Book Plunge: Why Christianity Is Not True Chapter 3

Do we have a problem with evangelism? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

We’re going through David Pye’s book again and looking at chapter 3 on evangelism and eternity. I consider this chapter to be a weak argument for what it sets out to prove, but hard-hitting for the content. I am still really considering sharing this in some Christian groups to get us all to remember why we do what we do.

At the start, Pye says that Christians believe someone is either a Christian or lost by default. I think it is more likely they are, but there is the question of those who never heard and Christians have different answers to that. My answer is that God will judge us based on the light that we have. The judge of all the Earth will do right.

Pye goes on to say about evangelism that

Both the evangelistic crusades of the past and the Alpha course of today are, I believe, significant evidence against Christianity being true. If Christianity were true we would expect to see Christians integrating into their lives what they say they believe – sharing the Gospel with their relatives, friends, neighbours and work colleagues. In which case neither the Evangelistic crusades of the past nor the Alpha course of today would have been necessary.

This is a giant non sequitur. Let’s consider how we could put this in a logical form.

Christians are supposed to evangelize.
Christians do not evangelize like they should.
Therefore, Jesus did not rise from the dead.

There are any number of reasons why Christians do not do this, many of them bad. Also, keep in mind that knowing what it is we should do doesn’t seem to lead to us doing it many times. Many of us know about diet and exercise from our doctors, but we don’t do it. Many of us know that we are to treat our neighbor better, but we don’t do it.

If you want to show Christianity is not true, you have to show that Jesus did not rise. You can show Christians aren’t following their marching orders, but that only says something about Christians. It doesn’t say anything about Christianity. Keep in mind that Pye bases this on what he sees in the U.K. There is nothing about data in third world countries, especially those where doing evangelism can lead to execution.

From here, Pye goes through a list of reasons why people don’t evangelize. One of the first ones is that they want their lives to be the witness. I agree that this is a flimsy excuse. Some people do that and no one ever asks them anything. You have to lead a radically, radically different life for this to work.

Generally, in face to face relationships, I try to get to know the person first and then try to weave my way into any openings. I’m not as good at face to face which is why most of my work is done on the internet. There is a fine line. You don’t want to be obnoxious where people think you shove Christianity down their throats, but you don’t want to be totally silent so people have no clue you’re a Christian.

The second reason is that some people say God hasn’t called them to evangelize. I think this is weak as well. Do you have the Great Commission in your Bible? That’s part of your marching orders. I agree with Pye that it is tiresome to hear people talking about doing what they feel called to do or led to do, this without any Scriptural warrant.

I used to attend a church and when the offering would go around, the pastor would say “Give as you feel led.” Part of me wanted to be sarcastic and put a penny in and say “That’s what I felt God was leading me to give.” I suspect I would have been told I wasn’t listening. Just because we have the Holy Spirit doesn’t change that we are to follow wisdom, such as in Proverbs. If you want to know about giving, read a passage like 2 Cor. 8-9.

It’s also amazing how often these “signs” that people follow coincide with what they already want to do. This is not to say God cannot do something like this, but we should not expect it to be normative. I agree with Pye. This is often an excuse and giving divine authority to our feelings is dangerous.

A third reason is that God is in control. After all, if God wants them saved, He’ll do it. Even many of the staunchest Calvinists today would say God will do it, but He’ll do it through evangelism. I also wonder if Christians will do this in other areas. Need food? Don’t go to the grocery store. God will give you food if He wants you to eat. Don’t put on your seat belt when you drive. God will keep you safe if He wants you to live.

Pye shares a verse from a poem about this.

Christ has no hands but our hands to do His work today
He has no feet but our feet to lead men in the way
He has no tongue but our tongue to tell men how He died
He has no help but our help to bring them to His side

There is also the adage that goes back to Augustine of to pray as if everything depended on God and work as if it all depended on you. It would be wonderful for an Arminian to have the confidence in the sovereignty of God that many Calvinists do. It would be wonderful if many Calvinists thought they absolutely had to do evangelism like Arminians do.

The fourth is about the leading of the Holy Spirit and identical enough to the second that we need say nothing more.

The fifth is that people already know the Gospel. Many of them do, but many who think they do also misrepresent it and not necessarily intentionally. We should not presume that someone does.  Many Christians I think don’t even really know the Gospel.

A final reason is that it’s better not to have heard than to hear and reject and be lost. I consider this quite flimsy. I don’t think it even deserves a response if a Christian treats this seriously.

There are other reasons though. Sometimes people don’t know what to say. Sometimes they don’t know what could turn a person off. For this, I honestly think the church needs some classes on evangelism.

Finally, we end with some questions on Hell. Now my perspective on Hell is different from many others. I also think there are degrees of suffering in Hell and degrees of reward in Heaven. This is a complex question and simple answers won’t do.

I also agree with Pye that we should take no delight in people being in Hell. If it weren’t for the grace of God, it would be us. Moody is once said to have said that if you speak on Hell, you’d better have tears in your eyes. I sometimes see Christians say eternity is a long time to be wrong. If someone says that, they’d better think about what that means.

Pye presents two scenarios then:

(i) A 65 year old Christian, Clive, is retiring from the job he has been in for the last 30 years. On his final day there is a presentation to him and he is shown a great deal of warmth and affection. Likewise Clive feels a deep love for his colleagues who he’s spent so much time with and with whom he’s been through many good times and bad times – challenges, disappointments, joys, successes. None of these colleagues are Christians.

A few days later, alone at home, Clive reflects about the eternal destiny of these people who he worked with and loves. Can it really be that they are condemned? he wonders. Can it really be that they’re destined for hell? Surely not? He imagines himself in heaven with the knowledge that these dear people are suffering in hell.“Would I be able to enjoy heaven in those circumstances?” he asks himself. He vaguely wonders whether he should at some point have tried sharing the Gospel with any of them.

Then he reflects further: “‘For your thoughts are not my thoughts’ saith the Lord.” With a deep sigh Clive reflects “Who am I to argue against the Word of God? Who am I to think that I can judge better than God what the consequences of unforgiven sin should be?”

And with this he makes himself a cup of coffee and switches on the TV.

Clive is pathetic and might I add misusing a text of Scripture. No Christian should applaud what Clive is doing. Many of us wouldn’t, but in many cases we do act like Clive.

He then gives a second story

(ii) A man, Donald, goes through his working life employed in a factory. He is a decent man, hard-working and honest. At 20 he marries his childhood sweetheart and they go on to have 3 children. Life is hard. Donald’s health is poor but he rarely misses a day’s work. He and his family constantly struggle to make ends meet. People who know Donald see him as a devoted husband and father, a man who is kind, reliable and trustworthy. Family life is happy and joyful despite the lack of money.

Donald retires aged 65 but within a year he has a heart attack and dies. In his life Donald never became a Christian.

Pye asks how we feel about this, but really, does that matter? I don’t feel good about many things in the world, but that doesn’t mean anything about them. Reality doesn’t change depending on my feelings.

On the other hand, would Pye prefer the more Islamic system of angels recording good deeds and bad deeds and you’d better hope the good outweighs the bad? How is this system not arbitrary? Who decides how many points X is worth for good and how many points are deducted for Y? How do we know the point system?

The reality is God gave a non-arbitrary system. Perfection is the requirement. He also offers to pay it for us. Donald did do good things, but how did He treat the greatest good out there and if Christianity is true, God is the greatest good. Does one spurn God and say they will go their own way? The thing about Pye’s system is really God is irrelevant to it. That’s not a Christian system at all. Of course, Pye is not a Christian, but how could this system be compatible with Christianity?

The next chapter will be about faith. I have my concerns about how that will go, but we will see.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Turn Or Burn?

What kind of choice is that? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In my last post, I wrote about the claim that God is petty. I was told I did not say much about the turn and burn aspect often given. I thought I had, but just to make sure, let’s address that. We’re often told that God is often saying to His creation “Love me or burn!” Few of us would call that love.

I don’t think I need to say much on how few conservative scholars today think that passages about Hell being a fire and brimstone place need to be interpreted in a literalistic way. Hence, if I see someone speaking in this kind of language, I know I’m talking to someone who has not read the best material on the topic. Still, that doesn’t mean it’s all a cakewalk in Hell.

Also, most don’t think that all suffering in Hell is equal nor is all joy in Heaven equal. Everyone will ultimately get a treatment that is fair. No one will be able to legitimately say that they were wronged on the day of judgment.

The problem with this choice is it’s not really accurate. The person assumes in the argument that they have done nothing that deserves any sort of punishment whatsoever. Yet if God is real, then something has been done.

I happen to think Romans 1 is accurate and it tells us that there’s enough evidence in creation alone for us to know that God is real. This doesn’t mean that there’s evidence in creation alone that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who rose from the dead. You need history for that.

Also, the more one knows about this God, the greater the culpability one has, but there is the question of how do we respond to this evidence. Do we turn and seek the one the evidence is pointing to or do we just ignore it and take light explanations and do what we want? The people in Romans 1 chose to deny that the creator was supreme and treated things that were created like they were the supreme.

For we Christians, we should fear the judgment the most because we claim to know the most about God and have the greatest revelation of God making our sin all the worst. I have often compiled a list of attributes of God we deny when we sin. Let’s go through it again.

We deny His omnipotence when we deny He has the power to bring about judgment.
We deny His omniscience when we say we know better than He does.
We deny his love when we say He’s holding out on what is good for us.
We deny His omnipresence when we say He does not see what we do.
We deny His authority when we say we have the right to rule over our lives.

In essence, we are committing divine treason every time. This is a serious charge. Even if we don’t have the revelation of Christ, everyone knows that we do not live the way we ought. We all have ways we need to improve. Interestingly, it’s often the further we get on the path of virtue that we realize how far off we are on the path.

If this is true, then the offer is not turn or burn. At least, it’s not in the way presented. It’s not, if you do not want to be with me, then you will burn. It’s more just an offer to be come and be a part of the family of God.

In the Old Testament, there’s a story about Mephibosheth, who was the grandson of Saul and the son of Jonathan. In the ninth chapter of 2 Samuel we read about him. David wanted to show kindness to someone in Saul’s family. He was not required to. It’s not as if he was up for reelection and he wanted a good gesture to be done to win the favor of the people that the media would like. He did it just to show kindness.

Something interesting in this passage is three times you find a reference to eating at the King’s table. This is a message of grace entirely. Mephibosheth did nothing to earn this. It was all a gift.

The offer is really great. Not only does God forgive us, when we have done nothing to deserve that forgiveness, but He makes us a part of His royal family and allows us to eat at His table and we’re given all the rights of a son. It is a horrible misrepresentation from atheism and the exact opposite of the real scenario.

The problem presented is a false one. Of course, there are other issues and those could be dealt with. For now, turn or burn just doesn’t work. Present instead the real offer of grace.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

 

Are People Inherently Good?

Are we inherently good? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I want to say at the outset that much of my thinking on this is influenced by Clay Jones’s book Why Does God Allow Evil? I would like to say the thinking was all mine, but it was not. I am near the end of Jones’s book and I do hope to review it when the time comes.

Saturday while I was out driving I heard the end of a radio talk show asking if people are good or evil inherently. I tried to call in and answer, but they never got around to me. Since I didn’t get to say what I think on the air, why not say it here?

After the flood, we are told that humans have their every inclination to evil. We all know that a child has to be trained to be good. Being evil is something that seems to come naturally to us. Why do we not often notice this? It is because we live in a culture that has been so Christianized that we no longer consider how radical the Christian ethic was at its time. Today, we look at slavery as something that is just obviously wrong. Go back to the first century Roman Empire and try to convince your average citizen of that. Good luck.

One point Jones brings out is about genocide. Who are the people who do genocide? We would normally think of these people, probably from watching movies and TV shows, as the classical villains who do nothing but think about evil all day long and delight in death and destruction. Not really. Many of the people who ran the concentration camps of the holocaust would be people who would go home and be excellent parents and spouses and be really kind to their neighbors. So what kind of people were they ultimately?

People like you and me.

Really. There is not a great gap separating people capable of genocide. This was found out even further by the Milgram experiment. At the instruction of an authority figure, ordinary people would do actions that could have in other circumstances led to the killing of an innocent human being. You can read about that here.

If you at this point in fact start to think that you are better than the person committing genocide or the person who gives the lethal voltage in the Milgram experiment, congratulations. You have already taken the first step in becoming that person who is committing genocide and capable of giving lethal voltage. You have already assumed that you are incapable of falling like that.

Consider the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. We look at it and see the problem of the Pharisee saying that he is not like the tax collector. What’s the problem then? We go and say “God. I thank you that I am not like that Pharisee.” Oh, we might not explicitly say that, but that is a thought that can come into our minds. Most of us, as much as we don’t want to admit it, are more like the Pharisee than the tax collector.

In the video game Earthbound, at one point the party of heroes goes through a cave and the main character realizes his thoughts are being broadcast on a wall in written form for all to see. Most of us would want to flee out of such a cave as quickly as possible. Most of us I suspect know about the evil inside of us and the thoughts that come through our heads where we wonder “Where did that come from?”

In fact, our society seems to have lost the idea of virtue. I have been considering lately how so many books and such deal with feelings people have, and in a sense, that needs to be dealt with, but very rarely do we deal with the character of a person that can lead to those feelings. The problem we often have is not fixing ourselves, as in our character flaws and such, but fixing how we feel about ourselves.

So where do I come down? People can do good, but the example given on the show was would you pick up a $20 bill for someone if you saw them drop it and they didn’t notice? The sad reality is someone like Hitler might just do that and then go back and gas thousands of Jews and see no wrong in it.

When you see someone doing evil, realize that if it weren’t for the grace of God, you could be that person. This is what makes forgiveness such a key issue. We forgive because God has forgiven us and that could just as easily be us. We need to show mercy because were it not for grace, we could be that person. We need to be desiring that that person grow in character and virtue instead of being where they are.

This should result in humility in all of us. We are all capable of great evil and we must all watch ourselves and be building ourselves up to be the persons that we need to be so we don’t become those people who do evil. Never once do we need to say that we are above a certain sin. If we think that, we are far more prone to fall into it.

And of course then, we must all rely on Christ more and more. The cross is the demonstration of His love for us and to that we must return. At the foot of the cross, we all realize we’re fallen and evil.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Seeing Through Christianity Part 4

What do we do with the atonement? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As we continue through Zuersher’s work, we come to a chapter on atonement. Now I’ll state this upright. I have not spent much time looking at a lot of theories of the atonement. I have read Wright’s recent work on the cross. I think it’s an excellent work. Still, I cannot speak as an authority on the atonement, but that could be in some ways an advantage here.

You see, the reason I don’t see this as a defeater here is this is my situation. I have enough evidence to convince me that God exists. I have enough evidence to convince me of the full deity of Jesus. I have enough evidence to convince me that Jesus rose from the dead physically. I have enough evidence to convince me that Scripture is reliable. Does it make any sense to anyone to say “I’m not fully clear on how atonement works, so therefore I should doubt that Christianity is true.”?

Of course not. Any area of study will always have some unanswered questions. Consider for instance in science, when we see creatures that seem incredibly advanced. Does this mean every evolutionist will just throw in the towel and abandon the theory wholesale? Not at all, nor would I expect them to. One looks at the primary data they have for a position even if secondary details aren’t exactly clear.

Zuersher says first that there is disagreement means that this is being made up as we go along. He says that this means we do not have some privileged path to the divine. If by that He means that God is not obligated to answer all of our questions for us, that is entirely correct. If He means that we do not have the way to God in Christ, that would be wrong, but believing we do doesn’t mean we have perfect atonement knowledge.

The next part is one that Zuersher gets so close to the truth of matters, but then He rejects it for theological reasons. Zuersher says that satisfaction says that God’s honor must be restored, but if that’s true, then God has personality traits unworthy of a morally perfect being. It’s truly tragic how close Zuersher gets to good theology but then allows his cultural prejudices and lack of understanding of honor to get in the way.

To begin with, I don’t think it’s right to speak of God as a morally perfect being. A morally perfect being is one that does that which they ought to do always. God has no ought. He does not owe anyone anything. God is instead a good being. He is perfect and lacking nothing in Himself.

So how could God be lacking honor? It’s not a lack in Himself. It’s rather how God is perceived. There were two kinds of honor in the ancient world. One was one had based on who they were and their lineage and such. God’s honor is untouched here. The other is their reputation. How are they perceived in the eyes of others? Here, God’s reputation is tied to how He is seen in the eyes of humanity and how we treat Him. We can live lives that honor God or not. Zuersher rejects this without bothering to understand the culture or the theology.

Third, he says that God could just forgive. After all, we do it. Sure, but we are not the ones that are perfectly good and holy. If God just lets it go, He is saying that our well-being is of greater importance than His goodness. In other words, the good of man outranks the good of God. God is treating sin as no big deal, when every sin is really an act of divine treason.

He next says that if Jesus had a fully human nature, then what happened on the cross was murder since it was a human sacrifice. Well, he is right that it is murder. Jesus submitted to the ruling authorities. This is also not the same as suicide. The authorities did not realize what they were doing, but many holy men in Judaism dying would see themselves as dying for the sins of the people.

He also says that a willing death does not excuse the executioners. Of course not. Whoever said that it did? They were fully convinced they were doing right. My statement about this has been that either Jesus was the wickedest man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most just and righteous act of all to stop Him, or He was the most righteous man who ever lived and the crucifixion was the most wicked act of all time.

He then goes into the claims of how Jesus was an invalid sacrifice. I recommend the works of Michael Brown here on answering Jewish objections to Jesus. Brown has looked at this a lot more than I have.

Next, he argues that this was not a real sacrifice since Jesus did not stay dead. One wonders how this is so. Once the offering is given to God, God can do with it what He wants. If He wants to resurrect Jesus, then He can resurrect Jesus. This would be God’s vindication on the life and claims of Jesus.

He also argues that the theory is immoral since it undermines individual responsibility by having someone accept Jesus’s sacrifice. On the contrary, it upholds it. When presented with the claims of Christ, one must accept their responsibility for the sins that got Him there.

Finally, Zuersher ends with saying that educated men and women hold to atonement thinking today should require no further comment. I instead think that someone can bother to write a book responding to a view without interacting with the best scholarship on it should require no further comment. Sadly, Zuersher does this consistently.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Are Your Thoughts And Ways God’s?

Is there any relation between what you think and what God thinks? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

One of the problems in our age with Biblical interpretation is many times we can get so centered on one way of interpreting a passage and we hear it so often that we never consider that that could be a wrong interpretation. The danger of a wrong interpretation is twofold. First off, we will believe the text says the wrong thing. Second, we will miss the truth that the text is giving us.

Isaiah 55 has one such spot. Let’s go to the text.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.

So what is going on here? A lot of Christians will look at this and say that it means the thoughts of God are totally foreign to us. You cannot think what God thinks. It’s entirely different. Some use this to say that God can even be illogical. God can make a contradiction true for instance. Is that what is being said?

No. In fact, I have deliberately left out the surrounding context. If you think anything that is true, you agree with God. You say God exists? God agrees. You say that Jesus is the Son of God who rose from the dead? Assuming you’re properly understanding what those terms mean, then yes, God agrees. While there are aspects of the mind of God we cannot know, we can know what He has revealed to us.

So if that is not what is being said here, what is being said? The reality is that this is a beautiful passage on grace and forgiveness. Our bad interpretation has caused us to miss the truly good one.

Let’s look at what comes before it.

Seek the Lord while he may be found;
    call on him while he is near.
Let the wicked forsake their ways
    and the unrighteous their thoughts.
Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them,
    and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

Many of us have a mindset that we fear God will judge us for some big sin that we’ve committed or something that we picture as a big sin. We also have a hard time accepting forgiveness. “I just can’t forgive myself for what I’ve done.” In this way, our thoughts are not God’s thoughts and our ways are not His ways. We are treating God like a common man and saying that this is what we would do, so this is what God would do.

God says it’s not. His way is to forgive. If the wicked will come, they will not be condemned. They will instead receive the mercy and grace of God. This passage isn’t making a claim about the mind of God being totally foreign to us. It’s making a claim that God does not act like we do towards the wicked or dare I say it, even ourselves.

We can all seek to know the truth and be in further agreement with God, but one truth we should accept is grace. We all when we sin are the wicked. Our ways with ourselves are not God’s. His ways are higher.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Ministering In Honor-Shame Cultures

What do I think of this book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Jayson Georges and Mark D. Baker have done us a great service by producing this wonderful book. If I could give any encouragement right now at the start, it would be simple. If you want to have an impact with most of the world and learn to understand the Bible in the world it was written in, here’s my advice.

Buy this book and read it right now.

Seriously. I found myself reading this book and wishing I could put it in the hands of everyone in ministry. I would be thrilled if more Christians would learn about the honor-shame culture. Most Christians are shocked when you tell them that most of the world doesn’t work with the idea of a guilty conscience like we in the West do. We have become so focused on ourselves that we are aghast that the rest of the world could be any different from us.

The danger here is we are not only able to give the Biblical message to people in other cultures, who are living among us here in the West more and more and still thinking in the same way, but we are unable to give the Biblical message to ourselves. So many misunderstandings about the Bible would be cleared up if we realized the text speaks in honor-shame language.

On page 28, the authors say something I wish we could all hear and when I speak about honor and shame to Christians, I point this out:

As we have taught Christians about honor-shame in theology and ministry, students note the degree to which shame influences their own identity and relationships. Shame is a defining aspect of human existence, but rarely addressed in churches or ministry. When is the last time you heard a sermon addressing shame? Most people have never heard such a sermon. (p. 28. Bold mine. Italics theirs.)

Indeed! We are so saturated in our culture with our own thinking that we think everyone must be just like us. They are not. Many people all over the world struggle with shame. In reality, we know we do too. How many victims of especially sexual abuse struggle with shame? You can tell them about forgiveness all day long. Forgiveness is great and wonderful, but it won’t help them. They haven’t done anything wrong and telling them they’re forgiven won’t deal with their shame. Forgiveness is indeed part of the Gospel, but if we make the Gospel be just about forgiveness, we severely limit it.

We also do have aspects of honor-shame here and most of us don’t realize it. What happens in high school where a lot of students think they need to where X brand of clothing and not Y? (Something I have no recollection of, but many do.) What happens on Facebook where we talk about people liking and sharing our posts? Everyone wants to be thought well of by good people.

To help us with the task of the book, the writers do explain how honor and shame work and then show it in the Bible. Hopefully, Christians reading this will go back and look at the text through new eyes. I encourage Christians to go to the New Testament and use a site like Bible Gateway. Do a search of terms like innocence and guilt. Note that when they’re used, they speak of it in legal terms and not feeling terms. See also where the terms do not show up. Romans, for instance, does not talk about guilt. Many of the Pauline epistles do not. Then look for terms like honor and shame. See how often they show up. Why is it we have so many sermons on guilt and innocence and none on honor and shame?

From there, the writers show how this all works out when dealing with people in these cultures, especially using their own experience. A lot could be said about this, but I think it’s better for you to get the book and read it yourself. The content is exceptionally thorough and easy to understand. It left me looking at matters differently and striving to think more in terms of honor and shame.

I think if there was one aspect I would have liked some light shed on, it would be what is a worship service like in an honor-shame culture? We in our culture have so much that is focused on application and dealing about how we feel and helping us be better individuals. We also greet each other for about a minute (The time we introverts refer to as torture aside from that I greet my wife with a holy kiss) and then sing the same worship songs which are often very self-focused as well.

So then, final advice.

Get this book.

Read it.

Share it with everyone else you can.

This is that important.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: The Day The Revolution Began

What do I think of N.T. Wright’s latest book published by HarperOne? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

N.T. Wright is one of my favorite authors to read. He is a deep thinker and he seems to have a vast knowledge of the Old and the New Testaments. There is also no isolation as he shows the interplay between the two very well. These are not facts just hanging in the air. These are part of a large and grand story. He makes me come to the Bible with fresh eyes seeing it incredibly different and leaves me with a greater love of the text.

This book is no exception. In it, he looks at the cross as the day the world changed. Of course, this wasn’t really known until the third day when Jesus rose, but the cross was something that changed the world. He also has a full-frontal attack on the idea that this is all just because Jesus died for our sins so we could be good people and go to Heaven. He does believe Jesus died for our sins. He does believe we should be good people. With Heaven, he holds, and I think rightfully, that God’s Kingdom is indeed to come on Earth and God is not going to destroy this world but rather to redeem it. The parts about dying for our sins and being good people is true, but it is missing a lot.

For Wright, the world was created and our vocation in it was to rule on behalf of God. When man failed, the task went to Israel to be a kingdom of priests for God to get all humanity back to where it needed to be. We know how that turned out. Israel needed to be rescued and redeemed often more than the people they were meant to rescue and redeem. God knew what to do. The Son, who has the very nature of God, came and died in order to redeem the world. Through death, He disarmed the power of sin and broke its hold over us. Through this, we were sent out then to be the people that we ought to be.

Wright then argues that our being good people in this world is not because we have a contract with God that He does something good for us and we do good back, but because our task now is to be those priests for a dying world. When we sin, it’s not just that we broke a rule that is out there. It is that we are violating our very being. We were meant to be holy and when we do something wrong, we give some power back to those powers that enslaved us and that Jesus came to break us free from.

We have too often read Paul and the Gospels with the idea that the Gospel is all about Jesus dying for our sins so we could go to Heaven. It can be as if this world doesn’t matter. It’s just an accident in the story. That’s also why so many of us having a hard time finding our place in this world. Yes. We’re meant to be good people, but to what end? We too often think “If we are good people, then others will ask us what makes us so different and then we tell them about Jesus so they can be good people too.” Unfortunately, this rarely happens, and second, it makes it so that we are the end result of all God does.

We are not the end of what God does. God is the end of what God does. His glory is supreme. When we live transformed lives and work to bring about the Kingdom of God on Earth as it is in Heaven, then we are giving the glory to God. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we establish a theocracy. That is not ours to do. It does mean that we live like Kingdom people knowing that while in many things, we submit to our governments, that when our governments contradict with God, we hold to the higher authority.

Wright’s book is engaging and scholarly and it leaves one with a greater appreciation of the New Testament text as well as a greater appreciation of holiness. It’s wonderful to go through a book like this and say “Hey. This makes sense.” All the ideas start clicking and falling into place. Our New Testament faith is not just ideas hanging in the air unrelated to Israel. They are entirely connected to Israel. We cannot give a full Gospel presentation without mentioning Israel and yet so many of us skip that part.

I really recommend you go through Wright’s latest book. It will leave you with a new way of looking at the cross and at your own life. I eagerly look forward to the next book by N.T. Wright.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

What is the Gospel?

When we talk about the Gospel, what do we mean? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Yesterday after my post, I went back to David Wood’s page where there was a debate on ecumenism and whether Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ or not. Now I am not Catholic of course, but I do ministry at times with Catholics and with Orthodox as well, but Catholics are usually the favorite target. We have no problem accepting one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. Normally, I don’t enter this debate at all, but this time, I figured I’d do it since it involved the defense of a friend.

So when the charge comes up and the Gospel is mentioned, I notice that it looks like we all think we know what the Gospel is, so I ask first if Jesus and Paul preached the same Gospel. I know where I’m going and I think this is problematic for some of these and I get told yes. I ask what that Gospel is and I get told the message of justification through faith. Wonderful. So I ask, where exactly do you see Jesus teaching this? After all, in Mark 1:15, Jesus shows up on the scene telling people to repent and believe the Gospel. Is He telling them to repent and believe that they are justified through faith?

Of course, if you know the Gospels, this isn’t a central theme of Jesus’s. Of course, Jesus does point to internal realities more than external ones, but the main teaching of His life is the Kingdom of God. In fact, I’m told that the words of Jesus aren’t just limited to red so you go and look at Paul and you see that this is what Jesus taught. I find this problematic. If we want to understand the Gospel, shouldn’t we start with Jesus? I don’t disparage Paul after all. Paul is immensely valuable and sacred Scripture as well, but isn’t Jesus the original teacher we should look to first?

I found it sad that no one could point this out to me. Here I am supposed to be told that justification by faith is the Gospel that Jesus taught and yet nowhere do I see this being His teaching. Nowhere do I see this being a point of debate between Him and the Pharisees. Of course I know about “I desire mercy and not sacrifice” and I know about the tax collector and the Pharisee, but you don’t see an out and out soteriology in Jesus. In fact, we all know he has some statements such as “Sell all you have and give to the poor.” We also know he has “Believe on the one whom God sent”, but the whole Pauline emphasis is not really there.

So finally after having these guys who were all about the Gospel being unable to answer enough, they finally turned to ask me. Interestingly, I was also asked such questions as if do I believe Jesus is God. After all, if you fellowship with Catholics, well your whole doctrine entirely needs to be called into question. (And I don’t even like “Is Jesus God?” That could be easily mistaken for modalism. I prefer to say Jesus possesses fully the nature of God and man as the second person of the Trinity, but I understand the theological shorthand.)

So what is the Gospel?

God created Adam and Eve to live in union with Him. He would be their God and they would be His people. Unfortunately, they decided to go it their own way and partook of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In response, God kicked them out of the garden and they were separated from Him.

Then Jesus came and……wait….that sure seemed to skip a lot didn’t it? I mean, do we really need all that stuff from Genesis 4 to Malachi 4? Is that really relevant to the story of Jesus?

Maybe, just maybe, maybe it is.

Tell you what. Let’s go through and see.

After Adam and Eve fall, mankind gets wickeder and wickeder. Their own children have a case of one brother killing the other. Eventually, God decides he will flood the world save for one man and his three sons and their wives and start anew.

After this, mankind decides to build a tower. Can’t have that happening again. God decides to confuse their languages and send them out as different peoples then. He chooses one person from one group of people and makes a covenant with him. That man was Abraham. God promises that all the peoples on Earth will be blessed through him.

Through miraculous means, this old man has a son and he is promised that through his son the promise will be fulfilled. God then tells Abraham to sacrifice this son named Isaac. Abraham is willing and God stops him. Abraham showed that he believed God would fulfill the promise even if he had to kill Isaac. God showed Abraham meanwhile how different He is from all the pagan gods. They would have demanded child sacrifice. YHWH puts a stop to it.

Isaac does grow up and have descendants and the story of Abraham is passed on until eventually, the people arrive in Egypt due to a famine. 400 years later, the people are in slavery and cry out to return to the land of Abraham. God hears them and sends them Moses. Moses delivers them through the Red Sea and takes them to Mount Sinai where they form a covenant relationship with YHWH through His Law. The Law will be how the people show the world that they are a unique people of God.

The people enter the land, but soon become unfaithful. God sends judges to them to return them to YHWH, but that is not enough. Eventually, a king is installed. The first one is a failure, but the second one is David, who is seen as the best king Israel ever had. God makes a covenant with David that one of his descendants will sit on his throne forever. This is in response to David wanting to build a house for God. God says David will not do that, but that his son will.

David’s next descendant, Solomon, does indeed build a temple. This is where God dwells with His people again. The temple becomes a symbol of the presence of God with the people, but the people grow arrogant and complacent about it. They think that God will never abandon it, as if He needs His temple. God sends them prophets when they neglect His Law, but they do not listen. Eventually, the people are sent into exile and the temple is destroyed.

About seventy years after that, the people are allowed to return to the land and build a new temple. The people are back and they have a temple, but something is wrong. Foreigners are in charge of the land. At the time of Jesus, it is Rome. How could it be that God is with His people and yet He lets pagan people rule the land? When is the Kingdom of David going to return? The people might be in the land geographically, but they do not have the charge of the land. It is still incomplete. Has God abandoned His people? Will He return?

Then Jesus came.

When Jesus shows up, He speaks about the Kingdom of God and even says it is right there. He asks people to believe the Gospel. What is the Gospel? God has returned to His people. God is present in Jesus. Even more startling, Jesus does signs to show that He is the Messiah of Israel and the one who will sit on the throne of David and through whom God will reign.

The rulers don’t like Jesus coming in on their turf and they fear a revolution. In a series of political events, they crucify Jesus. This will silence the claims of Him being a Messiah. If He is the Messiah, He will not be crucified. God will rescue Him. Unfortunately for His followers watching, Jesus dies. He is not rescued. He is buried in a tomb. Done. Kaput. Game Over. Let’s move on with our lives now.

But the game is not done. The story is not ended. The tomb is found empty and Jesus is alive again. What does this mean? If true (And it is), it means that God has vindicated Jesus. Jesus is indeed the Messiah. He is the one through whom God will reign.

This is why resurrection is so central to Paul. The resurrection is how God has shown who Jesus is. It’s more than “Jesus is alive and therefore He’s the Messiah.” It’s just as much about what Jesus did before the cross as what happened after. After all, as N.T. Wright says, if one of the thieves next to Jesus had been raised the Jews would say “YHWH is doing some strange things.” They would not say “The Messiah has come!”

This is why Paul does preach the same Gospel. The good news is God has come to be with His people. Jesus says it beforehand promising He will be that one. Paul says it after showing that by His resurrection, Jesus is the promised Messiah. God has returned to be with His people through Jesus. It was not just the land that was to be redeemed. It was indeed all the nations of the world.

Okay. So what about justification through faith? What does that have to do with it?

As I said earlier, in the past, you obeyed the Law not to be justified, but to show that you were. We often have this idea that Paul wrestled with the Law. Not at all. Go read his autobiography in Philippians 3. He was faultless before it. Yes. But what about Romans 7?

I don’t see that as autobiographical. I see that as Paul playing out a part. This is not a new view. Even Origen held this view. How would Paul describe himself as alive apart from the Law for instance? He never knew a life apart from it. I also think it’s problematic if you interpret this text as the Christian struggle. If you identify yourself with Romans 7, you will likely miss out your real identity in Romans 8.

Here’s the real deal then. Paul never wrestled with the Law and then said “Oh! Following Christ! I’m free from this burden!” No. Instead he said that he was blameless before the Law, but he counted that all as rubbish. The Greek word here is Skubalon and I have even been told that that can be translated as if it were something I would not say on this blog. That is how strong Paul’s language is.

The new marker then for showing you’re one of God’s is not keeping the Law. It is if you trust in Christ. Of course, this trust will result in good works. No one should oppose good works, but those good works are not done to obtain salvation but because you have already been given it. This is where justification comes in. It is not the faith that saves you so much as the object that you put your faith in. If you say “Justification by faith” I have to ask “Faith in what?” Then we get to the meat of the Gospel.

Now some might think this went long. It should. Israel was not something God tried for awhile and then said “Forget this. I’m going with the church.” Israel is part of the Gospel just as much. It is essential to know that Jesus is the Messiah. It’s so essential that Paul references it so much that some people, ignorantly of course, have thought that Christ was a last name as if Jesus was born to Mr. and Mrs. Christ. Today, we treat it as an afterthought. Oh yeah. Jesus is the Messiah. Paul didn’t treat it that way. Paul saw it as central.

And for that to be central, Jesus has to be the Messiah of Israel. For that to matter, we have to know Israel’s story. We dare not leave it out. Israel’s story is ours. We are just as much the people of God.

This is the good news. This is the Gospel. It reaches its full fulfillment in Revelation, but we are ambassadors of this good news for now. Jesus is not just the savior. He is not just the forgiver of your sins. He is the Messiah. He is your King. He is THE King.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Political Church

What do I think of Jonathan Leeman’s book published by IVP? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

It’s said that there are two things that should never be talked about and that’s politics and religion. If so, then Jonathan Leeman has stepped into dangerous waters by writing this book. Churches can often have their own share of squabbles and religion can have a bad reputation today with new atheist soundbites running throughout our culture. Now you tie that in with politics, which comes from the word poly, meaning many, and ticks, referring to blood-sucking organisms.

Leeman points out that politics is unavoidable and we all come into the arena of debate with gods. The difference is the Christian comes with a big one and the secularist comes with several little gods that aren’t metaphysical claims and thus pass the muster. It could be then that when we argue on the grounds of appeal to conscience, we’re setting ourselves up for trouble. Whose conscience will win the day? If we say our conscience is tied to our God, then our opinion will be cast aside in the end and the more “objective” person will be the ones whose gods aren’t so readily apparent.

Leeman wants us to see what the making of covenants means for us today and that politics has been with us from the beginning. As soon as you have relationships going on, you have politics. People have to learn to live orderly in a society somehow. Unfortunately, we’ve often gone with a more pragmatic approach instead of an approach rooted in truth.

Leeman also brings this to how it affects our Christian relationships and I think this is the most important part of the book. This gets to the doctrine of forgiveness. What does it mean to forgive and how does that relate to politics? Forgiveness is in fact all about our relationships with one another and much of the material here can be quite convicting, especially if you have a hard time forgiving someone.

The book also comes from an approach that I think is gently Calvinistic and presuppositional, but the good part is if you don’t agree with that perspective, you can still accept the conclusion which is where many of us will end up about God being necessary for the good society. I found myself disagreeing with how Leeman reached some conclusions, but I agreed with the conclusions. I suspect many readers would be in the same boat.

Also, I thought criticisms of the New Perspective on Paul were not that strong. I don’t think they offer anything that would go against justification in the sense that we usually see it. The difference is more about what it means to be justified. I myself lean towards the New Perspective and I did not see the problems that I think Leeman thinks he sees.

Still, this is a good book to read and certainly thorough. It’s difficult to think about how a book could be more thorough on the topic. The experiential aspects are also quite helpful as you can learn to see forgiveness in a whole new light and really think about how you relate to your fellow man.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Being Like Jesus

How is it we are supposed to live? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I’m someone in ministry, so I’d like to think I get it right a lot of the times. I mean by that not just intellectually as in having my doctrine all accurate, but also the way I live. Sadly, there are too many times that I don’t. There are too many times that I lose sight of what’s important. There are too many times that it’s easy to fall into the “It’s all about me” trap.

Sometimes it can be with thinking about people who I seek to do good for and then in the end, it looks like it goes unnoticed and my efforts don’t matter. In some cases, when my efforts don’t seem to matter, I can ask myself if what I’m doing really matters at all. I can easily enter into a “why bother?” stage. This stage woke me up in the middle of the night last night and I ended up praying seeking to deal with it.

“God. How is it you can do so much good for some people and they end up placing their focus elsewhere?”

Now keep in mind, I don’t believe that God normally speaks to us today. I have written on that elsewhere here on this blog, but that’s neither here nor there now. Still, I can often try to picture what God would say. In this case, I could picture it clearly.

“You mean like you’re doing right now?”

Ouch.

There are times I think God takes His proverbial two-by-four and whacks us upside the head. I think this was one of those times and it was just the whack I needed. As I sought to regain sleep again, I thought of a time when it would have been easy for Jesus to lose focus. If there was any time, I think the cross would be the greatest.

Let’s start with the facts about this. For one thing, Jesus was betrayed. Many of us know what betrayal can be like. Jesus did. We can look at the obvious case of Judas. Yes. Judas betrayed Jesus. In that betrayal, Jesus still had love for Judas. While Scripture doesn’t record that Judas repented, would Jesus have forgiven Him if He had? I have no doubt. I have no reason to think that Jesus delighted in the death of Judas.

Judas wasn’t the only betrayal. How about Peter? Remember Peter? Peter was Jesus’s right-hand man. He was one of the people who had got to go on the miracle tour of casting out demons. He had been at the Mount of Transfiguration. He had done many miracles and seen many miracles of Jesus and seen Jesus best His opponents in debate time and time again.

In some ways, Peter’s cowardice could have been harder than Judas’s betrayal. Peter had been in a great position being part of the inner three and had been the unsaid leader of the group. If anyone should have known Jesus and what He stood for, it was Peter, and yet when the moment came, Peter lost sight of Jesus entirely and thought more of saving his own hide.

It was betrayal.

Yet when we get to the cross, what do we see? Jesus is pronouncing forgiveness for those who had crucified Him. Forgiveness. Now before you say “Sure. It’s easy for Him. He’s the Son of God.” keep in mind that Stephen when stoned in Acts 7 does the exact same thing.

When we see Jesus on the cross, we don’t see Him uttering one word of condemnation. In fact, He’s practically still doing evangelism on the cross. Jesus is making sure His mother is taken care of and providing salvation to a thief.

“But didn’t Jesus say ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?”

Indeed He did, and yet that’s Psalm 22 He’s quoting. It starts in sorrow but ends in tragedy. Jesus is still maintaining His focus on God. In the midst of His worst suffering, Jesus is not complaining. Jesus is not focusing on what others have done to Him. Jesus is focusing on His Father.

It was then that I thought about how we’re to be like Jesus and how in my own thinking I had lost the focus and was placing it elsewhere. We can all easily be assured, the more we lose our focus on Jesus, the harder our lives will be. The more we focus on Him, the easier our lives will be.

Now I want to be clear on that last point. I am not saying with that things will automatically work out for you. They won’t. Paul described many of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 and let’s keep in mind he wrote of great joy from a Roman prison cell. Those weren’t the best places to be in. Am I saying his life was easier because he focused on Jesus?

Yes I am. Because Paul had that focus, he was able to bear suffering. Just look at his writings and see what he says about suffering. Suffering will happen. There is no avoiding it this side of eternity. The question is what are we going to do with suffering? How are we going to handle it? Are we going to treat it like the enemy itself, or could we look at it as the tool of the Father to make us more like Jesus if we will let it? Could it be that if we do not do that, that we will have to keep repeating the lesson? I can say for my part that when I did remember to focus on Christ last night and started that looking again and the prayer to be like Jesus, it was amazing how quickly the internal mental anguish vanished.

I also do think that this has some great apologetics value. Not only is living like Jesus a powerful motivator for the life-changing power of Christ in our society, but keep in mind, it’s not about us but about Jesus. Jesus in the Gospels is such a powerful and awesome figure in how He handles Himself that as I thought about it last night, I remembered the claim that it was preposterous to think that someone would invent Jesus. There is just something about Jesus that is so unique and amazing in His presentation that none of us could invent Him. Those who see Jesus as a myth I think have never taken the time to consider how Jesus is in the Gospels and I mean not just in His doing miracles, but the very way He carried Himself and presented Himself.

There’s a reason Jesus is the figure that our calendar is built around. There’s a reason that churches have His name in them. There’s a reason we bear His name in us. There’s a reason most every religion after Jesus still wants to do something with Him because He’s such an amazing figure. It was this that got me thinking back to an argument Tom Gilson made. You can read that here and I highly encourage you to do so.

Once again, I’m reminded that in my suffering and whatever I’m going through, I should look at Jesus and see if He went through likewise. Are there any parallels? If so, I am to walk as He walked. It’s not easy. It’s a battle. It’s going to involve constant dying to the flesh and I can’t do it in my own strength of course. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help with that. The question is simply going to be am I going to do it and if I try, Jesus will help me as I walk in the right direction, no matter how many times I stumble.

In Christ,
Nick Peters