White Horse Inn Blog

Know what you believe and why you believe it

Chandler, Horton, and Keller on How to Disagree

Our friends at the Gospel Coalition are releasing videos they shot at their recent conference. Mike Horton was a guest for a few of these discussions. In this video, Mike talks with Matt Chandler (pastor of the Village Church) and Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer PCA) about godly disagreement. Whether you are a scholar whose work has been savaged by an unscrupulous critic or just a normal Joe who is at loggerheads with a brother or sister in Christ, you’ll benefit from the wisdom here.

Chandler, Horton, Keller on How to Disagree from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

How Jesus fulfills the Ten Commandments

From Pastor Wade Butler’s The Procession of God, a resource from our friends at New Reformation Press.

The Jews call the 10 Commandments the 10 Words. The 10 Words reflect the future tense. You shall not. You SHALL not. If we put the right emphasis on the words, we see the 10 Words which God wrote on stone to Moses were also predictions of how Jesus would act.

That is why Jesus said He came to fulfill the Law. One fulfills a prediction, one keeps a Law. And although Jesus kept the Laws, He also fulfilled them. When God wrote the 10 Words, the people were at the base of Mount Sinai worshiping a golden calf. Despite that, God wrote a description of Jesus, the child of Abraham. He said of Jesus:

  • You shall have no other Gods – and Jesus didn’t. He insisted that He and the Father were one.
  • And you shall not make any graven images – Jesus didn’t need to. He was the image of the invisible Creator.
  • You shall remember the Sabbath Day – Jesus was dead over the Sabbath and didn’t move a muscle. His heart didn’t beat. He did no work. He didn’t decay for the Father would not allow Him to see corruption.
  • You shall honor your Father and Mother – He honored them both by dying for the Father and taking care of His mother, even while on the cross.
  • You shall not murder – Instead, He gave His life a ransom for many to stop the murderer Satan.
  • You shall not commit adultery – Instead He created a Bride from the blood and water from His side.
  • You shall not steal – He had no place to lay His head and constantly gave all He had to those lost and wandering.
  • You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor – No, He told the truth, but His neighbors all managed to bear false witness against Him.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s house – He owned the whole creation, yet did not covet it. He loved it and was willing to die to set it free. He did not want it as His own; he wanted it free to want Him and Him alone.
  • You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife – He didn’t need a neighbor’s wife. He created a new wife for Himself from the blood and water from his side. The whole creation was to be the Bride of Christ with which He would and did become one flesh through the miracle of becoming flesh and the marvel of Theosis…

Basic Apologetics: How can God exist when there is so much evil and pain in the world?

William Cwirla (LCMS): The problem of suffering (theodicy) is really a matter of the clay critiquing the work of the potter. The question lays a moral problem at God’s feet and then questions the existence of God. “Evil” implies “good” and our ability to discern the difference. Without an external objective standard of good and evil, we would have no ability to speak of evil in the world. Therefore, to call the existence of God into question on account of the presence of evil in the world presupposes a higher standard of the good against which to judge what is and isn’t evil.

The question presupposes that God should run the universe according to our set of rules. If we were God, we wouldn’t permit the presence of evil in the world. This is an anthropocentric view of the universe, as though everything that causes us suffering is necessarily evil.

The question fails to take into account the presence of sin and its cosmic effects. The fall of Adam not only plunged humanity into sin, it also disrupted the inherent harmony of the created order (Rom. 8:18-25). Pain and suffering exists because the inherent harmony of creation has been messed up by sin. Even when human beings don’t have a direct hand in the cause of suffering, say an earthquake or a hurricane, it is nevertheless due to the disruption of creation’s order by sin.

So what is God to do? One thing he doesn’t do, at least on a regular basis, is intervene. He doesn’t block bullets from finding their targets; he doesn’t turn hurricanes away from cities; he doesn’t necessarily keep a meteor from plummeting through the roof of your house. Instead, he restores order to the cosmos by reconciling all things to himself in the death of his Son Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 5:18-19) and bringing all things together under a new Head of creation (Eph. 1:10). In Christ, the God who suffers, “evil” and pain are ultimately employed for good, trumped by the all-reconciling death of Jesus.

We run into trouble with the question of evil and suffering when we attempt to address it apart from the cross of Jesus Christ. Then the discussion becomes a philosophical abstraction, pitting God’s mercy and love against his omniscience and power. The cross of Jesus silences these speculations. Here the Innocent One suffers on behalf of guilty humanity; here God himself bears the ultimate injustice and evil in his own crucifixion which he makes the reconciliation of all things. Jesus Christ, the second Adam and the new Head of creation, sets the disordered universe back into order by his own dying and rising, gathering all things into his death (John 12:32).

In Christ, there is no problem of evil and suffering, for “in all things God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28). The existence of God is not negated by the presence of evil. Rather, the presence of evil demonstrates the cosmic reality of sin, ultimately reconciled once and for all in the death of Jesus Christ.

Michael Brown (URC): First, we must understand that God did not create the world evil. The Bible reveals to us that God made all things good. He created humans in true righteousness and holiness. He crowned them with glory and honor and gave them dominion over the works of his hands. Violence, sorrow, and death were not part of man’s original experience; he only knew the blessing of life in God’s good earth. It was not until Adam sinned against God and broke the covenant into which he was placed that the horror of evil, pain, and death came to be a regular part of existence in this world. As a result of the fall, God could have judged the world immediately and plunged all of mankind into the eternal punishment we rightly deserve. It is only because of his great grace that he chose to redeem a people out of this fallen and dark world. That is why this age of suffering continues: God is gathering in his elect until the Last Day. We have the confidence that God is in fact doing this because he sent Christ his Son “who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4a).

Second, we must understand that while this present evil age continues, God oversees all things by his providence, that is, his constant interaction and intervention with the world he has made. He not only preserves his creatures, but is directing everything to its appointed end, “work[ing] all things according to the counsel of his will” (Eph. 1:11b). He even uses the evil acts of men for his own purpose and glory. Yet, he does so while remaining free from and the just judge of evil. It is this understanding of providence that led Joseph to declare to his brothers who sinned against him: “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20a). What this shows us is that God is both good and sovereign. We are comforted to know that he is always in control and that, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, “whatever evil he sends upon me in this vale of tears he will turn to my good; for he is able to do, being Almighty God, and willing also, being a faithful Father” (Q. 26).

Finally, we must understand that the story is not over. Just as this world was once free from evil and pain in the beginning, so shall it be again when the King returns. Paradise lost will be paradise restored, only infinitely greater. This universe will be resurrected to fit the glory of the age to come-an age in which God has promised to dwell with his people and forever keep them from pain, suffering, and evil. As we read in the final chapters of the Bible: “He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3b-4).

Jason Stellman (PCA): One philosopher claimed that there are many arguments against God’s existence, but this is the only good one! There are a couple ways to approach this question. But before I start apologizing on God’s behalf and defending his actions, we must remember who it is we’re talking about here: the all wise, all powerful, good, and loving God.

We need to be reminded of this because our sinful temptation is to think that God has gotten himself stuck in a corner and we need to reason him out of it. But this is the height of arrogance. “Let God be true,” Paul insisted, “and every man a liar.” God doesn’t need us to get him off the hook! This is crucial to remember: There’s no hook on which God can get stuck from which we must rescue him. If there is a hook, it is we who are stuck on it, not God.

C. S. Lewis used to object to God’s existence for this same reason (all the evil in the world). But then he realized something that many today have never wrestled with: How do I know things are evil or bad? His conclusion was that, in order to be able to recognize evil, he must have some standard of “good” against which he measures everything else. To use his illustration, one cannot recognize a crooked line unless he first has some concept of a straight one. But if there is no God, the very objection to evil loses its force, for if the universe is nothing but the result of random chance, then evil could never be recognized as such.

So that leaves us with the uncomfortable conclusion that there is a God, and this God allows (and in some way ordains) that evil things occur. What do we do with this? I think it is at this point that eschatology becomes very practical. The story into which we have been written is not just a tale about a Shepherd whose sheep got lost and remained that way. Rather, the Christian story is about a God who went to such great lengths to redeem his fallen ones that he sent his own Son to live, die, and rise again for them. Though we are still living in a period of delay, the promise remains that this same Lord Jesus will descend from heaven and put all things right. To Adam it seemed as if Paradise was lost. To us, Paradise feels postponed (though we presently experience it in part). But from God’s perspective and according to his testimony, Paradise has been regained, and the day will come when a new heaven and new earth will descend, and the former things-such as evil and pain-will be remembered no more.

So my point is this: the problem of evil cannot be abstracted from the rest of the story God is telling and considered on its own. All good drama needs a point of crisis, for without this the ending doesn’t appear nearly as glorious.

Christianity in America: A Roundtable Discussion

With J. I. Packer, James M. Boice, Richard Halverson, William Pannell and Michael S. Horton

HORTON: Do you think the complaint that evangelicals in this day and age are shallow and superficial is justified?

BOICE: Yes, I would agree with that complaint. For various reasons I think we are contributing to the very thing we ought to be working against. One reason is that we are so preoccupied with numbers. We’re so interested in getting people to make a profession that we often forget to take the time to explain the content of what it is they are about to profess. I notice, by contrast, that our Lord himself never did that. If anything, he seemed to be afraid of numbers. When the numbers got too high, he asked the tough questions, questions that would weed out those who were following only because it was simply the most exciting thing of the hour to do.

PACKER: I think this is right. There is such a thing as cultural Christianity, a Christianity that only goes skin deep and is taken in because it is part of the culture of your home or the group to which you belong. What you receive in this case, you receive by osmosis, rather than by any sort of thinking. When the time comes and the tough questions are asked your mind begins to wake up and you realize that all you’ve got is the veneer of a “Christian lifestyle” without any deeply rooted convictions at all. Culture Christianity is always a problem at this point. Those who have received it think that they are Christians because of the way that they have been conditioned, when in many cases they still have been converted.

PANNELL: What we have failed to do in many of our Christian circles is to present in a stimulating way real biblical questions. Today, people tend to think that you can go to church, be a Christian, and get along best if you leave your mind in the glove compartment.

HORTON: Could it be that we have a cheap and limited view of God and his grace?

HALVERSON: I certainly think we’ve lost that sense of awe when we talk about God in our modern evangelical culture. I don’t sense awe in many of the evangelical gatherings that I have attended. I have a feeling, for example, that if Jesus was to walk into one of our churches or conventions, that we wouldn’t want to stand up and cheer and sing “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” I think we should fall immediately to our knees in an attitude of worship. However, today I think we tend to equate noise with praise and worship and that troubles me a great deal (see Amos 5:21-24).

PACKER: I think you’ve hit on something fairly basic here. I think of the two pans of an old fashioned pair of scales. If one goes up, the other goes down. Once upon a time folks new that God was great and that man by comparison was small. Each individual carried around a sense of his own smallness in the greatness of God’s world. However, the scale pans are in a different relation today. Man has risen in his own estimation. He thinks of himself as great, grand and marvelously resourceful. This means inevitably that our thoughts about God have shrunk. As God goes down in our estimation, He gets smaller. He also exists now only for our pleasure, our convenience and our health, rather than we existing for His glory.

Now, I’m an old fashioned Christian and I believe that we exist for the glory of God. So the first thing I always want to do in any teaching of Christianity is to attempt to try and get those scale pans reversed. I want to try and show folks that God is the one of central importance. We exist for His praise, to worship Him, and find our joy and fulfillment in Him; therefore He must have all the glory. God is great and He must be acknowledged as great. I think there is a tremendous difference between the view that God saves us and the idea that we save ourselves with God’s help. Formula number two fits the modern idea, while formula number one, as I read my Bible, is scriptural. We do not see salvation straight until we recognize that from first to last it is God’s work. He didn’t need to save us. He owed us nothing but damnation after we sinned. What he does, though, is to move in mercy. He sends us a Savior and His Holy Spirit into our hearts to bring us to faith in that Savior. Then He keeps us in that faith and brings us to His glory. It is His work from beginning to end. God saves sinners. It does, of course, put us down very low. It is that aspect of the gospel that presents the biggest challenge to the modern viewpoint. But we must not forget that it also sets God up very high. It reveals to us a God who is very great, very gracious and very glorious. A God who is certainly worthy of our worship.

PANNELL: I’m always impressed with the conversation that Jesus had with some of his contemporaries when they asked, “What can we do that we might do the works of God?” The assumption being that whatever God laid on them, they could handle. Jesus responded by saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe on Him who He has sent.” They could no more swallow that than they could any of the other teachings of Jesus. This one stuck in their minds and I think the reason for that is because it lays upon God all the burden of being Savior. And that is just un-American. To think that we would need someone outside ourselves to save us is in violation of the spirit of American independence.

HORTON: Could that be why we don’t frequently hear the preaching of the cross in evangelical churches? If we do hear the cross, it’s only in terms of how much God loves us, but we never really hear why the cross was actually necessary.

PACKER: Well, before we ever start talking about the cross showing us the love of God, we ought to take the time to define what took place on the cross so as to explain why the death of Christ shows us God’s love. Surely the first thing to say is that the achievement of the cross was the putting away of our sins. Had that not happened through the wisdom of God who put His Son in our place, we would have had to pay the price for our sins and that would have been eternal spiritual loss. Thus, the meaning of the cross is that a God, who was my stern judge, has become my loving heavenly Father because He has put away my sins. The Father, through the Son, redeemed the world. So our relationship with God becomes the most important issue we can ever face and the cross of Christ becomes the most momentous event in history, because we have a loving heavenly Father and the Judge who fully satisfies the account of us for our guilt. This is the God-centered way of looking at the cross.

BOICE: But that is the question, how are we going to look at the cross, or mankind, or God. For example, if your basic premise is that God exists to serve mankind and you happen to be going through a period of suffering, is God going to have to solve your problems for him to mean anything to you? The health and wealth gospels that we’ve heard so much about are merely outgrowths of this man-centered religion. However, if you take it the other way around, we’re there for God’s benefit and then He has a purpose even in our suffering. Christianity does not involve our solving everybody’s human problem, but instead involves our showing we can go through human problems in a way that honors God. Until Christians in our country understand that, Christianity is not going to have the impact that it once had, either for revival or for cultural change.

HALVERSON: I feel that this is where we are today. Although we say we believe in God, we really believe in man. I’ve lived in Washington D.C. for thirty years and I hear this all the time. They never verbalize it quite this way, but what they’re saying is, “If we just get the right man in the White House, and the right people in the Supreme Court and Congress, we’ve got the kingdom of God.” This concerns me a great deal.

PANNELL: I think there is a consensus in the world today as never before that the human race needs to be saved. I think that’s what communism and other isms are about. This leads inevitably to a contemporary idolatry called nationalism. To the degree that the church is seduced to these ideologies, it is to that degree also that the church loses confidence in the power of the gospel. And the cross just becomes something you wear around your neck.

HALVERSON: Years ago we had a breakfast in Washington for Malcolm Muggeridge, who as some of you may know is very pessimistic. After giving his speech, one gentleman, who happened to be constitutionally incapable of hearing anything pessimistic, approached him and said, “Brother Muggeridge, you’ve been very pessimistic, can’t you say anything optimistic?” He responded, “Why my friend, I’m very optimistic because my hope is only in Jesus Christ.” He let that response settle for a moment. Then he said this, “Just suppose the apostolic church had pinned its hopes on the Roman empire?” I’ve never been able to forget that. In a day when we are pinning our hope on the good old U.S.A. There’s a little text that came to mean a great deal to me a few years ago when I was preparing to preach an ordination sermon. Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” I can’t believe he has ever failed, or ever will fail in doing that. So I have to believe he is building his church. The problem is the church we’re building.

From Modern Reformation (May/June 1993): “Beyond Culture Wars”

WHI-1056 | Doctrine & Life

Who is Jesus, and why should he be worshipped? Was his death merely an example of self-sacrifice, or did he actually atone for the sins of the world? These are crucial doctrinal questions, yet many Christians in our time say they are not interested in theology or doctrine, but prefer instead to focus on what Jesus can do for us in our lives today. Is it possible to be a faithful Christian without being concerned about doctrine? (Originally broadcast June 11, 2006)

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Basic Apologetics: How can I know that the Bible is true?

William Cwirla (LCMS): There is sufficient evidence from the field of archaeology to show that the Bible is historically quite accurate. Even skeptical archaeologists have learned to take the biblical narrative at face value. Of course, this doesn’t prove the Bible to be “true,” only accurate in historic details. But that’s a good place to begin.

The New Testament documents are reliable, first-source historic documents written by eyewitnesses to a unique event history-the incarnation of the Son of God culminating in his death and resurrection. The manuscript evidence gives us a reliable text, far more reliable than any other text from antiquity.

The Gospels are a form of historical narrative. Luke mentions the fact that he did historical research prior to writing his account (Luke 1:1-4). The claim of all these writers is that Jesus died on a cross and rose bodily from the dead three days later. Paul mentions that Jesus was seen risen from the dead by more than five hundred eyewitnesses (1 Cor. 15:6) in addition to the apostles, many of whom went to their death insisting they had seen Jesus risen from the dead. These eyewitnesses had everything to lose and nothing to gain for claiming Jesus was risen. In fact, the religious and political authorities had a vested interest in the contrary, so their testimony was given in view of hostile cross-examination.

This same dead and risen Jesus predicted his own death and resurrection three times before it happened. As baseball pitcher Dizzy Dean once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” Jesus did it. For that reason, we need to take seriously what Jesus says. He says that the Old Testament Scriptures speak of him and teach the way of eternal life (John 5:39). He says that the Scriptures teach his death and resurrection and of repentance and forgiveness in his name (Luke 24:45-47). He promised that his apostles would receive the Holy Spirit who would bring to mind all that he had taught and would guide them into all truth (John 14:26; 16;13). The Apostle Paul writes that the Old Testament Scriptures are the very “breath of God” (2 Tim. 3:16), and Peter similarly writes that the prophets spoke not on their own initiative but as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21).

The lynchpin for the veracity of the Scriptures is the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is not only the central teaching, it is also the foundation to the truth claims of the Scriptures. If Christ is not raised, then everything that is written in the Bible is suspect. But Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate who died and rose from the dead, points us to the Scriptures which he claims reliably speak concerning himself.

Jason Stellman (PCA): The Westminster Confession of Faith I.4 states that the authority of Scripture does not depend on the testimony of any man or church, but wholly upon God. In both the Old and New Testaments the Bible declares itself to be the very Word of God: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:7-9); “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).

But accepting Scripture’s self-testimony is not simply random, circular reasoning; it’s not something we do in spite of manifold evidence to the contrary (like believing that the Book of Mormon is true because we get a “burning in our bosom” when we read it). Rather, the Bible’s own internal evidence-such as “the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man’s salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof” (WCF I.5)-bears witness to its truthfulness and authority.

But as with the existence of God, believing the Bible’s message is not something we can do without the work of the Holy Spirit within us. We are not passive, neutral observers who weigh the evidence in some objective, disinterested way. Rather, we are, by nature, inclined to evil and hostile to divine things. That’s why all the rational arguments in the world will not convince us to bow before our Creator and submit to his message. Only the power of the Spirit working through the Word can accomplish that.

Next in the series: How can God exist when there is so much evil and pain in the world?

From Modern Reformation (March/April 2006): Does God Believe in Atheists?

Word and Sacrament | July / August 2011 Modern Reformation

Word and Sacrament: Making Disciples of All Nations
July/August 2011

What is the secret key for growth in the Christian life? It is the gospel of the died and risen Savior that gives life, delivered by means of the preached Word, and then signed, sealed, and confirmed by “visible word” in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Teaching and discipline come to bear immediately in a well-ordered church that is growing and maturing. In this issue in our continuing series on “The Great Commission,” we want to help realign the church’s mission to these specific means that Christ ordained for the expansion of his kingdom. Toward this end, Editor-in-Chief Michael Horton sets out our need for catechesis in discipleship-a theme running throughout this issue. Lutheran pastor John Bombaro argues against a “Facebook” Christianity, showing that discipleship necessarily involves a communal setting, including personal representation as being of the essence of Christian disciple-making; and Rick Ritchie helps us think about our choices of media in the church. Pastor Andrea Ferrari and Professor Alex Chediak also discuss churches and children who are coming of age in a Facebook age, while Pastor Nam-Joon Kim relates the extensive discipleship and teaching ministry at Yullin Presbyterian Church in Korea. An interview with J. I. Packer and Gary Parrett further reiterates the importance of catechism, and Presbyterian minister and seminary professor J. V. Fesko persuades us that baptism is a strong link to a lifetime of discipleship.

In the book of Acts, the Great Commission unfolds as the church was born by Word and Spirit and then “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). Word and Sacrament ministry, in other words, is the full mission of the church. This is how God directs our hearts and minds to Christ. It is his rescue mission for the nations. Join us in this July/August timely and vital issue of Modern Reformation!

Click here to see the Table of Contents

Basic Apologetics: How can I know that God exists?

William Cwirla (LCMS): We know things in a variety of ways. We know things empirically, the way we know a scientific fact. For instance, we know that water is two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen because we can analyze water and literally take it apart. Since God can’t be measured or tested scientifically, we can’t know of God’s existence that way.

I’ve never been terribly impressed by the various “proofs” for the existence of God. All of them seem to lead to so much logical or philosophical arm wrestling, the God of logical necessities. I think these arguments are much more meaningful to believers than they are to skeptics.

We also know things inductively and retroductively, the way we know facts of history or the way a jury is convinced of a crime “beyond a reasonable doubt” by the evidence. The Apostle Paul writes that the pagans, who do not have the revealed Word, can still know something about God. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Rom. 1:19-20). The Divine Suspect left his fingerprints.

Here, science has unwittingly done a decent job dusting for divine fingerprints. The finely-tuned order of the universe in a delicate balance of universal physical constants, the apparent rarity of Earth as a life-sustaining planet, the wonderful complexity of biological systems, and the intricacies of the genetic code all make a strong case for the existence of God. Like any circumstantial evidence case, there are always alternative explanations, so one can never be absolutely certain in knowing God this way, only reasonably certain.

This sort of natural knowledge of God is also quite limited. We can know of his eternal power and deity, namely that God transcends time and space and that he is omnipotent and omniscient and whatever other “omni” you can think of, but we can’t know anything about his character or person. That must ultimately be revealed to us.

To know Jesus Christ is to know God. He is the fullness of the Deity dwelling among us bodily. This kind of knowing is different from knowing facts about God or studying God the way one studies biology or chemistry. This is knowing in the biblical use of that word, as in entering into a relationship with someone. “This is eternal life, that they know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3).

The Incarnation is the grand revelation of God who’s been at work in, with, and under the created order from the beginning. He shows his face in the face of the Son of the Virgin, the Man of the Cross. If you want to know God, you need to learn from Jesus, the Son of God, the Word made flesh. You can be as certain of the existence of God as you are certain of the existence of the historic figure named Jesus, who claimed to be the Son of God, and offered a variety of signs, culminating in his own predicted death and resurrection.

Michael Brown (URC): We know that God exists because he has revealed himself to us. He has done this in two ways: through creation (which we call his general revelation) and Scripture (which we call his special revelation). Many people try to avoid the latter, but no one can escape the former. General revelation is something that all people experience. It is, as Article 2 of The Belgic Confession puts it, “before our eyes as a most beautiful book, wherein all creatures, great and small, are as so many letters leading us to perceive clearly the invisible things of God.” Like a book that tells a story, nature communicates a message-one that is understood by all people irrespective of their location, language, or education. This is precisely what David says in Psalm 19: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their measuring line goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4a).

Every day, nature reveals to the world the existence of its Creator. The rising of the sun and the shining of the stars say unequivocally to mankind: You are a creature living in the Creator’s universe. This, as Paul says in Romans 1:19-20, leaves people without excuse: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Man cannot accuse God of not revealing himself. No one will ever be able to say, You didn’t give me enough evidence, God; I didn’t know that you existed! The fact is that every person knows God exists. Every human being knows something about God’s eternal power and deity by what is clearly perceived in nature. Moreover, as Paul points out in Romans 2:14-15, God has planted in the soul of every human being a basic awareness of God and his law. Calvin called this the sensus divinitatis-an elementary, intuitive perception of God’s existence.

Consequently, before a Christian even opens her mouth to give an argument for the existence of God, the unbeliever already knows that God exists. The unbeliever’s problem is not that he doesn’t know this, but that he hates and suppresses what he already knows to be true. This, according to Paul, is the indictment that God gives to the entire human race when he says: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Thus, “How can I know God exists?” is the wrong question. The question that the unbeliever needs to ask is, “How can I be saved from the wrath of God?”

Jason Stellman (PCA): This is such a profound question, but what makes it especially interesting is the fact that the Bible (which is the primary source of our knowledge about God) never actually argues for his existence. Instead,it presupposes it with the opening words of its first book, Genesis: “In the beginning, God… ” To those who doubt his existence, Psalm 14 just responds, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

But when you think about it, it shouldn’t be that surprising that the existence of God is considered to be as central and basic as the Bible implies. After all, we all hold beliefs for which we have no proof and for which we never think to argue (such as the belief that truthfulness is better than lying, or that it is wrong to torture children for fun). Now I’m not saying that the existence of God cannot be demonstrated, it certainly can, but our belief in him is only strengthened by such evidence, it is not founded on it.

Though Scripture, as I said, doesn’t furnish us with arguments for God’s existence, it does appeal to his handiwork as a demonstration of his power and wisdom. Speaking of pagan idolaters, Paul insisted that they “knew God” and had witnessed “his eternal power and divine nature” by observing the wonders of creation. Yet because of the darkness of their hearts men refuse to glorify him, and choose rather to serve creatures instead of the Creator. Man’s “atheism,” therefore, is a farce. His “intellectual doubt” is often a moral refusal to admit what his eyes and heart plainly testify-that there is a God to whom he is accountable.

When you look at it this way, I guess you could turn the issue on its head and argue that God doesn’t believe in atheists.

A. Craig Troxel (OPC): Many people in the West respond to the reality of religious pluralism by affirming that all religions are really the same. But one problem with such a viewpoint is that it seeks to domesticate religions by stripping them of all that is unique about them. Certain beliefs must be sacrificed in order to amalgamate religions into parallel or analogous ways to God. The distinctive elements of the various religions are pured into one flavor-and by an “outsider”-who is an expert and, of course, has our best interest in mind. As Steve Turner puts it tongue-in-cheek, “We believe that religions are basically the same. …They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God, and salvation.”

The religion that is least conducive to such reductionism is Christianity, because the person who is least tamable is Christ. You cannot begin to treat Christ as merely a prophet or wise teacher (like Moses, Mohammed, Confucius, or Buddha). Yet in order to assert that the Christian faith is just another brand or label of one all-purpose universal religion, you must essentially gut the Christian faith of all its content, much in the same way that a modern taxidermist removes all of a fish so that hardly anything remains when it is mounted on the wall.

For example, in order to make his point, John Hicks argued in God Has Many Names that Jesus never designated himself as Messiah, never thought of himself as divine, and that the incarnation is a mythical idea applied to Jesus. Jesus gets reduced to being our “saving point of contact” with God. This is a huge distortion of Jesus’ declaration to be “the way, the truth and the life” and that people should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Emphasizing this truth, and the truth of his substitutionary death, resurrection from the dead, and future return is not a static or freeze-dried view of truth. It is the truth that set us free.

Next in the series: How can I know that the Bible is true?

From Modern Reformation (March/April 2006): “Does God Believe in Atheists?”

Succession: Ministers or Ministry?

There have been some interesting discussions lately on the blogs about “pastoral succession.” Don Carson discusses this issue with Tim Keller and John Piper at The Gospel Coalition site. Anyone in the middle of this process—or anticipating it—will benefit from their sage advice. Over at Reformation 21, Carl Trueman offered some wise thoughts of his own on the conversation.

Eventually, every church has to think through the connection between faith and practice when it comes time to call a new pastor. I’d like to tweak the conversation a little bit by raising the question of paradigms.  Are we looking for a certain kind of minister or, first and foremost, for a certain kind of ministry?  Is our “job description” determined by the charisma, style, accomplishments—and genuine gifts—of the minister or by the qualifications that Paul lays out in the pastoral epistles?

On one hand, pastoral succession can be a time of crisis.  Sometimes the crisis results from poor leadership.  The natural assets that make someone a great leader in business, entertainment, or politics may also become liabilities in ministry.  In the church, poor leadership doesn’t necessarily mean a failure to instill the confidence of others; it can actually be just such confidence that weighs a minister down and makes it really hard on the next guy.  In the church at least, poor leadership means creating a situation in which the minister, not the ministry, becomes the means of grace.

On the other hand, pastoral succession problems can also indicate a healthy church.  In my circles, we care about who follows famously faithful pastors, but we should care as much about who follows a faithful pastor down the street.  We care about “succession” because we care about God’s covenant faithfulness “to a thousand generations.”

Healthy churches may hit some rough water in the interim between pastors.  Even when the ministry has been faithful over many years, alas, the fruit of the flesh that the apostles diagnosed in their own church plants blossoms from a conquered but sturdy weed.  After years of keeping everyone’s eye on the Word, loss of godly leadership can often disintegrate quickly into squabbles over secondary issues.

However, when discussing pastoral succession, we have to beware of following a paradigm of leadership that is not consistent with our place in redemptive history.  Born in the “Jesus Movement” of the 1970s, one non-denominational denomination with which many of us southern Californians are familiar adopted the “Moses Leadership” model, which places all the power in the church in the hands of the pastor, who (like Moses) was directly accountable to God. Understandably, this rather “papal” form of government raises questions of succession to a new level.

At the same time, I wonder if we all obsess too much over pastoral succession these days.  We remember Calvin more than Beza because, among other things, the former turned the church in Geneva around; yet Beza had more direct influence in the international reformation in some ways than his predecessor.  There is a danger in looking for successors to a minister; what we should really be looking for is the succession of the ministry: the Word rightly preached, the sacraments rightly administered, and the church’s doctrine, worship, government, and life regulated by Scripture.

Once upon a time there were no church marquees.  You just walked to your neighborhood parish church.  But even marquees used to have the name of the church and the text for the sermon that week.  Now it’s pretty universal to have the name of the pastor—and the name of the minister who is preaching that week.  Even in good churches, one sometimes hears people say, “Did you know So-and-So is preaching this week?”  In some cases, people even visit another church to hear the famous preacher.

When it comes to pastoral succession, I can’t help but let my presbyterian colors show.  At the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15), even when the apostles were still living, it was “the apostles and elders” who made the decision that all the churches were to receive.  I’m always baffled when brothers and sisters say that presbyterian polity is “hierarchical” or “clerical.”  Actually, it’s just the opposite.  Spreading out the authority among ministers (teaching elders) and ruling elders, equally, both locally and in wider assemblies, means that no church or minister is more important than another.  It also means that the majority of each local session or consistory consists of laypeople rather than clerics.  Although ordained for their service, ruling elders are not full-time ministers.  They do not preach and teach.  Nevertheless, pastors do not rule and they definitely don’t run the temporal affairs of the church (the proper province of deacons).

In calling a pastor, the local session or consistory calls a congregational election to form a pulpit search committee and recommends a candidate.  After congregational approval, the candidate is examined by the presbytery or classis and upon successful examination is installed as pastor.  Following this covenantal logic, it has usually been the practice in Reformed and Presbyterian churches for the incumbent minister to recuse himself from the process entirely.

The apostolic ministry was extraordinary: the foundation-laying era of the new covenant church (1 Cor 3:10-11).  Although Paul could appeal to no human authority higher than his own office, he encouraged Timothy to recall the gift he received at his ordination, “when the council of elders [presbyteriou] laid their hands on you” (1 Tim 4:14).  None of us is a Moses.  None is a Paul or a Peter.  We are all “Timothys,” not adding to the apostolic deposit, but guarding and proclaiming it (1 Tim 6:20).

Carl Trueman wisely reminds us: “The elite watchmaker Patek Philippe had a slogan at one time that was something like this: `You never really own a Patek Philippe; you merely look after it for the next generation.’”  Thus it is with churches, in terms of the vibrancy of their life and their orthodoxy.  Those privileged enough to be involved in the appointment of their own successors, or those who can merely shape the nature of the session which will oversee the search, need to make sure they make the right choices. They do not own the church; they are merely looking after her for the next generation.

WHI-1055 | Consumers or Disciples?

In John chapter 6, Jesus begins to attract very large crowds. But is this necessarily a good thing? Are all the people in these crowds really disciples, or merely consumers who are looking to Jesus to solve their temporal problems? How does Jesus deal with this issue, and what are the implications of all this for our own view of ministry and discipleship? That’s the focus of this edition of the White Horse Inn: know what you believe and why you believe it!

RECOMMENDED BOOKS

Made in America
Michael Horton
The Gospel According to John
D.A. Carson
The Gospel Commission
Michael Horton

PROGRAM AUDIO

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MUSIC SELECTION

Andrew Osenga

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