First, as an important apologetic point, it is not only Christian theology which must wrestle with the problem of evil; every worldview, Christian and non-Christian alike, must also wrestled with it, albeit for different reasons depending upon the specific view in question. For example, naturalistic/atheistic viewpoints must first explain, given their overall view, how they can even account for the distinction between good and evil. What is the basis for objective, universal moral standards if, for sake of argument, naturalism is true? Naturalists will often raise the problem of evil against Christians, but in so doing, they assume a clear distinction between good and evil and that objective evil exists, which their own view cannot explain. Thus, in order to get their argument off the ground, naturalists, ironically, have to borrow parasitically from Christianity which can account for the distinction between good and evil tied to God as the standard. In this way, as a number of Christian thinkers have pointed out, many non-Christian worldviews, including naturalism, have a “problem of the good” since without the God of the Bible there is neither good nor evil in an objective and universal sense. The same could be said about other non-Christian views but my point is simply this: everyone must wrestle with the problem of evil in light of their own worldview claims. For Christians, our problem is not accounting for the distinction between good and evil. We can make sense of our moral revulsion and condemnation of wicked actions. Our challenge is to make sense of why God plans and allows sin and evil, pain and misery. In answering these questions, we are driven back to Scripture and its entire storyline which unfolds God’s plan of redemption in Christ.
Second, the Bible’s storyline takes seriously the distinction between “creation” and the “fall” and thus the present abnormality of this world. A helpful and common way of thinking through the storyline of Scripture is by the grid: creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. When thinking about the problem of evil, and specifically the thorny question of the origin of evil and its relationship to God’s plan, the distinction between “creation” and the “fall” is utterly essential to maintain. Scripture is clear that God created the universe “good” (Gen 1:10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31) and that everything from his creative hand was good. No doubt, Scripture teaches that sin and evil are part of God’s plan, but Scripture never concludes that God is responsible for evil, nor does it conclude that a strong view of God’s sovereign rule entails this conclusion.
Instead, Scripture distinguishes “creation” and “fall” and it roots this distinction in history. Sin entered the world by our creaturely act of rebellion, first in the angelic realm and then in the human world. Sin is not here because it is a metaphysical necessity tied to our finitude, nor is it here because that is just the way things are. Instead, sin and evil are a reality due to our moral rebellion against God in space-time history, and Scripture nowhere minimizes this fact. In fact, Scripture takes sin and evil so seriously that the entire plan of redemption is to destroy it and to remove it from God’s universe! And, thankfully, because sin and evil are not metaphysically necessary, in removing sin and evil, he does not have to scrap us and start all over again. Instead, God must remove our sin by paying for it in full in Christ’s cross, and then transform us by the power of the Spirit, thus restoring us to our state of goodness even in a greater way in Christ. All of this is to say that the God of the Bible stands absolutely opposed to sin and evil. The same Scripture which teaches that God foreordains all things, including sin and evil, also teaches that sin and evil are an abnormality, an intrusion and a distortion of his good world, which God alone can remedy by the incarnate Son, his cross work on our behalf, and the power of the Spirit to transform us. Furthermore, even though it is true that God makes use of evil in order to bring about his good purposes, Scripture never concludes that evil and sin are less than what Scripture says they are. Evil remains evil: totally, radically, and absolutely, and God stands completely against it as the entire storyline of Scripture makes abundantly clear.
Many application points could be drawn from this point, especially when we confront the reality of evil and suffering in this world. However, the main point is that since Eden and this side of the consummation, all of us live in an abnormal and fallen world, and none of us escape this abnormality. Ultimately, when we suffer it is due to the present condition of this world. This is why all suffering is not related to a specific sin, as the book of Job makes abundantly clear. Yes, it is true that some suffering may be due to our sin (e.g., Acts 5; 1 Cor 11; cf. Heb 12), but it is not always the case. Suffering first is part of the present condition of this world, now awaiting the consummation, which requires that we have realistic expectations when we face suffering. No doubt, we do not often know why specific suffering comes our way; that is tied to the sovereign plan of God. Yet we do know that we will face sin and evil, and when we do, God is not to blame; all blame is first placed back in Genesis 3, and thereafter with every creature who chooses to act contrary to the good commands and purposes of God.
Stephen J. Wellum is a professor of christian theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and editor of Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
He received his Ph.D. from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and he is the author of numerous essays and articles and the co-author of Kingdom through Covenant (Crossway, 2012).
*This article was originally published in the winter 2013 issue of the Southern Baptist Journal of Theology.
The week from Palm Sunday to Resurrection Sunday must have been an emotional rollercoaster for the disciples, Jesus’ friends and family, and Jesus himself. Together they experienced the triumphant celebration of Palm Sunday, the poignant fellowship of the Last Supper, the deep despair of the cross, and the amazing joy of the resurrection. In Ezekiel 37:1-14, Ezekiel has a vision that takes him on a similar journey from a place of deep despair to a place of incredible hope.
In my last blog, I discussed the concept of how the parent-child relationship is viewed differently from an Eastern Asian style than a Western American style. With this difference comes the difficulty of “leaving and cleaving” as found in Genesis 2:25. This also relates to obedience from parents for a lifetime since being a child is viewed more as a permanent status rather than an age range. This is also coupled with a long-term care of the parents supported by passages such as 1 Timothy 5:8 which states that if one does not care for his family that he is worse than an unbeliever.
The Bible states that we have an enemy that plagues everyone—death. Though we may avoid this enemy for a time, we cannot escape it. Death is certain. No one can avoid death.
And Death is cruel. At its heart, death is separation. Death separates our bodies from our souls. It separates us from this earth and all that is on the earth that we love.
For much of our life we can make ourselves forget this enemy. We busy ourselves with the various aspects of life, never considering that life will end. Perhaps your life will be long, but perhaps yours will be short, like many others before you. However, there are times in our lives when we can no longer forget our enemy, death. We come face to face with it, in all its gruesome reality.
It is as though death stands before us, taunting us: “What is the value of your life? What is your purpose? What have you gained? What do you treasure? No matter what it is, I will take it in the end. You think you are fine now, but one day I will have the victory.”
And so often death does have the victory. Often people do lose all they have lived for at death.
Why is death so cruel? In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul explains what makes death so destructive.“The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.”
The Bible is clear that death is a result of sin. Death is not a natural part of the world, but is an intruder that has entered because of sin. Paul pictures this intruder as a hideous creature with a venomous sting. It is a dangerous enemy.
The heart of sin in the Bible is not allowing God to be God in our life but trying to replace Him. Perhaps we try to replace God with other things—other gods, famous people, family, wealth, work, etc. Often we simply make ourselves to be god—we decide how we should live our lives. In so doing, we go against what we were created for and find cheap substitutes that will never satisfy and will only end up hurting ourselves and others.
Sin ultimately hurts us most by separating us from God. Our greatest good and greatest joy comes in knowing and serving God—doing what we were made to do. But our sin has separated us from God. By our sin we have brought God’s righteous wrath against us.
Sin is magnified by God’s law. We may think that we can determine what is good and what is not, but God is the only one who has that right and the ability. God is the only true lawgiver.
God’s law is written on our hearts. Yet we do things we know are wrong. We do things that we know will be harmful to ourselves and others. And we fail to do things we know would be good, things that would be helpful to others. Thus, we willingly violate God’s law. This transgression magnifies our sin, giving even greater poison to death’s sting.
We rightfully feel as though there should be judgment against sin. We believe in our hearts that wrongs in this world should be dealt with. The problem is, when we are honest with ourselves we are forced to recognize that we deserve judgment for the wrongs we have done.
And the judgment for the wrongs we have done is death. We experience spiritual death in this life because we are separated from that which is truly life—the life found in Christ. One day, we will face physical death, the separation of our bodies from our spirits.
If we have built our life on anything other than God, we will be separated from what we built our life on. Our fame will fade, our possessions will decay, our careers will have ended, and our loved ones will be lost.
We will ultimately face eternal death—eternal separation from God. Instead of seeing God’s face, we will have His back turned to us and will experience all the horrible consequences that entails.
There is no greater enemy than sin and death, and yet we are powerless before them. We possess nothing with which we can fight against death. But are we left to cower before this gruesome enemy? Is there some way by which we can defeat death? Paul goes on to offer the glorious answer in verse 57:“But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Unlike every other person who ever lived, Jesus perfectly obeyed God. He always loved God and loved others. Because Jesus never sinned He did not deserve to die. His death was not for His sins, but for ours. He paid the penalty so that we would not have to.
“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” (Gal 3:13)
Jesus defeated death—demonstrating that He is God and that He made an acceptable sacrifice for sin. Jesus did not remain dead, but after three days he rose from the grave with a glorified body, declaring to all the world that He is who He said He is—the Son of God. And He did what He said He would do—pay for our sins.
“And was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Rom 1:4)
“Who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Rom 4:25)
How do we enjoy the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection? Paul hints at it in verse 57. We give thanks to God, for He is the one who has done all the work. Paul does not say that we thank God while congratulating ourselves on what we have done. We can do nothing for our salvation, because God has done it all. When we turn from our sin and trust in Christ, we are given a new heart that now wants to serve God.
We can do nothing—it is only grace. Of course there is a cost with any gift, but Jesus paid the cost, so there is no cost to us.
Through Christ our sin is removed so that we can have the true joy found in a relationship with Christ. We can have the satisfaction that only comes from knowing Jesus Christ.
With our sin removed, death no longer has any power. Through faith we are united with Christ, and his resurrection guarantees ours. No other religion or worldview has this claim. Only Christ has conquered death, and only Christ can offer the victory over death. For those in Christ, death is no longer loss—it is gain. For the Christian, death is not death.
So death is an enemy for the Christian, but it is a defeated enemy. Though it may appear as a hideous creature, ready to strike its prey with a venomous sting, Christ’s victory over death swoops in and swallows death up. (“Death is swallowed up in victory!”)
So now, when we come face to face with death, it is we who can stand taunting death: “O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?”
The recent film “Noah” has garnered attention and criticism. I have especially followed with interest the secondary conversation between the promoters and critics of the movie. For instance, in a recent movie review, Dr. Brian Mattson describes “Noah” as a Gnostic recasting of the biblical story. This follows in the line of what some have seen as Hollywood’s trend of pushing Gnostic ideology (e.g., “The Da Vinci Code”), as well as the current scholarly focus on the Gnostic Gospels.
I would like to provide some commentary on a revival of Gnosticism in the broader culture and among scholars. In particular, I want to focus upon the appeals of Gnosticism, recognizing the movie “Noah” as both an obstacle and an opportunity.
Gnosticism has been around since the period in which the New Testament was written. It was a movement that mixed Eastern forms of mysticism with other religions, such as Christianity. Gnosticism as a Christian-related heresy included the teachings of such heresiarchs as Valentinus, who offered a special gnosis, knowledge, which purportedly allowed one to make his or her way to the divine fullness. This gnosis is reserved only for the truly “spiritual.” Marcion, who truncated the Bible in order to excise the God of wrath from it, was also often considered a Gnostic.The Gnostic Revival
While Gnosticism as a particular religion is today small in size, there is little doubt that Gnosticism as an attitude, a way of theological reflection, is making something of a comeback in the West. There are at least three sources for this trend.
- First, the Gnostic-like outlook appeals to the vague spirituality that has ballooned recently in Western culture, especially among those that have been identified as “spiritual, but not religious.” According to Robert Fuller, a substantial minority of Americans are “associated with higher levels of interest in mysticism, experimentation with unorthodox beliefs and practices, and negative feelings toward both clergy and churches” (OUP, 2001). The director and actors themselves have displayed some of these attitudes in their promotions of the movie.
- Second, there are other scholars, such as Elaine Pagels and Bart Ehrman, who have made a whole industry out of introducing and examining the Gnostic Gospels. Ehrman, a former evangelical, has become of late a sort of analyst-evangelist for early Gnosticism as an alternative to biblical orthodoxy. Early Gnosticism, which certain New Testament texts seem to have been written to refute directly, was a secretive form of syncretism (religious mixing) between Eastern Mysticism and Christianity.
- Third, these scholarly trends have symbiotically recognized and encouraged the large number of people who want to have some knowledge about God or things ethereal without committing to any particular belief system. The movie “Noah” as a marketing strategy may be intentionally crafted to appeal to “spirituals” and to others interested in a character recognized the world over in one form or another.
Yes, Gnosticism as a religion or as a religious attitude makes two distinct problematic appeals: it has a Syncretistic appeal and a Secretive appeal.Addressing the Syncretistic Appeal
With regard to the Syncretistic appeal, I would encourage Christians to exercise both evangelism and discernment. We must evangelize the lost, and they will have questions about Noah and the God behind Noah. Use the opportunity of the movie to tell them about God and His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, but do so while exercising discernment. Be sure to correct misconceptions about Noah, and especially misconceptions about God. Use the opportunity of the movie, but use it wisely.Addressing the Secretive Appeal
With regard to the Secretive appeal of Gnosticism, I would argue that any group—whether it be based in an academy, or a conference, or a movie studio—that claims it has knowledge about God or spiritual things must be treated with skepticism. Any claim for knowledge about God that goes beyond the texts of the canon of Scripture taps into the Secretive urge of the Gnostic outlook. In response, we note that God the Holy Spirit inspired and preserved for us a publicly available text, which we call the Holy Bible, and it has included therein all that we need to know about God, much less Noah. Yet again, the critical issue is about Scripture and about how we really need to know and speak God’s Word. We must again and again go back to the Bible.
For more on Noah’s Gnostic appeal, read “‘Noah’ recasts ancient heresy, experts say” on Baptist Press.
Over the next couple of days, millions of Americans will endure the filing and, in some cases, the payment of taxes. Taxation has never been particularly popular among Americans, having once incited several dozen Bostonians to dress up as Mohawk Native Americans and toss tea into a harbor. Even in the months that followed the tea incident, not every evangelical Englishman agreed that colonial taxes were unjust. "I am taxed; yet I am no slave," John Wesley admonished fellow Christians in the colonies. "Nine in ten throughout England have no representative, no vote; yet ... they enjoy both civil and religious liberty. ... Who then is a slave? ... You and I, and the English in general, go where we will, and enjoy the fruit of our labors: this is liberty. The negro does not: this is slavery. Is not then all this outcry about liberty and slavery mere rant, and playing upon words?"
Despite feeling a distinctly American inclination to don war paint and drop a few 1040 forms into the nearest harbor around this time of year, the vast majority of us will provide the government with the requested forms on or before the appointed date. And yet, other than avoiding the unpleasantness of penalties and prison, why should Christians pay their taxes? Or should they?
Believe it or not, in the days when Jesus walked the dusty roads of the Levant, taxes were even less popular than they are today, particularly among peregrine — the more-than 90% of imperial subjects who didn't possess the privilege of Roman citizenship. Hatred for taxation ran especially hot in the regions of Galilee and Judea. In the decades that followed the death and resurrection of Jesus, taxation was one of the tensions that triggered a revolt against the Romans. No wonder, then, that some of the religious leaders selected taxation as the topic of choice to trip up Jesus in the New Testament Gospels (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:19-26).
Why some of what you make belongs to Caesar
"Is it lawful," messengers from the religious leadership asked the teacher from Galilee, "for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?" (Luke 20:22). The taxes in question here were not the toll taxes paid to publicans like Levi and Zacchaeus (Luke 5:27; 19:2). The taxes in the messengers' purview were poll taxes that people paid to Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor. These taxes, collected by governors on a regular basis, constantly reminded occupied nations that the Roman Empire ruled their lands. More than a century after the time of Jesus, a Christian orator named Tertullian referred to the poll tax as a sign of slavery.
The question from the messengers seemed tailor-made to cost Jesus either his connection with the crowds or his low profile with the Romans. If Jesus claimed that the Jewish people should pay the poll tax, his popularity among the populace could plummet. Plus, the religious leaders might accuse him of placing Caesar's authority higher than God's authority. If Jesus declared that it was not lawful for his people to pay taxes to Caesar, he might multiply his popularity among those who longed for a leader who would defy the Romans — but any such claim would immediately mark Jesus as a potential revolutionary and the Romans would destroy him.
Jesus refused to answer the question directly. Instead, he asked to see a denarius. A denarius was the typical wage for a day of labor; the image and titles of the Roman emperor were struck on the face of every denarius. Face to face with the emperor's image, Jesus declared simply, "Give back to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's."
Caesar's domain was a dictatorship dedicated to false gods. "Some of the taxes given by New Testament Christians," Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, reminds us, "would have gone to pay for crucifixion stakes. Some would have gone to feed wild beasts for the bloody circuses. Some would have gone to buy incense to be burned in honor of the self-proclaimed [divinity] of the Caesar." Throughout the Roman Empire, state-funded temples enshrined prostitution, prophetesses in drug-induced ecstasies, and sacrifices to demonic deities.
Yet no government — not even the Roman Empire — rises without God allowing that state to exist (Daniel 2:21; 4:17). And, part of what human government can legitimately demand from its subjects is a portion of people's income. The verb translated "give back" or "render" in Jesus' reply implied payment of a debt (compare Luke 7:42; 10:35; 12:59; 19:8). What Jesus was declaring was that everyone in the Roman Empire — even those who followed God's law above all other laws — owed the emperor the debt of honor signified by the payment of taxes (see also Romans 13:7; 1 Peter 2:17).
Years later, the apostle Paul would make much the same point when he wrote that "there is no authority except from God, and those that exist are instituted by God. So then, the one who resists the authority is opposing God's command. ... Therefore, you must submit, not only because of wrath, but also because of your conscience. And for this reason you pay taxes" (Romans 13:1-6). The denarii and drachmae in the people's moneybags were minted by the Roman Empire. And so, Caesar had every right to demand a cut of this currency from the subjects who lived in his lands. To resist Caesar's demand was to oppose God's command. Christians submit in this manner not only to avoid penalties and prison sentences ("because of wrath") but also to live out the gospel by doing what in right in God's sight ("because of conscience").
From the perspective of the Christian Scriptures, the only foundation for resisting the government is if the state's delegates demand participation in or promotion of practices that defy divine commands; at that point, the paradigmatic pattern is to resist by persisting in obedience to God's Word (Daniel 3:1-18; 6:1-13; Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). This is the pattern that undergirds the closing paragraph of the Manhattan Declaration, in which a broad range of representatives from the Christian tradition have declared together,
We will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other antilife act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.
Even in governments where the people collectively comprise "Caesar," this does not mean that each individual constitutes his or her own ruler, with the right to choose whether and when to render Caesar his due. It is not "methe people" but "wethe people" that constitutes the body politic, represented by elected and appointed officials who determine the size and shape of Caesar's portion.
How all of who you are belongs to God
Yet what about the second part of Jesus' response? What did Jesus mean when he said to "give back ... to God the things that are God’s?"
Just as Roman coins were marked with Caesar's image, something must have been marked with God's image.
What is it that constituted God's image?
Every human being.
At the dawn of human history, God created Adam and Eve "in his own image" and "after his likeness" (Genesis 1:26-27; 5:2; 9:6), and it is this link between God and humanity that calls for every human life to be treated as sacred still today. When Jesus called the people to give Caesar his due, the coins in their purses bore lifeless representations of Caesar's passing reign, but the people themselves were living images of the eternal God.
And yet, what does it mean, practically, to render ourselves to God?
In the simplest possible terms, it means joining with Jesus in fulfilling the mission that Adam and Eve failed to fulfill.
In the ancient near eastern context in which Moses wrote the accounts of humanity's creation, to be made in God’s likeness was to be a son of God and to be created in God’s image was to live as a servant-king — as a vice-regent who serves others and who shapes his domain for the glory of a greater king.
The Garden of Eden was a botanical temple, a context for the glory and worship of God. As the living image and likeness of God, the mission of our primeval parents was to extend the borders of Eden and to raise up more image-bearers until the garden covered the globe and God’s glory filled the earth like waters that fill the seas (Numbers 14:21; Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14). Adam and Eve failed in this mission, disdaining their fellowship with God and distorting their role as viceroys of Eden. So, God brought forth a new nation for his glory from the seed of a meandering descendant of Shem and a woman long past her prime. God raised up kings among Abraham’s descendants to exemplify his image and likeness. Yet, one by one, the kings of Israel followed in Adam’s footsteps, until — just as Adam was exiled from the garden temple — the people of Israel were exiled and their temple was torn to the ground.
But then, in the fullness of time, the very God who had planted a garden on the eastern edge of Eden slipped into human history through the birth canal of a Jewish peasant, and nothing would ever be the same again.
This child perfectly exemplified the image of God because he was not only the Son of God and the Servant King but also God in human flesh. It was he who told the men and women on the temple mount to render themselves to God as his image and likeness. Then, he did what no other king could do: having kept the law without flaw, he took the penalty for his people's failure and rose in triumph over death. As people from every nation become joint-heirs with Jesus and participate anew in God's image and likeness, the Spirit of Jesus draws them together even now into a new temple (Ephesians 2:19-3:21; 1 Peter 2:1-5). Through this temple, the glory of God is flooding the earth before our very eyes.
Rendering to Caesar, whether and why
The first part of Jesus’ reply dealt with whether God’s people should provide to Caesar the percentage of their income that Caesar’s representatives request. His reference to the image of God hinted at why.
Followers of Jesus pay taxes because this world matters. Yes, the corruption of our first parents has enslaved this world to "groaning," to a yearning for redemption that no human pleasure can quell (Ecclesiastes 3:9-11; Romans 8:19-23). And still, this planet matters. The entire cosmos swirls and twirls in a celestial dance that proclaims the very glory of God; despite the manifold failures of human government, states and societies reflect God's order and provide a context for the fulfillment of God’s mission. Paul saw the state as an evidence of divine order in a sin-disordered world even during the reign of Nero — an emperor who may have murdered his own mother and kicked his pregnant wife to death (Romans 13:3-5). Even imperfect governments curb human depravity, and this curbing of evil results in greater opportunities for God’s people to proclaim the gospel (1 Timothy 2:1-4) so that God's glory flows over the globe like waters that fill the sea.
Paradoxically, followers of Jesus also pay taxes because this world is not the realm that matters most. None of the numbers on your 1040 form will last into eternity. National currencies, no less than kings and kingdoms (Psalm 75:2-8; Daniel 2:20-22), are tools that God raises up and tosses aside according to his will. It is, of course, foolish to pay more taxes than we rightly owe — but not merely because such payments violate our rights. It is foolish because it leaves less to give away for the sake of a kingdom that will never fade. The cash in my wallet and the currency in my accounts are nothing more than ephemeral signposts of my placement in a world where the kingdom of Christ is not yet fully realized. The values on these statements have no value in any domain that will outlast the moment when Jesus plants his feet on planet earth. Whether my currency is backed by gold or gravel or the government's paper is irrelevant. In the New Jerusalem, the gravel will be gold, and the government will rest on the shoulders of a serpent-crushing King (Isaiah 9:6; Revelation 21:21). When I release my taxes to the government, I am not expressing confidence in the state's competence to right the wrongs of this world. I am being reminded that these resources are a tool that I can release without remorse because any values that are irretrievably tied to these dollars and cents are Caesar's values. They are the fleeting fragments of a kingdom that is, even now, passing away.
I’ve begun reading into the topic of women and men in ministry. I noticed immediately that the concept of “head” stands out in the debate between egalitarian and complementarian interpretations. As a metaphor, the concepts and specific applications intended by Paul can be elusive. For help, I turned to an expert on the subject, my colleague, Dr. Michelle Lee-Barnewall. Below are her explanations of four questions as part of beginning to explore the meaning of “headship.”
by Joe Wooddell
In Jeffrey Ball’s interview with Vaclav Smil (Wall Street Journal Business and Environment page, April 9, “Looking for a Global Energy Solution? Well, Don’t”), Mr. Smil rightly maintains that when looking for energy solutions, “It’s all regional. It’s all local. And we just have to descend to that level to judge it.” That is, there is no one-size-fits-all, top-down solution from the UN, Washington, Kyoto, or wherever. Instead, local geography, weather conditions, needs, and especially local knowledge are the best means for determining what sorts of energy production and policies should be adopted in each region. Mr. Smil errs, however, by implying that Americans are somehow immoral or misguided for consuming 310 gigajoules of energy per capita, while “Japan and rich countries in the EU are about 170.” Mr. Smil asks whether consuming so much energy makes Americans smarter, happier, or live longer than the Europeans or the Japanese. By asking this he seems to assume that being smarter, happier, or living longer are the only good reasons for consuming energy. Finally he asks, “what have we gotten for consuming twice as much energy as Europe?” One answer Mr. Smil fails to see is GDP. By any measurement the United States exceeds its closest competitor (China) in total GDP by almost twice as much. Of course, the EU as a whole exceeds the US GDP (just barely), but keep in mind that total EU population is almost double that of the US.
More precisely, if Mr. Smil is correct, US energy use per capita is 310 gigajoules, while the EU resident uses just 170. So each European is using 55% the energy of an American. We might also add that US GDP per capita is $51,748 while for the European it is just $32,968. So while the European produces 63% of what the American produces, he does so using 55% of the energy the American uses. Another way to make the point: the average US citizen produces only 86% of what a European (presumably) would produce with the same amount of energy.
What can we learn from Ball’s interview with Smil? First, Mr. Smil is right about a top-down approach to energy policy being totally misguided; local knowledge is best. Second, Americans are not quite as efficient overall as EU citizens: while using 80% more energy, they produce only about 60% more goods and services. But perhaps it’s worth it. Which leads to the third lesson: Mr. Smil considers none of this, leaving readers with the impression that if using more energy doesn’t result in a longer, happier, smarter life, then it ought not to be used; but he should consider production as another valid by-product of energy use. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for this conversation, did it ever occur to Mr. Smil to ask which country produces the most energy? Most analyses maintain that while China is a close second, it is the US; and per capita China does not even come close. Perhaps the country that produces the most energy is justified in using the most as well.
Neither Christian believers nor other thinking persons should be swayed by the likes of Mr. Smil’s rhetoric. In the same way that it is not inherently evil to create wealth, to use wealth, or for one who creates more of it to use more of it, it is also not inherently evil to produce energy, to use it, or for a country who produces more of it to use more of it. To be sure, there are ways of creating or using both wealth and energy which could be immoral, but simply creating or using them is not, even when doing so does not result in longer, happier, smarter lives.
WASHINGTON — Mark Dever arrived on Capitol Hill in 1994 to pastor a church of primarily 70- to 90-year-old people that was weary after nearly a half century of decline and weighed down with pouring its limited funds into the maintenance of a block of real estate.
It also had a deeper problem.
Members of the church “were kind of a-theological, I would say,” recalled Matt Schmucker, the lone staff member at the time who remains today at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (CHBC), in a recent interview for Southern Seminary Magazine. “They knew they should be conservative. They knew they should look to the Bible. But at the same time there seemed to be this disconnect between what the Bible said and how they lived it out.
“They looked like the rest of America in many ways, except maybe they didn’t drink and smoke the way the rest of America did.”
Nearly 20 years later, the difference is greater than a membership dominated by 20 and 30 year olds instead of 70 to 90 year olds.
“We’re full of sinners ... but I can also say we are a people that is marked out and holy and distinct, and there’s a bright line now generally between the people known as Capitol Hill Baptist Church and then the people around us,” said Schmucker, who is also executive director of the semiannual conference, Together for the Gospel.
In the intervening two decades, “the Word has done everything,” he said. “It has made us. It has brought life, and it has reshaped us and it has united us and made us distinct.”
That began with the preaching of the Word.
“Mark just kept going to the Scriptures, going to the Scriptures, going to the Scriptures for instruction,” Schmucker said.
He would “point out how Christians are called to live together and to live distinctly from the world,” Schmucker said. “And that’s what we vastly needed to hear. ... The sin that was in this church looked a lot like the world, and Mark was — through preaching expositionally — calling the church to look different.”
For Dever, preaching was the major part, though not the only one, in helping the church grow theologically.
“The gospel is theology,” Dever said. “Everything we’ve talked about from Scripture is theology.
“So I understand when I preach I’m doing theology. When I pray, I think I’m doing theology. When we read Scripture, we’re listening to the raw material of theology. When we sing hymns, we’re singing theology. So I think theology is inseparable from what we’re about as a church, especially when we assemble.”
Instead of theology “being some exotic spice that some people add to their churches to give it a special, extra kick, it is that without which there is no meal,” he said. “There’s just no church there. There’s no meat.”
Dever, a former chairman of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary Board of Trustees, sees the inseparableness of the church and theology in Eph. 3:10-11, which says that “through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”
He said, “So it seems that in God’s decision to have his justice met by his mercy in Christ and to have the proclamation of that be at the core of the center of the life of the local church, the local church then naturally and necessarily becomes the center of the display of God’s glory and his attributes, his characteristics.”
Dever — with degrees from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Southern Seminary and the University of Cambridge — prepared for more than a decade to do theology in an academic setting. He preached one Sunday in 1993 for the Capitol Hill church and was “ambushed” by God. For his wife, Connie, and him, it was “a subjective sense of God’s call on my life,” he said of his change in plans to become pastor.
He began his pastorate by preaching expositionally and has continued to do so — with rare exceptions. He “slowly but surely turned up” the “content density of the sermons,” Dever said. “I think I deliberately worked on the sermons knowing this is a believing church but it hadn’t been maybe that well-taught of a church, that well-disciplined of a church.”
He also was “giving away lots of books, encouraging people to read and using Wednesday night Bible study to do more teaching,” he said. He prayed and evangelized. “I love telling non-Christians the gospel,” he said.
“In God’s kindness, we saw some early conversions and slowly but surely people started visiting,” Dever said.
Now, the church building, located just four blocks from the U.S. Supreme Court Building, is filled for corporate worship, and several other churches in the Washington, D.C., area are thriving as revitalizations or plants with pastors, members and funds provided by CHBC.
Dever and the church provide other opportunities for growth in understanding the Bible and its theology outside the Sunday and Wednesday gatherings.
On Sunday morning, the church offers “core seminars” on such subjects as Old Testament, New Testament, systematic theology, apologetics, missions, spiritual disciplines, marriage and money. For children, the church uses a six-year systematic theology curriculum, Praise Factory, which is written by Connie Dever.
Mark Dever, meanwhile, reads aloud Richard Sibbes, a 17th-century English pastor, and other theologians at “theology breakfasts” to all members who wish to attend.
“We’ve seen Mark kind of squeeze theology into the diet through more than merely Sunday morning preaching,” Schmucker said.
For Leia Joseph, the past five years at CHBC as first a single, now wife and mother, have produced “exponential” growth in her understanding of the Bible and the benefit of participating in a “special community of discipleship undefined by life-stage.”
“[I] never sat under teaching that so specifically discipled my heart to truly understand how all of the Scriptures point to Christ,” Joseph said. “This understanding has ignited a greater hunger to be in the Word, to grow in my understanding of it and to share this with others.”
Dever and the church also have invested in the lives of future pastors, as well as other churches and their pastors.
Led by Dever and Schmucker, the church started 9Marks in 1998 to help build healthy churches and equip church leaders. In addition to producing books, articles, book reviews and a bi-monthly e-journal, 9Marks conducts conferences nationally and internationally and, three times a year, the church hosts 9Marks Weekenders, intensive Thursday-to-Monday training for pastors and church leaders.
The church has interns and pastoral assistants to whom Dever devotes large amounts of time and attention. Each year, two groups of interns from throughout the United States and around the world spend five months at CHBC learning from Dever and others.
The church and Dever also host meetings, typically monthly, of the Columbia Baptist Ministers’ Association, which consists of Southern Baptist pastors from the D.C. area. Helping pastors and future pastors is the responsibility of churches, Dever said.
“Pastors need to know what a church is, and pastors need to teach others what a church is,” he said. “That’s theology. They need to know that from the Word. They need to teach that from the Word. We want to help pastors do that.”
Aaron Menikoff is one of those pastors who benefited from being part of CHBC and having Dever take him “under his wing.” Menikoff began attending CHBC upon his move to Washington in 1994. He said he was “blown away by the preaching. I simply had never heard expositional preaching, and it changed my life.”
He served as a pastoral assistant and elder at the church before attending Southern Seminary, where he earned both a master of divinity and doctorate. Since 2008, he has been senior pastor of Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Sandy Springs, Ga.
“Over the years, I came to appreciate Mark’s unique gifts more and more,” Menikoff said. “However, the lesson that stuck with me more profoundly than any other lesson was simple: God uses his Word to build his church. I left convinced that I didn’t have to have Mark’s gifts to be a ‘successful’ pastor. I simply needed to love God’s Word and teach it as clearly and lovingly as I knew how. The rest is up to God. Is there a better truth for a pastor to cling to?”
Tom Strode is a writer based in Washington, D.C., primarily reporting for Baptist Press and the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. This post originally appeared in the Spring 2014 Issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.
Dear Dr. Craig
I am a Christian student from Norway. During a debate about if god exists or not (on a Facebook group called political youth), I defended his existence to the best of my ability, using the Kalam cosmological argument. I had seen on your YouTube videos, and on your articles here on RF. However, I encountered a problem. Someone else tried to undercut the argument using the problem of existence of an unembodied mind beyond time and space. I fear I cannot counter this, and I struggled to find an explanation to this on your pages.
Here’s a summary of this past week’s For Christ and Culture radio broadcasts!Noah is all the Rage (Friday, April 4)
Barry talks with Dr. Everett Berry about a recent post on his blog, All Things New, about the God of Noah.
Dr. Joe Wooddell drops by to talk with Barry about how to be a light in secular circles of society.
Barry is joined by Winston Hottman to talk about Aristotle, communal ownership, and generosity.
Barry talks about Galatians chapter 4 and how to go from the bondage of slavery to adoption as sons.
Dr. Henderson talks with Dr. Matthew Stanford about how the church can serve those who are struggling with mental illness.
by Kirk Spencer
Did you hear about the “victory lap” celebration in the Rose Garden? On April Fool’s Day of all days. There was much handclapping because 7.1 million people signed up for health insurance. It was a standing O for Obama Care. No one there seemed to notice how foolish it was to celebrate obedience to something that was mandated by law—tax law in fact, that carries the “threat of punishment” from the most powerful government on the face of the earth. Maybe we should celebrate on the Ides (15th) of April as well as the first of April? It too is a deadline for something mandated by law… income tax.
We praise folly when we applaud weak obedience to a particular unpopular law. And, we play the fool to stand in ovation because some have shown obeisance to a particular law at the very moment when the Rule of Law itself exits the world stage, stage left.
Are you paying attention?
Insurance, by definition, is a risk game. Everyone knows that. So, if someone decides that insurance should cover pre-existing conditions, it is no longer insurance. It is something else. It is the same basic principle as when some bank or industry is declared as being “too big to fail.” If you can’t fail, there is no risk and if there is no risk there is also no ultimate responsibility. It is the enticement and invitation to place your trust, completely, in someone else. It is not insurance but assurance that someone else is going to take care of you. When I was a kid, I heard this insurance assurance all the time: “You’re in Good Hands with Allstate!” Of course you had to pay for this assurance. You had to participate in the risk game. And now the advertisement is not to put your assurance in the good hands of Allstate but just the “good” hands of the State. But are they “good hands?” Do those in power lie? Do they manipulate you emotionally? Is the State in the business of taking money forcibly to buy favor (and votes) from a dependent class? Are we in good hands with this kind of State leadership?
My fear is that the politics is only a symptom of a larger cultural phenomenon. We now live in a culture that wants to hear self-serving propaganda rather than logical argumentation. In such a culture, fundamental transformation is just another word for balkanized alienation. After feeding on a continuous diet of ad hominem attacks, we will find ourselves hating but unable to say why we hate. I have often thought, while listening to the demonizing and mud-slinging and negative advertisements that, as a nation, we are sinking into isolation and our homing beacon is going out.
If you listen to the “Victory Lap” speech, just before the “finish line,” you will hear the sirens begin “singing” in the background. How appropriate… on so many levels.
When the sirens stopped singing and the “victory lap” was over, the very next news item concerned the beacon on the Black Box (really and orange box) of the lost airliner. The world is worried that the homing beacon was about to go out. The battery was dying. With all our technology, we cannot find them. And if the beacon goes out, it is hopeless that those two hundred and thirty-nine souls will ever be found. They will remain in the abyss at the bottom of the Indian Ocean. It is a story we cannot let go of—lost in the abysmal darkness at the bottom of the abyss, dead already, and the beacon is about to go out and then, no one will ever find us. It touches our collective consciousness because it is our story without knowledge of our gracious Maker and Savior. The news story that never seems to make the news. The Good News that there is an assurance plan, and it is blessed. We do not need to remain lost in the abyss. There is indeed an insurance plan with no risk and no premium and no deductible; purchased of God to make us heirs of salvation, through the washing in His blood, so that we can be Born of His Spirit. With this assurance, we are lost, not in the abyss, but in His love.
“Perfect submission, all is at rest, I in my Savior am happy and blest, Watching and waiting, looking above, Filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”
 The most supreme supreme-court justice, chief Justice Roberts, made the decision that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional in that the penalty for non-compliance was a tax and the government can tax. He also said that if the American people do not like this tax, they have the power of the vote to change congress and the presidency and thus change to law. In other words, “Vote the rascals out!” This presupposes an electorate that still believes in “good” and can recognize it.
(A Guest Post by David Doran, Jr.)
Every mother, pastor, roofer, and sanitation engineer in the Western world has felt the wrath of life’s relentless assault of tasks-to-be-done. You’re probably calling them tasks-to-survive by now. Western culture is drunk on going faster and faster and doing more and more. It’s no surprise, then, to see the huge market of books, conferences, and media teaching workaholics to drink responsibly from the fire hose.
Many of these works are helpful in managing the flow—or tidal wave!—of life. I, much like author Matt Perman, had not made use of systems or strategies or lists in getting through college. When ministry and seminary hit the gas peddle, however, I had to adjust and fast. Still, after writing lists and next actions, etc., etc., I found myself stuck in the iconic “I Love Lucy” scene at the chocolate factory. Ethel and Lucy begin their post at the conveyor belt managing just fine; however, before long, the onslaught of chocolates simply becomes unstoppable. (You really need to take 2 minutes and watch for yourself. Don’t worry; this quick dose of joy will help your productivity. Perman agrees, see, e.g., p. 248, where Perman argues that Facebook can increase your productivity.)
Many productivity resources become a designated driver for the workaholic. And What’s Best Next (WBN) answers the call for those feeling like Lucy & Ethel. Perman (former Director of Strategy at Desiring God) presents a savvy biblical approach to getting things done. WBN prepares readers to (1) launch right by making God supreme and by viewing productivity through a Gospel lens (Parts 1 & 2); (2) navigate right by following the steps summarized in the acronym D.A.R.E.: Define, Architect, Reduce and Execute (Parts 3–6); and, finally, (3) land right by living for the Great Commission and uplifting the downtrodden (Part 7).
I could say so much more about the usefulness of his book. However, here I’ll simply list 5 reasons why you should read WBN next.
- WBN prioritizes eternity. The only way to be truly productive in a lasting way is to do what God thinks is productive.
- WBN inspires. If students truly take a teacher’s passion more than anything else, WBN readers will come away with at least Perman’s heartbeat for God-exalting living through ambitious, creative service.
- WBN enhances the Greats. Perman isn’t starting from scratch. In fact, I found WBN’s ability to borrow, adapt and enhance the brilliance of others incredibly helpful. Perman draws Edwards, Wilberforce, Covey, Drucker, and Allen in together in a Gospel-shaped symphony for your benefit.
- WBN anticipates the struggle. Perman anticipates the challenges of becoming more productive. He provides helpful advice and pathways for better scheduling, delegation, time management, and more.
WBN frees you from the rat race. Perman consistently reiterates that our goal is to please, not appease, God. The only way to be truly productive is to realize we don’t actually have to be productive. The good news of someone else doing all the work for you is rarely heard in the halls of “do-more-faster-bigger-and-better-to-be-accepted.” WBN flies in the face of earning status and preaches a radical “more, faster, bigger, and better” flowing out from our accepted status. IOW, this is, to say it again, Gospel-driven productivity at its finest!
Older members of the congregation may not drive vans full of teenagers or help serve pizzas, but they can help shape the effectiveness of your church’s student ministry. They may be three or four times the ages of the teenagers, but they can be important to them. Axe mingled with Old Spice may create an aroma that will exalt Christ and bless both generations.
Older adults are troubled by some of the trends and developments in the community, the nation, and the world. They need a reminder that it is better to light a candle than curse the darkness. Adults joining Christ in the life of a teenager provide a positive, hopeful way to create a more positive future. Some blessings adults will get to see with their own eyes, and some will emerge as a legacy from their lives for those who follow.
Today, adults may or may not feel connected to the teenagers of your church. Adults may or may not sense teenagers want a relationship with them. You may or may not believe building bridges between adults and teenagers has been a priority for your church in the past. But the past is past, and it is time to move forward.Prayer Mentors
Your church may have adults who would gladly accept your call to invest in the life of one special teenager. They might express this call by becoming a Prayer Mentor.
Prayer Mentors pray daily over a teenager
and they provide encouragement and warmth to that student.
They reflect the heart of an older Paul toward Timothy:
“I constantly remember you in my prayers night and day,
longing to see you … so that I may be filled with joy” 2 Timothy 1:3-4.
Use your imagination.
- Imagine a pipeline of Christ’s power and protection flowing into your students’ lives every day through prayer.
- Imagine more adults praying the second year than the first and more the third year than the second.
- Imagine your students receiving regular notes of encouragement from the very people who care enough to pray for them every day.
- Imagine students who are stronger and steadier in their faith because they feel the prayers and support of their Prayer Mentors.
- Imagine having a Prayer Mentor you quickly can email any time you learn of a crisis affecting that mentor’s student.
- Imagine having a host of Prayer Mentors you quickly can email any time there is a great challenge or opportunity facing the overall student ministry.
- Imagine seeing a young man carrying a gift-wrapped box at church and discovering it’s his birthday and the gift is from his Prayer Mentor.
- Imagine knowing adults are praying for a young generation to lead the church in an awakening to God’s Son.
Bottom line: God blesses prayer and the nurturing connection formed between two generations.
Look forward to the day when Prayer Mentors might:
- Show the most delight when a teenager walks in the auditorium.
- Guarantee a teenager will receive at least one hug while at church.
- Affirm the gifts and abilities they see in a teenager.
- Express genuine interest in a teenager’s future education, vocation, and family.
- Build up a teenager in conversations with the parents.
- Celebrate a teenager making a clear promise of moral purity or taking any other public stand for King Jesus.
Many teenagers today are missing relationships that could be valuable to them. Prayer Mentors can be part of the solution. They can:
- Introduce their teenager to their extended family.
- Introduce their teenager to other members of the congregation who can bless his or her life.
- Introduce their teenager to adults who can help open doors related to education, present employment, and future vocation.
Relationships are powerful, but prayer is the heart of Prayer Mentor relationships. Those prayers can flow in both directions. Teenagers who develop heart connections with their mentor may well begin to pray for him or her. Adults can discover there is power in prayer as a teenager brings the mentor’s name before the throne every morning. Over time, that may well mean prayer requests begin to flow both directions.
A Prayer Mentor initiative is built on three commitments:
- For an adult Prayer Mentor to pray for his or her assigned student every day.
- For the Prayer Mentor to continue to pray for his or her assigned student until he or she graduates from college or is married.
- For the Prayer Mentor to encourage his or her student with spoken words and notes that communicate, “I’m still here, and I’m still praying for you.”
Churches that have embraced a Prayer Mentor initiative have discovered:
- The senior pastor’s excitement about and commitment to the initiative and the three commitments (noted above) are most important to a successful ministry.
- The student minister’s passionate concern for having every student covered in daily prayer is the second most important ingredient.
- A gifted, motivated Prayer Mentor initiative coordinator is the third most important factor. With the support of the church staff, the coordinator works through leaders in adult ministry and student ministry, arranges for background checks, forms the same-gender pairs, and creates plans for introducing the two generations to each other.
- A well-crafted communication/promotion plan is the fourth most important key.
Pray for a day when adults in your congregation will pray:
introduce me to the teenager You have chosen for me.
For the glory of your Father and in the power of your Spirit, let me see that teenager
increasingly embrace your full supremacy,
responding to your majesty in all of life, and
joining You in making disciples among all peoples.
To that end,
awaken me to more of who you are today.
Prepare me to adore your dazzling radiance.
And glorify yourself as I arise to join You in the life of this teenager.
Preaching — the practice of expositing God’s Word to God’s people — has fallen on hard times. TWEET On the one hand, the large number of evangelical pastors I know who remain committed to faithful biblical exposition greatly encourages me. These men know the purpose and the power of preaching God’s Word. On the other hand, the number of influential voices within evangelicalism suggesting that the age of the expository sermon is dead gravely concerns me. These voices avoid the preaching of a biblical text. They fear the confrontation that comes with expositing biblical truth, and believe it has nothing to say to us today. They are voiceless voices.
Preaching God’s Word is the heart of Christian worship. TWEET Moreover, preaching God’s Word is worship. Therefore, the norm of our worship must be the Word of God, the Word that he himself has spoken. This is what we mean when we say “sola scriptura.” Our preaching can only have a voice if it is rooted in the Scriptures. Scripture itself sets the terms, and so we must turn its pages to learn how God would have us preach — how God would have us worship.
It is crucial for the preacher to understand that his preaching is not without purpose. TWEET The purpose of preaching is reading the Word of God and then explaining it to our people so that they understand it. This is the heart and soul of preaching. Simply put, the purpose of preaching is reading the text and explaining it — reproving, rebuking, exhorting and patiently teaching from the text of Scripture. If you are not doing that, then you are not preaching.
We must also understand that the preacher’s purpose is not for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the church. We minister for the sake of our congregation, just as Paul ministered for the sake of his (Col 1:24). Our calling to preach is a calling to serve and love others by proclaiming Christ, exposing error and revealing sin and teaching an understanding of the Christian life rooted in God’s Word — all to the bringing of Christians to maturity in Christ Jesus. The preacher instructs the people of God about the Word of God and applies that Word to their lives. This is his responsibility.
I am thankful that Southern Seminary is committed to training men who will preach God’s Word with this kind of voice and purpose. I am glad to know that we are preaching on purpose and not training voiceless voices.
Be praying for those entrusted to preach the Scriptures. Pray that they would proclaim Christ, reveal sin and apply God’s Word. Pray for those pastors who have gone out from Southern Seminary. Pray that they would faithfully enrich and guard their flocks with the authority, truth, and hope of God’s Word. Pray for your own pastors. Pray that they would preach God’s Word for your benefit and your maturation in the Lord Jesus Christ. I know I am.
You can connect with R. Albert Mohler Jr. on Twitter at @albertmohler, on Facebook, or at AlbertMohler.com. Dr. Mohler has also written many other books including The Conviction to Lead: 25 Principles for Leadership that Matters. This article was originally published in the Spring 2014 issue of Southern Seminary Magazine.See also:
- Southern Seminary Department of Leadership and Discipleship
- The Conviction to Lead by R. Albert Mohler Jr.
- The Guide to Expository Ministry
Don’t you love it when you have good news to tell? “He loves me,” “I got the promotion,” “a baby is coming,” “my grades are better”—news we want to tell someone. Someone who will be glad for us. Someone who will recognize the importance of what we are telling them.
When two angels announced the good news of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, they gave that good news to women. Women—who were considered to be unreliable messengers and couldn’t even testify in court—women were given the honor of passing on the best news ever transmitted—Jesus is alive!
Within American history the names of Benedict Arnold, Aaron Burr, and the Rosenbergs live on in infamy. These are people who rather notoriously tried to undermine the well-being of our nation for some kind of personal profit. We look back on such individuals with a mixture of interest and disdain. How could they do such things? How could they betray our country? Yet, the Christian church has had its share of notorious traitors or heretics as well.
What a man like Benedict Arnold is to American history, men like Arius and Pelagius are to church history. One might think that such heretics should be avoided at all costs, and in a sense, they should be. At least, their teachings should be soundly rejected by all those who profess Christ. But it is difficult to reject a teaching you have never encountered. And if one does not know where some professing “Christians” have gone astray in the past, one might begin wandering down a similar path in the present.
I recently came across a fascinating little book by Justin Holcomb, titled Know the Heretics (Zondervan, April 2014). In fewer than 180 pages, the author provides a concise and helpful introduction to some of the more notorious heretics in the history of the church. Divided into twelve short chapters, Holcomb introduces his readers to groups like the Judaizers and the Gnostics and to individuals like Sabellius and Socinus (the only post-Reformation character included). Each chapter is divided into four sections: Historical Background, Heretical Teaching, Orthodox Response, and Contemporary Relevance. That last section—Contemporary Relevance—is especially interesting. In many of the chapters, Holcomb points out that the error in question is still alive and well today. For example, he speculates that many otherwise orthodox Christians would probably describe the incarnation of Christ in terms that bear a strong resemblance to Apollinarianism (pp. 105–6). And he notes that the teachings of Socinus are still echoing within the walls of most Unitarian churches today (p. 152). Unfortunately, even the most egregious theological errors rarely disappear forever.
Holcomb’s book doesn’t plow any new ground, and it’s not intended to. But it does provide a good introduction to some of the more important false teachers in the history of the church. And studying such characters provides both a warning and a helpful perspective on the state of the church today. As G. K. Chesterton once said, “The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present. History is a hill or high point of vantage, from which alone men see the town in which they live or the age in which they are living” (Chesterton, “On St. George Revivified”).
When studying in seminary or serving in a church, students and pastors often find little time for topics such as economics. And yet economics, as a reality, is all around. Towers editor Aaron Cline Hanbury asks Barry Asmus, speaker, writer and consultant on political and business issues and a senior economist with the National Center for Policy Analysis, a Washington, D.C., about a Christian view of the economy, the current financial crisis and his new book The Poverty of Nations.
What is a Christian view of economics?
BA: Man is created in the image of God and therefore is also a creator, innovator and mover of history. Economic growth is spurred by the entrepreneur: builders, creators, dreamers, doers, inventors and innovators. They are the engine of the economic train — people who turn problems into opportunities by creating goods and services. The market (a conduit for entrepreneurs) then grabs these ideas and places them at the disposal of all mankind.
The free market thrives on voluntary exchange, competition, cooperation and collaboration. It is the conduit of communication and a transmitter of ideas while determining value. There is no system on earth that works as well as the market. Give entrepreneurs the economic freedom to buy and sell, to save and invest, to trade and exchange, to own and operate, and there are no limits. Economic freedom inevitably produces a perpetual motion machine of progress and growth.
Why does economics matter for those in the ministry?
BA: If you believe that life is better than death; that health is better than sickness; that education is better than illiteracy; and that prosperity is better than poverty — then you would want to encourage a system that produces such outcomes (a free market) and a culture which facilitates the Judeo-Christian ideas on rule of law, ownership, government and the economy.
Those in ministry have the wonderful privilege of saying, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6). God first. Christ above everything. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you (Mat 6:33).
What role, if any, should the church play in alleviating poverty?
BA: My book with Wayne Grudem, The Poverty of Nations, gives 79 factors that can help alleviate poverty. Remember that helping people to become helpless is not an act of kindness, that bottom-up aid, a helping hand of free enterprise and biblical teaching can lead to progress. Each church (and area) is different, with varying priorities, so we say choose, and do what you can through the Holy Spirit.
What is the relationship between moral virtue and the economy?
BA: Since we are all infected with sin and selfishness, moral virtue is a choice, God’s leading in our lives. Economies are whatever a group of people make them to be. If they choose the wrong system — slavery, subsistence farming or communism, for example — they are doomed economically and often morally as well. While the right system can point in a non-coercive and economic freedom direction. Moral outcomes can only emerge from moral decision makers. A person’s character is nothing more than the sum of his or her choices. You fine-tune your character every time you decide right from wrong and what you are going personally to do about it.
What solution does a Christian view of economics offer for the current fiscal crisis in America?
BA: Four words: less government, more growth.
If government would reduce spending to match taxation receipts and then reduce taxes and government regulations, the economy, through growth would begin to heal itself. Perhaps the most productive and prosperous decades were the 1980s and 1990s, when taxation rates for the modest earner were about 30 percent and the capital gains tax was about 20 percent. It doesn’t mean no government, but it does mean less and limited government. Hong Kong and Singapore are two excellent examples of many, indicating the growth producing aspects of a 15 percent flat tax. Incentives matter.
How should Christians, particularly seminarians, think about debt (such as student loans)?
BA: The sooner one learns that saving is preferable to debt and that spending must be lower than income earned, the better. Debt has been the woeful downfall of wanting everything now. It is never how much of my money I give to God, but rather, how much of God’s money I spend on myself? Debt has its place, but hopefully it’s a small one.
For those who want to learn more about economics, including its relationship to ministry, where (how) is a good place to start?
BA: David A Noebel, Understanding the Times: The Collision of Today’s Competing Worldviews
Ronald H. Nash, The Closing of the American Heart
Nancy Pearcey, The Soul of Science
Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom
Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus, The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution.
This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of Towers.
Here’s a summary of this past week’s For Christ and Culture radio broadcasts!World Vision and the Traditional Family (Friday, March 28)
Barry talks about the recent announcement from World Vision and their policy regarding homosexual marriage.
Barry is joined by Dr. James T. Draper, Criswell College Interim President, to discuss leadership tips and the continuing relevance and value of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Barry Creamer talks about why moral concerns should come before practical concerns.
Our favorite wordsmith, poet, and sword maker, Professor Spencer, drops by to talk about a few of his recent posts on the Criswell blog.
Barry talks with Dr. David Henderson, Director of Psychology and Counseling at Criswell College, about the importance of correct diagnosis when serving those who struggle with mental illness.
On your site (www.reasonablefaith.com) you say: "On most Divine Command theories God possesses His moral qualities essentially (indeed, that's just what it means to say they're part of His nature!). So there is no possible world in which God is not kind, impartial, gracious, loving, and so on. So I don't think it is possible that Allah is God, since Allah is not all-loving and impartial."
Essentially you argue that Allah can't be God based on His immorality. But don't you? ...