’t threaten to convert them by force for one simple reason: this is never an option for the followers of Christ. Unlike some religions and political philosophies, the followers of Christ are called to engage those who are deemed as enemies of the cross for the purpose of relating and explaining the message of the Gospel. Such interaction can be messy and even difficult – but it is the means by which the believer loves others through the Gospel. However, from the standpoint of this dark world, dialogue is merely optional. In the worst of all cases, silence from one’s opponent is to be secured by public vilification, arrest, or even bloodshed.

10th Commandment - Above All, Never Let the Truth Prevail in the Public Narrative: “Power is more important than truth.” Though men may never confess this with their lips, it is their true religion of the heart and the idol they serve faithfully. Any philosophy or methodology that brings worldly gain (whether real or perceived) to the individual is to be maintained without repentance. Even a well constructed lie will be protected by its creators if they believe that it will help their ultimate cause. Again – power is more important than truth.

Though you will never see these “commandments” printed or advertised in any formal capacity, I can assure you that mankind has employed these wicked decrees for ages. Will those who use and apply these aforementioned Ten Commandments of Progressive Racialism ever be held to account for their abuses of others? In the end, the answer is yes. This truth Paul proclaimed to his Athenian audience:

Acts 17:30–31: 30 “Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, 31 because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.”

Though men may never relent of their slander and malicious gossip in this life, all such matters will be dealt with in the courtroom of God’s final and eternal judgment. As for finding justice in this life, it would be nice to see but our society’s trajectory seems to be pointing away from such an end. Instead, it would appear that we can all prepare for the next racialistic controversy, which will most likely be bigger and charged with more slander and violence. We can hope and pray that this will not be the case, however, the present trajectory of our nation does not instill much hope. Whatever else we can say or think about America’s downgrade into a new era of racialism, one thing is for certain: our only hope is Christ. By nature, we are all bigots and haters of men and of God. Without a transformation of the heart, mankind will continue to march on, relentlessly, in its parade of prejudice against others. The sins of the past find no solutions in the inventions of man. Moreover, black-on-white racism does not cancel the sins of white-on-black racism. The only way out of this is the narrow pathway of God’s word whereby we are illumined to see that the Lord is good, and we are not; that He alone can save us from our sins, and that we cannot save ourselves; that Christ died for sinners so that all those who believe in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.

Indeed, He is our only hope.

May God have mercy on America.

All Men are Created Equal? from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, October 10, 2014

The Dixie Classic Fair & TV–They Just Go Together

In an unusual matter of providence, our family has managed to be in front of the TV camera twice for the sake of the Dixie Classic Fair. The first video was a scheduled interview and the second is a random interview involving my wife Sandra concerning the question of CCW (concealed carry weapon) freedoms:

The Priority and Purpose of the Church–Mark 12:28-31–Circa 1999

mjbatwhbcMy dear bride of 28 years recently uncovered some old sermon tapes from my earlier years in pastoral ministry and played several of them. Hearing these old messages from the past has been a strange form of nostalgia, especially in view of the ministerial turbulence that I faced during that time. Yet, the warnings that I then issued, for my own sake and for the sake of the church, remain as a central focus of my life and ministry. Though my homiletical style has changed quite a bit and my presentation has become more seasoned with a serious tone, my core convictions still come through in these older messages. I find that God’s warnings and encouragements in His word continue to sanctify me and my family – a reality for which I am deeply thankful. One message that we listened to was delivered at Woodland Hills Bible Church in Minnetonka Minnesota (now Redeemer Bible Church) where I served as pastor for five years. The text that I addressed is Mark 12:28-31 and my exhortation dealt with the centrality of loving and serving God as the chief priority and purpose of the local church. Many of the same points expressed in this message, concerning the related text of Deuteronomy 6:4-5, are strongly emphasized in my books: Altar to an Unknown Love and All Nations Under God. So, without further delay, here is The Priority and Purpose of the Church – Mark 12:28-31, 1999:

 

If you are having trouble with the above audio player, here is the direct link: The Priority and Purpose of the Church – Mark 12:28-31, 1999

 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man

ATAULCOVERWEB

eBook and paperback - available at amazon.com - For more information go to: ataul.thearmoury.org

2 Timothy 3:1,4: "In the last days...men will be...lovers of hedonism [φιλήδονοι]..."

For centuries, the world of professing Christendom has faced countless contests regarding the nature of God's justice and love, as well as the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, is just another illustration of this reality. The entire protest revolving around Bell's book was fairly dramatic, however, it produced more smoke and heat than productive light. Despite the loud complaints leveled against the controversial author of Love Wins, what he unveiled in his book should have produced little surprise. There is a very important and untold story behind the whole Bell debate that must be passed on for the sake of future generations. The mystery and oddity of this conflict has revealed a systemic problem - one that is much greater than the premature protests surrounding Rob Bell. Altar to an Unknown Love addresses the untold story which stands behind the scenes of Bell's particular views of theology. What the reader may find surprising is that Bell's teachings are remarkably familiar, and have even been promoted, whether directly or indirectly, by some of Bell's loudest critics. All of this points to a great opportunity for the church in the present day. The conflict surrounding Rob Bell actually supplies an opportunity to rediscover our need to go back to the Scriptures themselves, rather than to the teachings and traditions of men. This is an opportunity for the church to rediscover the priority of Sola Scriptura, now, and for the generations to come.

Review by Iain Murray:


Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man Michael John Beasley (www.thearmouryminstries.org): Lightning Source, Milton Keynes, 2011, 146pp, £6.50/$10.49

The last year has seen major controversy in the United States over Rob Bell’s Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. Interest in that book is now passing, but before it does so, Michael Beasley believes there is a wider issue that ought to be addressed. Bell’s thinking, he notes, has been condemned by evangelicals who are, at the same time, professed admirers of authors from whom Bell has drawn, namely, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. Beasley challenges the consistency of this procedure, and if his book is taken seriously—as it deserves to be—it must promote more controversy, for MacDonald and Lewis are widely respected figures. Lewis is virtually an icon of American evangelicalism; on one occasion the readers of Christianity Today rated him as the most influential writer in their lives. But the only dependable foundation for Christian belief is missing in Lewis. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, with the result that his conclusions are a conglomerate of Bible, imagination, and philosophy. Does the absence of that foundation matter when it comes to understanding the love of God—the subject with which Beasley’s book is primarily concerned? From Acts 17, the Athenians’ worship ‘To An Unknown God’, Beasley shows that the saving knowledge of God is only known by divine revelation. Lost man is as ignorant of that knowledge as were the Athenians. Yet, instead of starting with Scripture, Lewis believed that a consideration of love in man can help us to understand love in God. A major part of Altar to an Unknown Love is a refutation of this error. The love to be found in unregenerate man is self-love— love centering around the pursuit of pleasure, and identified by the Greeks (and by Lewis) as eros. But the love of God (never called eros in the NT) is altogether different, and is unknown until a person is born of God (1 John 4:7-10). ‘Those who do not know God cannot know his love’ (p. 52). ‘Without understanding the nature of his love . . . we are left with nothing but our own shifting sands of human affection’ (p. 39).

A reconstructed presentation of the love of God—to be found in all the authors Beasley is critiquing— produces teaching which carries no offence to the natural man. What is more offensive to the natural man than truth concerning the justice of God and his wrath against sin? But that offence is eliminated by the subjective, man-centered teaching here reviewed. The love of God is such, it is said, that it requires him to respect human freedom, and that freedom should control how we think of heaven and hell. ‘The damned’, wrote Lewis’ publisher of The Great Divorce (Macmillan Publishing, 1976), ‘are under no obligation to return to hell. They can stay on in heaven if they wish—if they are willing to forgo their most precious sins’ (p. 86). Or as Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked on the inside’ (p. 89n). ‘We get what we want’, says Bell. ‘God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option . . . God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins’ (pp. 85, 122). So it is not justice but love that takes anyone to hell. The divine love, which is claimed to be subordinate to human freedom, leads to men being given what they want. Heaven and hell revolve around man, not God (p. 81).

This thinking does not simply take away the offence of biblical truth; ultimately it takes away the gospel itself. For if God’s determination to judge and punish sin is no part of his character, then a substitutionary atonement ceases to be a part of the Christian message. It is not accidental that none of the authors Beasley is examining believed that in the shedding of his blood Christ was bearing the penalty of sin. The author points out correctly that C. S. Lewis did not belong to evangelical circles in Britain in his lifetime. To our mind he proves the case that Lewis is now so widely acceptable in American evangelicalism because non-biblical ideas are not being recognized for what they are. Artistry in writing, effective story-telling, with a mixture of ‘disconnected scriptural references and thoughts’, are able to achieve wide success in a day when discrimination has given way to popular appeal. These are all characteristics of the writings of Bell, Lewis, and MacDonald. This is not to say that all they wrote is equally deserving of condemnation. Beasley’s strictures on Bell’s Love Wins are rightly the most severe (pp. 114-15). Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, now produced on film by Disney for the millions, is not in the same category, but when ‘more and more preachers are eager to cite Lewis in support of their theological positions’ the warning contained in this book is not unfounded. It raises issues of fundamental importance.

Michael Beasley, a science graduate of California State University, and of the Master’s Seminary, has served in pastoral ministry since 1994. We are impressed and thankful for the character of his writings. His valuable book, Indeed, has Paul Really Said? A Critique of N.T.Wright’s Teaching on Justification, has already been reviewed in these columns.

Iain H. Murray


For more information about this book, go to: ataul.thearmoury.org.
For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to:
www.thearmouryministries.org

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God's word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of "Christian Hedonism" into his teachings is deeply problematic. In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition as supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For more on the subject of “Christian Hedonism” and C.S. Lewis, as well as the biblical terms - agape, eros, and hedonism:

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

********************************
A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming from Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.


[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby - “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Divine Providence

mjbatwhbcnowredeemerbiblechurchLast month I stumbled upon some sad and difficult news, the likes of which I will not describe in detail, but will only say that it involves a church in the northern Midwest. I heard about this news via a Christian podcast which aired shortly after the crisis in question. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but to recall to mind several memories concerning one of the most difficult experiences that I have gone through in the ministry. The memories and experiences that I will share will be nameless recollections from the past. To be frank they are difficult memories and past anxieties that I have entrusted to God, lest my own heart be corrupted with a root of bitterness. Yet, these distant memories also bear forth a bounty of important life lessons. Whenever I do think of them, I am immediately drawn to the reflection of God’s kind and faithful tutelage of my soul. Thus, these memories supply helpful goads and warnings as I continue to grow as a Christian, a husband, a father and a pastor. This is the way of God's beautiful providence: the most bitter experiences in life supply an abundance of teaching concerning our great need for Christ; for His wisdom; for His grace; for his love and tender mercies. Therefore, what I share with the reader is given with the design to pass along important life lessons that the Lord continues to teach me as a bankrupt sinner, devoid of wisdom apart from His Word. There may be those who will read what follows and be familiar with the details which lie behind my generic recollections. If this is the experience of the reader, then please know that my only design is to pass along the life lessons that God has ordained for his people – for me; for you; for every member of His church.

When I was in the earliest years of ministry I was serving in a church whose spiritual beginnings came from the hyper-grace teacher: R.B. Thieme. At the time, I was too inexperienced to comprehend what this meant, but I eventually discovered that the seeds planted by this man, and others like him,[1] established problematic roots in the church – and those roots ran very deep. To varying degrees, men like Thieme champion a notion of grace which maligns the precious truths of the Lord’s sovereignty, mankind’s total depravity, God’s irresistible grace, His unconditional election, particular redemption, and most notably - the doctrine of the perseverance of the Saints. Along with these problematic influences in the church, there was a strong thread of “Evangelical Feminism” – a pernicious doctrine that continues to grow with unmitigated acceleration within the professing world of Evangelicalism.[2] Now I should note at this point that, after being a pastor for over 20 years, I would never enter into such an environment like this again. However, as a young pastor, energetic, optimistic, and naïve, it was my desire to teach the word with the hope that many could be persuaded by the clarity of God’s word on these important matters. Yet, in this first pastorate of mine, I began to discover some of the stark realities of pastoral ministry. What I soon discovered is that individuals who disagree with a church’s leadership will soon reveal their true character, for better or for worse. The number of conflicts that I had to face during this season of ministry are too numerous to articulate here, but in just one example I recall having to travel to California with my wife and young children in order to perform my first funeral service in my life - for my father. My wife had just had a miscarriage and so our family was having to face the reality of death in many different ways. The most difficult aspect of the funeral services that I had to perform for my father centered on the fact that he never made a profession of faith in Christ. Not only did I oversee his funeral, but I had to attend to the affairs of his dwindled estate. All of this proved to be exhausting for all of us as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Upon our return home, I was welcomed with a petition demanding my resignation, signed by several devotees of hyper-grace teaching.

Experiences like these can be crushing, especially to a young pastor; however, in God’s good providence these difficult years began to teach me, in a strange and inverted way, the importance of my role as a shepherd in my home first, for an essential reason: every trial that a pastor faces should bring him back to an inspection of his soul, his dealings with his family, and his dealings with the church – in that order. I began to realize that how I responded to these trials before God and men had the potential of blessing or burdening my wife and children. In fact, I should say that any trial has a way of reminding any man why it is that he needs to be a strong leader in his home as a means of protection from all external conflicts from the world and even the church. For this, I am thankful for God’s sweet providences, though they seemed quite bitter at the time. For five and a half years the Lord delivered a steady stream of such experiences as we navigated our way through various conflicts involving theology proper, harmartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, the institution of marriage, the family, and the roles of men and women. Every conflict that I had to face brought me to my knees before God, forcing me to reflect on my attitude, conduct, and demeanor before the flock of my household – before any other consideration of my broader ministry to the church. In short, the Lord was teaching me the simple but often overlooked lesson of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

1 Timothy 3:4–5: 4 He [the overseer – v. 1] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

They say that sometimes big things come in small packages, and with this very thought I would suggest that one of the biggest lessons of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is packaged within Paul’s parenthetical comment: (“…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”). I believe that Paul’s lesson on the overseer’s home supplies an important nucleus for all that surrounds it. You see, a man’s singular devotion to his wife, his temperance, prudence, respectability, hospitality, ability to teach, sobriety, self-control, gentleness, peacefulness, and monetary self-restraint are best tested and seen within the crucible of the home before they are tested and seen anywhere else. God does not call shepherds to role-playing or stage-acting; He calls them to the substance of godly leadership in the home as the unimpeachable evidence of his qualifications to lead in Christ’s church. Because of this, the family should be seen as the veritable canary in the coalmine, signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the man who fills the office of overseer. What I began to discover amidst these early trials of my ministry is that the Lord was refining me in ways that I could never have before imagined.

This is the stuff of refinement that no Seminary degree can impart.

It is for this reason that I fully believe that genuine overseers are not created by manmade programs, rather, it is God who sovereignly calls overseers to such an office such that their conduct and character will become evident within a watching church – in God’s time. Such a process as this reminds God’s people that it is God who builds His church, not men, and that the overseer who is truly called by God will be in public what he is in the private. The following 6 principles began to crystalize for me:

1. The Principal Focus of a Pastor’s Leadership: Paul tells us that a genuine overseer must be one who manages his own household [ἰδίου οἴκου] well. This statement points to the principal focus of the overseer – his own [ἰδίου] household. Thus, before an overseer can shepherd other households within the church, his own household must be his first ministry above all. Should he fail here, he fails everywhere. As already stated, his family is the veritable canary in the coalmine signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the pastor.

2. The Nature of His Leadership: Paul reminds us that the overseer/pastor is one who manages his household well. The word manage [προϊστάμενον] literally means “standing before others,” denoting a clear and decisive leadership/management. This concept is important and harmonizes well with Ephesians 5:23, where all husbands are commanded to lead their households because the husband is the “head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” Taken together, these verses obliterate the contemporary mythology of co-leadership between husbands and wives in the home. Many churches actually believe and teach such co-leadership in the present day, however, biblically speaking, the wife is the helper to her husband according to the creation ordinance (Genesis 2:18), but not a co-leader (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Decades of feminism in the world have influenced the modern church in such a way that these principles are nearly lost – to the demise of many. However, a man who loves his wife is the one who, in the imitation of Christ, will supply a decisive leadership which provides a haven of protection for her and the children. As an example of this principle of loving leadership, God’s covenant of grace with Abraham reveals an important kernel of truth: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command [H. yatzawe] his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19. This verb, command - yatzawe/tzawa comes from the root word mitzwa (commandment) and is correctly translated as “command” in the NASB. Whatever else the reader might think or assume about the nature of Abraham’s calling of leadership, it was rooted in a clear and decisive management based upon the “way of the Lord.” Abraham was not called to delegate this responsibility to others; nor was he allowed to neglect it or even share it with his wife Sarah; instead, it was Abraham’s responsibility before God alone. In the end, if a man does not lead his household in this manner, he is not qualified to shepherd the flock of God.

3. His Pedagogy in the Home: According to Scripture, a godly husband must seek the sanctification of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33) and his children (Ephesians 6:4) by means of the ministry of the word. This principle establishes the importance of regular worship in the home (i.e., family devotions/worship). However, spiritual indifference leads men to the neglect of such duties, but love for Christ drives a man to such privileges with great joy. In homes where such a pedagogy of love takes place, one will find the fruit of peace and joy. However, wherever such a pedagogy is weak or absent, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, depression, anxiety, discontentment, provocation, and anger will fester and grow. The overseer must manifest this important duty of family worship for the sake of his own household as well as for the sake of other men who watch his example. As Thomas Manton has said: “A family is the seminary of church and state; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in church and commonwealth. By family discipline, officers are trained up for the Church, (1 Timothy 3:4). Upon all these considerations how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression in the knowledge and fear of God.” Simply put, a man is not “apt to teach” if he is not leading and teaching his wife and children in the home first and foremost.

4. The Importance of Hospitality: Paul’s mention of hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 isn’t a quaint notion of social etiquette, but has to do with the quality of loving those who are outside of his household. Such a ministry reveals his care for, and generosity with, others in his broader community. However, hospitality is also important because it supplies a means by which the shepherd can interact with, and be visible before, others within the church. Paul’s instruction about hospitality should bring to mind Peter’s important command in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “[shepherd the flock of God among you…] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The words, proving to be examples [τύποι γινόμενοι], speak of the overseer’s perpetual transformation[3] as seen and witnessed by the people. Thus, a pastor is not a fixed, motionless statue, but is a living, breathing human being who is being transformed by the power of God’s grace such that his life is one that is becoming a greater example to the people who watch him. Despite his flaws as a human being, he, his wife, and children are all growing in wisdom and grace – and the open act of hospitality avails such progress to a church that is called to emulate such an example. Again, hospitality is more than social etiquette – it is the ministry through which sheep can see their shepherd and his family in a very real way.

5. The Centrality of Love: Interestingly, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is devoid of any explicit mention of love; however, the notion of love is implicitly revealed in every qualification. First, I say this because, as the foremost commandment is indeed foremost in every dimension of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:28-31), so it is with every qualification disclosed for the overseer seeing that love must govern everything in the pastor’s relationship with God and men. Second, a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 reveals that most of the character qualities of the overseer are repeated in this quintessential section on love. Moreover, the overseer’s leadership in his home must reflect that of Christ’s loving leadership of the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). An overseer’s loving devotion and fidelity towards his wife formulates the basis for his capacity to lead his household well, and all of this establishes the requisite foundation of his leadership of Christ’s church, for “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Though an explicit mention of love is nowhere to be found in the text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is everywhere by means of the whole counsel of God’s word and is central to everything.

6. The Extent of these Qualifications: As a final point of observation, Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is to be applied to all overseers – without exception. Though this may seem to be too simplistic an observation for our discussion, it is not. From the beginning of my ministry to the present, I have often encountered a kind of culture of relativity within the church, especially as it relates to elder qualifications. Within such a culture, “staff” pastors are expected to conform to the standards for overseers (at best), while “non-staff” pastors can shirk such standards at will. Such thinking is both unsupportable and disturbing. Though it is recognized that those elders who are primarily focused on public preaching and teaching are to be mindful of James’ warnings concerning teachers (James 3:1), such a notion in no way mitigates the biblical qualifications for “non-staff” elders. Elders who frequent the pulpit as well as those who do not should all be invested in pursuing the elder qualifications stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 - because none of these texts establish any distinction among those who teach frequently versus those who teach with less frequency. The standards for overseers are not just for those with a seminary degree, or for those who readily fill the pulpit, but they apply to all who bear the title and office of overseer; and a conscientious pastor should seek the application of these standards among all overseers within the church so that he might be surrounded with the kind of accountability that he truly needs for the sake of his life, doctrine, and ministry overall. The removal or avoidance of these standards is spiritually dangerous to the pastor and the entire church.

This is just a small summary of lessons that deeply impacted my life and ministry during these times of testing. Though the pressures around me seemed to be overwhelming at times, the reality was that God was crushing me in order to formulate a valuable faith and conviction that cannot be acquired in the academy. What I did not realize at the time is that these seemingly obvious principles would prove to be deeply controversial. The more I became convinced of the central importance of the overseer’s need to exemplify a godly household in his ministry, the more controversy I faced. Though these principles should not be controversial within Christ’s body, I do maintain that the encroachment of feminism within the visible church supplies a veiled yet virulent opponent to such standards.

So what exactly happened during these trying years of ministry? How does this story end? Well, I won’t divulge all of the details (for there are too many), but the ebb and flow of this season of ministry came to a head when I was eventually accused of having standards for marriage and family that were “too high.” Please note, this was not an accusation of being unbiblical or of failing morally; instead, I was given the cryptic charge of having standards that were too high. At the outset, I was both disturbed and concerned over such charges. The reality is that, should I ever exceed what is written, I would clearly be in the wrong. In such a case as this I would gladly be shown my fault by Scripture, however, this never took place. Instead, I fear that behind these cryptic accusations was the veiled confession:

“We want lower standards.”

I must say to the reader that this is a fearful confession for any church. All of us must recognize that our standards fall short of God’s – daily, but this is to be expected. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that our ways are exceedingly low, and God’s standards are always higher than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The solution to this is not found in the pursuit of standards that are lower than what God prescribes; instead, we must seek out His high standards in our continual pursuit of growth, knowing that we will never achieve perfection in this life - until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the day of His return, we will be like Him and will be brought into conformity with His image. Until then, we are to reach out for God’s high and holy standard until our last breath, knowing that our sanctification in this life is progressive until the end. This is what I must seek as a Christian; as a husband; a father; and an undershepherd, and it is what I should call others to seek for Christ’s sake and ultimate glory. However, I fear that modern Christendom has divested itself of the high standards of God’s word in exchange for a lesser standard. It seems that many today are looking for a pastor who can become the next power broker in the market of “bigger is better”- Christianity. Simple, quiet, faithful devotion to the ministry of the word is out; market-driven big-religion is the new fad. Though Paul commands us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,” the world scoffs at this as primitive, puritanical, culturally irrelevant and that which will never “trend” on Twitter.

So be it.

As believers we should cherish the priceless robe of “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), rather than craving the world’s festal garments. Though such worldly clothing is ornate and eye-catching, it never endures. In all of this, I close by thanking the Lord for His precious lessons to me. Within the crucible of these trials, the Lord refined me and led me to understand my need to grow further as a Christian; to grow as a husband; a father; a pastor; and a heavenly citizen within this fallen world. Without the protective safeguards of God’s high standards, I fear that I would fail in the ministry by shrinking back to a lesser standard rooted in my own wisdom and strength rather than His. In God’s good providence it was through these years that I began to preach and write on the subject of marriage and family, which eventually supplied the foundation for my book, The First Institution.[4] As a result of my work on this book, I came to discover that, if anything, my standards needed to be raised further by the truths of God’s word. In all of this, I am deeply thankful to the Lord for His faithful tutelage in my life such that I can look back on such trials and see the tender providence of my faithful Shepherd.

To Him be the glory forever…


[1] Specifically, the most prominent influences within the church came from R.B. Thieme, Zane Hodges, and George Meizinger.

[2] The reader should note that, throughout my ministry I have maintained that feminism is the indirect product of effeminism – that is, men who are unwilling to “act like men” 1 Corinthians 16:13. Wherever men create a vacuum of leadership (in the home or in the church) they create an indirect incentive for women to take their place. Thus, my concern over the prevalence of feminism in the modern era is not about women, primarily, but is centered on the preponderance of men who are failing to lead in the manner that God has called them.

[3] [G. γινόμενοι] – This present middle participle speaks of perpetual transformation of an individual’s nature and character. Perhaps a better translation would be “becoming examples” which clearly denotes the continued, progressive nature of the pastor’s mature as witnessed and imitated by others in the church.

[4] The First Institution: A Theological and Practical Guide for the Reformation of God's Institution of Marriage and Family [Hardback: ISBN-13: 978-1935358008].

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Does Paul “Invite” or “Anticipate” Human Reason?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Apostle Paul’s pedagogical methodology is his frequent use of staged questions which come from the vantage point of human reasoning. The book of Romans is filled with such a trail of staged questions, and this trail is established early on in the epistle:

Romans 3:1–8: 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

The Apostle purposefully jousts with a nameless opponent in order to demonstrate the dangerous dead end of human reasoning (i.e., speaking according to men - κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω). His descent into such calumnious rhetoric is designed to stage his repeated retort: may it never be! (μὴ γένοιτο). The thought of accusing God of unrighteousness (v.5), conjoined with the licentious consideration of doing evil that good may come, all stem from the madness of human reasoning, as John Calvin rightly says.

Though this is a digression from the main subject, it was yet necessary for the Apostle to introduce it, lest he should seem to give to the ill-disposed an occasion to speak evil, which he knew would be readily laid hold on by them. For since they were watching for every opportunity to defame the gospel, they had, in the testimony of David, what they might have taken for the purpose of founding a calumny, — “If God seeks nothing else, but to be glorified by men, why does he punish them, when they offend, since by offending they glorify him? Without cause then surely is he offended, if he derives the reason of his displeasure from that by which he is glorified.” There is, indeed, no doubt, but that this was an ordinary, and everywhere a common calumny, as it will presently appear. Hence Paul could not have covertly passed it by; but that no one should think that he expressed the sentiments of his own mind, he premises that he assumes the person of the ungodly; and at the same time, he sharply, touches, by a single expression, on human reason; whose work, as he intimates, is ever to bark against the wisdom of God; for he says not, “according to the ungodly,” but “according to man,” or as man. And thus indeed it is, for all the mysteries of God are paradoxes to the flesh: and at the same time it possesses so much audacity, that it fears not to oppose them and insolently to assail what it cannot comprehend. We are hence reminded, that if we desire to become capable of understanding them, we must especially labor to become freed from our own reason, (proprio sensu) and to give up ourselves, and unreservedly to submit to his word.[1]

Calvin is right in his understanding of Paul’s teaching method and message. Paul is neither inviting nor encouraging calumnious responses to truth. Instead, he anticipates what he knows will flow from the human heart as a result of corrupted and limited reasoning. Paul repeats this pedagogic procedure again in Romans 6:

Romans 6:1–2: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be [μὴ γένοιτο]! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Once again, Paul anticipates the natural man’s response to God’s sovereignty over sin and corruption in order to refute such fleshly thinking.[2] This same methodology is again repeated in Paul’s profound treatment of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:

Romans 9:14–21: 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

In many respects, Paul increases the intensity of his warnings to those who would raise calumnious back-talk to the Potter. Paul already refuted the speculation that injustice can be found in God back in Romans 3, and it is repeated here in the ninth chapter for reinforcement to what follows:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

It is important to note that Paul anticipates (in the indicative mood) the above query, that is to say, he asserts with certitude that men will respond thus (“You will say [Ἐρεῖς] to me…”). Paul’s follow-up to such an anticipated question is extremely important. His reference to God as the molder and potter brings to mind God’s severe displeasure with those who question His authority and sovereignty:

Isaiah 45:9: 9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

Isaiah 29:16: 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Consistent with all of his other rhetorical questions, Paul’s staged queries in Romans 9 have the design of unveiling the heart of man behind the question. Therefore, Paul’s point of presenting such questions is designed to reveal: 1) the corruption of human reasoning; and 2) the purposes of God in all of His providential dealings with man. Once again, I believe that Calvin is right when he refers to the staged queries of Romans 9 as monstrous madness:

“Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.”[3]

Calvin reminds us that the normal questions raised by the natural man are typically bad questions which flow from the corruptions of the human heart. But such bad questions have a pedagogical purpose within Paul’s instruction. I would submit to the reader that Paul’s method here is designed to remind us all that, apart from grace, we are all madmen who are incapable of comprehending spiritual truth. The universal madness of men is well summarized by Solomon as follows:

Ecclesiastes 9:3: This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Overall, it is important to understand Paul’s rhetorical methodology. For the sake of his readers, Paul anticipated questions that were formulated from the poverty of human reason. He did not do this in order to invite us to think in such terms, but to expose the danger and untrustworthiness of human reasoning. When applying this teaching methodology, we must remember never to shame people when they raise such questions about God; but neither should we invite them to persist in such rebellious thoughts. I believe that the balance is to remind them, as does Paul, that some questions are inherently bad. The problem with such queries isn’t just that they are misleading, but that they convey something quite insidious: blindness, foolishness, and rebellion against God – for all have sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

In the end we should be thankful that Paul raised these questions at all, for when we consider them carefully, we find that such thinking is a certain reality for all of the descendants of Adam. By exposing these faults within us, Paul reveals the supremacy of God’s revelation to us concerning His transcendent nature and purposes. Moreover, though it can be said that the believer can, by grace, embrace such transcendent truths – it must be acknowledged that our knowledge in this life is still limited and veiled due to our own sin and human frailty, and therefore we ought to confess with the Apostle:

Romans 11:33–36: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Paul’s summary in Romans 11 brings us all to the place that we all belong: on our knees before the Pottertrusting Him in faith while trembling before His awesome power and authority - Isaiah 66:2: 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”


[1] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (electronic ed.). Calvin’s Commentaries (Romans 3:5). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

[2] “We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones.” Calvin, J. (1998). Romans, (Romans 6:1).

[3] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (9:14).

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Book Review: Covenant Theology–A Baptist Distinctive

Covenant Theology - A Baptist Distinctive: Edited by Earl M. Blackburn with contributions by Walter J. Chantry, Ken Fryer, Fred A. Malone, Kenneth Puls, and Justin Taylor (Solid Ground Christian Books, Birmingham, Alabama 2012) 164 pages.

Simply put, Covenant Theology – A Baptist Distinctive, is a rich, thoughtful, well disciplined, and Christ-centered work that is worthy of commendation. Earl Blackburn and all of the contributors of this title have supplied Christ’s body with a valuable tool for comprehending the scriptural distinctions between brethren of the Reformed Baptist, Reformed Paedobaptist, and Dispensational communities. Though the book primarily focuses on a scriptural defense of Reformed Baptist theology, it also manages to issue correctives of other viewpoints, but with a deeply irenic tone. As to this latter point, Covenant Theology – A Baptist Distinctive supplies an excellent example of what is sorely needed in the present day, especially in view of those who seek to vilify and marginalize any form of Covenant Theology without exception. Additionally, I am glad to say that this book manages to keep the Lord as the central focus in everything, as is evident from the very beginning:

“It [Covenant Theology] is the exciting truth of the Eternal Father giving to His Beloved Son a fallen people for His own to redeem by His incarnate blood and righteous life; it is the humbling truth that One so divine would gladly agree to His own suffering for such sinners; and it is the miraculous truth that the Holy Spirit would invade the rebels hearts’ to free them from their enemy’s grip and to resurrect their dead souls to embrace by faith alone the covenant Mediator of their covenant Father. Truly, the Covenant Theology of the Bible is a wonder of God’s infinite grace which brings Him eternal glory from the lips of those covenant sons and daughters who eternally give thanks to His glorious name.” (CT, p. 10).

The heart of this work consists of five chapters, followed by three appendices:

Chapter 1 – Covenant Theology Simplified (Blackburn) – Supplies an excellent introduction for the subject at hand, giving the reader a simplified foundation for all that follows.

Chapter 2 – Biblical Hermeneutics & Covenant Theology (Malone) – Enters into the needful mechanics of scriptural interpretation.

Chapter 3 – The Covenants: Of Works & Grace (Chantry) – Unpacks the relationship between the Law and the Gospel.

Chapter 4 – The Imputation of Righteousness & Covenant Theology (Chantry) – Reveals the importance of the Federal Headship of Adam and Christ in Romans 5.

Chapter 5 – Baptism & Covenant Theology (Chantry) – Issues a needful comparison between credobaptism and paedobaptism.

Appendices I-III: I – Was There a Covenant of Works? (Taylor); II - Covenant Theology in Baptist Life (Fryer); III – A Comparison Between the Old and New Covenants (Puls).

All of these sections come together very well, giving the reader a careful consideration of the various elements of continuity and discontinuity between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. From an editorial standpoint, the book’s multiple layers harmonize very well. Especially strong are Malone’s presentation of hermeneutics (Chapter 2) which supplies a very persuasive foundation for the entire book, and Chantry’s emphasis on the centrality of imputation (Chapter 4) is both clear and cogent, stressing the gravity of this important doctrine.
Throughout the book, priority is given to the principle of Sola Scriptura, however, significant elements from church history are interwoven throughout, including important portions of the LBC/1689 in addition to mentions of the strengths and weaknesses of various theologians, both past and present.

All in all, this is a much needed work in a very needy time.

Review on amazon.com here.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Why Miykael?

Why does my blog bear the name www.miykael.com? For one simple reason – my name, Michael, is a Hebrew name and is spelled Miykael in its original, Hebraic form. Throughout my miykaelname_monoyouth, I thought nothing of my name and knew nothing about its origin and meaning. After the Lord saved me in 1982, I began to discover the rich truths of the Bible and came to discover that my name carries with it a very important message. Because of this, I no longer go by “Mike” – but prefer my actual name of Michael. On many occasions, my name has given me opportunities to talk about the rich theological message that it carries. And what is that message? Well, simply put, my name in Hebrew, Miykael, is composed of three parts:

1. Miy: This portion is what is called an interrogative – that is, it sets the stage for a question, and that question is: “who?”

2. ka: This portion of the name is rooted in the Hebrew consonant “kaf” and is rendered as a comparative particle: “like.”

3. el: This portion of the name offers a simplified form of the Hebrew word – ‘elohiym – “el” - “God.”

Please remember that Hebrew is written from right to left. Thus, when you place these components together, you arrive at a very important question: “Who is like God?” What is interesting about this question is that the Old Testament Scriptures repeatedly seek to answer this query:

Jeremiah 10:6: There is none like You, O LORD; You are great, and great is Your name in might.

Deuteronomy 33:26: There is none like the God of Jeshurun, Who rides the heavens to your help, And through the skies in His majesty.

Psalm 86:8: There is no one like You among the gods, O Lord, Nor are there any works like Yours.

miykaelname(noone)abbrevThus, the implied answer to this repeated question is: no one. Yet, we should ask: “why does the Bible repeatedly contemplate the sole supremacy of God: that no one is like Him?” Actually, the answer to this question is extremely important. Because of indwelling sin, all men have a natural tendency to resist this truth of God’s sole supremacy. Because of sin, men entertain corrupted thoughts[1] in their hearts, continually.[2] This impacts all aspects of life, but most centrally, it infects man’s thoughts about himself and God:

Psalm 50:16, 21: 16 To the wicked God says… 21 “You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.”

Psalm 50 reads like a lengthy wrap-sheet concerning the corrupted thoughts and actions of mankind. Verse 21 in this psalm is important because it unveils one of the root sources of such corruption: men tend to think that God is nothing more than a mere man. This is no small problem. By entertaining thoughts of God which bring Him down, the wicked exalts himself to such an extent that he ignores discipline while shunning God’s word (v. 17); he cavorts with thieves and adulterers as if God saw nothing (v. 18); he uses his tongue for evil and deceit (v. 19); and he slanders those who are even the members of his own household (v. 20). This is all bad news – and it is the reality of all men in view of the universal reality of sin, for all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23). This is why God repeatedly delivers the crucial lesson of His transcendence to mankind:

Isaiah 55:7–9: 7 Let the wicked forsake his way And the unrighteous man his thoughts; And let him return to the LORD, And He will have compassion on him, And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. 8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. 9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”

Numbers 23:19: 19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”

Not only is God not a man – He is infinitely superior to all of His creation. Unlike man, His promises are sure and He is infinitely trustworthy and faithful. In a world of faithless humanity the theological message of “Miykael” is a crucial one. It is a name which brings us to the nexus of man’s corruption versus God’s holiness and absolute supremacy. It is a name which brings us back to the Gospel truth that men cannot save themselves and thus they need a Redeemer – a Savior – who’s infinite power and righteousness can accomplish the miracle of saving sinners from the wrath of God:

John 3:36: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

Dear reader – the importance and profundity of my name has absolutely nothing to do with me. It is a name which points beyond the rubble of fallen humanity and directs us to the One who alone can save us – for no one has the power and authority to forgive sin, except God alone.


Where do you Stand?: Atheism & Religionism vs the Gospel from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

[1] Ecclesiastes 9:3: 3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

[2] Genesis 6:5: 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.