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apologetics

February 16, 2009

Greg Koukl is setting out on a blog tour to support his new book Tactics (you can read my review of it right here). I agreed to participate, asking one question of my own and asking one question on behalf of another person. Here is what we asked and how Greg answered.

There are many “traditional” apologetic manuals available to us, perhaps the foremost of which is Evidence that Demands a Verdict. Such books seem to speak to a modern more than postmodern kind of mind. Do such books still have their place today?

I realize that the prevailing worldview among young people is a kind of reflexive postmodern relativism. They are very skeptical about truth claims and the kind of “rationality” that moderns have used to justify views that have led to oppression. But that is only a part of the story, the small part.

There is something else that is almost always missed with challenges like this one. Bad worldviews, even if deeply believed, cannot undo reality. God has given every human being the ability to know truth about their world. Our convictions as Christians include that God exists, that this is His world, and that man is made in His image. That’s the rest of the story. If we are right, then reality turns out to be structured in a very specific way and no unbeliever can escape it. Reality becomes our ally, even with postmoderns.

Note these comments from the Tactics chapter on “Taking the Roof Off.”

When I was a young Christian, I read Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There. Schaeffer argues that Christians have a powerful ally in the war of ideas: reality. Whenever someone tries to deny the truth, reality ultimately betrays him… Although culture shifts, human nature remains the same. Ideas change, but reality does not….

Every person who rejects the truth of “the God who is there” is caught between the way he says the world is and the way the world actually is. This dissonance, what Schaeffer called the “point of tension,” is what makes Taking the Roof Off so effective. Any person who denies the truth of God’s world lives in contradiction. He says one thing, yet deep down he knows the truth….

Regardless of our ideological impulses [e.g., postmodernism], deep inside each of us is a common-sense realist. Those who are not are either dead, in an institution, or sleeping in cardboard boxes under the freeway. Knowing this gives us a tremendous advantage. The key to dealing with moral relativism, for example, is realizing that for all the adamant affirmations, no one really believes it, and for a good reason: If you start with relativism, reality does not make sense.

Unless a person is truly pathological, he cannot escape these truths even if he tries. His language and his behavior will always betray his deepest beliefs about the world. Emotions, prejudice, and bull-headedness may cause him to deny what would otherwise be obvious except when he is defending his ideological turf. But when his guard is down, every person understands that the basic structure of the world is the way the Bible says it is., at least in the broad strokes. Simply put, reason and rationality still matter, even to the postmodernist regardless of his claims to the contrary.

Recent studies (in addition to our own anecdotal experience at STR) bears this out. For example, sociologist Christian Smith in his book Soul Searching reveals that one of the primary reasons students abandon their Christian convictions is because of “some version of intellectual skepticism or disbelief.”  Some typical responses: ”It didn’t make any sense anymore,” “Some stuff is too far-fetched for me to believe,” “I think scientifically and there is no real proof,” and, “Too many questions that can’t be answered.” 

There is no good reason, then, to abandon our apologetics or our appeal to careful thinking. The content of the older offerings is still good, I think, especially Schaeffer, who makes a singular contribution and was remarkably prescient in anticipating the challenges of the 21st century. I would tend to favor newer books, though, because of updated scholarship and, in many cases, a tone that is more readable or more sensitive to the prevailing intellectual ethos. I’m thinking especially of something like Thinking about God (Ganssle), or anything that Lee Strobel has written in apologetics, though there is a plethora of good works now available.


What are the attitudinal and spiritual preparations one must do before using apologetic “tactics” in conversations with unbelievers? — Ryan, Littleton, CO

First, using tactics is not an advanced enterprise suitable only for trained professionals. There are no “attitudinal and spiritual preparations” one must go through before using tactics. In fact, when I do my basic talk on the Columbo tactic (the foundational tactic for the book’s game plan), I introduce it like this: “In the next 45 minutes, I am going to give you a game plan that will allow you to interact with confidence in any conversation, no matter how little you know or how aggressive or powerful or educated the other person may be.”

However, there are some “spiritual and attitudinal” perspectives it is helpful to keep in mind in order to be effective using tactics. First is this warning I include in chapter one:

There is a danger I want you to be aware of, so I need to pause and make an important clarification. Tactics are not manipulative tricks or slick ruses. They are not clever ploys to embarrass other people and force them to submit to your point of view. They are not meant to belittle or humiliate those who disagree so you can gain notches in your spiritual belt.

I offer this warning for [a reason]….These tactics are powerful and can be abused. It’s not difficult to make someone look silly when you master these techniques. A tactical approach can quickly show people how foolish some of their ideas are. Therefore, you must be careful not to use your tactics merely to assault others.

My goal, rather, is to find clever ways to exploit someone’s bad thinking for the purpose of guiding her to truth, yet remaining gracious and charitable at the same time. My aim is to manage, not manipulate; to control, not coerce; to finesse, not fight. I want the same for you.

There is another perspective that is important to keep in mind. It has to do with the role we play in the process of influencing others for the Gospel, versus the role God plays.

Note this from chapter two:

Without the work of the Spirit, no argument—no matter how persuasive—will be effective. But neither will any act of love, or any simple presentation of the Gospel. Add the Spirit, though, and the equation changes dramatically.

Here’s the key principle: Without God’s work, nothing else works. But with God’s work, many things work. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, love persuades. By the power of God, the Gospel transforms. And with Jesus at work, arguments convince. God is happy to use each of these methods.

Understanding this truth makes our job as ambassadors much easier. We can be confident that every time we engage, we have an ally. Our job is to communicate the Gospel as clearly, graciously, and persuasively as possible. God’s job is to take it from there. We may plant the seeds or water the saplings, but God causes whatever increase comes from our efforts.

We are not in this alone. Yes, each of us has an important role to play, but all the pressure is on the Lord. Sharing the Gospel is our task, but it’s God’s problem.

I like to call this principle “100% God and 100% man.” I am wholly responsible for my side of the ledger, and God is entirely responsible for His. I focus on being faithful, but I trust God to be effective. Some will respond and some will not. The results are His concern, not mine. This lifts a tremendous burden from my shoulders.

January 17, 2008

This morning we continue with our fourteen week journey through John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation. If you’d like to know more about this reading project, you can read about it right here: Reading Classics Together. We’re into the real heart of the book now and are looking at specific instructions on how to put sin to death.

By way of reminder, for the past few chapters we have been in the book’s second section—a section that turns the focus from introductory materials to “the nature of mortification.” In this portion of the book Owen is turning to this question: “Suppose a man to be a true believer, and yet finds in himself a powerful indwelling sin, leading him captive to the law of it, consuming his heart with trouble, perplexing his thoughts, weakening his soul as to duties of communion with God, disquieting him as to peace, and perhaps defiling his conscience, and exposing him to hardening through the deceitfulness of sin, what shall he do? What course shall he take and insist on for the mortification of this sin, lust, distemper, or corruption, to such a degree as that, though it be not utterly destroyed, yet, in his contest with it, he may be enabled to keep up power, strength, and peace in communion with God?”

In the past chapters and those to come he approaches the subject this way:

  1. Show what it is to mortify any sin, and that both negatively and positively, that we be not mistaken in the foundation (the fifth chapter provided the negative and this week we look at the positive aspect).
  2. Give general directions for such things as without which it will be utterly impossible for anyone to get any sin truly and spiritually mortified.
  3. Draw out the particulars whereby this is to be done.

He has already shown both negatively and positively what it is to mortify a sin and has given the general directions. This week he is turning to particular instructions on how to go about mortifying sin.

Summary

As I mentioned, Owen is now providing specific instructions on how to mortify sin. He will do this under nine headings and in this chapter he gives the first of these: Consider whether your lust has these dangerous symptoms accompanying it. The outline looks like this:

  1. Inveterateness (a state of being deep-rooted or habitual)
  2. Secret pleas of the heart to countenance sin without a gospel attempt to mortify sin
  3. Applying grace and mercy to an unmortified sin
  4. Frequency of success in sin’s seduction
  5. Arguing against sin only because of impending punishment
  6. Probable judiciary hardness
  7. When your lust has already withstood particular dealings from God against it

Discussion

Because it has been a ridiculously busy week, I did not have the time I would have liked to be able to really ponder this chapter and to meditate upon it. I’ll have to be sure to return to it. But there were still at least two things that really stood out to me. Once more I am thankful that Owen was such a student of the human condition. He understood sin and its impact on us in such a deep way. And because of this knowledge he was able to bring the gospel to bear on it. We see that in evidence in this chapter in a powerful way.

To mortify sin for this end, to satisfy conscience, which cries and calls for another purpose, is a desperate device of a heart in love with sin.” When the Spirit brings a sin to our minds it may be a temptation for us to refuse to put it to death. Instead of cooperating with the Spirit in mortifying that sin, we may hold onto it and satisfy ourselves with other evidences of God’s grace within us. We may see this sin and know that it is sin, but rather than fight against it, we simply content ourselves that we are Christians and then allow ourselves to be pleased with the other evidences of our conversion. This, says Owen, is a dangerous condition and one which is hardly curable. When God puts a yoke on our necks, we must be willing to do the hard work required to obey Him. We simply cannot ignore Him as He brings sin to mind. We cannot be so insincere and so hypocritical as to turn the grace of God into license.

In the next point, where he discusses applying Grace to an unmortified sin, Owen mentions a kind of sin I think we all have in our lives. They are secret sins and sins we hold on to because we really do like them. We have grown comfortable with their presence in our lives even though we freely admit they are sinful. Perhaps they involve foul language or bad temper; perhaps they involve copying DVDs or music; we laugh at these small and even respectable sins. We would rather go through life refusing to put these to death and allowing them free reign in our lives than allowing God to deal with them. When we do this, we apply God’s mercy to these sins, knowing that Jesus died to forgive even these. And yet we are unrepentant for them and are unwilling to let go of them. But, says Owen, “to apply mercy to a sin not vigorously mortified is to fulfill the end of the flesh upon the gospel.” We make a mockery of mercy and of God’s grace when we allow sin, and even the smallest sin, to run rampant.

As the book continues I look forward more and more to the chapters to come!

Next Week

Next Thursday we will continue by reading chapter ten.

Your Turn

As always, I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Please post your comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say something exceedingly clever or profound. Simply share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause. You can also post any questions that came up. Let’s be certain that we are reading this book together. The comments on previous chapters have been very helpful and have aided my enjoyment of the book. I have every reason to believe that this week will prove the same.

January 14, 2008

This is the third and final article in this short series dealing with inerrancy and with the Bible’s supposed errors and contradictions. In the last article we defined what inerrancy is not and then attempted to adequately define the term. I suggested the following definition: The inerrancy of Scripture means that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact. Today we will look at some common objections to this doctrine as well as some problems that may arise if we deny it. Here are links to the first two articles: Are There Errors in the Bible? and What Does “Inerrant” Mean?

Problems With Denying Inerrancy

We turn first to problems that may arise when we tacitly or expressly deny inerrancy.

First, if we deny inerrancy, we make God a liar. If there are errors in the original manuscripts, manuscripts that testify they were breathed out by God, one of two things must be true: either God purposely lied or he mistakenly lied. Either way this would indicate that God is capable of making or of producing errors. Needless to say, this would destroy our ability to trust any of God’s revelation and cause us to doubt God Himself.

Second, if we deny inerrancy we lose trust in God. If there are errors in Scripture, even if in the smallest detail, and these were placed there intentionally by God, how are we to maintain trust that He did not lie in other matters? When we lose trust in the Scriptures, we lose trust in God Himself and we may consequently lose our desire to be obedient to Him.

Third, if we deny the clear testimony of Scripture that it is inerrant, we make our minds a higher standard of truth than the Bible. At the outset of this series I indicated a concern I felt towards those who deny inerrancy is when they indicate that the doctrine does not “feel right.” But nowhere does the Bible appeal to our feelings or our reason for its authority or inerrancy. We must submit to the Word, for it will not submit to us. We must give to the Bible the place it claims for itself. We cannot stand in judgment over it.

Fourth, if we deny inerrancy, and indicate that small details are incorrect, we cannot consistently argue that all the doctrine the Bible contains is correct. Admitting error in even the smallest historical detail is only the thin edge of the wedge, for we then allow the possibility that there may be error in doctrine as well. And when we allow this possibility, the Christian faith soon crumbles into a mess of subjectivity and personal preference.

So inerrancy is not an optional doctrine—one we can take or leave. Rather, it is a doctrine at the very heart of the faith and without it we impoverish our faith and destroy our ability to trust and honor God.

Objections

There are many objections that are commonly raised against inerrancy. For the sake of brevity I will address only the most common objections, and the ones I have encountered in recent discussions on this topic.

We Do Not Have The Original Manuscripts - The first objection has to do with the transmission of Scripture. Many people argue that since we no longer possess any of the original manuscripts, it is irresponsible to speak of inerrancy. What is the purpose in affirming an important doctrine based on documents we no longer have? I answered this, in part, in the first article of this series, when I quoted John MacArthur. “We possess a wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages of Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic. John MacArthur writes, “With this wealth of biblical manuscripts in the original languages and with the disciplined activity of textual critics to establish with almost perfect accuracy the content of the autographs, any errors which have been introduced and/or perpetuated by the thousands of translations over the centuries can be identified and corrected by comparing the translation or copy with the reassembled original. By this providential means, God has made good His promise to preserve the Scriptures. We can rest assured that there are translations available today which indeed are worthy of the title, The Word of God.” We can be certain that we have accurate copies of over 99% of the inerrant words as they were first transcribed. When we focus on the less than 1% of the text that contains errors, we must realize that these are human errors and that God is in no way responsible for them. The fact that there are some errors in Scripture as we have it today, does not negate inerrancy which speaks only of the original documents. The Bible as we have it today is worth of our confidence.

Inerrancy is a Poor Term - Generally people who make this objection believe that inerrancy is too strong a term. They believe that such a word demands a type of scientific precision. And furthermore, they may claim that this term is not used in the Bible and was unknown through much of the history of the church.

To the first objection, I point again to the definition of inerrancy, and that it refers to truthfulness and not precision. The Bible claims to be perfectly true, but nowhere does it claim to contain perfect precision. As we saw in the second article, the Bible may round numbers, speak in human terms and contain odd grammatical constructions and still be inerrant. In response to the second objection I would point to any number of terms we use that are foreign to Scripture. The word “Trinity” does not appear within the pages of Scripture, yet the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly affirmed in the Bible and the term is very useful in summarizing the doctrines of the persons of the Godhead. The doctrine of inerrancy is taught within the pages of the Bible as clearly as if the word “inerrancy” was used.

Proving Inerrancy is a Circular Argument - The fourth objection is that we can only prove Scripture’s inerrancy by circular argumentation. After all, we say that the Bible is inerrant because the Bible tells us it is inerrant. This poses a problem for some. In Reason to Believe R.C. Sproul addresses circular argumentation in proving the Bible’s infallibility and we can extend this line of reasoning to inerrancy. Consider the following premises and the subsequent conclusion:

  • Premise A—The Bible is a basically reliable and trustworthy document.
  • Premise B—On the basis of this reliable document we have sufficient evidence to believe confidently that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
  • Premise C—Jesus Christ being the Son of God is an inerrant authority.
  • Premise D—Jesus Christ teaches that the Bible is more than generally trustworthy; it is the very Word of God.
  • Premise E—The word, in that it comes from God, is utterly trustworthy because God is utterly trustworthy.
  • Conclusion—On the basis of the inerrant authority of Jesus Christ, the church believes the Bible to be utterly trustworthy; i.e., inerrant.

Where this model of linear reasoning may break down, is that some of what we accept about the Bible we accept by faith. Faith does not render reason invalid, but the Holy Spirit helps us believe in what our sinful, human minds will not accept. Therefore, I do not believe that an unbeliever—one who does not have the Spirit’s help—can accept the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy. But this line of reasoning ought to be sufficient for the believer. I trust that all Christians believe in the first premise, as even most non-Christians, who have made the effort, can see that the Bible is basically reliable and trustworthy. But what the unbeliever cannot do is accept that Jesus is the Son of God and that He is thus an inerrant authority.

The Bible is Full of Errors and Contradictions - This is a common objection that has been leveled at the Bible too many times to count. It has been answered just as often. It is the question that motivated me to post this series.

As often as not, this objection is made by people who really have no clear idea of where these errors can be found, as they are merely passing along what they have heard from others. They read a web site with a long list of contradictions and allow that to feed their disgust for the things of God. For those who are honestly seeking information on the alleged contradictions, there is a wealth of resources available to prove that there are no errors or contradictions within the text of the Bible. For example, Answers in Genesis answers many of these objections. So many of the objections can be answered so easily. For example, here is one I have seen on some sites:

[The Bible claims that] one day can last 930 years.

  • “And YHWH God commanded the human, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’” [Genesis 2:16-17]. The original text makes it clear that God is not speaking metaphorically or spiritually. Isn’t it lucky that since death hadn’t been invented yet, the human (“ha’adam,” pronounced “ha ah DAHM”) had no idea what God was talking about! “When Adam had lived one hundred thirty years, he became the father of a son in his likeness, according to his image, and named him Seth. The days of Adam after he became the father of Seth were eight hundred years.”— Gen. 5:3-4

This, of course, ignores the obvious—that humans really did die on the day they ate of the fruit. When Adam and Eve ate the fruit they died spiritually and made physical death a horrible reality. They did not drop dead at that very moment, but already, at that very moment, death had begun to stalk them. And their perfect communion with God had been killed. When we see that inerrancy allows for normal human speech and that it relates to truthfulness more than precision, we see that it can easily account for such “errors.”

Many of the alleged errors within the Bible have to do with historical facts. Allow me to provide one example. Only a couple of generations ago, scholars pointed to the Bible’s claim that there was a king of Assyria named Tiglath-Pileser as an obvious error, for archaeological evidence had not proven that any such king existed. But a few years later, archaeologists excavated Tiglath-Pileser’s capital city and found his name carved into bricks which read, “I, Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria…” It is a fact that “the results of sound scholarship have not tended to uncover more and more problems…Rather they have tended to resolve problems and to show that what were once thought to be errors are not errors at all” (James Boice, Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace). R.C. Sproul writes, “The Christian has nothing to fear from rigorous historical research. Rather, we have everything to gain” (Reason to Believe, page 27).

Consider the following quote from Dr. William Foxwell Albright. “For much too long a time the course of New Testament scholarship has been dictated by theological, quasitheological, and philosophical presupposition. In far too many cases commentaries on New Testament books have neglected such basic requirements as up-to-date historical and philological analysis of the text itself…The result has often been steadfast refusal to take seriously the findings of archaeological and linguistic research. We believe that there is less and less excuse for the resulting confusion in this latter half of the twentieth century. Closely allied with these presuppositions is the ever-present fog of existentialism, casting ghostly shadows over an already confused landscape. Existentialism as a method of interpreting the New Testament is based upon a whole series of undemonstrable postulates of Platonic, Neo-Platonic, leftwing scholastic, and relativistic origins. So anti-historical is this approach that it fascinates speculative minds which prefer cliches to factual data, and shifting ideology to empirical research and logical demonstrations” (emphasis mine). The Christian has nothing to fear from scholarship, science or archeology.

Truly, in my experience, the vast majority of supposed errors and contradictions fall into the realm of what we saw in “What Inerrancy is Not.” They point to a lack of precision that may be found in ordinary language or in a language that had no capacity to provide verbatim quotes. Those that do not fall into this category, most often simply reflect a misunderstanding of the Bible’s historical context or language. There are some that really are difficult and for which there are no easy answers. But even then, they have been dealt with by scholars and have been answered well.

So how do we answer charges of error and contradiction? First, I think we assure ourselves that the Bible is inerrant and then we ensure that what we believe about inerrancy is correct. We read what the Bible says about itself and express faith that what God says in Scripture is true. Having done that, it is often valuable to turn to the many resources available for those wrestling with apparent errors or contradictions. Most of these questions have been dealt with very well in the past—well enough to give you assurance that they reflect contemporary arrogance or misunderstanding more than error. When challenged with a list of contradictions I believe there is often little value in answering the charges of error point-by-point and engaging in lengthy dialog about each of them. Anyone who is really seeking the truth will find not only the contradictions but the many answers to them. Rather, it is better, I think, to point people to what is true. Point people to the Bible’s claims of truth—what it claims about us, as humans, and what it claims about God. Point people to the gospel and ask God to do His work in them.

Conclusion

My intent for this series was to do two things. First, I wanted to define inerrancy and separate it from the other doctrines of Scripture such as authority, inspiration and transmission. While the basic sense of the word “inerrancy” is clear, the theological meaning is not always so easy to grasp. Second, I wanted to answer some objections to inerrancy and show why this is a critical doctrine and why it is important that the church continues to affirm it.

Ultimately, inerrancy is true because perfection is consistent with God’s character and because He has told us it is true. We must be careful with any objections to this doctrine, for if we indicate that we believe there are errors with the original manuscripts, we strike at the very character of God. The Bible is inerrant because it was breathed out by an inerrant God. Because of this we can have full confidence, today and always, that Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.

November 25, 2007

King for a Week is an honor I bestow on blogs that I feel are making a valuable contribution to my faith and the faith of other believers…or sometimes just because I really like them. It is a way of introducing my readers to blogs that they may also find interesting and edifying. Every two weeks (or so. That is theoretical. Practically, I don’t get around to updating as often as I should and we’ve been know to have kings for a month or two!) I select a blog, link to it from my site, and add that site’s most recent headlines to my right sidebar. While this is really not much, I do feel that it allows me to encourage and support other bloggers while making the readers of this blog aware of other good sites.

This week’s King for a Week is Stand to Reason, a blog associated with (obviously) Stand to Reason. This organization was founded by Greg Koukl and Melinda Penner in 1993 to “equip Christian ambassadors with knowledge, wisdom, and character.” It “trains Christians to think more clearly about their faith and to make an even-handed, incisive, yet gracious defense for classical Christianity and classical Christian values in the public square.” The blog, which was started earlier this year, furthers this goal with regular updates dealing with a variety of subjects, most of which have to do with apologetics and worldview. Though the site tends to be pretty American-centric (perhaps a bit too much for this Canadian’s liking!) it is still a good source of information and of thought-provoking content. It’s a good one to add to your RSS reader or to your list of daily stops.

In the coming days (and/or weeks) you will be able to see the most recent headlines from this blog in the sidebar of my site. I hope you will make your way over to look around.

September 28, 2007

In his new book Respectable Sins, Jerry Bridges writes about the important discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself every day. Realizing that many people have heard of this discipline but do not know how to practice it, he provides an overview of how he does so. I found it helpful and trust you will too. What could be more important than beginning each day with a fresh understanding of the great work of the gospel and its application to your life?


Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:

As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

October 03, 2005

The concept of repentance seems to be in full-fledged retreat in today’s church. Evangelical Christians love to stress decisions, worship, faith and growth, but seem to leave out one rather critical aspect of the Christian faith. We need not look far to find people who confess Christ, yet continue to live in ways that would call their confession into question. More than simply committing sins, so many are living truly sinful lifestyles. One has legitimate grounds to wonder if they have show genuine repentance before God.

Repentance is a concept that causes our human natures to rebel, for we hate to think that we are really sinful enough that we need to repent before God. We also hate to give up our autonomy and admit that God’s ways our superior to ours. The idea of expressing faith seems wonderful and so does the idea of being followers of Jesus, but admitting our sinful natures and confessing our unworthiness before God flies in the face of what our society teaches us. We are taught that right and wrong are subjective and that what is good for me may be bad for you – and frankly that’s just fine as long as you don’t force your views on me. Repentance is an admission that our ways our wrong and God’s are right. Repentance is admitting that we are willing to suppress our desires in favor of God’s.

Because our society so hates the idea of repentance, many churches, out of a so-called “seeker-sensitivity,” have stopped speaking about it, choosing instead to teach about sorrow and brokenness. Instead of portraying Jesus as the one who died to remove the stench of our sin from before God, Jesus is portrayed as one who died to meet our needs and to help us live a better life. Jesus died to give us purpose and to give us the power to change our minds. There need not be true, biblical repentance in this watered-down gospel. The true gospel, the gospel which has the power to transform lives, cannot be preached without repentance. An example of an incomplete understanding of repentance was forwarded to me last week by a reader of this site. He provided an excerpt from an interview with Rick Warren. Here is Warren’s definition of repentance:

“The sixth principle is that the biblical word for changing your mind is repentance, metanoia. Now when most people think of the word of repentance, they think of sandwich signs, turn or burn, or they think repentance means stopping all my bad actions.

That is not what repentance is. There is not a lexicon in the world that will tell you that repentance means stop your bad action.

Repentance, metanoia, simply means changing your mind. And we are in the mind-changing business. Preaching is about mind changing. Society’s word for repentance, by the way, is “paradigm shift.”

Repentance is the ultimate paradigm shift, where I go from darkness to light, from guilt to forgiveness, from no hope to hope, from no purpose to purpose, from living for myself to living for Christ. It’s the ultimate paradigm shift.

And repentance is changing your mind at the deepest level of beliefs and values.”

The Bible is not a dictionary, so we will not find a clear-cut, dictionary-like definition of “repent” within its pages. Yet by examining Scripture and historical Christianity we can arrive at a satisfactory definition that captures the biblical essence of the term.

Defining Repentance

Repentance follows the Spirit’s regeneration of a person. Once the Spirit has regenerated us, we are able to do two things. First, we can express faith in God. Second, and inseparable from this expression of faith, we are able to repent before God. These are really two sides of a coin, for as we turn towards God in faith we must necessarily turn away from something at the same time. As we turn towards God we turn away from the way we used to live. This is repentance.

Repentance comes from the Latin word meaning “think” so in reality repentance is “re-thinking.” Repentance is changing one’s mind, but there is more to it than that. The change of mind is so deep and so important that it influences all areas of life – values, goals, affections, actions, plans, motives and lifestyle. More than a change of mind it is a complete reversal of the way a person lives.

The Westminster Confession says the following about repenting:

A sinner, out of the sight and sense, not only of the danger, but also the filthiness and odiousness of his sins, as contrary to the holy nature and righteous law of God, and upon the apprehension of His mercy in Christ to such as are penitent, so grieves for and hates his sins as to turn from them all unto God, purposing and endeavoring to walk with Him in all the ways of His commandments. (15.2)

The Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms, as we might expect, provides a similar definition, defining repentance as “The act of expressing contrition and penitence for sin. Its linguistic roots point to its theological meaning of a change of mind and life direction as a beginning step of expressing Christian faith (Acts 26:20).”

Repentance, then, is born of a comprehension of how odious our sins are in the sight of God. When we begin to understand just how terrible our sins are and how deeply and completely they have offended God, we are able also to begin to comprehend how deep God’s mercy is that He would choose to save us. Understanding our sin and His mercy, we are driven to repent, turning our backs on our sinful ways and choosing to follow God’s ways.

It is important to note that repentance is much more than simply feelings of sorrow or self-hatred. Though these may be part of our reactions to repenting, they are not enough. True repentance expresses itself in action and in a changed life. In Psalm 51 David pours out his heart to God in a beautiful prayer of repentance – one we would all do well to make our own. We see him acknowledging his sinfulness before God (“my sin is always before me. Again You, You only have I sinned”), asking God for forgiveness (“wash me and I shall be whiter than snow”) and expressing a changed life (“deliver me from the guilt…and my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness…my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”). More than simply feeling guilt or sorrow, David showed that he was willing to change. Just as faith without works is dead, so repentance without change is dead.

Warren goes on to tell how he feels that preaching for repentance is the deepest kind of preaching. While I agree on the importance of preaching repentance, I wonder how much the repentance he preaches is mere change of mind and how much is an apprehension of our terrible sinfulness. What we see in Warren’s understanding of repentance (which typifies a modern, evangelical definition) is that many definitions of repentance show a startling absence of any type of mention of sin. Gone are the terms or concepts so integral to Scripture and historic Christianity, terms like “filthiness” and “odiousness.” Gone is a sense of absolute undeservedness. In its place is a changed mind, a decision to turn from bad action to good.

With God’s help we begin to express our repentance with a turning away from our sinful natures. No definition of repentance can be complete without an understanding of my great offense towards God which leads us to turn away from sin. Our wills become subject to His. Our desires become His desires and our goals His goals. Though we continue to express sorrow when we sin, we also express joy when we see how God has helped us change our lives, allowing us to become more and more conformed to the image of His Son.

September 16, 2005

This is the sixth article in a series about Mark Driscoll’s book The Radical Reformission. You can find the first article here, the second here, the third here, the fourth here and the fifth here. We are reaching the end of the book; all that remains is today’s chapter and then the conclusion.

This chapter is an attempt to explain postmodernism. As anyone can attest who has attempted to define such a monster, arriving at a satisfactory explanation is no small feat. But Driscoll does quite a good job. He prefaces the chapter by reiterating the importance of the cultural mandate, though he provides no Scriptural support for this. “While we are here [on earth],” he writes, “we are supposed to be cultivating a culture like the kingdom…Culture is not something that God’s reformission people are merely to participate in; it is also something we are to cultivate, to plow, by living for the kindgom of heaven among the cultures of earth” (page 160).

Driscoll goes on to define postmodernism, at least as far as such a definition is possible. He begins by making four important points. First, postmodernism is basically a philosophical junk drawer into which people toss everything they can not make sense of. Ask four people for a definition and you’ll receive five answers. Second, postmodernity is not new, but was already being examined as a relic of the past as early as the 80’s. Third, postmodernity is simply another philosophy that is destined to pass away. And fourth, postmodern culture is not something that should be ignored, opposed or embraced; rather, it is simply another culture that Christians should seek to redeem.

The heart of the chapter is Driscoll’s list of seven demons that have entered the American church through what has been dubbed the emerging church. He warns that these are traps that must be avoided if we are to remain faithful to Scripture.

demon one: the Sky Fairy - Some church leaders see God as little more than an emasculated Sky Fairy who would never talk about sin or send anyone to hell. “As we work among cultures that value trendiness, we must not forget that the kingdom values timeless truths like sin, repentance, and faith that leads to good works” (page 167).

demon two: keeping it real…sinful - While emerging churches have placed emphasis on being real and genuine, many have taken this too far. “Because we are sinners, simply encouraging people to be who they are in the name of authenticity is dangerous because it can easily be taken as license to sin without repentance” (page 167). We must not forget that the Scriptures value repentance much higher than being real or authentic.

demon three: hermeneutics of the Dragon - Postmodernity poses a challenge to the church because it changes the rules of hermeneutics. Too many postmodern leaders keep the Bible but do away with its authority, choosing to play with the interpretation and meaning of particular texts. Driscoll states, correctly I believe (in fact, this is something I’ve often mentioned in articles on this site), that while the battle of previous decades was for the Bible’s inerrancy, the battle for our day is over the Bible’s authority and meaning.

demon four: from creation back to ex nihilo - Postmodernism is a philosophy dealing with deconstruction. Too much deconstruction, without a building plan, leads to homelessness. “This sense of homelessness pervades those who have undertaken to deconstruct God, Scripture, gender, sin, the meaning of life, and anything else they can find” (page 169). The danger to postmodern churches is that, like fundamentalist churches, they become known more for what they are against, or what they are not, than for what they are.

demon five: the custom is always evil - We live in a gluttonous, spoiled culture where everyone is a customer and everything is a product to be marketed. This applies as much to the church as to a box of cereal. Many postmodern Christians have accepted a consumeristic mindset where they expect a church to cater to them and to meet their felt needs. “But as we cultivate a counterculture, we must not forget that what people need most is to die to themselves and live for God. If we simply give people what they want, we will not be giving them what they need” (page 172).

demon six: the photocopy heresy - Deeply embedded in our culture is the myth of egalitarianism, that everyone is equal in every way. This denies the obvious: that God has created people with different skills, roles and abilities. A postmodern church that is addicted to egalitarianism will be confused over many issues, including those dealing with sexuality and gender. It may also refuse to acknowledge any authority, including that of pastor or elder. In advanced forms this may even diminsh God (through open theism, for example), to make Him more equal to us. As Christians we must remember the duly-appointed authority structures God has seen fit to give us.

demon seven: the hyphenated Christian - Postmoderns reject any authority beyond themselves and reject any claim to truth other than the claim that there is no valid truth claim. Postmodernism has rejected truth and settled instead on the idea of multiple truths, none of which is in any way absolute. The Bible, though, claims to be truth and to reveal truth. It claims to hold total authority over the life of believers. “As we work among cultures, we must never proclaim Jesus as God merely from our limited and biased perspective but rather as God and the King who rules over a kingdom that includes the cultures of the earth. And the view from his throne is not simply one of the many equally valid perspectives but truth” (page 176).

Driscoll’s purpose in addressing these issues is to show that all of them will bring a rapid and inevitable end to reformission. He also warns of them so that believers can avoid being mired in these pitfalls as they seek to build a kingdom culture. He promises that “in the final chapter, I will share with you what this looks like at our church and will try to inspire you to pursue the dreams that God has given you for the place in which you live” (page 176).

Reflections

I began my reflection on the previous chapter by noting, “This was probably the shortest and lightest chapter in the book thus far. I agree with the majority of what Driscoll teaches here.” While this chapter was not nearly as light, I would have to echo the second sentence once more. I found myself saying “amen!” each time Driscoll discussed one of the demons that plague the emerging church. As he addressed each pitfall I could immediately think of examples of people or churches who have fallen into exactly that error. It seems clear that Driscoll has spent a great deal of time studying the emerging churches throughout American and reflecting on what they are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I was especially pleased to hear his affirmation of the authority of Scripture, for if one has a biblical view of the authority of Scripture it seems likely that many other pieces of theology must necessarily fall into place.

I look forward to reading the final chapter and look forward to being able to reflect on the complete argument Driscoll presents in The Radical Reformission.