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December 08, 2008

Read an outside view on Calvinists or Calvinism, and you are sure to read something about God’s wrath. The God of Calvinism is a wrathful, vengeful God, boiling over in anger against any part of creation that has turned against him. He is no God of love, this. Sure, he may have some love for his elect, but to the rest of the world he is this angry, brooding presence eagerly awaiting the day of judgment in which he will cast the rest of humanity into the flames of hell.

I suppose Calvinists have sometimes given others reason to think that this is what we believe to be true of God. Perhaps Calvinists have at times erred by over-emphasizing God’s wrath and have done so at the expense of his love. But this angry, vengeful God is not the true God of the Calvinist.

It is good and useful, though, to consider the relationship of God’s love to his wrath. Are they equal characteristics or is one greater than the other? How can God both love and hate? Just recently I read a powerful response. It came from the pen (or more likely, the keyboard) of Michael Wittmer, professor of systematic and historical theology at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. Do not let the title intimidate you. His new book Don’t Stop Believing (his previous book is Heaven Is a Place on Earth—anyone else noticing a pattern here?) is a very good, popular-level look at some of the hard questions facing Christians today. One of those questions concerns the cross and whether, as some have suggested, a traditional Christian understanding of the cross is tantamount to cosmic child abuse.

In this chapter Wittmer explains how we can (and must) reconcile God’s wrath with his love. “Scripture says that God is love and that he has wrath. This means that love lies deeper than wrath in the character of God. Love is his essential perfection, without which he would not be who he is. Wrath is love’s response to sin. It is God’s voluntary gag reflex at anything that destroys his good creation. God is against sin because he is for us, and he will vent his fury on everything that damages us.”

Love is at God’s very core. 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” Through all of eternity, God has been love; he has existed in a state of love of Father to Son, Son to Spirit, Spirit to Father. There has never been a time that God has not been expressing love; nor will there ever be. But God’s wrath is far different. God has not always been wrathful. He has not always had to express anger. His anger is a reaction to a lack of love—a lack of love for him or a lack of love to others. Wrath is a response to sin. Thus wrath did not exist until sin existed. And as sin came to be, God had to respond to it in a way befitting his holy character. God’s response to sin is wrath. How could it be otherwise? Sin is cosmic treason against the Creator of the universe. He must respond.

At the cross, God’s love met God’s wrath. Wittmer says, “Jesus endured God’s wrath when he bore the curse of sin, but he also experienced God’s love, for the cross was a necessary step in crowning Jesus as Redeemer and Ruler of the world, the Lord whose exalted name forces every knee to the ground. Similarly, though we receive unmerited grace from Jesus’ passion, our old self of sin must die in order to rise to his new life of love.” And so wrath is closely tied to love. If God did not love, God would not be wrathful. It is because of his love that God has to feel and express his wrath. We cannot neatly separate the two. “Every act of God flows from his love, even—and especially—those that demonstrate his wrath.”

Is he a God of love or of wrath? God expresses both love and wrath, but where wrath is demonstrated, love is personified. God is love.

November 30, 2008

It is my intention to primarily use email to update the participants in the Memorizing Scripture Together effort (click here to learn about the program). However, this morning I logged in to the software I use to send those emails only to find that it is down for maintenance until 9 AM tomorrow morning. And so I’m going to post this on the blog today just to keep people in the loop. The email blast will go out as soon as the software is available again.

As we began the program last week I received some immediate feedback. Much of it was of the “this is tough!” variety. And I tend to agree. Memorization does not come easily to most of us, so we are only going to commit passages to memory through long, hard work and through endless repetition. Speaking personally, though, I can say that already I’ve found these times to be a blessing. It has been a worshipful time as I’ve repeated God’s praises again and again. I’ve emphasized different words and phrases as I’ve gone through it and have repeated it with different focuses. This has kept it fresh in my mind and has kept me seeking the “heart” behind the passage.

Every week I want to offer a tip, a suggestion, an interview or something that will help us in our efforts. This week’s tip is very simple but very effective.

Use Index Cards. Choose a portion of the verse that you’d like to master that week, and either write or print it on an index card. I wasn’t able to find printable index cards at Staples so instead purchased cards meant to be inserts in name badges (Avery #05392). They are slightly different dimensions but work just fine. Print the verse on one side and the citation on the other. Put this card in your pocket or in your Bible or in some place where you are bound to come across it at least once or twice a day. You may also wish to print up several of the cards and place them around the house—on the bathroom mirror, above the kitchen sink, below your computer’s monitor, on the fridge, and so on. That way, at any time, you will have the verse near you and can recite it a couple of times between other activities. As the program continues you will build up a collection of these cards and you can skim through them every week or two to ensure that the verses stay fresh in your mind. This is a memorization technique “classic” but one that continues to reap benefits.

This Week’s Fighter Verse

“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
Philippians 2:3

This Week’s Passage

Those of us who are working on the longer passage are focusing on Psalm 8. This is a three week project, taking us until December 14.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8

Join Us!

We would love for you to join us. I plan on sending out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to). Otherwise, just keep an eye on this blog and dedicate time to memorizing the Scripture passages.






November 27, 2008

I posted an article like this one in the past and did so only with great trepidation. Yet today (during the lowest-traffic day of the year) I will do so again in the hope that you’ll be willing to give my motives the benefit of the doubt. I write about this not for my benefit but for the benefit of my fellow bloggers. With Christmas fast approaching, the timing just seemed right.

I first wrote about this subject when I was the guest on a radio program and received a call from a reader of this site who asked an interesting question. He wanted to know how he, as someone who reads the blog, could serve as an encouragement to me. I thought it was a good and kind question and one I answered the best I could “on the spot.” Today I want to address it a little bit more. This could so easily be seen as self-serving, so I do encourage you to take anything you learn here, head to another blog, and apply it there!

Bloggers, or at least the bloggers who have sites that convey valuable information, typically put in a lot of work for very little tangible reward. It’s the nature of blogging, I guess. While I’ve heard that the big-name bloggers—the one whose sites draw hundreds of thousands of visitors each day—can make a handsome living doing what they do, I’ve also heard that even they make relatively little. I tend to believe the latter. The blogosphere, at least in my experience and at least as it pertains to “amateurs” like myself, has not yet found a great way of generating substantial income. Lots of people place advertisements on their sites, either banners or Google AdWords, but these tend, at least in most cases, to generate only small streams of revenue, especially since site costs increase with site traffic. As revenue goes up, so too do costs.

Thankfully, most bloggers do not blog for the financial benefits. Christian bloggers in particular work for the higher ideal of furthering their own faith and serving the church. As they do this, they can always use a bit of encouragement. This article is geared primarily towards Christian bloggers, though most of it is applicable more widely. Let me provide just a few ways you can be an encouragement to the bloggers whose sites you enjoy.

Leave a Comment. This is likely the easiest thing you can do but it can be very encouraging, especially for people whose blogs do not receive a great deal of traffic. Simply leave a comment, noting that you read and enjoyed the article. If you feel there was a problem with the article, leave a rational comment and the reason you disagreed. Just knowing that an article is being read can be a real blessing to a blogger.

Send a Note of Encouragement. Short of leaving a comment, this is probably the easiest thing you can do. Find the person’s email address or contact form and send him a brief note, mentioning that you enjoy reading his blog (and perhaps why you enjoy the blog) and encouraging him to continue seeking the Lord.

Pray for Them. I find that the greatest source of encouragement is to know that people are praying for me. Of course it is always a blessing for a Christian to know that another person is holding him up before the throne of grace, but I think in the case of blogging is also stands as validation that his efforts are sufficiently significant that they are worth praying for. So pray for a blogger and drop him a note to let him know that you’re doing so.

Tell Someone Else About the Site. When you find a site that you enjoy and that has been a source of encouragement to you, tell other people about it. While most bloggers will say (and, in most cases, truly mean) that they do not much care how many people read their site, it is an encouragement to see more people gravitate to a blog. So tell your friends!

Look For Affiliate Links. Many bloggers join affiliate programs through Amazon, Monergism Books, Westminster Books, and other stores. This means that we typically receive a small commission (of about 6 or 7%) on any item you purchase after clicking a link from the blog to the store. So if a blogger posts a link to a product on Amazon and you click on the link and then purchase the product, the blogger will receive as reward a small percentage of that amount. Also, the blogger will often receive a similar percentage of anything else you purchase during that session. This is unlikely to generate a great deal of revenue, but even a gift certificate that allows the blogger to purchase a couple of books per month is a nice little bonus. So when you are thinking of shopping at Amazon or another store, find an affiliate and enter the storefront through that person’s link. This is a simple but effective way of sending some support to a blogger. And best of all, the store foots the bill!

Look for Wishlists. Many bloggers maintain an Amazon wishlist (or a wishlist for another store). This is simply a list of products they would like to own. You’ll often see a link to this list from a blog or you can even visit the Wishlist section at Amazon and search by name or email address. You can then send a small gift anonymously or with a small note of encouragement.

Again, I trust you’ll take these in the spirit I intend them, not as a plug for you to do anything for me, but as an encouragement to take notice of the people whose blogs you enjoy and to serve as an encouragement to them for the glory of God.

November 24, 2008

When I turned to the readers of this site and asked for questions I could answer or topics I could address, I noted (without much surprise) that many people were interested in the subject of reading. One person sought a basic “Why, what and how of reading Christian books.” Others sought advice on how to read more and how to read better. This is a subject I have written about before but I thought it would be valuable to return to it today. Here is a list of ten tips to read more and to read better.

Read - We start with the obvious: you need to read. Find me someone who has changed the world and who spent his time watching television and I’ll find you a thousand who read books instead. Unless reading is your passion, you may need to be very deliberate about setting aside time to read. You may need to force yourself to do it. Set yourself a reasonable target (“I’m going to read three books this year” or “I’m going to finish this book before the end of the month”) and work towards it. Set aside time every day or every week and make sure you pick up the book during those times. Find a book dealing with a subject of particular interest to you. You may even find it beneficial to find a book that looks interesting—a nice hardback volume with a beautiful, embossed cover, easy-to-read fonts and beautiful typography. Reading is an experience and the experience begins with the look and feel of the book. So find a book that looks like one you’ll enjoy and commit to reading it. And when you’ve done that, find another one and do it again. And again.

Read Widely - I’m convinced that one reason people do not read more is that they do not vary their reading enough. Any subject, no matter how much you are interested in it, can begin to feel dry if you focus all of your attention upon it. So be sure to read widely. Read fiction and non-fiction, theology and biography, current affairs and history, Christian and non. You will no doubt want to focus the majority of your reading in one broad area, and that is well and good. But be sure to vary your diet.

Read Deliberately - Similar to reading widely, ensure that you read deliberately. Choose your books carefully. If you neglect to do this, you may find that you overlook a particular category for months or even years at a time. Al Mohler, a voracious reader, divides books into six categories: Theology, Biblical Studies, Church Life, History, Cultural Studies, and Literature and has some project going within each of these categories at all times. You can draw up categories of your own, but try to ensure you are reading from a variety of the categories on a regular basis. Choose books that fit into each of these categories and plan your reading ahead of time, so you know what book you will read next and you know what you’ll read after that. Anticipation for the next book is often a motivating force in completing the current book.

Read Interactively - Reading is best done, at least when enjoying serious books, when you work hard at understanding the book and when you interact with the author’s arguments. Read with a highlighter and pencil in hand. Ask questions of the author and expect him to answer them through the course of the text. Scrawl notes in the margins, write questions inside the front cover, and return to them often (and, if the questions remain unanswered, even seek to contact the author!). Highlight the most important portions of the book, or the ones you intend to return to later. As Al Mohler says, “Books are to be read and used, not collected and coddled.” I have found that writing reviews of the books I read is a valuable way of returning at least one more time to the book to make sure that I understand what the author was trying to say and how he said it. So interact with those books and make them your own.

Read with Discernment - Though books have incredible power to do good, to challenge and strengthen and edify, they also have the power to do evil. I have seen lives transformed by books but have also seen lives crushed. So do ensure that you read with discernment, always comparing the books you read to the standard of Scripture. If you encounter a book that is particularly controversial, it may be worth ensuring that you can reference a review that interacts critically with the arguments or that you can read it with a person who better understands the arguments and their implications. You do not need to fear any book as long as you read with a critical eye and with a discerning mind.

Read Heavy Books - It can be intimidating to stare at some of those massive volumes or series of volumes sitting on your bookshelf, but be sure to make time to read some of those serious works. A person can only grow so much while living on a diet of easy-reading Christian Living books. Make your way through some Jonathan Edwards or John Calvin. Read Grudem’s Systematic Theology or David Wells’ “No Place for Truth” series. You will find them slow-going, to be sure, but will also find them rewarding. Commit to reading some of these heavy volumes as a regular part of your reading diet. Consider joining in one of our Reading Classics Together efforts to add some interaction and accountability in reading one of the classics of the faith.

Read Light Books - While dense books should be a serious reader’s main diet, there is nothing wrong with pausing to enjoy the occasional novel or light read. After reading two or three good books, allow yourself to read a Clancy or Grisham or Peretti something else that never changed anyone’s life. Allow yourself to get lost in a good story every now and again and stay up way too late insisting that you’re going to read just one more chapter. You will find that they refresh you and prepare you to read the next heavy book.

Read New Books - Keep an eye on what is new and popular and consider reading what other people in your church or neighborhood are reading. If The Secret is selling millions of copies, consider reading it so you know what people are reading and so you can attempt to discern why people are reading it. Use your knowledge of these books as a bridge to talk to people about their books and what attracts them to the ones they read. Use your knowledge of these books to understand what other Christians are reading and why.

Read Old Books - Do not read only new books. I cannot say this any better than C.S. Lewis: “It is a good rule, after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between. If that is too much for you, you should at least read one old one to every three new ones. Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books.” So be sure to read old books, whether that means classics or whether that simply means books that come from a generation or two before your own. And be sure to read history as well, since there is no better way of understanding today than by understanding yesterday.

Read What Your Heroes Read - A few years ago, while at the Shepherds’ Conference, a young man who was in ministry but had not had opportunity to attend seminary asked John MacArthur what he would recommend to this man so he could continue learning and continue growing in his knowledge of theology. MacArthur’s answer was simple: He said that this pastor should find godly men he admires and read what they read. So do that! Find people you admire and read the books that have most shaped them. Visit the web sites of your heroes and you may just find that they have already compiled lists of their most formative books. Read these books and see for yourself how they shaped your heroes.

November 23, 2008

A few days ago I announced Memorizing Scripture Together—a program or effort dedicated to committing to memory passages and verses of Scripture. I had hoped to have at least thirty people agree to participate in the program. I was surprised and delighted to find that hundreds had signed up to participate. This shows, I think, how much we as Christians crave the Word but how our lazy, sinful natures draw us away from our hearts’ desire.

How it Works

There are two “tracks” you can follow. The first will provide a weekly “fighter verse”—a verse or two that will be profitable for you to memorize, ponder and reflect on. These verses will be the ones my church memorizes together (twenty-six verses repeated twice through the calendar year). The second track will provide a longer passage that will be memorized over a period of weeks or even months. You are free to participate in either or both of these.

Every Sunday I will send an email reminding you of the verses we are memorizing and providing some kind of challenge or encouragement. I hope to provide tips for memorizing these passages, interviews with people who have memorized vast quantities of the Scripture, and other useful information. I will also post this weekly information on my blog where we can discuss it.

I will be using the English Standard Version (ESV). You may, of course, use whatever translation you prefer.

This Week’s Fighter Verse

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17

This Week’s Passage

As we begin this effort together, I think it will be valuable to begin by committing to memory some passages that are prayers to God. These are Scriptures you can use as you pray, simply praying them back to God as an act of worship to him. The first of these is Psalm 8, a prayer of worship or adoration, declaring the glory of God. It seemed to strike the right balance between applicability and length. We will start slowly, by memorizing this over the next 3 weeks, which means you’ll want to master at least three verses per week. You can proceed through it at whatever pace fits you—just target December 14 as a completion date. Next week I’ll begin providing help and advice on memorizing passages like this one.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
Out of the mouth of babies and infants,
you have established strength because of your foes,
to still the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You have given him dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under his feet,
all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8

Join Us!

We would love for you to join us. I plan on sending out weekly emails (every Sunday) to remind you of the commitment and to tell you about the new verse. If you’d like to participate in the program, I ask as well that you sign up for these emails (though you certainly do not have to if you don’t want to). Otherwise, just keep an eye on this blog and dedicate time to memorizing the Scripture passages.





November 20, 2008

This Sunday I’ll be preaching on the topic of Creation in an evening series at my church. Our Sunday evening format allows for only short sermons and I am trying to distill the broad topic of Creation down to the most fundamental points. I have no intention of defending Creation against evolution or of refuting the various views among Christians that conflict with the position of my church’s leadership (though I am sure some of that will arise in the Q&A that follows the sermon). But as I was thinking about the subject of Creation, my mind was drawn to this article I read a couple of years ago. It argues that Christians can and should embrace evolution and lays out the reasons we can do so while remaining faithful to the Bible.

Scientific American is a popular science magazine with a monthly circulation approaching 700,000. Including foreign language editions, the circulation increases to over 1,000,000. First published in 1845, it is the oldest continuously published magazine in the United States. Quite needless to say, it is not a publication that is particularly friendly to creationism. In the October 2006 edition is a column by Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic, a magazine produced by The Skeptics Society, which “engages in scientific investigation and journalistic research to investigate claims made by scientists, historians, and controversial figures on a wide range of subjects.” His column is titled “Darwin on the Right: Why Christians and conservatives should accept evolution.” The column is a brief attempt to lay out six reasons that Christians should embrace evolution. I’d like to take a brief look at each of Shermer’s six points. He begins with statistics:

According to a 2005 Pew Research Center poll, 70 percent of evangelical Christians believe that living beings have always existed in their present form, compared with 32 percent of Protestants and 31 percent of Catholics. Politically, 60 percent of Republicans are creationists, whereas only 11 percent accept evolution, compared with 29 percent of Democrats who are creationists and 44 percent who accept evolution. A 2005 Harris Poll found that 63 percent of liberals but only 37 percent of conservatives believe that humans and apes have a common ancestry. What these figures confirm for us is that there are religious and political reasons for rejecting evolution. Can one be a conservative Christian and a Darwinian? Yes. Here’s how.

One immediate observation is that he makes a distinction between evangelicals Christians and Protestants, yet does not define these terms. In theory, every Protestant is evangelical and every evangelical is Protestant. So I am uncertain as to how we are to distinguish between these two. Regardless, we will press on.

1. Evolution fits well with good theology. Christians believe in an omniscient and omnipotent God. What difference does it make when God created the universe—10,000 years ago or 10,000,000,000 years ago? The glory of the creation commands reverence regardless of how many zeroes in the date. And what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces? The grandeur of life’s complexity elicits awe regardless of what creative processes were employed. Christians (indeed, all faiths) should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.

I will be the first to affirm that the Bible is not a scientific text. Neither was it intended to be such. However, if we are to believe that the Bible is God’s word and that what God has spoken is true, we must also believe that what God says about science must be true. When God says that the world was created by His command, we must believe it to be so. Shermer asks, “what difference does it make how God created life—spoken word or natural forces?” The difference is that the Bible tells us God created the world by His spoken word. We are not able to believe in the Bible as God’s word and reject Scripture’s clear teaching that life was created from nothing and at God’s command. I agree that “Christians … should embrace modern science for what it has done to reveal the magnificence of the divine in a depth and detail unmatched by ancient texts.” But science has not proven evolution. It has not proven that the world was created in any way other than at God’s command. I embrace modern science, but only so far as it is compatible with Scripture and plain reason. Evolution does not fit with good theology, for evolution and Scripture are wholly incompatible. If we are to embrace evolution, it will be at the expense of the Bible.

2. Creationism is bad theology. The watchmaker God of intelligent-design creationism is delimited to being a garage tinkerer piecing together life out of available parts. This God is just a genetic engineer slightly more advanced than we are. An omniscient and omnipotent God must be above such humanlike constraints. As Protestant theologian Langdon Gilkey wrote, “The Christian idea, far from merely representing a primitive anthropomorphic projection of human art upon the cosmos, systematically repudiates all direct analogy from human art.” Calling God a watchmaker is belittling.

Calling God a watchmaker is clearly belittling, but I do not know of any Christians who believe that God fills this role. God is not a mere garage tinkerer who pieces life together from available parts. Rather, God is the one who not only created life as an idea, as a concept, but who created the available parts and who then assembled them in an orderly fashion. To suggest that God is only slightly more advanced than we are is to ignore the vast gaps that continue to exist in human knowledge. Humans may have been able to map the genome, but a great deal of work remains; an infinite amount of work. The more we conquer, the more we realize we still need to conquer. And one thing humans have never been able to do and will never be able to do is create life ex nihilo, from nothing. We may be able to arrange and rearrange the building blocks of life in some semblance of order, but we are not able to make something from nothing. That is the realm of God alone. Creationism is not bad theology, but is the theology of the Bible. It is not an optional doctrine, but something we must believe if we are to be men and women of the Bible.

3. Evolution explains original sin and the Christian model of human nature. As a social primate, we evolved within-group amity and between-group enmity. By nature, then, we are cooperative and competitive, altruistic and selfish, greedy and generous, peaceful and bellicose; in short, good and evil. Moral codes and a society based on the rule of law are necessary to accentuate the positive and attenuate the negative sides of our evolved nature.

This third point begins with a premise that is accepted only by evolutionists. As Christians we do not believe that humans evolved at all, but that we were deliberately placed on this earth and were made to rule it. To attempt to explain original sin through between-group enmity is to completely misrepresent original sin. Between-group enmity is unable to explain why it is that every human being, no matter his age, culture, race, or gender is sinful. It is unable to explain why we all do things that are wrong and why we all delight in doing wrong even to our within-group. It is unable to explain what is clearly spiritual. Evolution cannot explain original sin or the Christian model of human nature. It cannot explain the conscience, the soul, or sinful nature.

4. Evolution explains family values. The following characteristics are the foundation of families and societies and are shared by humans and other social mammals: attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms. As a social primate species, we evolved morality to enhance the survival of both family and community. Subsequently, religions designed moral codes based on our evolved moral natures.

Attachment and bonding, cooperation and reciprocity, sympathy and empathy, conflict resolution, community concern and reputation anxiety, and response to group social norms” are all characteristics of families. However, all of these characteristics are as easily and even more easily explained by creation rather than evolution. Could God not have given us the desire to attach and bond? Could he not have made us sympathetic and make us desire to resolve conflicts amicably? Even a brief overview of the Bible will prove this to be true. To suggest that religions designed moral codes based upon moral natures is to put the cart before the horse, for is it not more likely that a moral code existed with God before creation was begun, and that our natures were created in a way consistent with this code? Is it not likely that God, whose moral nature included moral codes, designed us in His image and built that code into us? Is this not an explanation for the laws that seem so clearly to be written into the hearts of all humans? Evolution cannot explain family values and can certainly not explain more codes. A glance at the conflict over the right of homosexuals to marry will show the vast difference between an understanding of family as rooted in naturalistic evolution and of family rooted in God’s creative design.

5. Evolution accounts for specific Christian moral precepts. Much of Christian morality has to do with human relationships, most notably truth telling and marital fidelity, because the violation of these principles causes a severe breakdown in trust, which is the foundation of family and community. Evolution describes how we developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. Likewise, truth telling is vital for trust in our society, so lying is a sin.

Christian morality has to do primarily with imitating God who is true and who is faithful. The violation of these principles may case a severe breakdown in truth, but far worse, violation of these principles causes a growing rift between creature and Creator. Christian morality involves human relationships, but only secondarily to the relationship between God and man. Evolution may offer some description of how humans developed into pair-bonded primates and how adultery violates trust. But the Bible offers an answer that is far more clear and far more likely: God created marriage so that human beings could emulate the relationship of Jesus Christ to His people. Truth telling is vital for trust, but even more vital to maintain relationship between God and man. Lying is a sin because it makes a mockery of God who not only tells the truth, but is the very source of truth. Evolution absolutely cannot account for specific moral precepts in a way that is satisfying. And, ironically, evolution is the worldview that underlies the acceptance of non-traditional relationships such as homosexual marriage. Could it be that evolution can be used to explain anything?

6. Evolution explains conservative free-market economics. Charles Darwin’s “natural selection” is precisely parallel to Adam Smith’s “invisible hand.” Darwin showed how complex design and ecological balance were unintended consequences of competition among individual organisms. Smith showed how national wealth and social harmony were unintended consequences of competition among individual people. Nature’s economy mirrors society’s economy. Both are designed from the bottom up, not the top down.

This sixth point does not seem to fit with the rest of the list. While the other five have dealt with principles that are distinctly Christian, this one turns to free-market economics. Shermer may as well have said “Evolution explains the American obsession with team sports.” I know little of economics, free market or otherwise, so will leave this point as-is, except to point out that simply because two theories parallel one another does not make either true.

The article concludes with an exhortation and a passage from Scripture. “Because the theory of evolution provides a scientific foundation for the core values shared by most Christians and conservatives, it should be embraced. The senseless conflict between science and religion must end now, or else, as the Book of Proverbs (11:29) warned: ‘He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.’”

There does not need to be a conflict between science and religion. In a perfect world, there would be no conflict, and, indeed, when the world is remade there will be no conflict. What we see in this debate is not a competition between science and religion, but a conflict between worldviews. These worldviews are wholly incompatible. Michael Ruse, a well-known evolutionist, speaks truthfully when he says “evolution came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute for Christianity…Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and is true of evolution still today.” Evolution is not mere science, but is religion dressed as science. Evolution, and the naturalism that lies behind it, is a full-blown worldview, and in reality, is a religious system that stands in direct opposition to Christianity. The true conflict, the conflict between evolution and creationism, is a conflict of truth and error, a conflict of God and man. Creationism embraces God as the Creator and Sustainer of the world; evolutionism rejects God replaces Him with time, chance and opportunity. The debate between creationism and evolutionism is by no means senseless, for it is a defense of the truth and a defense of the One who is Truth.

November 15, 2008

Yesterday, while reading a book about the history of the English Bible, I came across the story of John Rogers, a Bible translator who worked first with Tyndale and then independently after Tyndale’s death. It’s a story I’ve read before and one that is so powerful. Rogers was eventually arrested, tried, and found guilty of heresies against the Roman Church and against the sacrament. Such heresy carried with it the penalty of death and Rogers was to become the first of many martyrs under the reign of Mary I (Bloody Mary). Here is how Foxe described his last moments.

When the time came that he should be brought out of Newgate to Smithfield, the place of his execution, Mr. Woodroofe, one of the sheriffs, first came to Mr. Rogers, and asked him if he would revoke his abominable doctrine, and the evil opinion of the Sacrament of the altar. Mr. Rogers answered, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” Then Mr. Woodroofe said, “Thou art an heretic.” “That shall be known,” quoth Mr. Rogers, “at the Day of Judgment.” “Well,” said Mr. Woodroofe, “I will never pray for thee.” “But I will pray for you,” said Mr. Rogers; and so was brought the same day, the fourth of February, by the sheriffs, towards Smithfield, saying the Psalm Miserere by the way, all the people wonderfully rejoicing at his constancy; with great praises and thanks to God for the same. And there in the presence of Mr. Rochester, comptroller of the queen’s household, Sir Richard Southwell, both the sheriffs, and a great number of people, he was burnt to ashes, washing his hands in the flame as he was burning. A little before his burning, his pardon was brought, if he would have recanted; but he utterly refused it. He was the first martyr of all the blessed company that suffered in Queen Mary’s time that gave the first adventure upon the fire. His wife and children, being eleven in number, ten able to go, and one sucking at her breast, met him by the way, as he went towards Smithfield. This sorrowful sight of his own flesh and blood could nothing move him, but that he constantly and cheerfully took his death with wonderful patience, in the defence and quarrel of the Gospel of Christ.”

November 01, 2008

The American presidential election is almost upon us (even those of us who do not live in the United States). One of the fundamental issues in this election regards distribution of wealth. Many people have become alarmed at Obama’s statements about the redistribution of wealth. I think it is useful to provide a Christian perspective on inequality of wealth. To that end, I am posting the seventh chapter of Wayne Grudem’s book Business for the Glory of God (Used with permission of Crossway Books).


Some inequality of possessions is fundamentally good and provides many opportunities for glorifying God, but also many temptations to sin; and some extreme inequalities are wrong in themselves.

It may seem surprising to us to think that some inequalities of possessions can be good and pleasing to God. However, although there is no sin or evil in heaven, the Bible teaches that there are varying degrees of reward in heaven and various kinds of stewardship that God entrusts to different people. When we stand before Jesus to give account of our lives, he will say to one person,

“You shall have authority over ten cities,”

and to another,

“You are to be over five cities” (Luke 19:17, 19).

Therefore there will be inequalities of stewardship and responsibility in the age to come. This means that the idea of inequality of stewardship in itself is given by God and must be good.

In a similar teaching, Paul, speaking to believers, says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). This implies degrees of reward for what we have done in this life. Many other passages teach or imply degrees of reward for believers at the final judgment. Even among the angels, there are differing levels of authority and stewardship established by God, and therefore we cannot say that such a system is wrong or sinful in itself.

Inequalities are necessary in a world that requires a great variety of tasks to be done. Some tasks require stewardship of large amounts of resources (such as ownership of a steel mill or a company that manufactures airplanes), and some tasks require stewardship of small amounts of resources. And God has given some people greater abilities than others, abilities in artistic or musical skills, abilities in mathematics or science, abilities in leadership, abilities in business skills and buying and selling, and so forth. If reward for each person’s labor is given fairly and is based on the value of what that person produces, then those with larger abilities will naturally gain larger rewards. Since people are different in abilities and effort, I don’t think there could be a fair system of rewards for work unless the system had different rewards for different people. Fairness of reward requires such differences.

In fact, God has never had a goal of producing equality of possessions among people, and he will never do so. In the Year of Jubilee (Leviticus 25), agricultural land returned to its previous owner and debts were canceled, but there was no equalizing of money or jewels or cattle or sheep, and houses inside walled cities did not revert to the previous owner (v. 30).

Some people have seen an argument for equal possessions in 2 Corinthians 8, but there Paul did not say that God’s goal was equality. For example, he did not tell the wealthy Corinthians to send money to the poor Macedonians mentioned in 2 Corinthians 8:1-5, but only that they should contribute their fair share in helping the famine-stricken Christians in Jerusalem:

…as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness (2 Cor. 8:13- 14, ESV; the Greek word isotΣs also means “fairness” in Col. 4:1, where it cannot mean “equality”).

Nor does the book of Acts teach some kind of “early communism” when it says that believers had all things in common. It is important to look at the passages carefully:

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts … (Acts 2:44-46).

Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need (Acts 4:32-35).

These texts certainly show an amazing level of trust in God, generosity, and love for one another, all as a result of a remarkable outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s power in a time of great revival. But it is a great mistake to call this “early communism,” for (1) the giving was voluntary and was not compelled by the government, and (2) people still had personal possessions, because they still met in “their homes” (Acts 2:46), and many other Christians later still owned homes, such as Mary, the mother of John Mark (Acts 12:12), Jason (Acts 17:5), Titius Justus (Acts 18:7), many Christians in Ephesus (Acts 20:20), Philip the evangelist (Acts 21:8), Mnason of Cyprus (Acts 21:16, in Jerusalem), Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19), Nympha (Col. 4:15), Philemon (Philem. 2), and other Christians in general to whom John wrote (2 John 10).

Immediately after the description of such amazing generosity in Acts 4, there is in chapter 5 the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who lied about the sale price of some land. But Peter tells them there was no need to do this:

“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4).

It is significant that this story occurs immediately after the paragraph that says “they had everything in common” (Acts 4:32). It reminds us that all of that generosity in Acts 4 was voluntary and was not intended to nullify the ideas of individual ownership or inequality of possessions. When Peter says,

“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?”

he reaffirms the idea of private property and keeps us from the mistaken idea that the church was establishing a new requirement that Christians give up all private property, or that Christians all had to have equal possessions. Acts 5:4 guards against such misunderstandings.

Later in the New Testament, when Paul gives specific instructions to those who are wealthy, he does not tell them to give up all their possessions, but to be generous and to set their hearts on God, not on their wealth:

As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

So we should not think of all inequalities of possessions as wrong, or as evil. In fact, inequalities in possessions provide many opportunities for glorifying God.

If God gives us a small stewardship with regard to material possessions or abilities and opportunities, then we can glorify him through being content in him, trusting in him for our needs, expecting reward from him, and being faithful to our commitments. In fact, those who are poor often give more sacrificially than those who are rich. Jesus saw a poor widow put a penny in the offering, and he told his disciples,

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mark 12:43-44).

And James tells us,

Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? (James 2:5).

Thus, the Bible does not teach a “health and wealth gospel” (at least not until heaven!). In this present age, there are inequalities of gifts and abilities, and there are also evil, oppressive systems in the world, and because of these things many of God’s most righteous people will not be rich in this life.

As for those who have large resources, they also are to be content in God and trust in him, not in their riches, and both James and Paul suggest that they face greater temptations (see 1 Tim. 6:9-10; James 2:6-7; 5:1-6). Those who are rich have more opportunities and also more obligation to give generously to the poor (1 Tim. 6:17-19) and to the work of the church (Luke 12:48; 1 Cor. 4:2; 14:12b).

Inequalities in possessions, opportunities, and abilities provide many temptations to sin. There are temptations on the part of the wealthy or those who have other kinds of large stewardships to be proud, to be selfish, to think too highly of themselves, and not to trust in God. On the other hand, those to whom God has entrusted less have temptations to coveting and jealousy and not valuing their own personal position and calling in life, to which God has called them, at least for the present time.

In addition to this, there are some extreme kinds of inequalities in possessions and opportunities that are wrong in themselves. Poverty will not exist in the age to come, and so Jesus’ statement, “the poor you always have with you” (John 12:8) is best understood to mean “always in this age.” It does not mean that poverty will last forever, even into eternity. Poverty is one of the results of living in a world affected by sin and the Fall, and by God’s curse on the productivity of the earth after Adam and Eve sinned (Gen. 3:17-19).

We should seek to help the poor and seek to overcome their poverty. John says,

If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (1 John 3:17).

And when Paul went to Jerusalem to confirm the validity of his teaching in conversation with the apostles there, he found that they were in agreement, and then added,

they asked us to remember the poor, the very thing I was eager to do (Gal. 2:10; see also Matt. 25:39-40; Acts 2:45; 4:35; Rom. 12:13; 15:25-27; Eph. 4:28; Titus 3:14; Heb. 13:16).

The emphasis in the New Testament is on helping poor Christians, especially those who are near us or who come to our attention (see 1 John 3:17; Matt. 25:39-40; Rom. 15:25- 27; 2 Corinthians 8-9). But it is also right to help non- Christians who are poor and needy, as we see in the parable of the Good Samaritan who helped someone in need from a different religious background (Luke 10:25-37). We also see it in Jesus’ teaching, where he told us,

“love your enemies, and do good and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35; compare also Jesus’ practice of healing all who came to him, not just those who believed in him as the Messiah).

So the New Testament emphasis on helping the poor shows us that there is an extreme kind of inequality that is not good, a point where people are in poverty and should be helped. (Just what “poverty” is will vary from society to society and will also vary over time within any one society.)

But is there an opposite extreme of having too much wealth? In contrast to many admonitions to help the poor, there is no corresponding command in the New Testament to take some wealth away from the very rich, and there is no teaching that a large amount of wealth is wrong in itself. But there are strong warnings against spending too much on oneself and living in self-indulgent luxury:

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you… . Your gold and silver have corroded, and their corrosion will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure in the last days… . You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter (James 5:1, 3, 5).

James does not here imply that all those who are rich are evil, for in this same passage he speaks of the fraud and murder committed by these rich people, implying that he is speaking about the rich who are wrongdoers (James 5:4, 6). Paul says that Timothy should tell “the rich in this present age” that they are “not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.” Paul does not say that the rich are to give away all their wealth, but that they are “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:17-18).

Yet James clearly warns against a kind of “luxury and self-indulgence” that is wrong, that shows little or no concern for others, and that does not take seriously the stewardship obligations that God bestows along with great wealth. It seems that those who are wealthy can too easily slip beyond a level of spending on themselves that is appropriate to their place in life and spend excessively and ostentatiously on themselves while neglecting to give generously to others.

But the distortions of something good must not cause us to think that the thing itself is evil. The evils of poverty and excessive, self-indulgent wealth must not cause us to think that God’s goal is total equality of possessions, or that all inequalities are wrong. Inequalities in abilities and opportunities and possessions will be part of our life in heaven forever, and they are in themselves good and pleasing to God, and provide many opportunities for glorifying him.