The kind of fundamentalist I want to be

the fundamentals

With the exception of a few “badge of honor” types, no one really likes to be called a fundamentalist these days. But that’s really just because we use it as the dirtiest Christian cuss-word we can think of—as a pejorative or conversation killer. There’s an image of the fundamentalist as a joyless, angry, fire-and-brimstone preaching, King James reading, hymns-only singing cranky pants who has his tie just a bit too tight on Sunday mornings.

And while there are some who probably fit the stereotype a bit too closely, we really only think this way because we’ve actually forgotten that being a fundamentalist is a good thing. We should absolutely be fundamentalists—at least about the fundamentals of the Christian faith.

So what are the fundamentals? What are the things that make Christians Christian?

There are a number of formulations, but I believe the best place to look is to two ancient creeds: the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creeds. These were two of the earliest formulations of Christian doctrine, and so they have much to say about any discussion of fundamentals of the faith.

The Apostles’ Creed summarizes the fundamentals this way:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
the Maker of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord:

Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, dead, and buried;

He descended into hell.

The third day He arose again from the dead;

He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Here we have a few basics: we have God himself, that is his nature (the Trinity) and his character—the maker of heaven and earth and the author of salvation. We have Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, and born of a virgin, who was crucified and rose again, and now sits at the right hand of God, from which he will return to judge the living and the dead. We have the Church, both universal and local, and the future promise of the resurrection to new life in the new creation. In other words:

  1. God as Trinity—Father, Son and Holy Spirit
  2. The virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The atoning death, resurrection, and eternal lordship of Jesus
  4. The centrality of the Church (as what we are saved into)
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)

In the Nicene Creed, we have something similar:

I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.

Who, for us men and for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.

And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.

And I believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

The Nicene Creed provides essentially the same formula, but makes explicit one element that is assumed in the Apostles’ Creed: the authority of the Scriptures. So from it we get:

  1. God’s nature and character
  2. Jesus’ virgin birth and divine nature
  3. The work of Christ (perfect life, atoning death, resurrection and eternal lordship)
  4. The Church
  5. Christ’s future judgment (resurrection of the living and the dead, heaven and hell)
  6. The authority of the Scriptures (for all of this was “according to the Scriptures”)

Later groups would again redefine these fundamentals, sometimes with as few as three points (as I offered in my book, Contend, which condenses a few of the essentials seen in the creeds together), or as many as 90, as in Torrey et. al’s The Fundamentals. But they all come back to what we see in the Creeds. And where we choose to narrow down, it tends to be in relation to Jesus specifically, such as highlighting the historical reality of his miracles, the miraculous nature of his birth and his bodily resurrection—all the stuff that tends to be heavily under fire in our day and in every era.

But fundamentally, everything comes back to these six points we get from these two ancient creeds.

And this is what we have to remember: without these key truths, there is no Christianity. 

We need the Trinity, as confusing as it can be. We need the true gospel message—including all the sticky bits that make us seem like weirdos (because, y’know, they’re weird). We need the Church, both the reality of the universal invisible body and the local communion of the saints. We need the promise of Christ’s future judgment and final victory over sin and death as it’s what gives us hope. And we absolutely need the Scriptures—in all their inspired, inerrant glory—because without them, we have no clue about any of this stuff at all!

These are the fundamentals of the faith. 

And if believing these things is what it means to be a fundamentalist, sign me up!

Truth is always timeless (and timely)

Truth

Sometimes I wonder why certain books and authors remain favorites over the course of decades or centuries. But the answer really isn’t that difficult to discern. Certain books are just as relevant today as they were when they were written because, though the trappings may change, the truth contained within hasn’t.

Truth is always timeless. It’s also timely.

This is especially true when we consider our ongoing debates about sexuality. Do conservative or traditional views of marriage, gender and sexuality hinder human flourishing and happiness? Is it repressive to believe that marriage is meant to be between one man and one woman? Is the way to be freed from this feeling of guilt and shame we feel to be more open and expressive?

Consider these words from C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity:

…you and I, for the last twenty years, have been fed all day long on good solid lies about sex. We have been told, till one is sick of hearing it, that sexual desire is in the same state as any of our other natural desires and that if only we abandon the silly Victorian idea of hushing it up, everything in the garden will be lovely. It is not true. The moment you look at the facts, and away from the propaganda, you see that it is not.

They tell you sex has become a mess because it was hushed up. But for the last twenty years it has not been. It has been chattered about all day long. Yet it is still a mess. If hushing up had been the cause of the trouble, ventilation would have set it right. But it has not…

Modern people are always saying “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of.” They may mean “There is nothing to be ashamed of in the fact that the human race reproduces itself in a certain way, nor in the fact that it gives pleasure.” If they mean that, they are right. Christianity says the same… But, of course, when people say, “Sex is nothing to be ashamed of,” they may mean “the state into which the sexual instinct has now got is nothing to be ashamed of.”

If they mean that, I think they are wrong.1

Lewis wrote about the hyper-sexualizing of society in his day with the same terms that are used today.

It’s funny, for all our talk of being sexually repressed as a society, anyone who has gone into a mall or turned on the TV or tried to eat a sandwich would likely say otherwise. Sex is inescapable in our culture. I can’t go to the mall without being exposed to 9 feet wide images of scantily clad ladies. Why?

Because there’s a sale on bras.

I can barely get through an entire movie aimed at my children without finding numerous suggestive jokes peppered into the dialogue. Why? Because we don’t want the adults to get bored.

But has our society gotten any better in the last twenty years of over-stimulation?

We are seeing more marriages and families than ever devastated by pornography, by adultery, by the idols of (temporary) personal happiness and immediate gratification. You can have bus signs advertising phone-sex lines, run billboards for adultery services, and create apps that facilitate it and one even blinks. We’re all well aware of the unprecedented transformation of western values regarding same-sex relationships, the redefinition of marriage, the irrelevancy of biological gender…

So Lewis’ words have never been more relevant. Their message is urgent. And the urgency grows the longer the message goes unheeded. Lewis’ point was that sexuality will continue to be confused the longer we attempt to define and redefine it to fit our current proclivities. We continue to feel ashamed because we are ashamed. This is the image of God within us at work against us.

And the solution is not to continue to lull our conscience into submission. That only leads to a greater sense of despair. Instead, the answer can be found only one way: by recognizing the truth. By heeding the message that Lewis wrote more than 60 years ago. By rediscovering the wisdom of generations past, and maybe even heeding their warnings. By embracing the truth—because truth is always timeless. And it is always timely.


A much earlier version of this post was published in 2009. But don’t read that one, because it’s terrible.

God’s Word is our ultimatum

spurgeon

Certain errant spirits are never at home till they are abroad: they crave for a something which I think they will never find, either in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth, so long as they are in their present mind. They never rest, for they will have nothing to do with an infallible revelation; and hence they are doomed to wander throughout time and eternity, and find no abiding city. For the moment they glory as if they were satisfied with their last new toy; but in a few months it is sport to them to break in pieces all the notions which they formerly prepared with care, and paraded with delight. They go up a hill only to come down again. Indeed they say that the pursuit of truth is better than truth itself. They like fishing better than the fish; which may very well be true, since their fish are very small, and very full of bones. These men are as great at destroying their own theories as certain paupers are at tearing up their clothes. They begin again de novo, times without number: their house is always having its foundation digged out. They should be good at beginnings; for they have always been beginning since we have known them. They are as the rolling thing before the whilrwind, or ‘like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,’ Although their cloud is not that cloud which betokened the divine presence, yet it is always moving before them, and their tents are scarcely pitched before it is time for the stakes to be pulled up again. These men are not even seeking certainty; their heaven lies in shunning all fixed truth, and following every will-o’-the-wisp of speculation: they are ever learning, but they never come to a knowledge of the truth.

As for us, we cast anchor in the heaven of the Word of God. Here is our peace, our strength, our life, our motive, our hope, our happiness. God’s Word is our ultimatum. Here we have it. Our understanding cries, ‘I have found it'; our conscience asserts that here is the truth; and our heart finds here a support to which all her affections can cling; and hence we rest content.

Charles Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World, 40-42

Links I like

Be Bold Enough to Follow the Truth As Far as It Takes You

Jared Wilson:

Given what is taking place in the world today, do we have any indications that to follow Christ will become more and more comfortable? The Bible Belt, long the cultural bastion of “biblical values,” has long been heading toward the spiritual ruins of post-Christendom. Cultural Christianity is wasting away. And the outside world is becoming more and more hostile to the things of faith. Even some professing Christians are becoming hostile to those who will not move according to the shifting winds of the culture. And if God is doing anything in ordaining these cultural shifts to come to pass, it may be this: We are finding out who the real Christians are. (Even today, some are announcing in anger and embarrassment that they will never again call themselves evangelical, to which we must respond with all sincerity and soberness, “Thank you.”)

My shelves are full of mentors

Kyle Worley:

We live in a day where there is greater access to Christian resources than ever before. Long gone are the days where monks would hand copy a single book that was reserved for the wealthiest landowner in the county. Websites will deliver books at low cost right to your door. You can immediately download sermons from preachers across the globe, and seminaries have made excellent content freely available online.

If you have been struggling with finding a mentor, let me give you three suggestions.

The Truth of the Cross 

Ligonier Ministries’ free book of the month is the audio edition ofR.C. Sproul’s The Truth of the Cross. Go get it!

Pretty much the only funny April Fool’s joke this year

Well done, Westjet:

Great books to encourage weary moms

Westminster Books has some terrific deals on books for moms, including the latest from Gloria Furman. Go check it out!

10 Lessons I Learned From My Mistakes in Preaching

Kevin DeYoung shares 10 lessons he’s learned in a lecture at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary:

  1. Beware of preaching all your battles from seminary.
  2. Be careful with offhanded comments.
  3. Be yourself.
  4. Remember there are different kinds of people listening.
  5. Don’t let personal conflict creep into your message.
  6. Make sure your best stuff is from the text.
  7. Be a pastor for the whole church, not just part of it.
  8. Don’t give them the whole elephant.
  9. Root for others and don’t compare.
  10. Tell your congregation you love them and are glad to be their pastor.

HT: Justin Taylor

Where is Jesus Christ?

Jesus-Reaching-Out

photo: iStock

At the Christmas break in 1963, I brought home to the Ottawa area a friend I had come to know and enjoy at the university I was attending. Mohammed Yousuf Guraya was a Pakistani, a devout Muslim, a gentle and sensitive friend. He was trying to win me to Islam; I was trying to win him to Christ. He had started to read the Gospel of John when I took him to visit the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa. We enjoyed a guided tour of those majestic structures and learned something of their history and symbolism. Our group had reached the final foyer when the guide explained the significance of the stone figurines sculpted into the fluted arches. One he pointed to represented Moses, designed to proclaim that government turns on law.

“Where is Jesus Christ?” Guraya asked with his loud, pleasant voice, his white teeth flashing a brilliant smile behind his black beard.

“I don’t understand,” the guide stammered.

“Where is Jesus Christ?” Guraya pressed, a trifle more slowly, a little more loudly, enunciating each word for fear his accent had rendered his question incomprehensible.

The tourists in our group appeared to be embarrassed. I simultaneously chortled inwardly, wondering what was coming next, and wondered if I should intervene or keep my counsel.

“I don’t understand,” the guide repeated, somewhat baffled, somewhat sullen. “What do you mean? Why should Jesus be represented here?”

Guraya replied, somewhat astonished himself now: “I read in your Holy Book that the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. Where is Jesus Christ?

I think my friend Guraya had felt the impact of John’s Gospel more deeply than I had. It is in line with the framework of John’s prologue (1:1–18), where the eternal Word becomes the incarnate Word, that Jesus himself claims, “I am the truth.”

D. A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus: An Exposition of John 14–17 (28-29)

Book Review: Journey to Truth by George F. Garlick

journeytruth_500

Title: Journey to Truth: How Scientific Discovery Provides Insights into Spiritual Truths
Author: George F. Garlick, Ph.D
Publisher: VMI Publishers (2009)

For years there’s been much hoopla over the apparent conflict between science and Biblical truth.

One extreme says that science is absolute, that all we can know is what we can see and measure empirically. Miracles aren’t possible. We are, essentially, cosmic accidents. The other extreme completely ignores the reality that science has anything to legitimately offer in terms of understanding how the world and humanity were created and designed to function.

However, neither position is intellectually honest. Neither leads to a complete understanding of truth. But is there really as great a divide as some make it seem?

In The Journey to Truth, author George Garlick seeks to show how science offers insight into Biblical truth. Garlick, a physicist who pioneered holographic ultrasound technology, blends science, theology and a dash of biography in this short book. To be honest, I found the results to be somewhat mixed.

A Compassionate Man

His personal stories provided a great deal of insight into his character, which I greatly appreciated. The last chapter—where he speaks of being compelled to stop and pick up two young men on the Interstate and trying to restore the vitality of his hometown—reveals a man who is deeply compassionate and wants to use the gifts he’s been given for the good of others and the glory of God.

The Curse of Knowledge

It’s very obvious reading this book that Garlick is a scientist. He provides in-depth descriptions of various scientific theories related to the creation of the universe, time/space and more. And he describes them in such a way that makes it clear that he obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Which is good, because I don’t. This is what is known as “the curse of knowledge.”[1] Those with knowledge describe what they’re talking about in such a way that either

  1. only those who share this knowledge will understand; or
  2. the illustration becomes bogged in over-communication as the writer seeks to bring the reader up to the same level of knowledge

More often than not, I found myself scratching my head and wondering if there might be another way of communicating this same point. Perhaps it’s because I’m not a big science-guy. I did well in it in school, but it was never my passion.

I’m guessing that someone who really loves quantum mechanics and quirks & quarks would completely understand what Garlick is talking about in roughly half the book, but I was left a bit in the dark. This, unfortunately, made for some hard slogging in the middle chapters of The Journey to Truth.

Truth & the God of the Bible

So how does scientific discovery point us to Biblical truth? Throughout the book, Garlick provides some intriguing insights that point to the truth that this universe didn’t accidentally happen. Scientific discovery, when honestly looked at, reveals to us what God has plainly made known. We know that He is a God of order, given how intricately detailed our bodies and this world are. We know that He is infinitely powerful because only a being of infinite power could cause everything to come from nothing.

What Garlick is describing is the truth of Romans 1:18-20:

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

On page 40, Garlick illustrates this in a very interesting way. Imagine a mountain where one side is perfectly smooth and the other is jagged. The smooth side is what the Bible reveals. The other is science. Both, Garlick says, eventually come to the same conclusion. Eventually scientists will reach the top of the mountain of truth and find a bunch of theologians already waiting there.

As glad as I am that he makes this point, there’s so much more that can be said because this is really only dealing with general revelation, rather than special revelation.

If the mountain is God’s general revelation (natural theology as some describe it), then this is a very apt metaphor. However, it can only really tell us that there is a God who created the world and everything in it, but it can’t tell us all that much about Him.

Science can tell us a great deal about the “how” of God’s creative act, but not the “why.”

But it doesn’t speak to our condition as sinners. And it doesn’t speak to our need of a Savior.

These are things that there are no scientific categories for.

The Journey to Truth provides some helpful insights, but ultimately it left me feeling a bit cold. While some, particularly those who really enjoy science, will undoubtedly enjoy it, it’s not a book that resonated well with me.

[1] This concept is described in-depth in Chip & Dan Heath’s excellent book, Made to Stick


A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review by Bring it On Communications

Brothers, We Are Not Figure Skaters

Phil Johnson provided this nugget at the 2010 Shepherd’s Conference in his message, “Marching Orders for a Backslidden Church.” It’s quite insightful.

HT: Nathan Bingham

Discrediting the Truth

discrediting-the-truth

As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and a brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.

Acts 16:16:18

Reading this passage got me thinking: What’s one of the easiest ways to discredit the truth?

With a false witness.

Paul, Silas and Luke are in Philippi, where they were to do ministry. Meanwhile, this slave girl with a “spirit of divination” shows up (read: she’s a demon possessed fortune-teller), and starts following them and shouting that “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”

The thing that’s interesting is she’s telling the truth.

They are servants of the Most High God, and they are there to proclaim to the Philippians the way of salvation.

She does this solely to hinder their work.

This girl, a slave, has made her owners rich with her fortune-telling. No doubt she’d have something of a reputation for being accurate. So by following them and telling the truth about who they are, she could very easily be assumed to be part of Paul’s team.

Sneaky, isn’t it? [Read more…]

Timeless Truth: Mere Christianity

In my quest to read every book in the universe this year (perhaps I’m exaggerating, perhaps not), I’ve been reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis.

Sometimes I wonder why certain books and authors remain favorites over the course of decades or centuries. But the answer really isn’t that difficult to discern. The reason that certain books are just as relevant today as they were when they were written is they are full of timeless truth. C.S. Lewis’ works, particularly his theological writings like Mere Christianity, address humanity’s state before, and relationship with, God in a way that is no less frank today than it was more than 60 years ago when first penned.

Take these words on human sexuality, for example: [Read more…]

Book Review: The Truth War

truth-war-macarthur

One of my favorite books of the New Testament is Jude. This very short letter, in many ways, shows just how much control the Holy Spirit had over the authors of Scripture, in that Jude wanted to write about one thing, but felt compelled to write about something entirely different. He says in v. 2-3, “although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

Why do I bring this up? Because in writing The Truth War, John MacArthur seeks to carry out the command to contend for the faith.

As a Bible teacher, there are few that surpass MacArthur. He knows how to handle the Scriptures well and carefully. In reading the book, you can feel a deep love for doctrine, for the truth of the Word, and it’s a great thing—indeed, I think we would all do well to learn from his example in this regard.

But truth and sound doctrine aren’t things that are highly regarded or desired, according to MacArthur (and a quick perusal of iTunes and any bookstore’s “Christianity” section would agree with his assessment).

“The idea that the Christian message should be kept pliable and ambiguous seems especially attractive to young people who are in tune with the culture and in love with the spirit of the age and can’t stand to have authoritative biblical truth applied with precision as a corrective to worldly lifestyles, unholy minds, and ungodly behavior. And the poison of this perspective is being increasingly injected into the evangelical church body” (Introduction, xi).

There is an idea that you’re more mature and holy be being ambiguous or uncertain about what you believe, but, MacArthur rightly states, this is by definition a kind of unbelief, and “[r]efusing to acknowledge and defend the reveald truth of God is a particularly stubborn and pernicious kind of unbelief” (ibid).

MacArthur sets the stage for his critique of the Emerging/Emergent Church movement discussing the rise of postmodernism (which is really just repackaged existentialism), and its “tendency to dismiss the possibility of any sure and settled knowledge of the truth” (p. 10), because “the subjectivity of the human mind makes knowledge of objective truth impossible” (p. 11).  But Scripture disagrees with this idea, as Jesus said “I am…the Truth” (John 14:6).

As I read through the book, I found I could easily relate with most every critique and concern that was raised. The idea of looking at the Bible as a human product, as Rob Bell sees it, is terrifying and foolish. The idea that we’re to “search for a kind of truth” and that doctrinal distinctives are of “marginal” value, as Brian McLaren says in A Generous Orthodoxy, will surely lead to a shipwrecked faith. That the atoning death of Christ on the cross was an act of divine child abuse, as many, including McLaren, have written in the past is nothing short of blasphemous and damnable error.

But while I read, I also felt myself grating against his words. Honestly, I’m not sure if it’s because I have never experienced pastors contending for the faith by speaking against error, or if it’s something else. One passage in particular hit me a bit close to home:

Sound doctrine? Too arcane for the average churchgoer. Biblical exposition? That alienates the ‘unchurched.’ Clear preaching on sin and redemption? Let’s be careful not to subvert the self-esteem of hurting people” (p. 150).

I read this and it stung, because I’ve heard very similar words from some people that I know well, who are in my prayers more frequently than ever.

While I think that MacArthur does a terrific job outlining his concerns, I have to wonder if his painting of all “contextualization” as worldliness is a bit too broad? Everything—from the Scriptures themselves, to our clothes, to our methodology in church—is contextualized. But using methods that make sense for 2009 doesn’t mean you have to compromise on doctrine. That speaking in everyday vernacular means you’re selling short the gospel. I have to wonder if maybe he’s throwing out the baby with the bathwater on this issue? I honestly don’t know, though. Perhaps I’m reading in something that’s not there.

Additionally, there are a couple of men addressed briefly in his critique—Rick Warren and Mark Driscoll—who at the very least are being implicitly labeled as false teachers, which is not a fair assessment of either man. The comments about Driscoll are based on his over-hyped reputation as “the cussing pastor” as described in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz. Do I affirm everything that Mark Driscoll or Rick Warren does as good and right and true? Heck no! But it seems unwise and uncharitable to put them in the same category as some of the other gentlemen MacArthur critiques in this book.

Bottom line: Would I recommend The Truth War? Yes. The biblical principles espoused are rock solid and the message is sound: Contend for the faith. Where I would caution any reader is on his critique of other pastors and teachers. Do not build your entire opinion of any of these men solely on the opinions of MacArthur; do your homework and avoid straw-men.

Purchase a copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.ca