Monday, August 30, 2010

Exclusive Interview With Phil Johnson (Part 3) - What Went Wrong With Europe

As an Australian living in Denmark, I have heard many of the glorious stories of the Reformation era in Europe. Today, Denmark and the rest of western Europe is the heartland of humanism and hedonism (the pursuit of pleasure). What happened in the last five hundred years? In the third part of this interview Phil Johnson answers this question and points the way back to our Christian heritage.



Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Just Added - Moody Gold

This compilation of the best of DL Moody has just been added to my resource directory!

MOODY GOLD
Ray Comfort (Editor), D L Moody

Category: Biography, Heroes, Puritans, And Reformers
Click Here To Order
Moody Gold is the fourth book in the popular Gold series. This book draws from some of the best sermons by D. L. Moody and combines them with life application and inspiring commentary by best-selling author Ray Comfort. D. L. Moody was a true patriarch of the modern church. He once said, "The world has yet to see what God can do with and for and through and in and by the man who is wholly consecrated to him. I will try my utmost to be that man," and try he did in so many ways. This book is seared in my memory due to Moody's terrifying story about a man who "put off repentance" only to find himself on his death bed and unable to find it.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Exclusive Interview With Phil Johnson (Part 2) - The Five Heresies Of History

During my visit to the USA earlier this year I had the great priveledge of interviewing Phil Johnson. For those of you who don't know, Phil is a thundering preacher with a sharp satirical wit who serves alongside John Macarthur at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. This satirical wit gets ably demonstrated on his immensly popular blog - Pyromaniacs - which is a rich blend of satire and reformed theology. Phil is also one of the world's foremost authorities on the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon and runs the online Spurgeon Archive which contains almost anything and everything regarding the "prince of preachers". Phil Johnson is an outstanding and well researched Christian apologist and I was thrilled at the opportunity to ask him some questions.

In the second part of this interview I asked Phil Johnson about the major heresies that have been fought throughout church history. Phil points out that there have really been only five major heresies and they tend to get recycled through the centuries. Watch this video to find out what these five heresies are and see how they manifest themselves alive and well in the 21st century.



Go On To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1

Monday, August 23, 2010

Exclusive Interview With Phil Johnson (Part 1) - Is NT Wright A Heretic?

During my visit to the USA earlier this year I had the great priveledge of interviewing Phil Johnson. For those of you who don't know, Phil is a thundering preacher with a sharp satirical wit who serves alongside John Macarthur at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California. This satirical wit gets ably demonstrated on his immensly popular blog - Pyromaniacs - which is a rich blend of satire and reformed theology. Phil is also one of the world's foremost authorities on the great 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon and runs the online Spurgeon Archive which contains almost anything and everything regarding the "prince of preachers". Phil Johnson is an outstanding and well researched Christian apologist and I was thrilled at the opportunity to ask him some questions.

In this first part of the interview I ask Phil Johnson about NT Wright and "The New Perspective on Paul". If you read much of NT Wright's work you will realize that he has had an enormous influence on most of the main teachers within the emergent movement, particularly concerning the Atonement. A lot of what Wright says and teaches is alarming and yet ambiguous enough for him to survive as a respected "evangelical Christian". Phil Johnson has done his homework on this subject and has some sharp things to say (which serve as a sharp contrast to the second rate cameraman).



Go On To Part 2

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Just Added - Ashamed Of The Gospel

This excellent work on Gospel perversions vs Gospel purity by John Macarthur has just been added to my resource directory!

ASHAMED OF THE GOSPEL
John Macarthur

Category: Theology
Click Here To Order
With small congregations struggling to keep their doors open, and larger churches competing for their share of the unchurched market, many are looking to new techniques to draw bigger crowds. In Ashamed of the Gospel (third edition), John MacArthur offers a biblical analysis of the user-friendly philosophy of ministry and church growth that is sweeping through many congregations. The third edition features two new chapters responding to the modern phenomenons of the emergent church and the latest fads in "church growth" methodology. The appendixes on Finney and Spurgeon's Down-Grade controversy are worth the admission price alone. Read this book and exercise faithfulness to the once for all delivered faith.

Friday, August 20, 2010

A True Church Practices Church Discipline (Part 3)

Church discipline is a critical life and death function of the local church. It is worth continuing the discussion on this subject, especially in the light of this therapeutic age of scape goats and victim mentalities. Here is another interview with Pastor Jeff Noblit where he nails this issue . . .



Does delving into this subject over the last week affirm your place of worship, or does it raise your urgency to find somewhere else to be each sunday. If action is necessary, please don't put it off. As descendants of Adam, redeemed by God, but still dwelling in fallen flesh, we cannot afford not to find ourselves under the authority of godly church leadership that practices biblical church discipline.

Go Back To Part 2
Go Back To Part 1

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

A True Church Practices Church Discipline (Part 2)

Continuing on from Monday's post here is the second part of Todd Friel's interview with Jeff Noblit in which they discuss biblical church discipline . . .



I think two of the most interesting things Pastor Noblit said in the course of the interview were that:

1. People who find themselves in a local church that does not practice church discipline "should find themselves a church". The church, the body of Christ, is the "ekklesia" - the called out ones. We are a separate people, strangers in a strange land looking for a city who's builder and maker is God. Church discipline is vital in the maintenance of this purity and separation (this in no way invalidates our need to evangelize an unbelieving world - to be in the world but not of the world).

2. That churches are not to discipline sin but to discipline unrepentance. It is not about the scale of the sin but the unwillingness to repent.

Biblical church discipline is the Christian's true friend and a reality check for the false convert! Let's inhabit and cultivate churches that practice this vital function - the consequences of doing otherwise are on large scale display in the world of "modern evangelicalism"!

Go On To Part 3
Go Back To Part 1

Monday, August 16, 2010

A True Church Practices Church Discipline (Part 1)

The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Christian Reformed Church is the Confession of Faith, popularly known as the Belgic Confession. How "relevant" could a document from 1561 be? You might be surprised. Have a read of Article 29 which contains this definition of a true church and see if this doesn't provide helpful clarity for the confused church-goer:

We believe that we ought to discern diligently and very carefully, by the Word of God, what is the true church - for all sects in the world today claim for themselves the name of "the church."

We are not speaking here of the company of hypocrites who are mixed among the good in the church and who nonetheless are not part of it, even though they are physically there. But we are speaking of distinguishing the body and fellowship of the true church from all sects that call themselves "the church."

The true church can be recognized if it has the following marks: The church engages in the pure preaching of the gospel; it makes use of the pure administration of the sacraments as Christ instituted them; it practices church discipline for correcting faults. In short, it governs itself according to the pure Word of God, rejecting all things contrary to it and holding Jesus Christ as the only Head. By these marks one can be assured of recognizing the true church - and no one ought to be separated from it.

As for those who can belong to the church, we can recognize them by the distinguishing marks of Christians: namely by faith, and by their fleeing from sin and pursuing righteousness, once they have received the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. They love the true God and their neighbors, without turning to the right or left, and they crucify the flesh and its works.

Though great weakness remains in them, they fight against it by the Spirit all the days of their lives, appealing constantly to the blood, suffering, death, and obedience of the Lord Jesus, in whom they have forgiveness of their sins, through faith in him.

As for the false church, it assigns more authority to itself and its ordinances than to the Word of God; it does not want to subject itself to the yoke of Christ; it does not administer the sacraments as Christ commanded in his Word; it rather adds to them or subtracts from them as it pleases; it bases itself on men, more than on Jesus Christ; it persecutes those who live holy lives according to the Word of God and who rebuke it for its faults, greed, and idolatry.

These two churches are easy to recognize and thus to distinguish from each other.


It is interesting to note that one of these distinguishing marks of a true church is that it "practices church discipline for correcting faults". Todd Friel interviewed Jeff Noblit to discuss the issue of church discipline, how vital it is, and why it is a necessary attribute of a true body of believers. This is really worth hearing because Jeff Noblit turns church growth philosophy on its head . . .



On Wednesday I will post the second part of this spicy interview.

Go On To Part 2

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Just Added - The Power Of Prayer Handbook

This prayer handbook has just been added to my resource directory!

THE POWER OF PRAYER HANDBOOK
Peter Hammond

Category: Prayer
Click Here To Order
“Are you on fire for Christ? …. Lukewarm Christians make the Lord sick. We need to repent of half-hearted, worldly, superficial… easy believism. We need doctrinal steel in our backbones and Holy Fire in our bellies. ‘Is not My Word like a fire?’ says the Lord, ‘and a hammer that breaks the rocks in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:29) What can we say to that, except: Thank you Lord, for reminding us! Peter Hammond has illustrated his book with pictures of the Reformers and written it in a simple, warm, and direct way which speaks to the heart. It will make a great difference in our personal, Church, and national prayer life. Also includes a fascinating study on the imprecatory Psalms/prayers given from Dr. Hammond's insightful African perspective.

Friday, August 13, 2010

When To Leave A Church

I continually get asked by my friends in Australia and the USA about when to leave a church and when to hang in there. In Denmark this gets even more difficult because almost every denomination has apostacized here (which was why we planted a new church here - Kristuskirken).

The terrible delusion that many fall into, is to think that they can be a shining light in a fellowship where the Gospel is never preached, and to be an agent of internal reform. Two things to consider with this line of thought:

1. Hebrews 10:25 tells us not to forsake being a part of a body of believers. If you are trying to reform a church that has clearly abandoned the Gospel then you are not attending a local church and therefore disobeying Scripture (I don't mean to trash those who are living in a place with no biblical churches and are stuck in a difficult situation, but if you are in that situation then you should be proactive and urgent in resolving this crisis).

2. Your desire to be a reformer in a landscape of heresy may have devastating consequences on your marriage and children. Many of my male friends who try to do this are not subject to church discipline (because they are not a part of a biblical body of believers) and therefore not held accountable to love their wives as Christ loved the church, and to lead and disciple their families. This is why a healthy local church is a pillar of family life - our fallen sinful nature needs to be interconnected to the body of believers for safeguard and spiritual nourishment. (I will be elaborating on the issue of church discipline next week - the reformers believed that a church that does not practice biblical church discipline is NOT a true church).

Jason Helopoulos recently wrote a guest article for Kevin DeYoung on the Gospel Coalition blog where he listed necessary reasons to leave a local church, possible reasons to leave a local church, and illegitimate reasons for leaving a local church. I have listed them below. Read through them, chew on them, and act accordingly!

Necessary Reasons For Leaving A Church - The Four P’s

1. Providential moving — If my job, family, or life has moved me from Dallas to Austin then I should probably find a local church in Austin, let alone if I moved from Michigan to North Carolina. It is right and good to belong to a local church and covenant with brothers and sisters in my own “backyard.”

2. Planting another church — It may be that I haven’t left my home town, but the church I belong to has decided to send me out with others to plant another church in the area. Notice though, that I am being sent out by my church, not leaving with a group of people because I am disgruntled or think it is a good idea.

3. Purity has been lost — It may take different forms, but primarily this occurs when the Word is no longer proclaimed. It could be that heresy is being taught, the Bible is never read or preached, or a much more prominent manifestation these days is that the Word is no longer seen as sufficient; it is used as a seasoning for the message of the week rather than the diet by which the congregation is fed and nourished upon. However, we must be careful here; patience should always be exercised and I must always test my own heart to see if I am “making a mountain out of a molehill.”

4. Peace of the church is in jeopardy due to my presence — This “reason” is hard to suggest for fear of it being abused, as it is by far the most subjective “reason.” However, there are cases where an individual/family can personally become a hindrance to the ministry of the local church and it is best for that person/family to move-on. If this is the reason I am contemplating leaving the church, then I must first test myself and discern whether it is because of sin on my own part. If that is the case then I must be quick to repent rather than move-on. This “reason” should always be approached with trepidation,

Possible Reasons For Leaving A Church - The Three S’s

1. Spouse — An unbelieving or non-church attending spouse is not willing to attend this church, but will attend another with you.

2. Special Needs — Every family has special needs, so this one needs to be handled with care. A possible example may be that my family has a disabled child and another faithful church in the area has a wonderful ministry to disabled people which can help us.

3. Special Gifts — Another faithful church in the area may have asked for you to use your special gifts in their midst for the building up of the body (i.e. organist). Never decide this one on your own. If it is a possible reason, then it is too easy to think too highly of oneself and go running to the greener pastures. This is always something that should be taken to the leadership of your current church and wrestled through.

Illegitimate Reasons For Leaving A Church

1. Children’s Ministry — The Children’s ministry at another church is better. This cannot be a reason for changing churches. It is rather an opportunity for you to get involved in the children’s ministry of your church.

2. Buzz — Many people will flow to whatever church in town has the current “buzz.” The argument will be that the Spirit is at work there and we want to be part of it. But buzzes come and go. And so do the people that follow them.

3. Youth Group — The unhappiness of our teenage children in the current Youth Group, because of activities, other youth, etc. is not a reason for leaving the church we have covenanted with. I know this one will be controversial. Believe me, I have empathy as a parent and a former Youth Pastor. But our children are not the spiritual directors of our home. They should not be choosing the church we attend based upon their social status and network.

4. Church has changed — Churches always change. Unless the changes are unbiblical than we don’t have a reason to move on. We don’t move on when our wife or husband changes! We are we so quick to do so with the church we have covenanted with.

5. New Pastor — A new pastor is not a sufficient reason to change churches. It doesn’t matter how stiff, impersonal, unfunny, etc. he is. The list is endless. It doesn’t even matter if he is not the most interesting preacher. He is the man God called to this church for this time. And this is your church. Again, unless he is unbiblical why move on? You haven’t covenanted with a man, but with this body.

6. I’m Not Being Ministered to — I tell every one of our new member classes, “If we all walked into church each week and had a list of people we were going to try and ‘touch,’ encourage, or minister to, do you know how dynamic this church would be? Just on Sunday mornings, let alone if we did it during the week. If we each were concerned about the other person and walked in each Sunday with that in the forefront of our mind instead of, “Why didn’t he talk to me?,” “Why doesn’t anyone care about me?,” “Why isn’t anyone ministering to me?” Start ministering to others and you will find that you are being ministered to.

7. Music — not a reason — whether it is slow, fast, traditional, contemporary, Psalms, hymns, or gospel choruses. Stop using it as an excuse!

8. There are others…we haven’t even mentioned the service is too early, the coffee is terrible, the pastor doesn’t know how to shuck corn (Yep…those are all true ones I have heard).

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Scary Story Of Damnation

I have just been reading through Ray Comfort's book on the life and quotes of DL Moody called "Moody Gold". There is one account in this book that I will never forget because it is a terrifying story, and a frightening reminder, that as sinners grow older, their hearts grow colder. And that there comes a time where they cannot find a place for repentance. Please read this story as told by DL Moody . . .

I remember a few years ago while I was still working in my church, I closed the meeting one night by asking any that would like to become Christians to rise, and to my great joy, a man arose who had been anxious for some time. I went up to him and took him by the hand and shook it, and said, "I am glad to see you get up. You are coming out for the Lord in earnest, are you not?"

"Yes" said he, "I think so. That is, there is only one thing in my way."

"What's that?" said I.

"Well" said he, "I lack moral courage. I confess to you that if such a man (naming a friend of his) had been here tonight I should not have risen. He would laugh at me if he knew of this, and I don't believe I have the courage to tell him."

"But" said I, "You have to come out boldly for the Lord if you come out at all".

While I talked with him he was trembling from head to foot, and I believe the Spirit was striving earnestly with him. He came back the next night, and the next, and the next; the Spirit of God strove woth him for weeks; it seemed as if he came to the very threshold of heaven, and was almost stepping over into the blessed world. I never could find out any reason for his hesitation, except that he feared his old companions would laugh at him.

At last the Spirit of God seemed to leave him; conviction was gone. Six months from that time I got a message from him that he was sick and he wanted to see me. I went to him in great haste. He was very sick, and thought he was dying. He asked me if there was any hope. Yes, i told him, God had sent Christ to save him; and i prayed with him.

Contrary to all expectations he recovered. One day I went down to see him. It was a bright, beautiful day, and he was sitting out in front of his house.

"You are coming out for God now, aren't you? You will be well enough soon to come back to our meetings again."

"Mr. Moody", said he, "I have made up my mind to become a Christian. My mind is fully made up to that, but I won't be one just now. I am going to Michigan to buy a farm and settle down, and then I will become a Christian."

"But you don't know yet that you will get well."

"O," said he, "I shall be perfectly well in a few days. I have got a new lease of life."

I pleaded with him, and tried every way to get him to take his stand. At last he said, "Mr. Moody, I can't be a Christian in Chicago. When I get away from Chicago, and get to Michigan, away from my friends and acquaintances who laugh at me, I will be ready to go to Christ."

"If God has not grace enough to save you in Chicago, He has not in Michigan" I answered.

At last he got a little irritated and said, "Mr. Moody, I'll take the risk," and so I left him.

I well remember the day of the week, Thursday, about noon, just one week from that very day, when I was sent for by his wife to come in great haste. I hurried there at once. His poor wife met me at the door, and I asked her what was the matter.

"My husband," she said, "has had a relapse; I have just had a council of physicians here, and they have all given him up to die."

"Does he want to see me?" I asked.

"No."

"Then why did you send for me?"

"I cannot bear to see him die in this terrible state of mind."

"What does he say?" I asked.

"He says his damnation is sealed, and he will be in hell in a little while."

I went in, and he at once fixed his eyes upon me. I called him by name but he was silent. I went around to the foot of the bed, and looked at his face and said, "Won't you speak to me?", and at last he fixed that terrible deathly look upon me and said:

"Mr. Moody, you need not talk to me any more. It is too late. You can talk to my wife and children; pray for them; but my heart is as hard as the iron in that stove there. My damnation is sealed, and I shall be in hell in a little while."

I tried to tell him of Jesus' love and God's forgiveness, but he said, "Mr. Moody, I tell you there is no hope for me." And as I fell on my knees, he said, "You need not pray for me. My wife will soon be left a widow and my children will be fatherless; they need your prayers, but you need not pray for me."

I tried to pray , but it seemed as if my prayers didn't go higher than my head, and as if heaven above me was like brass. The next day, his wife told me, he lingered until the sun went down, and from noon until he died all he was heard to say was, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and I am not saved." After lingering along for an hour he would say again those awful words, and just as he was expiring his wife noticed his lips quiver, and that he was trying to say something, and as she bent over him she heard him mutter, "The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and I am not saved." He lived a Christless life, he died a Christless death - we wrapped him in a Christless shroud, and bore him away to a Christless grave.

Are there some here that are almost persuaded to be Christians? Take my advice and don't let anything keep you away. Fly to the arms of Jesus this hour. You can be saved if you will.

(Excerpt from p62-64, Moody Gold, compiled by Ray Comfort).

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 6)

Today concludes my series of responses to Gandalf's critique of my emphasis on the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement. In the previous posts of this series I have answered these objections and re-emphasised the critical importance of teaching and understanding the atonement correctly as it strongly affects our view of God, our view of ourselves, and thus how we approach God. Today, as a closing footnote to this series, I want to take a look at an example of a how wrong views of the atonement can infiltrate the "Christian media". It also serves as an example of how these things can sneak under our radar of discerning true and false gospels.

At the end of part 5 of this series I asked the question regarding a major theological flaw in the first Narnia movie that affects the Gospel. Do you know what it is? Watch this video and see if you can figure it out . . .



Who killed the lion? Who did she represent - Satan! This is an example of the ransom theory of the atonement where God has to pay a ransom to Satan. the ransom theory undermines human depravity in that it portrays sinful man as an unwilling and helpless captive of Satan awaiting a deliverer. This is contrary to Scripture where Paul portrays fallen man as:

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18)

What about Jesus, did he have a higher view of man. Most know John 3:16 but few know what follows:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. (John 3:18-20)

It is true that Satan is the accuser of the brethren. But the only accusation Satan can raise against a Holy and righteous judge is an appeal to his perfect justice and the consequent need for Him to deal with our sin. The only way God could reconcile sinners without compromising His righteousness was for Christ to die as a substitute under God's wrath:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief (Isaiah 53:4-10 emphasis mine).

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:23-26)

I'll leave it to rapper Shai Linne to close out this discussion on Penal Substitutionary Atonement:



Go Back To Part 5
Go Back To Part 1

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Just Added - Life In The Son

Robert Shank's 50 year old study on the Doctrine of Perseverance has just been added to my resource directory!

LIFE IN THE SON
Robert Shank

Category: Theology
Click Here To Order
There is currently a plethora of ridiculous straw man attacks on Calvinism in the theological marketplace. Some of them contain caricatures that are pure fabrications and offer nothing constructive for those of us who want to engage the real theological issues that lie at the heart of the historical Calvinist v Arminian debate. With this in mind I am happy to recommend this scholarly work by Arminian theologian Robert Shank first published way back in 1960. Calvinist theologian and preacher John Macarthur highly recommends this book to his seminary students because he believes Life In The Son is "the best concise argument for the Arminian position, and it is a very carefully thought-out, systematic argument." Whichever side of the fence you find yourself in the Calvinist Arminian divide, this is a book that makes a strong argument against the Calvinist doctrine of perseverance and is worth studying for that reason.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 5)

Today I will continue my series on Gandalf's letter/response to my recent series on NT Wright where I severely criticized Wright for corrupting the Gospel by denying penal substitutionary atonement. I know Wright says he affirms it, but if you read the series you will see how this is standard practice for Wright to affirm something when he is really only affirming his own redefining of critical biblical truths.

The fourth point of Gandalf's letter I wish to respond to is the following:

I generally think the amount of flame and vitriol in this debate goes beyond its purpose. People on both sides should handle it more in a manner like the one you advised in your post about the Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate, otherwise we would only deserve the laughter of the Spongs, Borgs, Bells and McLarens in this world for our quarreling.

There is intensity this debate for good reason. There are debates that can be interesting and worthwhile on some level without being hills to die on. But the subject of the atonement is a hill worth dying on. As I discussed in part 2 of this series, our understanding of the atonement has strong repercussions as to how we view God and how we approach Him as sinners. Todd Friel discusses this here (by the way, Bart Campolo is Tony Campolo's son):



Gandalf, I understand you are a fan of CS Lewis. I don't know a lot about him but I do know that there is a major theological flaw in the first Narnia movie that affects the Gospel. Do you know what it is? Anyone?

Go On To Part 6
Go Back To Part 4
Go Back To Part 1

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 4)

Today I will continue responding to Gandalf's letter/response to my recent series on NT Wright where I severely criticized Wright for corrupting the Gospel by denying penal substitutionary atonement. I know Wright says he affirms it, but if you read the series you will see how this is standard practice for Wright to affirm something when he is really only affirming his own redefining of critical biblical truths.

The third point of Gandalf's letter I wish to respond to is the following:

You repeatedly note that certain concepts and issues are missing in Wright's books or are presented in sketchy or ambiguous manner (individual sin, hell etc.).

Have you read "Surprised by Hope"? I did not find you quoting that in your posts. In that book I found both explanation for his lack of mentioning certain things in other booke in detail, namely, that he likes to view all things as "big picture" where God wants to redeeem and bring back to right the whole cosmos (with the fate of individuals just being part of it, like in a puzzle consisting of numerous pieces but all belonging to the same story). However, in the same book he really gives explanations for questions like individual sin (includng an explanation of the word hamartia), final judgment and hell.

You probably will object to his view that hell isn't like a torture chamber in the midst of Gods kingdom and that he very much follows a middle ground between traditional teaching and a view that sees the lost ones simply becoming what they desire/practise (a grumble instead of a grumbling man or woman is an example for this from "The great Divorce") and hence being at some point no longer humans in Gods image. But I think you'll have to admit that he teaches final judgment with two outcomes, completely dismisses universalism and that God really cares for righteousness and is not laissez-faire with sin on an individual level.


The comments Gandalf is referring to is my critique of Wright's book "Simply Christian" which is supposed to be a book that summarizes the Christian faith. It is a bad joke when Wright tries to summarize Christianity in a book and ignores issues as big as Christ's deity, the Atonement, personal sin, judgment, and God's wrath (at least in a specific personal sense). Even if he discusses these things in another book (which we will get to next), it is unbelievable that these issues would find themselves scant or absent from his summation of Christianity. It is always difficult to figure out where Wright stands on so many issues because he seems to dwell in a shroud of smoke, never being explicit or clear on things in which Scripture is both explicit and clear. In these hazy postmodern times of vagueness I think it would be worthwhile to heed the counsel of the great theologian George W Bush - "if they're not for us then they're against us".

Anyway, for the sake of Gandalf I will close with Thomas Schreiner's (professor of New Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author, most recently of New Testament Theology: Magnifying God in Christ) assessment of Wright's book "Surprised By Hope".

How should we assess Surprised by Hope? Wright's fundamental thesis here is correct. Heaven will be on a new earth, and therefore it must not be regarded as floating in some kind of spiritual never-land. We look forward to our future resurrection, and to the new heavens and new earth where righteousness dwells. Wright's defense of the resurrection of Christ, defended more fully in his major book on the topic, is the finest treatment I have read on the subject. Wright does affirm the intermediate state, but he rightly stresses that the future hope of believers is the resurrection. Furthermore, Wright is on target in saying that we are to strive for justice, truth, and beauty in this world. Some believers have said that this world is destined for destruction, and hence only focus on the salvation of the lost.

Yet there are some significant problems with the book. Surely some believers have mistakenly thought that heaven was only spiritual, but many (most of those I know) do not conceive of heaven in this way. We could say that Wright exaggerates his thesis to make his point. Well and good. Still, he is excessively critical of the phrase "go to heaven." After all, we have a number of statements in Scripture about entering (going to!) the kingdom in the future (e.g., Matt. 5:20; 7:21; 18:3; 19:23-24; Mark 9:47; 10:15; John 3:5; Acts 14:22). Scripture also speaks of heaven as a realm above and separate from us (Matt. 6:1, 9, 10, 20; 18:10; Luke 24:51; John 1:51; Acts 1:10; 2 Cor. 12:2; Col. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:4). That does not, to be sure, communicate that our future destiny is non-physical, but it does stress that it is a realm separate from our present existence. Yes, Wright is correct in saying that heaven will be a transformed earth, and that heaven will come, so to speak, to this world. But since the Scriptures also speak of us "entering" the kingdom; since they speak of heaven as a world above and beyond us; and since the new creation is not yet here in its fullness, I don't believe it's wrong to say that we will "go there," as long as we recognize that this is just one of the ways to express the reality that awaits us. In fact, Wright's protests against using the phrase "go to heaven" betray an overly literal understanding on his part. Hence, against Wright, the hymn Away in the Manger does not contradict Scripture when it asks God to "fit us for heaven, to live with thee there" (p. 22).

As noted above, Wright often emphasizes that our work in this world is important. Christians ought not to think that their work in politics, economics, business, art, and so forth is insignificant. There has been a kind of pietism that has denigrated such work. Still, it isn't clear that forgiving third world debt is a moral obligation on the same level as abolishing slavery. Wright too confidently dismisses all who disagree with him on this matter, sweeping away any objections with rhetorical statements. Moral claims in the public sphere must be advanced by careful reasoning, and Wright does not provide arguments to support his conclusions. Perhaps in the future he will tackle the matter with reasoned public discourse instead of dicta from above.

Wright commends evangelism as part of our work as believers, but he clearly emphasizes being engaged in the political sphere. Surely Wright has his emphases backwards here. The Scriptures teach that only those who believe in Jesus Christ and repent of their sins will enjoy the new creation. Isn't the most important thing for human beings, therefore, to gain acceptance into this new creation? Aren't there great artists and gifted politicians who have improved our life in this world (for which we are all thankful), and yet who will not be part of the new creation because they have rejected the gospel? Moreover, while Wright correctly affirms that everything done in this world matters, there is also discontinuity between this world and the next. The curse of Genesis 3 will not be lifted until Jesus comes again. Our work in this world is provisional and always touched by the curse. The invention of the car solved a pollution problem in the streets caused by horses, but no one foresaw that it would cause pollution problems of its own.

All this is to say that the call for Christians to evangelize remains more pressing than any call to work in the political sphere, even though all our work in this world is significant. Wright emphasizes that the good news of the gospel is that Jesus is Lord, but, as John Piper has pointed out, this isn't good news if you're still a rebel against God; its terrifying news. The New Testament is permeated with the message that we must turn from our sins and put our faith in Christ. Wright does not disagree with the need to do so, but he seems to be most excited about our work in the political and social sphere.

I could perhaps understand why Wright would stress social concerns if England's churches were full and thriving—as if almost everyone was a believer. But what is curious is that England's churches are empty, and unbelief is common. It seems that a bishop in these circumstances would vigorously call upon the church to evangelize, and would emphasize the need to put one's faith in Jesus Christ and to turn from one's sins. I don't see that urgency in Wright's writing, and therefore he veers from the message of Jesus and the apostles.

I would also mention some bits and pieces of the book that call out for comment, even if I don't have space here to interact with them here in detail. For instance, Wright contends that Jesus never spoke about his return. He defends this claim in other works, but it's a controversial point. Here I simply want to register my disagreement with his exegesis.

Also, Wright correctly says that justification by faith and judgment according to works do not conflict (p. 140), but he gives us no help in seeing how these two themes fit together. Readers would be helped in knowing how the two themes cohere. Putting these truths together wrongly can lead to a final curse (Gal. 1:8-9), and hence Wright must be clearer in explaining the gospel in his exposition.

The section on purgatory is nicely done, showing that purgatory is absent from the biblical witness. But Wright falls into inconsistency when he endorses praying for the dead since this practice is not found in the Scriptures (p. 172). He does rightfully rule out invoking the saints for assistance.

Contrary to Wright, Jesus' statements about gehenna do not refer to the judgment of A.D. 70, though I cannot defend this argument here. Nor do I think Wright is correct in saying that judgment is a minor theme in the letters. The theme is pervasive in them, but, again, that would take too long to defend here.

Too often Wright prosecutes his case by caricaturing a view and then introducing his own view as the solution. Hence, he rightly rejects the notion that hell is a torture chamber, but his own view of hell seems to be shorn of any notion that God punishes those who refuse to believe in Christ. Wright argues that those in hell lose the divine image, and this may well be part of the picture. Nevertheless, many texts speak of God's active punishment of the wicked. Since Wright summarizes his view and does not engage in detailed exegesis, I assume he would offer a different interpretation of the relevant texts. Still, it's difficult to see how God's active punishment of the wicked can be denied (e.g., Rom. 2:8-9, 16; 2 Thess. 1:8-9, etc.).

Wright appeals to many because he is brilliant and fascinating, and some of what he says is helpful. Nevertheless, his failure to emphasize the centrality of the gospel is troubling, and pastors who find his work illuminating need to be careful that they do not veer away from their central task of proclaiming the good news to a lost generation.


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Monday, August 2, 2010

Gandalf And The Atonement (Part 3)

Today I will continue responding to Gandalf's letter/response to my recent series on NT Wright where I severely criticized Wright for corrupting the Gospel by denying penal substitutionary atonement. I know Wright says he affirms it, but if you read the series you will see how this is standard practice for Wright to affirm something when he is really only affirming his own redefining of critical biblical truths.

The second point of Gandalf's letter I wish to respond to is the following:

You know probably that Eastern Orthodox christians as one example do not believe (according to their churches doctrine) in Penal Substitutionary Atonement, imputation etc. are they all damned?

I will cut to the chase and then expand upon that. Gandalf, anyone who is practising and believing in accordance with Eastern Orthodox teaching is trusting a false gospel and will be damned. Not because of their inability to correctly formulate the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, but because they are trusting in a religious system rather than Christ's finished work on the cross.

I am not saying there are no genuine Christians in the Eastern Orthodox movement, but I am saying that any genuine born again Christian attending an Eastern Orthodox congregation is saved in spite of (and not by virtue of) Eastern Orthodox "theology". Any true Christian identifying himself as Eastern Orthodox would run for the hills if he understood the gospel they teach.

Here is a list of MAJOR problems with Eastern Orthodoxy that are completely alien to historic biblical Christianity:

1. Eastern Orthodoxy believes baptism is the initiator of the salvation experience.
2. Eastern Orthodoxy believes salvation is a gradual, life-long process by which Christians become more and more like Christ. (As you can see, salvation hinging on baptism and a lifelong process leaves no room for Jesus' demand to repent and believe the Gospel, the need to be born again).
3. Eastern Orthodoxy argues that the Holy Scriptures (as interpreted and defined by church teaching in the first seven ecumenical councils) along with Holy Tradition are of equal value and importance. They elevate human tradition to the same level as the Divinely Inspired Scriptures.
4. Veneration of icons and a mystical form of meditative prayer is commonly incorporated into their religious rituals.
5. The Eucharist is the center of worship in the Orthodox Church. Eastern Orthodoxy teaches that during the Eucharist, believers partake mystically of Christ's body and blood and through it receive his life and strength.

Do you see heretical problems with this religious system Gandalf? I'm not talking about variations in eschatology here - these are teachings that advocate another way of salvation and hence another Gospel. And as Paul tells us in Galatians 1:8-9, that is a damnable offense.

Eastern Orthodox's denial of penal substitutionary atonement and imputed righteousness forces them to embrace a gospel that requires baptism to initiate salvation and then a gradual lifelong process to complete it.

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