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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


Did God Break the Law for Love
April 07, 2016

It happened again. A popular preacher said something in a sermon, it made its way to social media, and lots of people got upset. This happens quite often, doesn’t it? I rarely pay attention to these things and comment on them infrequently. However, I am making an exception for the latest one because I suspect quite a few people who saw it on their Facebook timeline are saying, “Hang on! What’s so wrong with what he said?” It’s one of those things that is just close enough to the truth to be confusing. So let’s turn it into an opportunity and consider how and why what he said is problematic.

Let me give some context: Last summer Steven Furtick preached a sermon at Elevation Church that was based on 1 John 4:7-12 and titled “It Works Both Ways.” Though the sermon was 40 minutes long and preached all the way back in July, he recently shared a 2-minute excerpt on Facebook. It is that excerpt that has been passed around and widely discussed. In it he makes this claim: “God broke the law for love.” God gave us a law, then, as a great display of his love, broke that law.

Furtick illustrates by using the example of a child who has suffered a terrible injury after falling from the monkey bars. As a parent, you scoop up your child, run to the car, and race for the hospital. All the way to the hospital you pass by signs declaring a speed limit, but out of love and concern for your child you ignore them, breaking the law for the sake of love. The implication is that you are justly breaking the law for the sake of love. Furtick then turns the illustration from an earthly parent to a heavenly Father:

What will really turn your heart to God is not when you hear his laws—which were given for our good, by the way, but they were powerless because there wasn’t enough leverage in our actions to keep the law. So what God did when he sent his Son—and this is why we get excited in church, and this is why tears fill our eyes when we think about Jesus, and this is why the gospel is still good news in the world today—cause God broke the law for love. I said to every sinner, God broke the law for love. I mean that he scooped you up in his arms, I mean that he’s carrying you in his grace, I mean that what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature God did by sending his Son in the likeness of a sinful man.

Did God break the law for love? It might seem like he did or like he had to. After all, he has made sinners right before a holy God. Ah yes, but not by breaking the law. The mystery of the cross is how God could satisfy the demands of the law while offering mercy to those condemned by that very law. The miracle of the cross is that God actually does this—he justifies sinners while keeping every demand of the law.

When Furtick says that God breaks the law, he seems to indicate that the way God releases people from the law’s demands is by breaking it and he uses the parent-child illustration to prove this. But while the illustration is effective on an emotional level, on a scriptural level it muddies rather than clarifies. Where the child has had an innocent accident, we have willfully committed cosmic treason against our divine king; where the child is physically injured, we are spiritually dead. Of even greater importance, God’s law is not a speed limit, a list of rules drawn up to govern human behavior. Rather, the law is God’s revelation or manifestation of his own character. For God to break the law he would have to act opposite not only to a rule but to his own character. He would have to insist that he is one way but that he acts in another way. God cannot break the law without entering into an impossible and absurd self-contradiction. The illustration actually contradicts the truth.

There is another problem here. Furtick means to show that God demonstrates the magnitude of his love by his willingness to break his own good law, as if God says “I love you so much that I will break my own law to save you.” But God can and does give a much greater demonstration of his love—he keeps the law! At the cross God demonstrates his love to us “in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God displays the magnitude of his love not by breaking the law but by satisfying the law. He satisfies it in the most painful way possible, by loading upon his very own Son the complete weight of our sin and then pouring out his wrath on him. “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). This is what he does for our sake. Why? Because this is what his law demands. His law, his righteous and holy character, demands that justice be satisfied. “By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, [God] condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us” (Romans 8:3–4). The greatest possible expression of God’s love is not breaking the law but keeping it. The cross is definitive proof that God is not a law-breaker but a law-keeper.

Here is one final problem: If God breaks the law, the law is still in effect because there has been no justice, and that is the worst possible news. If the law is still in effect, I am condemned by it and God is downright evil for promising a false hope. If I have committed murder and a judge tells me I can go free anyway, I remain guilty. His decision to break or circumvent the law has no bearing on my guilt or innocence. The same must be true of God. In Romans 3:30–31 Paul explains that God does not break the law (even for love) and does so with the language of “uphold” and “overthrow:” God “will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” So, when God justifies the wicked, he does not overthrow the law or find a way around it. To the contrary, through the perfect life, substitutionary death, and victorious resurrection of Christ, God upholds the law. Every sin is paid. Justice is served. The law is upheld. The Judge is satisfied. Those who were guilty are rightly, truly, fairly, eternally declared innocent when they put their faith in Christ.

Could God break the law? No, he could not and would not contradict himself. Does God need to break the law in order to save us? No, thank God, he does not need to show mercy only at the expense of justice. Does God break the law? No, he does something far, far better. He upholds it while Christ fulfills it. In all of earth and heaven there is no greater demonstration of love than God keeping his law.

I am considering this article complete, but am adding a short appendix to it.

The Whole Christ

Sinclair Ferguson’s The Whole Christ is relevant and helpful to these matters of love, law, and gospel. He makes the important point that antinomianism (opposing and rejecting God’s law as Furtick does here) is—oddly, paradoxically, yet truly—an expression of legalism (earning your righteousness through God’s law apart from Christ). He says they are “nonidentical twins that emerge from the same womb.” He explains that “Antinomianism and legalism are not so much antithetical to each other as they are both antithetical to grace. This is why Scripture never prescribes one as the antidote for the other. Rather grace, God’s grace in Christ in our union with Christ, is the antidote to both.” Furtick wants to show that love or gospel is much greater than law, but he goes wrong when he pits them against one another.

What’s wrong with these approaches of legalism and antinomianism? They both “[separate] the law of God from the person of God.” Each is “a distorted view of God as the giver of his law.” “Love is what law commands, and the commands are what love fulfills. … Love requires direction and principles of operation. Love is motivation, but it is not self-interpreting direction.” We need to be careful that we never put God’s love in opposition to God’s law. The law is “holy and righteous and good” and “spiritual” (Romans 7:12, 14). Sin is the problem (Romans 7:13), not the law. Perhaps you can consider this another good reason to add The Whole Christ to your reading list.

April 05, 2016

Yesterday I began to share some thoughts on diversity and uniformity within this Reformed resurgence. I concluded by asking why there appears to be such a distance between our desire for diversity and the reality as we observe it at our big conferences. There are many possibilities that would be worth exploring, but today I want to follow just one of them, and I choose this one because it has been playing out in both my mind and my experience. Here it is: I believe we fail to appreciate and pursue the sheer goodness of diversity—goodness that extends to us, to them, and to our shared display of the gospel.

From a comfortable and established majority position, we are prone to look at other groups and think, “They need Reformed theology.” That may be true. We believe that Reformed theology accurately captures the scope of what God tells us in his Word, that it calls us to think the highest thoughts of God, and that it motivates the greatest mission. We would love for them, whoever they are, to experience the joy that comes when we see God elevated and magnified. But I think it is the complementary part of the equation that we neglect: Reformed theology needs them. We need them, not in complete conformity but in diversity.

Some recent comments from Marcos Ortega express this well. (Marcos blogs with several others at Reformed Margins. Consider the implications of the blog’s name, that as they speak to and about the Reformed faith as minorities, they are speaking from the margins.) After telling of his indebtedness to the white Christian leaders who led him into the Reformed tradition, he goes on to say this:

Now we [minorities] are in the tradition. And there are things in the tradition that have been neglected because of the relatively monolithic worldview that the Reformed tradition long held. This is not the fault of our white brothers and sisters. They cannot be expected to have worldviews like our black and Latino and Asian brothers and sisters. We cannot expect to hold worldviews that are naturally foreign to us because of ethnicity, background, etc. But we can listen to those other worldviews and together deepen our understanding of one another in the love of Christ.

He continues by saying, “When minorities began to embrace the Reformed tradition, we brought something in with us. And it is a valuable thing. And it will require all of us to learn from one another.” Ortega puts into words what I have been trying to express for a while now. This diversity is valuable and is something we ought to deliberately pursue. If we are complacent with the uniformity of the Reformed movement, we are impoverishing ourselves and others. We are denying to all of us the ability to grow deeper into the doctrine we so love. There must be whole dimensions of it we have missed or misunderstood or misapplied because of our relatively monolithic worldview. That problem can be addressed only through diversity, from listening more than speaking, having as much desire to be changed as to change others. Reformed theology even offers the language to support this, having long claimed to be semper reformanda, willing to be constantly challenged and changed when convinced and convicted by the Word of God.

Listen to him again as he talks about the cost and the benefit:

Sometimes, it will mean being told that you were wrong. I know acknowledging your mistakes or your blind spots is a difficult and painful thing. I understand because I have had to do so many times. But if we are to grow as a tradition, if we are to sharpen one another and build one another up in the faith, then we must begin acknowledging our faults. We must allow others to point out our blind spots. And we cannot respond with vitriol whenever our weaknesses are pointed out.

The Reformed tradition is not the same as it was. Praise God! It can’t be. It can’t be because it is too good, too sweet. It has captivated all kinds of people. It has drawn all kinds of people—black and white, Australian and Asian, urban rich and rural poor—who are passionate about those essential doctrinal truths. As they come to Reformed convictions, they necessarily bring their own background with all of its strengths and weaknesses, all its insights and blind spots. This is so good! This is so necessary. It proves how much we need one another. Let me turn one more time to Ortega:

[W]e love the tradition as much as our white brothers and sisters. We do not claim to be Reformed because we are trying to take territory away from anyone.

I want to pause right here. Until recently I would have considered this an unnecessary statement. Who would consider Reformed theology territory that needs to be defended? But then it happened. A group of people attending a conference made it clear to a minority there that he was on their turf, that he was welcome to attend and participate, but that he did so as an outsider looking in. His pain haunts me. He saw the ugly juxtaposition between the soaring beauty of the truth proclaimed from the front of the room and the sinking horror of the error spoken by those sitting beside him. He wept. They did not. This really happened.

Back to Ortega:

We claim the name Reformed because this is where our convictions lie. Now that we have brought new backgrounds and new presuppositions into the room, the Reformed tradition will begin to change. I believe it’s a healthy change in a fuller, more robust direction. So let’s work together through these growing pains and build one another up in peace and love as Christ so desires.

I began many hundreds of words ago by shining a spotlight on conferences, but I need to turn on a second spotlight and shine it on our churches. This Reformed resurgence is not first a movement of conferences but a movement of local churches. The lack of diversity at our big conferences simply reflects a lack of diversity in our little churches. If there is to be diversity in Reformed conferences, there must also be diversity in Reformed congregations. Diversity needs to grow from our churches to our conferences and from our conferences to our churches. A heavy train puts an engine on the front and on the back, one to push and one to pull. Just think of all the strength we can bring if we pull with our churches and push with our conferences.

I don’t mean to implicate others and absolve myself. I have the joy of serving and worshipping at a very diverse church, but have to admit that this is more a happy byproduct of living in the world’s most diverse city than of deliberately valuing and pursuing diversity. But even then I can attest that I have learned so much from serving and observing the growing Ghanian community that now comprises a significant percentage of our church. (And, to keep things above-board, I’ll also give a shout-out to the Nigerians!) I have happily benefited from worshipping and fellowshipping alongside East Asians, French Canadians, Romanians, and Sri Lankans. They have been a blessing to me not only because of what is the same between us, but because of what is different. There is such joy to be found right there in the beautiful space between the similarities and the differences.

Reformed theology continues to grow and spread. Why wouldn’t it? How couldn’t it? It is beautiful and deep and challenging and true. As you go almost anywhere in this world you will find Christian brothers and sisters learning, teaching, and delighting in the same time-tested truths. But if you go to our churches and our conferences, you are likely to see more uniformity than diversity. This acknowledgement gives us and this movement the opportunity, the privilege, and the responsibility to seek out, to honor, and to learn from people who represent and display every bit of the glorious diversity our God saw fit to create. It is time we rise to that holy challenge.

April 04, 2016

Whatever else is true about this modern-day Reformed resurgence, this much is indisputable: We love our conferences. We love the experience of gathering together and hearing from our favorite authors, pastors, and theologians as they lead us to God through his Word. Many of us can attest to the innumerable blessings we have received by participating in such events.

I recently found myself asking this: When we go to conferences, who is it that we want to hear from? I decided to do a little bit of informal research by collecting some information about this year’s major events—those that have at least 1,000 attendees—and ones that are comprised primarily of keynote addresses or sermons. This allowed me to focus on a number of them, some targeted at pastors, some at women, and some at a general audience. Between them, those major Reformed conferences have 63 keynote speakers who will speak to perhaps 25,000 or 30,000 attendees and then to many more through streaming and recordings. (Note: if 1 person is speaking at 2 of these events he is counted twice.) There are many observations I made, but today I am going to highlight just 2:

  • Nationality. Of the 63 speakers, 57 live in America and the remaining 6 live in either Canada or the United Kingdom.
  • Race. Of the 63 speakers, 61 are white and 2 are African-American; no other races are represented.

Race & Nationality

Each of these conferences takes place in America. It should be no great surprise, then, that the great majority of the speakers live in the United States (even if they are not all American-born). Yet it is worth noting that the few international speakers are no further removed geographically or culturally than the U.K. and Canada and that together they represent only 2 of the world’s 6 continents and only 3 of the world’s 196 countries.

And then we come to race. Of the 63 keynote slots across the conferences I polled, 61 are filled by whites and 2 are filled by non-whites—in this case, both African-Americans. There is greater racial representation in breakout sessions and in conferences that follow alternative formats, but when it comes to keynote addresses, we see little racial diversity. We see no one of Asian descent, no one of Latin American descent, no one from recent African descent, and so on. To put it bluntly, the great majority of the speakers at this year’s Reformed conferences are white Americans and, in most cases, white American men.

The Opportunity Before Us

There are many ways we could interpret this data and, of course, many more observations we could draw from this brief survey. As I try to put it all together in my mind, I keep thinking of this word: Opportunity. This information gives us the opportunity to consider some facts about ourselves, determine what they might mean, and then to decide if and how we will respond to them.

But before we go any further, I want to consider the possibility that while this survey does display a real trend, 2016 may make that trend abnormally stark. We ought to acknowledge grace where grace is evident and if we look we will see it. Consider, for example, last year’s bi-annual Gospel Coalition National Conference which had two minorities among its eight speakers. It also featured a special event titled “Seeking Justice and Mercy From Ferguson to New York,” and a Spanish-language pre-conference. A brief search turned up other events that featured greater diversity in previous years than in 2016. Some leaders have long made it a point to ensure minority representation at their events. As far back as 2002, for example, John Piper designed an entire pastors’ conference on the theme of God-centered theology and the black experience in America. Then there is the fact that while breakout sessions and discussion panels may not carry the weight of keynote addresses, they do often feature greater diversity and often attempt to deliberately serve diverse demographics. Also, breakouts offer a smaller platform but are often used as a proving or testing ground for the bigger platform so that some of this year’s breakout speakers may be next year’s keynotes. We also need to acknowledge that Reformed theology is relatively new to many international and minority communities, whereas it has much deeper roots among those from European backgrounds. For that reason it may not be realistic to expect absolute parity in representation.

Still, even with all of that being true, we really do need to ask: Where is the diversity? Where is the diversity in this, a year where issues of race and diversity are on all of our minds? Based on the evidence before us, we have to conclude that there is not a whole lot of it.

Yet speaking personally, I find myself increasingly eager to hear from people who are unlike me in every way except in our shared faith and our shared convictions. I want to hear how God has worked in and through all kinds of people. I want to be taught, led, encouraged, and influenced by them. I want to learn from them how to better understand, interpret, love, honor, and teach God’s Word. I want to be shaped by people who are as different from me as two human beings can be, yet bound together by a common Savior. I want this. Truly, I long for this. It’s not that I want the current voices silenced; I simply want new voices added to them—voices that will represent the growing scope and depth of this Reformed resurgence. I have spoken to enough of you to know that I am not alone in this.

So why this distance between desire and reality? And if the gospel is truly a gospel that draws together all possible kinds and categories of people, why do we see more uniformity than diversity? I plan to turn to this subject tomorrow in the second and final part of this article. But by way of preview, I intend to take the spotlight off conferences and to turn it on us. After all, conferences don’t exist in a void. Conferences don’t create speakers or preachers but simply identify the ones who are already there. If that is the case, we need to look beyond conferences and begin to look to local churches—to you and to me. I want to offer a few thoughts on the sheer goodness, the sheer beauty, of diversity, I want to draw our attention to that creed of semper reformanda, and I want to suggest what the two might have to do with one another. But more on that tomorrow.

Learning for Forever
April 01, 2016

God has seen fit to bring significant diversity to Grace Fellowship Church. Every Sunday we worship as a community of Christians that spans the world, its continents, and its cultures. Yet for all this diversity, we remain a young church that has consistently had trouble drawing and keeping older believers. While we do have some seniors, we definitely have too few—too few for our liking, at least, and too few for a church of several hundred people.

I recently spent a little bit of time with an older believer and was struck again by some of what we lose in a younger church. I was touched by the most mundane observation: She was reading her Bible. She was reading her Bible so she could better know and serve her God. This simple act touched and challenged me.

See, I often read my Bible as a means to an end. I want to live a better life, I want to live a life that is pleasing to God, and I read the Bible to teach and equip myself to do this. This is a very good reason to read the Bible. But it made me think: As I get toward the end of life, will I still want to read it? When I have little life left to live, will I still have reason to take up and read my Bible? If the purpose in reading is to live better, what will I do after I’ve already lived most of my life?

As I sat with this woman, I realized that she was reading her Bible for a different reason—she was reading her Bible to better get to know the God she would soon meet face-to-face. She was reading the same book but for a different purpose. She knows she will be seeing him soon, and she wants to be prepared. The nearer she is to God, the greater her longing to know him, to know him as he is. She is not passively waiting to see him face-to-face but meeting him now in the pages of his living and active Word. She believes that what she knows of God on this side of the grave will not end at the grave. While she may have little life left to live and little time remaining to improve her life, she has the rest of eternity to grow in her understanding and knowledge of God. She has the rest of eternity to grow in her relationship with God. So why not make a significant beginning now?

So yes, I need to read God’s Word to live a life that is pleasing to God. But I also need to read God’s Word to know the God I will enjoy for eternity. What I learn about God is not just for this life. What I know of God is not only for now. It is for forever.

Image credit: Shutterstock

We Are More Honest With Our Phones Than Our Pastors
March 31, 2016

A recent article from the New York Times says, rightly I’m sure, that We’re More Honest With Our Phones Than With Our Doctors. Writing from the confluence of medicine and technology, Jenna Wortham explains that “in recent years, mobile technology has granted me and countless others the ability to collect an unprecedented amount of information about our habits and well-being. Our phones don’t just keep us in touch with the world; they’re also diaries, confessional booths, repositories for our deepest secrets. Which is why researchers are leaping at the chance to work with the oceans of data we are generating, hoping that within them might be the answers to questions medicine has overlooked or ignored.”

Medical researchers are especially interested in these oceans of data because, as the headline screams, we are more honest with our phones than we are with any doctor. Our phones are stuffed full of sensors, memory, and applications and are continually digesting streams of data, converting it to personal information. Our phones track our location and our motion. They track our words and our searches. They know our most embarrassing medical secrets. They have suggested answers to our most awkward questions about our health, about our bodies, our minds, our sexuality. They know things about us no one else knows. They remember things about us we have long forgotten. They tell truth about us we would never disclose to another human being.

When it comes to our physical health, we’re more honest with our phones than our doctors. But this transparency goes beyond medicine. It extends to our souls. When it comes to our spiritual health, we’re more honest with our phones than with our pastors. Our phones know all about our ignorance, about those things we should know but don’t. Our phones know about our wanderings and wonderings, the questions we have asked and the places we have visited to find answers. They know where and how we are wrestling and where and how we are trying to find comfort. They know about our backsliding or even our heresy long before the pastor does.

This is in part, I’m sure, because our phones are always available. We can ask our questions morning, noon, or night. They never take a day off and are never too busy to give us attention. But it’s not only that. Our phones are safe, they keep our secrets, they never scoff at our ignorance. They simply and obediently search the internet on our behalf and return answers, suggest solutions. Who is Jesus? Our phones have an answer. What does the Bible say about homosexuality? Our phones have an answer. What Bible translation is best? Do I have free will? Is there a difference between Christianity and Mormonism? Is there a hell? Why and how do I pray? Our phones have answers to them all. Our phones even know if we have been getting up early to do devotions and whether we have been reading our Bibles.

We are more honest with our phones than our pastors and this leads me to two applications, two suggestions that are almost contradictory but I think are actually realistically complementary.

First, train yourself and others to speak to pastors about spiritual ills. I have attempted to do this with my own children, to teach them that just as you go to a doctor when your body is sick, so you go to a pastor when your soul is sick. If you have medical questions you ask a doctor and if you have spiritual questions you ask a pastor. WebMD is a great resource, but it isn’t nearly enough to properly diagnose a serious condition and it certainly isn’t enough to properly treat one. The same is true of even the best Christian resources.

Second, there is a challenge here for Christians to acknowledge that, no matter what we do, people will continue to entrust their questions and concerns to their phones and that puts the onus on us to create wise and compelling answers through apps, books, and web sites—through any and every medium. While we ultimately want people to rely more on their local church than on blogs or articles or FAQs, we have amazing opportunities to provide answers that draw them to God through his Word and through his church. This is why I appreciate and honor Got Questions, Desiring God (especially Ask Pastor John), The Gospel Coalition, Stand to Reason, and so many other ministries that are attempting to come alongside churches and their pastors by providing good answers to honest questions.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Can I Ask a Dumb Question
March 30, 2016

Have you ever said something dumb—something really, really dumb? Have you ever said something so dumb that you cringe to even allow the memory to crawl back into your mind? We all have at one time or another, haven’t we? Few things are more painful than realizing we’ve displayed ignorance or arrogance through dumb statements or dumb questions. Really, the only thing more painful is having our dumbness met with anger, outrage, or mockery. Such responses only compound the pain and shame of it all.

Social media shaming is a new force for justice, a means of shaming an offender into silence or repentance. Jon Ronson has aptly compared it to medieval pillories and the stocks in colonial town squares. Malicious actions or words are met with deluges of furious tweets, outraged Facebook messages, angry blog posts, and sarcastic memes. Now, some actions and some comments are so dangerous or outrageous that they deserve immediate, unqualified rebukes. The problem is that the response we bring against the worst malevolence can also be the response we bring against those who say or do things that are merely dumb. We can mete out the same punishment as a response to two very different offenses.

Jesus knew a thing or two about dumbness, didn’t he? All throughout his life he had to face endless and endlessly dumb statements and questions. Just think of all the dumb things people said to him: The infamous Rich Young Ruler properly summarized the whole law and then dared to say, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” He essentially said, “I have never once sinned against you or your Father or anyone you have created.” Dumb. But “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…” Jesus responded with love and compassion (Mark 10:21). The mother of James and John approached Jesus on behalf of her sons and asked that they be given the preeminent places in his kingdom. Dumb. But Jesus replied gently by asking them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” (Matthew 20:22). Martha grumbled an accusation: “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” Doubly dumb. “Martha, Martha” he softly replied (Luke 10:40-41).

Jesus responded in these ways because these people were sincere, even if they were sincerely ignorant, sincerely dumb. They were foolish, they were misinformed, they did not know things they ought to have known. But they were not being malevolent. He had room for rebuke, of course, but his rebukes were reserved for the religious hypocrites, the people he was uniquely able to identify and confront as being enemies of his work. To others he was gentle and kind. He allowed them to say dumb things. For friends and strangers alike Jesus met dumbness with kindness.

See, I think Jesus knew something: The path to wisdom is littered with evidence of our inborn foolishness. Before we learn to say things that are wise we say things that are dumb. Before we learn what is wise and true we inevitably blurt some things that are dumb and false. We think dumb thoughts. We ask dumb questions. We make dumb statements. That’s what we do when we learn.

Social media is the way we communicate today. It is also the way we learn. It is the way we encounter new ideas, the way we discuss them, the way we come to settled convictions. What we read in the news or see on television we then take to Facebook or blogs or Twitter. There we mull them over, we evaluate them, and we determine what we believe about them. But I wonder how much we don’t say and don’t ask because we are afraid of the response. How much could we know and how much could we discuss if the fear of outraged responses didn’t keep us from exploring new ideas and asking new questions? What could we talk about, what could we learn, if we were granted the grace to ask dumb questions?

We ought to learn from Jesus the value of extending grace to people to say things that sound outrageous to our ears. We have to be patient and kind and forgiving. We have to be realistic. Before we expect people to say things that are wise, we first need to let them say things that are dumb.

Has Ken Ham Embraced Evolution
March 29, 2016

Yesterday Kenneth Keathley, a professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, described on his blog how Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis has changed his position on one key element of evolution (see “Ken Ham Embraces Evolution”). He pointed to an article in the latest issue of Answers magazine, a publication of Answers in Genesis, and said, “The article is noteworthy because it argues for macro-evolution; the theory that the species of today evolved from prior, extinct species.” If true, this is indeed a substantial and noteworthy shift. Not surprisingly, Dr. Keathley’s blog post was soon distributed through social media where some people reacted with more than a little surprise. But I don’t think Ken Ham or his organization have actually embraced evolution of the kind Keathley describes.

Keathley’s main point is the claim that young-earth creationists, Ken Ham foremost among them, are now embracing what he describes as macro-evolution. Looking at the Answers article and citing both a paper delivered at ETS and a book published by an Answers in Genesis geologist, Keathley says, “In their academic and scholarly writings, members of Answers in Genesis have started to accept the notion that species evolve into other species. … They are acknowledging that, indeed, the fossil record does in fact give evidence of transitional life forms. They seem to be trying to go where the evidence leads them and at the same time continue to hold to their core beliefs.”

But I don’t think the evidence Dr. Keathley offers backs up his claim. If I understand correctly, what he describes is “speciation,” “the formation of new and distinct species in the course of evolution.” But there is no controversy here. Young-earth creationists have embraced speciation—within defined limits, mind you—almost as long as young-earth creation has been a movement. Henry Morris was referencing it as far back as 1961 in The Genesis Flood and he himself was drawing on the work of his precedessors. Young-earth creationists have been articulating their understanding of limited speciation from science and from Scripture for a long time. So, too, have Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis.

You see, young-earth creationists believe that God created “kinds” of living things, taking their cue from the repeated use of “kind” in Genesis 1—God created plants and animals “each according to its kind.” But what is a “kind?” The answer to that question makes a world of difference. To answer it you will need to think back to science class and the classification or taxonomy of living things. Living things are classified in groupings that get progressively more numerous, beginning with kingdom and ending with species. You probably remember the 7 headings:

  1. Kingdom
  2. Phylum
  3. Class
  4. Order
  5. Family
  6. Genus
  7. Species

There are five or six kingdoms, each of which describes one of the classifications of living organisms—the animal kingdom, plant kingdom, and so on. If we look within the animal kingdom, we will find approximately 35 phyla, each of which is comprised of a number of classes. They, in turn, are comprised of a number of orders. And so it goes until we arrive at the innumerable species. Young-earth creationists do not “reject the majority of classifications by evolutionary biologists but [rather, reject] the evolutionary history associated with the classifications…”1

When a young-earth creationist speaks of the “kinds” that God created, which of these 7 classifications does it best match up with? Typically, young-earth creationists have answered that “kinds” approximate “family.” Therefore, God created animals each according to their “family,” the fifth level of the taxonomy. So, for example, all cats—pets, lions, and leopards—belong to the same biological family. Hence, according to this model, God created a cat prototype in Genesis 1, and Noah would have taken two of these cat-family creatures on board the Ark. From those two cats have descended (or “speciated”) the more than 30 species of cats alive today. This is sometimes referred to as micro-evolution, or evolution within a particular family, genus, or species.

Instead of using an evolutionary “tree of life” model which shows all of life descending from a common ancestor, many young-earth creationists prefer an orchard illustration of the kind Ken Ham used in his debate with Bill Nye:

Orchard of Life

This orchard model shows that there are many descendants from each kind, some that have survived and many that have not, and that there is no overlap between the kinds. In this way the dog kind is unrelated to the lizard and bird kinds; they share no common ancestry. “While new species have been observed to arise, it is always within the limits of the created kinds.”1 (Note that the orchard diagram also uses the blue line for the flood to display an increase in speciation after that event.)

What young-earth creationists deny is that speciation has occurred at the levels of order, class, phylum, or kingdom. One order of animals cannot change into another order of animals; animals and plants do not share a common ancestor. In other words, unless I am misunderstanding something, the article Keathley cites is really only saying what young-earth creationists have said all along—that micro-evolution does occur and that it occurs at and below the level of family. If that is the case, neither Ken Ham nor the organization he founded have changed what they believe. Ken Ham has not embraced evolution.

10 Lessons on Parenting Little Ones
March 28, 2016

My youngest child is about to turn 10 years old and will soon be joining her two siblings in the double digits. This means that Aileen and I have graduated—we have graduated from parenting little ones to parenting big ones. Lots of parenting remains, of course, but the little years are now in the past. These little years have been the best and the worst years, the easiest and the hardest. They have been full of both joys and tremendous difficulties. At times we have done well and at times we have done poorly, I’m sure. And now they are behind us. Before it all grows hazy through the inevitable march of time, we decided to think of a few lessons we learned about parenting through the little years. Maybe you will find them helpful.

1. Remember that their rebellion is first against God, not you. Children are born sinners who are in need of a Savior. Almost before they are able to express anything else, they are able to express their rebellion against their parents. As they grow older, this rebellion only increases, sometimes in loud and blatant ways and sometimes in sullen and silent ones. We often had to remind ourselves that their rebellion was not first against us but against God. They acted out against us, against our authority, against our rules, but only because they were ultimately in rebellion to God. This simple realization helped us to pity them, to pray for them, and to tell them once more about Jesus.

2. Pray. Pray, pray, pray. Pray for your children. Pray consistently, persistently, passionately, earnestly, and constantly. Pray for their bodies and souls and lives. Pray for their friendships and relationships. Pray for their education and future spouse. Pray for them, pray with them, pray for them with them. Pray for them with your church. Pray for them with your spouse. Pray for them with joy and with tears. Pray for them as if prayer really, truly matters. Mostly, just pray. You need it, they need it, God honors it.

3. Expect that God will save them. As a Christian parent you can have great confidence that God will save your children. This confidence is not in who they are, who they were born to, or on the basis of anything done by or to them. Rather, this confidence is based on the character of God (who loves to save the lost) and the means God uses (the gospel). If you raise your children in an atmosphere soaked in the gospel, you can be confident that your children will respond to the gospel. But let me add this: While your children may be genuinely saved while they are very young, do not be surprised if neither you nor they have great confidence in their salvation until they have grown and matured. And that’s okay, because whether or not they have come to saving faith, they have the same need—the gospel.*

4. Prioritize church (and, if possible, one church). Make worshipping and serving at church a priority and, whenever possible, stick to one church. There is no better family discipline than the discipline of being committed to a local church as the context for worshipping God and serving God’s people. You can only teach this to your children by example, by making it a high priority. And then there is something especially good, especially pure, about children growing up in one church around one group of people. There is such joy in being around Christians who have known and loved your children since they were born and who will know and love them still as they transition into adulthood.

5. Teach your children to relate to adults. On a related note, generate opportunities for your children to be around other adults. We are right to focus on building our children’s friendships with other children, but we may neglect helping our children to build relationships with adults—adults who can love them, pray for them, mentor them, and help guide them as they get older. Your friends can (and should!) be your children’s friends as well. Do not be afraid of allowing other adults to influence them. Do not be afraid, even when they are young, to suggest, “Why don’t you talk to ___ about that.” It takes a church to raise a child.

6. Be confident but humble in your parenting. Some couples read all kinds of books, know before the first baby is born exactly how they will raise their children, and follow the program all the way to completion. Others leave the books in the bookstores, read their Bible, pray, and simply follow their instincts. Somehow both philosophies can work equally well and I would imagine we can all think of delightful, godly children who were raised each way. Aileen and I learned we needed to be confident and humble in the way we raised our children—confident enough that we would not be constantly changing from one parenting model to another but humble enough to learn from others and especially to be continually challenged and corrected by God’s Word.

7. Make family devotions a priority. Apart from attending church, family devotions are the most important discipline your family can institute. This is a discipline to begin and to emphasize during the little years because, believe it or not, life only gets more chaotic once the children get older. Now is the time to form that habit. Begin family devotions right now so that your children will never remember a time when you did not worship together. Aileen and I were strangely encouraged when my son was telling our church how the Lord saved him and he mentioned our family’s “Spartan-like commitment to family devotions.” He meant it in fun, but it was a blessing to hear of its importance in his life (especially because we are very aware of how often we’ve missed, failed, or forgotten). We have always believed—and still do believe—that this simple discipline of opening the Bible and praying together for just a few minutes every day is of outsized importance. We firmly believe that God uses it for the strengthening of the family and the salvation of souls.

8. Understand that sometimes parenting is about surviving. In the little years a lot of parenting is actually just surviving—surviving through nursing and teething and fevers and tantrums, surviving when it has been weeks since you last had a decent night’s sleep and you’re pretty sure you can’t possibly make it through even one more. We learned that in these times of difficulty we could break some of our parenting rules or preferences for the sake of survival and sanity. If your baby sleeps in your room or your bed for a few nights or even a few weeks, you won’t forfeit his soul. If you give your child a soother, he won’t grow up to be a criminal. Sometimes you lose these little battles, and that just has to be okay.

9. Prioritize your marriage. Parenting is the best and hardest challenge your marriage will face. There is no way of introducing several new personalities into your family without experiencing some strain on your marriage. Though marriage and children are meant to exist together in perfect harmony, you will find that they each seek to compete with the other. Yet marriage needs to come first. The stability of a strong, loving, affectionate marriage will anchor the children, giving them confidence that whatever else happens in life, this marriage will stand firm. Find and create opportunities to prioritize and strengthen your marriage in ways the children will see and in ways they will never see. The children will benefit either way.

10. Give them grace. Extend grace to your children, not only justice. Teach your children that there are consequences for disobedience and discipline them with consistency and kindness. But not every time. Sometimes it is more effective to show them mercy as a reflection of the mercy God has shown you. At other times you may even decide to overlook an offense as you strategically address one kind of sin but not another. Give them grace and show them mercy. Don’t just tell them the gospel, but model it in your interactions with them.

*A note related to “Expect that God will save them:” Of course God does not owe you the salvation of your children and it may be in his sovereign good pleasure not to save them or not to save them until much later in life. But this does not take away from your confidence that those who are immersed in a gospel atmosphere from their youngest years do tend to respond to the gospel.

Image credit: Shutterstock