Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Is Williamsburg Sinful?

There is a town here in Virginia called Williamsburg. It seeks to replicate Colonial America, and does so well enough to attract large numbers of tourists and field trips.

My question is this: Is it sinful to create a town with the appearance of age? To make something that looks older than it really is? Are the designers of Williamsburg being deceptive? Manipulative? Are they lying by making their modern town out to be something that it is not?

I believe God has made a young universe that looks old. Some Christians do not like this approach to Genesis 1, arguing that it turns God into a deceiver. But assuming that God has made a young universe with the appearance of great age, does it necessarily follow that this makes him a deceiver?

Is Williamsburg deceptive? The answer, of course, is no. Visitors are informed clearly up front that Williamsburg is not really a colonial town. And the same can be said of God's work of creation. He states clearly "up front" (in Genesis 1, no less) that he took just six days to make the heavens and the earth. Yet the text is equally up front about the appearance of age (Adam and Eve have adult bodies, they are able to see the stars, etc.).

There is no deception in making a young thing that looks old as long as you openly admit that it is young. Furnitute makers craft fake antiques all the time. Some do so with wicked motives, that they might inflate the price of their wares. Other craftsmen create fake antiques because some customers like the look and wear of old furniture, but cannot affort real antiques. These furniture makers are not being deceptive because they tell their customers the truth: this table looks old, but it is not.

God has told us the truth about his creation. It is about 6000 years old. Thus there is no deception in giving said creation the appearance of age. We all live in Williamsburg, VA. And there is nothing sinful about it.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

College: Best Evangelistic Opportunity You'll Ever Have

"Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity." Colossians 3:5

Until you find yourself confined to a nursing home, college is best evangelistic opportunity you will ever get. In college (even a Christian college) you live with non-Christians. These non-Christians will listen to your words (words they would never otherwise be willing to hear) because you live with them. You support your words with a powerful visual aide: because they live with you, the people you are evangelizing get to observe how your membership in Christ's church affects every aspect of your life.

Once you graduate, everything changes. Americans are thoroughly committed to rugged individualism. If I walk next door and try to talk to my neighbor, he thinks I'm crazy. People are supposed to keep to themselves. This is America. Don't I understand that?

After college you'll meet people at work, of course. There may be a bit of time here and there to share the gospel, but for the most part your coworkers will be distracted by their work (that's why they're at work, after all). Plus you won't be living with the people at work. They don't get to see your faith in Christ lived out 24/7 like your dormmates do.

The students in your dorm leave their doors open for a reason: they want people to stop by and talk to them. They want to be distracted from their homework. What better way to distract them than by forming a relationship that can serve as a foundation for evangelism?

College students complain about how busy they are. They are not busy. Unless a student is working himself through college, no one uder the age of 65 has as much free time as a college student. This provides something absolutely essential for evangelism: time. Explaining the gospel takes time. Lots of time. After college, non-Christians are generally not willing to give believers sufficient time to share Christ with them.

While still in college, they will give you the time. They will sit and talk with you for hours about evolution vs. creation, postmodernism vs. being able to possess certain knowledge of absolute truth, the religious claim that man can earn salvation vs. the Bible's teaching on the necessity of Christ's atonement, etc. After college non-Christians will not spend hours sitting on a couch discussing such matters. In college, they are willing. Make the most of this opportunity.

If you are a college student, you have opportunities we older Christians can only dream of. You can engage in more evangelism in the next four years than all the rest of your life put together. Make the most of this opportunity.

Evangelistic tips for college students:

1) Become an associate member of a local church and attend that church faithfully (every week, even when you are tired or moderately sick). Make sure the church is committed to Biblical inerrancy, and to the gospel of justification by faith alone, through grace alone, because of Christ alone. Make sure it is a church you would invite non-Christians to without any hesitation. In other words, make sure the preaching and music are both excellent. The church should be committed to pastoring and shepherding its associate members (college students). You are a sheep. You need a pastor to feed and protect you. You must be humble enough to admit this, or you are going to starve and/or get eaten (not necessarily in that order). If no pastor is willing to pastor you, move on until you find a church that is willing to provide genuine pastoral care to its college students. (Note: Reformed University Fellowship - RUF for short - is the campus ministry of the Presbyterian Church in America - PCA. The RUF staff worker is an actual ordained pastor. He is a shepherd, bearing both rod and staff. If your campus has an RUF chapter, I urge you to join and receive the benefits unique to RUF.)

2) Taking a person to church is the most effective method of evangelism the world has ever seen, or ever will see. This is true for two reasons. First, God has made the preaching of his Word the primary means by which he convicts and converts sinners. This is not to denigrate the importance of one-on-one evangelism. It's just that hearing the Word preached is more powerful, more central - it is how the Holy Spirit most prefers to bring people to Christ. To put it as simply as possible: if you want someone to become a Christian, you need to get him to church. Second, Jesus came preaching the gospel of the kingdom. "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand." The kingdom of God is not heaven. The kingdom of God is the church. Jesus did not preach, "Believe in me so you can go to heaven." He preached, "Believe in me so you can be part of my church." This distinction is critical. If the church is the good news (in other words, if being part of Christ's body is what we are saved unto), then your evangelism has to be church-centered. It is your church as a whole leading a person into Christ's church.

3) Evangelism is a slow process. Do not try to rush it! Most of the evangelistic task is really what we would call "pre-evangelism." There is a great deal an unbeliever must be taught about the nature of God, man, sin, Christ, and the world in general before he can understand the gospel well enough to respond to it. So don't just jump in and start talking about how Jesus died for our sins! Instead, find out about a person's worldview. How does he define the word "God?" What is his definition of sin? Does he cling to the generic religious worldview (that human beings can earn salvation through some combination of good works, religious rituals, and trying one's best to avoid the really big sins)? Or is he committed to philosophic naturalism (humanism, secularism, postmodernism, whatever label you prefer)? Regardless, you have to find you where he is and proceed from there. There is no point in talking about how Jesus died as our substitute if the person does not believe in creation, or does not know the correct definition of sin, or does not understand the necessity of a Mediator between Creator and fallen creature.

4) Avoid Christianese. Do not use words or phrases like "saved" or "ask Jesus into your heart." Also, remember that even if the non-Christian knows some biblical terms (God, sin, hell, etc.), that doesn't mean he has biblical definitions in mind for these terms. Likely to him the word "God" means the wimpy, sentimental, Unitarian pansy mentioned on greeting cards in Hallmark stores. So you have to define everything. This is why evangelism takes so long. Much of evangelism is, in fact, teaching non-Christians the Biblical worldview (meaning the Biblical definitions for Biblical terms).

5) Avoid emotional manipulation and hasty decisions. The evangelist George Whitefield urged his listeners not to make quick decisions to convert. He did not want impulsive commitments made in high-emotion situations (like what people can feel in the middle of a revival meeting). Instead he told potential converts to go home and think the matter over in private. Did they really understand what they were getting themselves into? Becoming a believer is the most important decision a person will ever make. How much thought and consideration should go into deciding whom to marry? Even more thought and consideration should go into deciding whether or not to covenant with Christ.

If you are a college student, I am so happy for you! You are living with non-Christians who have lots of free time, and are willing to spend much of it having long, meaningful conversations.

May God grant you great fruitfulness in sharing the gospel of the kingdom with your fellow students. May your labors make the Church of the living God bigger and better. May your feet be counted beautiful indeed.

When you stand before Christ, may He find that you made the most of every opportunity!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Relevance of Six-Day Creation

Is it adequate simply to "believe in creaton," or is there some value in embracing the specific details recorded in Genesis 1-2? I am a Young Earth Creationist (YEC), which some consider the more remarkable given my chemistry background, interest in amateur astronomy, study of formal logic, and authorship of several science fiction novels (not silly end times nonsense, but real SF, set far in the future and showing the church alive and well).

The Bible teaches that the universe is about 6000 years old. Scientific observation shows that the Earth appears to be about 4.5 billion years old, while the universe as a whole appears to be about 14 billions years old. One can quibble on these numbers a bit, but it is obvious that we are dealing with two radically different views of the world.

Thus the many efforts to reconcile Genesis 1-2 with the competing conclusions reached by modern scientists. Some Christians question the literal interpretation of Genesis 1, preferring to think of the word "day" as symbolically referring to long periods of time. Other Christians attack the methods and interpretive paradigms of modern scientists, asserting that perhaps the universe does not really appear to be that old after all.

Although this post is not intended to defend my own attempt at reconciliation, let me say in passing that I believe God has made a young universe that appears old. This is the "appearance of age" theory, and it has many detractors. Let me suggest, however, that unlike all the tortured treatments of Genesis 1, the "appearance of age" theory does flow naturally out of the text. On the day they are created, Adam and Eve are clearly portrayed as looking older than they really are (they have adult bodies, not infant bodies). But more on this another time.

What I'm really interested in discussing here is why the whole topic matters. Some of us have a natural aversion to controversy (not always a bad thing), and the issue of the earth's age can needlessly divide and distract the church (aren't there much more important matters worthy of our time and energy?). Nevertheless, I would be so bold as to assert that the age of the earth actually matters. The issue is relevant, in other words. Please allow me to explain why.

The Doctrine of Original Sin teaches the following:
1) God made a world that was very good, a world very unlike the one we now inhabit.
2) Adam sinned against God, resulting in negative consequences for the creation in general and mankind in particular.
3) As a result of Adam's sin, all humans descending from him (by ordinary generation) inherit a sin nature - we are sinful from the moment of conception.
4) Because Adam carried the office of Federal Head for humanity, the guilt of Adam's first sin is credited or imputed to the whole human race. This means God considers all people guilty of Adam's first transgression.
5) Adam was not only head of the human race; God made him king over the entire physical creation. When Adam fell, the creation fell with him. Death and decay entered the world. The creation is now in bondage to decay, and awaits the day when it will be redeemd and transformed.

The key idea I'd like you to focus on is this: the world as we see it now, as we experience it now - this is not the way God made the world. The pre-Fall world was radically different. A world without decay. A world without death. Given how all physical processes in this world are governed by entropy increases, it is frankly impossilbe for us to even imagine what the pre-Fall world was really like. But the key idea is that it was nothing like this world.

Why is the current world so horrible? Because we screwed it up. God made it very good. We rebelled. God is now keeping his promise: the day you eat of it, you shall surely die.

It is essential to guard this Doctrine of Original Sin, that all the blame for the world being the way it is stays where it belongs: on our shoulders. God did not make the world this way. It is our fault that the world is the way it is.

Now this is why the age of the earth matters. It seems to me that the idea of the earth being 4.5 billion years old is linked pretty tightly with the idea that the world has always been as we see it now. A world governed by death and decay. A world that has experienced no radical discontinuity between the way things are (meaning the basic physical laws of the universe) and the way things were.

For example, let's examine a layer of sedimentary rock full of fossils. Fossils = death. If you claim that the layer of rock of 300 million years old, then you are claiming that death has been around for at least that long (i.e., long before Adam and Eve showed up on the scene). Then the presence of death and decay is no longer Adam's fault. It is God's fault. The world is the way it is because God is a lousy Creator.

So far from being some secondary issue best shunted to the side for the sake of unity, the age of the earth actually finds itself inextricably bound up with the core Doctrine of Original Sin. This is not a secondary matter. It is, rather, the very issue of blame bantered back and forth in Genesis 3. Who is to blame for the world's fallen condition? (This planet is a horrible place. If you think otherwise, just give it a little time.)

According to Genesis 3, Adam (and by extension, the whole human race) is to blame for the world being the way it is. Before Adam sinned, the world was not like this. We need to guard this piece of the Biblical worldview, for what is at stake is not only God's reputation as a good and wise Creator, but also the sufficiency of Christ's redemptive work. For only if the sin of the First Adam is the cause of everything wrong in the world, only then is the obedience of the Last Adam the solution for everything wrong in the world.

Those fossils can't be older than Adam, because before Adam there was no sin, no death, no decay, no disaster - none of the stuff that today produces dirt full of dead animals.

Guard the Doctrine of Original Sin.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Arminianism: A Rejection of Sola Gratia

It strikes me as a bit of a mystery how some Christians believe in justification by faith alone (sola fide), but not in salvation by grace alone (sola gratia). Yet this is the essence of the division between Arminianism and Calvinism. As the opposite of faith is works, so the opposite of grace is merit. Arminianism claims that although our works do not contribute to our justification (we cannot earn God's forgiveness), there is still some human merit involved in our salvation (we do deserve God's forgiveness).

Regardless of our individual theologies, all Christians share a set of common experiences. Every person who is a Christian today at some point in the past made a decision to repent of his sins and trust in the person and work of Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. Some believers can specify the date on which they made this decision; others cannot. Regardless, every Christian on earth made a conscious choice to follow Christ.

As believers progress in the Christian life, glorifying and enjoying God by trusting him and obeying him, they notice fellow human beings who do not follow Christ. These members of Adam's fallen race have the same opportunities to respond to the gospel - yet they reject the salvation freely offered. The believer is left with a basic question: Why did I choose to accept Christ, while this other person choses to reject him?

Arminianism and Calvinism give opposite answers to this question. According to Arminianism, the person who is now a Christian decided to believe in Jesus because there was something superior about him that made him different from other sinners. He had a better heart, a greater willingness to seek after God, a more genuine determination to make right decisions. The person who decided to reject Christ did so because he was more evil than the person who became a believer. He had no desire to seek after God or do the right thing. He ends up apart from Christ and ultimately lost on the last day.

Through such an answer Arminianism reintroduces human merit/dessert into the process of salvation. Those who are saved end up saved because there is something different about them, something superior about them that sets them apart from other sinners. They repented and believed when others did not; thus they deserve God's salvation (though they do not earn it). Their choice to follow Jesus sets them apart. Justified by faith alone? Yes. Saved by grace alone? No.

To formalize their rejection of sola gratia, the Arminian remonstrants of the early 1600's organized five attacks against Luther's Refomation theology. Today these are known as the Five Points of Arminianism:

1) Partial Depravity. Man may be drowning in sin, but he is not dead in sin. A sinner can choose to repent and believe in Christ without receiving help from the Holy Spirit to do so. Deep down inside, humans are just not that evil. There is enough good in me that I can choose to do good on my own. Why did I decide to follow Jesus when my college roommate decided to reject him? Because I am a better person than he is.

2) Conditional Election. God may choose whom he is going to save (the word "predestination" is in the Bible, after all), but he only chooses whom he chooses because he knows they are one day going to choose him! God's choice is therefore conditional: it is based upon something in the chosen sinner that sets him apart from the sinner who does not get chosen. Why did God choose to save me but not save my roommate? Because he likes me more than he likes my roommate. There is something about me that makes me superior to my roommate, that makes God prefer me. God chose me because I deserve it.

3) Unlimited Atonement. Jesus died for every single person who ever lived or ever will live. In doing so Jesus has made salvation possible for every human being. That salvation is like money in a bank account just waiting to be withdrawn. When a person believes in Jesus he gets the money. Because Jesus died for everyone, yet everyone does not end up in heaven, this means that our decision whether or not to believe is what determines whether or not the death of Christ saves us. The work of Christ only became effectual, it only resulted in my salvation, when I chose to accept it. Thus my decision completes or finishes what Jesus did, giving his work the power to do what it cannot do on its own.

4) Resistable Grace. God may call me to his Son through the preaching and service of his church, but I can resist and reject this call if I so choose. Thus it is the hardness or softness of each individual heart that determines whether or not each sinner finally repents and believes. Why did I choose to hear the gospel, really hear it and submit to it? Because I am different than those who reject it. I am a better person, one more inclined toward the things of God, one more interested in listening. I could have resisted God's call, but I didn't. I am a better person than the people who do reject God's call. My innate goodness and willingness to believe sets me apart from those who refuse to hear.

5) Reversible Salvation. It is possible for me to stop believing in Jesus, to reject him and go my own way. When Christians backslide in this way, God unjustifies them and unadopts them. In other words, they lose their salvation. If they had died before turning away, they would have done to heaven. But now if they die in this unrepentant state, they will go to hell. They can certainly turn back to Christ and be saved once again. And so a person can spend his life on earth going back and forth between a state of being saved, then unsaved; saved again, then unsaved again. One can therefore never be assured of his salvation. I secured my salvation through my own act of repenting and believing. Therefore it is always possible to lose my salvation through my own act of backsliding. Given that the will and attitude of the human heart can always change, a salvation based upon the will and attitude of the human heart can always change.

In response to the Arminian attack on sola gratia, church leaders met at the Synod of Dordt in 1618-19 and systematized the Five Points of Calvinism. I will save a definition and defense of the Five Points for another entry. At this point allow me simply to emphasize that the Five Points of Calvinism were formulated for one purpose: to defend sola gratia.

The Reformers summarized Protestant theology under these five headings:

Sola Scriptura - we get our doctrine from the Bible alone (as opposed to church tradition)

Sola Fide - we are justifed by faith alone (as opposed to earning forgiveness through works)

Sola Gratia - we are saved by grace alone (as opposed to deserving salvation)

Solus Christus - Christ is only Mediator between God and man (vs. Pope, Mary, saints, priests)

Soli Deo Gloria - if the first four solas are true, then God gets all the credit for our salvation

Sometimes Christians get the Five Solas confused with the Five Points of Calvinism. They are not the same thing. The Five Solas were developed at the start of the Reformation. They summarize the doctrine of Luther and Calvin. The Five Points of Calvinism were written a hundred years after the Reformation began. The Five Points of Calvinism all fall under one of the five solas: sola gratia. The Five Points of Calvinism were formulated to uphold and defend sola gratia. If the Arminians had not attacked sola gratia, the Five Points of Calvinism never would have been developed as we have them today.

I am friends with a lot of Christians who know the Five Points of Calvinism. These brothers and sisters agree with the Five Points, affirm them, teach them, and can even defend them from the Bible. But when I ask these fellow believers point-blank, "Why do the Five Points matter?" they give me an empty stare. They have not made the mental connection between sola gratia and the Five Points. They do not understand why the Five Points were written in the first place. They do not understand that in debating the Five Points of Calvinism we are doing nothing less than debating the very heart of the gospel: are we, or are we not, saved by grace alone?

My challenge to you is that in your mind you connect sola gratia with the Five Points of Calvinism. When asked, "Why do the Five Points matter?" I want you to respond without a moment's hesitation: "The Five Points defend the third sola. Only if the Five Points are true are we saved by grace alone. The Five Points are all about grace. We do not deserve or merit God's salvation. It is a free gift from first to last."

Christianity is about grace. The gospel is about grace. And this is what is most unique or distinctive about Reformed theology: a relentless proclamation of salvation by grace alone. What do Calvinists have that no one else has? Salvation by grace alone. Why do the Five Points of Calvinism matter so much? Because only if all five are true are we actually saved by grace alone. Why do we insist that the Five Points are central or core doctrines rather than secondary matters? Because what is at stake is the very definition of the gospel. We are not simply justified by faith alone. We are also saved by grace alone.

What is Calvinism? Grace. What is Reformed theology all about? Grace. Why uphold the Five Points of Calvinism no matter the cost? Grace. Only if the Five Points of Calvinism are true are we actually saved by grace alone.

For the rest of your life, may you never hesitate a moment when asked why the Five Points of Calvinism matter. Grace, grace, grace! May the word be near and dear to your heart. Praise be to God for his marvelous grace!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Summarizing the Gospel in Different Ways

A basic summary of the gospel should answer three questions:

1) What has Christ earned for us?
2) How has Christ earned it?
3) How do we receive it?

John 3:16 is famous because, to my knowledge, it is the only verse in the Bible that answers all three questions (in a single verse).

The Bible teaches one gospel. The Bible also articulates this one gospel in a wide variety of ways. For example, depending on the passage you are reading, Christ has earned for us...

Eternal Life - John 3:16
Justification - Romans 3:21-22
Reconciliation - 2 Corinthians 5:16-21
Adoption - Galatians 3:26-4:7
Salvation - Ephesians 2:8-10
Freedom - Romans 6
Glory - 1 Corinthians 15

Imagine I ask two Christians to explain the gospel to me. One tells how Jesus can free me from my bondage to sin and give me a new life as a member of Christ's church. The other believer discusses how Jesus my Advocate has provided a way for me to get out of God's courtroom and into God's family room. These Christians are explaining the same gospel to me. Different images, different language, same message.

Please recognize the great diversity in your friends and family members. The way you explain the gospel to one person may not be the best way to explain it to another. Part of our task in evangelism, then, is to "figure people out."

If you discover that the person you are evangelizing connects with different Bible passages and images than ones you prefer, please do not hold it against him! For example, given my background in logic and debate, the Romans 3 discussion of justification really speaks to me. But another person might understand the gospel better from the Luke 7 account of Jesus forgiving the sinful woman. It would be silly of me to get annoyed with someone simply because Luke 7 does more for her than Romans 3.

The Bible explains the good news of Jesus Christ in so many different ways because God has created so many different kinds of people. This, then, is our mission. Get to know Scripture. Get to know people. Connect people with passages that will best connect with them.

Do a little brainstorming before Thanksgiving and Christmas. The non-Christians you will hanging out with, what are they like? How do they think? What Bible stories or passages "speak their language?"

May the Holy Spirit grant you great success in sharing Christ this holiday season!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Sphere Sovereignty

Would it be OK for the deacons of my church to wear police uniforms and weapons, patrol the streets, and arrest criminals? Would it be acceptable for the deacons to charge, try, and punish these criminals? I think most would agree that such behavior would be unacceptable, that such an effort on the part of the church to do the state's job would, in fact, violate the separation of church and state.

This introduces the idea of sphere sovereignty. Each covenantal unit - individual, church, family, and state - has been delegated certain responsibilities by God. A unit may not perform duties assigned by God to one of the other units. This doctrine is based upon the idea that the Bible is an express powers document: unless the Bible says the church, family, or state can perform a given task, it is understood that only individuals can perform that task. A social institution cannot do something unless the Bible explicitly says it can.

Here are the basic duties assigned to each covenantal unit:

Individual - repent and believe the gospel (Mk 1:15)
Church - make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:18-20)
Family - fill and subdue the earth (Gen 1:26-28)
State - bear the sword (Rom 13:4-5)

I believe in the separation of church and state, meaning I believe that the church may not perform those duties assigned by the Bible to the state, and that the state may not perform those duties assigned by the Bible for the church. The church may not engage in police functions, arresting and trying criminals. The church may not maintain a military for defending the country's borders. Likewise the state may not engage in charity work, caring for the poor, orphans, widows, and aliens. The state may not teach people how to think about themselves or the world around them.

Sphere sovereignty teaches separation between all four covenantal units, not just between church and state. For example, according to the Bible charity is first and foremost the responsibility of the family. Only if family cannot help a person in need is the church to get involved. Thus government welfare programs violate the separation of family and state. Again, the Bible assigns the education of children to the family. Public schools likewise violate the separation of family and state.

Vigilantes (think superheroes) violate the separation of individual and state, since the Bible gives the government a monopoly on violence. Businesses are an outgrowth of families and households. Thus government involvement in the economy (running a central bank, printing money, intervening in the market in any way) violates the separation of family and state. Church schools destroy the separation of family and church (parents may not delegate their children's education to the church any more than they may delegate it to the state).

Humanism promotes a messianic view of the state, meaning the state is thought of as a redemptive institution. In other words, according to humanists (except the anarchist variety, of course) the state's job is to save people. Through education, welfare, the ever-expanding reach of social workers, and massive manipulation of the economy, the state can make everyone happy, wealthy, and well-adjusted. As Christians look to Christ and the Holy Spirit to transform lives, so humanists look to the government to do the same.

The doctrine of sphere sovereignty smashes this messianic view of politics. According to the Bible, the state is to exercise an extremely limited role in people's lives. Basically, the government's job is to kill people: criminals within the borders, and military enemies beyond the borders. This is a strictly negative role for the government. The state enforces the law, maintains order, protects private property, and keeps people safe - especially from itself. For in the end, the state is the greatest threat to the happiness and prosperity of its people. More people in human history have had their lives ruined by their own government than by famine, disease and war combined.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Why the Doctrine of Creation Matters

Though I am a Six Day Creationist, I want to acknowledge the value of "just believing in creation." In other words, many people (Christians and non-Christians) believe that God made the universe in general and life in particular, yet do not accept the various details recorded in Genesis 1-2. Before explaining why I think the details do matter, allow me to emphsize the common ground shared by all people who believe that God is Creator.

Why "Creation in general" matters. If God is Creator...

1) Life has a purpose. If life arose through a random, natural process, life is meaningless. Only created things have purpose, meaning, telos, end.

2) Time is linear. The view of many religions that history is cyclical destroys all incentive toward cultural and intellectual progress. Cultures with such a view of time stagnate, since nothing anyone does can actually make a difference. But if the universe has a definite beginning point, our decisions and actions affect the future and therefore matter.

3) God is not one of us. This sounds a bit strange, but most ancient religions viewed the gods as part of our world. There existed no fundamental difference between the human and the divine. The Creator-creature distinction results in a radically different view of God. He is transcendent, set apart, possessing being as part of his very essence.

4) God possesses an absolute right to command us, judge us, and dispose of us and all our circumstances as he sees fit. If God is Maker of all things, visible and invisible, he is a debtor to no man, owing us nothing. We have (and can have) no claim upon him. No one has ever given to God that God should repay him. It is literally impossible for God to be unfair.

5) Likewise if God is Maker of all things, we have no right to complain about anything, or charge God with wrongdoing, or get bent out of shape, put out, feel imposed upon, etc., if God does not give us what we want when we want it. Any sort of bad attitude presupposes that God owes us something, that we are entitled or have a right to something that God is withholding. The doctrine of Creation forever destroys all notions of entitlement. God is free to do with us as he sees fit. No one can charge him with wrongdoing or say to him, "Who do you think you are?"

6) All religions are not basically the same. The creation myths of various religions show the gods (or nowadays, aliens) making the universe and life out of pre-existent matter. In other words, gods and/or aliens simply rework the basic elements that have always existed apart from their creative act. But the Biblical doctrine of creation is creation ex nihilo, creation from nothing. God spoke the universe into being. Before God created space, matter, energy, physical forces, etc., only God existed. Don't let the pluralists get away with saying all religions are the same. They are not.

7) We understand why all men possess an inherent need to worship. Because we are creatures, worship is hardwired into us. It is literally impossible for a human not to worship. The question is only ever a matter of what we will worship: our Creator, or a substitute. But the actual act of worship is unavoidable. To say it somewhat differently, only the doctrine of creation explains why we are the way we are. Thus apart from the knowledge of God as Creator, it is impossible for us to understand ourselves.

8) We have an explanation for why "general revelation" works. Romans 1 teaches that we learn about God's "invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature" through our observation of the world around us. The creation teaches us about God because that is what it is: creation! There is no such thing as "nature" or the "natural world." There is only God's world. All of it is made by him, sustained by him, and governed by him. Thus every bit of the creation teaches us something about the God who created it. Indeed, through our study of the world in general and ourselves in particular, we learn enough about our Creator's righteous requirements as to render all of us without excuse for our rebellion against him.

Perhaps you can think of other ways in which the doctrine of "creation in general" profits its advocates. If you do not agree with the details of Genesis 1-2, yet nevertheless believe that God is your Maker, you at least enjoy the eight benefits listed above.

But Genesis 1-2 does give us specific details about how and when God made all things. I believe these details matter.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Joshua as a Type for Christ

God chooses the name Joshua for his Son (Jesus is the Greek form of Joshua). So in God's mind, Joshua is obviously an OT type for Christ. The question is how.

Most OT types commit some sin that demonstrates to everyone that they are not the promised Seed. Jacob falls into a stubborn despairing depression after hearing that Joseph is dead, Moses refuses to honor God as holy, and David commits adultery with Bathsheba. Joshua, by contrast, seems to be the one prominent OT type whose life is devoid of a "big sin." Not that he was without sin, of course; simply that the Bible records no high profile transgression.

Another way Joshua is a type for Christ is that he leads the Israelites to victory in their conquest of Canaan, even as Jesus now leads us to victory in our conquest of the world. According to Joshua 1, Israel's victory in battle depended most specifically on the obedience of Joshua to the law of Moses (not that Israel's obedience did not also matter; Joshua's merely took priority). Even so, it is the Greater Joshua's perfect obedience that secures our victory in fulfilling the Great Commission. We will conquer the world, for our Perfect Joshua leads us into battle (and in fact has already won the battle!).

Perhaps there are other ways in which Joshua is a type for Christ. What do you think?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Now What?

The central question of the Christian life is, "Now what? Now that God has forgiven me, what am I supposed to do, be, become, etc.?"

One common answer, "Save as many souls as possible and wait for the Rapture," has proven itself a lie through the fruit of many wasted lives. Surely there must be more to life than getting saved. Otherwise, God's own life is meaningless! (By the way, the typical end-times novel is worse than useless in helping us understand the Christian life.)

The Bible offers many paradigms for answering the question, "Now what?" Essentially the entire account of Abraham recorded in Genesis 12-25 tells the story of his life after he converts. Abraham is saved by faith unto a life of faith; he glorifies God by trusting and waiting on God. If, after believing God, Abraham were asked, "Now what?" it seems his most likely answer would be more of the same: "I am going to keep believing God."

Courtroom to Family Room - Adoption

Another useful paradigm is the relationship between fire and smoke. There is no such thing as a genuine fire that does not produce smoke (no need for quibbles, pure oxygen environment purists). Even so, every person whom God justifies he also sanctifies. There is a necessary causal relationship between the two: those whom God forgives he always changes. In this line of thinking, pursuit of holiness is the essence of the Christian life. We have been called, regenerated, and justified that we might now be conformed unto the image of God's Son. But such spiritual growth must be actively pursued, thereby giving the Christian a great mission in life: to be holy, even as God is holy.

Pilgrim's Progress - Perseverance

Interestingly, all of the above are found on the Ordo Salutis. Faith and Repentance are ongoing actions, not once and done events. We keep believing and repenting every moment of our new life in Christ. Adoption is a once and done legal act, but it places us in a Father-Son relationship that is meant to be continuously experienced and enjoyed. Sanctification and Perseverance are more commonly understood as progressive and ongoing processes in which we are active participants.

Most Christians pick a particular step and focus on it as the organizing principle for their life. This is OK. It is so easy to get distracted; usually it is best to oversimplify what we are trying to accomplish as Christ's followers. So when asked, "Now what?" and one person says, "Holiness, godliness, transformation, new creation," while another person says, "Ongoing trust, rest in Christ's sufficiency, believing in the one he has sent, waiting on the Lord," and so forth, it does not in any way upset me. Each believer has picked the biblical paradigm that "clicks" for him. At least he has a clear goal and vision for his life now that he is justified, which is more than most Christians have.

Besides, if someone pursues any one of these things with great zeal and success, he will end up pursuing all of the others. Pursue holiness long enough, for example, and you end up trusting God, enjoying your relationship with him, bearing fruit in love, courageously fighting off the enemy's attacks, and so forth. Thus, ultimately, each paradigm contains within it every other paradigm. Which is just another way of saying that there is only one answer to the question of now what, only one Christian life that every believer lives. We each simply prefer one Biblical metaphor or another because we each think differently. This is why, of course, that the Bible discusses this one thing (the Christian life) in so many different ways. Use enough variety in communication while aiming at the same core idea, and sooner or later everyone is bound to get it.

Given my general love for the Ordo Salutis as a teaching tool, it is interesting that its combination of steps is not actually my favorite paradigm for understanding the Christian life. I prefer instead to use a typological interpretation of the Exodus.


Through Moses God saves Israelites FROM slavery in Egypt UNTO a life of worship, covenant-keeping, conquest, and dominion.

Through Christ God saves us FROM slavery in sin UNTO a life of worship, covenant-keeping, conquest, and dominion.

I imagine myself having just crossed the Red Sea. The Egyptians' bodies are washing up on shore. I am so amazed and grateful that God has saved me. Yet I am forced to ask the question, "Now what?" And the story provides an answer to this question. God had clear plans and purposes in mind for his people. He did not simply save them out of Egypt, then say, "Go, have a nice life." God has clear plans and purposes for me, as well - and for every person he has brought over from death to life.

I need a comprehensive gospel, one that not only delivers me from the flames of hell but one that restores me to the original purpose for which God made me. Praise God for so complete a salvation!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Colson and Sphere Sovereignty

I find the doctrine of Sphere Sovereignty very useful in building a biblical social theory. It is also very helpful in hermeneutics and apologetics. Many non-Christians throw "eye for an eye" and "love your enemies" in our faces, and we often lack the quick and appropriate response: Sphere Sovereignty.

When I introduce Sphere Sovereignty to a new group of believers, I sometimes get confused and suspicious looks. The idea is so strange, yet so comprehensive and helpful, that perhaps people think I invented the doctrine myself!

These links are put here as a simple reminder that I did not create the doctrine of Sphere Sovereignty, nor am I the only modern Christian to find something of value in the concept.





Saturday, August 29, 2009

Appearance of Age in Genesis 2

The Bible is supposed to be accessible to children. This is one reason the various tortured interpretations of Genesis 1 are so painful. No child would ever read Genesis 1 and come away with the Day-Age, Gap, or "It's-all-just-poetry-so-it-doesn't-really-mean-what-it-sounds-like-it-means" interpretations.

Contrast this with Genesis 2. Read Genesis 2, then ask a child to draw a picture of Adam and Eve. What do Adam and Eve look like? Invariably, the child draws a picture of two adults. The child realizes that although Adam and Eve are less than a day old, they are created with the appearance of age. In other words, they look older than they really are. And the great thing about this is that you don't have to read it into the text. It is obvious, right on the surface (unlike the gruesome gymnastics to which Genesis 1 is so often subjected).

Why is it reasonable to conclude that Adam and Eve are made with the appearance of age? Because they are given adult tasks to perform. Naming the animals, tending the garden, having children, and defending Eve from the serpent - all of this dominion labor requires a grown-up body.

Now is God being deceptive by making Adam and Eve look older than they really are? Is he like the fraudulant craftsman who specializes in making fake antiques? Or does God have good and necessary reasons for giving our ancestors the appearance of age? And if God had good reasons for giving Adam and Eve the appearance of age, is it not possible that he could have good reasons for giving the world (and universe) around them the appearance of age as well?

This is no way denies that God could have taken 14 billion years to create the universe. The question is why God would take 6 days to make a creation that looks 14 billion years old? What are his reasons for doing this? What advantages does he obtain that could not be achieved any other way?

Do not fight the obvious. The most straightforward interpretation of Genesis 1-2 is that we live in a young universe that has been given the appearance of great age. The fun comes in meditating on why God created it this way!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Salvation is a Package Deal

To review, the Ordo Salutis (order of salvation) is...

Redemptive Work of Christ
Effectual Calling
Faith and Repentance
Union with Christ

Another benefit of the Ordo Salutis: it visualizes the idea that salvation is a "package deal." In other words, you get all of it or none of it. You never, ever only get some of it.

Such is Paul's point in Romans 8:29-30. "Those whom he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified." There is no such thing as a sinner God predestines whom he does not also proceed to call, justify and glorify. A package deal.

This is the ground of Christian assurance: God always finishes what he starts. He who began a good work in you will most certainly carry it on to completion.

Salvation is a package deal. The Ordo Salutis helps us understand what that means. Praise God that if he has predestined, called and justified you, he will most certainly one day glorify you!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Salvation is more than Justification

Another advantage of the Ordo Salutis: it emphasizes that salvation is more than justification.

Justification is the central benefit of the gospel. The doctrine of justification by faith alone (JBFA) is the core doctrine on which the church stands or falls. Nevertheless, there is more to the gospel than justification. In other words, we need Christ's righteousness imputed to us, and we need to be forgiven. But we need more than this.

Consider just the next step in the Ordo Salutis: adoption. After forgiving sinners, God does not simply kick us out on the street, saying, "Have a nice life." No, as justification gets us out of God's courtroom, so adoption gets us into God's family room. And we need this. We need, not only to be saved FROM sin and its consequences, but UNTO a new life in which we can fulfill the original purpose for which we were created.

J. I. Packer writes the following: "Adoption is the highest privilege that the gospel offers: higher even than justification. That justification - by which we mean God's forgiveness of the past together with his acceptance for the future - is the primary and fundamental blessing of the gospel is not in question. But justification does not of itself imply any intimate or deep relationship with God the judge...Contrast this, now, with adoption. Adoption is a family idea, conceived in terms of love, and viewing God as father. In adoption, God takes us into his family and fellowship - he establishes us as his children and heirs. To be right with God the Judge is a great thing, but to be loved and cared for by God the Father is a greater." (from Knowing God, pp. 206-207)

The good news is that Christ saves us out of God's courtroom and into God's family room. Justification and Adoption. FROM/UNTO theology. The Ordo Salutis visualizes this fact: there is more to salvation than justification.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ordo Salutis and Past-Present-Future Salvation

The Ordo Salutis (order of salvation) also helps explain why the Bible, in various places, speaks of the believer's salvation as past, present, or future.

Examples of salvation being spoken of as something the believer has already experienced:

"Today salvation has come to this house..." Lk 19:9
"He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy." Tit 3:5

Examples of salvation being spoken of as something the believer is currently experiencing:

"...continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling" Php 2:12
"...but to us who are being saved it is the power of God." 1 Cor 1:18

Examples of salvation being spoken of as something the believer is yet to experience:

"...our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed." Rom 13:11
"...how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him!" Rom 5:9

How can salvation be past, present, and future?

For a Christian currently alive on earth, several steps in the Ordo Salutis are past tense: Foreknowledge, Predestination, Redemptive Work of Christ, Effectual Calling, Regeneration, Faith and Repentance, Union with Christ, Justification, and Adoption. All nine of these steps have already happened. So in this sense, the believer has already been saved.

But for a believer in this life, two steps in the Ordo Salutis are present tense: Sanctification and Perseverance. The believer is being sanctified, and he is persevering in faith, repentance, and good works. In this sense, then, the believer is being saved.

Yet no Christian's salvation will be complete until Christ returns from heaven. On that Day God will raise the believer up with a new resurrection body, that he might then share in Christ's glory forever. And so in this sense, the believer (whether on earth or in heaven) still waits to be saved.

If you are a Christian, some of your salvation has already happened, some of your salvation is currently taking place, and some of your salvation will not be given to you until Judgment Day. Praise God for so great a salvation!

When you say, "Jesus saved me," be sure you know what you mean!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ordo Salutis: Definition of Salvation

The Ordo Salutis (order of salvation) commonly lists the following twelve steps:

Foreknowledge - God knows (loves, sets his love upon) some of the people he will create (though not because these people are better than those he decides not to love)
Predestination - God chooses to save these people (making them the "elect"), though again not because "likes" these people more than the ones he does not choose - there is nothing about them that sets them apart from those God does not choose
Redemptive Work of Christ - through his active and passive obedience, Christ earns the salvation of the elect
Effectual Calling - God draws an elect sinner to his Son, primarily through the preaching of the gospel, also through all the other ordinary means of grace
Regeneration - the Holy Spirit makes born again the elect person hearing the gospel, bringing him from death to life, thereby enabling him to respond to the gospel
Faith and Repentance - the elect sinner rejects his former way of thinking and living, trusting in the Person and Work of Christ for the forgiveness of his sins
Union with Christ - the believer gets included in Christ (Christ becomes his "federal head")
Justification - God forgives the new believer and imputes to him Christ's righteousness (as he was considered guilty of Adam's first transgression, so now he is credited with Christ's obedience)
Adoption - God makes the new believer a part of his family (thus the sinner is transferred from God's courtroom to God's family room)
Sanctification - the Holy Spirit progressively transforms the believer, making him more and more like Christ as the years go by
Perseverance - the believer keeps repenting and believing (because Christ, the faithful Shepherd, preserves, feeds, and protects him)
Glorification - the believer receives a resurrection body when Christ returns, and gets to enjoy living with Christ forever in the new heavens and earth

Taken as a whole, the Ordo Salutis explains what "salvation" actually is. It is a broad, comprehensive process that begins before creation and is not complete until the return of Christ.

The word "salvation" is thrown about freely by Christians, often with little clear understanding of what the term means. Frequently when a believer uses the word "saved," what he really means is "justified" or "forgiven." This creates unhelpful confusion.

Allow me to offer a challenge: because the words "saved" and "salvation" have become near-meaningless church buzz-words, do not use these terms unless you have in mind the above twelve steps of the Ordo Salutis!

Next time you say that Christ has saved you, and someone asks you what that means, promptly respond:

"I mean that God the Father predestined me, that Christ died as my substitute, and that the Holy Spirit quickened my heart to respond to the preaching of the gospel. At the appointed time the Holy Spirit made me born again, enabling me to reject my former way of life and trust in the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of my sins. At that moment God did indeed forgive me, and adopt me as well, such that I have become a child of God. The Holy Spirit now dwells within me, and he is so changing me year by year, that not only have I been freed from sin's penalty, but I am also being freed from sin's power. And I am confident the Spirit will continue his work in me, such that at the moment of my death I will still be found one of Christ's faithful followers. When Jesus returns, God will raise me from the dead with a resurrection body like Jesus' resurrection body. And so I will live forever with the Lord."

"That is what I mean when I say Christ has saved me!"

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Young Earth That Looks Old

According to the Bible, our planet is about 6000 years old. Yet our world and the universe around it look much older than this. Layers in rock and ice, radiometric dating, non-random distribution of species - all give evidence of a world millions or billions of years old. Astronomic observation reveals a universe that appears to be about 14 billion years in age.

These two views are so wide apart, that a year here or there in one's calculations hardly matters. It is convenient, therefore, simply to refer to these two views as Young Earth Creationism (YEC) and Old Earth Creationism (OEC). Both views have earnest and intelligent Christian supporters. In the denomination of which I am a part, the PCA, men holding both positions labor together for the cause of the gospel.

I am a Young Earth Creationist. Holding this position leaves me with several obligations. First, I must be certain to live at peace with those who think otherwise on this matter. We are all brothers in Christ. Second, I must explain why the issue matters. What difference does it make, after all, how old the planet is - as long as we affirm that God made it? Third, I must answer the most obvious question raised by my position: why would God make a young planet that looks old?

Is God a deceiver? Imagine a furniture maker who specializes in creating fake antiques. He crafts a new table, for example, and then puts the table through a series of treatments that give it the appearance of having aged several hundred years. The trickster then puts "wear" into the table: nicks, scratches, bang marks - whatever it takes to convince a prospective customer that the table is a genuine antique.

If the creation really is only 6000 years old (and I believe that it is), then God must be really good at "faking it." The simple fact of the matter is that the world looks a lot older than this. It is in trying to deny this observation that Creation Science so badly goes awry. There is just no use getting around the pervasive appearance of great age.

Which leaves me with a question I have to answer if anyone is to going take the Young Earth Creationist position seriously: Why would God make a young earth that looks old?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Five Rules for Interpreting the Bible

Five Rules for Interpreting the Bible:

1) What type of literature is the passage? The simplest division is prose or poetry.
2) What is the context of the passage? Look at what comes before and after.
3) How would the original audience have interpreted the passage?
4) Scripture interprets Scripture. The unchanging triune God wrote every word of the Bible.
5) It's all about Jesus. The Bible is relentlessly Christocentric.

Let's apply these rules to Genesis 1.

1) Genesis 1 is historical narrative or prose. Its language should therefore be taken literally rather than figuratively or symbolically. This means one cannot escape the Young Earth interpretation by calling Genesis 1 poetry. It is not poetry.

2) The immediate context of Genesis 1 is Genesis 2. Gen 2 recaps the events of Day 6 in much greater detail. Since the events of Genesis 2 do not take an age or epoch to occur, Day 6 back in chapter 1 must also not take a long period of time.

3) The Israelites wandering in the wilderness (sometime between 1446 to 1406 BC) were Moses' original intended audience for Genesis. There is no way this nation of ancient near-Eastern slaves heard Genesis 1 and thought of any of the modern fanciful interpretations (Day-Age theory, gap theory, etc.).

4) Exodus 20:11, the fourth of the ten commandments, refers back to the days of creation in Genesis 1. God says that we should work six days and rest on the seventh because that is what he did. Because Moses wrote Genesis and Exodus, and because Ex 20:11 equates the days of Gen 1 with the days of our current work week, the days of Genesis 1 must be six literal, consecutive 24-hour days.

5) If we live on a young Earth (about 6000 years old), then the way we find the planet today is not the way God made it. He did not make a world with death, decay, misery, entropy, etc. He made a world radically unlike the one we experience. But when we fell into sin, the creation (placed under our dominion) fell with us. And if the sin of the First Adam is the cause of everything that is wrong in the universe, then the obedience of the Last Adam is the solution for everything that is wrong in the universe. Young earth creationism therefore exalts the Son of God by magnifying the comprehensiveness and efficacy of his redemptive work - strong correlative support that the six days of Genesis 1 are six literal, consecutive 24-hour days.