Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


March 09, 2015

It is terrible but true—sexual predators target churches. In the mind of a predator, a church offers a compelling target and, too often, an easy target. I recently worked my way through On Guard by Deepak Reju and learned that there are at least 6 reasons why sexual predators specifically target churches.

Christians Are Naïve

Some sexual offenders state it outright—they go after churches because Christians tend to be naïve. Anna Salter says, “If children can be silenced and the average person is easy to fool, many offenders report that religious people are even easier to fool than most people.” Reju says, “Christian are, generally speaking, trusting folks. Child abusers recognize this fact and want to take full advantage of it.” He quotes a former prosecutor who lays it out: “For a variety of reasons, we naively tend to automatically lower our guard when we are amongst professing Christians. This same naïveté is why offenders flock to the faith community; no other environment provides them such quick and easy access to children without fear of raising concerns.”

Christians Are Ignorant of the Problem

Christians are not only naïve, but also ignorant—ignorant of the problem of abuse and the extent of the problem within faith communities. Many Christians consider it unlikely or impossible that abuse could happen within their church, so they fail to take adequate measures, they ignore warnings, and they disregard reports. Reju says, “Many Christians don’t know how to distinguish likability and trustworthiness. They confuse the two categories, assuming that if someone is courteous and nice, they must also be trustworthy. Moreover, some Christians behave as though the problem doesn’t exist, and some look with suspicion on reports of abuse. They believe children are lying and are more prone to take an adult’s word. Sexual predators know that these dynamics operate in churches, and they know they can get away with a lot on account of it.”

Churches Offer Access to Children

Perhaps most simply of all, churches offer access—and often very easy access—to children. Reju says this well: “Because churches are always looking for help with children’s ministry and often are facing shortages of volunteers, sexual offenders know that churches are desperate. In children’s ministry, volunteers are often late. Some cancel at the last minute when they had promised to volunteer. Others don’t even bother showing up for their service. So, when a courteous, kind, reliable man walks in and offers to help, who’s going to turn him down? No other organization provides such quick and easy access to children. Sexual predators know this, so they show up at churches, eager to make themselves known and ready to serve.”

(Many) Christians Abuse Authority

Sometimes authority is put in the hands of evil individuals who then abuse that authority by taking advantage of others. Christians are rightly taught to submit to authority, but not always warned that there are situations in which authority can and must be defied. “Child abusers will use positions of spiritual authority to gain access to children and abuse them. Ask yourself: If a pastor or priest walks into a room, what’s your normal disposition? Most of us have a degree of caution around strangers until we’ve gotten to know them and built a trusting relationship. But pastors and priests are often afforded trust just because of their position as clergy.” This, of course, has been proven again and again by sickening news headlines.

Churches Can Be Manipulated

Church offers religious roles or language that abusers can manipulate to accomplish their ugly purposes. Child abusers often use church-based roles in order to provide rationale and cover for their abuse. An offender may take on a role like Sunday school teacher, nursery worker, youth minister, camp supervisor, or pastor in order to gain the position he or she needs to access children. He may “also use religious language to confuse a child’s understanding of God, sin, or faith. An offender might tell a child that he is loving the child when in fact he is abusing him. The child might have a sense that he is sinning in some way, especially if he hears from his parents or the church that sex outside of marriage is sin. But when a Sunday school teacher or pastor or priest tells him something like, ‘God told me to do this, so you must obey me,’ or ‘This is not sin, but love,’ the child will not only be confused but will be inclined not to second-guess a religious authority figure.” Religious roles and language can provide all the cover an abuser needs.

Churches Offer Cheap Grace

Sometimes abusers are caught, but even then they may get away with their crimes. Abusers count on receiving cheap grace—grace that comes far too freely and with far too little cost. “Abusers are not dumb. They know that if they cry, offer words of contrition, and promise never to do it again, they are very likely not to have to face significant consequences. Pastors and churches are very forgiving. They are quick to apply the gospel—and very, very slow to apply the consequences that come from the law.” An offender will weep and admit that he was wrong and promise never to do anything like it again, and the church may respond by determining they will let it go this once. But when they do that, they simply allow the offender to go right back to his behavior, and allow the child to remain a victim.

In the face of all of this, it is no wonder that the Bible calls us to be “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16). But while all of these dangers are true, and while abusers are deliberate in targeting churches, this does not mean that we are left defenseless. For that reason the bulk of Reju’s book is dedicated to creating and enforcing policies that will protect the innocent—innocent children who participate in church activities, and innocent adults who care for them. Please, will you have someone in your church read the book and see how you can better prevent abuse in your church?

You can read my review of On Guard right here. It is available at Amazon and Westminster Books.

Image credit: Shutterstock

March 05, 2015

Sadly, my time at the Inerrancy Summit has drawn to a close. Because of other commitments, I was only able to give it two days, but I am very grateful for the time I was able to spend there, and was delighted to meet so many of those who attended. As I wait for my flight home, I wanted to close out my time with a few reflections.

First, I think this summit came at the right time. The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy took place almost 40 years ago. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy was the most enduring legacy of that council and it remains today as a thorough description of inerrancy as well as a compelling call to it. Here, four decades on, I don’t think we are at a point of true crisis—I do not see a lot of conservative evangelicals wholesale rejecting inerrancy. However, why I think this summit came at the right time is that we may be at the point of assuming inerrancy. The current generation of pastors have been able to take ahold of the legacy that was given them and have not had to do the same kind of work in establishing what they believe and why they believe it. I trust that by the end of this conference their understanding and confidence will be that much deeper and that it will work itself out in their minds, in their preaching, and in their churches for many years to come.

Second, I think this summit drew the right people. It was fascinating to stand outside yesterday and to speak to a pastor from India, followed by a pastor from Poland, followed by a pastor from Germany, followed by a pastor from Russia—and all these talking to a pastor from Canada. In every case I was able to ask about the state of the church in their countries and to hear that there, too, they need to reaffirm the absolute supremacy and authority of the Word of God. This event drew men from 70 countries, and I trust that they will return to their countries with a much better and deeper appreciation of God’s Word and why it matters so, so much.

Which leads me to my third reflection: John MacArthur is an exceptional individual. I don’t say this (I hope) as a breathless fan, but as an observer. I have met him on only a couple of brief occasions, but here is what I have observed: He always owns the room. In a room full of people, everyone will look at him and gravitate to him. Is he just a particularly gregarious individual? Sure, he is. But it’s more than that. I think it must be a kind of spiritual gifting—God has gifted him to be a leader, and he has taken hold of that gift. The sheer quantity of people he has influenced through the sheer quantity of things he is involved in is simply incredible. He is a once-in-a-generation kind of leader. Yesterday in my hotel lobby I ran into a well-known Christian leader (whom I will not identify since I did not think to ask if I could quote him)—one who was not a keynote speaker at the conference but who was there anyway—and he said, “John MacArthur is the godliest man I have ever met.” I can’t disagree with him.

The Summit continues today. Here is what you can see on the livestream:

  • 1:00 PM EST - Steve Lawson
  • 2:45 PM EST - Gregory Beale
  • 7:30 PM EST - Derek Thomas
  • 10:30 PM EST - Albert Mohler

March 04, 2015

Why should you care about the Inerrancy Summit? There are, after all, hundreds of conferences every year, and it can be difficult to distinguish between them. Well, if for no other reason, you should care about this summit because there are almost 5,000 people here this week, most of them church leaders, representing 70 different countries. This is a major event that will influence many people, including current and future leaders. Not only that, but the conference brings together many of today’s most notable Christian leaders to teach, discuss, and affirm one of the most important theological issues: the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word.

John MacArthur opened the conference yesterday morning by addressing the question of why he called for this summit. He recounted attending the 1978 conference sponsored the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy, and how he listened as the theologians there formed the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. (He also recounted his flight home in which he sat next to Robert Schuller, of all people.)

The heart of his opening address was a list of four reasons he called for this summit.

First, the Scripture is attacked and we are called to defend it. Any reader of the Bible understands that Satan will always threaten to undermine the Word of God. What continues to surprise us is that these threats more often come from within the visible church than outside of it. Yet before God there is no greater offense than to cause people to question the veracity, inerrancy, or authority of Scripture. He went on to do a brief historical survey in which he pointed out the major challenges to the authority of the Bible through sacramentalism, rationalism, liberalism, cultism, experientialism, pragmatism, and several other damaging philosophies. His point was this: Whenever the church abandons its commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the results are catastrophic. With eternity at stake, it is no surprise the Bible reserves its harshest condemnations for those who take away from God’s Words or who add to it.

Second, Scripture is authoritative and we are called to declare it. He went to 2 Timothy 3:16 and then several other texts to show how Scripture consistently claims to speak with the authority and voice of God. God’s Word is consistently pure and authentic, and not a word of it will ever be nullified or taken away.

Third, Scripture is accurate and we are to demonstrate it. While we can prove the authority of the Bible from within the Bible, we can also look outside of it to general revelation. MacArthur showed how the Bible accurately describes the universe and Creation and that it offers the only logical and compelling explanation as to why the world is the way it is. The Bible is always found to be accurate when it intersects with modern science. Everywhere you look in the Bible you will find consistency since, after all, this Author knows the way things really are in his world.

Fourth, the Scripture is active through the power of the Spirit and we are called to deploy it. The Bible is the means by which people are saved. The power is not in the presentation of the preacher, but inherent in the text. The Bible is sharp and powerful—more powerful than anything else. So we are saved by the Word, but also sanctified, edified, comforted, and instructed by it. There are lots of books that can change your thinking, but only one that can change your nature and your eternal destiny. The simple fact is that when we preach the Word we deploy the instrument the Holy Spirit uses to do his supernatural work.

MacArthur’s final call was to the pastors attending, telling them “You cannot be an expositor of Scripture if you have a weak view of the Bible.”

So why does this conference matter? Because I trust and hope that it will raise a new banner for the absolute importance of the doctrine of inerrancy. We are a long way from 1978, and this event will bring the issue to front-center for a whole new generation of leaders.

While the livestream experienced significant difficulty yesterday, you should have more success following it today. If you would like a session by session liveblog, you can find it here at the site for The Master’s Seminary. Today you will hear from:

  • 1:00 PM EST - Miguel Nuñez
  • 2:45 PM EST - Carl Trueman
  • 7:30 PM EST - Ian Hamilton
  • 10:30 PM EST - Mark Dever

March 03, 2015

John MacArthur’s Inerrancy Summit begins today, and I couldn’t be more excited. Yesterday I hopped a flight from Toronto to Los Angeles so I could be a part of it or, at least, so I could do a bit of writing about it. While I do not intend to provide live-blogging, I will certainly be sharing some updates and reflections on what promises to be an historic event. (Note: You can watch the entire thing online, beginning today at 1 PM EST.) (Another Note: For those who are here, I will be leading a panel discussion at 1:30 on Wednesday.)

One of the very first Christian books I ever read was by James Montgomery Boice who said that, as far as he could see, the battle for inerrancy had already largely been fought and won. He was writing almost two decades ago and at that point it certainly looked as if he was correct. Boice and others were turning their attention to subsequent doctrines of the Bible such as the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. But, as is often the case, the discussion about inerrancy has resurfaced, which means it is time for believers to renew their understanding of the doctrine and reestablish their confidence in it. And that is exactly my hope for this week’s conference, which features quite an impressive list of speakers.

As the week proceeds, I intend to look for specific things that I think will be especially helpful to me.

  • I would like to see a common, simple, and established definition of inerrancy. I assume we will be directed to the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy from 1978, but am eager to see whether the theologians here suggest improving or updating it.
  • I would like to see a common understanding of what it really means to deny inerrancy. What the consequences and implications are for those who cannot affirm the truth and whole truth of Scripture? Do we need to break fellowship with these people? Or can we peacefully co-exist even within the same local churches?
  • I would like to learn how to speak truth with love to those who are wrestling with issues related to inerrancy, and how to show them the cost of their theology.
  • I would like to hear the theologians here deal carefully with some of the challenges to inerrancy and to look honestly at the best arguments against inerrancy (which will be the theme of the panel discussion I will be leading on Wednesday).

For those who cannot be here, please let me know what would be helpful for you to know or to learn. What can I find out, or what can I write about, that might be helpful to you? And, if you’d like to pose a question for the panel I will be leading, what do you consider some of the most significant challenges to inerrancy?

Stay tuned to the blog and to the live-stream, and I will update again either later today or first thing tomorrow.

February 26, 2015

The “I love you.” You know the words, and you know the weight they carry. Recently Aileen and I were remembering back to the first time we said those words to one another. Each of us already knew how the other felt, but that did nothing to temper the thrill of actually voicing it and the joy of actually hearing it.

“I love you” marks a milestone in a relationship, and not only a romantic one. Friendships also thrive and deepen with the admission and declaration of love. “I love you” says that this is no mere acquaintance, but a true, deep, and meaningful friendship. I hate that our society threatens the love of friendship by the suspicion of homosexuality, and I want us to push back and to declare that we can love one another in the best and purest way.

But as I considered the importance of the “I love you” I found myself pondering three other words that also cause a relationship to grow and to thrive. A friend recently said something or did something he should not have, and later approached me and so-humbly and so-kindly said, “Please forgive me.” I forgave him, of course. Who am I, a man who has been forgiven so much, that I should withhold forgiveness from anyone else, and especially from someone I love? And I know that in that moment our relationship deepened. It grew in the exchange, in the transaction, of repentance and forgiveness. I felt it, and I knew it.

So I thought about those words and I thought about my friendships. And I believe a relationship grows just as much through “Please forgive me” as through “I love you.” One friend speaking to another and saying, “I love you”—this is where love is declared. But one friend approaching another to express remorse and seek forgiveness—this is where love is displayed and preserved.

February 25, 2015

There is nothing my dog won’t do for food. There is no command she won’t obey when we are looking, and no rule she won’t break when we are looking away, if only she can get a bit of food in her belly. I guess it is hard to fault her since, as a Lab, every gene in her body drives her to gorge herself. It’s like Paul was writing about her and her breed when he said, ” Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19). Food is her idol, her god, the thing that will motivate her to do anything or everything.

I am no dog, but I, too, am hard-wired for something—for validation. Just as a dog will lie down or roll over or beg or bark on command to get a snausage—doesn’t she realize how pathetic she looks?—, there is not much I won’t do to receive validation, to have others affirm my self-worth according to my criteria. I want to feel special about myself, I want to feel big and important. And when I look for what makes me feel good about myself, I inevitably find my idols. The thing that validates me is the thing I worship, the thing that momentarily takes the place of God in my life.

Lately I have been pondering and listing those things—those things that make me feel so special that I will do irrational things and make poor decisions in order to have them or achieve them. It makes for a pretty ugly and embarrassing little note. I think most of them are best kept between myself and the Lord, but I will give you a couple of examples.

Distant travel validates me. I receive invitations to do a fair number of conferences or speaking engagements over the course of a year, and I make it a point to prayerfully consider each one of them, knowing that I can accept only a few. But I have learned that the farther away the destination, the better it makes me feel about myself. I don’t even know why it works this way, but I suppose I like the idea that people far away are interested in hearing me speak. It feeds my ego. This makes me tempted to accept speaking engagements that will come at the expense of my church and family, even if I can really make no unique contribution to the event, and even if it makes very little sense for me to be involved. I am tempted to accept the event for the worst of motives: for how it makes me feel about myself.

Big audiences at big conferences validate me. I hate to own this one, but it is true: A bigger audience makes me feel more important than a smaller audience. A big audience at a big conference makes me feel awfully good about myself while a small audience at a small conference (or, even worse, a small audience at a big conference) is the kind of thing that can cast me into self-doubt or even despair. Again, there is a temptation to accept an invitation on the basis of how many people will be at the event rather than on any better or more noble criteria.

The irony in these two examples is that I am the ultimate homebody—I find it difficult to be away from home for more than very short stints—, and I am intimidated by large crowds—I find it extremely stressful to be in front of people. Somehow the things that validate me are the things I naturally run away from. I love them and hate them all at once.

I should note that neither of these things is wrong. Traveling distances to preach or to encourage others can be good and noble. Turning down a small event to speak at a large event can be good and God-honoring. But it can also be pure idolatry, a way I look for others to receive what only God is meant to give.

I need to be aware of these things—each of those ugly things on my ugly list. And most of all, I need to remember what is mostly deeply true. There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to have the approval of others, and especially to receive the affirmation of God. But the crucial fact is, I already have it through Christ. I am already accepted by God because of what Christ has done, and this acceptance is all I need. When I am at my best it means everything to me. But when I am at my worst, it means nothing.

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 18, 2015

I was having a tough day. Not one of those terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad days. Just a tough day. A trying day. A long day. Mostly that—a long day.

A friend stepped into my office for just a couple of moments and we spoke about a ministry that concerns us both. I guess she detected something, because a few minutes later she reappeared. All she said was this: “Tim, do not grow weary in doing good.” And then she was gone.

Simple words, but well-timed words. Simple words, but words that carried divine power and authority. I took her words not as advice from a friend, but as instruction and assurance from God. They are, after all, a direct quote from Galatians 6. To me they said, “Yes, it has been a long and trying day. But don’t stop now, because there is still good to be done. You can do it.” Just like that, the words gave me a second wind.

I thought of her words recently while I read a commentary by John Stott. Stott comments on similar well-timed words spoken centuries earlier. These words came to the apostle Paul at a time where he was not just having a long and difficult day, but an agonizing and excruciating season. Here is how Stott describes it:

At one stage in his life he was terribly burdened. He was worried to death over the Corinthian church and in particular about their reaction to a rather severe letter which he had written to them. His mind could not rest, so great was his suspense. ‘We were afflicted at every turn’, he wrote, ‘—fighting without and fear within.’ Then he continued: ‘But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus’ (2 Cor. 7:5, 6). God’s comfort was not given to Paul through his private prayer and waiting upon the Lord, but through the companionship of a friend and through the good news which he brought.

It is the Christian’s great honor and privilege—to speak words that bring life, to speak words that come from the giver of life. Who needs to hear God’s words through you today?

Image credit: Shutterstock

February 12, 2015

I was born weak. Though I bear my father’s last name, I bear a much stronger resemblance to my mother’s side of the family. The people on her side tend to live long and relatively healthy lives, but they are physically and constitutionally weak—weaker, at least, than the hardy Challies folk.

I was born again weak. Though I was born again in the image of Christ, I was born again with a strong resemblance to his predecessor Adam. And the people on his side are weak—weak in faith. And I think there is a clear parallel between the two kinds of weakness.

Last summer Aileen and I discovered the importance (and joy, and pain) of working out. I had invested little effort in my physical fitness over the years and, let’s be honest: it was beginning to show. I convinced Aileen to join me, and we walked into a health club together and asked for help. They assessed us, hooked us up with a trainer, and we got to work.

Not surprisingly, I quickly learned that I was in poor shape. I had a lot of muscles that were very weak, and they were weak because they had not been developed. They had never been developed because they had never been exercised. I learned, for example, that what I thought was a natural slouch in my shoulders, was actually owing, at least in part, to under-developed muscles. I learned that the leg cramps I was prone to when jogging were due to calf muscles that were weak and poorly stretched.

The solution to this weakness was straightforward, but required a good deal of effort—I had to exercise those muscles, I had to stretch them, I had to build them up. And over time the problems began to correct themselves. There was marked improvement.

Weak faith is a lot like a weak muscle. Faith begins weak and it remains weak when it is not exercised. God calls us to live by faith and calls us to use our faith—our faith in him and in his promises. But so often our faith remains weak because it remains unused.

We need to exercise that faith if we want to see it grow. And this is why God does not show us the end before the beginning. This is why God does not give us a complete view of the future. If God showed us a vision of each step along the way and the final consequence of our decision or the final outcome of our crisis, we would have no reason to exercise our faith, and our faith would never grow.

So instead God calls us to use that faith, and to see it develop.

We exercise our faith when we read the promises of God, when we believe the promises of God, and when we call upon God to fulfill his promises. In those times we stretch our faith, and then we see it grow.

We exercise our faith when we step out into some new venture or new experience, trusting that God will do what is right and what is best and that he will provide for us. Again, we stretch our faith, we exercise it, and see it grow.

We exercise our faith when through suffering we trust in the character of God and take our refuge in the Word of God. We stretch that faith and watch it grow.

We are people of weak faith, but we can grow, if only we will use and exercise the faith God gives.

February 11, 2015

It was just a few years ago that everyone was talking about hell. One disaffected Evangelical had decided to use his platform and popularity to question the very notion of hell, and, not surprisingly, he caused quite a stir. The crisis came and went, of course, and it had at least one happy outcome: Many Christians had to examine what they believe about hell and come to stronger and better conclusions.

I believe in hell. I do not believe in some version of hell that owes more to Dante and The Far Side than sacred writ, but the hell I see revealed in the Bible—a hell of eternal, conscious torment. I wish there was no such thing as hell, but I have deteremined to live by the Bible and I simply cannot deny what the Bible makes plain.

But what if I did? What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I can think of at least four major denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of unspeakable torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what seems so clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

I Will Deny the Plain Sense of Scripture

Time would fail me here to provide an extensive look at the concept of hell in the Bible; time would fail me to look at each of the words associated with hell. But one does not need to be an expert on the Bible or on its original languages to see that it teaches clearly that there is life after death and that this life after death will involve either joy or torment, it will involve enjoying the loving presence of God or facing his wrathful presence. This is stated explicitly in Scripture and it is stated implicitly, it is present in the Old Testament and comes to full form in the New Testament. Those who wrote Scripture believed that hell existed and made it plain in what they wrote.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will have to do a great deal of redefining, a great deal of reinterpreting. As with the teaching of Jesus, I will need to change what is plain to what is symbolic, I will need to take what is clear and make it obscure. There is no getting around the fact that a plain, honest reading of the Bible teaches the existence of hell.

I Will Deny the Testimony of the Church

If I am to deny the existence of hell, I will be denying what has been the near-unanimous testimony of the Christian church through the ages. From the church’s earliest days until today, hell has been understood as a place of conscious, eternal torment. The Westminster Larger Catechism offers an apt summary of what Christians have long believed: “The punishments of sin in the world to come, are everlasting separation from the comfortable presence of God, and most grievous torments in soul and body, without intermission, in hell fire forever.” Though this was formed in the days of Reformation, it depends upon the testimony of Christians who came before. And it informed generations that followed.

If I am to deny that hell is a real place, if I am to deny that hell is that kind of place, I will be turning my back on two thousand years of Christian history—on two thousand years of brothers and sisters in Christ who had great knowledge of Scripture and the illumination of the Holy Spirit. I’ll grant that there are times this is necessary; there are times that many Christians are wrong about many things. But such a decision must be made with great fear and trembling and only on the basis of overwhelming Scriptural evidence.

I Will Deny the Gospel

I cannot deny hell without utterly changing the gospel message. The message of Christ dying for the lost in order to save their souls will be meaningless. If there is no hell, there is really nothing to lose. And so heaven and hell must be brought to earth, they must be seen as present realities rather than future ones. The Baptist preacher J.L. Dagg said it well: “To appreciate justly and fully the gospel of eternal salvation we must believe the doctrine of eternal damnation.” If I am going to deny eternal damnation, I must radically rewrite the gospel. Gone is the gospel of sinners who have committed treason against God and who call upon themselves God’s just wrath. There are many gospels I can put in its place. But what is clear is that this gospel, this gospel of a substitutionary atonement must be a casualty. This gospel stands and falls upon the existence of both heaven and hell. Take away either one and you gut the gospel; it becomes meaningless and nonsensical.

If I am going to give up hell, I am going to give up the gospel and replace it with a new one.

Let me close with some words from the great theologian Robert Dabney. What he says here I believe as well. “Sure I am, that if hell can be disproved in any way that is solid and true, and consistent with God’s honor and man’s good, there is not a trembling sinner in this land that would hail the demonstration with more joy than I would.” It’s not that I want hell to be true, but that the Scripture makes it clear that it is true. It is not for me to dismantle the doctrine or to deny it; I am simply to believe it and to live and act as if it is true.

I posted a version of this article in 2011. Image credit: Shutterstock

February 10, 2015

We tend to react to new technologies in one of two ways: Wide-eyed terror or breathless excitement. Some people look at that new gadget and see it as the enemy, the latest in a long line of innovations that really only undermine our humanity or captivate us with bells and whistles. These people are suspicious and usually longing for times that have long since gone by—times when technologies were just so much simpler. Other people look at the new gizmo and see it bursting with the possibility of happiness or enrichment or social advancement. These people are exuberant and always longing for the better and happier times ahead—times when technologies will be just so much more advanced. Neither one is thinking quite right.

Last year I spoke at a conference with Matt Perman and he helpfully summarized a key concept when it comes to technology: Technology is wealth. Technology is a form of wealth and, like every other form of wealth, one that Christians are responsible to steward. If technology is wealth, we are the richest generation that has ever lived. You are richer than you think.

As Christians we are in the business of doing good to others. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). That is our calling and our privilege as believers: To bring glory to God by doing good to others, and to bring more glory to God by doing more good to others. In Christ we have been freed from sin so we can now do good works—not the works that earn us salvation, but the works that display our salvation. Little wonder, then, that in his letter to Titus Paul can command us to be good works zealots, to be utterly consumed with doing good deeds.

Opportunities to do good come at a million different moments and in a million different forms, but the theme is always the same: looking and living outside ourselves to do what benefits others. We give of our skills, our talents, our money, our energy, our possessions, and even that most precious of commodities, our time. We faithfully steward all of these things, attempting to use them in a way that glorifies God.

And that brings us back to technology. If technology is wealth, we are responsible for faithfully stewarding it by using it to do good to others. Technology offers countless opportunities to do this. This was true of past technologies: the technology of the Roman road allowed missionaries to move quickly, spreading the gospel across the entire known world; the technology of the book allowed even the most common person access to God’s Word; the technology of radio broadcast the good news about Jesus to the world’s most distant regions. However and wherever new technologies have arisen, Christians have used them to do good to others and bring glory to God. Not only that, but Christians have felt responsible to use them to do good to others and bring glory to God.

Not one of these technologies was perfect. Each one of them changed us in some unfortunate and unforeseen ways. Still, Christians used them and used them well. And today we are responsible to use our abundance of technologies well. This does not necessarily mean that we need to fully and unthinkingly embrace whatever is new and innovative and shiny. It does not mean that every form of technology is good and worthy of our time and attention. However, it does mean that we at least need to evaluate whatever is new and innovative and shiny. We need to evaluate with our eyes wide open, looking for the inevitable strengths and equally inevitable risks that come with that technology. And we need to consider how we can best use this newfound technological wealth. These technologies are ones we can and must use to do good for others and bring glory to God.

So take a look at the abundance of technology in your church, in your home, and in your pocket. Consider just how wealthy you are. And then ask the question: How will I use this extravagant wealth to do good to others and glorify God?

Image credit: Shutterstock