Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Here We stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage

Yesterday I added my signature to the document entitled Here We stand: An Evangelical Declaration on Marriage. The document may be found online at the website of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. Here is the text of the declaration for your consideration:
As evangelical Christians, we dissent from the court’s ruling that redefines marriage. The state did not create the family, and should not try to recreate the family in its own image. We will not capitulate on marriage because biblical authority requires that we cannot. The outcome of the Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage represents what seems like the result of a half-century of witnessing marriage’s decline through divorce, cohabitation, and a worldview of almost limitless sexual freedom. The Supreme Court’s actions pose incalculable risks to an already volatile social fabric by alienating those whose beliefs about marriage are motivated by deep biblical convictions and concern for the common good. 
The Bible clearly teaches the enduring truth that marriage consists of one man and one woman. From Genesis to Revelation, the authority of Scripture witnesses to the nature of biblical marriage as uniquely bound to the complementarity of man and woman. This truth is not negotiable. The Lord Jesus himself said that marriage is from the beginning (Matt. 19:4-6), so no human institution has the authority to redefine marriage any more than a human institution has the authority to redefine the gospel, which marriage mysteriously reflects (Eph. 5:32). The Supreme Court’s ruling to redefine marriage demonstrates mistaken judgment by disregarding what history and countless civilizations have passed on to us, but it also represents an aftermath that evangelicals themselves, sadly, are not guiltless in contributing to. Too often, professing evangelicals have failed to model the ideals we so dearly cherish and believe are central to gospel proclamation. 
Evangelical churches must be faithful to the biblical witness on marriage regardless of the cultural shift. Evangelical churches in America now find themselves in a new moral landscape that calls us to minister in a context growing more hostile to a biblical sexual ethic. This is not new in the history of the church. From its earliest beginnings, whether on the margins of society or in a place of influence, the church is defined by the gospel. We insist that the gospel brings good news to all people, regardless of whether the culture considers the news good or not. 
The gospel must inform our approach to public witness. As evangelicals animated by the good news that God offers reconciliation through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus, we commit to:
  • Respect and pray for our governing authorities even as we work through the democratic process to rebuild a culture of marriage (Rom. 13:1-7);
  • the truth about biblical marriage in a way that brings healing to a sexually broken culture;
  • affirm the biblical mandate that all persons, including LGBT persons, are created in the image of God and deserve dignity and respect;
  • love our neighbors regardless of whatever disagreements arise as a result of conflicting beliefs about marriage;
  • live respectfully and civilly alongside those who may disagree with us for the sake of the common good;
  • cultivate a common culture of religious liberty that allows the freedom to live and believe differently to prosper.
The redefinition of marriage should not entail the erosion of religious liberty. In the coming years, evangelical institutions could be pressed to sacrifice their sacred beliefs about marriage and sexuality in order to accommodate whatever demands the culture and law require. We do not have the option to meet those demands without violating our consciences and surrendering the gospel. We will not allow the government to coerce or infringe upon the rights of institutions to live by the sacred belief that only men and women can enter into marriage. 
The gospel of Jesus Christ determines the shape and tone of our ministry. Christian theology considers its teachings about marriage both timeless and unchanging, and therefore we must stand firm in this belief. Outrage and panic are not the responses of those confident in the promises of a reigning Christ Jesus. While we believe the Supreme Court has erred in its ruling, we pledge to stand steadfastly, faithfully witnessing to the biblical teaching that marriage is the chief cornerstone of society, designed to unite men, women, and children. We promise to proclaim and live this truth at all costs, with convictions that are communicated with kindness and love.
I hope that more pastors will join me in publicly taking such a stand.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Is Andy Stanley Ashamed of the Bible?


Back in May I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article on the Pulpit & Pen blog entitled Andy Stanley Trashes Expository Preaching; Calls it “Easy” and “Cheating”. I also posted an comment which accompanied the link in which I said:
This article does a pretty good job of demonstrating why Andy Stanley just doesn't get it. He apparently doesn't understand what the job of a pastor-teacher really is, and he certainly doesn't understand what the difference between the job of the inspired authors of Scripture and the job of Scripture teachers really is. The article also shows that he doesn't understand how the Scripture applies to pastors as their guide, not only for their content in teaching but also for their method.
The comments that followed that Facebook post included statements by one man supporting Andy Stanley's ability to teach the Bible and describing his sermons as "biblically sound and relevant" as well as "effective at explaining scripture and challenging people to live godly." He also implied that the only real difference between Andy's method of teaching versus expository teaching was one of "style."

Well, as the readers of this blog can imagine, I pretty strongly disagree with such an assessment of Andy's teaching ministry, which I recall having viewed on T.V. some time back while recovering from a major surgery. Anyway, given the comments of the aforementioned man, I thought it would be good to listen to a few of Andy's more recent sermons and offer my brief assessment of what I heard. As I recall, I chose the first sermon at random and the other two were suggested to me by that man. I listened to the sermons and took notes, which I then posted to the Facebook thread.

After I offered some of my thoughts concerning the sermons, it was suggested to me that I turn them into a post here on the blog. I then asked my blog partner, Jeff Johnson, what he thought of the idea, and he agreed that I should do it. So, what follows is a collection of my comments in the previously mentioned Facebook thread. I will not include all of my comments, and I will leave out any names or comments made by anyone else. However, those involved in that discussion are more than welcome to comment here if they wish. I should also let you know that I have added some explanatory content in brackets, and I have added italics here and there for emphasis as well (something I could not do in the original Facebook posts).

Here are some comments I posted based on the content of the article linked above:
I'll stay away from speaking about the family issues [which had been raised by someone else in the thread], since I really don't know anything about them. As for the matter of preaching, however, I'll just say that Andy and I seem to be pretty far apart, and the divide goes much deeper than the issue of whether or not we should apply the text. For example, he was very pleased that, three years after teaching on the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5, a young man could remember his catchy phrase, “To understand why, submit and apply.” I find this very sad indeed! That this young man could have listened to a sermon on that passage and come away with such a trite phrase! What the young man should have said is something like, "I remember when you taught on the grace of God in bringing an undeserving idolater and enemy of His people to salvation, and how He will be merciful to us as well, if we will trust in Him rather than in ourselves." Or perhaps, "I remember when you taught about how people often think God's ways and commands are foolishness because they do not understand the wisdom of God, and how people today think the Gospel is foolishness as well, but we who have trusted in it know that it is the wisdom and power of God unto salvation." There are clear ways in which we can see in the healing and salvation of Naaman a picture of God's grace and mercy in saving sinners, and yet Andy is glad that the young man could remember, "To understand why, submit and apply." I'll bet the young man couldn't even really explain what this phrase meant in any meaningful way, but if that is all that was found in that precious passage, then the most important points to be found there were completely missed. Andy was happy that the young man remembered his catchy phrase rather than the goodness or greatness of God. I say again, Andy just doesn't get it.
Here are some comments I made as I prepared to watch videos of several of Andy's sermons:
... listening again to Andy directly is what I had in mind. As I said before, I have watched some of his messages on TV in the past, and I haven't found him to be a very able exegete ...
I think one thing that must be kept in mind, however, is consistency. Does Andy manage a solid sermon here and there, or does he preach sound sermons week in and week out. I have seen guys in the past who do an excellent job handling Scripture from time to time (usually when they have depended on a solid source for their exposition), but who have no consistency at all.
Another thing that must be kept in mind is that one doesn't disparage expositional teaching the way that Andy has done without revealing a deeper theological and methodological issue. In other words, the issue isn't merely one of style but of the nature and role of Scripture in one's teaching and ministry. For example, does one view Scripture as A source for his teaching, or does he view Scripture as THE source for his teaching? Does he see his job as thinking of things people need to hear and then trying to fit Scripture into his message, or does he see his job first and foremost as faithfully communicating what Scripture really says?
With such crucial questions in mind, I will now post the comments made in reaction to three of Andy's messages that I watched on video. I apologize in advance for the length of these comments, which may make it necessary to come back and read this post a bit at a time or, perhaps, a sermon critique at a time. I guess I let myself get a bit a carried away. Here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley's sermon entitled Nobody's That Stupid:
I must say that I was disturbed by his suggestion that people who don't like the message might want to listen to it again even if they do so just because they want to make fun of it. I guess that is fine if you have just thrown out a bunch of your own ideas, but if you have faithfully presented what God's Word says, then it is tantamount to encouraging people to make fun of what He Himself says (which is a kind of blasphemy). At the very least it doesn't show a deep reverence for the Word of God. 
His opening question – “What do you do when your body wants what your heart knows is wrong?” – is problematic, as ____ has already pointed out. It apparently assumes that your body can want something of itself in isolation from what your heart wants, but this badly misunderstands Scriptural teaching about how the heart is the source of sinful desires. It only gets worse when he suggests examples that make it seem like your body can make you do things your heart doesn't want to do. He also goes on to speak of “living from the outside in versus the inside out” as though how we live – the decisions we make – sometimes originates elsewhere than from within our own hearts. It seems to reveal an underlying kind of quasi-Gnostic dualism.
I can't say that I enjoyed the way he retold the birth narrative of Samson. It was sort of flippant, such as when he described the Nazirite vow and spoke of how silly it seemed to not touch a dead thing and spoke of the whole point of a Nazirite vow as “trying to get God's attention.” Numbers 6 speaks of such a vow as a special consecration of the person to God for a period of time. It is more like an act of worship and a special kind of fast in which one seeks to grow closer to God. But the notion that God would institute it so that a person could “get His attention” is foreign both to the stated intention of the vow and to the kind of God who instituted it in the first place. It isn't about how we can get His attention but how we can more faithfully give Him ours. At any rate, it provides an example of the way Andy just casually says things, seemingly off the top of his head, which distort the Scriptures he cites or to which he alludes.
When Andy described the two ways in which he says that Samson serves as a “microcosm of the entire nation of Israel,” he didn't ground them in the text in any way. Why, then, should we think that his assessment is correct?
Also, there is nothing necessarily wrong with speculating, so long as he made it clear that he was speculating (which he did), that Samson was probably a guy with an average build, but he shouldn't then go on to stress the point later in the sermon as though it is an unavoidable conclusion.
I don't get his description of Samson as “having a border guard job” at all. Where is such an idea in the text? And where does the text indicate that his problem was failing to “stay in his own border”? In fact, the text clearly asserts of Israel that “the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years” (Judges 13:1) and that Samson would “begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines” (13:5). So the text indicates that the Israelites were then under Philistine rule and thus were essentially within Philistine territory at the time (see also 14:4 and 15:11). The text thus does not indicate a problem with Samson's having gone to Timnah but with his having desired a foreign wife that he saw there. This explains why his godly parents were not disturbed by his having gone to Timnah but instead by his desire for a Philistine wife (14:1-3). Yet Andy even presents Samson's parents as having tried to get him to see that he was failing to be a good “border guard” by going “outside the border.” He also repeatedly asserts that Israel was “at war with the Philistines,” although the text indicates that they were not really at war with the Philistines. Indeed, this was part of the problem, since they had actually accepted Philistine rule at the time as the status quo (again see, e.g., 15:11). I am beginning to wonder if Andy has really paid close attention to the text he purports to be summarizing. 
Andy says that Samson is an example here of “living from the outside in rather than the inside out,” as though Samson's desire to marry a Philistine woman really had nothing to do with his heart. Again, such thinking cannot be squared with Scriptural teaching about sin and the human heart. 
I'll skip over the deep discussion that would entail from getting into whether or not we should view Samson's actions at Gaza as an instance of his “using God's power for his own ends” rather than God using Samson for His own ends despite his sinful behavior. I will just observe that it is an important theme and that, if one wishes to make a point about the matter in passing, he could easily have made it about the actual hero of the story rather than about Samson himself. After all, the whole account is really about the way that God graciously worked in the life of Samson, and through him in the lives of the people of Israel, for His own sovereign purposes. In other words, the hero of the story (as in every story in the Bible) is God, not Samson. It is sad to me that most of what Andy says fails even to consider this point. Does he really not get who the Bible is ultimately about?
As Andy approaches the account of Samson and Delilah, he presents the situation as though it was all about how stupid Samson had become due to being “sexually inflamed.” Again, however, this misses the way the text has dealt with Samson throughout and revealed that his real problem wasn't of a sexual nature but was due to a lack of reverence for God and His laws, despite the fact that he had been a Nazirite from birth. After all, Samson did not previously violate his Nazirite vow by eating something unclean – taken from the carcass of a dead lion – and by touching a dead thing (compare Num. 6:6 and Judges 13:4 with Judges 14:8-9) because he was “sexually inflamed.” But, since Andy wants to talk about sex, and about how stupid we can be when we allow our bodies to control us rather than our hearts (as problematic as that point is in and of itself), apparently he feels he has to present the story of Samson as though it is about almost nothing but that. To be sure, Samson did struggle with sexual sin, but this was not the root of the problem, and the text does not present it as the root of the problem. 
The whole section about men needing only “food, sex, and a pat on the head,” together with his description of the the nature of women in relation to men and the bad choices they make, had absolutely nothing to do with the text. In fact, despite the fact that it almost made Delilah the center of the story, most of this section had little to do with Scripture at all. This kind of talk just contributes to the sense that Scripture is simply A source for Andy's teaching rather than THE source. Not only has he failed to present the overall account in a way that is faithful to the text, but he hasn't had any problem throwing in various ideas of his own along the way as though they are as important as anything the text itself has to say. He even says to the women, “Oprah has been off of television since, like, 2011, and you've all forgotten everything she taught you for all those years.” Good grief! Then he goes into a whole discussion about women picking better men, a discussion that also had nothing to do with the text he is ostensibly seeking to teach. We get lot's of what he apparently thinks is good advice for women, but none of it has anything to do with teaching Scripture, let alone the text that he is supposed to be teaching, and it probably takes up a good 8-10 minutes of the 43 minutes of the message.
When he gets back to the text, he again sometimes speaks so flippantly that it gets to be annoying. For example, he says of Samson's thinking, “It's like, OK, OK, that other stuff, you know I'm so sorry about the fire and everything …,” which is apparently hearkening back to his having set the Philistines' fields on fire, as though it were a light thing or, perhaps worse, something he ought to have been be sorry for when in reality it was not something for which he ought to have been the slightest bit sorry. Little comments like this that are apparently intended to be funny, folksy, and personable really just show a flippant attitude toward the text and a lack of desire to present the text accurately. Where is there any sense of reverence for God and His Word in all this?
When Andy gets to Judges 16:7, he shows that he hasn't really looked at the Hebrew text or even at another solid translation other than the NIV (such as the ESV, NASB, or NKJV), since he misses the fact that Samson says, “If they bind me ….” Such an observation might have led him to ask, “Who does he mean by they?” Of course, Samson probably didn't know that the lords of the Philistines had come in person to enlist Delilah's help against him (vs. 5), but he probably did suspect that – like his former bride – she was working in behalf of the Philistines (see 14:12-18). Thus he lied to her, apparently toying with her and those with whom he must have known that she was working. But even if he didn't suspect her at this point, he certainly knew soon after, so that each of the other times he knew full well that she was working for his enemies. Samson's lies sound so incredible to us that we may have a hard time understanding how either Delilah or her Philistine masters could ever have believed them. But when we remember the pagan culture in which they lived, filled as it was with beliefs about spells and talismans, it isn't so hard to understand how they might think that such procedures could break whatever spell they thought Samson might be utilizing in order to gain such strength. At any rate, if Andy had done even a marginal amount of homework, or payed very close attention to the text at all, he would have been alerted to the fact that there may be more going on here than at first appears. He may have caught on to the fact that Samson wasn't really just being stupid due to being “sexually inflamed” but rather that he was being arrogant and playing with fire by flouting God's commands and by toying with his enemies in this manner. 
Again, Samson certainly had a problem with sexual sin, but it wasn't the root problem, and the text never presents it as though it was the root problem. Samson wasn't stupid at all, even if he was foolish, and there is a difference between the two. He wasn't intellectually challenged or so gullible that he never caught on to what was really going on ... and this due to sexual desire. Rather he acted unwisely and sinfully because he had so taken the presence of the LORD for granted that he had not considered that revealing the secret of his Nazirite consecration might affect his standing before the LORD and thus his experience of the LORD's empowering presence. But we must not think that we are any better than he was, for we are just as capable of betraying our Lord through compromise due to pride and due to taking His grace and strength for granted. And we too may have to suffer the consequences of such betrayal. To be sure, we need not fear that the Lord will depart from us as He departed from Samson, for we have been given the Holy Spirit and assured of His permanent presence as our guarantee (2 Cor. 1:21-22; Eph. 1:13-14). Yet we know that we may grieve the Holy Spirit who dwells within us (Eph. 4:30), and we know that the Lord may discipline us when we sin against Him and fail to trust in Him as we should (see, e.g. 1 Cor. 11:27-32; Heb. 12:3-11). We must also remember that God will forgive even such betrayals when we repent, just as He forgave Samson when He repented, a fact that can be seen in His having answered Samson's final prayer and His having given him the strength to obtain his greatest victory over his enemies in his death (16:28-30). Sadly, however, all of this is missed by Andy, who is so focused on using the passage for his own ends that he cannot see the ends that God may have had in mind or the real lessons that He would have us learn.
I don't know why Andy says that Delilah tied Samson with new ropes after “he gets drunk and passes out,” because the text doesn't say anywhere that he got drunk and passed out. It is just more of Andy playing fast and loose with the text, showing no reverence for the text or any real interest in presenting it accurately. There is thus not the kind of attention to detail that he seems to want to portray to his hearers, the kind of attention to detail that is part and parcel of an interest in the sound exegesis of the text as the basis for one's teaching. Andy has portrayed expositional teaching – and thus the focus on sound exegesis that underlies it – as “easy,” but such basic exegetical skill certainly seems to be too difficult for him. 
Andy again says that Samson was “drunk” when Delilah had his hair cut, but once again the text doesn't say this. We don't know how she got him to sleep so soundly. Maybe she got him drunk, or maybe she drugged him with something. Or maybe God caused him to sleep so deeply as a judgment on him. The text simply doesn't say, so Andy should not have presented his opinion as though it were cut and dried and beyond dispute. In doing so, he continues to subtly undermine the authority of Scripture. This is further exacerbated by the series of “maybes” Andy lists, which turn out not to be just “maybes” but the way he intends to apply the text, as though these “maybes” are really what happened. 
It is really sad that Andy leaves the story with Samson having died in shackles and doesn't get to the point God wanted us to get to, namely to how Samson repented and died trusting in Him, for this is how we see God's victory in Samson's life and our hope of victory as well. In fact, this must be the reason why Samson gets listed in that great “hall of faith” in Hebrews 11 (vs. 32). 
By the time Andy brings in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, it becomes apparent that his intention never really was to teach what the text actually meant to teach us about God's work in the life of Samson anyway. This no doubt accounts for some of his bad handling of the passages in Judges. What he apparently intended, rather, was to find in Samson a poignant illustration of the theme he really wanted to teach about, namely the importance of sexual self-restraint because our bodies belong to God. Thus he apparently just didn't bother with the kind of solid exegesis of the text of Judges that it warrants. Yet he had introduced the sermon as part of a series in Judges, so I would have expected him to actually try to teach what this portion of Judges was really all about. What ended up happening, though, was that Andy got so interested in one possible area of application of the text that he missed altogether the deeper lessons to be found there, and he ended up distorting the text in the process. Again, for something he claims to be so “easy,” it has certainly proved too difficult for him. 
So, did Andy have some good things to say? Yes, he did. Did Andy faithfully teach the text that he set out to teach. Not really. In fact, he made a bit of a mess of it, and he actually did more eisegesis than exegesis. He was too focused on what he wanted to get across to pay close enough attention to what God actually intended to get across in the text he was supposed to be teaching. In other words, the text was there to serve Andy's purposes, and it was forced into that role. To be sure, Andy had some good intentions in mind for his people, but demonstrating how to rightly handle God's Word and derive from it what God actually intends to say was apparently not among them. Apparently that would have been “cheating.” It would have been too “easy.” In reality, Andy was cheating by failing to do the basic exegetical work he ought to have done, apparently because he didn't think it necessary, or apparently because what he dismisses as “easy” was just too hard for him.
Later I added these further comments on the sermon linked above:
I just thought I would also add that, even though Andy spoke about how stupid you can become when "sexually inflamed" or how bad your decisions are when made "from the outside in" based on "what your body wants," as I think about the message now I don't recall him ever making it clear how such behavior is actually evil because it goes against the will of God. Can you imagine the Apostle Paul, for example, failing to point this out?
I would also add that, as I think about it now in the light of an exchange with another brother earlier today, I am beginning to wonder if Andy isn't actually a bit ashamed of the Bible. I mean, he seems to think that he has to dress it up in order to present it to people, as though it isn't good enough on its own. He seems to treat the Bible like a backward cousin that he doesn't really want to introduce to his high class friends until he dresses him up and teaches him some manners. And this impression only grows as one considers some of the other things Andy goes on to say in the next two sermons. With this in mind, here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley's sermon entitled Unhitched, the introductory sermon to a series entitled “The N Commandments”:
As with my earlier critique of one of Andy's sermons, I apologize in advance for the length ... I assure you, however, that there were even more problems that could have been pointed out.
In his introduction Andy said that, “I love to read blogs by people who have abandoned the Christian faith,” and he added that he has even read a couple of books by such people. I can't imagine why anyone would enjoy reading the words of apostate people who describe why they no longer profess faith in Christ. On what level would this be enjoyable such that a Christian could possibly “love” doing it? Andy went on to say that he always finds reading such things “so fascinating” because he can find find out why people would stop being a Christian, “because following Jesus makes your life better, and because following Jesus makes you better at life. And everybody wants their life to be better, and everybody wants to be better at life, so I don't quite get this.” I find this disturbing in a couple of ways. First, it sounds like something Oprah might say about “The Secret,” rather than something a preacher ought to say about Christianity in a culture that has a very different definition of what makes for a “better life” than what our Lord Jesus would teach. Second, when Andy says something like this, he makes it sound as though choosing whether or not to follow Jesus is like the choice between whether or not to join a country club. It isn't the kind of thing one would say who understands the true nature of sin, of conversion, or of spiritual warfare. It is no doubt a more appealing way to talk to people who don't want to hear hard things, but it doesn't sound like anything Jesus or the Apostles would say, at least not to me. They never spoke of apostates as those who simply made a bad choice and missed out on a “better life.” Frankly, this introduction makes me want to quit listening, because it seems so focused on saying things in a palatable way to people who would rather not hear hard things that I can't imagine anything worthwhile following it. It just reminds me of why I didn't like listening to this guy in the past, but I said I would listen, so I will try to keep going.
Andy goes on to list a couple of reasons given by former Christians who have abandoned the Christian faith. He says the first is that they don't like Christians because they have met some bad ones. He says the second is that they don't like the Bible. His intention is to show that they give straw men reasons for leaving the faith, and there is certainly truth in that, but what he says about the Bible in particular is greatly disturbing to me. For example, he says that “the Bible is another terrible reason to give up on Christianity,” after which he lists some reasons why these apostates (my word, not his) don't like the Bible. He includes such things as the teaching of a six day creation, “sanctioned genocide in the Old Testament,” no historical evidence that the Israelites ever left Egypt, or that “there's this date in the New Testament that doesn't line up with other historical documents.” He then says that these are terrible reasons to leave Christianity. He says “all those things may be true” (apparently referring to the aforementioned problems with the Bible) but the real problem is that Christians have done a terrible job of communicating the foundation of our faith because – taking his words in context – the aforementioned issues aren't even essential to our faith. “The Bible is not the foundation of our faith” anyway, Andy says, rather the resurrection is the foundation of our faith. However, he fails to observe that all we know about the resurrection comes from the Bible in the first place!
In the following discussion he leaves the impression that it doesn't matter if there are actually problems or errors in the Bible anyway. To illustrate his point he says this would be like saying a person doesn't exist because there is an error in his birth certificate. The implication is that it doesn't matter if the Bible similarly has errors, because we don't really believe in God – and, in the context, in Christianity – based on the Bible anyway. He points out that a birth certificate doesn't determine your existence; it simply documents your existence. In the same way, he argues, the New Testament simply documents what happened; it doesn't determine what happened. So if people have problems with the Bible, it is no reason to walk away from Christianity any more than an incorrect birth certificate is a reason to doubt a person's existence.
What a terrible analogy! No wonder Andy treats the Bible so casually and distorts it to suit his purposes so easily. He doesn't seem to view it very highly it the first place. He even appeals to the unbeliever by saying that, “Jesus might have risen from the dead, and if He did, who cares what the Bible says!?” He also repeatedly says or implies that people think Christianity is too fragile when they think it has to be based on what the Bible says or that things in the Bible have to be accurate. To be fair, Andy does say in passing that he personally thinks the Bible “does line up,” but the very fact that he could speak this way about the connection between the Bible and the Christian faith betrays a very different view of the nature of the Bible and Biblical authority than most Christians have held throughout the centuries or than is revealed in the Bible itself. However, I'll resist the temptation to go into a long discussion of these matters – since those of you who read my Facebook threads don't need this anyway – and move on to the rest of Andy's “sermon.”
Andy says that the resurrection happened (I'm glad he still believes this truth!) and then describes different “groups” in the early Church. “One group,” he says, went back into the Old Testament Scriptures and saw how they pointed to Jesus and His resurrection, but “another group” focused on telling others about Jesus, specifically telling the Gentiles. Where on earth does he get the idea that there were two “groups” such as he imagines? Where does he get the idea that those interested in explaining Jesus in light of the Old Testament stayed in Jerusalem and that those who wanted to share Jesus with the Gentiles weren't so concerned about this? Does he think that the Apostles who went to the Gentiles never quoted the Old Testament in explaining Jesus? That they never showed how Jesus fulfilled Old Testament prophecies? Has he never read any of Paul's writings!?
When Andy continues his rather warped summary of the early history of the Church, he goes on to say that the Gentiles had no knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures and that they didn't care (again, apparently missing the fact that the Apostle Paul, for example, obviously spent a great deal of time teaching them from the Old Testament as well as giving them additional revelation in light of this Old Testament background). He also says that:
[Quote of Andy:]“Not a single Gentile became a Christian because someone showed them a verse and said, 'Here's what the Bible says.' Nobody became a Christian because the Bible says, the Bible says, the Bible says, because there was no New Testament. There was no Christian Bible. There was just the Old Testament that most Gentiles didn't take seriously because that was a Jewish book. But, if you're tellin' me that a guy rose from the dead, and you're tellin' me that we can go to Jerusalem, and you could introduce me to people who saw a living, you know, man who rose from the dead, and he claims to be from God, then I want to know more about that.”
He then says that all the Gentiles had in the first century was the eyewitness accounts. In all of this he is apparently attempting to show why we don't really need the Bible so much after all. But, not only does he badly misrepresent the actual role the Old Testament Scriptures clearly played in the preaching of the Gospel in the first century (just see Paul's explanation of His Gospel teaching to the Romans!), he also misses the fact that the Apostles who oversaw and assured the true teaching of the Gospel in the first century were the very ones who wrote the New Testament so that what they were teaching as God's inspired and infallible teachers would not be lost after they were gone. What we have in the New Testament, then, is essentially what they were teaching from the beginning, before they wrote the New Testament and as they wrote the New Testament. So, as it turns out, we desperately need both the Old and New Testaments as God's inspired testimony for us.
Andy also goes on to present what he says was actually taught in the first century without any mention of confronting the Gentiles with their sins, and he goes on to describe the aforementioned “first group” of Jewish thinkers who remained in Jerusalem as though they were all the same as the Judaizers with whom the early Church had to deal. I don't know where he is getting his take on these things, but he has very little idea what he is talking about.
Wow! After almost 24 minutes of bad attempts at apologetics, along with some bad Church history, during which Andy briefly cited and misused 1 Cor. 15 in his silly attempt to show that there really was no Bible then, he finally gets around to reading Scripture from Acts 15. Maybe I will hear something worth hearing now.
Nope! Andy misrepresents the text as indicating that some of the Pharisees who believed were among "the leaders of the church" in Jerusalem, but the text doesn't actually say that. It says that, “when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and the elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses'” (vss. 4-5). Thus the whole church was gathered together, not just the leaders of the church, as the following context makes clear when it speaks of the Apostles and elders as a separate group from the aforementioned Pharisees (vs. 6). In fact, the context goes on to indicate that the Apostles and elders discussed the matter before the whole church (vs. 12, 22). Andy also speaks in general of the believing Pharisees as those who thought that the Gentiles had to become Jews to be saved, but the text says that it was only “some” of them (vs. 5, recall also vs. 1, which says that “certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'”). At any rate, this shows the persistent lack of attention to the details of the text on Andy's part.
Andy makes a very big deal of James' statement as rendered in the NIV that “we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (vs. 19), and he uses it to justify his church's approach to making it “as easy as possible” for people to come to Christ, over against the criticisms they receive for making it “so easy.” But, of course, what James was talking about has nothing to do with the kinds of things such seeker driven churches are being criticized for doing today. For example, Andy apparently thinks that stressing the truth and inerrancy of Scripture – especially in certain matters that make people uncomfortable these days – makes it too difficult for people to come to Christ, and therefore he treats it as though it just doesn't matter. In fact, the whole first part of the message does this! However, I defy anyone to show me that James would have thought such a thing!
Andy's use of vss. 28-29 is equally troubling, especially since he sets it up by saying that in these verses James is going to tell Gentiles how they should view the law of Moses, whereas the text does not indicate anywhere that he intended so monumental a task in these few words. In fact, the letter was from the church at Jerusalem anyway, not just James. Although I agree with Andy's assessment that the dietary restrictions mentioned in vs. 29 are given due to the needed sensitivity for the Gentiles toward their Jewish brethren, I don't know where he gets the idea that James goes on to make that clear in the context. It is something that is perhaps hinted at in the preceding context, however, and it is made clear in the overall context of the New Testament treatment of the issue.
When Andy explains the command in vs. 29 to abstain from “sexual immorality,” he says that James meant to say that, “I don't want you to sleep with their wives, and I don't want you to let them sleep with your wives.” Really? James and the believers in Jerusalem were just worried about adultery or wife swapping? This is all Andy gets from the command to abstain from "sexual immorality"? Surely he must know that the term is much broader than that! Surely he knows that the Greek word is porneĆ­a, which refers to "Fornication, lewdness, or any sexual sin" (Complete Word Study Dictionary, e-Sword), and that it would include, for example, such sexual sin as premarital sex and even homosexuality.
What's worse is that Andy then goes on to say that the letter means to indicate to the Gentiles that we don't really even need the ten commandments any more (and this despite the fact that nine of the ten commandments, excluding the commandment to observe the Sabbath, are cited as applicable to Christians elsewhere in the New Testament). And even worse than that, Andy says that the letter indicates to the Gentiles that:
[Quote of Andy:] “You don't need the Old Testament. You don't need to do all that stuff. OK. It's fascinating [the same way he described the blogs and books of the apostates he "loves" to read]. It's interesting. It tells us about Jesus. You may enjoy the stories, you know the flannel-graphs. It's all exciting. But that is not your approach to God, because you have been saved by grace.”
Oh my! Where does one even begin to respond to such a shallow and distorted assessment regarding the Old Testament!? We don't really need the Old Testament because we have been saved by grace!? As though there is no grace in the Old Testament!? Good grief! This man shows so little apparent concern for the way he speaks of such deep and complicated issues! In his attempt to simplify things, he has actually distorted them to the point where they deny a proper Scriptural understanding of the importance and authority of all of God's Word. At best he is just speaking in a careless and cavalier manner in which no pastor-teacher should ever speak. I am certain, for example, that the Apostle Paul – the Apostle to the Gentiles – who spoke of “all Scripture,” including the Old Testament, as “given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17 NKJ), would never have come close to making such a statement as Andy has made here!
I think Andy's whole point, especially as he has so badly argued for it, that Christianity is “unhitched from ancient Judaism,” is wrong. A better -- and more Biblical -- way of stating it would be to say that Christianity is “the fulfillment of ancient Judaism and the promises contained within it.” Such an approach would also lead to a much more Biblically nuanced way of speaking about the relationship of the New Testament to the Old Testament and of Christians to the Old Testament. But Andy doesn't appear to understand such things very well -- if at all -- and he badly misrepresents the issues. Perhaps the saddest part of it is that there are so many unknowledgeable people listening to him who will come away thinking that their problems with the Bible are just fine since we don't really need the Bible that much anyway.
Andy then tries to get us to put ourselves back into the shoes of the Christians in the first century who, he says, didn't need the Old Testament and didn't have the New Testament, but only had the Gospel and Jesus' commands shared by the Apostles. It doesn't seem to dawn on him that what we have in the New Testament is what the Apostles had actually been teaching from the beginning! I am truthfully left wondering how this man was ever deemed qualified by anyone to be a pastor, given his complete misunderstanding of such basic issues!
As I said above, this is actually an introductory sermon to a series entitled “The N Commandments.” Needless to say, perhaps, I have no intention of listening to the rest of the series, since I could barely stand to listen even to the first one. When I can find time, however, I will listen at least to the second sermon linked by ____, since I said I would. I would not recommend that anyone else listen to anything by Andy though. He doesn't understand the Bible very well, and he is a lousy exegete, to put it mildly.
And here I would also ask the question, "Is Andy Stanley Ashamed of the Bible?" He certainly seems to be at some level, since he is trying to excuse it away and make it more acceptable to people who think it has errors and who feel that it says things that they simply cannot accept. Andy's response is simply to assure them that the Bible they find so unappealing doesn't really matter so much anyway. At any rate, later in the Facebook thread I added these these further comments on the sermon linked above:
So far, I have found no reason not to agree with the assessment of the article at the beginning of this thread. In fact, not only is Andy Stanley's teaching every bit as bad as I remembered it, it is even worse! I honestly cannot understand how anyone who has been well grounded in the faith at all could possibly sit under his teaching or listen to it on a regular basis. It is so full of distortions that it is both heartbreaking and infuriating to sit through.
Here are some notes I wrote as I listened to Andy Stanley's Easter 2015 sermon entitled Unbelievably Believable (as it turns out, this message is actually the one preceding the previous sermon I critiqued, which was entitled “Unhitched”):
As Andy begins to introduce the theme of the sermon, he gets off on the wrong foot immediately when he speaks of how many of us "miss the extraordinary complexity, the details and, in some cases, even the inconsistency of the Easter story.” Really? The “Easter story” is “inconsistent”? I'm already beginning to be annoyed given what I've heard from Andy in the sermon that followed this one.
Well, I am not surprised to see that the very first point Andy wants his visitors to understand is that his church “does not believe that Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. It is much, much, much better than that.” As I saw in the “Unhitched” sermon, Andy wants to distance belief in Jesus' resurrection – and therefore in Jesus Himself as God and Savior – from belief in the authority and reliability of the Bible. Apparently he had already embarked on this agenda the preceding week (if not earlier). Andy goes on to make the point that:
[Quote of Andy:] “... the Jesus loves me because the Bible tells me so, that's an extraordinary version of Jesus if you are a child. It is not an extraordinary version of Jesus if you are an adult. And the great news, the great news is this: There is an adult version of Jesus that has the potential to change your life, but you've gotta let go of what you left off with at childhood. And that's why I say, we don't believe Jesus rose from the dead simply [at least he has the word 'simply' here this time] because the Bible tells us so. And let me tell you why we believe Jesus literally, physically rose from the dead. We believe the Easter narrative because Matthew, who was an eyewitness, saw it and wrote about it, and he believed. Mark, who got his information probably from Peter; he believed it. Luke, who begins his Gospel with 'I thoroughly explai... explored and navigated through what I was told by other people and wrote and account'; he believed it. John, who was an eyewitness, believed it. James, who was the brother of Jesus, believed his brother was the Son of God and rose from the dead ….”
Andy then goes on to add the Apostle Paul, who had formerly tried to destroy the church, to the list. But, of course, I am wondering how Andy knows that all these men believed that Jesus rose from the dead. Could it be because the Bible tells him so!? Could it be that the Holy Spirit used the Bible in order to create faith in Andy in the resurrection of Jesus? Absolutely this is why he really believes – if indeed he really believes as he says he does. Why, then, does he want to try to hang on to this belief while distancing it from the Bible? Well, as the sermon the following week demonstrates, it is because he knows that people have “problems” with the Bible, and Andy wants to make it “easier” for them to believe, so he wants to get rid of what he thinks is the childish notion that our faith is so inextricably linked to the Bible as the Bible itself indicates that it really is. (Recall my previous critique of the “Unhitched” sermon in this thread.)
Andy goes on to talk about how these men wrote down their beliefs, and we ended up with the New Testament, which was then added to the Old Testament in order to give us our Bible. But Andy is quick to say in the very next breath:
[Quote of Andy:] “But we don't believe Jesus rose from the dead because the Bible tells us so. That's Sunday school. We believe Jesus rose from the dead because eyewitnesses and people who knew the eyewitnesses tell us so, told us so, wrote about it, and in most cases gave their life – not because of what they believed; that happens all the time – they gave their lives for what they believed they saw, a resurrected Savior.”
I find this really confused and incoherent, to say the least. Andy wants to say that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead based on the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles, but he does not want to say that we believe in the resurrection of Jesus based on the Bible. Yet the Bible is their eyewitness testimony which has been inspired for our benefit by the Holy Spirit. Thus, at best Andy is hopelessly confused, but at worst he is giving the impression that we can somehow believe the eyewitness testimony of the Apostles without having to believe so much in the Bible that they wrote. How on earth did this guy ever get ordained to preach the Gospel!?
At any rate, after this lengthy, muddled, nonsensical introduction, Andy says that he wants to tell us “the Easter story.” I can hardly wait (and, yes, I am being sarcastic).
Good grief. He has John the Baptist saying he isn't worthy to tie the “tennis shoes” of the Messiah. Does he really think people are so daft that they don't know what sandals are? Is he really trying so hard to make the account seem so "relevant" today that he has to say something that stupid? With that, I'll skip over the other oddities in the way he restates the basic history of Jesus' ministry. I'm just getting tired of it.
I don't know where Andy gets the idea when speaking of John 11:48 that the Jews were worried that, if they didn't kill Jesus, the Romans “may side with Jesus of Nazareth” against them. Where is this notion to be found in the text? What would lead anyone to think this? It is just one more way in which Andy seems to like saying novel sounding things that have no clear basis in the text at all. Maybe he thinks it makes him sound smarter or more perceptive. Who knows why he so consistently does this, except that he doesn't seem all that concerned with accurately handling the Scriptures anyway.
Not surprisingly, Andy holds that the Gospels were written no earlier than 30-40 years after the events they recorded, but that is something many scholars agree to disagree about, even within more conservative circles.
Andy actually makes a couple of good points about why we can trust the Gospel accounts as eyewitness testimony, and I am very glad to hear it, even if he has already spent so much time trying to disconnect these accounts from “the Bible.” But I can't imagine why Andy would say, “If you're from a Roman Catholic background, you understand way better than us Protestants do the importance of Peter.” Really? Just what do they teach about the importance of Peter that we have missed and need to know? That he was the first pope, perhaps? Well, Andy goes on to talk about how, if you're a Roman Catholic, you believe that the pope is connected to Peter somehow, and he doesn't present this in a negative light at all. He says it as if it is no big deal. So he's at it again! He just loves to say things that sound complimentary to various people in his audience, apparently with little or no concern about how wrong -- or even how heretical -- such things may be. So, even when Andy starts to get onto something good, he has already undercut the force of it at the beginning, and then he goes on to say yet another silly, pandering, unbiblical thing. This is just what happens when a guy is so focused on saying the kinds of things he thinks his hearers want to hear that he isn't being driven by faithfulness to Scripture in the end. This has been a common problem in the sermons I've heard from him thus far.
Andy spends some time talking about how the Gospels are written as unvarnished history that doesn't try to give any spin and that can therefore be trusted. He has some good things to say here, but one wonders why he is going to all the trouble if our faith in the resurrection isn't really based so firmly on the Bible anyway, as he tried to argue at the beginning of the message. Again, the overall sermon has been very confused and muddled in this regard.
Where does Andy get the idea that Joseph of Arimathea paid Pilate for the body of Jesus? Where is this in any of the Gospel accounts? I suppose I could have missed it, but I went back and looked and didn't see it in any of the four Gospels. So, again, why does he seem to think he needs to throw in such details from his own imagination? Why isn't a straightforward presentation of the Bible sufficient for him. It again appears that it is because the Bible itself is insufficient for him. He simply doesn't treat the Bible as though it is the very Word of God. It is A source for him, not THE source.
Andy also presents Nicodemus as though he was simply an unbelieving Pharisee and does not take into account the indications in John's Gospel that he might have been a believer at this time, as was Joseph of Arimathea. I guess this would require having spent some time reading and studying the Gospel and being concerned about presenting the overall teaching of it accurately, but, again, this never really seems to be a primary concern for a man who doesn't think our faith is based primarily on what the Bible says anyway. I hope the readers of my critiques of his sermons up to this point have picked up on this trend.
With that, I'm done. I can't bring myself to listen to any more of this man's preaching. I can't even bring myself to listen to the rest of this sermon. I think I have responded to enough of his preaching up to this point in this thread, however, to demonstrate that the article linked at the beginning was correct in its basic assessment of Andy Stanley's teaching. And I hope you can all see that the differences between Andy and those who are committed to expository Bible teaching go way deeper than simply a matter of “style.” They are rooted in a different view of Scripture. As I said in an earlier post in this thread, one doesn't disparage expositional teaching the way that Andy has done without revealing a deeper theological and methodological issue. Andy clearly doesn't understand how the Scriptures apply to pastors as their guide, not only for their content in teaching but also for their method.
I really do hope these brief critiques of Andy Stanley's teaching have been helpful to the blog's readers in highlighting not only the problems with his teaching but also of the many others who teach the same way. I also hope you can all see more clearly that the differences between men like Andy Stanley and those who advocate expository Bible teaching go much deeper than a mere matter of style. They are rooted, rather, in a different view of the authority and role of Scripture in one's teaching ministry. And, frankly, I am left wondering, is Andy Stanley actually ashamed of the Bible? As always, your responses are welcome.

Friday, June 19, 2015

How the Lord Shepherded Me Through My Wife's Battle With Ovarian Cancer (Reposted)

In celebration of my wife's seventh year full of being cancer free, I am posting again the article I wrote about how God saw us through that difficult trial. Of course, the focus here is on my own struggle as her husband, but the article communicates a theology of God's sovereignty over suffering and trials that is precious to her as well as to me. May God be glorified in and through our lives as I submit to you once again my personal testimony of His grace in some of the most difficult moments of my life.

Soli Deo gloria!

As the blog's regular readers know, a little over a year ago my wife, Kim, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. I am glad to report at this time that she is doing very well and the prognosis is good. I praise the Lord for His mercy to my family. I am so glad that He has allowed me to keep my beloved a while longer. However, early on I wasn't so sure that things would turn out well, and we were concerned that she might not live. Now I want to share with you all the journey that I went through as a husband, father, and pastor, especially during those early fearful days. At the time there were a number of Scriptural passages that the Lord brought to mind, and I shared the way the Lord used these passages in my life with my church family while I was going through this trial last year. I also kept notes as to how the Lord spoke to me throughout that time. Today I would like to share essentially the same testimony with the blog's readers. It is my hope that God may be glorified in it.

The Initial Discovery of the Cancer

In early April of 2008 Kim began to experience severe abdominal pain, which led to a visit to the emergency room at a local hospital. We suspected it might be appendicitis, as did the ER doctor, who quickly ordered a CT scan to confirm the diagnosis. However, as it turned out, two different problems were discovered: diverticulitis and a large ovarian cyst. They admitted her to the hospital to treat her for the diverticulitis and ordered an ultrasound to look more closely at the cyst, which revealed a mass growing inside it. After a visit with my wife's OB/GYN and another ultrasound, we were next referred to a gynecological oncologist, who we saw on April 23. He told us that he had very little doubt that Kim had ovarian cancer and that, given the way the mass looked and the amount of fluid in her abdomen in conjunction with the mass, she probably had a stage of cancer that would offer her about a 30% chance of survival at best. This could only be confirmed by proper surgical staging and a removal and examination of the mass. Thankfully, due to a cancellation in the doctor's busy surgical schedule, we were able to get an early date for the the surgery on April 28.

Reacting to the Cancer Diagnosis

So there we were, waiting five days to discover just how bad the cancer was and hoping that the doctor was wrong, despite his years of experience dealing with such things. But I have to admit that I was afraid that I would lose my wife of almost 22 years. In fact, it was a quiet fear that had been in the back of my mind for many years and for a couple of reasons. First, I had always felt that I did not deserve Kim and the happiness I have had with her. I have always been overwhelmed by the fact the God would save me at all, but to pile on so much added grace, to actually bring me such undeserved happiness in this life, just seemed too good to be true. I know it may sound strange, and perhaps it has to do in part with my background and the baggage that comes with it, but I have always had this underlying fear that I would lose her somehow. And in this particular five day period in my life that fear came to the surface with surprisingly great force.

Second, since the days of our engagement to be married, I have struggled with not allowing my wife to be an idol in my life. In fact, I communicated this very thing to the pastor who provided our premarital counseling. I knew I had a tendency to look to Kim first for comfort when I was struggling, and often I would seek her out when I had a problem before I would even think to take it to the Lord in prayer. And this battle has been there for me throughout our marriage. Perhaps this was further exacerbated by the fact that my conversion came about at around the same time that I met Kim. In fact, the Lord saved me about a month before He brought Kim into my life, and this means that all the really happy years of my life have been with her (in spite of ongoing battles with depression early on, which I will address below). Anyway, I have had to constantly go to the Lord and ask forgiveness because – and I say this to my shame – I was repeatedly tempted to love Kim more than Him.

So, you can see why I feared that I might lose Kim to cancer. I feared that I had loved her too much and that I never really deserved her in the first place. Perhaps this is why one of the first passages that came to my mind was from Ezekiel, when God told him that he was going to have to lose his wife in order to serve Him:
NKJ Ezekiel 24:16 “'Son of man, behold, I take away from you the desire of your eyes with one stroke; yet you shall neither mourn nor weep, nor shall your tears run down. 17 Sigh in silence, make no mourning for the dead; bind your turban on your head, and put your sandals on your feet; do not cover your lips, and do not eat man's bread of sorrow.' 18 So I spoke to the people in the morning, and at evening my wife died; and the next morning I did as I was commanded.”
This passage settled on my heart with such power that it almost overwhelmed me. It was as though God were saying to me, “Keith, are you willing to lose your wife for my purposes? If I take her from you, will you still trust me? Will you continue to serve me without questioning my will?” And my constant answer to the continual replaying of these questions in my mind actually encouraged me. I said, “Yes, Lord,” without hesitation or equivocation. I cried out to God, “Holy Father, nothing could ever make me doubt your love for me! Or for my wife and children!” And I was conscious of a peace in my heart as I declared these things, even though it meant the realization of one of my greatest fears.

Surprising, isn't it? I have to say, it certainly surprised me! I hadn't realized just how deep a work God had done in my heart until then. And I hadn't realized just how powerfully He had, indeed, kept me from the idolatry I so feared. You see, this incredible peace was not my doing; it was the evidence of His work.

This is why neither my wife nor I see those trying days as being primarily about what we were going through. No, all that has happened is not just another chapter in the "the story of us." Rather, it is another chapter in the story of how our Great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, has been at work in our lives both for our good and for His glory. And this is something of what I wish to share with you all, although I have struggled to know just where to begin, especially since it is so difficult to try to explain what is in some ways unexplainable. For example, how can one really explain in a fully understandable way a peace that surpasses all understanding? This is the kind of peace that Paul wrote about in his epistle to the Philippians, where he said:
NKJ Philippians 4:6-7 “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
This is the peace that I have known during this time. And it cannot really be explained. It has to be experienced. And even then it really cannot be fully understood. After all, Paul says that this peace “surpasses all understanding.” I can only testify that the Lord Jesus has indeed granted us such peace, and that it has indeed guarded our hearts and minds. For example, this peace kept me from doubting – even for a second – the love of God for me (or for my wife and children). I was and am as certain as ever that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39). Of course, any believer with even a modicum of maturity in the faith knows exactly what Paul is talking about, and even if we cannot fully explain such peace – especially to those who do not know Christ – we definitely can know it and experience it. It is a peace that kept me not only from questioning God's love, but it also kept me from any anger or bitterness toward Him and from fretting over the future.

I am so glad that the Lord filled me with such faith and peace during those difficult days and hours. But I would like to share a few more of the passages He used to guide me through that time. For example, He drew my attention to a significant text in Romans that deals with trials and His purposes for them:
NKJ Romans 5:1-5 “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; 4 and perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
I was reminded by this passage that through Christ I can “rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (vs. 2), and I think by this Paul means that I can rejoice in the knowledge that God will manifest His glory through me and in my life. In fact, later in this same epistle Paul describes the ultimate triumph of God's work in us as our being glorified. For example:
NKJ Romans 8:15-18 “For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, 'Abba, Father.' 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs-- heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

NKJ Romans 8:28-30 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.” [Italics mine.]
All things, including tribulations and suffering, are a part of God's plan to glorify us, that is, to reveal His glory in us. Although this ultimately happens in the resurrection (as the context in Romans 8 makes clear), it is happening to some degree even now, which is what I believe Paul is saying in Romans 5. I think he is trying to tell us that, as we learn to go through trials in faith, we see God being glorified in us more and more, and this gives us a foretaste of the coming glory that will be revealed in us. When Paul tells us that “we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope” in verses 3-4, the “hope” he is talking about is the “hope of the glory of God” he has mentioned in verse 2. So, the more I see God being glorified in and through me as I faithfully endure trials, the more I increase in the certainty that His promise of future glorification is, indeed, true.

This is what happened to me as I considered the possibility that my wife might die. I began to see God's work of producing patience and character in me, and it reminded me of the fact that my life – and my wife's life – are in His faithful care. He who began a good work in me – and who continues to work in me – will be faithful to complete it (Phil. 1:6)!

But this leads me to another part of the story of how the Lord shepherded me through this difficult time, and it actually began years ago. The back story – which will not be dissimilar from many of yours – took place in my early days as a believer. You see, I had come from a broken home and had suffered some significant abuse in a couple of the poor neighborhoods I had grown up in. And I also grew up believing in works salvation, which – along with these other factors – led to a constant battle with depression from the time I was a small boy. But I had no idea how bad things would get after coming to faith in Christ.

At first, I began to discover a joy I had never known, knowing that God loved me and that all my sins were forgiven through the work of Christ for me. And my joy abounded even more when God brought Kim into my life and began to take away the incredible loneliness that had plagued me for so long. However, toward the end of our first year of marriage, after having gone to Columbia Bible College, I began to experience the three worst years of depression I had ever encountered, coupled with doubting my salvation. It is hard to describe the intensity of the depression that hounded me in those days, except to say that I thought I would die. In fact, I remember getting up some days and thinking to myself, “Surely today is the day I will die of a broken heart!” I just couldn't imagine how I could keep living like this, but the Lord in His faithfulness led me through this time and to an assurance of salvation. Although He made use of many Scripture passages in the process, one of the key books He kept taking me to was Job. And it was when He enabled me to cry out as Job did that I began to experience victory over the depression that had been my almost constant companion for so long. Here are the two primary texts in Job that shaped my response to God in those days:
NKJ Job 1:20-22 “Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. 21 And he said: 'Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.' 22 In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.”
I recall reading these words and making them my own prayer to God. I remember praising Him and telling Him that whatever happened I knew He intended it only for my good and that if He would be best glorified by my being miserably depressed even for the rest of my life, then so be it. I would accept whatever His gracious will was for me.
NKJ Job 13:15a "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."
I can remember very well the day when I cried out to God with these same words! I literally prayed, “Lord, even if you slay me – even if I die of a broken heart – yet will I trust you!” That was the beginning of the end of my battle with depression, and – to make a long story short – it was also the beginning of the end of my struggle with lack of assurance. You see, the Lord showed me through those days that there was a faith in me that I couldn't take any credit for. After all, I was doubting! So where could such faith have come from if not from Jesus, the “author and finisher” of my faith (Heb. 12:2)? It could only have come as “the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8).

Well, there have of course been many trials since then, and they have all brought to mind these passages in Job as well as others such as Romans 5:1-5. And these same passages came back to me as I went through the trial of my wife having cancer. This trial was at its most acute when I was in the waiting room while Kim was having surgery. Part way through the procedure, the surgical nurse called down to tell me that the mass was indeed cancerous, and the next hour or two were a couple of the longest of my life. I went into a little prayer room where I wept so hard I didn't think I would ever be able to stop. And the words of Job came to me again, except this time with a different emphasis. This time God wasn't asking me to say, “Though you slay me, yet will I trust You.” This time He was asking me to say, “Though you slay my wife, yet will I trust You!” And I remember as I sat there dazed, weak, and weary, crying out to God, “Yes, Lord, even if you take away my precious Kimmie, yet will I trust You!” Of course, I also pleaded with the Lord for her life, but was able to say by His grace, “Nevertheless, not my will, but Yours be done” (Matt. 26:39).

You see, God had prepared me for this trial through all of the others. He had taken me through the Romans 5:1-5 cycle many times before, and each time I had experienced more and more the “hope of the glory of God” in my life. And He had taught me to rejoice in it! And this helped me to have hope in this struggle as well.

Perhaps an illustration would help. It comes from a time when I was just a kid, about twelve years old. I went with my family to a state park in southern Indiana that had a cave that went through a hillside and came out the other side. I think it was actually an abandoned attempt at building a railroad tunnel at one time. At any rate, the tunnel was just long enough that when you were in the middle of it you were in complete darkness and could see no light coming from either end. After having gone through the tunnel a couple of times with a flashlight, I decided – I vaguely remember a dare – to try to go through the tunnel with no light at all. Well, about half way through, as I was in the darkest part of the tunnel, feeling my way along, I remember being gripped by fear and worrying that maybe I would get lost somehow and no one would ever find me. And I thought about turning back. But what kept me going is that fact that I had been through the tunnel before, and I knew that if I just pressed on there would be a light ahead. And this is the same way with trials in my life. I have been through the tunnel before – many times – and I know that there is always a light at the end! It is the “hope of the glory of God,” and it keeps me going, just as Paul said it would. Indeed, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel of every trial for the Christian, and it is the joy set before us as we see the glory of God more fully manifested in our own lives. May we ever seek this joy in Him! And may we accept the fact that it comes with suffering.

The Revised Diagnosis and Thankfulness for God's Continued Grace

And now it is time for some more good news. Not only did the Lord lovingly guide me through yet another trial. He graciously answered my prayer that Kim would live. As I have already indicated, the surgery of April 28, 2008, confirmed that she did, indeed, have ovarian cancer. As a result, she had to undergo a complete hysterectomy, along with the removal of her omentum, appendix, and a number of lymph nodes. But the surgeon discovered that the cancer wasn't nearly as bad as he had thought it would be. You see, the fluid that had been in Kim's abdomen, which the doctor had assumed was due to the cancer and that it had thus spread and was at a later stage, had actually been due to the diverticulitis that had already been treated by that time. So, when he performed the surgery the excess fluid was not there. As it turns out, the cancer had been caught very early because of the diverticulitis. Otherwise we would almost certainly not have found out about the ovarian cancer until it was too late, as happens to so many poor women and accounts in part for the high death rate associated with this type of cancer.

So, Kim has now been through six cycles of chemotherapy, and the prognosis is quite good. We have good reason to believe that she will make a full recovery, although, of course, we can never be absolutely sure. But, then, who can? I just know this much; I know that God is first in my life. I know that He has done a far greater work of faith in me than I had realized. I know that Kim and I, and our three children, are closer to the Lord than ever. I know that our church family needed to see us go through this and to see His work in us. And I know that whatever else happens He will keep us to the end as He has promised. But it is through trials such as those I have described that such assurance is deepened in us and such rejoicing in the “hope of the glory of God” can be had. Do you want to better know Him and make Him known? Do you want to be able to see the evidence of His working of faith in you? If so, be ready to welcome the testing of your faith with the knowledge that it is always for your good and for His glory.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Seeking Reviewers for The Absurdity of Unbelief by Jeff Johnson

 
On June 1 I informed you all of an upcoming book on apologetics by Jeff Johnson. It is entitled The Absurdity of Unbelief, and a preview of the final chapter was posted here on June 4. I am writing now, however, to inform you all that, as Jeff has contemplated the publication of the book, he has decided to print a number of review copies to send out before finalizing the text. He has basically decided to subject it to some peer review in this manner, hoping to make the book stronger and better with some helpful input, especially from within the Reformed community. If you study apologetics, or if you have a blog and would be willing to write a thoughtful review of the book, you will be sent a free prepublication review copy. He is printing only fifty copies for this purpose, so let him know soon if you wish to be a reviewer. You may contact him at freegracepress@gmail.com.

After Jeff has read your reviews and feels comfortable with the final text, he will then send you a free copy of the published book as a thank you for your help. He may or may not adopt suggested changes, but he hopes that you will give a full, fair, and honest review of the work.

Thanks in advance to all who are willing to help!


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Free Audio Download of 'Being a Dad Who Leads' by John MacArthur

This month's free audio download from ChristianAudio.com is Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur. Here is the description from the ChristianAudio.com product page:
As a Christian father, you bear a tremendous responsibility--to raise your children through both biblical instruction and personal example. But how can you succeed in a society that attacks the role of fatherhood and godly family values? Are you sometimes tempted to give in or give up?
The rewards of being a dad who leads are well worth making the effort to stand firm. The Bible offers clear guidance for dads on how to parent effectively. Join pastor-teacher John MacArthur as he looks at...
  • the keys to building healthy family unity

  • essential character qualities to teach every child

  • how to lovingly discipline children and nurture obedience

  • traps to avoid in the course of parenting

  • the power of a dad's example to influence future generations

  • Commit yourself to being a dad who leads, and God will enable you every step of the way. There's no surer path to experiencing a lifetime of family blessings!

I suspect this will be a great book to listen to while driving to work, especially for all the fathers -- and prospective fathers -- out there.

Thursday, June 04, 2015

Guilt, Justice, & Forgiveness

Note: Following is a preview of the conclusion of The Absurdity of Unbelief.

Dear reader, we cannot live a fulfilled and consistent life without God. Our guilt is the evidence of this. Our guilt is evidence of our unhappiness and foolishness. Though we each have tried in vain to cleanse our guilty conscience, it continues to speak out against us. But, even worse, it is our own voice that we each hear inside of our heads. We don’t want to hear it, but we are constantly condemning ourselves. “Why did I do this?” “I shouldn’t have done that.” “I hope no one saw me do that.” We love ourselves, so we hate this guilty feeling. We hate it when we know that we are wrong. Self-condemnation is the worst. If others condemn us, the possibility remains that they have misjudged us, but when our own heart speaks out against us, it is hard to deny culpability. We tell ourselves to shut up, but though our conscience may grow ever so dim as it becomes more and more hardened, we can never completely rid ourselves of the fact that we know we are sinful and deserving of God’s judgment.

Guilt: A Universal Problem

What are we to do with our guilty consciences? Medication? Therapy? A pilgrimage to the Holy Land? Self-flagellation? Though guilt is ever present, we have each become an expert at silencing our conscience. Our first defense is crafting wonderfully worded excuses. We are good at finding supposed loopholes in the circumstances that happen to exempt us from what universally applies to others. We play dumb, as if we didn’t know any better. Or, we see ourselves as having been unjustly placed in some kind of catch-22 circumstance. “We couldn’t help it.” We turn from being guilty to being a victim.

This, of course, leads to a second layer of defense – blaming others for our actions. “Lord, this woman, which you gave me, caused me to take hold of the forbidden fruit.” “It is her fault, or maybe it’s even your fault, God, for giving her to me.”

If blaming others does not remove our shame, we seek to compensate by doing some good deeds. “Look at how good I am; I am not all that bad.” “I go to church, and every now and then I plant a tree and give a few bucks to the homeless.”

If the guilt lingers, we move into the distraction mode. We watch a lot of TV and keep ourselves entertained. Hopefully, if enough time and water passes under the bridge, we can begin to feel better about ourselves.

Yet, what we each find most helpful in softening our conscience is gathering a multitude of friends who will be ever so kind to reassure us that we are okay. We are looking for those friends that buy into our excuses, or help us create new excuses. We feel much better when they say, “I would have done the same thing.” These are helpful friends. And if it is not these types of friends we are looking for, we find those whose moral actions and behavior are slightly worse than ours is. “I may occasionally slip up here and there, but at least I am not like Robert who is completely addicted to this stuff.” “If I do a little, Robert does a lot.” “Overall, in comparison, I am a pretty good person.”

After years of suppressing our consciences, we find it much easier to continue in our sins without feeling as guilty. One of my homosexual friends admitted that he felt dirty the first few times he gave into his desires. His partner reassured him that this feeling was normal, and the key to working through it was not to think about it. In time, it will get easier and easier. But this is the case for all those who enter into sinful practices. Hardened criminals are not made overnight; it takes time to build calluses upon a tender conscience.

Underneath all the calluses, no matter how many movies we have watched to distract ourselves and no matter how many friends have reassured us, down deep we know that we have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Because of our uncanny ability to forget and smooth things over, however, we have no idea how wicked and shameful we have been. We do not know the depths of our depravity. We each know that we are a sinner, but none of us can begin to comprehend how big a sinner we actually are in the sight of God. With mud caked glasses it is hard to see how dirty we actually are. We see ourselves through sinful eyes. What must we look like to the one who is too pure even look upon sin?

Which of God’s commandments have we not broken? We have stolen, lied, and cheated. We have been unfaithful, unforgiving, unkind, and unloving. We have given our lives to fulfilling the various passions of the flesh and have been more worried about being rich, popular, and powerful than being a thoughtful friend to those in need. We have given more time and energy living for ourselves than living for God.

Not only have we transgressed God’s law, we have failed to do all the things that we should have done. We should have called grandma a few years back when she became ill. We should have stopped and help that person on the side of the road. We should have done this or done that, but we were too lazy and self-focused. We have neglected to be thankful to God in all things. We have neglected the worship that is due His name. We have not lived up to the standard.

This is not to mention the sins of our heart, such as anger, malice, bitterness, jealousy, covetousness, lustful thoughts, vain imaginations, and all manner of evil desires.

But what is more fearful than our hearts condemning us is knowing that God has personally chronicled everything that we have ever done. Every thought, word, and deed has been recorded. God is not fooled by our silly excuses. He has clearly manifested to us that those who practice such things are worthy of death (Rom. 1:32).

These sinful acts are treasonous. We have not only rebelled against our Maker and King, we have defected over to the kingdom of darkness. We have seditiously picked up our swords in opposition and have shaken our fists at Him in defiance. Our sins are a direct and bold attack against God. He has blessed us with life. He has showered us with good things, such as the rain and the sunshine. He has graciously been kind, long-suffering, and patient with us. He has sent us the gospel. He has given us plenty of opportunities to repent. He has seen fit to keep the blood pumping in our veins and uphold the beating of our hearts. But how have we responded to such kindness? We have defiled His name by the things we have watched and the jokes that we have entertained. We continue to bite the hand that is feeding us every time we utilize the gifts, money, resources, and health, which God has given us, for selfish, sinful, and disgraceful activities. The life that God has given us to serve Him, we have used to defy and curse Him.

Justice: A Universal Certainty

God’s wrath is terrifying because it has been provoked by our rejection of His love. God finds infinite joy, happiness, and glory in His Son; His love for His Son is incomprehensible. God loves His Son, and He has also loved wretched sinners enough to give that which He loves the most – His only begotten Son (John 3:16). He did not hold back His greatest treasure, but freely offered Him – who holds life, meaning, and happiness in His hand. God gave the best He had to give. God has offered everything – something truly priceless. Yet, we have not only provoked God to wrath by our transgressions, but even worse we have spurned the love of a jealous God by rejecting His gift of love. The thing God valued the most is that which we have despised, as if His Son were not good enough. We, who are worthless, have rejected the One who is of infinite worth. We, who are unlovable, have turned away from God’s immeasurable love. Thus, what anger must reside within God for the disgrace that we heap upon Him when we turn our backs upon His beloved Son?

Our rejection of God’s love is open rebellion. Every moment we refuse to bow our knee and surrender all to His Majesty, we continue to provoke Him and to store up wrath for ourselves.

We are but a second away from running out of time. He will not hold back His wrath forever. The Day of Judgment is coming (Col. 1:6). Our guilt testifies of the certainty of this.

Death is coming, but we live as if it is not. As with our guilt, we have pushed this knowledge away from us. We have blinded ourselves to the severity of our condition and the gravity of the wrath of God. We have blinded ourselves with a false sense of security because of our self-righteousness. We have blinded ourselves with the pleasures and concerns of the world. We are more concerned about a pay-raise than saving our souls from hell. We are too busy fishing, hunting, playing golf, and keeping in shape than with getting right with God. We are too busy eating Esau’s soup and playing a game of freeze-tag with our friends than seeking to meet with God. Because we still hear the birds singing and feel the warmth of the sun, we are under the false delusion that everything is okay.

We should be alarmed, but we are walking around in a haze. We are following the crowd, caught up in the madness, blown about by the latest fads and new releases. Like dogs roaming about looking for their next meal, we are carried about by the tide of hedonism. We are adrift, lost at sea, but completely unconcerned. As a mouse runs around and around in a wheel, we chase one pleasure after the next. The tide is rocking us asleep as it is taking us deeper out into the sea. We are unknowingly enslaved to our routines. Our daily lives, filled with pleasures in business and recreation, blind us to the approaching danger. As a herd of cows willingly follow each other to the slaughterhouse, we follow the course of this world as we dance our way to hell.

It is only a matter of time before all this carelessness and false sense of security will be blown away. Death overtakes us all. In moment, that is often unpredictable, you will be standing before a holy God. No excuses. No self-righteousness. No atheistic worldview. Just you and your guilt fully exposed before the Almighty God. But for now, your carelessness remains.

Forgiveness: A Universal Offer

The tragedy of it all is that, on your way to hell, you must purposefully walk over the dead and resurrected body of Christ. If you face the wrath of God it will be because you have refused the love of God. On your way to hell, you must push Christ and His free offer of grace aside. Having heard the gospel, you have been given a promise; a way of escape has been provided. You don’t have to face God in your sins, for Christ has died for sinners. To remain in unbelief is to knowingly reject this gracious offer.

Moreover, if you push Christ out of your way, be fully aware of Whom you are rejecting. The gospel that offers you salvation cost Christ everything. For God to give you the universe, He would only have to speak the word. For God to save your souls from sin, He had to sacrifice His only Son. This free promise was not free for the One Who made it. Christ laid aside His glory and became a man. He did not come dressed as a King but as a servant. He came into this world knowing that, as a man, He would face every temptation imaginable. After John baptized Him, Christ was led into a deserted area for forty days. During this time, all hell was unleashed upon Him. The Devil and all his demonic forces threw everything that they had at Him. In utter hatred, the Devil sought to crush Him. During this time, Christ was famished, tired, and beaten down in every possible way. He remained true to His Father. He resisted every temptation. He did not once shame or dishonor the One who sent Him into the world. He loved God and His neighbor with all of His heart, mind, and soul perfectly, entirely, and at all times. His life and earthly ministry was full of love, mercy, and compassion for others. He sought not fame, nor fortune, nor power. He was lowly of heart, gentle, and humble. He gave everything He had to the service of God and to assist others. He was sinless, righteous, perfect, and altogether glorious.

And this is not all – in this state of humility, sinlessness, and goodness, He willing took sinners' place on the cross – the just for the unjust. He took our shame and guilt upon Himself. The mocking we deserved, He willingly embraced. He was beaten, spit upon, and utterly humiliated as the chief of criminals. His own disciples and closest friends forsook Him in this dark hour. He was rejected because He was holy. But, worst of all, the anger and wrath of God, which we deserved, was poured out upon Him in full. He endured the judgment of God so that believers could be declared innocent. What kind of king dies for His enemies? This is such a King, who offers those who repent a free pardon.

Christ rose from the dead, which proved His innocence. By His resurrection, Christ won the victory over sin, death, and the devil. We can be forgiven because the King of glory took care of justice for those who believe. What a Savior!

If you continue in unbelief, then this is the Savior you are rejecting. This is the gospel you continue to shun.

If God required a million dollars to wipe away our sins, many would pay the price willingly. If God required that we give up our firstborn to inherit eternal life, this too would be a price that some would be willing to pay. But, no! It is the offended party – God – who has laid down His firstborn for those who have sinned and rebelled against Him. Christ paid the ultimate price so you may be freely forgiven. Not only the just for the unjust, but the wounded party taking the place of guilty party. Salvation is free, but this is what you refuse when you turn away in unbelief.

What kindness, what graciousness, and what goodness must we turn our backs upon when we reject the gospel? If you go to hell, it is because you refuse this offer; you turn your back upon the goodness and mercy of God; you reject a Savior who died that sinners may live. And you reject Him because you want to play freeze-tag with your buddies. You reject Him because you don’t want to be saved from your sins. You reject the humble Savior because of your pride; you reject the righteous Judge because of your sins; and you reject the all-wise God because of your foolishness. You reject life, meaning, purpose, and happiness so that you can hang onto sin, death, meaninglessness, and despair. You exchange the truth for a lie and heaven for hell. This is the absurdity of unbelief.

For those of you who are still carefree and unconcerned about the condition of your soul, there is not much more I can say. But, for those of you who have a broken and weary heart, for those who can see their sins and rebellion against their God, for those who truly hate their sins, for those who are ready to humbly ask God for forgiveness and surrender to the Lordship of Christ, I have wonderful news. Look unto Jesus and you shall be saved. This is a promise that is certain to be fulfilled for all who believe. It is not by works but simply by believing this promise that we are made right before God.

He came to die for sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). He freely offers Himself to all who truly desire to be delivered from their sins and their guilt. Those who hide and cover their sins will remain in their sins, but those who repent – taking ownership and confessing their sins before God – and believe in their hearts that Jesus is who He says that He is shall be saved. Dear reader, there is forgiveness. Your guilt and sin may be removed as far as the East is from the West, and the perfect righteousness of Christ could be credited to your account. All your guilt may be washed away, and the blood of Jesus is able to cleanse you from all of your sins. “Come unto me,” Christ says, “and I will give you rest.” God made this promise. He cannot lie. He is able to save the worst of sinners. Salvation is free; you only have to believe.

And believing, my dear friends, is the only reasonable thing to do.