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Tim Challies

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Peaceful Polemics Online
June 03, 2016

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. This wonderfully pessimistic French phrase roughly translates to “the more things change, the more they stay the same.” It points us to one of the undeniable facts about life in this world: that though times and contexts change, humanity remains the same.

Today, we find ourselves at a fascinating point in history, a point when we are witnessing a radical shift in the way we communicate. We are transitioning from old media to new media, from words on printed pages to words on pixelated screens, from words spoken face-to-face to words spoken to cameras and delivered instantly through screens ten thousand miles away. Such seismic shifts have occurred only a few times in history, and each shift has been accompanied by turmoil, by a time of learning to adapt to new abilities and new realities.

With this newest era and its groundbreaking technologies have come new capabilities as we carry out our age-old responsibility to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). God has called each one of His children to proclaim and defend the gospel. He has called each one of us to stand for truth and to stand against those who tamper with it or who outright deny it. Paul states:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Eph. 6:10–13)

This should be easier than ever in an age of widespread and instant communications. But with new capabilities come new temptations and new dangers.

If history were to end tomorrow, we would probably look back on the era of digital communications as an era of chaos. We have proven our deep depravity in our ability to speak too quickly, too strongly, and too harshly. All that Jesus and James and Solomon warned us about the power of the tongue can be extended to the power of our fingers as they dance over our keyboards and our thumbs as they tap out messages on our phones. Out of the overflow of the heart the fingers type.

God calls us to be people who speak the truth, but who speak the truth in love. Ephesians 4:15–16 illustrates:

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Even as we contend for the faith, we are to contend in love. Even as we speak out in defense of the One who has saved us, we must speak with patience, with respect, with self-control. We have proven ourselves both willing and able to speak, but we have a long way to go to prove that we can do it all in love.

Many years ago, John Stott pondered Paul’s command to the church in Ephesus that they were to speak the truth in love. Paul called on those Christians to prove their spiritual maturity by their desire and their ability to maintain unity even through disagreement, even through debate. The way to prove the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, wrote Paul, is not only to speak true words and not only to speak loving words, but to do both at the same time and in the same measure. Stott’s warning from his commentary on Ephesians is timeless, transcending all technological eras: “Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love; love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth.” I fear that for too many of us, our words are hard, untouched by the softening quality of love. And yet we gain nothing if we speak love at the expense of truth, if our love is untouched by the strengthening power of truth.

Stott rightly points out:

The apostle calls us to hold the two together, which should not be difficult for Spirit-filled believers, since the Holy Spirit is himself “the spirit of truth,” and his first fruit is “love.” There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity.

Our fast-paced, always-on, digital world brings us unparalleled opportunities to speak. It allows us to extend our voices around the world with the simple click of a single button. But it also offers unparalleled opportunities to do so poorly, to do so in ways that deny rather than display the fruit of the Spirit. Christian, God has called you to speak His truth, to contend for the faith. He has provided new and amazing media ideally suited to do this very thing. Your challenge and mine—the challenge of the church here in the twenty-first century—is the challenge to speak that truth in love, to contend with an equal measure of firmness and gentleness.

This article was originally written for Tabletalk Magazine. Image credit: Shutterstock

Why I Am Not Liberal
June 02, 2016

I am now well into a series titled “Why I Am Not…” In an age when so many consider religious beliefs as subjective and irrational, I am convinced that any conviction worth holding must stand up to scrutiny. So how did I come by my faith? Why am I confident in my most deeply held beliefs? These are the questions I’m attempting to answer and I am doing it by looking at some of the beliefs I have weighed but found wanting. I have already told why I am not atheist and why I am not Roman Catholic. Today I want to tell why I am not liberal.

I need to define what I mean by the term. Liberalism arose as professed Christians struggled to reconcile modern minds with ancient beliefs. They found apparent conflicts between science and Scripture, for example, and grappled with how to reconcile the two. Christians had traditionally professed that the inerrant and infallible Word of God is the “norming norm,” the standard that stands above all others. Liberals, though, began to place far greater emphasis on the human mind and were willing to overrule long-held interpretations of Scripture in order to make peace with modern discoveries and sensibilities. At heart, then, liberalism was a matter of authority—the authority of the Bible against the authority of the human mind. One would have to take precedence over the other.

While the terminology of theological liberalism has faded, the spirit of liberalism lives on. To give one ready example, the emerging church movement was little more than modern liberalism masquerading in postmodern clothing. And it is in this context that I first encountered it. Like so many others, I found myself investigating Reformed theology at the very time that the emerging church was in its ascendency. Each of these competing movements had its own attraction, yet they were incompatible because of their opposing views of Scripture.

I believe that the Reformed and Emerging movements each gained prominence as an alternative to the church growth movement. Church growth had dominated the evangelical landscape for many years but many people had become disillusioned with its brand of big-box Christianity, with so much emphasis on form and style but so little on content and orthodoxy. Both movements offered a compelling alternative. The Reformed movement offered historic Protestant theology carried through expositional preaching while the Emerging movement offered relational authenticity carried through community and advocacy. Both were attractive to people weary of yet another program, yet another “next big thing.”

The church I attended at the time was once described by a sarcastic visitor as “just another Saddleback/Willow Creek knockoff,” though that meant nothing to me at the time. As the years went by, the church began to make use of Rob Bell’s Nooma videos which had begun as clever theological inquiry but which soon tiptoed awfully close to liberalism. Some of the church leaders began to read and distribute books by Brian McLaren and other Emergent writers. At the same time, I learned that a close friend was dabbling in older forms of liberalism, first reading books he had borrowed from the local public library and then eventually full-out revoking the faith.

Between the church and my friend I had reasons to investigate liberalism in both its classic and contemporary forms. I did so by reading books. I read James White, James Montgomery Boice, R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, Michel Horton, Wayne Grudem, and others as well. Few if any of these books dealt with liberalism head-on, but they didn’t need to. These authors presented a united front when it came to a theology of the Bible, and between them they renewed and reinforced my understanding of Scripture’s inerrancy, infallibility, clarity, necessity, sufficiency, and authority. I grew in my conviction that the Bible is inerrant, that, as Grudem says, “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact.” Or, even better, as the Bible says, “Every word of God proves true” (Proverbs 30:5) and “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (Psalm 12:6).

Following behind the doctrine of inerrancy were the doctrine of sufficiency (that God has said through Scripture all that he needs to say in order for us to honor and obey him), the doctrine of clarity (that the central message of the Bible and the appropriate response to it are made clear in its pages), and the doctrine of necessity (that we are utterly dependent upon God’s revelation of himself). And from there it was but a short step to the sweet doctrine of the Bible’s authority (that “to disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or disobey God”). I saw that God was calling me to willingly, freely, joyfully, and immediately acknowledge and obey him by acknowledging and obeying his Word.

When I turned my eye back to the emerging church or back to my friend’s classic liberalism, I saw that at the center of it all stood a denial of the authority of the Word of God. These people read the Bible and preached the Bible and wrote about the Bible and professed to honor the Bible, but all the while they denied the full authority of the Bible. They accepted God’s Word on their own terms. But God gives us no such option. To take the Bible at any terms but its own is to reject the Bible altogether. 

I am not liberal and never will be. Instead, I am evangelical, joyfully affirming the authority of the Bible while attempting to live according to it. My investigations into liberalism led me out of the church I was part of and into a church that was both evangelical and Reformed. And that serves as an appropriate into my next article in which I will discuss why I am not Arminian.

The Transgender Conversation You Need to Have With Your Family
May 31, 2016

A friend of mine told me about her recent experience in an airport security line. She was dutifully passing through the metal detector when she heard a beep and was told she would need the pat-down procedure. It is the right of the traveler to have that procedure performed by someone of the same gender and so, as per protocol, the call went out for a female officer to assist. But as the pat-down began, my friend realized that the officer was undeniably biologically male though identifying as female. She did not know what to do or say, so simply allowed the pat-down to proceed. As she walked away, she realized that she was more surprised than offended. It had just never occurred to her that she might unexpectedly find herself being frisked by a man whom she had been told was a woman.

As you know, new laws are allowing transgender people to craft their own identity and then to have society treat them accordingly. A biological male who identifies as a woman is allowed to use the bathroom or locker room associated with his new identity. He is also granted the right to be considered female. In this way sex and gender are being deliberately disconnected so that words like “man” and “woman” have no necessary correlation to “male” and “female” or “masculine” and “feminine.” And, for that reason, we find ourselves facing new scenarios like the one my friend described. However, such situations are rare because transgenderism is rare.

But there is something that, to my mind, is of greater and wider concern. It is the fact that the same laws that allow transgender people to craft their own identity allow expansive rights to anyone else. The same laws that allow transgender persons into their preferred bathroom or locker room allow everybody else in as well—and to let them in without question or censure. Societal pressure and new legislation permits people to use the bathroom or locker room most closely associated with their gender identity, but do not allow anyone else to question that identity. This opens up the potential for some very difficult or even dangerous situations.

TIME covered one of them in an article titled Even in Liberal Communities, Transgender Bathroom Laws Worry Parents. The article tells of a pool in New York City where a man began to routinely change in the women’s locker room. This room was simultaneously used by young girls preparing for swim practice and they were made uncomfortable by his presence, his nudity, and his obvious masculinity—there was no hint about him that he identified as female. But there was nothing the pool employees could do because policy does not allow them to question him in any way. So the girls crowded together in the single-use family change room instead. Similarly, in Seattle a man recently deliberately disrobed in front of young girls. “Officials said he had made no attempt to present himself as a woman, nor to identify as transgender when he checked in. By all appearances, he was a man.” Yet a spokesman said, “We have guidelines that allow transgender individuals to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity.” Those same guidelines do not allow them to ask for proof that the person does, indeed, identify in that way. Thus, he is allowed to undress in the room of his choice regardless of whether he actually considers himself transgender. Looking at such stories—and there are a growing number like them—, we come to realize that the transgender conversation has brought with it a host of others. This is the transgender conversation you need to have with your family—the conversation about what has come along with transgenderism.

Jennifer Oshman recently wrote about moving to a nation in Europe and being unprepared for some of what she and her family encountered there. They quickly learned that locker rooms in their new home were governed by very different norms. “While the locker rooms at the high school were indeed gender separate, we were surprised to find that locker rooms at local gyms were not. Rather one large locker room served both genders. You can imagine our surprise when my husband entered the door marked for men and my daughters and I entered the door marked for women and we ended up in the same room, surveying people of both genders and all ages changing in one place.” They could not run away from such situations so had to learn to navigate them well.

We found ourselves in multiple situations that we could not change or even complain about. We had to be creative in how we handled them—wanting at once to be wise stewards of our daughters’ hearts, while at the same time not wanting to drive a wedge between ourselves and the culture we had come to love and desired to serve. This dual goal is really at the heart of any Christian parent in any scenario.

She and her family were forced to learn to navigate a foreign culture. And they did. They learned to navigate it through both protection and education. As far as possible they protected their girls from danger by accompanying them into difficult situations and, for those times they could not offer direct protection, they taught them appropriate attitudes and actions.

You and I, too, are now navigating an increasingly foreign culture, a culture that has suddenly swept into being around us. If we are going to live well in this culture, we need to think through certain scenarios and consider how we will respond to them. As parents, we need to consider scenarios our children may face and teach them how to respond as well. These are not just conversations about transgenderism and scenarios that may unfold as we encounter and interact with transgender people, but conversations about the scenarios that may accompany it. Such scenarios will be different for each family in each context, but here are a few examples, none of which is entirely unlikely.

What will you do if you walk into a locker room at your pool or gym and come face to face with a naked person of the opposite sex? You may not know in that moment if that person is transgender, if that person is confused, or if that person is a predator. What will you want your spouse to do if he or she encounters this situation? Will you shrug it off? Will you walk out? Will you bring it to the attention of the management? What will you expect management to do?

What will you expect your son to do if a transgender student or team member insists on showering with him and with the other boys (or your daughter if a boy insists on showering with her)? What will you expect your daughter to do if she goes into the locker room at the pool and sees a man lounging naked by his locker (a scenario that unfolded not long ago for parents in Olympia)? Or what if she is out with friends, ducks out of the movie theatre to use the bathroom, and finds herself walking in side by side with a bearded man?

What will you do when you are told you need that TSA pat-down and they dispatch an officer who is the opposite gender to you but claiming to be the same? What if it’s your body-conscious teenaged daughter who is about to be patted down by a person claiming to be female but who is sporting a beard?

I know as I write these questions that some will accuse me of fear-mongering and, inevitably, of bigotry. But hear me: My concern is that we are hurtling full-speed into untested territory and we and our children are the ones who will need to figure out how to navigate it well. As we do that we may find ourselves in situations that are trying or even dangerous. We just don’t know what our world will look like when we begin to break down the barriers between sex and gender. Again, the very same laws that allow transgender rights extend those rights to anyone who wishes to take advantage of them. We simply don’t know who will take advantage of them to take advantage of others. We just don’t know. To carry out our mandate as parents, we need to offer our children both protection and education. We owe it to them and we owe it to the One who created them. We need to have this conversation.

Image credit: Shutterstock

May 29, 2016

This week I received an unusual number of letters to the editor, most of them dedicated to two topics: Catholicism and ad-blockers. In both cases there were many who agreed with me and many who did not. And in every case I am grateful to those who wrote. I genuinely enjoy receiving these letters to the editor.

Comments on Why I Am Not Roman Catholic

As a practicing Roman Catholic I would be first to say that yes, Catholicism has its excesses. However your statement that the Catholic Church does not “have” the Gospel is wrong. Without the church there would be no Gospel. The church decided which books were canonical and which were not. I would like to write briefly on why I am not a fundamentalist: I believe God gave us a heart to know God and a brain to know everything else. The Bible, when it is teaching, is teaching of God’s abiding love. In my view the Bible is not abrogating everything our God-given intelligence tells us. It has nothing to say about, anthropology, astronomy, history, physics, chemistry, medicine etc. To say that it does is to elevate the Book(s) in an idolatrous fashion. I cannot be a fundamentalist because my brain says “sort out the lesson this prehistoric myth is teaching.” It tells me “This is allegory,” “this is hyperbole” etc. I cannot be a fundamentalist because the God of the literal Bible believer is too small.
—Salvator A, Pittsburgh PA

***

In reference to the veneration of saints and idolatry, I must point out that from the pulpit, Catholic priests have condemned the worship of Mary and the saints. What we do is pay honor (not worship) to very honorable “friends.” We know these saints to be in heaven and so we show them true friendship in the hope that they will, in their turn, advocate for us in Heaven and ask God to pour out His grace and blessing. All this that we believe is scriptural, but Protestants removed 7-½ books from the Bible to make their man-based faith more consistent to their preaching. The Catholic Church keeps excellent records and traditions that lead back to Peter, whereas other faiths may be traced through many branches back to some troubled man who denied Christ’s Catholic Church. Thank you for your time, sir.
—Adam D, Forest Grove, OR

Tim: These comments are representative of letters I received from Roman Catholics. I have a number of replies, of course, but will not make them here and now. In short, I’ve rarely if ever had a Roman Catholic suggest that a Protestant actually understands their theology. Instead, I always hear this: You got your conclusion wrong because you haven’t properly understood.

***

In your article you said: “I joyfully affirm, of course, that there are true believers within Catholicism and that what is true of Rome’s official doctrine is not necessarily true of all of her adherents.” My remark to this statement is this: You got to be kidding! How can someone who believes in the mass and confession be saved? And don’t tell me they are Catholics even though they do not believe in the mass and confession. My wife was one for 20 years and I have dealt with hundreds of them in my life time along the Gulf Coast. I have never known of one person in the Catholic church that did not believe in the mass or the confession. This article gives people the false impression that a person can sit and listen to the false gospel of Catholicism and be saved. How can anyone be saved by believing a false gospel which is the only gospel the Catholic church preaches?
—Art W, Magnolia Springs, AL

***

Good and helpful article - and one that needs to be discussed more among protestants. I have a question/concern about this portion at the end: “I joyfully affirm, of course, that there are true believers within Catholicism and that what is true of Rome’s official doctrine is not necessarily true of all of her adherents. Yet the salvation of these brothers and sisters has come despite the teachings of the church, not through them.” I struggle with this. I fear that developing this sort of an attitude may prevent us from evangelizing them. Also—in our modern society, there is just so much information available that people—who are truly seeking God I think, will know of the difference. Would you extend the same sort of grace to someone who is involved in Mormonism or Jehovah Witnesses? Could they be saved and ignorant of what their religion teaches as well? I’m more comfortable noting that God will save his elect, and that he draws his elect to himself from all walks of life. In that, if there are elect numbered in the church of Rome right now, I would expect him to draw them out of her and bring them to a fellowship where God is worshiped in truth.
—Paul A, Oakley, CA

Tim: In this case I was quoting pastor Leonardo De Chirico, and it is important to read his comments to the end: “These people, however, must be encouraged to reflect on whether their faith is compatible or not with belonging to the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be helped to critically think over what remains of their Catholic background in the light of Biblical teaching.” In other words, Roman Catholics who are saved within the Catholic Church will have to question whether they can remain in that church. Implicit in his statement is the understanding that they will soon see that they cannot. There is a vast difference between a true believer who has come to faith in the Catholic Church and who is beginning to wrestle with what he has always assumed to be true and one who, on the basis of knowledge, denies the gospel of grace alone by faith alone.

Comments on Why I Don’t Use An Ad Blocker

I love the variety of topics that you tackle. The subject of Ad Blockers is a interesting one and I completely understand your perspective that we have an obligation to view ads when we enjoy the content of a site. Otherwise, it is like we are stealing. I have used an Ad Blocker that I feel addresses the issue well. It is called Ad Blocker Plus. I started using it in addition to filtering and accountability software to help my family and I with purity issues. What I appreciate about this product is that it allows and in fact encourages ads which are meet certain guidelines. It blocks ads that include video, flashy banners, pop-ups, pop-unders etc. I think this is a good approach of allowing advertising content that is appropriate. You might want to look at their website at adblockplus.org for more information.
—Anthony W, Claremont, CA

***

It seems that the premise of your article about Ad Blockers is open to serious critique. You write, “I believe that when I visit a web site I am entering into an implicit agreement with the owner of that site.” You assume this is to be true (mostly) without defending it. I was uncomfortable when I first read that statement, and as I’ve pondered it it, I wondered whether you apply this consistently with everything supported by advertising? Do you ever walk away from or turn down the volume during breaks in a TV program? Do you ever switch radio stations when the music stops? Do you ever skip over the ad pages in the magazine found in the seat back pocket on an airplane?

Being impractical or inconsistently applied doesn’t automatically imply that your premise is wrong, but it does lead to me to more quickly question whether it’s true. It seems to me that people ignoring (in one way or another) advertising is inherent in the very idea of advertising. Systematically ignoring the ads seems no different to me in substance than ignoring them on an occasional basis, or when its convenient for me. Your article was thought provoking, but in the end, I don’t find it compelling because I think our premise of a “contract” is flawed.
—Josh F, Charlotte, NC

Tim: I know that my approach is open to critique. I even made sure to say that this was a matter of conscience and that others may disagree (or may have a better-informed conscience). I ask only this: If everyone blocks ads on their favorite web sites, how will those sites survive? The fact we must deal with is that ad blockers remove or decrease a site owner’s ability to support his site. If everyone blocks my ads, my advertisers will see that no one clicks those ads and stop running them. Then I will not be able to support the bills associated with the site. Sooner or later we will come up with better approaches to monetization (and perhaps I’ve already done this through sponsored posts) but in the meantime banner ads are a necessity.

***

Thank you for your reasonable approach to hosting ads. I wish other sites followed your principles, but the truth is that the ad networks out there can be used to serve malware. Today, ad blocking is as necessary as anti-virus. However, you are right in that many sites need the ad revenue to exist, but there are more options than ads. If a site doesn’t offer a subscription service, it is possible to use Google Contributor to pay sites their ad revenue without being served ads. This is not the right answer for everyone, but there are more options than blocking ads and strolling through the wild west of ad networks.
—Bill G, Batavia, IL

Tim: I agree it is possible, but it is very, very difficult to convince people to pay for content they are accustomed to getting for free. How many sites have tried a subscriber model and then had to abandon it? Very few have actually succeeded.

***

There is another side to the ad-blocker question. There have been quite a few instances of malicious ads — ads serving malware — being unwittingly served by even highly reputable websites like the New York Times, the BBC, MSN, and AOL. (Example). While I am generally sympathetic to your implied-contract argument, I don’t think that exposure to malware is part of that bargain! Safer computing strategies (like keeping all software up to date) can reduce, but not eliminate, the risk. And I’d argue that there is a moral interest in, for instance, not risking one’s computer to become part of a botnet (a network of malware-controlled computers that usually performs various evil deeds). I don’t know what the right answer to this problem is, only that it is not as straightforward as your article seems to imply. Of course, one can (and probably should) “whitelist” ads on certain websites at which the site owner is hand-selecting ads rather than working through an automated ad network. But that is quite different from not using an ad blocker at all.
—Jimmy S, Chicago, IL

***

Good article. But I don’t believe you. You don’t block ads because you have to do yourself exactly what the ads you would be blocking do: Sell stuff! It’s a tough conundrum. As a Christian author, you want to be humble and famous (ok popular). But you really can’t do both. So you rationalize. It’s an amazing thing Satan has done: created a way for Christianity to get better known by drawing people away from Jesus and closer to people who are becoming more popular by bemoaning the very thing they are so good at doing! BTW, I really like you and your stuff!
—Joel L, Viera, FL

Tim: It sounds like Joel has access to my innermost self and sees things there that even I don’t! What a remarkable gift.

Comments on A Call for Plodding Bloggers

Your recent article, A Call For Plodding Bloggers found me at just the right time. Admittedly, when I’m focused on social shares, page views and subscriber counts like all of the blogging coaches teach, I’m not at my best. But your words about using the gift of my blog for the good of the Kingdom hit home. I’m reminded that I write first to bring glory to God, and if only one person receives something from it then it’s all worth it. I’m encouraged by your article to press on, and I thank you for that. You’ll find me out here, plodding along!
—Gene W, Monument, CO

Tim: Wonderful. I’ll be plodding along beside you.

May 27, 2016

As a true son of Adam, a person born with a natural affection for sin, I have no shortage of opportunities to consider sin and to consider the desire to commit it in its infinite varieties. As a husband and father, a pastor, and a church member I have no shortage of opportunities to speak to other people about their sin and their temptations. And time and time again I find myself returning to the simplest truths, to words that can and must be spoken to temptation.

The first thing to say to the sin that is tempting you is this: That is not who I am! That temptation, that sin, does not fit your deepest identity. Those who have put their faith in Christ Jesus are in Christ Jesus—“For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22). There is now a union in Christ that provides an entirely new identity. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). If Christ is a vine, you are a branch that has been grafted into the vine and made inseparable from it (John 15:5). You are no longer who you were. You are a new creation, remade in the image of Christ. You are justified, you are adopted, you are holy. In your salvation you have been transformed so that your deepest identity, your eternal identity, is not Satan’s but Christ’s, not sinner but saint. Be who you are!

The second thing to say to temptation is this: You have no power over me! There was a time when sin and temptation had complete power over you. You were under the dominion of Satan, a slave to sin and unrighteousness (Romans 6:20). But no longer. By putting your faith in Christ you have been liberated from sin’s authority. “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin” (Romans 6:6-7). Not only that, but you have been indwelled by the Holy Spirit (1 Thessalonians 4:8) who gives you the power to not sin, to instead joyfully choose righteousness. The only power sin has is the power you give it when you refuse to take hold of the sin-crushing strength of the Holy Spirit. Never fail to remind your sin that it has no authority over you.

The third thing to speak to your temptation is this: You over-promise and under-deliver! Sin always promises so much and always delivers so little. Just think of what sin promised Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:4-5) and what it actually delivered to them (Genesis 3:7 - Revelation 22:21). Think of what sin promised to Abraham, to Samson, to David, to Judas, to Peter, to Ananias and Sapphira, and compare that to what it cost them. Even more, think of Jesus and what sin cost him (though the sin was his by imputation, not commission)! If you read your Bible with even half an eye open you cannot miss the vast chasm between what sin offers and what it delivers. If you read your life with even a hint of honesty you will see that same vast chasm. Sin promises joy but brings pain, sin promises happiness but brings shame, sin promises life but brings death, sin promises freedom but brings guilt, sin promises heaven but brings hell. It is always, always a lie.

The temptation to sin is inevitable when you are a sinful person living in a sinful world. But the actual committing of sin is by no means inevitable when you are made a saint through Christ Jesus. Learn to speak truth, his truth, to every temptation.

Why I Am Not Roman Catholic
May 26, 2016

Last week I began a new series titled “Why I Am Not…” and in this series I am exploring some of the things I do not believe as a means to explaining what I do believe. In the last article I explained why I am not atheist and now want to explain why I am not Roman Catholic. The timing of this article is unplanned but rather appropriate. I publish today from Orlando, Florida where I am enjoying some time at Ligonier Ministries, the ministry founded many years ago by Dr. R.C. Sproul. In very important ways the answer to the question “Why am I not Roman Catholic?” is “R.C. Sproul.” But I am getting ahead of myself.

Though my parents were saved into Pentecostalism, they quickly found a home in the Presbyterian tradition and developed deep interests in both church history and Reformed theology. Each of them read extensively in these fields and eagerly taught me what they had learned. In church history they found the long saga of Rome’s battle against Protestants and pre-Protestants while in theology they found her distortion of the gospel. From my early days I was taught that Catholicism is a dangerous perversion of biblical truth and learned the traditional Protestant understanding that its pontiff is the antichrist, the great opponent of God’s people.

As I entered adulthood I felt a growing desire to examine the beliefs I had always assumed to see if I actually held to them independently from my parents. I looked for resources that could guide me and soon came across the works of R.C. Sproul which had largely been written in response to Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Sproul had determined that he would allow the Church to speak for herself through her catechism and official statements and that he would evaluate these through Scripture. He showed a deep, respectful understanding of Catholicism and built a compelling case in which he exposed her most serious problems. Books by James White complemented Sproul’s and under their guidance I came to see that Catholic doctrine really is opposed to Scripture and to the gospel. My convictions about the errors and dangers of Catholicism changed a little bit—I became far less convinced about the connection between pope and antichrist, for example—but overall were sharpened and deepened. I concluded that for a number of reasons I could never be Roman Catholic. Most prominent among them are these three:

I am not Roman Catholic because Rome denies the gospel. Rome has a gospel but not the gospel and, in reality, their gospel damns not saves because it explicitly denies that justification comes by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Rome accurately understands the Protestant position and unapologetically anathematizes it. To the work of Christ it adds the work of Mary. To the intercession of the Savior it adds the intercession of the saints. To the authority of the Bible it adds the authority of tradition. To the free gift of salvation it adds the necessity of human effort. In place of the finished work of Christ on the cross it demands the ongoing sacrifice of the mass. In place of the permanent imputation of Christ’s righteousness it substitutes the temporary infusion of works righteousness. In so many different ways it explicitly and unapologetically denies truth and promotes error. The Roman Catholic gospel is a false gospel.

I am not Roman Catholic because Rome is not the church. Rome claims to trace her lineage in an unbroken line that extends all the way back to the apostle Peter to whom Christ said, “Upon this rock I will build my church” (Matthew 16:18). In this way she says that she is the church with the power and authority to demand the allegiance and bind the conscience of every Christian. I do not recognize such lineage and, therefore, do not recognize such authority. Her claims are unprovable and represent a distortion of the Bible’s claims about Christ’s church. To be Catholic I would first have to bend the knee to the pope as the successor to Peter and acknowledge the Church as the continuation of what Christ began through his disciples. I cannot, because the Roman Catholic Church is a false church.

I am not Roman Catholic because Catholic worship is idolatrous. Protestants commonly charge Catholicism with promoting worship of Mary or the saints. Under the tutelage of R.C. Sproul I came to understand that this charge requires nuance and is, to some degree, a matter of defining words such as “venerate.” And yet there is undeniably a seed of what I must acknowledge as idolatry. This was affirmed during a recent trip to Europe where in Germany and Austria I visited Catholic cathedrals and saw the veneration of bones, relics, and icons, and where I saw the Church advocating and promoting prayers to Mary and the saints. Here was Catholicism in its full bloom and it was as alarming as it was tragic. I saw people who have not known the joyous freedom of the gospel desperately extending worship to or through Mary and the saints. They did it all under the guidance of their Church. In many of its forms Roman Catholic worship is idolatrous.

I joyfully affirm, of course, that there are true believers within Catholicism and that what is true of Rome’s official doctrine is not necessarily true of all of her adherents. Yet the salvation of these brothers and sisters has come despite the teachings of the church, not through them. I appreciate the point Leonardo De Chirico highlights here:

What refers to the Catholic Church in its doctrinal and institutional configuration cannot necessarily be extended to all Catholics as individuals. The grace of God is at work in men and women who, though considering themselves Catholics, entrust themselves exclusively to the Lord, cultivate a personal relationship with Him, read the Bible and live as Christians. These people, however, must be encouraged to reflect on whether their faith is compatible or not with belonging to the Catholic Church. Moreover, they must be helped to critically think over what remains of their Catholic background in the light of Biblical teaching.

I am not Roman Catholic. I am not Roman Catholic because I was raised to understand that Catholic doctrine is opposed to Scripture. But even more, I am not Roman Catholic because through my own examinations I came to see that she denies the gospel of free grace, that she claims authority that is not her own, and that she promotes worship that detracts from the worship we all owe exclusively to our God.

Why I do not use an ad blocker
May 25, 2016

Let’s just get it out there: Online advertising is a mess. We understand that it is a necessity, but we despair at how ugly it has become. Like you, I hate visiting a website and having to deal with flashing, flickering, or inappropriate banner ads designed to distract me from what I am attempting to watch or read. Even more than that, I hate autoplaying videos that interrupt and annoy, and I utterly loathe pop-under ads that open secretly and hide under my browser. I am not opposed to advertising. I generally don’t mind seeing appropriate and respectful advertisements that relate to my interests or to the site I am viewing. But for every useful ad, I have had to endure ten thousand awful ones. So have you, I’m sure.

There is an easy solution. Ad blockers are simple and popular browser plug-ins that remove all of those ads. They wipe the banners in the sidebar, they shut down the autoplaying videos before they even begin, they interrupt the pop-under ads. As they do all of this, they streamline the browsing experience, making it faster and better and far less annoying. They seem like a perfect solution. But I don’t use them. I can’t use them. Let me tell you why and explain how I think through the issue. As I do so, let me acknowledge that this is not an area of clear biblical command but an area of conscience in which different Christians looking at the same issue through the same Bible may come to differing conclusions.

I believe that when I visit a web site I am entering into an implicit agreement with the owner of that site  Their end of the agreement is to provide me with content that I do not have to pay for and my end of the agreement is to see ads. I receive information or entertainment while they receive advertising revenue. It’s a win-win. However, ad blockers interrupt this agreement by allowing me to receive my end of the bargain while keeping them from receiving theirs. This troubles me.

When I visit a web site I am causing the owner of that site to incur a cost. It may be very minor—a fraction of a cent, perhaps—but it is still a cost related to designing, programming, or hosting. Also, many writers write in order to receive financial remuneration for their work, not an unreasonable desire. When that site is supported by advertising, I consider it my duty, my side of the implicit agreement, to view the ads so the owner receives his support and his pay. In my mind this is only fair and right, an application of Jesus’s Golden Rule: “Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). I won’t consume without providing. If I take I must also give.

 And so my conscience compels me to refrain from using an ad blocker because I feel the need to uphold my end of the bargain. If I come across a site whose ads are intolerable, I may exercise my right as a consumer and stop visiting the site, but I won’t block the ads. It’s only what I would want others to do for me—and, indeed, what I do want others to do for me.

As a site owner, I take it upon myself to filter advertisers so visitors only have to see ads displaying vetted, valuable products, services, or ministries, and I take it upon myself to filter the advertisements to ensure they are not obnoxious or intrusive. I publish one clearly-marked sponsored post each week and allow one small banner ad related to that sponsored post. This is my attempt to honor both readers and advertisers, to broker peace in a tricky battle.

My hope and my optimistic belief is that the era of the obnoxious banner ad, the pop-up or pop-under, and the auto-playing video is coming to an end. In fact, ironically, the rise of the ad blocker is making this likely by forcing advertisers to explore and innovate to restore the revenue they are losing as so many people shut out their ads. We will all be the happy beneficiaries. But for now, at least, I will continue to see the ads and to uphold my part in this bilateral agreement.

Image credit: Shutterstock

3 Priorities for Christian Parents
May 23, 2016

What’s a parent to do? We know that God tells us to raise our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord—we get that. But what does that actually look like? How can we flesh out that simple framework?

I was recently reading through 1 Thessalonians and once again came to one of my favorite passages. In this letter Paul is addressing specific concerns raised by the congregation in Thessalonica. It seems that one of the matters they wanted him to address involved the simple question of Christian living: How do we live lives that are pleasing to God? How can we know that God is pleased with us? The most significant part of Paul’s response to the question comes in chapter 4.

It struck me as I read it: Isn’t this the question we ask for our children? How can they live lives that are pleasing to God? Isn’t that the dream and desire of every Christian parent, that their children will live lives that thrill God? In this section of his letter Paul provides three priorities. The priorities Paul offers to this first-century Christian church can be helpful to twenty-first century Christian parents.

The Importance of Sexual Purity

The first priority Paul highlights is the priority of sexual knowledge and purity—knowledge of God’s purposes in sexuality and dedication to obedience. He says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality” (3-4), and goes on to describe the importance of sexual self-control. Here he is clearly following up on earlier teaching where he told them about God’s purpose and plan in sexuality. He ties their holiness directly to their purity, making it clear that the only kind of life that honors God is a life of abstaining from sin and pursuing holy expressions of sexuality. These were no doubt important instructions to recent converts living in a licentious society that permitted and celebrated many forms of depravity. He even warns that there will be immediate and perhaps even eternal consequences to sin (6) and reminds them that they are indwelled by the Holy Spirit who gives them an internal warning against such deeds (8). “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (7).

Similarly, parents bear the responsibility of teaching and training their children to understand the importance of sexual purity and, before that, the sheer goodness of human sexuality. They must both discipline and instruct, teaching what God requires and being prepared to correct their children when they go against such instructions. In an age of moral revolution and terrible sexual confusion, no concerned parent can neglect to arm their children with a sound knowledge of God’s perspective on sexuality.

The Priority of the Local Church

After Paul speaks of the importance of sexual purity he advances to the priority of the local church as the Christian’s mission field for love. “Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more…” (9-10). These believers were a picture of Christian love, expressing love within their local assembly that then overflowed into acts of love to the wider Christian community. And yet Paul knew that where love isn’t growing it is declining. He knew that love never ends because there is no end to the possible deeds of love. And so he encouraged them to continue to make love a priority—beginning right there in the local church.

Here we can learn the importance of teaching our children to prioritize the local church, and teaching our children to see the church not only as a place of worship, but a place of love—a place to express love to other Christians. Do your children know that the local church is absolutely foundational to God’s plan for us, for them? Do they know that we are not merely consumers of worship but dispensers of love? (It’s encouraging to note that this church listened to him—see 2 Thessalonians 1:3.)

The Dignity of Hard Work

Having told the church of the priorities of sexual purity and local church fellowship, Paul tells them “to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you” (11). This is a call to believe in the dignity of labor and, on that basis, to work hard. In a church that apparently struggled with laziness and meddling (see also 5:14, and 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15), Paul commanded that they be content to be unknown and unnoticed except for their hard work. This work had value in providing evidence of their profession of faith (“so that you may walk properly before outsiders”) and as a further expression of love to other Christians (“and be dependent on no one”). Through their hard work they would display the power of the gospel and be able to avoid lazy dependence upon the church.

Our children need to know that God created us to work and that there is dignity in all labor. Paul himself, though a pastor and scholar, an elite and intellectual, was unashamed to work with his own hands, to provide for his own needs. Paul knew this: Sin grows in the soil of idleness and a refusal to work displays a willingness to sin. He would undoubtedly agree with Spurgeon who said, “Idle people tempt the devil to tempt them.” Much of our children’s sin, especially as they grow older, can be traced to idleness, to long and lazy evenings, to an unwillingness to dedicate themselves to hard work.

We need to teach our children far more than these three things, of course, but Paul’s instruction to the church in Thessalonica, his answer to “How do we live lives that are pleasing to God?” give us a great place to begin, a set of priorities applicable to every parent. Parenting is more than this, to be sure, but it must not be less.