Many people are not interested in heaven, caring only about their present happiness. But have they compared the lights of their liking to the true light of God’s Son? There is no light other than Jesus that can lead to true joy now or to eternal life in days to come: not money, adventure, or success; not the pride of morality; not the pleasure of sin. The only true light is Jesus Christ, and God in His grace sent Him into this world to be our Savior. What will happen to those who reject Him? How will God respond if they do not receive His Son, bowing the knee and opening their hearts to believe and be saved? As John declared, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36).
It is especially important that we never think that what we are doing for Christ is of ultimate importance. James Montgomery Boice warns us, “Whenever a Christian layman, minister, writer, teacher, or whoever it might be, gets to thinking that there is something important about him, he or she will always cease to be effective as Christ’s witness.” We also must never permit people to glorify us for what God has done in our lives. If people notice that you have changed, you should praise God and tell them that it was Jesus’ work, for they will gain what you have, not by admiring you, but only by believing on Jesus. In some cases, redirecting praise in this manner will result in people who previously admired you becoming hostile; the world hated Christ, and it will often hate a faithful witness to Him. But we must accept this risk so as to bear testimony not to ourselves but to Christ.
People have a lot of hard questions for the Christian faith. But why is it that, while there are some that we certainly give it our all to answer, there are others that Christians don’t seem to want to answer?
Why is that?
It’s (hopefully) not that we don’t want to give the answers, but it’s most likely that we don’t have the answers themselves.
That’s where The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask comes in. Author Mark Mittelberg, along with his publisher and the Barna Research group polled one thousand Christians asking them what questions they hoped no one would ask. The results came down to ten questions:
- What makes you so sure that God exists at all—especially when you can’t see, hear, or touch him?
- Didn’t evolution put God out of a job? Why rely on religion in an age of science and knowledge?
- Why trust the Bible, a book based on myths and full of contradictions and mistakes?
- Everyone knows that Jesus was a good man and a wise teacher—but why try to make him into the Son of God, too?
- How could a good God allow so much evil, pain, and suffering—or does he simply not care?
- Why is abortion such a line in the sand for Christians—why can’t I be left alone to make my own choices for my body?
- Why do you condemn homosexuality when it’s clear that God made gays and that he loves all people the same?
- How can I trust in Christianity when so many Christians are hypocrites?
- Why are Christians so judgmental toward everyone who doesn’t agree with them? [note: questions 8 & 9 are combined in one chapter]
- Why should I think that heaven really exists—and that God sends people to hell?
These are not questions with easy answers, and Mittelberg offers thoughtful responses to each, along with very helpful discussion aids and small group questions.
One of the things I appreciated about the book was the author’s ability to be speak plainly on some very complex subject matter. Particularly when speaking about subjects such as evolution, it can be very easy to get bogged down in language that is foreign to the average person. He also tries to be careful about letting his position on each answer be the only position. Again, using the example of evolution, he doesn’t simply provide one option, but several generally accepted Christian views. While I don’t know if I would agree his inclusion theistic evolution, Mittelberg keeps his eye on accessibility and that’s something that should be commended. [Read more…]
Title: Is the Bible True . . . Really?
Authors: Josh McDowell & Dave Sterrett
Publisher: Moody Publishers (2011)
Meet Nick. Nick grew up going to church, believed the Bible, and was generally a pretty good kid.
Then he went to college and met Dr. Peterson, his Religious Studies professor, a critical scholar of the New Testament who rocked his confidence in what he (Nick) had been taught about the Scriptures.
Is the Bible reliable? How can we really know that what we have today is really what was originally written? What do we do with all the variances in the manuscripts that exist?
Is the Bible true… really?
These are the questions that Nick was left facing. And they’re the same ones faced by all Christians today, especially those heading off to college where their faith will be severely tested. Without good answers to these questions—and many others—their faith will not stand.
That’s what inspired Josh McDowell and Dave Sterrett to write Is the Bible True . . . Really? In this book, the first in their Coffee House Chronicles series, the authors seek to equip and encourage readers as they follow Nick on his quest for the answers to the questions surrounding the reliability of the Bible.
By late January of his freshman year, Nick was a professing agnostic who put a lot of stock in the ideas popularized by the Zeitgeist movie that’s been making the rounds on YouTube for the last couple years and in books by Dan Brown and Bart Erhman.
So convinced is he that he decides to write a twenty-one page paper entitled The Plagiarism of the Bible: How the Bible Stole from Pagan Mythology. Hoping to get his teacher’s input, he instead meets Jamal Washington, Dr. Peterson’s new teaching assistant, a graduate from Dallas Theological Seminary (and former college football star). As he begins a friendship with Jamal, he finds his new-found agnosticism shattered as Jamal details the real facts surrounding the reliability of the Bible.
So what does Nick (and readers along with him) learn? [Read more…]
“Unapproachable, inaccessible in location or situation, untouched, untouchable, disconnected, unable to be met or out of touch. These are all words and descriptions given for yet another word: Unreached.”
HT: Justin Taylor
A couple years back, Piper was asked, “what could unravel the gospel-centered movement?”
His answer was insightful: The disconnect between the majesty of God and the way we entertain ourselves.
“There’s an awakening to the majesty of God around the country, a filling of hearts with God-centered, Christ-exalted, Bible-saturated songs . . . a zeal for truth and biblical doctrine . . . and I’m concerned that there’s a disconnect between the big thoughts of God and how we live our daily lives.”
I’ve been thinking hard about this for the last few days. Am I inconsistent in how I entertain myself? Probably. Am I seeking to be more consistent? I hope so.
If anything is going to be offensive about how I live, I want it to be the gospel.
How about you?
HT: Justin Taylor
I really appreciated this reminder from Driscoll in his recent sermon, Jesus vs. Fear.
The transcript follows:
See, if we believe that God loves us, then we believe that even if what’s happening to us isn’t good and holy and just, it’ll be used by a good, holy, and just God to teach us more about Jesus and to make us more like him. So we overcome fear of man with the love of God. God loves me. One way or another, he’s going to get me through.
And then Jesus closes with sort of the culminating big idea, that you overcome fear of man with the fear of God.
Luke 12:8–12, “And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man,” that’s a title of himself from Daniel. He uses it about eighty times. It means God become a man. “Also will acknowledge before the angels of God,” who will serve as the witnesses, “but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the one who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities,” the bullies are going to get you, you’re going to suffer at some point.
“Do not be anxious,” fear, fear, fear, fear, fear.
“Do not be anxious about how you should defend yourself or what you should say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
Here’s the big idea: fear of man or fear of God. Those are your options. There is no alternative.
Someone is the most important person. Someone is the biggest dominant personality in your life. Okay, if it’s someone other than Jesus, you have fear of man. You’re worshiping them. They’re your functional lord even if Jesus is your theological Lord.
Proverbs 29:25 again, “The fear of man is a trap or a snare.” It won’t work for them, it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work at all. The alternative is the fear of the Lord. Proverbs 1:7, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Before you can get anything straight in your life, you have to get straight who the Lord is. Jesus is Lord. The shortest confession of Christian belief is, has always been, Jesus is Lord.
It seems like everywhere you turn, people are asking the same question:
How do you work for justice without undermining evangelism?
Typically there are a couple of ways to answer the question. One camp suggests that we don’t need to evangelize until after the need has been met, if at all; that our focus should be eliminating extreme poverty or ending human trafficking. A cause is at the center instead of Christ.
The other tends to run to the opposite extreme, seeing any sort of social action as anathema to the Christian life.
Both extremes, obviously, are wrong. How, then, do you find a healthy, biblical middle-ground?
I’ve written about this a few times (here and here for example), but over at the Gospel Coalition last week, they examined the issue by posing the question to a number of wise pastors and theologians. Here’s a look at their insights:
1. By doing evangelism. I know numerous groups that claim to be engaging in “holistic” ministry because they are helping the poor in Chicago or because they are digging wells in the Sahel, even though few if any of the workers have taken the time to explain to anyone who Jesus is and what he has done to reconcile us to God. Their ministry isn’t holistic; it’s halfistic, or quarteristic.
2. By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation. The popular buzz is that evangelicals before this generation focused all their energies on proclamation and little or nothing on deeds of mercy. Doubtless one can find sad examples of such reductionism, but the sweeping condescension toward our evangelical forbears is neither true nor kind…
3. By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments. The gospel is the good news of what God has done, especially in Christ Jesus, especially in his cross and resurrection; it is not what we do. Because it is news, it is to be proclaimed. But because it is powerful, it not only reconciles us to God, but transforms us, and that necessarily shapes our behavior, priorities, values, relationships with people, and much more. These are not optional extras for the extremely sanctified, but entailments of the gospel. To preach moral duty without the underlying power of the gospel is moralism that is both pathetic and powerless; to preach a watered-down gospel as that which tips us into the kingdom, to be followed by discipleship and deeds of mercy, is an anemic shadow of the robust gospel of the Bible; to preach the gospel and social justice as equivalent demands is to misunderstand how the Bible hangs together.
4. By truly loving people in Jesus’ name—our neighbors as ourselves, doing good to all people, especially those of the household of faith. That necessarily includes the alleviation of suffering, both temporal and eternal. Christians interested in alleviating only eternal suffering implicitly deny the place of love here and now; Christians who [fail] to proclaim the Christ of the gospel of the kingdom while they treat . . . suffering here and now show themselves not really to believe all that the Bible says about fleeing the wrath to come. In the end, it is a practical atheism and a failure in love.
When it comes to worldviews, belief systems and religious practice, we live in an age of seemingly unparalleled and unlimited options. North Americans today enjoy meditation, practice yoga, and dabble in a variety of different religious practices as they seek to find something that brings meaning, purpose and fulfillment to their lives.
But according to Peter Jones, the choice is really much more simple: There’s the Truth and the Lie. And in One or Two: Seeing a World of Difference, Jones explains how our worldview affects our understanding of God, what we worship and our sexuality.
One or Two is an incredibly challenging read, especially in an age when it’s controversial to be anything but affirming of all beliefs and religions. Tolerance is seen as the highest of values in culture, and increasingly in the Church as well. So doctrinal distinction is downplayed; gender distinction is eliminated; social causes become the new mission of the Church… and eventually Christianity looks no different than anyone or anything else.
But according to Jones, this should not be. He writes, “Western culture . . . is being hijacked by a spiritual ideology that I call Neopaganism.” (p. 11) Neopaganism is at the heart of radical environmentalism, the more extreme elements of the social justice movement, and theological liberalism.
However, Jones writes, “If there is any hope for us in the twenty-first century, gorged as we are on materialism, One-ist pagan spiritualities, endless sensual fantasies and cock-eyed global utopian illusions, the old rabbi [the Apostle Paul] must speak to us again.” (pp. 13-14)
Jones builds his argument by carefully examining culture through the lens of Paul’s writing in Romans 1:24-25:
Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.
What we learn is that these words have, perhaps, rarely been more relevant than today. [Read more…]
In the above video, Pastors Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever and James MacDonald speak of the challenge of engaging in personal evangelism as pastors who spend a great deal of time with Christians. The dialogue is quite intriguing and well worth spending a few minutes watching.
After you’ve watched the video, consider the following questions:
- Does the gospel need to be shared in the every sermon? If so, why? If not, why not?
- Are you, whether you’re in vocational ministry or not, being proactive in seeking out non-Christians for the purpose of evangelism?
HT: Colin Hansen
In this video excerpt from his message at the recent 9Marks conference held at Southeastern Seminary, Matt Chandler describes “an epic beatdown”:
Here’s the story from Acts 19:11-20:
And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.
As Chandler notes, it’s interesting that the demon responds to the sons of Sceva, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?”
The question is revealing. Demons know Jesus—and shudder (cf. James 2:19). They know He is the Sovereign one who will, on the day of judgement, cast them all into hell.
They also recognize Paul. As Christ’s chosen instrument to reach the gentiles (cf. Acts 9:15), he is a known entity in the spiritual realm. He has power—because He believes.
But these guys…
They are sons of a Jewish high priest and itinerant exorcists.
Who don’t believe.
“I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims,” they declare; they treat the power of Christ in the life of a believer like a magic spell.
And the demons, instead of turning tail, turned on them.
And after that, by God’s grace, the gospel exploded in Ephesus.
When you look at a passage like this, it can be challenging to see what application we can make. As I’ve been reading it, one clear, practical application jumps to mind:
In our pursuits, in our passions, are we really, truly all about Jesus—His glory, His fame, His majesty, His gospel—or do we use His name like an incantation?
Do you want to use His name to further your agenda…
Or is He your agenda?
The challenge here is that the answer reveals something of our hearts. If we’re using Christ’s name to further our agenda—even for a great cause like helping people who live in poverty, freeing young girls from the sex trade or setting up an after-school program for kids in inner-city neighborhoods—and the agenda is not, clearly, overtly that we want people to love and serve Jesus… we might wind up no better off than the sons of Sceva.
It’s scary to think about, but we can pursue God-honoring things in a way that is insulting to Him. When we rely on our own ability, when we make our cause, our movement, our agenda the main thing. When we pursue our glory instead of God’s.
So, today as you go through the day, rely on Christ, not on your own ability.
Glory in Christ, not in your own cause.
You never know, you could see the gospel explode where you are.
Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.
“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.
We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”
These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.
He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Over the last few weeks I’ve read a number of books that have, in various ways, touched on the issue of being salt & light in our communities and the world, whether it’s overseas missions, supporting NGOs that are assisting the poor, or serving your community in practical ways. This is great stuff to be thinking about.
We, in all honesty, need to be thinking about how we can be a faithful witness for Christ every day—and then finding ways to do it.
Without losing our saltiness in the process.
One of the things that’s been particularly interesting as I’ve been reading books like Outlive Your Life, The Hole in Our Gospel, stuff by Francis Chan and even Radical by David Platt is the real challenge that exists in not turning caring for the poor or overseas missions or having more greater explosive spiritual experiences into a means of justification.
In other words, it’s really, really hard for us to keep straight the gospel and it’s ramifications.
This is, to some degree, what we see when we’re warned about losing our saltiness.
In social justice circles, there’s a lot of work that’s motivated by faith in Christ—but that’s the only place Christ has. Motivation.
His name is not spoken. His greatness is not proclaimed.
“Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words” is the rallying cry.
And we are, ultimately, only left having done good deeds.
I know how hard this is.
I write for a Christian charity that partners with the local church in the developing world to meet the practical and spiritual needs of children. And it’s always difficult to keep the message on track—to keep the gospel the focus, rather than making supporters superheroes or turning children into statistics because that might “sell” better than saying, “we do what we do because we want kids to meet Jesus.”
And I don’t want to sound like I’m slagging other folks who are doing tremendous work, but we have to remember: doing good things is not the gospel. And it’s not being a witness to the gospel, either.
We witness to the gospel when we share the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection—and let our good works serve as a response to that.
Then, people may “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).
But that’s the goal. If we are to be salt and light, then we have to know the gospel.
We have to embrace the gospel.
We need to be transformed by the gospel.
And we need to proclaim the gospel.
Good works aren’t bad, but they’re not the gospel.
When we get the gospel wrong, everything else goes wrong with it. But if we get the gospel right, it’s a glorious thing indeed.
I believe it is a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented at to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.
Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 163)