Posts

Asking a difficult question

So you think I’m going to hell?

In our conversations with others about God – we will eventually encounter difficult questions like these:

“So you think I’m going to hell?”

“Do you think everyone who doesn’t believe like you are going to hell?”

“But why do I need Jesus?”

How do we answer such a pointed questions without sounding judgemental and bigoted?

Rather than being caught out – these questions are actually wonderful opportunities to share the good news of Jesus Christ. Check out this short clip where Greg Koukl outlines a tactical and gracious way you can answer these questions so you’re not caught out:

Christmas Wishes from Thinking Matters

On behalf of Dominic, Stuart, myself and the rest of our contributors, I’d like to wish all our readers a Happy Christmas. Thanks for your continued readership, participation, and support this year – we’ve had a great time writing and interacting on the blog and look forward to serving you through the New Year.

As you celebrate this wonderful day, may you take the the opportunity to open your minds and hearts to the great and glorious news of the Gospel: the King who became not just a man but a servant, and took not just a manger, but a cross so that treasonous, stubborn, rebels might become sons and co-heirs with Him. Let us humble ourselves in gratitude and together seek to prove the wonders of Jesus’ love far as the curse is found.

The Mystery that Makes Sense of Everything

“The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here [in the atonement, the resurrection, or the Gospel miracles] at all.  It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man — that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” (1 Cor 15:47). . . the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and the most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

…It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.

If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again.

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all a piece and hangs together completely. The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993 – 20th-Anniversary Edition), Pages 53-54.

The Resurrection Effect

“The message of the Resurrection is that this present world matters; that the problems and pains of this present world matter; that the living God has made a decisive bridgehead into this present world with his healing and all-conquering love; and that, in the name of this strong love, all the evils, all the injustices, and all the pains of the present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won the day. That’s why we pray: “Thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.” Make no bones about it: Easter Day was the first great answer to that prayer.

If Easter faith is simply about believing that God has a nice comfortable afterlife for some or all of us, then Christianity becomes a mere pie-in-the-sky religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is simply about believing that Jesus is risen in some “spiritual” sense, leaving his body in the tomb, then Christianity turns into a let-the-world-stew-in-its-own-juice religion, instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. If Easter faith is only about me, and perhaps you, finding a new dimension to our own personal spiritual lives in the here and now, then Christianity becomes simply a warmth-in-the-heart religion instead of a kingdom-on-earth-as-it-is-in-heaven religion. It becomes focused on me and my survival, my sense of God, my spirituality, rather than outwards on God and on God’s world that still needs the kingdom message so badly.

But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes what the New Testament insists that it is: good news for the whole world, news that warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. The living God has in principle dealt with evil once and for all, and is now at work, by his own Spirit, to do for us and the whole world what he did for Jesus on that first Easter Day.”

NT Wright, Grave Matters, Christianity Today 4/06/1998.

Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference (Day Two)

Here are the videos from the main sessions on day two of the conference (Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict has helpfully posted notes on each of the sessions as well).

Session 4: Thabiti Anyabwile — ‘Fine-Sounding Arguments’ — How Wrongly ‘Engaging the Culture’ Adjusts the Gospel

Colossians 1:24-3:4

  • Paul’s Purpose (1:24 – 2:5)
  • Paul’s Philosophy (2:6-2:15)
  • Paul’s Practices (2:16-2:23)
  • Paul’s Perspective (3:1-4)

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10940130[/vimeo]

Session 5: John MacArthur — The Theology of Sleep! (Mark 4)

Mark 4

How do we approach evangelism?:

  • Humility
  • Obedience (Mark 4:21-22)
  • Diligently (Mark 4:23-25)
  • Confidence (Mark 4:30-32)

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10941231[/vimeo]

Session 6: John Piper — Did Jesus Preach the Gospel of Evangelicalism?

Video to come.

Full manuscript available on the Desiring God website here.

Luke 18: 9-14

– Did Paul Get Jesus Right?

– Aspects of the Pharisee’s Righteousness in Luke 18: 9-14

  • Moral
  • Religious
  • A Gift from God

– Only One Thing Missing:

– Jesus: God’s Righteous One

– Implications:

Implication 1: Jesus’ Gospel Is Also Paul’s
Implication 2: Nothing We Do Is Basis for God’s Acceptance
Implication 3: Our Standing with God Is Based on Jesus, Not Us
Implication 4: Transformation Is the Fruit, Not Root, of Justification
Implication 5: All Our Goodness Is Evidence and Confirmation, Not Grounds
Implication 6: The Gospel Is for Every Person and Every People
Implication 7: Jesus Gets the Full Glory

[vimeo]http://vimeo.com/10951333[/vimeo]

Together for the Gospel (T4G) Conference (Day One)

Over the next few days, several evangelical pastors and thinkers will be gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, for the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference. If you’re like me and stuck in a different part of the world, than hearing about the convergence of erudite, Biblically-minded thinkers like Albert Mohler, R.C. Sproul, John Piper, and Mark Dever is difficult to cope with (those of us in Auckland do have the option of the Stand Together for the Gospel conference this weekend, however).

For those of us who are unable to attend, here are several summaries of the day’s first round of talks from those who were there (please make sure you check out the original fuller posts). I’ll update with the audio, when it becomes available.

Session 1: Mark Dever — The Church is the Gospel Made Visible

(notes by Justin Taylor and Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict)

Watch the video here.

Ephesians 3: 8-11

You can lose the gospel by not proclaiming it clearly, but you can also work against the gospel by the life your congregation lives.

1) How is God’s nature and character displayed in the church?

  • Holiness: Distinct lives point to a distinct God. Our lives should be marked by God’s holiness and by the fruit of the Spirit. Our distinct lives should make clear what the gospel is like. There is a difference between sinners and repenting sinners. Holiness is freedom.
  • Love: we are to be distinct from the world by the kind of love we have for others despite the inconvenience it may be to us.
  • Authority: David’s last words (2 Samuel 23:3-4) show us that authority is a good and life giving thing. Ever since the Fall, Satan has been trying to tempt us to think otherwise. He wants us to think that love and authority can’t go together. But God can love us and rule us and correct us because He’s trustworthy.Our right use of authority in our congregation reflects God’s authority.

2) How is the truth about human beings displayed in the church?

  • We were made in the image of God, and that value should be reflected in our churches. We should have relationships across typical boundaries.
  • Our congregational life should also acknowledge that we are fallen. We are not the assembly of the self-righteous. An understanding of depravity sets us up to understand church membership, because we are already redeemed but God is not yet finished. It frees people to confess their sins to one another. We know there’s something not right, and we’re the ones who can tell the truth about that.

3) How is the truth about Jesus Christ displayed in the church?

We are the people who bear his name and his purpose. We are his body, his temple. How do we make Christ visible? Through our teaching and our constant worship. Our lives should display not only Christ’s person but Christ’s work. We demonstrate our love across differences and across denominations.

4) How is the right response of the gospel displayed in the church?

  • We are to teach and model repentance and faith. We repent of our selfishness. The Christian life is personal but not private.
  • Congregations are groups of people acting upon things they cannot see. It is a community based on God’s promises. The Word should be central in our churches. Sermons should be central because they hold our God’s promises to us.

Do you want to see your church do better at evangelism? Then help your church be a better church. Our churches are meant to depict the truth of the gospel. We are to be the appearance of the gospel to the world. This is the clearest picture the world sees of who God is and his will for their lives.

Session 2: R C Sproul — The Defense and Confirmation of the Gospel — What I Have Learned in 50 years

(Notes by Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict, also check out What is the Gospel?, on the Ligonier Blog, which features some of Sproul’s message)

Watch the video here.

2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1

1) The Danger of Messing with “Mr. In-Between”

In the Old Testament, one of the problems the people of God dealt with in every generation was syncretism, which means to blend the elements of pagan religion (worship of foreign gods such as Baal and Asherah poles) and the religion of Israel. This kind of synthesis can be referred to as “Mr. In-Between.”

Examples of contemporary synthesis:

  • Evangelicalism and Naturalism
  • Evangelicalism and Existentialism
  • Evangelicalism and Marxism
  • Evangelicalism and analytical philosophy
  • Evangelicalism and process philosophy

2) The Danger of Messing with the gospel itself

Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide were the two doctrines that seemed like the bedrock that all of evangelicalism could build on. But then confidence in Sola Scriptura began to be compromised. And then eventually we hit rock bottom when controversy erupted over Sola Fide.

At the heart of this discussion on the nature of faith is the topic of justification and imputation. Is the ground of my justification something I can get for myself? Or is it something that must be alien to me, that I must get from somewhere else? There is no “Mr. In-Between” here, no matter what some have tried to say.

Evangelicals and Catholics Together represents the ultimate synthesis that obscures the great antithesis of the gospel.

And today, we see attempts to improve the gospel. But the gospel is primarily about Jesus, who He is and what He’s done.

Our greatest challenge is with respect to our personal fidelity to the gospel.

It’s not our gospel. It’s God’s gospel. And there’s no way to improve it.

Session 3: Al Mohler — How Does it Happen? Trajectories Toward an Adjusted Gospel

(Notes by James John Hollandsworth at Light Along the Journey and Chris Gatihi at Pilgrim in Conflict)

Watch the video here.

Galatians 1:8-9
1 Timothy 6:3
2 Timothy 1:8-14
Jude 3

The New Testament is really clear about the realities of a false gospel. Yet there is seeming ignorance to the danger of false gospels in the church today. But if we love Jesus, we must love and guard the gospel.

Examples of the different trajectories that result in an adjusted, altered, and eventually wrecked Gospel:

1. The modern trajectory: Liberal theology, neo-orthodoxy, and the like, where in the name of logic and rationalism the Gospel is stripped of anything supernatural.  It is “demythologized” so that it can be believed by “modern” man.  The result is that “theological liberals want to rescue Christianity, but they instead end up burying it.”

2. The post-modern trajectory: In contrast to modernists that want to establish that Biblical theology is false, post modernists reject objective truth altogether, so that Biblical truth is neither true nor false, but simply has subjective value.  “Truth” is considered to be of value simply in its metanarrative meaning.

3. The moral trajectory: These philosophers are repulsed by Biblical concepts such as hell, depravity, & atonement, so they appeal that there is a “higher morality” than the so-called primitive systems of Christianity.  In essence, these philosophers demand that God conform to their own notion of fairness.  “People want God to be fair, but “Perfect” is infinitely superior to fair, & Perfect cannot be interrogated by fair.” (meaning that our imperfect limited concept of fairness as fallen finite humans cannot judge the fairness of an infinite perfect being)

4. The aesthetic trajectory: Embraces only the “good & beautiful” and rejects anything that offends like depravity or atonement, ignoring the fact that our fallen natures cannot be trusted to make accurate assessments of what is truly beautiful about the Gospel.

5. The therapeutic trajectory: Where we only find ourselves as sick, but not sinful, and the Bible is self-help, but not a source of external rescue from hopeless depravity.

6. The pragmatic trajectory: Truth ends up not being a foundation but only a tool to obtain the desired result.  Managerial expertise and methods can produce apparent and quickly gratifying results, but “It produces crowds, but not churches, results, but not regenerations.”

7. The emotional trajectory: When we lean toward teachings and experiences that have positive emotional reward, but lean away from anything that has emotional cost.  This leads to feel-good theology that avoids anything in Christianity that isn’t palatable.

8. The materialist/prosperity trajectory: Prosperity theology follows a trajectory that is not only false but makes God out to be a liar. This is where we come to think that we can have our best life now. This trajectory comes from seeking instant gratification. “It’s only “Your Best Life Now” if you’re an unbeliever.”

Some causes of doctrinal drift:

  • Doctrinal Fatigue:  having to go against the cultural tide and repeatedly defend Biblical theology over and over can lead to just tiring of it.  But fatigue is disastrous to the metal of a bridge, the pilot of a plane, or the pastor of a church.
  • Embarrassment: of the scandal of the Gospel, so that you progressively let go of doctrines that are uncomfortable to unbelievers.  But “The Holy Spirit alone can make the Gospel credible.”

Expository preaching is the best safeguard against doctrinal drift.

“After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, ‘Do you want to go away as well?'” John 6:66-69

How will we respond to this same question that Jesus asked His first disciples?

The gospel can do for Haiti what the media coverage cannot

Dan Cruver on the Gospel Coalition blog:

“One of the great dangers of living where I live is that I can easily adopt a hobbit’s way of thinking: “Well, it’s none of our concern what goes on beyond our borders. Keep your nose out of trouble and no trouble will come to you” (hobbit Ted Sandyman to Sam in The Fellowship of the Ring). In the face of that ongoing temptation, the media’s coverage confronts me daily with Haiti’s ongoing crisis, and for that I am grateful.

But the gospel does what media coverage cannot. It doesn’t merely awaken us to humanity’s need; it moves us out to meet it. We move out to meet the needs of others because God first came down to meet ours.

Long after the media coverage fades, after our nation’s attention has turned to other things, the gospel will still be moving us toward Haiti’s need. Therefore, it is critical that we as believers feast upon the gospel every day. It’s the only thing that will make what goes on beyond the borders of our own little Hobbiton our active concern. The gospel does what media coverage cannot: it mobilizes for long-term engagement.”

Read the whole thing here.

Did St. Francis Really Say That?

St. Francis of Assisi is often accredited as saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.” But nowhere can this catchy phrase be found in his writings.

Father Pat from American Catholic has this to say.

This is a great quote, very Franciscan in its spirit, but not literally from St. Francis. The thought is his; this catchy phrasing is not in his writings or in the earliest biographies about him. In Chapter XVII of his Rule of 1221, Francis told the friars not to preach unless they had received the proper permission to do so. Then he added, “Let all the brothers, however, preach by their deeds.” [1]

After being a Franciscan for 28 years and earning an M.A. in Franciscan studies he eventually heard the “Use words if necessary” quote in 1996. He continues,

About a year ago, a friend of mine used the Internet to contact some of the most eminent Franciscan scholars in the world, seeking the source of this “Use words if necessary” quote. It is clearly not in any of Francis’ writings. After a couple weeks of searching, no scholar could find this quote in a story written within 200 years of Francis’ death.

Why is this accredited to St. Francis? Partially because it so thoroughly reflects his spirit, but mostly because had Joe Blogs said it, it wouldn’t have become so widespread. A parallel example is the “Peace Prayer”, where the oldest known copy dates to 1912 in France, but is nevertheless attributed to St. Francis to guarantee a wide diffusion of the text.

Ray Comfort complains this phrase has been used to justify not speaking out the truth content of the gospel. He says,

I regularly meet those who think they can obey the Great Commission without using words. . . . With a little probing, they are the relationship folks, who think preaching the Gospel means building relationships with the lost, and never mentioning words like “sin,” “Hell,” and “Judgment Day.” [2]

He comments that real love is not withholding the Bread of Life to those who are starving to death. Francis was a loving man who was not afraid to use words when he preached. He wasn’t frightened to preach repentance to a sinful world. I conclude therefore, that he most likely understood the following Bible verses to mean the use of words in the Gospel proclamation is necessary.

“How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14)

“Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God” (Acts 20: 26-27; cf. Ezekiel 3:18)

[1] http://www.americancatholic.org/Messenger/Oct2001/Wiseman.asp
[2] http://worldviewtimes.com/article.php/articleid-2401/Brannon-Howse/Ray-Comfort