Reflections on Earlier Readings: Lennox*

Now that the holidays are upon us and there is some time for reflection. I will take this opportunity to blog about some of the fine books I have read the last half a year or so. There are four books in particular that I enjoyed immensly:

  • Robert Coleman’s “The Mind of Christ”
  • Stephen Meyer’s “Signature in the Cell, DNA Evidence for Intelligent Design”
  • Ajith Fernando’s “The Call to Joy and Pain”
  • John Lennox’s “Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target” 

I will start with Lennox since his book is freshest in my memory. He’s also one of my favorites. He will be a real treat to hear when he comes to Xenos Summer Institute in the Summer! (Although of all the books I read last year, Fernando’s is the one I recommend most).

John Lennox is a professor of Mathematics and Philosophy of Science at University of Oxford. He’s famous for debating Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens in the past few years on various topics related to Christianity and Atheism (which are well worth a listen). The impetus for this book is  to elaborate on many of the arguments made and argued against in some of those debates. He specifically addresses the attacks on Christianity made by the “four horsemen” of atheism: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Danniel Dennet, and Sam Harris as well as others — including Stephen Hawking who has recently claimed there is no room for God in his new book “The Grand Design” coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow (p. 6).

The best thing about reading a John Lennox book (see earlier blogs on Lennox’s “God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God”), is that it is just a very enjoyable read. Lennox presents his arguments in a very understandable and humble way. He is also quite humorous. Two things particularly stuck out to me in reading this book: (1) Lennox makes clear the lack of evidence for atheistic arguments against the existence of God — which really amounts to hypocrisy on their part since they are about evidence and (2) the silence of the atheists when presented with the evidence for Christianity (even thought they clamor for evidence). The former point has been made by many apologists over the years; however, Lennox presents us an updated version as well as critiques of the New Atheists from many other atheists (old atheists?) who expose the futility of the New Atheist’s claims.  The latter point I though was most stimulating. He was not arrogant or demeaning, but he called for the New Atheists to actually address the evidence concerning morality, their skewed sense of history, the actual person and teaching of Jesus (as opposed to the straw man of “religion”), and His death and resurrection. It showed me that when talking to people about this that we do have solid ground to stand on and we should not shrink back — yet with humility and the hope that some will actually listen — i.e., 1 Peter 3:15. 

The first part of the book I found most enlightening. Lennox addresses the issues of faith and reason and the New Atheists claims that religion is a poison. For part of this, Lennox draws from many secular sources to repudiate the claim that Christianity is a poison. I was particularly struck by Lennox’s quote from atheist journalist Matthew Harris (The Times, 27 December 2008):

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts… In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts… The rebirth is real. The change is good… Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

Lennox turns the tables somewhat and asks the question, “Is Atheism poisonous?” One of the aspects of this book that I found most fascinating was the viewpoint of people from Eastern Block former-Communist countries (where I believe Lennox has spent a great deal of time). The viewpoint from these folks is yes, Atheism is poisonous! Communists thought they could get rid of god and retain value for human beings … but they were wrong. As one of Lennox’s Polish friends says:

“Dawkins has lost contact with the realities of twentieth-century history. Let him come here and talk to us, if he is really open to listening to evidence of the link between atheism and atrocity. (p. 82)”

I think the quote from David Berlinski sums it up well:

“And as far as we can tell, a very few of those carrying out the horrors of the twentieth century worried overmuch that God was watching what they were doing either. That is after all, the meaning of a secular society.” (p. 85)

But Dawkins go so far as to say that he doesn’t believer there is an “atheist in the world who would bulldoze Mecca — or Chartres, York Minster or Notre Dame” (p. 85). But Lennox aptly quotes Professor Richard Schroder from Berlin:

“Cathedrals are too high for bulldozers. In the Soviet Union under Stalin and in the German Democratic Republic under Ulbricht they used explosives instead”

The next part of the book turns more specifically to morality: “Can we be good without God?, Is the God of the Bible a Despot?, Is the Atonement Morally Repellent?” being the titles of the middle chapters of the book.  The discussion first centers around whether or not there is any foundation or rationale for morality in Atheism. Whether it’s Sam Harris’ view that science can determine human values, E.O. Wilson’s view that “morality” is an evolutionary adaptation, or Dawkins view that we can rebel against our selfish genes one is left with not very satisfying arguments. What about Social Darwinism and the superiority of the white race? What about eugenics? Why do we all know that it is wrong to take advantage of those less fortunate than us? As Lennox states:

“… the New Atheists do not appear to have taken on board the fact that their atheism removes from them not only their liberal values, but also any moral values whatsoever. Consequently, all of the New Atheists’ moral criticisms of God and religion are invalid not so much because they are wrong but because they are meaningless.” (pg. 110)

Next Lennox addresses the accusations against the God of the Bible. I particularly liked his discussion of the Caananite invasion in Joshua (pp. 119ff). He makes an excellent point: “the Bible does not seem to be embarrassed in juxtaposing a discussion of the lofty morality of “love your neighbor as yourself” with the comand to invade the Cannaanites, even though this action seems to conflict with the Bible’s own understanding of justice” because “the action taken … was morally  justifiable”.  He then goes through the Scripture and points out that:

  1. The action is exceptional to the Bible
  2. The action is regarded as a judgment of God on the evils of the nations
  3. God was patient for several centuries
  4. It was not based on a sense of national moral superiority
  5. The nation Israel was not to regard itself as God’s favorite who could do no wrong

But to Dawkins (and Nietzsche as Lennox shows), there is no such thing as justice with atheism.  But as Lennox points out “atheism has not got rid of the suffering and the evil… Moreover, atheism’s “solution” to the problem of evil has got rid of something else — hope… Human conscience and desire for justice are not a delusion. It is the atheism that denies ultimate justice that is the delusion.” (pg. 130).

This naturally leads to the Cross. Is there an afterlife?  Because if there is, justice makes sense and so does why Jesus had to rise from the dead. Atheists ignore this because they assume miracles do not exist (David Hume) and there is a lack of evidence (Bertrand Russell). But before Lennox addresses the evidence he continues with the moral theme as it pertains to the Atonement which Dawkins regards as “vicious, sadomasochistic and repellent” (p. 137). Lennox points out that the problem here is with sin. Atheists have no category for sin and it threatens their naturalistic worldview. However, as the Bible portrays, sin is like a cancer — a real problem and not just some “morbid preoccupation” (p. 138). Christianity also offers a real diagnosis and solution — neither of which are offered by Atheism. Atheists mock doctrines like the atonement and original sin but really cannot provide a better explanation for the depravity in the world — or really any explanation. In addition the Scriptures they mock they distort, misread or take out of context that I think someone having taken Basic Christianity could easily refute. The issue really comes down to understanding what true forgiveness entails and the mystery embedded in the hypostatic union: that the God of the universe had to become a man and die in order to pay for all of our sins.

Perhaps this discussion of atonement, original sin, and the need for forgiveness is best reflected in the response of G.K. Chesterton when he answered the question what was wrong with the world in the London Times (p. 140):

Dear Sir,

I am.

Yours faithfully,

G.K. Chesteron

The last section of the book focuses on miracles in general and the resurrection in particular. I will spend the least time here because this has been covered by many and this is getting to be  a long blog. However, Lennox points out Hume’s inconsistent reasoning against miracles and that he essentially assumes what he wants to prove, i.e., circular (p. 166). Hume’s arguments against miracles is simply a belief from his worldview (that the natural is all there is) and not a consequence of scientific investigation (p. 172).  In fact the uniformity of nature itself is baseless without a creator God!

The chapter on the Resurrection is excellent. It is most interesting to see the appeal of the New Atheists back to Bertrand Russell’s response when asked by God as to why he didn’t believe in the death and resurrection of Christ: “Not enough evidence, God, not enough evidence” (p. 174). Lennox shows that Russell, nor the New Atheists, really engage the substantial body of evidence that exists supporting Christianity. I appreciate Lennox’s frustration:

“It is very difficult to know how to proceed with people who, on the one hand, insist that we examine the evidence they claim in support for their views and who then, on the other hand, clamour loudly for our evidence, and peremptorily dismiss what we offer to them.” (p. 177)

Lennox then goes through much of the lines of evidence for the resurrection starting with the reliability of the New Testament manuscripts. He then considers the cumulative evidence of the four issues surrounding the resurrection: (1) the death of Jesus, (2) the burial of Jesus, (3) the empty tomb, and (4) the eyewitnesses (p. 184). He presents considerable evidence from Christian as well as non-Christian sources as to the validity of these historical events which prove the resurrection of Christ as best anyone can prove anything given what is known. This is well worth the read and so much information is given here and sources to do deeper study that you will have to, and you should go through it yourself. I think the final sentence of this section is illuminating:

“For all their vaunted interest in evidence, there is nothing in their writings to show that they have seriously interacted with the arguments, many of them very well known, that we have presented here. The silence of the New Atheism on this matter tells its own story”. (p. 209)

In the concluding chapter, Lennox critiques Dawkins Dedication at the beginning of The God Delusion where he cites a quote from Douglas Adams The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

“Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”

But Lennox finds it “incomprehensible and rather sad that he presents us with such an obviously false set of alternatives: the garden on its own, or the garden plus fairies. Real gardens do not produce themselves: they have gardeners and owners. Similarly with the universe: it did not generate itself. It has a creator — and an owner.” (p. 214)

“Atheism has no answer to death, no ultimate hope to give. It is an empty and sterile worldview, which leaves us in a closed universe that will ultimately incinerate any last trace that we ever existed. It is, quite literally, a hope-less philosophy. Its story ends in the grave. But the resurrection of Jesus opens the door on a bigger story. It is for each one of us to decide whether it is the true one or not.” (p. 215).

Amen.

* Gunning for God, Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target – John Lennox, (Lion Hudson plc, Oxford, England: 2011)

California Adventure: The Universities

After returning from our Oregon expedition, we set out to visit two more campuses. We went Wednesday to UC Santa Cruz, a most picturesque campus set in a grove of redwoods. The school is on the north side of Monterey Bay. It really was an amazing layout including its own outdoor amphitheatre set within a large cavern buffeted by Redwoods. Unfortunately this week is midterms week at UC campuses so the student population is low. We did talk to some professors and student. We are planning to return to Santa Cruz to meet up with Ian and hopefully Lambert to get a more inside look at Santa Cruz possibilities so more to come about Santa Cruz.

On Thursday we headed out to Sacramento to visit UC Davis (just west of Sacramento). Our new friends the Shearers and Doug Krieger live in Sacramento and pointed out to us that there are more students per capita in and around Sacramento than anywhere in the US. Davis is a very cool college town and reminds you very much of the Ohio State scene near campus. Davis itself has about 30,000 students and some Christian presence. It too was a sprawling campus and has some very cool places to have informal open bible studies. There is considerable off campus housing and the whole city is essentially geared towards the college.

We then went over to the Shearer’s house in Sacramento to meet with a bunch of their peoples, especially students. There were at least twenty people there, many in college or of college age (from 19 to 26). Most go to Cal State Sacramento (Sac State – we didn’t make that up, that’s what they call it) or a community college. Keith gave an amazing teaching on some of our convictions and observations about reaching out to this generation, the ineffectiveness of the church and many of the hang ups that the Christians have to get over in order to really love (what Jesus calls us to do) those who are lost. It seemed like many were into what we had to say about some of the trappings of the worship service and petty things the church concentrates on at the expense of actually being able to connect with people. It was quite a spirited night with much discussion, a definite sense of providence, and many varied views – from charismatic to end-times. The Doug’s and Sita are sweet saints and we were treated with great hospitality and warmth and it was so cool to meet the young folk, some of whom who have come from the gang culture. We were there until nearly midnight and didn’t get back to our hotel until after 1:30 AM. We left there not sure what to make of everything, but excited; the need for prayer is great. We know that we can work with these folks, provided that some of the minor doctrinal beliefs do not get in the way – which we don’t think that great an issue considering the spirit of these brothers and sisters, and that they perhaps can start something sooner than later with the people they now have.

The California Adventure – Elaine et al

We were super psyched after meeting with the three JF’s (Jesus Freaks) the day before and we wanted to visit Elaine Stedman on Monday; however, the trip is a long one (over seven hours to Medford Oregon) and we were a little apprehensive because she is pretty old and we’re quite the posse. But Elaine assured us we were welcome (she cooked for us the day before a multicourse meal) and we figured it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity so off we went.

We went up the direct route through the middle of California. The drive was long but there was great fellowship and many cool sites. We went by Mount Shasta – a large volcanic-formed mountain which still has a glacier on it. Mark got many great pics. We made it to Elaine’s at about 1:00 PM – right on schedule. We were greeted with overwhelming warmth. In addition to Elaine were three of her daughters, Lynn, a former elder of PBC and Ken (from Michigan) a worship leader who currently teaches on worship at Pacific Bible College. We were well fed and had great fellowship. There were many interesting discussions surrounding Ray, the early days of PBC (F), living by the New Covenant, reaching the lost, the worship service, the importance of buildings… to name a few and not without some healthy debate. We were all sort of amazed that we all came together like this and definitely figured the Spirit is behind it. We stayed at Elaine’s for probably four or five hours and on our way out visited Ray’s grave with Elaine and her oldest daughter Sheila. It was a beautiful late afternoon and we enjoyed a good time of prayer at the gravesite before we headed west to the coast. Though pretty old, small in stature and with her voice failing, Elaine was warm and possessed a spiritual depth that compelled you to listen. It will be hard to top the visit with Elaine at al.

We then went to the coast to take the scenic coastal way home and stayed overnight in Crescent City CA, just south of the Oregon border. The coast there looks like something out of a calendar with a rocky coast, waves crashing, and light house. Unfortunately it rained on the way home so the scenery was diminished somewhat, but even so, the redwood forests were quite amazing as well as what we could see of the coast. We made a stop in Arcata, which had a “hippy” community, to look around and get some lunch. It was a bizarre place which extolled the use of marijuana and multiple pagan beliefs. It felt absent of life – very similar to the feel at Berkeley. It was a stark reminder of the world we live in and why we are here. A stark contrast to the heavenly fellowship we experienced the day before. We eventually got back to San Fran late that night – the scenic route was a rather long route.

One theme that seems to resonate in all our discussions so far is that God is up to something. There is a sense of unrest out here amongst these veteran revolutionaries, similar to what was sensed back in the seventies. The world is messed up, there is no purpose, and only the Lord holds any real answers. It really is amazing to see the hope and sense of expectation in the eyes of these older revolutionaries and then to think that perhaps the Lord wants us to have a part in it. As we look for open doors we turn today to Sacramento and the JFs. We are hoping to meet with them in the next couple days to see the lay of the land and discuss the spiritual forces for good that seem to be aligning themselves there. Stay tuned.

The California Adventure: Berkeley

The five NEO Xenoids arrived Saturday afternoon to a sunny San Francisco to see what the Lord may have in store for us on the left coast. We got to our hotel on the bay and started putting together a plan of action for the week. The first stop on our adventure was a visit to Berkeley on Sunday. And what an adventure it was! We met three Jesus Freaks who drove up from Sacramento (about 100 miles away): Doug Shearer, his wife Sita Shearer and their longtime coworker Doug Krieger. These guys were in the middle of so much that happened at Berkeley and played a huge part in the Jesus movement that flourished in the 70’s. They gave us an extensive tour of the campus and surroundings. We spent all day walking up one side of the campus and down the other, seeing some of the famous sites of the “Free Speech” movement and their former ministry hot spots. It was such a blast to hang out with these three spiritual powerhouse. Even though these saints were in their 60’s, they proved more than up for the task and their joy and enthusiasm was contagious. Especially Doug Kreiger, though ill with bronchitis, did not want to miss the opportunity to meet us. In fact he seemed to outpace us and was always leading us on to the next site to see. We found out later that the Shearers had to take Doug to the hospital on their way home to Sacramento.

The atmosphere at Berkeley however is a very dark one. We searched the campus for evidence of a Christian influence and found practically nothing. There was one “Veritas” Christian group for graduate students and the next closest thing was a Seventh Day Adventist group? From the posters and advertisements, it seemed like every other Eastern religious, New Age, earth-cause, sorcery, or activist group had a presence at Berkeley, but not Christianity. It definitely felt like we were walking through the dark alleys of the devil’s stronghold.

One of the things that has given us some pause about Berkeley as a target is the absence of student contacts there. In order to start or get involved in a college-based ministry we feel an open door would be at least a few students who want to work with us (similar to how we’ve started things at KSU). Nothing is certain, but this is our initial impression both from going there and discussing things with many of our contacts. There is still much more to investigate. We are looking at other universities. Santa Cruz south of the bay is one possibility. Even more promising may be Sacramento itself. More to come on these fronts as well as our very edifying meet with Elaine Stedman and some of her family and friends on Monday.

You are richer than you think. Or are you?

What if you found out you are one of the richest persons in the world? Would that change your outlook on what you have and what you do with it?

Maybe you don’t feel that rich, I know I don’t most of the time.

If you are that rich and you don’t feel that rich, perhaps something is wrong with your perspective. I would even go so far to say that if we are off here, we are missing out on something “revolutionary” and “disestablishing”.

Since Thanksgiving break I’ve been watching Frontline video on the credit card crisis while exercising (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/), reading Ecclesiastes, listening and watching Bruxy Cavey’s teachings on our narcissistic culture (http://www.themeetinghouse.ca/) and analyzing our church and my personal finances.  I highly recommend all of these activities.

Bruxy’s teachings and the Frontline episode are really quite revealing about our culture and our personal outlook on what I need and desire. In many ways we are trapped, deceived, and bombarded with messages saying “I need this… now” or even worse “I deserve this now”.  Given the pervasive credit available, whether credit cards, home equity, student loans, etc…, and the desire of the money lending industry to trap you into always having debt we then go and get what we “need/deserve”. The final result being that we are enslaved to our debt — when we already have more than most people in the world (see below). Solomon would have one word for this sort of life –> meaningless.

I think the real tragedy here is that we miss out on the joy of being able to give. We get life sucked right out of us.

Jesus said “It is better to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This of course doesn’t just pertain to financial giving only, but it certainly includes it. In addition there is tremendous blessing and joy that comes from giving of your self to others (Jn 13:17). To give what we have, or rather what we’ve been given, is merely a response towards the love poured out by Jesus for us:

    But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also. I am not speaking this as a command, but as proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich.  2 Cor. 8:7-9

In fact, if we’ve been given more of something (like we have), it’s so that God can use us to support building His kingdom and to give it to those who are in need:

    at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; 2 Cor. 8:14

So, where are we at with respect to the rest of the world? Pretty well off! Here are some statistics:

  • From several different measures, the household wealth of Canada and the US makes up about 30% of the total wealth in the world — but our combined population is about 5% of the total population of the world http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distribution_of_wealth
  • Based on UN reports from 1999, 3 billion people (nearly half the world’s population) live on less than $2 per day while 1.3 billion get by on less than $1 per day. Seventy percent of those living on less than $1 per day are women. With global population expanding 80 million per year, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn cautions that, unless we address “the challenge of inclusion,” 30 years hence we will have 5 billion people living on less than $2 per day. http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/wealth_distribution1999.html
    • The combined wealth of the 1% richest people in the world is equal to the combined wealth of the poorest 2.5 billion people in the world
  • From the study: The World Distribution of Household Wealth. James B. Davies, Susanna Sandstrom, Anthony Shorrocks, and Edward N. Wolff. 5 December 2006. (World Institute for Development Economics Research at United Nations University)
    • The richest 1% of adults alone owned 40% of global assets in the year 2000, and that the richest 10% of adults accounted for 85% of the world total. The bottom half of the world adult population owned barely 1% of global wealth.  (they define wealth in the classic sense of assets minus debts).
    • The top 69.8% of Americans are part of the top 10% wealthiest people in the world
    • For reference, the median income of US households is about $50K in 2008. If your household income is over about $30K, you are in the top 69.8% of the US and in the top 10% of the world http://www.census.gov/prod/2009pubs/p60-236.pdf (though this is a different statistic than wealth, it should get us in the ballpark)

2008 census us income

So, where does that leave you? The average charitable giving in the US is about 2.1% of GDP http://www.un.org/partnerships/YStatisticsUSCharitableGiving.htm. That’s actually pretty good, the US being one of the most giving countries based on quantity and percentage http://www.cafonline.org/pdf/International%20%20Giving%20highlights.pdf. But is a couple percent or even ten percent that much when you consider that we are some of the wealthiest people in the world? On top of that we either feel like or we actually are just barely making it because of our debt load.

I think Bruxy is right. One of the most revolutionary things we could do is to forsake the ethic of this kosmos, which is to get what we don’t need, and instead give. Jesus certainly took this approach and when we use what we have to serve others in the context of building His kingdom it becomes very powerful and disestablishing.  That is real freedom.  What will the rich credit lenders going to do if people decide “I don’t need you”? How far can we reach people with the gospel if we invest in building God’s kingdom rather than a new iPod? How cool it is to be able to help out those who are less fortunate than you! Give the Lord a shot. He only needs a few fish from us to meet the needs of many. When we do that sort of thing we reap true riches.

    Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  2 Cor. 9:6

XSI 2009 Revisited: Ajith Fernando – Simple, Spiritual, and Substantial

The Sri Lankan was the keynote speaker at this year’s Xenos Summer Institute … and what a treat. Ajith has been serving as the head of Youth for Christ in Sri Lanka since 1976, a country plagued by civil war for decades and the great tsunami only a few years ago. So I figured here was a guy who could convey what it really means to suffer, much to the shame of my cozy American existence. The man has had his share of suffering and pain, but what I heard, saw, and received from him was joy!  The guy was full of life – what seemed to be a very simple life where the Holy Spirit has worked through him in ways he never would have expected.

 

Ajith taught on the prevalence of Joy in the Bible in the face of pain Wednesday night. Our culture really doesn’t know what joy is:

 

“Today people have lost their joy … especially in Christianity … people don’t want joy, they would rather have their desires fulfilled rather than joy … they give up joy in order to have success in career, or sexual conquest … material prosperity, revenge …The icons of young people seem to be so unhappy and yet our people want to be like them … Why?”

 

That’s a good question. I can easily look at things that way.

 

The truths of what God has done for us and will do form the basis of a love relationship with the Lord and the basis of our joy. But how do we, who live in such a cynical and joyless culture experience the joy of the Lord? Ajith gave three principles to follow:

 

  1. LAMENT over your pain (Rom 8:20) – It is important to groan and face the pain we experience in this world. When we do this we open ourselves to God’s comfort (2 Cor 1:3). The fact is, God is greater than the wickedness of this world.
  2. We must BELIEVE in God – James 1:2, “Count it all joy…” that God will turn or use this situation for good. Rom 8:38-39 states there is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.  Do you believe that? Ajith quoted Martin Loyd-Jones “most of your depression is because you are listening to yourself rather than talking to yourself”. God is a “pity-party-pooper”, when we start counting on the love and promises of God (i.e., “talking to our self” – mind set on the Spirit); the pity-party is over.
  3. We need to SURRENDER to God. This was an interesting twist. His point was, that if we cling to anything, even a good thing, it will take our joy away. We must “die daily” (1 Cor 15:31) … be a living sacrifice. My favorite quote from Ajith was “most of my plans did not work, but most of my dreams have been fulfilled – just not my way”. We need to surrender that notion that “I have been wronged”. In fact, if we are following Christ, suffering will come our way – it is a sure sign that God has looked upon you with favor (Acts 5:41).

 

Thursday morning Ajith taught on the cross and the problem of pain. Unlike other religious or atheistic beliefs, the God of the Bible is joins us in our suffering and pain. He intercedes for us, was tempted, was distraught over the way of His people, and suffered the ultimate for us. Christians are to have that impact too, like their Lord. We have a great opportunity in this culture to shine because we are the minority and the postmodern world doesn’t know what to do with itself. What is needed is radical servanthood. Ajith quoted Jim Elliot who said “he is no fool who gives up what he can’t keep to gain what he can’t lose”.

 

Ajith’s final teaching was Friday evening, and I thought it the best. The title was “How Must a Pastor Die”… but it wasn’t quite what I thought it would be. Sure there was much about laying your life down… but the death you die is for and because of the Body of Christ, just as Jesus died for us (Jn 10:11).  Ajith said his deepest pain has come from relationships within the Body, not from the civil war raging about him or even the tsunami that was so devastating. “Working with people is where the deepest pain is.” Maybe he and I are not so different after all. I know that is where my greatest pains and failures have come: my inability to love people. It’s also the greatest source of blessing, the Lord working in my life to share His love through other people and to give me the power to love other people.

 

The bottom line is that Christianity is a covenant faith – relationships are based on commitment.  Our mobile culture makes this very difficult: we don’t have time for deep commitment, churches don’t push for long term commitment, we come to church as consumers, people can’t linger long enough to solve problems…

 

What can we do? Ajith then went through five truths that help us to endure the pain of commitment:

  1. We are the Body – 1 Cor 12 and Paul’s example in Acts 15 – there is no such thing as a “lone-ranger” Christian
  2. The Word commands us to strive for Unity – Eph 4:3; Heb 12:14; Phil 2:1-4 and Matt 5:23,24
  3. God is Greater than the problem – Rom 8:28
  4. God’s Love is Greater than the hurt we feel right now – Rom 5:3-5

 

These are revolutionary concepts, unheard of in our world. Take those passages before the Lord and apply them in your relationships and you may die a little only to receive joy that is out of this world!

 

All in all, I found Ajith a delight to listen to, very insightful, and a man who has been humbled by God. All of his teachings are now available (as well as the other speakers at XSI 2009) on the Xenos web site (http://www.xenos.org/teachings/index/index.php?source=XSI). Go have a listen.

A Complaint about Grumbling

 

We were just at the Servant Team Retreat and were really blessed by some great teachings and fellowship centered on the joy that is found in the Lord. I for one was humbled by it all. What an awesome God we have! After I got home from the ST Retreat I watched the end of the Cavs game… and it was cool to see them win. But, then Katie and I caught the last 1/3 of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. What a contrast: the glory of the Cavs on their magnificent dominance of Detroit vs the glory that can only come from Aslan (the Christ figure) choosing to lay his life down for Edward, unbeknownst to all … the secret magic (ala John 10:18) that no one understood, but now has been revealed. Now, I love the Cavs and am rooting for them… but it falls way short of that which Christ has done for us.

 

Now back to joy, sort of. One of the passages discussed was Phil 2 and perhaps the greatest joy-killers of them all: grumbling and disputing (vs 14). Mostly Dennis talked about grumbling… which was just as well for me because though I put on an air of contentment, the fact is there is much restlessness in me below the surface. Things need to change or move quicker or be a certain way – or else I’m not happy! (For example, I wish people would just change and make the right decisions or be different, I want this Akron professor thing to be done yesterday …). One of the points Dennis made in reference to one who despairs over life was that he is very insulting to God… “all these complaints are saying what God has done is not good enough”. I may not be that depressed, but I’m certainly often not content with myself and my life. The way I am, what I have been given, the people around me are not good enough – how insulting that is! God doesn’t know what He’s doing? That’s silly, and yet it’s easy to start viewing things that way disguised by niceness.

 

So, tonight that got me to thinking … my complaint about grumbling is that if our grumblings and disputes which are directly or indirectly aimed at God are insulting to Him, and we actually come to grips with that (admit it) – what are we to do with the guilt?

 

Perhaps that is why we are to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (vs 12). There needs to be a healthy realization and admission of my sinful rebellion which should result in some humility before God who is working in you to give “you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him” (vs 13 – NLT). There’s no real guilt, or rather guilt trip, in that – that’s just the way it is. God’s cool with that, so should I. Let Him do His work. “Fear and trembling” enables me to get out of His way by not being so discontent with my petty or even not so petty complaints because the fact is I’d be in way worse shape without Him. And then I can be thankful and joyful for who He is and what He’s done. The result then is that we are “lights in the world” to a “crooked and perverse generation” (vs 15) – which is pretty cool, because then others can see Christ’s light shine through me/us.

 

A Blast from the Past

Yesterday I got a call from Ed Stefinides. Ed goes way back in Xenos-Cleveland, there’s probably a few of us who still remember Ed. He was a friend of Scott, who I was living with in Cleveland Hts, and Ed loved to play basketball, so we hit it off right from the start. Ed’s one of the funnest guys you’ll ever meet. He ended up coming to the Lord after a number of discussions and HC meetings back in 1987 or 1988. Unfortunately, some painful issues came up and there was a parting of the ways. Ed and I would still keep in contact every few years.

It probably had been about 5 or 6 years since I heard from Ed and then there he was, yesterday giving me a call. It ends up that Ed is getting baptized next week. He now lives in Youngstown (after living in Indiana for a while), has a new wife and a bunch of boys. He’s involved in the Old North Church in Youngstown and has been getting it on with the Lord the last few years and has decided to get baptized. It warms my heart that he invited me to baptize him and to see the way that the Lord has rekindled his and Ed’s relationship.

It just goes to show you how “God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:9), that whenever we turn back to the Lord to trust and relate with Him, He is there with open arms, just like the Father of the Prodigal Son.

The Law and Gospel, What’s the Big Deal?

 

Being good is important, right? God gave the 10 commandments as some sort of guide for how we should behave, didn’t He? Jesus said the whole Law would be fulfilled and warns those who “annul the least of these commandments” and teaches others to do so will be the least in the kingdom (Matt 5:17-19). That is a pretty strong statement about the importance of the Law. So, what does it mean to when Paul says we are no longer “under law” (e.g., Rom 6:14, Gal 4:21) or “under the law” (e.g, 1 Cor 9:20, Gal 3:23)? This seems contradictory and at least on the surface leaves one confused as to what to do with the 10 Commandments. Not surprising, this is a controversial topic within Christianity and is not just an academic exercise in theology. Rather it ultimately effects how we relate to God and grow spiritually, i.e., sanctification. Should we just behave, which would be the safe route I guess. But if we do that are we missing out on something God wants to give us: freedom (Gal 5:1)?

The role of the Law as it pertains to spiritual growth polarizes Christians. Many Christians, if not most, view the Law as a means of growth for the Christian. Sort of a continuation of what God started with Moses and Israel that will be followed for eternity. This view is most prominent, but not exclusively, in reformed theology: the view that God’s covenants build upon one another and are more or less binding from when they were given and forward into history. The other camp holds that Christ ushered in a New Covenant (NC) that replaced the Old Covenant (OC) that he had given through Moses to the nation Israel. Part of this new covenant is a break from the Law as it applied to Israel, the practical outworking of their faith. Instead, we are now to follow Christ in relationship with a focus and emphasis on following the Holy Spirit with the practical outworking being to love others. This view is most prominent, but not exclusively, in dispensational theology, the view that God has operated in different dispensations throughout history to bring about His plan for salvation. In this case the dispensation of the Law being replaced by the dispensation of grace, the former age being the time when God worked through Israel and the latter age being the time that God works through the church.

So, what does the Bible say? What should be our focus? In the book Five Views of Law and Gospel (ed. S.N. Gundry; Zondervan, 1996), five different views of the law and it’s relation to the gospel of Christ are presented covering a wide range of perspectives. Five different authors give their views:

· William VanGemeren presented “The Law is the Perfection of Righteousness in Jesus Christ: A Reformed Perspective”

· Greg L. Bahnsen presented “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel”

· Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. presented “The Law as God’s Gracious Guidance for the Promotion of Holiness”

· Wayne G. Strickland presented “The Inauguration of the Law of Christ with the Gospel of Christ: A Dispensational View”

· Douglas Moo presented “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View”

I have already commented on the first two views in an earlier blog which present the reformed view. Kaiser, though not a reformed theologian per se, also sides with the reformers in large part on this issue. The latter two authors take the opposing view that the Law as a means of growth or a guide was discontinued in the NC for the Christian, Strickland coming from the dispensational viewpoint and Moo, though not claiming to be a dispensationalist, presenting a similar perspective. I will draw from the last two articles and the interaction and debate between the authors in response to one another.

Everyone agrees with the fact that the Law is good, pronounces God’s morality, conveys God’s character, shows us what sin is, and convicts us of our sin. But is the Christian still to follow the Law today as a means of growth or not?

As I read through this book, a number of questions and issues were raised in my mind:

· How does one account for the passages that advocate discontinuity between the OC and the NC? Does it pertain to ceremonial and civil parts of the Law or the whole law? (see my earlier blog)

· What exactly is the Law? Is it just a summary or is it precisely the eternal, binding unchanging moral law of God? Is the New Commandment to love one another (John 13:34) the same as the 10 Commandments or different?

· Is the Law something that we must follow or can we just learn from it? If we don’t follow the Law or if we are not under the law, can we still apply it and if so, how?

· When I obey a moral command, am I following the law or am I trusting in God in what He says is right and trustworthy? Is there a difference?

· Where does a law-focus or law-emphasis in sanctification lead you? Can a law-focus ever not lead to legalism?

The Law as a Means of Growth View

The reformer seems to think that without the Law a Christian will not know how to behave. The focus or emphasis in their arguments, whether admitted or not, is on the need for moral living, rather than life by the Holy Spirit[1]. For example, VanGemeren asks in response to Strickland’s discontinuous position, ‘how do you live out Micah 6:8?’:

“… O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”.

The reformed answer he says is we still need the 10 Commandments “as the revealed summary of God’s will”. In this light 1 Tim 1:8-10, to use the law “lawfully”, should be applied to our hearts (p. 287). Since we are not in our eternal state, we experience the struggle of Paul (Rom 7:21-25, p. 288). But I am to look to God’s grace and serve people in the Spirit in preparation of His coming. This is conveyed by Peter in 1 Pet 1:13-16 which confirms the relevance of the law in our daily life since Peter quotes from Lev 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:7 (p. 289).

However, is it not odd that the law is not for the righteous in 1 Tim 1:8, but for the ungodly and lawless (vs 9-10)? The passage is not applied to sanctification. Is Paul’s struggle in Rom 7 because he is not trying to follow the Law hard enough or because he does not know the Law well enough? Paul probably knew and followed the Law better than any other sinful human (Phil 3:6). Or is it because he is focused on the Law and trying to do God’s morality on a performance basis, and it does not work (see Gal 3:21)? Is Peter’s emphasis on “being holy” (vs 15)? Or is it to “focus your hope completely on grace” (vs. 13), not on the Law. When we focus on grace, then we will experience something outward that sets us apart from the fallen world.

Reformers also see or desire a continuous approach or God-imposed moral unity to adhere to that extends from OT to NT. For example, Jesus’ “new commandment” is not something really something new or different, it represents the finalized form that brings greater “moral clarity” to the original Mosaic Law (Bahnsen, p. 103). Also, the NC prophecy of Jeremiah that “I will put My Law within them and on their heart I will write them” (Jer 31:31) is the Mosaic Law, according to VanGemeren, that Israel failed to follow and was rebuked for in Jer. 6:19, 9:13, 16;11 (p. 285).

However, is that how the NT describes Jer 31:31? The NT quotes Jer 31:31-34 five times:

– Luke 22:20 and 1 Cor 11:25 in reference to the Last Supper (communion) – “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”. It’s obvious that the NC came about because Jesus shed His blood for us, opening up the opportunity for relationship with intimacy established through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:13).

– 2 Cor 3:6 – contrasting “the letter” presumably the law, i.e., a performance-based approach to God, with live in the Spirit through which Christ gives us life (e.g., John 4:10; 7:38; 10:10)

– Heb 8:8-12 – here Hebrews brings out the fact that Israel failed in being able to carry out the Law. Will we fare any better? Not by focusing on the Law. Rather because we will “know the Lord” intimately. We will not have need for a teacher or at least be completely dependent on one as in the OC, rather we are led directly by Christ (our High Priest – Heb 8:1). Though not explicit in the passage, I think this is of course through the HS in the context of the Body of Christ. We still learn from one another and some are gifted at disclosing God’s truth, but it’s different because we have the Spirit. The OC is obsolete (vs 13).

– Heb 10:16,17 – Here the HS testifies to us (vs 15) and he quotes Jer 31:33-34. Again signifying the NC was because our sins were dealt with through Christ and now we have confidence to boldly enter into intimate relationship with Him (vs 19ff).

Where is there any hint that this is the same as the 10 Commandments? Again, it’s certainly not that the 10 Commandments are bad or useless, but they are not the focus in the Christian life!

The Law as a Means of Growth, Discontinued

Though Strickland and Moo had much to say on the role of the Law throughout history, I found two arguments, one from each, most compelling as to the role, or rather lack thereof, of the Law in the believers life.

Strickland’s section on “Arguments for Discontinuity” (pp. 262-275) brought out the strong emphasis in the NT that the OT role of the Law in the believer’s life was discontinued for the NT believer. Many passages make this point clear. Strickland emphasizes these (some of which I’ve already used above):

· Heb 8:8-9,13 – quoting Jer 31 the author explicitly states that the OC was abrogated

· Rom 6:14-15 – Paul presents a contrast between being under law and under grace (see below in Moo’s study of “under law”)

· Rom 10:4 – “Christ is the end of the law”, i.e., law-based righteousness is now replaced with righteousness that comes from Christ so that the law is no longer necessary for this purpose

· 2 Cor 3:3, 6-18 – though not explicitly arguing about the Law, Paul clearly contrasts that written in stone with that which is now written on our hearts

· Phil 3:7-9 – Paul contrasts two different types of righteousness: either from adherence to the Mosaic Law or by faith. Paul’s old way, the way of the OC, was replaced by the new way in Christ through a relationship with Him because of what He has done for me.

Moo’s approach was to follow the role of the Law in Salvation-History much of which was very enlightening[2]. The one thing I will bring out here was the very emphatic reference of Paul to Christians no longer being “under law” or “under the law”. Paul uses these phrases eleven times: Rom 6:14,15; 1 Cor 9:20 (4 times); Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21; and 5:18. Moo goes through all of them and clearly shows that the context of each passage views the “law” as the Mosaic Law. Reformers have to dance around this and make a big deal that the definite article wasn’t used (e.g., in Rom 6:14 – Bahnsen, p. 106). However, in all the other passages the “the” is used with the exception of Gal 4:21. In my earlier blog I make reference to the lack of importance of the definite article from Moo’s comments on Bahnsen’s article. The other thing reformers try to do is say that the reference to the law really is a reference not to the 10 Commandments but to misuse of the 10 Commandments by the Judaizers. But again, that is not what Paul is referring to when he quotes from the Law in the context of those passages (see the earlier blog on this point as well). The fact is “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal 5:21).

Concluding Thoughts

Has the Law continued into the church as a focus for Christian living or was it abrogated with the New Covenant? I think it pretty obvious that role has been abrogated. What then of the Law? Is it still useful? Of course, it is the Word of God! Like all Scripture (2 Tim 3:16) it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness”. We do learn much of God’s morality and character from the Law and it plays an important role in God’s dealing with Israel and shows us clearly of our sin and need for God. It seems to me that there is either some kind of fear that if we don’t emphasize the Law we will circle the drain morally or we are not giving glory to God as we should. But “perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn 4:18). And that is the focus, the commandment that Christ has now given us (John 13:34, 15:12,17), which can only come about from having our hearts turned inside out from a self-serving, self-seeking approach to a Spirit led dependence-on-God approach (i.e., the flesh – see Rom 6 through 8).

For example, “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13). I can go about on my own and make that happen for the most part, at least so far I have. But have I? Christ of course enlightens us to the heart attitude to show us that is what God sees.

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. – Matt 5:22

Now I’m in trouble. I’m in need of either some help or I deserve hell, because I have done that… many times. In fact, I still do. And that is the real dilemma, we still do sin and we still experience “death”. Like Paul says:

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law. – Gal 3:21

The “life” that Christ gives can only come from a focus on Him and His provision through an empowering relationship of the Spirit. What a waste to focus on “morality” when morality can only be obtained when my heart gets changed.

So what do I do with a commandment to not murder or covet or commit adultery? Should I ignore them? No, but we should recognize that “just doing it” or even concentrating on it doesn’t work and typically leads to more and more guilt and sin. We need to go to the Lord and recognize our sin nature and apply who we are in Christ, dependence in Him and His power – and then step out in faith and live (love – e.g., Gal 5:13ff or Phil 3:12ff). This will bring glory to God.


[1] Even Kaiser, who is critical of the Reform view for replacing Israel with the church is critical of the dispensationalist for replacing the character of God as found in the Law with the character of Christ. “Love will never tell us what we are to do in order to live and behave as God wants us to” (p. 303). Bahnsen’s article is almost focused on the importance of being and preserving the morality of God in our lives and our government.

[2] One point that I am critical of Moo on and which actually caught me by surprise was his view that Romans 7 refers to Paul as a non-Christian. All of the other authors were also critical of him on this as well.

Greg and Lina’s Excellent Adventure Part II: China

Shanghai:

Well China is quite the place. We arrived in Shanghai and I was taken for a ride. This guy conned me into a cab ride that cost about $50 when I should have paid only about $20. There are also thousands of street salesmen who come up to westerners wanting to know if you would like to buy a watch or a bag. I’ve never seen so many “Rolex” watches in all my life. Welcome to the big city.

And a big city it is. Immense! Modern skyscrapers make up this city of about 20 million people (nearly as many as in all of Taiwan). I guess the Chinese government decided about 25 years ago they wanted to make Shanghai the most modern city and they pretty much did it and there is still a lot they are still doing. Everyone you meet seems to be very proud of Shanghai. One gentlemen at the conference, from another province, informed me that “Shanghai is much more modern than Taipei” when he heard I was in Taipei the week before.

… and the subways… We went on the subway at rush hour one evening with our new found friends Tom and Mellanie from California (formerly of Richmond Heights) and were utterly amazed at the masses of people. There are no orderly rules as to right of way or “personal space”. You just have to go and cram into the subway as best you can. Being smaller does have its advantages here.
I mostly was stuck in the conference. Lina was able to go on several tours got to know Shanghai much better then I.

What most amazed me though was the appeal of the cosmos. Here you do not see temples or many forms of worship. Mao cleared out the great majority of them. Instead, they have been replaced with the god of prosperity and materialism. In some respects, Shanghai is the most capitalistic environment I’ve ever seen. People are really chasing the “American Dream” and at the moment seem to be getting it. It’s all about progress, and yet are they just replacing, or mixing, the ideal of the state with the ideal of the individual. Both leave you lonely and ultimately fulfilled without a relationship with the creator of the universe.

I wonder how this will affect the progress of the church. There are few outward expressions of religion on the streets of Shanghai. We only saw one old church. When we brought up Christianity, Jesus or the Bible there really was not much response at all.

Xi’an:
The last few days we spent in Xi’an, the ancient capital of China. We arrived Saturday night after a long delay at the Shanghai airport due to bad weather in Xi’an. Sunday we toured the city with “John”, a graduate student from Northwest Polytechnic University. Even though it was cold we had a great time seeing the Terracotta Warriors (thousands of ceramic warriors prepared for Emperor Qin, the first emperor to unify all of China). It was truly impressive. Too bad Emperor Qin couldn’t take all those guys with him into the next life. We also had some great food and toured the Museum of Shanxi province. Later that evening we visited the Tang Paradise with Prof Hui Mei and his wife Feng-Li Peng. They were great fun. The Tang Paradise is a replica of the Tang dynasty palace. We also saw a “Chinese Opera” or perhaps ballet that was quite colorful as well as a “Water movie”. The water movie was pretty amazing as they actually projected a movie in water spouts on this lake at night.

Xi’an is a city of only a few million. It was more industrial and was overcast or foggy most of the time, but it did have more of a feel of real China I think compared to Shanghai. Things were not quite as advanced as Shanghai, but this city as well has much construction going on.

The last day I visited the university and gave a talk. It was well received and there were many questions from the students … so I must have made some sense. I was impressed with the English of many of the Chinese, it seems much better than most other East Asians I meet.
In Xi’an there wasn’t a hint of the church as far as we could see. I wonder how it’s doing. Our hosts didn’t really have much to say or didn’t want to say anything on the matter.