Wednesday, August 27, 2014

We Are Not Neutral

“Let’s buy it, dad!” These were the words that darted out of my mouth as soon as I saw the cool yellow truck with its custom rims and ground effects. Immediately I could proudly see myself driving it to school. Not only was it cool, I couldn't believe it was in my price range. This could be mine, so I thought.

My father responded with the dreaded but predictable words, “We need to test drive it first.” Though this sounds only reasonable, you must realize that I was young and poor. My parents promised to help me buy my first vehicle by doubling all the money I earned over the summer. I worked hard, but only saved $900.00. And even back in the early nineties, you could not expect much for $1,800.00. The last thing I wanted was some grandma wagon.

So when I saw this customized truck, I was ready to pull the trigger without any investigation. In fact, I didn't want to test drive it, for deep down I knew it was too good to be true. If we happen to discover its mechanical problems, I knew my father would stand in the way of me being cool. You see, I thought if we bought it before we learned that it needed repairs, though more money would be needed to get the thing running, the most important thing would be accomplished – I would have a respectable looking ride to show off to all my friends. The truth is, I didn't want to know the truth, for I assumed that the truth would stand in the way of my happiness.

As you can imagine, when we opened the hood, it was missing half of its engine. Yep, too good to be true. I ended up with my dad’s old, brown, farm truck – dependable but no ground effects.

I realize now that I was willing to overlook all the blaring red flags and knowingly do something foolish because of my foolish pride. My emotions, my pride, and my inverted values hindered my judgment. I was not objective or rational because I did not want to be objective or rational.

Foolishness is living in opposition to what we know to be true. I am afraid this irrational condition and manner of thinking is universally prevalent in all of us. We are not merely irrational every now and then. Without God, we live in a state of irrationality.

Only irrational fools would consistently and practically deny that 2 + 2 = 4. Not only is the answer to this equation a part of common sense, it is easily demonstrable and highly useful. If a postmodern thinker practically rejects the absolute and universal principles of mathematics, he may applaud himself for being consistent with his relativistic worldview, but in the process his checkbook will be a total mess. Regardless of what we claim we believe about the laws of math, we cannot live consistently without practically submitting ourselves to them. For this and many other reasons it is intellectually difficult to deny the absolute and universal nature of mathematics.

The same is true concerning the truth of Scripture. Scripture does not merely provide a few isolated, unrelated, and discounted truths; it gives us the only complete and cohesive worldview that provides meaning and rationale to the universe. In other words, without the Bible, nothing makes sense in the grand scheme of things. As the Psalmist says, “In your light we see light” (Ps. 36:9).

Yet, if the Bible provides us with the only cohesive system of thought, why is it so hated and rejected by so many? If it is impossible to disprove the truth claims of the Bible, why is it so despised and ridiculed by some of the brightest and smartest minds? Do you want to know the truth? The truth is that if people loved the truth, they wouldn't reject the truth. The problem is not that the truth is irrational, but that fallen man is not without his personal biases and foolish pride. As we shall see in this chapter, people are selfish by nature, and their selfishness is the controlling influence in how they feel, think, and behave.

Man is Not Neutral

The Bible describes this as depravity. Depravity is an inner heart condition that prevents us from loving any truth that is in opposition to our internal desire to be independent, free, and self-governing. Because we are born depraved, with a fallen nature, we hate the God of the Bible. We may love a god of our own imagination – a god that we can control. This is because we naturally want to be in control of our own destiny. If we want to go to heaven, then we can work our way there. If we want to go to Hell and hang out with our drinking buddies, then that is what we will do. But to lovingly submit every detail of our lives, thoughts, and beliefs to the absolute, sovereign God is not enticing in the least.

This is because the Bible claims that the entire universe and every individual person within it was made for the glory of God. This design not only determines our intended purpose, but it demands how we should think, feel, and live. In other words, we are not made for ourselves. Yet, we naturally do not want to be confined to such a sacrificial lifestyle, and even less do we want our sin, shame, and guilt to be fully exposed. This is what the Bible does, however. The Bible defines our lives and exposes our sin and guilt. This personal rebuke and criticism is too much to accept by those of us who love ourselves. Those of us who desire to cover up our sins, establish or own purpose, and control our own destinies will reject any truth that endangers these objectives. It is not that we are incapable of understanding the truth; without the grace of God, we simply do not appreciate it.

For this reason it is a false notion to think that our beliefs, opinions, and judgments are determined merely by the facts. When the facts oppose us, we will oppose the facts. Absolute objectivity is an impossibility for sinful and self-loving individuals. Only computers and machines are completely neutral. This is because computers do not care one way or another about the truth. As much as I like my new IMac, it could care less about me. As smart as it may be, it is void of any emotions and feelings. If I do a web search for Adolf Hitler or for Jesus Christ, my computer remains indifferent. It simply does not have a judgment or opinion upon such things.

This is not true, however, with emotional people. People have an opinion on almost everything, especially upon those things that relate and affect their personal lives. Most people could care less about the fact that George Washington was the first President of the United States of America. Most people will accept this historical fact with little to no evidence. “Who cares, for how does that affect my day to day life?” Yet, all of a sudden, when something touches us directly or indirectly, we will show great interest and concern. Bring up religion, politics, gun control, abortion, sexual orientation, George Bush, Obama, and other such heated topics, and all of a sudden people get testy. Yet, if there is one subject that we are all have a heavy and emotional investment in, it would be the grand subject of ‘me, myself, and I.’

Just as we naturally seek to ovoid physical pain and gravitate towards physical pleasure, we all hate to be criticized, rebuked, and shamed and love to be recognized, praised, and honored. This tendency makes it easier to accept that which is personally beneficial and harder to accept that which is personally detrimental. Tell me that I am brilliant and I will not put up an argument, even if there is no supporting evidence. Tell me that I am not the sharpest tool in the woodshed, even when if it is clearly evident, and it will make me mad.

I have sadly seen this first hand. In High School, one of my friends committed suicide. No one saw this coming either, especially the boy’s mother. I knew denial was one of the steps of grieving, but I didn't realize just how strong this emotion could be. At the graveside, the mother of this boy threw herself on top of the casket and began to shake it rapidly while crying out, “Wake upwake upwake up!” Everyone else stood silent. Reality was bitter, and at that time it was too hard for this mother to accept. She, for the time being, would not allow herself to believe that her only child was about to be buried. Though the evidence was overwhelming, it was not enough to convince her of something she did not want to believe. Because she loved her son, she did not love the truth. In this way, none of us are neutral.

Man’s Values are Controlled by His Nature

We cannot help but have something or someone that we love the most – more than anything else. And what we love the most will inadvertently determine what we hate and loathe. If we love darkness, then we will hate the light. If we love pleasure, then we will hate pain. If we love ourselves, then we will hate our enemies. This also cannot be avoided. With this in mind, everything falls into a sliding scale from the object of our greatest affection to the object of our deepest hatred, with everything else in between. This scale is our value system. For our values are nothing more that what we appreciate and love, and this value system determines our morals and ethical behavior.

This is because the object that we love the most becomes our god – what we serve and worship. Whatever we love the most will control our thinking, emotions, and behavior. It will control us, and we will willingly bow down to it. For instance, let's say you loved baseball more than life itself. Your love for baseball would not only shape your opinion about baseball, it would control your life. If baseball was your greatest love, then it would shape how you spent your time and money, it would influence your friendships, and it would shape almost everything else in your life. This does not mean you wouldn't enjoy other things unrelated to baseball, but it does mean that those unrelated things would be subjugated to your principle concern – baseball. Your love for baseball would be the ruling principle behind everything you thought and did. No doubt it would be a willing enslavement, but an enslavement it would be.

Man’s Behavior is Controlled by His Nature

With this in mind, as I have already pointed out, the Bible authoritatively teaches that which is also clearly evident from our own personal observation and inward experience, namely that our chief object of affection is self. Without God’s grace, we make ourselves the center of our thoughts and activities. It is hard to deny that human nature is selfish. Infants are born not thinking about their mothers but themselves. Children do not have to be taught to covet and fight over toys. The history of the world is full of strife, bloodshed, and exploitation. Man may give himself to various pleasures and hobbies (such as baseball), materialism, and the pursuit of power and fame, but all these things are rooted in a love for self. When laws, restraints, oversight, and accountability are removed, ours hearts do not naturally move upward. As dumbbells naturally fall to the ground, we naturally place our own needs and happiness above the needs and happiness of others. Thankfully, not all of us want to be as bad as Hitler, but without the power of God, none of us will love God more than we love ourselves. We may have a desire to be good, but this love of self will always control the motive behind our seemingly good actions. We may have a love for God, but not a love for God that is greater than our love for ourselves. And whatever appears to be good, if done for selfish reasons, falls short of the glory of God and is classified as sinful.
  
Thus, selfishness is the controlling influence behind man’s behavior. In other words, the problem behind sinful behavior and irrational thinking is man’s depraved, selfish heart. As the Scripture claims: Because of “the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph. 4:17-18). As a result, the sinful heart is the heart of man’s problem.

Man’s Emotions are Controlled by His Nature

This sinful heart also controls fallen man’s emotions. It is a false but common notion to think that we are not responsible for our emotions. We often speak as if our emotions are alien creatures that attack us from the outside, as if they are outside of our control. ‘I can’t help the way I feel.’ ‘You would feel the same way if this had happened to you.’ ‘I couldn't help that I fell in love with her.’ ‘You can’t help who you love.’ ‘Sorry I don’t love you anymore.’ With such common statements as these, people would have us believe that their emotions are not derived from within themselves but from their external circumstances. ‘How could my emotions not be affected if I learn that something bad had happened to my mother, or if I hear that my rich uncle was about to give me a million dollars?’ ‘Of course, my emotional ups and downs are a result of factors outside of my control.’ ‘I am a victim of my own emotions.’ ‘I am a victim of my circumstances.’ ‘I am just an emotional person. I can’t help it.’

Yet, this false way of thinking eliminates our responsibility to control our emotions. Depression is not like cancer; it is not a disease that attacks us without our permission. We are not innocent victims of our own emotions. Emotions are not alien forces that are caused by our ever-changing circumstances. Rather, we are responsible for our emotions. We are responsible for loving that which is good and hating that which is bad. Jesus Christ made it clear, in the Sermon on the Mount, that we are not only responsible for how we outwardly behave but also for how we inwardly feel.

It is true that our emotions are connected to our circumstances. But, it is not true that our emotions are controlled by our circumstances. Rather, our emotions are controlled by our values (i.e., the things that we love and hate). Because I love my mom, it would deeply sadden me if I learned that something bad had happened to her. How distressed would I feel? It all depends upon the level and degree that I loved my mother. Because I value money, I would naturally rejoice to learn that my rich uncle was going to endow me with a million bucks. It is not that our emotions are controlled by the uncontrolled changes in our environment, but rather it is our pre-established values that control how we emotional respond and feel towards the uncontrolled changes in our circumstances.  In other words, our ever changing circumstances expose our true nature and our personal values.

Man’s Beliefs are Controlled by His Nature

This heart problem, which produces various emotional problems, is the reason why sinners do not believe the truth. It is not that the Bible lacks credibility or is incomprehensible; it is that man values himself more than he values the Word of God. That is, fallen man has a fallen and inverted value system. Rather than God being man’s chief affection, fallen man has placed himself in that spot. Yet, to believe the truth, man must warmly embrace the truth, and this requires submitting to God. Submitting to God is hard because it requires the dethroning of self. But this brings us back to the heart of the problem – man is willingly enslaved to his own selfishness.

Selfishness is blinding. What we do not love, we will not willingly embrace. If we do not have ears to hear it is because we do not want to hear. By nature, unbelievers are enslaved to their own fleshly passions. Because of this, unbelievers love darkness rather than the light (John 3:19). They will naturally resist and suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18) because they take “pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thess. 2:12). Thus, the knowledge of God is viewed as a threat to their desire to live for themselves. As R. C. Sproul remarked: “God manifests a threat to man’s moral standards, a threat to his quest for autonomy, and a threat to his desire for concealment.”[1]

Thus, a lack of faith does not come from a lack of rational and credible evidence, it comes from a spiritually dead heart that is enslaved to its own selfish desires. Blaise Pascal understood this when he stated: “Those who do not love the truth take as a pretext that it is disputed, and that a multitude deny it. And so their error arises only from this, that they do not love either truth or charity.”[2]

Beliefs Will Not Change without a Change in Man’s Nature

For this reason, it is not mere logic or evidence that changes hearts. Denial and hatred of God’s Word will cause even the most intellectual and brilliant people to become fools. As the Scriptures say, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22). And the “fool has said in his heart, there is no God” (Ps. 53:1).

It is not as if unbelievers need more empirical evidence to convince them of the truth, for even if they saw a man raised from the dead, the Bible says, they would still stubbornly hold on to their sins and reject the truth (Luke 16:31). The only thing that can produce faith in Christ is a heart transplant. Sinners must be born again, they must have the love of God poured into their dead hearts before they will willfully repent of their sins and run to Christ Jesus for forgiveness. Sin must be hated and Christ must be loved before sinners will embrace the gospel. Blaise Pascal understood this as well:
Do not wonder to see simple people believe without reasoning. God imparts to them love of Him and hatred of self. He inclines their hearts to believe. Men will never believe with a saving and real faith, unless God inclines their heart; and they will believe as soon as He inclines it.[3]
Though faith is not blind, illogical, or without empirical evidences, it is supernatural. Faith comes from God because the new nature comes from God. Yet, my dear reader, this does not excuse you from being accountable for rejecting the God of the Bible. Your rejection and denial of the truth is not because you lack evidence, it is because you love yourselves and your sins more than you love the Christ who came to die for your sins.

Notes:

[1] R. C. Sproul, If There’s a God, Why are there Atheists? (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1988), 73.
[2] Pensées, 261.
[3] Pensées, 284.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Shawn Mathis Offers a "Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement"

Some of this blog's readers will no doubt remember that I have previously recommend articles by Shawn Mathis, Pastor of Providence Presbyterian Church in Denver, Colorado. I recommended "What Is a Family Integrated Church?" here. And I recommended "Why I Cannot Sign the Family Integrated Church Confession" here. But more recently Shawn has published an eight part series of articles entitled "Pastoral Evaluation of the Family Integrated Church Movement." Following are the links to all eight articles, together with a brief description of each one.
Part One is focused on historical matters, in which it is demonstrated that, "Far from being a relatively new innovation of the last 200 years, the Reformed churches have a long history of instructing the youth on the Lord's Day."
Part Two offers a brief history of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) and the founding of the National Center for Family Integrated Churches (NCFIC) as well as a description of the beliefs of the movement as set forth by the NCFIC.
Part Three details what the major issue of the NCFIC appears to be, namely the rejection of any sort of age segregated activities or instruction in the churches.
Part Four offers an analysis and critique of the historical claims of the NCFIC and the FICM in general.
Part Five offers an analysis and critique of the theological claims of the NCFIC and the FICM in general. Here Shawn interacts with "The strongest argument against youth ministries by the NCFIC" which he correctly says "is a hermeneutical argument rooted in a misunderstanding of Sola Scriptura." It is encapsulated in what Shawn calls the “regulative principle of discipleship.”
Part Six expresses his concern for the way that the God-given authority of parents -- particularly fathers -- tends to overthrow the God-given authority of pastors and churches in the FICM. He also affirms some of the positive things we can learn from the FICM, not wishing to minimize their good concerns and contributions while dealing with their errors.
Part Seven describes some of the dangers of the FICM, both doctrinal and practical, such as a tendency to legalism and divisiveness, as well as their view that they are a part of a revival and a process of reformation of the churches that is brought about by God that ought not be resisted.
Part Eight offers advice for "working with FIC members in a non-FIC church" and discusses a few of his own personal experiences dealing with those who are a part of the movement. He also outlines where the FICM seems to be heading at present.
I think Shawn has done a very good job of describing the FICM and reacting to it in a Biblical manor, and I highly recommend reading his series, which is actually taken from his lecture notes from the Spring 2014 Presbytery of the Midwest Seminar. You can listen to the audio of this seminar, together with the audio for the question and answer session, here. I also recommend reading Shawn's recent book, Uniting Church and Family, which is primarily a digest of his many past blog posts and internet articles and which gets into much more detail.


On another note, I have recently called upon Scott Brown, the Director of the National center for Family Integrated Churches, to respond to my Biblical arguments in support of age segregated education in the churches (here). I now call upon him to respond to Shawn's work as well. Although my work comes from a Reformed Baptist perspective and Shawn's comes from a Presbyterian perspective, I think our Biblical and theological arguments overlap nicely for the most part, and I think that they warrant a response.

As I pointed out in my previous article, Scott Brown as stated that he has "heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible." However, since both Shawn and I have offered such Biblically grounded arguments, I think it behooves him either to show that our arguments clearly are not Biblical or to revise his statements.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Answering Scott Brown's Challenge Concerning Age Segregated Education

Over the years I have consistently heard advocates of the Family Integrated Church Movement (FICM) assert that age segregated education, such as employed in youth ministries or Sunday schools, is not Biblical. As a matter of fact, Scott Brown, a well known FICM advocate and director of the National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) has at least twice challenged those who advocate some form of age segregated education that the burden of proof is on them and that they cannot meet it. Here is what he said in a November 25, 2009, NCFIC blog post entitled Burden of Proof for Age Segregation:
It is easy to prove the pattern of age integrated discipleship from Scripture. The entire fabric of scripture is woven with age integrated gatherings of God’s people. But it is almost impossible to prove the principle of age segregation. I have yet to hear a biblical case for age segregation. Why? Because it does not exist in Scripture. Therefore, the burden of proof for age segregation rests upon those who support it.
Then, in an August 30, 2011, NCFIC blog post entitled The Burden of Proof for Age Segregation, Brown restated the challenge and wrote:
The big question is this: "Where is the clear biblical proof for segregating the church by age?" This is where the burden of proof lies. Scripture shows what seems to be an almost exclusively age-integrated world for worship, instruction, prayer, and celebration. After many years, I have never seen a credible exegetical argument FOR age segregation. I have heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible.
The readers of the Reformed Baptist Blog will observe that I commented "a year ago" on the second of these two posts with a link to the first in a series of articles on this blog containing the very kind of Biblical argument that Brown says either has not or cannot be made. Here again are the links to all three articles:
Now, although I informed Brown in the aforesaid comment, and although I know he is aware of this blog (since he linked to it at least once here, in footnote 3), I don't think he noticed either the comment or the series as posted here. So, having just sent him a message through his church's website, I am also posting this article to let him know about the series and to invite his rebuttal. He says that he has "heard dozens of arguments for age segregation that are not based upon the Bible, but none that are grounded upon the Bible." However, since I have offered such Biblically grounded arguments here, I think it behooves him either to show that my arguments clearly are not Biblical or to revise his statements.

P.S. I have made a few minor edits of the articles linked above (15 August 2014).

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Removed From Acts 29 Network

On Friday the board of the Acts 29 Network of churches announced on their blog that Mark Driscoll and the Mars Hill Church which he co-founded have been removed from membership in the network. Here is the statement as it appeared on the blog
It is with deep sorrow that the Acts 29 Network announces its decision to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church from membership in the network. Mark and the Elders of Mars Hill have been informed of the decision, along with the reasons for removal. It is our conviction that the nature of the accusations against Mark, most of which have been confirmed by him, make it untenable and unhelpful to keep Mark and Mars Hill in our network. In taking this action, our prayer is that it will encourage the leadership of Mars Hill to respond in a distinctive and godly manner so that the name of Christ will not continue to be dishonored. 
The Board of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network 
Matt Chandler
Darrin Patrick
Steve Timmis
Eric Mason
John Bryson
Bruce Wesley
Leonce Crump 
With a "better late than never" sigh, I commend the board and the Acts 29 Network for their action, and I hope that their prayers on behalf of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church will be answered.

More details may be found here.

26 August 2014 Update

It has recently been reported that Twenty-One Former Mars Hill Church Pastors Bring Formal Charges Against Mark Driscoll. Apparently there are more and more witnesses coming forward in support of the decision made by the Acts 29 Network to remove Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church form their association.

2 September 2014 Update

It has recently been reported that Mark Driscoll will Step Down While Mars Hill Reviews Charges. The same article details the fallout in other ways. For example, Mars Hill canceled its fall Resurgence Conference, and "After Acts 29 removed Driscoll from its membership, LifeWay Christian Resources, the nation’s second largest Christian book retailer, pulled Driscoll’s books from its website and 186 stores."

Here is the video of Mark's statement before his church family, in which he discusses stepping down:



You can read the text of the statement here.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

James White Responds to the "Gay Christian" Movement




I hope all the blog's readers will watch these videos, because you will find no better, and no more Biblical, response to the issue than that set forth by Pastor James White.
 
I would also highly recommend reading The Same Sex Controversy: Defending and Clarifying the Bible's Message About Homosexuality by James White and Jeffrey Niell.
 
I regard James White to be the best and most Biblically sound Christian Apologist of our day, so I also encourage you all to check out his ministry website at Alpha and Omega Ministries, as well as his YouTube channel here.