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We Desperately Need a More Sure Word

Never before has the debate been so intense about the nature of truth. On the one hand, our culture argues strongly that autonomous human reason is the final word on truth, that there is no possibility of supernatural divine revelation, and that morality is entirely subjective. On the other hand, wise men and women take refuge in a more sure word from God, believing that God has spoken and has revealed Himself to us in an infallible way in the Scriptures – in the Bible.

Even within Christianity, there is a growing number of leaders who divide God from His Word, presuming to have the capacity to rule out various pieces and passages of Scripture as sub-par according to human reason. But the Apostle Paul declared something that I believe with my whole heart: “When we tell you these things, we do not use words that come from human wisdom. Instead, we speak words given to us by the Spirit, using the Spirit’s words to explain spiritual truths.” (1 Corinthians 2:13 NLT)

I believe in God, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because I believe in God, I accept that He can speak and can preserve His Words through any medium He so chooses. One of my heroes in the faith, W. A. Criswell, said this about the revelation of God:

“The written word, the spoken word, the incarnate word are all three inseparably tied together. God is identified with his Word and the Word is identified with God – the written Word, the spoken Word, and the incarnate Word. Whenever I receive the Word of God, I receive God himself. When I believe the Word of God, I believe God himself. Spiritually, when I know the Word of God, I know God himself. When I trust the Word of God, I trust God himself. God and his Word are identified forever. The Psalmist says, ‘For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven’ (Psalm 119:89). God’s Word is like God himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

In a world gone mad, we need a more sure word than what human reason has to offer. And while subjective morality has left us floundering and drowning spiritually, God has revealed and preserved His Word for anyone willing to hear it. And this more sure word from God offers an invitation with solid assurance that “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13 NLT)

The Truth About the Knowability of Truth

Knowable TruthLet me talk philosophy for a second. Truth is knowable. People debate that, but 2 + 2 = 4. Every. Single. Time. Just try to come up with a different answer. This is why I was always better at math than other subjects (until I sat next to Angie in Algebra – all downhill from there). I like that numbers always work the exact same way while who writes the best English paper is such a subjective issue.

I’ve noticed a trend in Christianity recently in which certain doctrines or subjects are re-evaluated in light of cultural issues erupting around them. Re-evaluation is a good thing. It helps us realize things like slavery and segregation don’t actually have any true exegetical support in Scripture. But there is the possibility of coming to a conclusion about a subject and believing that the truth at which we’ve arrived is final. This is the part that upsets so many people today.

The most common form of this new way of thinking about the knowability of truth is often worded like this, “Hey, that might be what you believe, but good people disagree and see it differently, so we really can’t know, so stop being so confident about it.” In other words, since some people don’t know or understand the truth about a subject, or because they haven’t yet done enough personal research to come to a conclusion, it is therefore wrong and unfair for anyone to come to a conclusion.

But truth, by its nature, is knowable even if you believe it isn’t. If truth isn’t finally knowable, then to conclude that firm and actual conclusions are impossible becomes paradoxically challenging. Still with me? Here’s an example.

I believe in God. I’ve looked at the evidence – scientific, historical, philosophical, teleological, etc. – and I’ve concluded that He is real, that the real God is the God of the Bible. I’ve come to that as a conclusion. And while I admit I’m not perfect and need to be open to re-evaluating my beliefs in light of newly discovered evidence, I’ve repeatedly come back to this same conclusion.

This offends many. This is why we take an objective thing like truth and describe it in subjective terms such as, “Well, just don’t push ‘your’ truth on others.” My truth? If “my” truth isn’t true, it’s actually my error. Truth is just truth and nobody owns it privately. 2 + 2 = 5 might be “your” truth in your mind, but it’s actually your error because it isn’t true.

Enough rambling. Here’s the conclusion of the matter. Research and re-valuate, but work toward conclusions. There are very few conclusions on earth that threaten real relationships. In other words, it’s okay if we disagree on the answer, but one of us is wrong and we can usually still be friends. So if you agree, or even if you don’t, know this – you’ll never discover an alternative view of the universe that will ever replace the power of this one simple conclusion.

Truth can be known.
Jesus is truth.
God’s Word is truth.
The truth will set you free.

Four Commitments the Church Ought to Keep for the World’s Sake

I’m not an SBC Pastor (Southern Baptist Convention). I’m a BMA Pastor (Baptist Missionary Association of America), but I did grow up in an SBC church, served as a Pastor at an SBC church, and many of my great heroes in ministry have been SBC leaders. So I remain somewhat tuned into SBC happenings, especially via the blogosphere.

I was especially intrigued by the election of Dr. Ronnie Floyd as SBC President earlier this month. Dr. Floyd, for me, ties together the posture of the Criswell’s and Rogers’ of the past with a church on the cutting edge of ministry effectiveness. My own church ministers in the shadow of CrossChurch, and their leadership has been nothing but encouraging toward our work in the same community. While we have somewhat different philosophies and approaches and probably reach different people as a result, we share a viritually identical theological base and have no hesitancy in learning from their team.

I was particularly challenged by Dr. Floyd’s blog post today, encouraging Southern Baptists to make four commitments to American culture

  1. We will always be faithful to lift up the authority, truthfulness, and infallibility of the Word of God.
  2. We will always be faithful to proclaim that Jesus Christ is the only way to know God and to go to Heaven when we die.
  3. We will always be faithful to stand for the religious liberty of every person and every church.
  4. We will always be faithful to pray for the next spiritual awakening in America.

That’s a pretty good list of essential commitments any church ought to make to its community and to its nation. We could add several more, I’m sure, such as developing great leaders from the next generation, remaining culturally relevant as we present a timeless gospel, and being more highly relational in our approach to people. But his four stand alone as bedrock values I could embrace with confidence.

These are challenging times in which the church must find a way to lead and to present the gospel of Jesus. We’ll be tempted along the way to compromise on any of these four in order to suffer less criticism, but if souls are at stake (and they are) and if the church is the one thing Jesus commissioned to be the hope and light of the world (and she is), then we must hold onto these moorings.

You must go read the rest, whether you’re southern Baptist or not.

In a Culture War, There Can Be No Truce Nor Victory, So…

Angry FaceHobby Lobby went to court. World Vision changed its hiring policy. Then they changed it back. The President visited the Pope. It’s been a big week – not for the kingdom, but for western evangelicalism. And it hasn’t been pretty.

The church is called, in Scripture, the “pillar and ground of truth,” so I believe we have a responsibility to be a voice for God’s truth in the middle of a society that doesn’t recognize or understand Him. That being said, I don’t believe our objective is to reform society as much as to offer redemption from sin, or to sway political leadership as much as to offer salvation to the souls of individuals. Every Christian, and every Christian leader and church and religious organization has to determine what they consider worth fighting for and that’s not always an easy thing to determine.

For example, I’ve been vocally supportive of Hobby Lobby’s case because I’m a big believer in religious freedom, even when it comes to Christians who run their own corporations. I don’t believe it’s the government’s role, at all, to mandate that any employer provide abortion-inducing or contraceptive drugs to its employees no matter how nice a benefit some may consider it to be. But when Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson was temporarily placed on haitus from his show over remarks about homosexuality, I was pretty silent. I saw it as a pop culture battleground over a commercial enterprise designed for profitable entertainment. You may disagree with me on one or both of these issues, and that’s okay.

When it came to this past week’s World Vision debacle, I didn’t like the way some conservative evangelicals (a label I don’t have any problem wearing) sounded so angry. And I really didn’t like the way progressive evangelicals portrayed conservatives as throwing kids under the bus for their personal agenda when they really just wanted to hold a Christian organization theologically accountable to the majority of Christians and churches that support it financially.

But what I REALLY didn’t like is that “our” battle within Christianity sends the message that we’re just all angry at each other all the time. I’m mostly concerned about the bystander who observes our contentions without the larger context of why any of our issues matter to us in the moment.

And that leads to my observation about culture wars. I don’t believe a truce is an option. And I don’t believe victory is possible. And that creates an unsolvable conundrum.

I say that truce isn’t an option because of what I believe about the Bible. I wrote just a few days ago that I recognize it as divinely revealed, eternal, absolute truth. So it isn’t subject to popular opinion or political reform. It stands. I can’t change it. I can’t compromise it. I can only try to observe, interpret, and apply it in whatever context I currently live.

I don’t believe I’m “homophobic” and I certainly don’t hate gay people (though I’d rather say people, like anyone else, who happen to identify themselves as gay). I simply believe that the Bible gives us God’s parameters for sexual behavior and restricts it to a marriage between a man and a woman. For me, it doesn’t matter to whom you’re attracted. Our identity isn’t defined by our attractions. It’s defined in our creation. And all people, regardless of any particular orientation, are created with dignity and worth and value. So all people need and deserve love from me and from you. And God definitely loves every person enough to give His own Son for them, regardless of lifestyle, orientation, preferences, attractions, or even behaviors. But to ask me to recognize homosexual behavior, or any sexual activity outside marriage between a man and a woman as good and right and acceptable, is asking more than I can possibly give as one who believes the Bible.

So when I call homosexual behavior a sin or I speak out against abortion, it isn’t because I don’t like you or I’m mad at you or I just want to make you more like me. It’s because of some deep-rooted beliefs in me about the Creator being defined by His own self-revelation in Scripture and not by what people wish Him to be.

So I don’t want to fight. And I can’t call a truce, at least not if it means giving up my belief. But I can love you, respect you, go to church with you, and enjoy a good cup of joe with you, no matter how we may be different.

So if you’re fighting against Christians who embrace Scripture the way I do, please extend some grace in light of the fact that we’re trying to figure out the best way to live out a biblical faith in a society that is grappling with sexuality and the definition of marriage in a way no other culture ever has. Ever.

And to my fellow Christians who believe the Bible, let me explain why victory is no more plausible than a truce. It’s because sometimes in winning the battle, we lose the larger campaign. We can muster our strength in numbers and push and shove to change (or preserve) the laws of the land in our favor, while ultimately failing to show love and respect for our fellow humans. We can influence or force people to behave the way we want them to morally while failing to offer redemption for their souls, which is a perversion of the concept of grace and an offense to the gospel of the cross.

Victory is assured eternally for all who trust in Christ. But victory here and now, in this world, on moral issues divorced from the central message of the gospel is relatively difficult if not impossible. And if it’s achieved, we often sacrifice the greater victory of populating heaven. In seeking to bring the kingdom on earth (which is a good thing when done right) if we attempt to coerce non-subjects into submission, we’ve missed the point entirely.

So truce isn’t possible if it requires abandoning the Bible as eternal truth. And I don’t think victory is possible either, at least not in temporal terms. So what do we do? Keep fighting aimlessly? Bloody our knuckles on each other’s faces until someone submits? Sounds… painful, and definitely not helpful.

Here’s another option. Let’s keep wrestling with the tension between truce and victory. Let’s allow each other to speak. And let’s listen. And let’s respect each other and demonstrate our love with action. Let’s avoid unnecessarily hurtful rhetoric (like “you just be hatin’!” or “you’re just a bleeding-heart liberal” or “you must want to punch hungry babies in the face and torture kittens for Christ”) and check our motives and attitudes along the way. Let’s stay humble.

At the end of the day, some will believe in and follow Jesus. Others won’t. Some will embrace biblical truth and others won’t. Still others will embrace Jesus but fail to understand or to agree on a right interpretation of Scripture. Thankfully, I can be the best representative of the gospel I can be and then allow the issue of conversion to be entirely up to a supernatural God whose Spirit alone can convince others of the truth of His Word.

I don’t fear you. I fear God. I don’t hate you. I just respect our Creator. And I think He’s right whether either of us are or not.

On a side note, I feel I should clarify that if you DO want to punch hungry babies in the face or torture kittens for Christ, please seek help immediately. In case that’s an issue for you.

photo credit: Jan Tik

The Truth of the Bible Still Matters, and It Always Will

Bible

The Bible is literally true.

If I just lost you, that’s okay. I get that this may come across as a weird statement to anyone reading who is 1) not a Christian, 2) a new Christian, or 3) a “progressive” Christian who disagrees. And it’s downright laughable to the skeptic who denies it on scientific or historical grounds. I’m okay with that.

I made a rather significant decision when I was seventeen years old. I was struggling with God’s calling on my life and my father-in-law gave me a copy of W. A. Criswell’s autobiography, Standing On the Promises. While reading Criswell’s words, I not only became convinced God was calling me to be a Pastor, but also that the foundation for preaching and leadership is the inerrant, infallible Word of God found in the Bible. Criswell recounts this story:

“Don’t you ever doubt, Dr. Criswell?” a seminary student once asked me in a graduate class I was teaching. “Don’t you ever have doubts about the Word?”

Feeling the young man’s pain and remembering myself the long, difficult years of study and preparation, I answered simply.

“No, son,” I said quietly. Then, after a long pause, I added, “Trust the Word. Never quit believing it, all of it. Use your brain to the limit,” I said, encouraging the young man to use every intellectual power at his command to study the Word. “But what you cannot understand, accept on faith, and God will honor your faithfulness.”

Personally, I’ve followed Dr. Criswell’s advice for nearly twenty years with no plans of changing my course. I believe the Bible – all of it. Why does this matter? Because we live in a world that assaults the Christian faith constantly. And we happen to live in a generation that feels it is somehow more enlightened than any before it. The world around us is ready to render the Bible obsolete.

This is nothing new. Voltaire vowed to turn the Bible into a mere museum exhibit within a century. A century later, the Bible was being being produced on a printing press unable to keep up with the demand by people craving the Word of God in their everyday language.

Yesterday World Vision, a Christian parachurch organization with a focus on humanitarian aid announced a change in its policy that will allow people in same sex marriages to work for the organization, claiming to pass the theological buck on to the church. In reality, World Vision has made the decision to accommodate a liberal view of Scripture, thereby completely fuzzy-ing any definition of itself as a “Christian” organization.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States will determine whether Hobby Lobby, and any other business entity, must be forced by the law to provide funding for abortion-causing medications, suppressing the religious freedom and conscience of its owners.

Tomorrow, another issue will arise in the war for the soul of our culture. But here’s what I know. Regardless of the outcomes of these and other controversies, I will still carry a Bible in which I completely trust. I believe it to be timeless truth as a whole and in all of its parts. Therefore, I have an absolute truth that guides my moral decision-making and my sense of what is right and true. I have the promise of a Redeemer who gave His life for me and rose again. And I rest completely assured that He will return someday and truth and justice will reign forever.

Think me crazy. Call me simple. I’m okay with that. Because at the end of the day, I don’t have to be right. But God is. And I choose to trust Him.

photo credit: gwilmore