Our Dangerous Familiarity With Scripture

Is there a danger in our society where Christianity is normative? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

If your household is like mine, my wife and I do frequently discuss the Bible and what it means for us, particularly when we are going through a difficult time, which we all go through. We also contrast it with others we see who fail along the journey and ask what they did wrong and how we can avoid it. One thought that comes to my mind is that too many people who call themselves Christians just aren’t taking Scripture seriously enough. The sad thought is that every one of us to some extent falls into that category.

You see, we will share with our neighbors and on Facebook and on our blogs and web sites about the glorious truths of Christ. We will talk about how His power is in us to work and to bring about the Kingdom. We will even listen to Christian songs that sing that message and sing those same songs in our church service. We will stand up and we will cite the creeds in our church services as if to say that we give full support to them and back them entirely. Many of us will stand up for the Inerrancy of Scripture and say that we fully believe that which is written in the Bible.

We’re good at talking.

We’re not so good at walking.

You see, we’ve become in some ways so familiar with the text that it no longer strikes us as radical in any way. Our Biblical morality has become normative for many cultures in many ways. We don’t realize how much of a change it is to dare suggest that a person should not be a slave, that a woman has value in herself, that sex is something sacred for marriage, that we should want to give to the poor, etc. Even many atheists today will agree to some of the claims before. (Probably you’d only find the most resistance on the third one) These have seeped into our background knowledge so much that we don’t realize it. Many people do not realize they are living with a Christian morality and frankly, we don’t even realize it.

When it comes to the story of the Bible, we’ve grown up with so many cute Vacation Bible School and Sunday School lessons on this that we have not got to have the shock value. We grew up thinking this is the way not only that the world is but that it has always been. The surprise of it has never been taught. Unfortunately also, we’ve made God detached in this one. We don’t really talk about who God is at all or what He intends to do in us. We talk about what He will do for us and very rarely does that seem to include personal holiness. Instead, it most often means things like providing comfort and peace when we need it and He’ll come when we pray because we’re in a bind. We don’t see Him as a day to day reality in our lives. It’s almost like we look and say “Well yeah, I know God is there and He loves me, but so what? Look at what’s going on in my life.”

We must really ask ourselves if we’re saying “So what?” to our worldview.

What does it mean when we talk about God? The great work of Jesus was that He gave us access to God, and yet we don’t really bother to learn anything about this God He gave us access to. How many of you men would like it if your wife treated you like just a paycheck so she could get the things she wants at the store and did not come to really know and appreciate you as a person? (And how many of you wives are doing just that?) How many of you women would like it if your husband only came to you when he wanted sex but just showed no interest in you otherwise? (And how many of you husbands are doing just that?) Yet too often, this is how we have treated God, you know, the being we say is the most awesome and wonderful and majestic one of all. The one who has all the power to do what He wants, all the knowledge to know what the right thing to do is, and is all present meaning He sees everything. Oh yes, we also believe He’s going to judge us at the end of our lives and everything we have done, thought, or said, will be called to account.

Tell you what. Let that last part sink in for awhile before moving on.

Everything. There are no exceptions.

Every. Single. Thing.

As I thought about this, I remembered a meme my wife put up that is a sentiment I have shared many times that a marriage cannot be 50-50 but 100-100 and I thought “Could it be that we do not seek to give all we can in our marriages when we don’t even do that with God?” In fact, it looks like we more often than not seek to give the bare minimum. Let’s consider a line like “You should not have sex before marriage.” We can look at that and say “Okay. I get it. No sex before marriage.” But then the rationalizations come in. “Yes, but what constitutes sex? Does this mean I can do absolutely nothing truly intimate before marriage?” It’s like we want to get as close to that line before we cross it. It’s practically thinking that we suspect God is holding out on some joy and keeping it from us.

Why on Earth would you give God the bare minimum? Do you think He’s going to waste what you give to Him? Do you think that if you give money or time or service to Him that He will waste that? Do you not realize that your actions in this life really show the world what you think of God? If your actions do not match up with your words, you can be sure that the people will go with your actions instead of your words.

Now some of you can say “God is going to judge me, but I’m saved so I get to spend eternity with Him.” Well to begin with, that’s just taking advantage of the grace of God. It’s saying “I’m already covered so this sin is no big deal.” That despite the fact that any one sin is enough to require the death of the Son of God so you can be forgiven. Sorry, but to Him, it’s all a big deal and if you do not see sin in your life as a big deal, then frankly you are not taking God seriously. You must also realize on the bright side that if you do take it seriously and come to Him and ask Him seriously for help as you repent, that He will help you.

Still, let’s suppose as we have good reason to that it is true that you will make it into His Kingdom. How you spend your life here will determine how much you will enjoy eternity the next life. So let’s look at you men again who might say “Look. I mainly value my wife for sex, but I love her still and our marriage is fine. What’s the big deal?” To begin with, I’m not sure why you would want your marriage to be described as “fine” when it should be described as awesome, but if you treat your wife as a sex object, you can certainly get a lot of jollies down here, but if you’re married to a Christian, that Christian is the temple of God and you will get called to account for how you treated that temple.

Your capacity to enjoy God in the next life could be greatly lessened by your failing to appreciate Him in this life.

Let’s also add in the case of Jerry Walls. Walls is a Protestant who believes that we shouldn’t have jettisoned the idea of purgatory. God has to make us holy somehow and he doesn’t see a guarantee of a sudden zap when we die. There will be a time of waiting according to Walls where God will purge our unholiness out of us.

Let’s suppose that that is true.

If so, do you not realize that living a life of sin means you will be further and further from experiencing the joy of the Kingdom because you lived so long in contradiction to it? I’m not sold on Walls’s idea yet, but it does make me look at myself and say “Am I taking sanctification seriously? Am I taking holiness seriously?” We can often act like our wrong doesn’t really matter to God and on what basis do we normally do it?

Feelings and experience.

“Sure. I did this thing I normally shouldn’t have, but I didn’t feel awful and the sky didn’t come crashing down around me so it must not be any big deal to God.” If personal experience and feelings were a guide to holiness that was surefire, I suspect many of us would be living better. Unfortunately, how we feel in a situation is often a result of not just that situation but a lifetime of training our emotions and feelings a certain way. They become repetitive. We can numb ourselves to any idea that we are doing something wrong by just ignoring it. That’s one reason so many guys can get caught in internet pornography. They ignore the one feeling and they emphasize that other feeling that certainly feels oh so good to them.

But for that, judgment is still coming. You will stand before God.

Again, let that sink in for a bit before moving on.

And what are the consequences of not taking Scripture seriously and thus not taking holiness seriously? Look around you.

How many of you live lives that the rest of the world will look at you and say “Wow. That’s what I want my life to be like.” How many of you husbands would have your wives be able to wake up and say “My husband is just so much like Jesus it’s a joy to be married to him.” (And wives, if you are saying that, are you indeed giving him your very best like you should give your best to Jesus?) How many husbands get up and say “I love my wife so much that I am willing to die for her at this moment.” (And if you say that, dying is no doubt difficult to do for someone, but are you willing to also live for them?) Again, many of us seek to give the bare minimum in our marriages. That could be why the divorce rate is so high.

Okay. I know there are times that a divorce is Biblically allowable. I also don’t think the claim is true that it’s just as high for Christians as it is for non-Christians since it’s my understanding that Christians who regularly worship and pray and read the Bible together and thus seek to live out a Biblical worldview have a much lower divorce rate. Despite that, divorce is a tragedy. Even if it is Biblically allowable, divorce is a tragedy. Our hearts should weep when we hear about it taking place in the church again even when we think it needs to be done. In fact, at our house, unless we’re discussing it in a context like this, we never use the word. It is simply “The d-word.”

This also includes our sex lives. Isn’t it a shame that we look at sex in our culture and the Christians are seen as the prudes who don’t really enjoy sex? We Christians should be the ones who are enjoying it the most. (Adding in if we are married of course.) If you want the world to look at your marriage and see it as something that they should desire, that will include your sex life in it. Sex is a covenant making activity and it serves the role in marriage of renewing the covenant as it were with your spouse. You come in and give everything you have to your spouse and leave yourself totally vulnerable to them. Yet in that vulnerability, there is to be the greatest of joy for you come knowing you are fully accepted and loved. Christians should in fact corner the market on having great sex and too often, we don’t.

What do you take the time to enjoy the most? Peter Kreeft spoke about one of his sports teams in baseball he likes once and said sometimes he worries he’s more of a fan of them than he is a fan of Jesus. How many of us could say likewise? How many of us follow our favorite sports team with more devotion and excitement than Jesus. Now some of you might call foul (pun intended) on me in this saying that you know I’m not a sports fan. Fair enough. Could I be more interested in a game I am playing at the time? Could I be more interested in a TV series I am watching at the time? Unfortunately, looking at the state of my prayer life, I think I could often say that yes, some things are more appealing. Could it in fact sometimes be that the ministry of Jesus is more appealing than Jesus Himself?

To get back to judgment, some of us will read and say, “Yes. I know I need to get things right, but judgment is off in the distance.”

For some people in Chattanooga, judgment came suddenly yesterday. I am not saying that their deaths was God’s judgment on them. Not at all. I am saying that they woke up yesterday morning I’m sure thinking they had the rest of their lives ahead of them. They had time to do things they meant to do. They had time to tell their loved ones that they loved them. They had time to play with the kids later on. They had time to show their spouse how much they appreciated them.

But they didn’t.

Before the day was over, they unexpectedly stepped into eternity.

And what guarantee do you have that the same won’t happen to you today?

We often look at our world and wonder how it got the way that it did. The idea of redefining marriage would have been unthinkable decades ago. Now it’s normative to most people. We can actually rip apart a baby in the womb and have people that will defend and celebrate it. Many of the things we were sure would never happen have in fact happened and as I tell people as an apologist, it really blows my mind the things that I have to defend today because I never would have dreamed someone could think otherwise.

This did not happen because the world did what the world does.

This happened because the church did not do what the church is supposed to do.

Do we really think this would have happened if we were taking the claims of Christ seriously? Do we really think this would have happened if we had properly informed ourselves on our worldview? Do we really think this would have happened if the church had more consistently lived what it believed? No. The blame falls on our heads for not doing the job of standing up and contending for the faith and we will be called to judgment for that.

In fact, we often talk about caring for the poor in Christianity. You know who’s job that is in Christianity? Yours. It is not the job of the government to take care of the poor. It is the job of the church to do that and the reason the church is having such a hard time is we decided to ask Caesar for his help. Do we really think that Christ is so weak and incapable that His church would need the help of Caesar to do what He had told them to do? The sad reality is yes, yes we do in fact think that. We can know we think that because that is in fact what we did.

Please also understand I am not going hard on everyone else and ignoring myself in all of this. I do take a serious look at myself and ask if I’m doing all that I could be. Of course, we can all always do more. None of us will live perfectly, but if I really do think God can help me in my struggle with sin, that He can empower me to live a holy life, that eternity of bliss with Him is the best thing that can possibly be, and that He will be my judge one day, I should take it seriously. If I believe the Bible is from Him and the commands in there are true, I should take that seriously.

Am I? Good question.

Are you? Also a good question.

Think about it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Who Are You?

What’s really lying at the core of who you are? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Identity is all in the news now. We have the news about what Bruce Jenner did and of course we have the SCOTUS ruling and then we have this going on in Hollywood, such as the movie Selfless coming out, which I will admit that last one does look intriguing. It’s not a shock that we have questions over identity and the more society normalizes different lifestyles, the more people will start to wonder. What about Christians? Who are Christians today?

I encourage Christians to always remember that who they are is who they will be before the throne of God someday. Non-Christians real identity is who they could be before the throne and if they become Christians, they can reach that potential. If not, they actually become what I prefer to call uncreations. When we speak about who we are today, we need to be careful and ask if what we’re saying about ourselves is what’s going to be at the throne of Christ. It’s far too easy to identify ourselves with the old creation instead of realizing that we are a new creation. We forget the advice of Paul to forget what is behind and strive to what is ahead.

I use the story I’ve heard about David by Donatello. When asked how he managed to turn a slab of material into David, he is said to have responded that he just went to it and took away everything that wasn’t David. I mainly want to look at the point of why I am sharing this kind of story. In the process of sanctification, God is doing the same thing with us. God is taking away everything that is not us. We are meant to be a living sacrifice on the altar renewing our minds. (Note that we renew our minds. God does not do that for us. We have our own role to play.)

The problem with living sacrifices is that they keep jumping off the altar, especially when they experience that little thing we don’t really like, pain.

But unfortunately pain is often the only way we change and if we do not learn to bear up under it, we will often just keep repeating the same lessons. C.S. Lewis compared it to God moving into our houses when we’re more like quaint little cottages not realizing that he intends to live in a palace.

If you’re a Christian, you need to realize that your true identity lies in Christ. It does not lie anywhere else. Soren Kierkegaard had a saying that went “And now Lord, with your help, I will become myself.” This also means that in reality, who we are does in fact turn out to be good. We just have a whole lot of work to do to get to that point. Sanctification is never easy. It’s not mean to be a peaceful and painless process. It hurts because we tend to cling so much to the wrongs in our lives thinking that they define us. They don’t.

If we submit though, and we learn to do that daily, we will have a beautiful end product.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Heaven, Hell and Purgatory

What do I think of Jerry Walls’s new book published by Brazos Press? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory

In the interest of fairness, I want it to be known that Brazos Press did send me a review copy and I consider Jerry Walls a friend.

When I first heard about Jerry Walls, I thought he was a Catholic.

Not because I’m anti-Catholic! Not at all! With my philosophy, I’m a Thomist in my philosophy and a reader of people like G.K. Chesterton and Peter Kreeft. I’d just heard that he’d written a book about Purgatory and thought that was the case. I was surprised a bit when I found out he was a Protestant just as I am. I suspect with this book out, some people would be surprised to learn that this is a protestant view of the cosmic drama, as he describes it.

But yes, Walls is very much Protestant. Picking out his position I find is interesting. The book is not about soteriology per se, but yet his strong position against Calvinism is noted. It’s more really about eschatology, but he is one of those rare people that you can talk about his position in eschatology and you don’t mean the one we normally mean, such as what is the view on the rapture or the Olivet Discourse. This is all about our personal eschatology. What happens to us when we die.

Walls is familiar with this seeing as he wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Hell, and I can hardly imagine what it would be like to have to give a defense of your view that Hell is a justifiable doctrine. While I think it is, it is not the kind of position I would want to do a Ph.D. dissertation on, yet Walls did so and it looks like he managed to defend Hell in light of some of the best antagonism, so he has something to say.

Yet this time, he rightly starts with Heaven. What is Heaven. How will it be for us? Walls rightly shows that we Christians need to spend more time thinking about this doctrine. I do want to jump ahead to something he says at the end of the book about Heaven answering the question of if we will be bored in Heaven. I do that because frankly, hearing the way some Christians talk about Heaven, I think I would be bored endlessly if their descriptions were right. Too often we make Heaven sound like an eternal church service. (Never mind other baloney claims such as we become angels when we die) There’s a reason skeptics of the faith say that Heaven would be boring and if they’re in Hell, they’ll be with their best friends anyway.

Walls gets most of his information on Heaven from Scripture going to Revelation 21. He does not take it in a literalistic sense, but he does have it that this is powerful language. God who exists in Trinity is the central focus of our eternity. He is the basis. He is the one that makes Heaven, Heaven and he is the one that makes eternity to be eternity. Our origins are found in Him and our purpose is found in Him. As has been said, if you have a “God of the Gaps” mentality, you’re not really dealing with the God of Scripture.

Wells shows that this is not just pie in the sky nonsense to escape reality, but is facing reality head on. It is saying that all of our hopes and desires do point to somewhere. He does this engaging with numerous arguments from the skeptical side, such as those of Russell or Nietzsche. Heaven is the best explanation that we have of all of the data that we have. Heaven makes sense of our world.

Yet what about Hell? Why is there Hell? Walls works to show that Hell is God giving people what they have wanted for so long and for this, he is largely in debt to Lewis, who aside from Scripture I would say is no doubt the most quoted author in the book. The gates of Hell are locked on the inside. The people in Hell are the ones who ultimately choose they want nothing to do with the God of Scripture. I would have liked to have seen something in this section that would have dealt more with the conditionalist position which is gaining popularity. Walls could have done that in another book, but it would have been good to see something here.

From there, we get into Purgatory. Now this is where some Protestants could be raising up their intellectual shields in defense and preparing to go on the attack. It is understandable, but I agree with Walls that we really need to interact with this idea and not just associate it with Catholics. Catholics believe a lot of right things too after all and just because an idea was misused is no reason to throw it out entirely.

I will not go into the details of Walls’s argument other than to say it focuses greatly on sanctification and while I cannot say I’m totally sold on it yet, and I do not think Walls would want me to change my mind entirely after reading just one book, I can say I do think Walls has benefited us greatly by starting the discussion and one aspect I will say I am sure he’d be pleased with, is that it does get me thinking more about sanctification and how seriously we need to take it.

Walls also deals with the problem of evil, including from this the speaking of Ivan from the Brothers Karamazov. While Dostoyevsky who wrote the book was a Christian, these are some of the most powerful quotes you’d hear advocating the problem of evil that he puts on the lips of his atheist character. Many atheists should learn to realize that we know the problem very well and I think Dostoyevsky places it more powerfully than any atheist writing I’ve read on it.

And yes, Walls has an answer. Of course, those interested in this need to get the book so they can see it.

We move on from there to morality and if there is a grounds for it in atheism. Walls of course argues that there isn’t and looks at some of the best theories out there attempting to explain this. Of course, if there is no ground for morality, then it’s quite difficult to raise up the problem of evil unless you want to say that it is an inconsistency for Christianity but when you abandon Christianity, lo and behold, there is nothing that is truly good or evil.

Finally, there’s a section that includes theories on the possibility of someone being reached even after they die. This is an interesting idea, but again, I’m not really sold on it. I wasn’t really sold on Walls’s approach to Hebrews 9, but I do think he’s certainly right to show that if Scripture does contradict any idea that we have, then we have to come to terms with the fact that that idea is wrong.

So while I do not agree with all that Walls says, I have to say this is an excellent book to get you thinking. It will put in you a desire for the state of Heaven and get you thinking seriously about sanctification and holiness. I do not doubt that even with that conclusion, that Walls will be pleased.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

Book Plunge: Reading the Christian Spiritual Classics

Is there a proper way for evangelicals to engage the spiritual classics? Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.

Reading The Christian Spiritual Classics is a work edited by James Goggin and Kyle Strobel. If the last name sounds familiar, it’s not a coincidence. That is Lee Strobel’s son and this has been his area of study. Lee is a friend of mine who got me a copy because frankly, a book on spiritual classics is quite frankly something I would not have picked up on my own.

In the area of apologetics after all, we’re trying to keep up as much as we can. There are so many new books that we need to read and then there’s all the research and we at the same time are family men who need our own time as well and then there’s still time that we have to spend with prayer, Bible study, etc.

People don’t often realize how big a job ministry is and in ministry, one often thinks they carry the burden of others around them. To an extent, of course we do, but we are not alone and part of the essential process of a Christian is sanctification. This is why I’ve surrounded myself as well with mentors, including a mentor I email every night to make sure I have been keeping up with prayer, an area I need to improve on, and seek advice for problems in my life.

I say all this because this review could sound negative at the start, but it really isn’t. When I started reading, I felt like I was having to push myself through. That is not because this book is a problem. Not at all! It is because I know that this is not what I am used to reading.

This is not to say I never read anything dealing with sanctification, but it is not something that I think we commonly read, much like an apologist I interacted with recently said apologists need to spend more time reading fiction. We should have our place in the academy of course, but we are not to be just in the academy. The best apologists I know are the ones that can also be real people. If I can laugh and joke with someone in my field, I know they’re real. It’s also why I make sure to take time for non-academic interests, such as the Mrs. and I watching our favorite shows most every night.

Reading a book about spiritual classics then is stretching someone in the field, but we need to be stretched. Part of Christian sanctification is being made uncomfortable unfortunately. It’s about doing things that we normally wouldn’t do. I would in fact encourage someone who just reads spiritual classics that they need to pick up books like Lee Strobel’s “The Case for Christ.” Every bit of sanctification we have must be grounded in truth. All that we do must be grounded in truth.

The book in its work tells why they should be read but also gives a warning in our day and age and one that applies greatly to apologists. This book is for evangelicals and so it assumes evangelical positions and tells us we could be reading a spiritual classic and it will talk about the veneration of Mary, for instance, and some of us who might be staunchly against the Catholic position could raise our defenses up and unfortunately, miss all the good stuff that is there.

And yes, this book recommends reading the Catholic classics. It also recommends reading the Orthodox classics. I do not doubt that people in both of those camps would also recommend reading works by people in the other branches just as much. Wisdom can be found in all manner of places in the Christian tradition.

Reading this book gave me a challenge to consider these kinds of areas more seriously and even had me looking on my Kindle to see from time to time if I could find any of these books that were talked about for download.

Christians are called to be holy people and of course, people of truth. It is easy to miss out on any one side. In our church today, we can often reflect on holiness and our experience, without remembering that these have to be grounded in truth. In more apologetic circles, we forget that truth that has no impact on us is just what is going to puff us up. If we believe something is true, we should act accordingly. If we believe in the Lordship of Christ and the advance of His kingdom, we should act accordingly.

It is because of that then that while I read the book as dry at first, I saw myself becoming more receptive over time, and realized the dryness said nothing about the book but about myself. If I went through again, I still think it would be difficult, but I think I would be still getting more out of it. I recommend this book then knowing that it will be a challenge, but a way that we need to be challenged.

In Christ,
Nick Peters