March 31, 2014

The Sufficiency of Scripture

If you want to write a bestselling Christian book, tell people about hidden truth that isn't in the Bible. Write about your trip to heaven. Write about the personal information that Jesus channeled to you during your time of listening. Give people something newer and fresher than the dull pages of their dusty Bibles. A quick look at the top selling books at Meijers or Walmart will confirm that these are the books that fly off the shelves.

What does it say about Christianity that these are our most popular books? I’m afraid it indicates that we are enamored with the novel. We are more interested in privileged information than in the public record of the Bible. Our attentions are more perked by fresh finds than old truths. 

In the early days of the church, the Gnostics were a major problem. The word “Gnostic” means “knowing ones.” The Gnostics taught that salvation came from receiving hidden wisdom. They believed they had secret, insider knowledge that was only known by the privileged few. Men and women were drawn to Gnosticism because they were attracted to the idea of getting the inside scoop. People in those days had the same tendencies as people today.

In contrast to this, I hope that you believe in the sufficiency of Scripture. The sufficiency of Scripture means that the Bible contains everything we need to know to be saved and to live the Christian life. Everything that God meant to tell us for this age is written in the completed pages of Scripture. It is the full measure of revealed truth that God intends for humanity for this stage in redemptive history. Until Christ returns, it is all that we need.

There are no extra-biblical Easter eggs to go looking for. Scripture is enough.

Many of you will go camping this summer. If you go to a store to be outfitted for your camping trip and they have a sign in the window claiming they carry "Everything You Need!" then you shouldn't have to go to another store to buy something else for your trip. If they can give you everything you need, then you would be thoroughly equipped. If they didn’t have everything you need, then you wouldn’t be thoroughly equipped. With that in mind, think about what Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-17:

…and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is able to make him thoroughly equipped for every good work. Timothy did not need revelation from another source to equip him thoroughly. Neither do we.
The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Bible tells us everything there is to know about how to build nuclear reactors or how to remove someone’s appendix. However, it does mean that everything we need to know about God, salvation, and the Christian life is found in Scripture. It means that we don’t have to look to someone’s (very doubtful) trips to heaven for a secret glimpse behind the curtain. It means that we don’t have to buy someone’s book to get their secret knowledge. It means that we shouldn’t look for spiritual short-cuts. There are no divinely inspired Cliff-Notes for Scripture. There are no deleted scenes. It means that we don’t have to feel like “there’s gotta be something more.”
Satan will do anything he can to get us away from the Word of God. If he can make something else seem more interesting, more fresh, more authoritative, or easier... he will do it.

Years ago Rene Pache wrote this wisdom:

Why be tied to a book out of the past when one can communicate every day with the living God? But this is exactly the danger point. Apart from the constant control of written revelation, we soon find ourselves engulfed in subjectivity . . . Let each remind himself of the prohibition of taking anything away from Scripture or adding anything to it (Deut. 4:2; Rev. 22:18-19). Almost every heresy and sect has originated in a supposed revelation or a new experience on the part of its founder, something outside the strictly biblical framework. 
James Montgomenry Boice once warned that the great issue of our day would not be the authority of Scripture, but its sufficiency. The alternative to the sufficiency of Scripture is the insufficiency of Scripture. Either you believe that Scripture is enough, or you will turn to other experiences and teachings to supplement it. 

Remember, God is omniscient. When the Holy Spirit inspired the words of Scripture, He knew exactly what we would need today—even in the 21st century. Our world didn’t catch Him by surprise.

Be satisfied with what God has chosen to reveal. He could have revealed more, but He didn't. God has His reasons for that.

My advice to you is to disregard books on trips to heaven, special messages, and secret wisdom. Don't give it a market. Don't be fascinated by novelty. Instead, appreciate all that God has revealed in Scripture. Read it! Read all of it. Meditate on it. Appreciate the fact that the Holy Spirit is with us to illuminate the truths that He had written down long ago. He makes it come alive to us and shows us how it applies, in glaring brilliance, to our lives today.

I hope you believe that Scripture is enough. I hope you are satisfied with the sufficiency of Scripture. 

Next up: The Perspicuity of Scripture

Others in this series: The Necessity of Scripture; The Authority of Scripture; The Inerrancy of Scripture

March 4, 2014

The Inerrancy of Scripture

The Watershed

Thirty years ago Francis Schaeffer predicted that inerrancy would prove to be the watershed issue for evangelicals. He was right.

Schaeffer described that not far from his home in Switzerland, there was a ridge along the mountains, covered with snow. If the snow melted on one side of the ridge the water drops would trickle down the mountain into a stream, eventually joining the Rhine River, flowing through Germany and emptying into the cold waters of the North Sea. However, if the snow melted two inches to the other side of the ridge, these drops would flow down the Rhone valley into Lake Geneva, then into the Rhone River, flowing through France, until finally reaching the warm waters of the Mediterranean.   

This ridge along the mountains is called the watershed. Although the snow at the top of the mountain seems unified, as it melts its eventual destination will be determined by what side of the watershed it falls on. What seems like a very small difference at first will eventually separate these drops of water by thousands of miles.

Thirty years later, it is obvious that Francis Schaeffer was right. Ideas have consequences.

This article is the third in a series of introductions to the five attributes of Scripture: Necessity, Authority, Inerrancy, Sufficiency, and Perspicuity. These are Five Things I Hope You Believe Are True About Scripture.

Verbal Plenary Inspiration

In a nutshell, inerrancy simply means that Scripture is without error in all that it teaches. This doctrine dovetails with the belief that Scripture is the result of verbal plenary inspiration. If that phrase is new to you, please let me explain it: Inspiration is an older translation of the word theopneustos from 2 Timothy 3:16. It literally means “God-breathed.” The term verbal refers to the words of Scripture (think: “verbs” = words). Finally, if you go to a conference, a “plenary” session is one that everyone attends. So, plenary means “all.” Together, verbal plenary inspiration is the belief that all of the words of the Bible are God-breathed.

  • Verbal = The words of Scripture are God-breathed, not merely the thoughts or ideas.
  • Plenary = All the words of Scripture are God-breathed, not just some of them. (Not just the “red” ones, the popular ones, or the ones we like best.)
  • Inspiration = God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16; theopneustos)
2 Timothy 3:16 teaches that all Scripture is God-breathed. It is wrongheaded to carve it up as if some parts are inspired and some parts are not. It is especially wrongheaded to think that the ink color in modern editions makes any difference. Jesus taught that even “the smallest letter” and “the least stroke of a pen” were all God’s unchanging Word (Mt. 5:18). We also see Jesus (John 10:24-35) and Paul (Gal. 3:16) making theological arguments that depend on the specific words of Scripture. In one of these instances, Jesus also declared, “Scripture cannot be broken.”
Another View: Infallibility without Inerrancy
In the past, the terms infallibility and inerrancy basically meant the same thing. Infallibility means that something cannot fail and inerrant means that something cannot err. They were two sides of the same coin. However, now many theologians distinguish between these two terms and argue that we can have one without the other. This redefinition of infallibility was solidified in the 70's by Jack Rogers and Donald McKim’s who argued (wrongly I believe) that the Scriptures are infallible but not inerrant. They argue that inerrancy is a modern invention, while infallibility is the historic Christian position. They also give the term infallibility a new, very limited meaning. McKim writes:
[Scripture presents] a divine message in human thought forms. The purpose of scripture is not to present inerrant facts; yet it is ‘infallible’ in that it will not lie or deceive about what it is intended to focus upon: God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. In this view, scripture is seen in relation to its central purpose, the proclamation of the gospel (John 20:31) . . . Scripture is infallible in accomplishing its purpose.
In this view, all of the words in Scripture are not inspired. Instead, God gave the human authors certain ideas and helped them to communicate those ideas as best they could in rough human thought forms. All of the details do not need to be correct, they argue, in order to lead people to Jesus.
Because of the influence of this view, a change in language has taken place. Infallibility used to be the more common term, but it used to mean, basically, that Scripture doesn't make mistakes. However, now inerrancy means that Scripture doesn't make mistakes and infallibility (to many) means that Scripture actually does make mistakes, just not very important ones.
Francis Shaeffer saw the difference between these two views of Scripture as the difference between one side of the watershed and the other.
By the way, I should point out that it is true that many older theologians did not list inerrancy as one of the four attributes of Scripture. However, it can be demonstrated that they believed that Scripture never taught any real errors. They saw this as part of the authority of Scripture—and often treated it under that heading. Today, we are forced to be more specific about this issue because of the redefinitions that have taken place.
The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy
As inerrancy was being hotly debated in the 1970’s, conservative theologians met in Chicago in 1978 and drafted the document known as The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. It is a detailed description of what conservative Christians mean when they say that all Scripture is inerrant.
Many of the people who reject inerrancy these days seem to be reacting to a crude, strawman understanding of this doctrine. Instead, it is important for us to understand what inerrancy actually means—whether you accept it or reject it. Either way, it is worth your time to study this document. It helps us to know what inerrancy means, and what it doesn’t actually claim.
Here are a few examples of what the Chicago statement teaches (in bold), along with my summaries and comments: 
Article VIII.
     We affirm that God in His work of inspiration utilized the distinctive personalities and literary styles of the writers whom He had chosen and prepared.
     We deny that God, in causing these writers to use the very words that He chose, overrode their personalities.

God used the human writers’ personalities and writing styles without overriding their personalities. God did not use mechanical dictation.

Article X.
     We affirm that inspiration, strictly speaking, applies only to the autographic text [the original writings] of Scripture, which in the providence of God can be ascertained from available manuscripts with great accuracy. We further affirm that copies and translations of Scripture are the Word of God to the extent that they faithfully represent the original…

Inerrancy does not mean that every copy of Scripture has been miraculously preserved from type-o's or mistakes. It also does not mean that our translations are perfect. However, our copies and translations are inerrant to the extent that they faithfully reproduce the original

Article XII.
     We affirm that Scripture in its entirety is inerrant, being free from all falsehood, fraud, or deceit.
     We deny that Biblical infallibility and inerrancy are limited to spiritual, religious, or redemptive themes, exclusive of assertions in the fields of history and science. We further deny that scientific hypotheses about earth history may properly be used to overturn the teaching of Scripture on creation and the flood.

We should not limit inerrancy to “religious” areas of “faith and practice.” By the way, the phrase "faith and practice" originally meant everything that we believe and everything that we do. It was meant to cover everything, not to carve out some small section of truth that is different from science, history, and everyday reality. 

Article XIII.
     …We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by Biblical phenomena such as:
  • a lack of modern technical precision
  • irregularities of grammar or spelling
  • observational descriptions of nature (example: "sunrise")
  • the reporting of falsehoods (example: accurately reporting Satan's words)
  • the use of hyperbole (obvious exaggeration to make a point)
  • and round numbers
  • the topical arrangement of material (rather than strict chronological order)
  • variant selections of material in parallel accounts
  • the use of free citations
This is a very helpful list of things that are not genuine errors. When you realize that the Bible speaks in the common language of observation, the vast majority of the alleged "errors" in the Bible vanish.

Article XV.
     We affirm that the doctrine of inerrancy is grounded in the teaching of the Bible about inspiration.
     We deny that Jesus' teaching about Scripture may be dismissed by appeals to accommodation or to any natural limitation of His humanity.

Jesus viewed the Scriptures as being the authoritative and unerring Word of God. If Jesus is God, then His view of Scripture is correct and we should believe it also.

Your view of Scripture will have consequences. The difference may seem like inches at first, but the eventual result is the difference between the frigid seas of liberalism or the warm sea of Biblical truth.

Next up: The Sufficiency of Scripture...

February 28, 2014

The Authority of Scripture

Some people treat the Bible as if it were just a fallible collection of human wisdom. For example, one professor of religion wrote in the Huffington Post, "The Bible hates homosexuality. So what?" This professor frankly admitted that the Biblical writers consistently disapproved of homosexuality. However, she counseled other same-sex advocates to stop trying to force the Bible to approve of that which it clearly does not. Instead, we can let the Bible say what it says—but we don't need to worry about it. After all, these inspired writers were "still only human" and "[got] some stuff dead wrong." Yes, these spiritual ancestors of ours "were ahead of their time in many ways, and . . . pooled their wisdom together for the benefit of society . . . but they also never thought of many of the questions that we have to deal with." Thus, their opinions are not mandatory for our own time.

Compare that attitude with the comment that Paul made to the believers in Thessalonica. In 1 Thessalonians 2:23 Paul commended them saying: 

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe

They realized that they were not receiving from Paul a mere message of human wisdom. Instead, the message was from God and had His authority. 

The authority of Scripture is the second of Five Things I Hope You Believe are True About Scripture. (Click here for part one.)

2. The AUTHORITY of Scripture

The authority of Scripture means that everything that Scripture teaches and commands has God’s authority because Scripture is God’s Word. The voice of Scripture is the voice of God.

The Bible claims to be the Word of God around 1,500 times. Over and over again we see the prophets proclaim “Thus says the Lord.” They realized that God was using them as His mouthpiece to communicate His authoritative message. God has ultimate authority: Therefore His Word has authority. 

Dual Authorship

Let me ask you another question: Is the Bible the word of man or the word of God? The answer is that it is both. In the same way that Jesus Christ is both fully God and fully man, the Bible likewise is both fully the product of man and fully of God.  

We call this “dual authorship.” On one level, the words of the Bible are the words of human authors. God did not use channeling or some sort of automatic “zombie writing” to take over their bodies as they penned Scripture. Instead, God used their personalities, experiences, and writing styles—but also superintended the process in such a way that they wrote down exactly what He wanted written down. Peter describes it as though the Biblical writers were “carried along” by the Holy Spirit. The language he uses is like that of the wind carrying along a sailboat.
Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation. For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. -2 Peter 1:20-21

But—you might ask—if Scripture is also the work of human beings, then won’t it have errors in it? After all, the saying goes, “To err is human”? Well, that saying is not actually from the Bible. Also, it isn’t entirely true. Jesus Christ became a human being, and He never sinned (Heb. 4:15). So, just as Jesus was both human and divine without sinning, in the same way God kept the human authors of Scripture from communicating anything false as they wrote.

Revelation, Inspiration & Illumination

There are three phases to the process that God uses to get His truth to us. First, God reveals truth to his messengers, the prophets and apostles. Second, God inspires the writings of these authors so that the words they record are the exact words that He wants to be written. Finally, God illuminates this truth to our hearts as we read the words of Scripture. All three of these steps are the work of the Holy Spirit.

Step 1: Revelation (from God to the prophets and apostles)

The first step is for God to make knows the previously unrevealed truth to the prophets and apostles. Numbers 12:6 is an example of this:
He said, "Listen to my words: ‘When a prophet of the LORD is among you, I reveal myself to him in visions, I speak to him in dreams.’”
Another great example is Paul’s words in Eph. 3:3-5:
…that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets.
Step 2: Inspiration (from the apostles and prophets to the Bible)
Next is the process called inspiration. Sometimes we talk about great writers such as Shakespeare being “inspired” or ourselves being “inspired” when we have a great idea. However, when we speak of Scripture being inspired we mean something much more than that. The word used in 2 Timothy 3:16 (which used to be translated “inspired”) is the Greek word theopneustos. It literally means “God-breathed.” Thus, the Bible is God-breathed just as if it were the movement of air coming out of the mouth of the Lord.
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. -2 Timothy 3:16-17
Also notice that according to this verse, it is not the writer that is inspired. It is the writings that are inspired—or better, that are God-breathed. It is not as if God just gave the writers some good ideas and left them to write it down the best that they could. No, instead, God oversaw what they were writing and worked with them so that each word was what He wanted in order to accurately communicate His message.
Step 3: Illumination (from the Bible to you and me)
Sometimes people will say, “God revealed something to me!” However, what they usually mean is that God helped them to see something that was already revealed to mankind in Scripture. This is actually what we call illumination. Illumination is when the Holy Spirit takes His truth from His book and makes it come alive to your heart. Think of illumination like a light being turned on in a room. The light doesn’t create anything new, but it helps you to see what was already there. 
In Ephesians 1:18 Paul said, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints.” 1 Corinthians 2:14 and 1 John 2:27 also illustrate illumination.
Oftentimes, illumination is really what is going on when we have experiences of God guiding us. What the Holy Spirit does is to illuminate certain Biblical truths that we have stored up in our hearts. It is as if we have His words written on the walls of a cave, and the Spirit shines His flashlight on the truths we need to apply. Of course, this means that the more of the Bible you have stored up in your heart, the more you have for the Spirit to work with! Just be careful not to confuse your gut feelings with what God is actually saying. If the Holy Spirit is really saying it, it will be written in His book.
Living Under God’s Authority
Remember, all of Scripture has God’s authority because all of Scripture is His Word. What it says, He says. This means that it is not optional advice. God never says, “Hey, this is just my opinion. Take it or leave it. I’m fine either way.” You can choose to live as if you are above God’s Word—or you can live as though God’s Word is over you. Only one of these choices is legitimate.

Because it is His Word, Scripture's authority is greater than:
  • our feelings
  • our opinions
  • church traditions
  • human laws
  • the prevailing wisdom of the age
When Scripture speaks, God speaks. When God speaks, we need to listen, believe, and obey.

February 25, 2014

The Necessity of Scripture

Five Things I Hope You Believe are True about Scripture

Scripture has five very important characteristics: Necessity, Authority, Inerrancy, Sufficiency, and Perspicuity. If we put these attributes in a different order, you could remember them by the nifty acronym S.P.A.I.N.

Some of these five terms might already be familiar to you. On the other hand, you might think that the perspicuity of Scripture means the "sweatiness" of Scripture. Thankfully, you would be wrong on that. Perspicuity means the “clarity” of Scripture. Sure, you could take the easy way and just remember the word “clarity” instead, but (1) perspicuity is much more fun to say, and (2) you then couldn’t use the nifty acronym S.P.A.I.N.

1. The NECESSITY of Scripture

The necessity of Scripture means that Scripture is necessary for salvation and for an adequate knowledge of God and His will. 

Knowing God. Yes, there are some things that we can know about God from general revelation—God’s creation (Rm. 1:19-21; Ps. 19:1-6). However, this information is incomplete and unclear compared to the fuller knowledge that we receive from Scripture. God has wired us so that we can look at nature and realize that there must be a powerful God, but we can’t look at a mountain and know that God is a Trinity and that Jesus is the God-man who died on the cross as the substitute for all those who would trust in Him alone for salvation. Truths like that require God’s special revelation in Scripture.

We need to remember that revelation is not the same as discovery. Imagine that there is a mystery object hidden under a heavy lead box. You can’t know what the object is unless the box is taken off. That is what revelation means. The Hebrew word galah means “to make naked, reveal, disclose.” Likewise, the Greek word apocalypto means “unveiling, to take the cover off.” It isn’t as if we discover these truths by our own power. We certainly don't create them. These truths exist, but there is no way we can access them unless God takes the initiative to reveal them to us.

Knowing God's Will. Scripture is necessary to accurately know God’s moral will. Yes, thankfully, people have a basic awareness of right and wrong because God has given us a conscience (Rm.  2:14-15). Unfortunately, as sinners our consciences do not always point north. This is especially true when we sin repeatedly and cause our consciences to become calloused or seared (1 Tm. 4:2). As Robert Gagnon has noted, “Human passions are notoriously unreliable indicators of God's will." Even more, the prophet Jeremiah has warned us, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9) Contrary to the message of most Disney princess movies, following your heart is often a terrible idea.

Salvation. Scripture is especially necessary for salvation. One of the clearest passages where this is taught is Romans 10:13-15. The Apostle Paul writes:

For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 

Paul’s logic here is that no one can call on the Lord to be saved unless they believe, and no one can believe unless they first hear the message of salvation. And for that to happen, someone has to tell it to them. 

If people could be saved without hearing the Gospel message, then Paul’s logic makes no sense. The truth is, people need God’s Word to be saved. Paul drives this home in verse 17 when he writes, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

Spiritual Life. Finally, Scripture is also necessary for spiritual health and growth. The Bible is not an optional aid. In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Food is not optional and neither is God’s Word. If you are anorexic when it comes to Scripture, you should not be shocked when you realize that you are weak and malnourished. That’s what happens when you starve yourself from something that is necessary.

February 17, 2014

Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Robot Invasion - Episode 2

In the previous episode of Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Robot Invasion Powerman was ambushed by a robot version of Mosquitoboy. With help from Princess Alethia, Powerman has learned that the robot was the creation of a mysterious figure known only as "The Designer." However, their conversation was cut short by the breaking news that the city was under attack by a massive robot army being led by robot duplicates of Powerman and Mosquitoboy!

I wrote, directed, and edited these videos for a custom VBS program. The teaching theme for this episode was System Failure: We've all been infected by the virus of sin. "Death spread to all men because all sinned." -Romans 5:12b ESV.

There are three more Robot Invasion episodes yet to come. To see the previous series, Powerman and Mosquitoboy: Deceptor's Revenge click here. You can also visit Powerman and Mosquitoboy's YouTube and FaceBook pages.

Sharing is Caring!

January 28, 2014

Christians, Atheism, Incest, and Cannibalism

For the first three centuries Christians had to endure many flare ups of severe persecution. Among other things, Christians were crucified, fed to lions, dragged behind mad bulls, burned at the stake in Nero’s garden to light his parties, sews inside animal carcasses and then torn apart by the dogs, and subjected to the iron chair—a metal chair was heated until it was red hot and then a naked Christian was brought out and forced to sit in it.

Christians were not persecuted by Rome simply because they worshipped Jesus. The Romans had many gods and they really didn’t care if Jesus got added to the mix. It was other things that drew the ire of the crowds and the crown. In his excellent book Church History in Plain Language, Bruce Shelly lists three main reasons why Christians were persecuted. These included (1) life-style, (2) slander, and (3) Caesar worship.

1. Life-style
The Christians sought after holiness and lived lives that were very different from the pagans around them. They didn’t worship the pagan gods. They didn’t frequent the temples and offer sacrifices. They didn’t approve of the violence of the gladiatorial games. They didn’t practice infanticide (but instead rescued abandoned infants). And they had a sexual ethic vastly different from the promiscuous world around them. Christians were therefore scorned because they refused to go along with the normal practices of society. Shelly writes,

Thus, simply by living according to the teachings of Jesus, the Christian was a constant unspoken condemnation of the pagan way of life.  It was not that the Christian went about criticizing and condemning and disapproving, nor was he consciously self-righteous and superior. It was simply that the Christian ethic itself was a criticism of pagan life.

2. Slander
It may sound strange, but early Christians were accused of (a) atheism, (b) incest, and (c) cannibalism. They were accused of atheism because they denied the existence of the pagan gods. They were accused of incest and sexual immorality because Christians met together for “love feasts.” Love feasts were simply the early version of the Lord’s Supper, but the hyper-sexualized non-Christians around them assumed that anything with the name “love feast” must be something erotic. Also, since the Christians referred to each other as “brother” and “sister” the rumor was that Christians met for incestuous orgies at their secret meetings. Finally, Christians were also accused of cannibalism because at these meetings Christians would, of course, eat and drink the body and blood of their founder.

3. Caesar Worship
Finally, Christians were persecuted because they did not participate in the state-mandated worship of Ceasar. By the time of Decius’ reign (249-251) emperor worship was universal and compulsory. Again, it wasn’t as if Rome was telling the Christians that they needed to stop worshipping Jesus. All they needed to do was to burn a pinch of incense to Caesar and say with their lips, “Caesar is Lord.” But Christians were unwilling to do that.

By way of application, there is a lot that we can learn from each of these.

(1) When we live according to God’s plan, people of the world will resent us because of our different lifestyle. No matter how loving and kind we are, this will happen—even if we never open our mouths to “judge” anyone else. Sin loves company, not a contrast.

(2) Christians in the early church were slandered unfairly with wild accusations. We shouldn’t be surprised when the same thing happens to us today. Followers of Jesus today are unfairly accused of being narrow-minded fools, hateful bigots, anti-scientific cavemen, judgmental tyrants, hypocrites, and more. If you expected to be treated fairly by the world, I’m sorry you had that illusion.

(3) Pluralism is the order of the day. Most people won’t care if you worship Jesus—as long as you don’t think that He is the only way. That type of exclusiveness is something that our tolerant society simply cannot tolerate. Also, we may not be asked to burn incense to Caesar, but don’t be surprised when you run into other ways that you will expected to compromise your integrity in order to be considered a good citizen.

Persecution comes in many forms. Will you acquiesce or will you declare that Jesus is Lord?

January 23, 2014

Designed by an Idiot

If you look carefully at the car in this picture you will notice that it contains major design flaws. There are several. You might not be an engineer, so I will point them out to you:

  • Notice the front, driver-side wheel. The way that it is bent down on an angle is a major design flaw. That is going to be terrible for gas mileage. It will also affect handling and give uneven wear on the tire. Ideally, all wheels should be straight. 
  • The windshield on this car will provide terrible visibility. It will also provide less protection than if the windshield had been designed as one piece of solid glass.   
  • The driver-side door also has major problems. The concave design is bad for wind resistance. It is also makes it difficult for the driver to get in and out of the car easily. 
Okay, enough pretending. Obviously this car has been in an accident. However, if somehow I actually thought that this car rolled off the assembly line in this condition, I could only conclude that the car was designed by an idiot.

There are people who make this same mistake when they look at the world we live in. The look around and they see sickness, and earthquakes, and violence. They conclude that there simply can’t be a perfect God who designed this world.

We live in a world of conflicting data. When we look at the world, it is obvious that there are things that point to its design. Even looking at the crashed car, a person can tell that certain parts were designed to fulfill certain purposes. The car was in an accident, but it wasn’t the result of an accident. It wasn’t put together by a tornado in a junkyard. There might even be some parts of the car that still work.

In our world we see a combination of design and disaster. There is beauty and there is ugliness. The world is finely tuned to support life. Statistically, we should be shocked that there is even one planet in the universe that is able to support life. When we think of our bodies, we should be amazed that they work even half as good as they do. But other people look at the world and see all of the things that are badly bent out of shape and ask why would God do that? 

Why do I have this sickness? Why did my family fall apart? Why are there birth defects and diseases if there is a God? Why did my friend die? Many people look at the disorder in the world and conclude that there simply can’t be a God. It just would not make sense. 

In fact, this was one of the motivating factors that caused Charles Darwin reject God and develop his theory of evolution. Nature was red in tooth and claw. In a letter, Darwin wrote:

“There seems to me too much misery in the world. I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designed and created the Ichneumonidae [parasidic wasp] with the expressed intention of their [larva] feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars, or that the cat should play with mice.”

Darwin saw too much pain and misery in the world to believe that it was designed by a good and all-powerful God.

There were many people in Darwin’s day who argued for the existence of God based on design. If you walk along the beach and find a watch, you can look at its parts and conclude that it was designed and thus that there was a Designer. But Darwin and others saw the flaws and reached the opposite conclusion. Darwin looked at the pain and suffering in the world and concluded that it could not be the work of a competent Designer. 

The problem was that people had forgotten the Biblical storyline. Creation, Fall, Redemption…

Deistic arguments from design failed because they didn’t take into account the Biblical narrative. And because of that failure there were unable to explain the real world that confronts us. We exist in a world that appears to contain both unfathomable design as well as unexplainable chaos.  Biblical Christianity is able to explain what other worldviews cannot. In fact, this world is exactly the one we would expect if Biblical Christianity is true. 

According to the Biblical story this world was designed and created by God. God is perfect in goodness and unlimited in power and wisdom. When the world that God created rolled off of the assembly line, it was in pristine condition. God inspected His handiwork and certified it as “good” (Genesis 1:31). 

Yet as soon as God handed over the keys of creation we proceeded to drive it directly into a tree. 

Our first parents rebelled against God and in doing so plunged God’s good creation into ruin. This is what we call “the fall.” Since the event of the fall in Genesis 3, this world has been a different place. There is still evidence of design, but the creation is horribly damaged. Romans 5 tells us that because of one man’s sin, death spread to all men. Romans 8:19-21 describes the created order as now being “subjected to frustration” and in “bondage to decay” because of the fall. Although God had created the world as "very good" things are no longer the way they were. 

The car was designed well, but it was in an accident. That’s the world we live in. 

If you don’t realize that, you might say to yourself, Why is my body such a disappointment if I am designed by God? How can there be a God when my aunt or uncle died of cancer? How can there be a God when my family fights so much? If there is a God and things are designed this way, why aren’t my parents together? Why did the person I love die? Why do tsunamis kill thousands? Why is there so much hurt? Why is there so much pain? Why do I struggle with these temptations? Why would God design me with desires that I’m not supposed to have?  

The Bible explains why there are things that are beautiful. It explains why there are so many things that work wonderfully. It explains why we can even be here. The Biblical story also explains why there is disorder and death and cruelty and suffering. It explains the order as well as the disorder. 

God has made a way to fix this broken world. He did this by coming into this messed up world and fixing it from the inside out. By Christ’s perfect and life and death, He is able to make all things new.  

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