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Is Pornography Morally Acceptable at Seminary?

Tue, 07/17/2018 - 11:27

No, this title is not clickbait. It is a question our seminaries, churches, and homes are confronting daily. Read on.

State of Affairs

A recent Gallup poll reported that 43 percent of Americans now think pornography is morally acceptable.[1] This is up from 36 percent last year and up from 30 percent in 2011. These results agree with another study reporting that 67 percent of young men and 49 percent of young women say viewing porn is an acceptable way to express one’s sexuality.[2] The rising trajectory of pornography’s moral acceptance is not comforting. The same Gallup poll reports that the percentage of nonmarried individuals who find pornography morally acceptable rose 15 points to 50 percent, and that 67 percent of men aged 18 to 49 this year say pornography is morally acceptable, a 14-point increase from last year.

These disturbing trends should not be a surprise if one takes a cursory review of the pornography industry that generates $13 billion in the United States and $97 billion globally each year. This staggering amount of money demonstrates merely the tip of the pornography iceberg as 9 out of 10 Internet pornography users only access free material, whether it be samples of pay material, illegally copied versions of pay material, or amateur material.[3] Here are selected statistics on the pornography industry (be prepared to lament and pull the plug on your devices):

  • 12 million hours a day are spent viewing pornography globally on Pornhub, the world’s leading free porn site.[4] The site professes over 100 billion video views annually, and they stream more than 75 GB of data per second.[5]
  • Since 2015, there have been 8 billion Internet searches for pornography.[6]
  • 6 out of 10 girls and 9 out of 10 boys are exposed to pornography before the age of 18.[7]
  • 68 percent of young adult men and 18 percent of women use porn at least once every week.[8]
  • An estimated 87 percent of college-age men—and around 30 percent of women—double click for sex either weekly or every day.[9]

State of the Church

Well, that’s the broken world, but surely these statistics do not hold for the church? I’m afraid they do.

  • 64 percent of Christian men and 15 percent of Christian women say they watch pornography at least once a month.[10]
  • 51 percent of pastors say Internet pornography is a possible temptation.[11] Another report posits that 57 percent of pastors and 64 percent of youth pastors admit they have struggled with pornography, either currently or in the past.[12]
  • I have taught in higher education for over 26 years and I can attest that pornography is a component of the majority of student discipline cases that are nonacademic in nature – yes, even in our beloved seminaries.

Normalization and Acceptance

Pornography is becoming the norm rather than the exception in today’s enlightened world. Can you recall the last “clean” movie you have watched that has not sexualized women? I cannot even walk my children through the local mall without having them avoid pornographic window displays in store windows. Extreme content is now expected; soft porn has disappeared.[13] Physical aggression is reported in 88.2 percent of leading pornography scenes and verbal aggression in 48.7 percent with 94.4 percent of the aggression directed towards women and girls.[14] It should not surprise us then that the Fifty Shades movie series grossed over $1.3 billion globally, making it one of the highest-grossing R-rated franchises of all-time.

These statistics are a mere portend of things to come as pornography is finding new outlets and enjoying the complete downfall of any sexual boundaries. For instance, earlier this year Esquire reported the disturbing trend that incest is the fastest growing trend in pornography.[15] In addition, child pornography is a $3 billion industry in the United States. Moreover, Barna reports that sexting is fast becoming “porn 2.0”:

… A pornography that is no longer distant and delivered. But, instead, is personal and created … Porn 2.0 is user-created—often shared with a known person; a friend or significant other or a potential romantic interest. You know what I’m talking about: sexting, snapchatting nude pictures, posting provocative Instagram photos … Perhaps this was inevitable. We probably should have seen it coming. From YouTube to Tumblr to Instagram, the Internet has offered users a chance to create and distribute their own content. To share the details of their lives with friends and with strangers. Of course, the demand for more and more intimate details would increase, even as the barriers to exposing oneself lessened.[16]

There is a social appeal to sexting as this permits casual sex without marital commitment. One 17-year old girl states, “There’s a positive side to sexting. You can’t get pregnant from it, and you can’t transmit STDs. It’s a kind of safe sex.”[17] This disconnection from a real relationship is not what God intended in Genesis 2:24.

God’s Plan vs. Pornography

The triple-A engine of pornography[18] – accessibility, affordability, anonymity – is having a detrimental effect in society and our churches. It is self-destructive to the user and those around the user – children, spouse, church members, etc. One can access pornography 24-7 anywhere there is a WiFi signal, can view unlimited free pornography content or with a current phone make your own video, and can view pornography in perceived secrecy. Many reports are now demonstrating a link between pornography and porn-induced erectile dysfunction, testosterone deficiency, male aggression towards teenage girls, and a host of other effects.[19] These but pale in comparison to the most detrimental effect of pornography, namely its defamation of the image of God and of His sacred design for sex.

Women are made in the image of God and are worthy of great honor (Gen 1:27, 1 Pet 3:7). Pornography devalues and dehumanizes women. Women are viewed as a commodity rather than as a creation of God, something to be conquered rather than cherished. One porn addict states, “Today real naked women are just bad porn.”[20] One’s biblical partner has been replaced by pixels on a screen. This is an abysmal perversion of God’s image and His design of fidelity in marriage.

To be sure, pornography is an abomination of God’s ideal for sex as well. It brings someone else into the marriage bed, an obvious violation of Hebrews 13:4. God meant there to be pleasure and joy in marital sexuality. Pornographic fantasy treats sex as a commodity and views men and women as consumers, not lovers in a covenant marriage. The sexual counterfeit morality of pornography is a means of taking rather than a means of giving as God intended. Pornography creates temporal digital voyeurs rather than a life-long, intimate relationship between a man and a woman. In addition, pornography belittles and normalizes sexual violence and cruelty. The rise of sexual violence portrayed in contemporary video games attests to this. God designed sex in a marital covenant to be an expression of affection, not one of aggression.

Urgent Request

I am the father of four – one daughter and three sons – and I continue to be prayerfully concerned about the world they and their future spouses are entering. The church cannot look like the world on this issue any longer. We must be salt and light in a decaying and dark world rampant with brokenness caused by the empty promises of pornography. God’s Word has both the answer for breaking the selfish and superficial shackles of pornography and the answers for what is best and good for us.

[3] Ibid.
[4] Belinda Luscombe, Porn and the threat to virility, Time, April 11, 2016, pp. 40-47.
[11] Ibid.
[14] AJ Bridges et al., Aggression and sexual behavior in best-selling pornography videos: A content analysis update, Violence Against Women 16:2010, 1065-1085.
[17] Luke Gilkerson, Your Brain on Porn, Covenant Eyes.
[18] Al Cooper, Cybersex: The Dark Side of the Force (London: Brunner-Routledge, 2000).
[19]Luscombe, Porn and the threat to virility, Time, April 11, 2016, pp. 40-47.
[20] Luke Gilkerson, Your Brain on Porn, Covenant Eyes.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Perils of Patriotic Preaching

Tue, 07/03/2018 - 09:30

What does a theologian teach to young preachers at the dawn of the Third Reich? Such was the dilemma of Karl Barth, a Swiss-born theologian, noted professor and outspoken critic of Adolf Hitler.

Barth launched a resistance movement amidst the German firestorm of 1932-1933 with a series of “open” lectures—not on the subject of political theory or military conquest, but on preaching.[1] Angela Hancock recounts the theological and political framework of those lectures in her book Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic. Over 100 young people regularly “packed the house” to hear this older professor speak on the subject of preaching. Barth was well-versed in social critique and certainly could have addressed the political turmoil of the day. But it was preaching that drew his interest, for he believed preaching was the only thing that could save the country.

The backdrop to these “emergency lectures” was Hitler’s cunning, systematic overhaul of Germany. The nation was reeling in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, and many of the Volk had their hopes set on a Fuhrer who would lead them back to political and societal salvation. Unbridled patriotism fueled the ambition that enabled so many, including many in the clergy, to turn a blind eye to the horrors of the Nazi regime.

The church and, more specifically, the pulpit, is where Karl Barth took his stand.

In one particular lecture, Barth dealt with the relationship between the preacher and the Bible. He concluded by reminding his students of “three fatal possibilities” that preachers must avoid, especially when compared to the “political theology” of his day. Preachers of modern pulpits would do well to heed the same warnings.

First, the preacher who attends to Scripture cannot be a “cleric.”

Barth proffered a posture of humility on the part of the preacher. A preacher should not be conceited about his office, mission or theology. He should recognize that his ultimate authority is rooted in the Word of God, not in the office conferred to him by the church. Barth declared, “Where Holy Scripture reigns, no clericalism can develop, and no preacher can be secure or self-satisfied.”[2] One needs to look no further than the German church of the 1930s to see what happens when this advice is not observed.

Hitler, with the help of Bishop Ludwig Muller, branded an entirely new denomination of “German Christians” practicing what they called “Positive Christianity.” A patriotic fervor mixed with fear of the totalitarian state fueled many clergymen to throw out the “Jewish” Old Testament, redefine Jesus as “the greatest Aryan hero” and proclaim the cross as a symbol of war against the Jews. The church was no longer a bastion of orthodox Christianity. It was now a cesspool of Nietzschean social Darwinism.[3] The power vested in the priestly office by the state superseded the power of the Bible in the congregation.

Second, the preacher who takes the Bible seriously should not preach his own “great thoughts.”

Barth cautioned against preachers as “well-meaning idealists, who push big ideas around in their heads but have no grasp of reality.”[4] One possible explanation for why the church allowed itself to be manipulated by the state is that it had already, for quite some time, traded biblical authority for a higher critical method that undermined the Bible.

Rationalist Enlightenment preaching had set its hooks deep into the heart of the German pulpit, yielding topical sermons that blurred the lines between matters of faith and matters of political propaganda. Many Protestant preachers saw their primary work as comforting the political fears of citizens while simultaneously urging them to sacrifice their all for the nation.[5] Barth, however, counseled his students to do theology “as if nothing happened,” centering their preaching in the Bible and not in the national Politik.

Third, the preacher should not be boring.

The decades-long push for topical, war-time sermons in Germany had a practical dimension. People in the pew found the pedantic preaching of the German pulpit to be boring. Church attendance was plummeting. Pastors were searching for an easy fix to tickle ears and create a crowd.

A new “modern” preaching took hold that elevated contemporary issues and diminished the Bible. And it worked! But the Word of God, rightly divided, is never boring. Barth declared, “If a sermon is biblical, it will not be boring.”[6]

Here, we text-driven preachers offer a boisterous “Amen.” The Word of God is not boring. The structure, spirit and substance of each text offers a depth of material by which we can, thrillingly, re-present God’s Word to His people. Barth referred to this depth of material as a “mystery” and said that trying to fully exhaust it was like trying to drain the ocean with a spoon.[7]


Barth’s contention was not with patriotism in and of itself, but with any rival to the Word of God as central in the life of the church. To be sure, we should proceed with caution when reading the famed professor. His admirable view of preaching stems, unfortunately, from a less than authoritative view of the Bible. Barth did not believe that the text itself was the Word of God, only that it was a witness to the Word of God when rightly preached. Nevertheless, Barth’s lectures on homiletics and his warnings against the perils of political theology are massive contributions.

Angela Hancock sums up the significance of these lectures well. She says, “Barth’s classroom in the summer of 1933 was like the eye of the hurricane—a place of relative calm amid the roar and bluster of the Third Reich.”[8]

[1] These Predigtvorbereitung lectures were published several decades later in a book entitled Homiletics.
[2] Karl Barth, Homiletics (Louisville, KY: John Knox Press, 1991), 79.
[3] Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010), 173.
[4] Barth, Homiletics, 79.
[5] Angela Dienhart Hancock, Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013), 160.
[6] Barth, Homiletics, 80.
[7] Ibid., 128.
[8] Hancock, Karl Barth’s Emergency Homiletic, 321.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Take Your Bible, Not Politics, Into The Pulpit

Tue, 06/19/2018 - 09:30

Recently, I was invited to a meeting with area pastors about a serious issue that our school board was facing. An organization was suing our school board for various acts of religious expression that they felt violated the separation of church and state. It had made national news. Suddenly, so many things collided: faith, politics and my congregation. How was I, as a pastor, going to lead our people through these challenges? I had politicians in my church, teachers, the school superintendent, students, parents and more.

As the events unfolded, I knew I could not remain silent or neutral. No matter the controversy, I needed to speak biblical truth and encourage and instruct on matters that many would rather avoid. But God was so gracious, and thousands of students and families stood stronger in their faith. It was an interesting and challenging season for sure.

Over the years of my pastoral ministry, I have had church members say to me, “Pastor, I would highly recommend that you not bring politics into the pulpit.” And when they say this, it is usually accompanied with a tone that says the pulpit should never be controversial. This has been an interesting recommendation to consider.

I want to first ask, “What do these fellow Christians mean when they say ‘politics’?” Most people simply think “politics” includes voting for a candidate and voting on issues. Additionally, they envision the mean spirit and deceptive tactics so often seen and associated with those running for a particular office in a local, state or national race.

Without question, there are actions and attitudes that are cringe-worthy and un-Christlike in political races, and I do not blame church members for not wanting those things emanating from the pulpit, much less from the life of their pastor. The result of these concerns is that many pastors will avoid anything that can be construed as political in their preaching ministry.

But is this the best reaction? Paul called Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:2 to “preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.” Every pastor is to preach, teach and proclaim the Word of God to the people of God. All of it.

You know what I have discovered? The Bible speaks to every issue that intersects with our political debates. And there are many issues that become positions in politics. Some of these issues are abortion (Jeremiah 1:5), same-sex attraction (1 Corinthians 6:9-11), racism (Galatians 3:26-28) and numerous others.

If you are a pastor who preaches the Bible and is committed to teaching your flock all of God’s Word, then you will ultimately preach on issues that many will deem political. But God’s Word must be our standard and foundation of all truth, and, as pastors, we must be committed to delivering His Word to His people so that the church can be strong in the faith and Christians can stand boldly in our world regardless of the issue. Our people need to know what God’s Word says about any particular issue more than what some person or company says about it on Twitter.

Beyond the issues that intersect with political debates are the people who desire places of leadership on the local, state and national levels. Does never bringing politics into the pulpit mean that a pastor can never speak about a candidate seeking a place of leadership? In our American form of government, that place might be in a local, state or national office.

The Bible is clear that within the roles of government and leadership are people who will either fill those roles responsibly or irresponsibly. For example, in Ecclesiastes 4:1-3, Solomon teaches us that those in roles of power and leadership can use their position to bless or oppress others. Those who are in positions of power and leadership really do matter.

Think about it: God greatly used the leadership of Joseph (Genesis 41:39-42) to bless others rather than oppress them. God greatly used the leadership of Esther (Esther 8) to bless others rather than oppress them. God greatly used the leadership of Daniel (Daniel 6) to bless others rather than oppress them. Leadership truly matters, and having great leaders in places of authority and power is critically important.

While you should consider the pros and cons of publically endorsing a particular candidate, preaching and teaching about the importance of leadership and being engaged in the opportunity of seeing people put in leadership who will bless rather than oppress is an awesome opportunity and responsibility. Pastors do not need to cower in the face of elections. Religious liberty, the value of human life, the sanctity of marriage and so much more are directly impacted by those who become leaders on every level government affords. Much is at stake, and every pastor must be courageous and clear, even when it comes to those issues our people might deem political.

So am I going to bring politics into the pulpit? No, but I am going to bring my Bible. Yes, it will be controversial. Yes, some will perceive it to be too political. But preaching the Word of God is what we are called to do. And what God says about every issue and every quality of leadership is what we really need.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Demonstrating God the Father

Fri, 06/15/2018 - 11:53

God created three institutions this side of heaven—family, church and government. Family was the first institution He created in Genesis 1-2, and it has been under assault since Genesis 3. Family is the basic unit of society. If you weaken the family, you weaken society; if you destroy the family, you destroy society. Edward Gibbon, in his book entitled The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, lists five reasons for the fall of the Roman Empire. His top ranked cause was the undermining of the dignity and sanctity of the home as the basis of human society. That is, the Roman family unit was destroyed, and Rome consequently fell.

Pew Research Center recently published an article entitled “7 facts about American dads.” Although much can be said about each of the facts presented, I want to focus on the article’s opening paragraph:

Fatherhood in America is changing … more and more children are growing up without a father in the home.

To be sure, God’s design for the family unit is under rapid decay in our present society. America is following the trajectory of the fall of Rome. One of the symptoms of the decay is the increase in fatherlessness.

Fatherlessness is the most significant family or social problem facing America according to 72.2 percent of the U.S. population.[1] The increase in fatherlessness over a short time period is staggering, as these statistics demonstrate:

  • The percentage of U.S. children living with an unmarried parent has more than doubled since 1968, jumping from 13 percent to 32 percent in 2017.
  • About one in five children (21 percent) are living with a solo mother, up from 12 percent in 1968.
  • Some 7 percent of children are living with cohabiting parents, about double the share that were doing so in 1997.[2]

According to the National Center for Fathering,

More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.[3]

The consequences of fatherlessness are a clear and present danger to God’s design for family. The removal of fathers from the family unit is ripping apart the fabric of society—not a small teasing of the fabric, but a deep, ragged rip. For a sobering review of the social consequences of fatherlessness, view here and here.

Yes, suicide, crime, drug abuse, sexual perversion, poverty, etc. are heart-breaking consequences. However, the penultimate consequence of fatherlessness is the distortion of one’s view of God the Father.

God intended the family unit to be a visible word picture of the Trinity. There is no more critical aspect as a believer than to learn who God the Father is. One cannot truly understand the depth of His love in giving us His Son and the gift of His Spirit without first understanding Him as Father. How can a boy or girl or man or woman begin to understand God the Father if they have no earthly father? When I witness to folks who have experienced fatherlessness, I cannot begin the conversation with “God the Father loves you.” They have no context and typically have a negative reaction to any earthly father figures. Vance Fry, an editor for Focus on the Family, wrote:

Some people may have a difficult time relating to God as a father. Fatherhood is an idea that we’re all very familiar with, and we may project our expectations or experiences of what a father should be, or has been, onto our heavenly Father. A boy who longs for a dad has a hard time seeing God as capable of filling that role. A girl who feels she has to succeed in sports and school to earn her father’s approval may see her relationship with God in a similar way. For others, the word father may bring up memories of abuse or neglect. How tragic that such a beautiful facet of God’s character—that He is not a distant, impersonal ruler, but a warm and welcoming papa—is often tainted by the weaknesses of human fathers![4]

I am the first demonstration of father my four children see as they begin to conceive who God the Father is. This is a wonderful responsibility, but also a weighty responsibility, and one in which I fall short many times. I consistently pray that I demonstrate God the Father’s wisdom, lovingkindness, righteousness, provision and protection to my children and to the watching world.

Men, on this upcoming Father’s Day, consider the following:

  • Assess how you are doing in reflecting the word picture of God the Father to your children and to others. Pray that you first of all can relate to God as Abba Father. Then pray that God works in you so that you demonstrate His fatherly characteristics and not that of the world’s.
  • If you have experienced fatherlessness, know that God can heal all wounds. He is a father to the fatherless (Psalm 68:5). In addition, your past experience does not have to be repeated. We are made new creatures in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17), and we are to put off our old selves and don our new selves (Ephesians 4:22-24).
  • Mentor younger dads. The body of Christ has a responsibility to train and equip the next generation. Help younger dads learn from your mistakes and help them grow closer to God the Father. In doing this, you will be having a lasting impact on the dads, their children and their grandchildren.
  • Help teach in the preschool and children’s ministry at your church. Children need to see godly father figures in their lives. Children need to see men in the classroom. Far too many of our children and preschoolers have no adult male role model at home.
  • Ensure that your family and church have mechanisms to help solo mothers.


Categories: Seminary Blog

Families and Purity

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 09:30

That sweet family sitting in worship may have secrets. Dad and his teenage son probably visit the same pornographic websites. Mom may be flirting online with her high school sweetheart. The middle school daughter may be sexting photos to her boyfriend. And grandmother may be reading Fifty Shades of Grey.

Most church leaders know the research and are aware that most of the men and boys of the church struggle with pornography, that women and girls increasingly struggle with pornography and impure chatting, and that emerging technologies will only make matters worse.

Most leaders know that adults are as likely to be sexually involved outside marriage as are teenagers. The U.S. is quickly following Western Europe, where cohabitation has almost completely replaced marriage among young adults.

Most leaders know that the issues of gender confusion, gender change, and same-sex “marriage” have come or will come to every congregation.

And bottom line, most leaders know that the church cannot fulfill its mission to make disciples of all peoples while a cancer of impurity impacts a large percentage of members. Could sexual impurity be a major cause of the spiritual lethargy in the church today? Timothy Keller succinctly states, “Whatever controls us is our lord.”[1] Derek Rishmawy notes:

When you’re engaged in behavior you’ve been raised to believe is wrong, but is … powerfully enslaving, you want to find reasons to disbelieve your former moral convictions. … Illicit sex is an idol in our generation that cannot be ignored, but must be dethroned if the worship of the true God is going to fill the Temple of His Church.[2]

Most church leaders believe the issue of purity is important, but they also know that a return to the moralism of the previous century is not the solution. Legalistic lectures and commands to “try harder” are dead-end strategies. Layering on shame tends to keep people in their sin.


Thoughts and behaviors will not change until hearts are transformed. The idolatry of impurity will only lose its power if such idolatry is replaced by something more powerful and precious—and nothing is more powerful and precious than a personal awakening to much more of who King Jesus is today.

By God’s grace, I preach in a different church every Sunday. Many Sundays, my sermon includes a focus on the ascension of Jesus. My mentor David Bryant calls that day “the moment all authority in heaven and on earth would be bestowed on Jesus visibly, in perpetuity—the day he would be inaugurated before saints and angels as monarch over all, openly elevated by the Father to the everlasting throne of glory.”[3]

Lifting eyes to the power and glory of Christ enthroned awakens something in believers. For many, the moment is almost like meeting Christ again for the first time. Such awakening leads to heart transformation. Gratitude for the Gospel, amplified by a new vision of the King, may prompt believers to worship Jesus with jaw-dropping awe and intimacy that transcends the marriage bed. Such heart transformation, informed by the clear teaching of Scripture, can lead to movement toward purity.


A growing number of pastors and church leaders now say, “Our church celebrates the family. We champion parents as the primary spiritual leaders in their homes.” Perhaps the time has come to move from words to actions.

Perhaps the time has come to see the home as ground zero for heart transformation leading toward purity. That does not mean just calling parents to be the morality cops who try to catch their hormonally crazed teenagers doing bad things.

  • That does mean inspiring family members to worship together, study together, encourage one another, watch one another’s backs, and share grace-filled accountability.
  • That does mean “we present an alternative view … of sex that is beautiful, but different than the one offered in the dominant cultural narratives; affirming of the goodness of sex, but presenting it within a God-intended framework that imbues it with meaning and value.”4
  • That does mean acknowledging that Christ-followers stumble, experience cleansing grace, and continue on their journey toward purity.
  • That does mean giving believing dads the lead role with their families (and cheering on single moms who must stand in the gap).

Has the time come for a new movement in the church?

  • To see believers awakened to the glory of God’s beloved Son…
  • Leading to adoring Him with greater gratitude, love, and awe…
  • Leading to believers with hearts transformed…
  • Leading to movement toward sexual purity…
  • And for all of this to happen in families of one or many…
  • And for dad to take the lead with those families.

The time may be right for a new movement in the church, a movement that might be called Pure Hearts at Home. I invite those intrigued by such an idea to come to

[1]Counterfeit Gods, xxiv.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Jesus: Logician and Lord

Tue, 05/22/2018 - 09:30

Jesus as Philosopher and Thinker

Dallas Willard once said, “There is in our culture an uneasy relation between Jesus and intelligence.”[1] What Willard meant is that there are many things we, as Christians, think of when we think of Jesus, but His smartness and intelligence are not often among those things. It’s true that most of us will affirm Jesus’ divine omniscience, but we do not seem to think of Him as generally a brilliant thinker. That is, when we think of the world’s great philosophers and thinkers, Jesus doesn’t often make the list. Or when we read through the Great Books, we read Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and often blow right past Jesus and perhaps pick up with Plutarch to Athanasius and Augustine. We rarely read the teachings of Jesus as a great and influential work of intellectual history.

Why is this? Perhaps it is, in part, that Jesus did not often teach on the level of theory. Jesus taught us how to live (applied ethics) and what to think (worldview) without providing a specific philosophical theory to underlie this ethic and worldview. Though there is some truth to this, His claims and thought are still revolutionary and turned the world upside down.

A more salient reason that we fail to appreciate the intellect of Jesus is that we fail to make Jesus Lord of our intellectual lives. We look to Jesus for how to live morally and perhaps what to think theologically, but we do not look to Jesus as our model in how to think. We seem to think being Christ-like intellectually is simply optional.

The Intellect of Jesus

Jesus performed miracles and cast out demons. These things gathered a crowd, to be sure. However, Jesus also regularly put on display His intellect and wisdom. And people gathered and were equally astounded! There are far too many examples of this to mention (consider Matthew 7:28-29; 13:54-57; Mark 11:18; Luke 4:22). At one point, having heard His teaching, the Jews asked in amazement, “How has this man become learned, having never been educated?” (John 7:15).

Many of us know the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) by heart. But we often fail to notice the context and some of the implications of this command. The intellectual elites of the Jewish world, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, attempt to theologically trap and intellectually confound Jesus. This does not go well for them.

The Pharisees press Jesus about whether it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. If he says “yes,” then this recognizes Caesar as an authority. If he says “no,” He breaks Roman law. In response, Jesus requests a coin and asks who is pictured on the coin. They have to concede that it is Caesar. Jesus tells them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s” (v. 21b). And they were amazed! At what are they amazed? Jesus’ brilliant answer.

The Sadducees approach Jesus with an elaborate thought experiment intended to refute the idea of a general resurrection. We are to imagine a wife who has married in turn seven brothers after the brother before has died. In the resurrection, whose wife will she be? Since she cannot be married to all and there is no reason to think that she will be married to any one of the brothers in particular, the implication is that the notion of resurrection is absurd.

Jesus gives two responses. First, He says that they do not properly understand the concept. When the resurrection is characterized properly, the problem does not even arise.

Second, he quotes Exodus 3:6 and makes a very subtle point about what it implies. Jesus says, “But regarding the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God: ‘I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’? He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (vv. 31-32).

Now the argument here is not immediately obvious. J.P. Moreland has said about Jesus’ response to the Sadducees:

As a young Christian, I was puzzled by Jesus’ response because I myself could have cited better verses than this one—for example, Daniel 12:2, which explicitly affirms the resurrection. Or so I thought. Jesus’ genius is revealed when we recognize that He had studied Sadducean theology and knew that they did not accept the full authority of the prophets, including Daniel. He also knew that the very passage He used was one of the very defining verses for the entire Sadducean party! His argument hinged on the tense of the Hebrew verb. Jesus does not say, “I was the God of Abraham, etc.,” but, “I am (continue to be) the God of Abraham, etc.” a claim that could be true only if Abraham and others continued to exist.[2]

With this very subtle but penetrating argument, they were astonished!

Despite seeing this, the Pharisees are not done. They muster one last question to test Jesus: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” (v. 36). And here it comes. Jesus’ response is that we are to love God with all of who we are—with all our hearts, souls, and minds (v. 37).

Loving God with All Our Minds

We are intellectual beings. Jesus tells us that we are to pursue God with the deepest parts of who we are, including our intellect. Jesus lived this out. If He is the Lord of our lives, this should mean patterning our lives after His in all ways. Thus, being intellectual about our faith and loving God accordingly is simply part of our discipleship.

One may think, “But we will never attain to the intellect of Jesus.” True. But we will never attain His moral perfection either! The point is that we should see Jesus, in both regards, as our exemplar; we should strive to be like Him in all ways. Thus, we should see Jesus as the ideal logician and thinker and make Him Lord over our intellectual pursuits.

[1]Christian Scholar’s Review, 1999, Vol. XXVIII: 4, 605-614.
[2]Love Your God with All Your Mind (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2012), 53.

Categories: Seminary Blog

An Incredible Name

Tue, 05/15/2018 - 09:30

One of the most interesting discussions you can have with Muslims has to do with their 99 names for God. They are supposed to continually think about these names as a way to worship and also understand how magnificent God is. I like to ask them to explain some of the names and to tell me which are their favorites. This opens a door for me to discuss my names for God, and so I go directly to a very specific and special name for God found in Matthew 1:23—“‘Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which translated means, ‘God with us.’”

I then ask them if this is one of their 99 names and if they have ever heard of this name. The answer is always negative to both questions, which then allows me to explain what this name means and why it is so special. Immanuel—God with us—what an incredible name! We often take the incarnation for granted, but what an amazing truth we have in our Christian faith.

A popular idea in the tolerant world in which we live is to conceive of God sitting on top of a mountain for which there are many roads that lead to the top, one for each religion. We are quick to respond that there is only one road up the mountain—one way! But Immanuel blows this analogy away. God is not sitting on a mountain waiting for us to climb up to Him. He has come to us!

Through the incarnation, Jesus came, and as fully God and fully man, He dwelt with us. My purpose is not to climb the mountain as best I can in the hope that I will find Him. I need to recognize Him as having come to us and that His death, burial, and resurrection have given me a relationship with God.

An essential principle in all other religions is that a person must make a lifetime of continual effort in order to get to God. These religions may have many different names for God (or many gods), but without exception, the name “Immanuel” will be absent. What a great tragedy! How is it that this most special name for God is unheard of?

Immanuel is a name that is full of so much good news for all peoples of the world. Think how this name even connects all the way back to the Garden of Eden. When Adam and Eve sin, they hide from God. Instead of them going to God, He goes to them. He seeks them out while they are in sinful rebellion.

Sadly, this name has lost its awe and wonder even where it has been heard. We reduce it to a line in a Christmas carol and then pack it away until next Christmas. It is good news at all times even where it has been heard. Do not ever get over the wonder that God came to us and, by the Holy Spirit, continues to be with us!

Do you wonder about how to start a witnessing conversation with people from another religion? Try asking them about the names of their god and then tell them about Immanuel. Make it personal by explaining how God with us became God with you.

Categories: Seminary Blog

More than Flowers, Please

Fri, 05/11/2018 - 09:30

It comes once a year. A time we dedicate to honoring mothers. Most often on Mother’s Day, these revered women will receive a phone call, a card, and a vase of flowers. Such expressions of love are no doubt important and heartfelt. For those of us who have faith in God, however, we would do well not just to make culturally conditioned gestures, but to consider what Scripture says about caring for our mothers.

The book of Proverbs puts forth a simple yet profound idea of how to honor one’s mother: live a life of wisdom. No title, monetary income, or material possession brings honor. No, a life full of wisdom is what honors a mother. After all, titles, income, and stuff can be acquired through knowing the right people, cheating people, or simply dumb luck. Wisdom, however, can never be achieved by chance or manipulation. Wisdom is a slow process of maturation, and one that the book of Proverbs describes as having a direct effect on mothers.

As we begin reading the book of Proverbs, we are confronted by a familial context. The directives are simple: listen to the instruction of your father, and do not forsake the teaching of your mother (1:8). While at some level we might all nod our heads in agreement that obeying parents is important, many of us distance ourselves from these wise sayings. We tend to think that instructions like these are for the young, inexperienced boys and girls of the world. To be sure, it is reasonable that these teachings are for the young, but there does not seem to be any hint that these words are only for the young. For example, Proverbs 23:22 reads, “Listen to your father … and do not despise your mother when she is old” (emphasis added).

Understanding that we cannot push off these wise sayings to the young only, we should look at the effect that our wisdom or lack thereof has on our mothers. Proverbs 10:1 tells us that a wise son makes his father glad. In contrast, a son who acts foolishly brings only grief to his mother. The fool here is not necessarily one who lacks knowledge but a smug person who is unwilling to consider consequences. His lack of concern for consequence brings ruin on his mother.

Desiring to honor our mothers with a life full of wisdom is good. To live out that desire, however, we must discover what a life of wisdom looks like. According to Proverbs, a wise son or daughter is one who speaks at the right time (15:23), works hard (26:13-16), remains calm (27:4), resolves conflicts rather than creates them (10:12), plans appropriately for the future (16:9), accepts criticism (9:7-9), protects the vulnerable (23:10-11), refrains from gossip (26:20), and listens more than speaks (17:27). This brief survey of the book of Proverbs demonstrates that wisdom and ethics are inseparable. The effect of wisdom being lived out is not lost on our mothers.

So this year, in addition to the cards and flowers, let us honor our mothers with lives full of wisdom. Instead of just thinking about what to get your mother, consider how you live to be a larger, more substantive gift for your mother. May our actions, attitudes, and speech bring joy to our mothers!

Categories: Seminary Blog

How much is too much? Consumerism and Happiness in an Age of Plenty

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 09:30

“I shop, therefore, I am.” “You are what you own.” “He who dies with the most toys wins.” “The only value is market value.” These pithy slogans, and many more like them, capture the sentiment of many today, especially in America. Amazon, Walmart, and Apple are the new holy trinity of modern America. The sporting complex is the new community center. Endless (and, all too often, mindless) movies, television, and concerts fill up the periphery of our lives. Social media beckons us too, even in our work, to escape to a virtual world where our sense of worth is shaped by the collective “other” through likes, comments, and pictures of the “best selves” of those enjoying material goods and pleasurable experiences ad infinitum.

We might ask, what is the driving factor behind these pithy slogans and the relentless pursuit of more stuff and more experiences? The idea is that somehow things and experiences will make us happy. They will satisfy. The “good life” consists in the accumulation of stuff and experiences.

The problem with this picture is twofold. First, statistics reveal that while modern Americans have more stuff and more leisure than ever before, we are a profoundly unhappy people.[1] It simply is not the case that things and experiences make us happy in the long run. Second, the issue is complex, and as it turns out, there is truth to be found in the middle of all the excess. Material things are not, in themselves, bad. Many experiences—including entertainment—are not, in themselves, bad. The problem begins when we try to squeeze more out of these things and experiences than they were meant to provide. The problem, then, is one of context.

In his chapter on “hope” in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis explores the human quest for happiness by describing three kinds of lives.[2]

The fool, according to Lewis, is the person who blames the object or experience itself when he realizes that it was not the thing he really wanted. As Lewis puts it, “He goes on all his life thinking that if only he tried another woman, or went for a more expensive holiday, or whatever, then, this time, he really would catch the mysterious something we are all after.”[3]

The fool, according to Lewis, is the person who continues to think the deeper longings of the human heart can be satisfied by things that have already been tried but found wanting.

The disillusioned “sensible man” is the man who gives up on the search for a deep and abiding happiness. As Lewis describes this man, “He soon decides that the whole thing is moonshine. ‘Of course,’ he says, ‘one feels like that when one’s young. But by the time you get to my age, you’ve given up chasing the rainbow’s end.’”[4]

If there is nothing more to reality than the physical world, then this is the best we can expect, according to Lewis. Perhaps most today are disillusioned as Lewis describes it. It helps us understand and have compassion on those who seem to be in constant need to fill their lives with new things and new experiences. If this life is all there is, then by all means let’s squeeze as much out of it as we can, even if we have deeper longings—for meaning, purpose, value—that we cannot satisfy.

Lewis, however, asks: “But suppose infinite happiness really is there, waiting for us? Supposing one really can reach the rainbow’s end?”[5]

What then? If there really is “infinite happiness” and we miss it, that would be a pity. This leads to Lewis’ third kind of life, what he calls “The Christian Way.” Lewis states, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”[6]

Lewis’ point is this: We find some desires—for example, our desires for meaning, purpose, significance, truth, beauty, goodness, unconditional love and more—that ultimately cannot be satisfied in this world (he lumps all of these together as a kind of desire for transcendence, or heaven, or for God). That these desires for meaning, purpose, and value cannot be satisfied by things in this world does not mean the world is a fraud; it just means the things of this world were not meant to completely satisfy, but only (as he says) “to arouse and suggest the real thing.”

The Christian story helps us to see that true happiness is ultimately found in union with God. This is why the Christian life is to be characterized by hope. One day, all human desires will be satisfied, and man will truly and fully be happy. The good news is that genuine happiness is available to all now. Jesus said it best: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10, NIV). Jesus invites us into a relationship with Him and offers us the fullness of life both now and for eternity.

In the Christian story, material possessions and entertainment are not bad in and of themselves. In fact, when properly situated, they are best understood as gifts, things provided to us for our enjoyment and satisfaction, but also suggestive of something deeper.

How much is too much? Here are some questions to ask yourself: In what am I finding life? Where do I place my hope? What is the basis of my identity? If your answer to any of these questions includes things or entertainment, then it is possible that material possessions and the entertainment complex have become idols in your life. My encouragement is not to reject material things or entertainment, but to locate them within the Gospel story as gifts. Then we will not only find pleasure in them, but they will awaken us to the deepest longing of our heart to be united with the Giver of all good things.

[1] For a good summary of some of these statistics, see John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle, A Practical Guide to Culture (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2017), chap. 12.
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2000).
[3] Ibid., 135­–36.
[4] Ibid., 136.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid., 137.

Categories: Seminary Blog

The Vision Thing: Necessary or Optional?

Tue, 05/01/2018 - 09:30

Proverbs 29:18a, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained,” refers to supernatural revelation. The word translated as vision also appears in Jeremiah 23:16b in a warning about false prophets: “They are leading you into futility; they speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord.” Today, some popular Christian writers use the word in the same sense that it is used in the secular business world. Their definitions differ slightly, but generally speaking, they describe vision as an imagined picture or dream of a church’s preferred future that they hope will actually occur. They cannot guarantee that such a vision will come to pass, whereas supernatural revelation about the future always comes to pass. Nevertheless, they consider their type of vision and vision casting to be essential.

Vision statements are also found on the mission field. When I went through team leader/strategy coordinator training as an IMB missionary in May of 2000, I was required to put together a three-year master plan built upon a detailed “endvision” that included a church planting movement. The endvision was the key component of the master plan, and after describing this vision, I was instructed to work backward and list action plans needed to achieve it. Our team completed some of the action plans, but we did not achieve the endvision.

A church can obviously benefit by having an envisioned goal that is designed to carry out the Great Commission in the unique context of that church. When I served as a pastor in the late 1980s, our church utilized a school gymnasium for our youth program on Wednesday nights, and our senior adults used it at other times. The school permanently closed, and we no longer had access to a gym in the town. Over time, momentum grew in our church to build a Family Life Center. We did not experience a Macedonian vision (Acts 16:9), but we believed that we had discerned God’s will. We prayerfully applied biblical principles to our situation as we deliberated, and we judged that we should construct the building and utilize it for evangelism and discipleship. After a two-year period during which our members sacrificially gave to the building fund, we began construction in the early 1990s. The building was eventually completed and utilized for God’s glory.

Vision casting is not a requirement for pastors. Scripture is sufficient, and vision casting is not listed as a qualification for pastors (overseers) in 1 Timothy 3. In that passage, Paul mentions leadership, but it is not the CEO type of leadership; rather, it is servant leadership in the family context. In 1 Timothy 3:4, Paul says that the pastor “must be one who manages his own household well.” Christian entities such as churches and mission agencies should be more like families than corporations, and Christian leaders should be more like fathers than CEOs.

A good pastor is like a good father. Both men are involved in loving discipline when necessary. Both men equip the people who are under their care. This equipping process involves setting a good example. Church members should hear their pastor talk about his evangelism and discipleship experiences. Even better, they should see him obeying the Great Commission. A good pastor and a good father both practice what they preach. Good shepherds lead their sheep from the front rather than driving them from behind.

Use of the word “vision” is fine in some circumstances, but some cautionary notes are in order. First, when a Christian leader uses that word, he should thoroughly define what he means by it. When a biblical word is repeatedly used with a non-biblical meaning, the person using the word should repeatedly clarify the meaning to avoid confusion.

Second, Christian leaders must realize that when they present a vision of the future that they supposedly received from God, they will lose credibility if the vision does not happen. Some followers may mistakenly think that the leader’s vision carries as much authority as Scripture, and when the vision does not come to pass, they may accuse the leader of false prophecy. Here’s an extreme example: Years ago, I met a man who had been a follower of a prosperity preacher. He told me that when the prosperity preacher’s vision changed from a new building to a private jet, he became quite disillusioned. If, after much effort, a group does not see its vision achieved, it will likely experience discouragement and a sense of failure.

Third, popular writers admit that vision statements need to change as circumstances change. Our world is changing at an ever faster pace, and thus vision statements must change at an ever faster pace. The prediction of future circumstances is difficult. James gave a relevant warning: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, and spend a year there and engage in business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that’” (James 4:13-15). Rather than spending a lot of time imagining a preferred future while constantly revising vision statements, we should concentrate on the mission statement that we were given in Matthew 28:19-20 and apply it as best we can to our current situation.

God gave John supernatural revelation about the future. Part of that vision includes the description of “a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9). That vision should grip Christian leaders, and it should motivate them and their followers to obey the Great Commission and be part of God’s glorious plan that will certainly come to pass.

Categories: Seminary Blog

How Are We to Treat Our Neighbors in Christ?

Tue, 04/24/2018 - 09:30

One of the major problems in ministry is disunity. The little things in church fellowships can destroy relationships with our neighbors. Misunderstood statements can produce resentments. Ministries that go unrecognized can cause hurt feelings. Cliques often form that exclude and alienate others. Busy schedules bring about irritations. Envying the positions of others can lead to jealousy. Disagreements can lead to divisions. In Romans 15:2-13, the Bible provides an answer to these inconveniences and irritations with our neighbors.

The apostle Paul wrote Romans around A.D. 57–58 from Corinth near the close of his third missionary journey. Paul wrote this letter to present the Gospel to a church he had neither started nor visited in preparation for a visit to Rome and a missionary journey to Spain (cf. Romans 1:10, 13; 15:22–25). More importantly, however, the apostle conveyed the message, in keeping with the Gospel, that no distinction exists in God’s impartial judicial administration.[1] The law condemns everyone, and yet all who believe—Jew and Gentile—are justified by faith through the Gospel (Romans 1–11). In light of Romans 1–11, Paul then provoked all justified believers—Jew and Gentile—to accept one another in the body of Christ (Romans 12–16). Put simply, though all stand condemned before God (cf. Romans 3:22), everyone can be saved through faith in Christ (Romans 1:16), and the fact that God plays no favorites in salvation should provoke us to accept one another in the church.

Problems existed, however, between saved Jews and Gentiles in the church (cf. Romans 14:1–5). They were not getting along well with one another. On the one hand, Jewish converts (the “weak,” overscrupulous in faith) were clinging to some practices (not eating meat and observing various religious sacrifices and holy days) that were not necessary to observe once they came to faith in Christ—as far as the full comprehension of God’s grace in Jesus is concerned. On the other hand, Gentiles (the “strong”) felt free to eat anything and did not observe the holy days. Needless to say, conflict ensued. The disagreements over these issues hampered unity in the church body, and the effects of this disunity might also have hindered the church’s advance of the Gospel and Paul’s missionary plans if he did not intervene.

In Romans 14:4–9, Paul addressed these Christians as the “household slaves” (οἰκέτης) of God.[2] He had strong words for them: “Who are you who judges another’s household slave? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4). In other words, your brother in Christ is a household slave in God’s house—not in yours—and he must answer to God, his master—not to you (Romans 14:9–12). Paul further admonished these believers not to disparage one another nor to cause a brother to stumble in his faith (cf. Romans 14:13). He taught that we are to relate to our neighbors in Christ by recognizing that we are the Lord’s household slaves.

So, in Romans 15, the climactic chapter of the letter, Paul exhorted the Roman church to treat their neighbors in specific ways. First, he exhorted that, as the Lord’s household slaves, we are to “please” our neighbor for our neighbor’s good because this fits the pattern of our master (15:2–4). Each of us is to “please” his neighbor. We do not indulge our neighbor’s every whim, but rather, we please our neighbor “for his good, to his edification” (v. 2). The goal of pleasing our neighbors in Christ is to “build them up” in the faith, not to be critical and tear them down. Paul explained that even Christ did not please Himself, because He took upon Himself our reproaches (citing Psalm 69:9, v. 3). He then justified the Old Testament quotation he used in verse 3 by pointing to the Old Testament’s purpose mentioned in verse 4: it provides hope.

Second, Paul prayed that God would grant the church’s members (slaves in the Lord’s household) the power to live in harmony with one another (15:5–6). He asked that God may grant them to “think the same thing” so that “with one accord” and “with one mouth” they may glorify the Father of “our” Lord. Only through the Lord’s enablement can people who are different and at enmity with one another live in unity.

Third, Paul commanded that, as the Lord’s household slaves, we are to “accept” one another as Christ accepted us (15:7–13). Jesus again is the comparison. The Lord had accepted Jews and Gentiles in salvation; so, both groups also needed to receive others cordially and in full Christian fellowship. To illustrate further, Paul cited the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 32:43; Psalm 18:49; 117:1; Isaiah 11:1, 10) to point out that the Gentiles were now included along with Jews in the church (vv. 9–12), and then he ended with prayer for the church to be filled with joy and peace (v. 13). Just as Christ forgave our sin and accepted us with all of our faults and idiosyncrasies, we also need to accept others in the church.

Some appropriate verses with which to close are Romans 12:1–2. They act as a bridge, linking chapters 1–11 with 12–16, and serve not as a call to individual spiritual dedication, but rather to corporate unity:

I exhort you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living, holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect (12:1–2).

In light of God’s mercies, Paul exhorted Jewish and Gentile believers to present their “bodies” (plural) as a “living, holy sacrifice” (singular). The “reasonable service” for the justified is to be a single, corporate, holy sacrifice to God. Let us also glorify the Lord in such a way so as to live in unity in our churches as “many members in one body” (Romans 12:3–8) and together advance the Gospel around the world!

[1]My friend and former colleague Alan Tomlinson shared with me many years ago this understanding of Romans, which I also came to embrace and teach.
[2]All Bible translations in this article are my own. The HCSB and the newer CSB are the only translations I know of that correctly render οἰκέτης in Romans 14:4 as “household slave.”

Categories: Seminary Blog

Lessons from Flight 1380

Fri, 04/20/2018 - 16:40

If you have been near a car radio, a smart phone, or a computer in the last couple of days, the phrase “Flight 1380” will not be foreign to you. This innocuous flight number of a Southwest Airlines plane traveling from LaGuardia airport to the Dallas Love Field airport is now at the forefront of many Americans’ minds and Facebook feeds. The Southwest flight, which experienced an engine failure at 30,000 feet just 30 minutes into the flight path, executed an emergency landing in Philadelphia. One person lost her life as a result of the engine failure.

The stories making headlines from this experience are ones of heroism, bravery, and cool-headedness in the face of dire circumstances. From pilot Tammie Jo Shults to the firefighter who attempted to resuscitate an injured passenger, the stories are captivating.

One of the narratives also unfolding from Flight 1380 includes passengers who used the plane’s Wi-Fi-enabled in-air text messaging service to correspond with loved ones whom they thought they might never see again. Clad in the yellow “in-case-of emergency” oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling, some passengers with shaky hands and clumsy fingers typed messages of love and farewell to loved ones on the ground. Some have shared screen grabs of these conversations on social media, and the messages contained therein should penetrate even the hardest of hearts. They should cause us all to stop and evaluate our own lives.

I’ve never been through an experience like what those passengers on Flight 1380 went through, but in the telling of their stories by news outlets too plentiful to number, I think we all have something we can learn, if we’ll stop to think about it. We, as a culture, have withdrawn from thinking about death on a regular basis, but the stories making headlines this week should prompt us to ask what lessons we can take away from those experiences.

1. We should prioritize maintaining healthy relationships.

If you were to find yourself in a situation like those on Flight 1380, what fractured relationships would you wish you had taken the time to fix? What words would you wish you had said more often or apologized for? The Bible is not silent on this subject; in fact, a significant theme within the Scriptures is how we, as believers, should treat one another. Jesus mentions it in the “Golden Rule,” but we’re also reminded by Romans 12:18 that, if possible, so far as it depends on us, must live at peace with everyone.

2. We should remember that we have a limited amount of time on this earth.

Scripture is full of references to the reality that our days are numbered. Job said that the number of days and months of a person’s life are determined and dependent on God (Job 14:5). James calls our lives a vapor, or a mist, that appears for a little while and then vanishes (James 4:14). It would be crippling to spend every moment of our lives in fear of death, or to constantly be thinking about it, but a balanced and thoughtful reflection on the limited amount of time we have means we are more likely to maximize that time.

3. We should use our time wisely.

Psalm 90:12 says, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (CSB). Carefully evaluating our days brings clarity to the work we are to be about. As believers who seek to imitate Christ, we should be about the Father’s business, as He was about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49). Friends and fellow church members of Tammie Jo Shults have remarked that she seeks to share her faith as often as possible. Counting our days “carefully” reminds us that those days are precious, and in doing so, we develop wisdom in our hearts. That wisdom will influence all of the decisions we make.

4. We should keep in mind that we will all taste death.

The old adage about only two things being certain—death and taxes—rings true to all ears. We know that life is fragile, and the one guarantee is that it will end for each person on this earth. The Bible says that “it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

What hope is there in this statement, if all are appointed to die, and all will be judged after they die? We find hope in Romans 8: “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (vv. 1-2). Because of Christ’s atoning work on our behalf and our belief in Him as God’s blameless and perfect Son who died, was buried, and rose to life, we have hope that the Lord no longer sees sin and death in us, but sees Christ’s righteousness covering it.

What does your before and after look like?

Captain Chesley Sullenberger, who successfully landed a plane on the Hudson River when it experienced a dual engine failure in 2009, was questioned this week about the similar circumstances of Flight 1380’s emergency landing. After noting that the work of the pilot and crew of Flight 1380 impressed him, he made a statement of great importance. He said in a recent article, “These kinds of events are life-changing for everybody on the airplane. They divide one’s life into before and after.”

These events divide one’s life into before and after. These are words about the experience of everyone on that plane, but words that also characterize a life surrendered to Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” As we reflect on the news of the week, may we be bold to proclaim the message of an “after” that looks vastly different from the “before” in our lives because of what Christ has done for us.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Daddy, Watch

Tue, 04/17/2018 - 09:30

“Daddy, watch.” I turn to see my son attempting a “Dude Perfect” trick shot—backwards, off the backboard, into the net. As it goes in, he lets out a scream—“Let’s go!”

“Daddy,” my youngest asks, “can we make a treasure hunt?”

“Daddy,” my oldest says, “can you come tuck me in?”

Children desire the attention and affection of their parents. God, the most magnificent artist this world has ever seen, intentionally crafted the family to include a father and a mother who would give this attention and affection to their children. Yet for many children around the world, the attention and affection of the father is missing because the fathers are missing.

Scripture specifically commands fathers, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). Likewise, God instructs parents, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). This instruction is an all-the-time sort of instruction. Fathers play a crucial role in the development of their children, yet how can they play this role when they are missing?

Some fathers are missing because they have never played any role in their children’s lives at all. Perhaps they bought into the lie of casual sex and ran off as soon as they heard that their girlfriend was pregnant. Some fathers are missing because of divorce, creating a great barrier of time and space. Some fathers, although physically present in the home, spend little time with their children, leaving the task of parenting to the mother alone.

If you find yourself in one of these situations, there is time for change and reason for hope. You cannot change the past, you cannot control how others will respond, but you can change your own actions. As long as we have breath, there is still time to change.

Studies have demonstrated that when fathers are involved, children perform better academically, are less likely to engage in substance abuse, and are less likely to commit crime, to name only a few benefits.[1] Among the many factors contributing to violence in our culture, the absence of fathers is surely one and deserves ongoing study.

Training children in the ways of the Lord requires a consistent time commitment and intentional actions. We must intentionally teach our children about God and His Word, but it won’t work to focus only on the big stuff while being absent for the small stuff. Such an approach greatly diminishes your ability to teach, and it demonstrates that other things are more important than your children.

Spend time with your children. Every child is different, so the way you spend time with them will be different. Play games, play outside, go camping. Take a walk, ride bikes, talk about computers. Have a tea party, make a treasure hunt, plant a flower. What matters is not so much the activity that you do together but the fact that you are together. Maybe you need to run to the home store or pick up some food. Take a child with you. What do your children want to do? Ask them.

There is no doubt that this is not always easy. Sometimes you need time to yourself. Sometimes you will have to work a little bit extra. Yet if we’re not careful, a little bit extra can turn into a lot extra. As the saying goes, no one ever said on his deathbed, “I wish I had spent more time at the office.” We need to be intentional, and we need consistent checkups on how we’re spending our time.

Part of investing time in your children is protecting your ability to do so. This means protecting your marriage. Spend time with your wife and flee the things that can ruin a marriage. Flee pornography. Flee alcohol and drugs. Flee selfishness. Flee emotional attachments with other women. Once again, in recent weeks, a prominent minister has disclosed an inappropriate relationship. That could be you or me. It absolutely could. If you think that it couldn’t, you have an over-inflated view of self and a weak view of sin. We must affirm that it absolutely could be us and take intentional steps to make sure that it never is.

If you don’t have kids, did you just waste your time reading? I don’t think so. Kids imitate people. Kids are watching. Whether you know it or not, somebody is watching you and will imitate you in some way.

Why did my son shout out, “Let’s go!” after making his “Dude Perfect” trick shot? Because that’s what Tyler from “Dude Perfect” shouts when he makes a trick shot. Kids are watching.

Certainly more children are watching viral videos than are watching you, but somebody is watching. What’s more, there are plenty of children in the world who would love to have a male role model in their life to imitate. Why not be intentional about it?

Part of John the Baptist’s role in preparing the way for Jesus involved turning the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers (see Malachi 4:6 and Luke 1:17). So, too, in our day, it is time for the hearts of the fathers to turn to their children. Lord, make it so.

[1] See Accessed 4-9-2018.

Categories: Seminary Blog

There Is Only One Doctrine with Divine Power—But Is This What You Preach and Teach?

Fri, 04/13/2018 - 09:00

Why should we be concerned about doctrine? After all, some have noticed that doctrines divide Christians, while others have opined that an emphasis on the mission of the church could unite Christians. But is it true that “doctrine divides, but missions unite”? Well, the answer is both “yes” and “no.”

On the one hand, yes! Doctrines may and often do divide professed Christians. “Doctrine” derives from the Latin doctrina, which means “teaching” or “learning” or “instruction.” In spite of its ability to divide us, what we teach really does matter. Doctrine matters because our salvation depends upon the truth, in particular upon the preaching of the good news of the free offer of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The problem with doctrine arises not because of the existence of doctrine, for doctrine is necessary to our salvation. The problem with doctrine arises because of the existence of false doctrine as opposed to true doctrine. We shall return to this issue.

On the other hand, no! A mission may unite us, but it may not necessarily unite us for good. If the churches are not engaging in the right mission with the right message, an appeal to unity is meaningless, even dangerous. Churches who proclaim the true doctrine, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, will be used to bring people to salvation. People who proclaim false doctrine, which comes from human wisdom or philosophy, are not bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 2). Apart from the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, there is no salvation possible (John 14:1-7; Acts 4:12; Galatians 1:6-9). So, those who do not define their mission as teaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ have the wrong mission. Again, we learn that doctrine is necessary.

But why is doctrine so necessary? Because God ordained that through the preaching and teaching of true doctrine, people may be saved. Concern for orthodox doctrine, as many biblical theologians have commented, motivated the two most prolific apostolic authors, Paul and John, to write many of their letters. Paul and John stressed the coming of God in Jesus, His death for our sins, and His resurrection for our justification—this is the Gospel. However, Peter, the leading apostle in the early church, was also very concerned with proclaiming true doctrine and opposing false doctrine.

Peter’s Second Letter: Positively, we know that Peter was granted the saving confession upon which Jesus Christ would build His church. Peter, inspired by the Father, proclaimed that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:13-20). His God-given teaching is the true doctrine. Negatively, Peter warned about the coming of “false teachers,” who will “introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them.” Many will sadly “follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of the truth will be maligned” (2 Peter 2:1-2). Their teaching is the false doctrine. According to Peter in his second letter, true doctrine must be proclaimed, and false doctrine must be opposed.

Peter’s First Letter: In his first letter, Peter explained why this is the case. Here, he describes how true faith—real life-changing Christianity—comes into existence. To do so, he employs a mixed metaphor, equating the “word” with a “seed” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The way in which Peter identified God’s “word” as “seed” has profound implications for what Christian preachers, teachers, and evangelists are required to teach. This metaphor indicates that a person who teaches anything other than the God-given, Christ-revealing, and Spirit-inspired Holy Bible teaches without divine power. Let us explore the biblical correlation of “word” with “seed.”

First, note that Peter was not the first to combine “word” and “seed.” His Lord, Jesus Christ, earlier used the identification between “word of God” and “seed” as the basis of one of his most extensive and well-known parables (Luke 8:4-15; parallels in Matthew 13:1-23; Mark 4:1-20). The metaphor was so fruitful in Jesus’ mind that it earned starring roles in at least three more parables: the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29); the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30); and the parable of the mustard seed (Mark 4:30-32).

Moreover, Jesus was Himself drawing upon two deep and highly significant Old Testament traditions with His use of “word” and “seed.” After Jesus, the apostles invested both terms with theological importance in their construction of the New Testament. A cursory review of each term must suffice for this short essay.

“Seed”: The Lord God Himself introduced the idea of a “seed” (Hebrew zerah) through the promise that He would accomplish His saving will. In the protoevangelium of Genesis 3:15, the seed, or “descendent,” of Eve would crush the head of the serpent even though the serpent would strike his heel. In Genesis 12:7 (and in 15:3, 5, 13, 18; 17:7-10, 12, 19; and 22:17-18), Abraham was granted a covenant promise that his seed, or “offspring,” would rule the land and bring God’s blessing to the nations. Paul drew upon the Abrahamic concept of “seed” (Greek sperma or spora) in order to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the covenantal plan of God for saving both Israel and the nations (Romans 4:13, 16, 18; 9:7-8, 29; Galatians 3:16, 19, 29).

“Word”: As for the “word” of God, we see from Genesis 1:3 onward that the speaking (Hebrew dabar) of God has power to implement God’s creative will (Genesis 1:6, 9, 11, 14, 20, 24, 26; cf. Psalm 33:6, 9; Romans 4:17). According to Isaiah, the Word of God is eternal, while human words fail (Isaiah 40:7-8). The Word of God is sent to accomplish, and will perfectly perform, God’s will (Isaiah 55:10-11). But the power of the Word of God is not limited to creating life.

In the New Testament, God’s Word (Greek logos or rhema) is powerful enough even to re-create life. According to John, not only is the Word God Himself, who has come in the flesh (John 1:1, 14), but the Spirit works through the Word to bring life to us (John 6:63). Anyone who believes these words of Jesus will be given life (John 5:24). In Hebrews, God’s Word is a living, active, judging agent (Hebrews 4:12). According to Jesus, His words come from eternity and “will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35). And in Paul, the Word of God brings us surety of perseverance in the faith (Philippians 2:16).

Word of God: Thus, Peter is continuing and contributing to a universally biblical conception when he brings together, like Jesus, the “word” with the “seed.” For Peter, the Word of God functions in such a way as to regenerate life. Because it comes from divine eternity, the Word of God is “living and enduring” (1 Peter 1:23). Peter quotes Isaiah 40:6b-8 in order to prove its eternality (1 Peter 1:24-25a; cf. James 1:10-11). The Word of God, moreover, is “the gospel,” which has been “proclaimed to you” (1 Peter 1:25). The Word of God brings people to be born again.

Words of Men: The Word of God, from a soteriological perspective, is entirely different from the words of men. While humanity is “like grass,” which “withers” and “fails,” the Word of God can bring one to be “born again” (1 Peter 1:23). Humanity’s “seed” is “perishable,” indicating that human words and deeds ultimately end in death, no matter how beautiful they may sound or what they promise to convey or even why man intends to utter them. But the “seed” of the Word of God, to the contrary, is “imperishable.” There is an insurmountable difference between human words, flawed by temporal imperfections, and the divine Word, fruitful with God’s eternal perfection.

In summary, we conclude that the Word of God has power in itself to bring the new birth that fallen human beings require. There is no other way people may be saved other than through the Word of God. This is why I tell my students that our well-thought words to advance apologetics and our well-meaning works to improve society will ultimately fail—if that is all we give people. The only way people will truly encounter God and receive new life occurs when we give them the Word of God, which we know is inextricably bound for us today with the Holy Bible.

If you do not teach the entirely sufficient doctrine of Scripture, your listeners have no hope at all. This is why doctrine, biblical doctrine, is singularly necessary, and every other human teaching pales into insignificance. This is why we must emphasize the knowledge of Scripture, in its historical and linguistic context and in its Trinitarian and canonical shape, as the sine qua non of theological education. This is why we believe that evangelizing with true biblical doctrine is the mission of God, because it is the only way we can bring the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, which so desperately needs to hear this life-giving Word.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Does Elohim foreshadow the Trinity in Genesis 1?

Tue, 04/10/2018 - 09:30

The age-old riddle—“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”—is no mystery for the Christian. Biblically speaking, the answer is unequivocally: “the chicken” (cf. Genesis 1:24; 2:19). A more difficult question to answer, however, is whether the word for “God” (singular) or “gods” (plural) in the Hebrew Bible, i.e., Elohim, may be interpreted as a legitimate foreshadowing of the doctrine of the Trinity in the Old Testament.

In his book From Exegesis to Exposition, Robert Chisholm denies any hint of a Trinitarian interpretation for the plural noun Elohim:[1]

The grammatically plural name אֱלֹהִים [Elohim] when it refers to the God of Israel, is a plural of respect. (The plural of respect is sometimes used idiomatically for individual pagan deities as well.) When the form is used as a numerical plural, it refers to the pagan gods or, in some cases, to lesser members of God’s heavenly assembly (beings known to us as “angels”). When the plural is one of respect, then it is improper to argue, as many have done, that the form hints at a plurality of persons within the Godhead and thus foreshadows in some cryptic way the doctrine of the Trinity.

When lexicographers (i.e., those scholars who write dictionaries/lexicons) define the various glosses (i.e., definitions or meanings) for a particular word, they always look at the referent within the context of the passage in order to dictate which meanings are applicable. So, for example, when it comes to the word Elohim in Genesis 1, even though it is parsed as a masculine plural noun, it is translated as singular “God” instead of “gods.” This is similar to the example found in Judges 19:26 where it literally reads “her lords” (masculine plural noun), but the context clearly demands that it be translated “her lord” (masculine singular noun), referring to the concubine’s Levite master. Again, this is a clear example of a plural word referring to one person as a “plural of respect” (honor or majesty).

However, from a canonical (or “biblical-theological”) perspective, a valid case can be made that the word Elohim may be taken in a Trinitarian manner because God is the “referent” in Genesis 1. How is this possible? There are two guiding principles that must be taken a priori:

  1. We must begin with the premise that God, the Holy Spirit, is the “primary author” of Scripture who used divinely inspired men as “secondary agents” to record divine revelation (cf. 2 Peter 1:21). Thus, Moses may not have been aware of a Trinitarian sensus plenior (i.e., “the fuller meaning”) as he employed the word Elohim, but this ought not detract from the fact that it is God’s “authorial intention” from which the meaning of the Scriptures is ultimately derived.[2]
  2. Where the New Testament addresses Old Testament texts either explicit or implicitly, the New Testament is the divinely inspired and authoritative interpretation of the Old Testament.

If one were to compare New Testament texts such as John 1:1-3 and Colossians 1:15-18 with Genesis 1, there are unequivocal justifications toward legitimizing a Trinitarian interpretation. For example, in Genesis 1, the Father speaks the fiat commands from heaven, while the Holy Spirit is “moving over the surface of the waters” in Genesis 1:2. Where is Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, in Genesis 1? He is the “Word” or Logos (John 1:1), and it was He, the pre-incarnate Christ, who created the “heavens and the earth” both visible and invisible (Colossians 1:16).[3]

Additionally, in passages where the honorific sense of a “plural of respect” occurs, as in Judges 19, the pronouns that refer to the Levite do not refer to him as a plurality, i.e., the text does not use the third-person plural pronoun (“us,” “we”). However, in Genesis 1:26; 3:22; and 11:7, the third-person plural pronoun is used in direct address, where God speaks of Himself as a plurality. Interestingly, Elohim is also addressed by the narrator in the third-person singular (i.e., “He”) in Genesis 1:4, 5, 10, 16, 27, 31; 2:2, 3. There is an unambiguous dynamic or tension here in Genesis 1-2:3: Elohim is both plural (“Us”) and singular (“He”). Eugene Merrill notes, “Since the subject is ’ělohîm [in Genesis 1:26] it is clear that God, who normally is perceived to be singular, is here at least cast in the plural not only grammatically but functionally.”[4]

Furthermore, because Elohim, as the referent of the “plural of respect” in Genesis 1, refers to none other than the Triune God, it is fitting that Christian theologians should either add a sub-point to the “plural of respect” category or include another use of the plural noun and designate it specifically for the word Elohim alone. This may be justified, because biblical texts that address a man (such as the Levite in Judges 19) as “lord” in the plural are completely different from those that address God, Elohim, as a plurality, especially in the biblical-theological sense of the one God who exists as a plurality of Persons. Therefore, while it is true that the “plurality of respect” is a valid syntactical category, the explicit Christian use of the plural word Elohim, as it pertains to God alone, should be a Trinitarian one. Victor Hamilton fittingly asserts,

It is one thing to say that the author of Gen. 1 was not schooled in the intricacies of Christian dogma. It is another thing to say he was theologically too primitive or naïve to handle such ideas as plurality within unity. What we often so blithely dismiss as “foreign to the thought of the OT” may be nothing of the sort. True, the concept may not be etched on every page of Scripture, but hints and clues are dropped enticingly here and there, and such hints await their full understanding “at the correct time” (Gal. 4:4).[5]

[1] Robert B. Chisholm, From Exegesis to Exposition: A Practical Guide to Using Biblical Hebrew (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 59.
[2] C. John Collins, Genesis 1-4: A Linguistic, Literary, and Theological Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 61.
[3] Cf. Geerhardus J. Vos, Reformed Dogmatics: Theology Proper (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013), Kindle Locations 3219-3240.
[4] Eugene Merrill, “Is the Doctrine of the Trinity Implied in the Genesis Creation Account?: Yes,” The Genesis Debate, edited by R.F. Youngblood (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1990), 120-1.
[5] Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1-17, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 134.

Categories: Seminary Blog

Why I am preaching through the whole Bible

Tue, 04/03/2018 - 09:30

My journey into the role of a lead pastor has been far from ordinary. In 2009, my family and I moved from the Dallas metroplex to West Monroe, La. (that’s right … I’m in “Duck Dynasty” land), to become the student pastor at a church called First West. For five years, we were able to see God do incredible work among middle school and high school students in Northeast Louisiana. In early 2013, I sensed a shift in what God’s calling on my life would be, but I was convinced it would not be a lead pastor, as I had no desire to fulfill that role. However, during that year, God was clearly working.

I had several opportunities to go on staff at great churches in our convention, but the Lord repeatedly shut those doors. Shockingly, He knew what He was doing. At the end of 2013, I was contacted by the search committee requesting to begin the interview process to become the next pastor at First West. Needless to say, the rest is history. Here I was, 32 years old, having never served as a lead pastor, only holding a master’s degree in Christian education from Southwestern Seminary, and now leading this great church.

One of the biggest challenges of moving into the lead pastor role was weekly sermon preparation. One pastor friend shared with me, “Preaching weekly is like giving birth on Sunday and being pregnant again on Monday.” He was right. I found weekly preparation to be a challenge with everything else that comes with leading people, a staff, and ministry opportunities. It can be easy to allow good things to rob the most important thing.

Possibly an even larger challenge than the weekly preparation was the strategic sermon planning. It wasn’t for a lack of ideas or content, but rather discerning where our people were spiritually and the right way to biblically address the entire congregation. It is one thing to preach weekly in order to address a tangible need, but altogether different to preach to people’s hearts, which reveals the root of their needs.

After several years of switching regularly between expository book studies, character studies, and an occasional topical series, I became convinced of this: MANY OF OUR PEOPLE KNOW STORIES IN THE BIBLE, BUT FEW OF OUR PEOPLE KNOW THE STORY OF THE BIBLE. After discerning this to be the case in early 2017, I became convinced that in 2018 I needed to “preach through the Bible.” I am preaching to my church Genesis to Revelation in 48 messages to help our people see not only God’s story, but His character, faithfulness, and fervent love within the story.

We are now three months into this journey and have already seen many benefits. Whether you are a pastor looking to preach the metanarrative of Scripture or a church member who believes this would benefit your church, let me share several benefits of our journey:

1. Our people are seeing and grasping the metanarrative of the Bible.

It is refreshing to hear individuals, who have been in the church for years, vibrantly discuss how the Bible fits together. They’ve spent their lives listening to sermon after sermon, but they have never before seen the full picture. There is a reason people like to binge-watch TV shows on Netflix! One episode may be good, but many episodes in the right order is awesome! Our God is a creator, redeemer, and restorer who fights for His people. Don’t let your people miss the forest for the trees!

2. Our people are seeing how to better apply the Scripture to their lives.

As fitting as it may be at times to look down our noses at the faithlessness of the Israelites, we are reminded that we’re often guilty of that same faithlessness. God’s response to their wayward hearts and wavering commitment shows us how to rightfully respond when we wander as well.

3. Our people are seeing the centrality of faith to our relationship with God.

Romans 4:13 says, “For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.” In methodically walking through the Old Testament, our people are observing that even in the giving of and expected obedience to the Law, God’s call was always to follow Him by faith.

4. Our people have never been more clear that Jesus is the hero of Scripture!

Jesus made it crystal clear in Luke 24:27 that the Scriptures are ultimately about Him. Directing our peoples’ attention to see Christ throughout the Bible has been life-giving. God “winks” at us from the beginning, showing us the hero of this story. Jesus is seen in creation (Colossians 1:16), in the ram caught in the thicket (Genesis 22), in the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16), and in numerous other passages.

5. I know what I am preaching next week, next month, and next fall!

This benefit is self-serving, but it is a real benefit!

Categories: Seminary Blog

He Paid My Debt – So What?

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 09:00

During this Easter season, we often sing the Elvina Hall hymn “Jesus Paid It All.” The refrain is:

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

Jesus paid our debt through His substitutionary atonement[1] on the cross and then overcame the penalty of sin through His resurrection. However, I’m afraid the fact that Jesus paid your debt and my debt is losing its wonder in today’s world.

We live in a time when debt is no longer something to be avoided or delivered from, but it is an accepted, even embraced, way of life. Numerous countries, including the U.S., run on debt-based economic models. The government’s debt is presently greater than $21 trillion—that’s a debt of $174,000 per tax payer.[2] It is the largest debt for a single country in the world. Chasing the American Dream has resulted in student loan debt of $1.5 trillion[3] and credit card debt approaching $1 trillion.[4] One credit card company’s marketing promises to pay the card user cash back for using its credit card. Why doesn’t this company simply go bankrupt giving away cash? Because card users carry debt on the card.

Folks have forgotten the wisdom of “don’t spend what you don’t have.” Society has become desensitized to debt, justifies debt burdens, and feels entitled to debt forgiveness without consequence.[5] To be sure, society is now conditioned to carry large debt burdens despite the long-term ramifications. Commercials and societal norms opine that you cannot go to college, buy a house, or get a car without loans. Even cell phone companies offer financing for the purchase of the latest and greatest phone.

With “living with debt” as the societal norm, do we really understand the debt that Jesus paid? Romans 3:23 is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 informs us that “the wages of sin is death.” You and I deserve death. We are not entitled to probation for good behavior or a “get out of jail free” card. Death—no breathing, no firing of brain neurons, no beating of the heart, and no life support technologies keeping us “alive.” Moreover, the consequence of carrying our sin debt is beyond the temporal trappings of this world; it is eternal—eternal separation from God. As sinners, we are an abomination to a holy God. We cannot approach Him after the fact to plead our case or play “let’s make a deal.”

There is no debt forgiveness with a holy God. The sin debt has to be paid, or else we suffer the consequences. However, our debt is so enormous that it leaves us bankrupt, and we cannot do anything about it. Isaiah 64:6 attests that “all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.”

But the good news is that “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16) to pay our sin debt. Jesus is the only man who could pay our sin debt. Scripture attests to what Jesus did for us:

Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

[Jesus] Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. (1 John 2:2)

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation….” (Revelation 5:9)

Jesus died for your sins and my sins on the cross. His blood was spilled as the atoning sacrifice to pay our sin debt. John 19:30 records the last words of Jesus on the cross: “Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, ‘It is finished!’ And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.”

The single Greek word translated “It is finished” is tetelestai. It is an accounting term meaning “paid in full.” Jesus was declaring that our debt owed to God for our sin was completely wiped away forever. No payment plan is required, no surprise balloon payments materialize at the end—the sin debt has been paid in full. This is perhaps easier to see in the Greek, for tetelestai is spoken by Jesus in the perfect tense. There is no English equivalent to the Greek perfect tense. The perfect tense means that something happens at a specific point in time and continues on into the future with ongoing results. Hence, Jesus paid all of mankind’s sin debt at that very moment and for eternity.

Properly understanding debt this Easter season is of critical importance. It is not a material or monetary debt, but one that possesses eternal consequences for our soul. Hell is no longer our destiny because “Jesus paid it all….” We will be able to stand before holy God and be ushered into eternity with Him.

[1]For an in-depth discussion on atonement, the following book is recommended: The Extent of the Atonement: A Historical and Critical Review, by David Allen, B&H Academic, 2016.
[5]Although not the focus of this post, debt directly opposes biblical stewardship, and the amount of debt is affecting our churches as it prevents Christians from practicing the biblical discipline of generosity.

Categories: Seminary Blog