Truth is truth. Is that common sense or pure stupidity? I tend to think that the very nature of the word truth alludes to something being solid and unmoving. I guess I would call that absolute. I had a conversation with my cousin once who thought that all religions and all gods lead you to heaven. Everyone gets to heaven in their own way and so you could follow a multitude of different religions in order to get there. At the time I was still in college and not as “spiritually” mature as I am now so I just said nothing. But that conversation has stuck with me for years. I replay it over and over in my mind, wishing I would have said something. His argument was just not true. Logically it can’t be true. Two completely conflicting truth’s cannot both be true. The Bible itself states that it is only through Jesus Christ that anyone can come to the father. Jesus is the only way. “That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in yourheart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 Salvation is in the name of Jesus and there is no other name under heaven and earth by which we can be saved. I was reading an apologetics book the other day and I read this sentence: “Jesus is not just a cherry flavored cough syrup that works just as well as the lemon flavored buddah.” It made me laugh but then I immediately thought back to the conversation with my cousin. If only I were that witty.
In both my undergraduate and graduate degrees I used Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and read several works by John Piper. I’ve been to numerous Passion conferences, heard Loui Giglio and John Piper speak in person on several occasions, and even watched and used Giglio’s DVD’s in my church. I bought the five volume set of Charles Surgeon’s sermons, the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin, the sermons of Jonathan Edward, and the fourteen volume set of Romans by Martin-Lloyd Jones. I listen to the Albert Mohler radio program, Mark Driscoll, and Matt Chandler. I’m a proud owner of the Reformation Study Bible edited by R. C. Sproul and an ESV Study Bible filled with notes from Wayne Grudem. And what, pray tell, do all of these things have in common? You guessed it! Reformed Theology.
For quite some time now there has been a rumbling in the distance. The sound of Reformed Theology making its way back into the hearts and minds of students of the Word of God. While it was a gentle sound in the distance at first, the rumbling is getting closer and louder. People are actually starting to notice. For some it is a breath of fresh air. Tim Challies from Challies.com gives some insight into this in his review of the book Young, Restless, and Reformed by Collin Hansen. Tim says:
“Tired of seeing people as products and weary of experiencing church as a form of entertainment, church-goers have searched to find churches that offer a more satisfying approach to the Christian life.
He goes on to point out that many church-goers have moved to emerging churches while many others have rediscovered reformed theology. The point is, people have started to get the feeling that there is something inherently wrong about the way we do church and evangelism and they’ve started the process of attempting to discover what is right. Some just flee the church with the hopes of finding something new and “emerging”. Others genuinely desire to see the church become the true bride of Christ, more biblical and less traditional.
However, there are still those Christians who are products of their environment, whose unconscious goal is to keep change from happening. They hold on to traditions and things that make them comfortable in order to avoid change at all cost, whether Biblical or not. They abuse scripture to keep their traditions. Even for many Baptist, the thought of a resurgence of reformed theology strikes fear into their hearts. Mainly because associated with it is the term ‘Calvinism’ which makes them suddenly feel the need to go grab the pitch forks and matches. It’s nearly as bad as walking into church on a Sunday morning with a bible in one hand and Harry Potter in the other. People fear it, they despise it, and most of all they don’t have any clue what it is, so they overreact to it. Fear leads to rejection without inspection. That should sound familiar since it is very similar to how the Pharisee’s reacted to the message of Jesus.
We could possibly trace the roots of reformed theology back to Augustine, although it is often connected with the reformation and John Calvin. Technically we can trace it all the way back to the apostle Paul and other biblical authors who first put these concepts in words that were inspired by God. Reformed theology all became more of a systematic idea when it was portrayed in the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith.
R.C. Sproul in his book “Grace Unknown” describes reformed theology in five ways:
1. It’s centered on God
2. It’s based on God’s word alone
3. It’s commited to faith alone
4. It’s devoted to Jesus Christ
5. It’s structured by three covenants (redemption, works, and grace)
It has also been described by what is called the five solas:
1. Sola Scripture: The Scripture alone is the standard.
2. Soli Deo Gloria: For the glory of God alone.
3. Solo Christo: By Christ’s work alone we are saved.
4. Sola Gratia: Salvation by grace alone.
5. Sola Fide: Justification by faith alone
I think any Christian would have no problem affirming these elements of reformed theology. People don’t start to jump ship until we talk about the doctrines of grace. Reformed theology affirms the following:
1. Total Depravity
2. Unconditional Election
3. Limited Atonement
4. Iresistible Grace
5. Perseverance of the Saints
Oddly enough Calvinism has received such negative publicity that most Christians automatically reject it without any understanding of it. What many Baptists don’t realize is that they most likely believe in the majority of these points. Christians accept the idea that mankind is totally depraved and unable to save itself. Most Christians don’t believe that God chooses people based on their own merits or based on a certain condition, race, or culture. Baptists believe in perseverance of the saints (once saved always saved). The problem is really the subject of election.
In some circles saying the word election is like saying a curse word out loud during a church service. People get upset and fearful of the concept so they reject everything associated with it, including reformed theology as a whole. Fear of election leads to rejection without inspection. Why are we so quick to throw out things that make us uncomfortable? A different view on one element of reformed theology, such as election, doesn’t make the rest of reformed theology worthless.
What makes little sense to me are the people who reject the Calvinist view of election and predestination, but have no alternative understanding for what election and predestination is. The issue is so unsettling that even pastors cower in fear at the thought of taking it on. They even avoid passages that deal with these things and they try not to bring it up. It seems to me that the church has failed to educate people on the matter, leaving many people confused and skeptical at the mention of it.
These issues should not be feared or immediately tossed. We shouldn’t let fear of the unknown and skepticism about certain elements cause us to reject reformed theology all together. Otherwise we are just tossing the baby out with the bath water.
It is overwhelmingly obvious that some elements of today’s church are problematic. There are church goers who are fed up with unbiblical traditions and unnecessary restrictions. There are church goers who are fed up with cheesy heartless Christian music, the juggernaut of marketed Christianity, and the continual use of “church” sayings or Christian speak which complicates communication. There are folks who are fed up with a surface level understanding of the Bible and dumbed-down teaching materials. There is a new generation of church goers who are looking for a deeper theological understanding of the bible, bolder preaching, Christ centered worship, and more radical living for Jesus Christ. Unfortunately they are not finding it in some of our churches today.
According to new research by the Barna Group, those who are outside of the Christian faith are not finding a deeper spiritual understanding or reality in our churches today either. If we are not reaching those inside the church and we are not reaching those outside of the church, then who are we reaching?
Have we lost our focus? Have we become so internally conceited that we are ceasing to be effective? If church goers and other young Christians are continuing to flee the scene of the church in search for true lives transformed by Christ, then I think a resurgence of reformed theology may be a good remedy. It could help. Here is how:
1. Sola Scripture – It is essential above all else that scripture alone becomes our ultimate standard. We should compare our programs, ministries, styles of worship, traditions, and all other aspects of church life to the truth revealed in God’s word. We will most likely find things we need to do differently. After all there are no perfect people and no perfect churches which means there will always be something we are doing wrong. With this in mind we should be in a continual state of change as we seek to become more like Jesus. When we stop seeking the truth of Scripture and stop comparing ourselves and our church to God’s standard, we start to develop un-biblical traditions and methods. Many try to defend these as if they carry the same authority as Scripture (this should sound familiar because the Pharisees were also guilty of this). People get comfortable, they like things the way they are, and they reject change. Our existence no longer reflects the influence of scripture because our traditions and methods become our standard for church life rather than Scripture itself.
When Scripture is our guide we may have to change the way we do missions, evangelism, worship, and other ministries. We may need to revise our church covenant and rethink how we do church membership. We may have to change the way we spend our money and the plans we have for the future. The fact remains that a church truly using Scripture as its guide will be in a continual state of repentance and change as we are all transformed into the image of God’s son.
2. Soli Deo Gloria – All that we do must be done for the glory of God alone. This relates to the first Sola. According to the Westminster Confession of Faith the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. In order to glorify God we must respond to him in obedience, being obedient to what God has revealed in Scripture. We are to glorify God in our actions, thoughts, worship, and church life. Christians and Churches who are not bringing glory to God are most likely accepting glory for themselves. The church needs to get over itself and remember that God created us for his glory, not our own. Therefore we must be about the business of living for the glory of God and doing everything with the goal of bringing glory to the creator and sustainer of heaven and earth.
3. Solo Christo – We also must remember that salvation is through Christ alone. While we often say this with our mouths, we don’t necessarily live it in our lives. We claim we believe Jesus is the only way and yet deny it by the way we do evangelism. Baptists believe that the only way to an eternal relationship with the Father is through the Son. Salvation comes from God alone. So why do we so often try to do God’s job? What is God’s job? It is God alone who saves people. It is God who calls, God who changes the heart, God who brings enlightenment and conviction of sin. It is God who justifies and God who redeems and God who rescues the soul. We have no part in that. Our job is to simply share the message. It is through the hearing of the Word that people come to faith in Jesus Christ and so our job is to be the vessels that spread the message. And guess what! It isn’t even our message, it’s God’s message. The church would do good to remember that. The great commission says go and make disciples. Our job is simply to share the message so that some might be saved, and to help new believers live the message in their lives. We must do this according to the Scriptures and in order to bring glory to God.
4. Sola Gratia – We would also do well to remember that salvation is through grace alone. It is by the grace of God that anyone is saved. Not a grace dependent upon who we are or what we’ve done. God didn’t save us because we are the best looking, strongest and most intelligent people on the planet. God chose to save people because of his own grace, though he didn’t have to. You see we are all sinners, condemned to a life apart from God and God didn’t have to save anyone. Yet while we were still sinners Christ died for us that we might be brought back to God. A proper understanding of the grace of God should humble us. We need to get over our arrogance and pride and humbly recognize that we are not saved because of who we are, we are saved because of who Jesus is. This should also help us to reach out to those who don’t look like us, talk like us, or act like us. God’s grace extends to all types of people everywhere.
5. Sola Fide – Similar to the last Sola, we should also remember that we are justified by faith alone, not by works. While it is certainly true that Christians are called to be holy as God is holy we need to understand that this holiness is the result of our Justification, not the cause. We have to be careful with the rules and regulations we impose upon people, because we may mistakenly teach people that they have to dress like us, talk like us, and act like us in order to fit into the “Jesus club”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. There could be people in are churches who walk like us and talk like us and yet have never experienced the justification that comes through faith alone. We could deceive people by our actions and requirements.
Reformed theology is not some beast unleashed on the church to bring destruction, as some proposed. It has many benefits and is Biblically sound. But honestly we don’t have to call it reformed theology. Lets just call it getting back to the truth of Scripture and getting away from the traditions, methods, and programs that have entangled us in the web of fake Christianity and surface level faith.
I keep driving by a local church that has one of those silly sayings on their church sign. Even though I’ve read it about five times now I still can’t quite remember it word for word, but the gist of the message is that God forgets our sins. This also reminds me of a certain Krystal Meyers song called “Beauty of Grace”. While it is a catchy little tune, there is one line in the song that says “the mistakes you’ve made…forgiven, the memories erased.” Without much serious study on the subject, I’m going to go ahead and say that this is a bit of stretch and maybe even an abuse of Scripture.
This subject is not really new to me because I remember being taught in Sunday School the same concept. When I was younger I was taught that God forgets our sins. We often hold on to our own sins, but God forgets them. So according to this Sunday school teacher, when we go to God with a sin we’ve already committed and God has already forgiven, we might say “God forgive us of our sin” and God will say “What sin?” cause he doesn’t remember it. It’s erased, as if it never happened.
The Scripture verse this concept is coming from is found in Jeremiah 31:2434 which says “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Ok, so the Bible does actually say God forgives sin and remembers it no more. But does this really mean that the all-knowing God actually forgets? Or, does it mean that God no longer holds the sin against us? Does it mean that he makes the choice to no longer remember it as something that is held against us or does it actually get erased from his memory where He no longer remembers that we’ve ever sinned?
Again, without an extensive study on this verse or the concept, I’d have to say that common sense seems to point to the fact that the memory of sin isn’t actually erased from God’s memory, but is instead erased from the list of things that point to our guilt. If you think of it like a court case, sometimes evidence is thrown out. If evidence isn’t collected correctly or if it isn’t presented in a case using the correct procedures then the Judge can throw the evidence out. It doesn’t make the evidence cease to exist, it just can no longer be presented in the case against the defendant.
I guess I may be out on a limb here, but I fail to understand the reason to perpetuate false ideas. While it is true that “in a way” God sort of forgets by no longer holding the sin against us, in reality he doesn’t reformat his hard drive. Why can’t we just say it like it is?
I understand that the idea is to be able to say to someone, “God forgets your sins, so you shouldn’t feel guilty anymore” but I’m not sure if that is such good advice in the first place. First of all God doesn’t forget, he forgives and in the same way we will never forget. Certainly we should rejoice in God’s forgiveness and we shouldn’t be crushed by the guilt of forgiven sin, but it should be something we never forget.
I say all of that to say the sign in town bothers me and so does Krystal Myers song.
The wisdom literature in the first part of Proverbs is wisdom of a father passed down to his son to teach him how to live. In my reading this morning I read Proverbs 1:8-9. The main point of the passage is to not follow sinners or the path of sinners because their path is one of greed and destruction. Basically, don’t fall into the temptation of following the crowd. Don’t let others provoke you into doing things that do not honor God. Instead of following the crowd we need to be examples to the crowd showing them a better way to live. To join others in their folly is essentially our approval of their actions. It also discredits our integrity. How often do we discredit our integrity by following the ways of the world rather than the ways of God?
Don’t be greedy for unjust gain. This could refer to several things. Whether it is physical gain or seeking the approval of others it is seeking selfish gain and considered an ungodly way to live.
The church in today’s culture faces some of the greatest challenges to doing apologetics and to reaching the lost with the truth of the gospel message. The challenge begins with the startling discovery that people who claim they so strongly believe in the Bible can so easily and willingly live opposite of that belief. This is culminated in the prominent and apparent lack of integrity in the lives of evangelical born-again Christians. While the majority of Christians will claim to believe in the “truth” of God’s Word, we find that the “truth” is not actively lived out in their lives. There seems to be a disconnect between what people believe and the way they live. The church that says one thing and does another becomes impotent in evangelism and irrelevant in a society that is no longer searching for truth in facts and figures, but is instead seeking relevance for the individual through practical ideas that are effective. Apologetics is made irrelevant by those who use it to defend or prove the truth of the gospel but do not effectively live out the very truth it attempts to defend. I’ve done some research on the effect that today’s culture has had on individual evangelical Christians and what role they must play in making apologetics and evangelism relevant to people living in a postmodern world.
Apologetics can be defined as “a branch of theology having to do with the defense and proofs of Christianity.” More specifically positive apologetics deals with presenting the rationality behind the Christian faith and worldview, negative apologetics defends the Christian faith and worldview from those who attack it and contextual apologetics is an attempt to present the Christian faith and worldview to the modern-day mind set without surrendering fundamental elements of the Gospel message. Ronald Nash defines negative apologetics as removing obstacles to belief while he sees positive apologetics as providing arguments that reinforce the Christian belief. In the book, Unapologetic Apologetics, a quote by Emile Cailliet gives a notable definition to the purpose of apologetics which is to clear a path through “intellectual obstacles that would hinder people of modernity from hearing the gospel message.” Cailliet uses the example of John the Baptist preparing the way of Christ, apologetics prepares the way for the gospel to be presented in a positive and possible life changing way.
The church is facing some major roadblocks when it comes to apologetics and evangelism in today’s culture. This problem is amplified by Christians who are affected by the culture and live lives in opposition to what they claim to believe. If it is the churches duty and goal to reach the lost people in our culture, it must start by reaching the misguided Christians in our own church. Once the church affirms the truth and lives it, then it makes the gospel it defends relevant to those who are looking for answers in things that work.
There have been many hurdles to evangelism that the church has faced over time. In the early church apologetics had to speak to the overbearing worldview of Greek philosophy. All of the Greek philosophers held belief in the dualism of the soul and body in which the soul was spiritual and represented the good things while the body was physical and represented the bad things. In order to express the gospel in a way that would be effective for the lost people to hear it in that day, they had to frame the gospel in such a way that it spoke to the issues of the mind and body. Platonism became popular during this period.
The 13th century was called the golden age of medieval philosophy, or the age of Scholasticism. During this period of time in the church there was a shift from Platonism to Aristotelianism. Aquinas denied any basic conflict between faith and reason and thought that reason would lead people to great spiritual truth. Apologetics began to speak in an age of reason and of course had to be adapted to its environment. He was opposed by Bonaventure and Scotus who argued that “reason was limited in its ability to penetrate matters of faith” which meant that philosophy and theology must be separated.
The essence of inerrancy is that the Scriptures are free from any mistake or untruth. The role that inerrancy should play in the church is essential to what the church believes, to what the church teaches, and to how the church accomplish its purpose. Everything that we do involving worship, ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship should be inseparably linked with inerrancy if we truly believe the Bible to be the infallible Word of God.
At some point I may delve into how important inerrancy is in ministry, evangelism, fellowship, and discipleship, but for right now I mainly want to focus on worship. While there are many aspects of worship, my main focus for this post is the music we sing, more importantly the words of the songs. Here is my question: If we are going to sing music with lyrics about God and to God then shouldn’t those lyrics stem from the message of the infallible Word of truth? Shouldn’t truth be more important than whether or not a song makes me feel good, makes me tear up, or sounds good musically? Now, don’t get me wrong. I love music. I love the way music effects my emotions and I love the way good music sounds… but what good is it if the music we sing and the words that are written are presenting God in a false light or representing half truths or untruths? What good is it when the words of songs make huge presumptions upon God that have no basis in the truth of Scripture? I think the church should be careful about what it teaches in both its discipleship and in the message of the songs we sing.
If someone were to come into most Baptist churches and teach a discipleship class that made blatant assumptions about God and twisted scripture to say something that it doesn’t really mean, I believe that on some level people would notice and they would have a problem with that. This is a good thing. Christians should constantly be on guard for things like this. But what happens when someone gets up and sings a song in church that makes assumptions about God or presents a message that just isn’t quite right? I think for the most part it goes completely unnoticed. But why? Why do we not have the same standards for a message in song as we do for a message that is taught? Is music the exception to inerrancy? Can we just do or say anything in music that we wouldn’t normally do or accept in any other setting?
The number one reason that music becomes the exception is because poeple just don’t think. When we listen to music it is like we just shut our brain off. As long at the music sounds good and has an emotional element to it that makes me feel a certain way then we call it good. We mindlessly sing songs without thinking about what the words mean. For example, there is a lady in our church who said to me one day, “I can’t sing the song Wherever He Leads I’ll Go.” She said that everytime we sing that in church she just stops singing. When she looked at the words she was singing she thought to herself “if God called me overseas would I really go?” She had decided that she wasn’t sure she would go wherever God would lead her and therefore she couldn’t sing these words to God. This is a perfect example of someone who actually thinks about what they are singing to God. It was her wisdom that really got me to thinking about this in the first place. When we sing “I surrender all” or “Wherever He Leads I’ll Go” are we being honest in the words that we sing? The truth is most people just mindlessly sing the songs as worship without any thought to whether or not they would really go where he would lead and with no thought as to whether or not they are actually surrendering all to Jesus. If we give very little thought to the words of songs and how they might apply to life then it makes it easy to slip messages, words, or even assumptions into a song that may not follow the consistency of inerrancy in Scripture. We could easily sing messages about God that aren’t quite true or that don’t line up with Scripture and not even notice. The sad part is we could be singing a false message and we could be calling it worship!
While I believe that those who plan worship should consistently think about the words of each of the songs that they pick, I also believe individual Christians should consider the words they are singing and really ask themselves if they believe what they are saying or singing to God.
While reading Proverbs chapter 1 this morning I was reminded that wisdom, knowledge and instruction are essential elements to my personal spiritual life. Only the foolish person hates wisdom and correction. There are those who are too prideful to admit their own limited understanding, failure, and inexperience. Because of this they grow stagnant in their own grandiloquence and do not grow in the knowledge or love of God. The Christian should love instruction and gain understanding. By seeking out the instruction of the wise and by following after wisdom and understanding, we will discover a better way to live. Life can only be lived to the fullest by those who have a proper knowledge of the mystery of God and the willpower to put said knowledge into action. We need to continue to learn and to train ourselves, continually digging into the mysteries of God and the power of his Word. Christians become lazy. Laziness leads to ignorance which often leads to compromise. Do not grow weary in seeking God. I often pray that God would give me a thirst for his word and a passion and desire to live out the truth of his commands.
I also read Psalm 1:1-6 this morning that ended up relating to Proverbs 1. The Psalmist reveals the way of the righteous man as being a way that is directed by the wisdom and knowledge that comes from taking delight in the Word of God. The way of the righteous man is one of Godly wisdom. The righteous man does not seek advice from the wicked, rather his wisdom comes from his delight and study of the Word of God. The way of the wicked will perish and thus any advice from them will be in vain.