Were the Founding Fathers Christians?

One of the subjects I’ve gotten pushback on over the years is that I don’t think America was founded by Christians or as a Christian nation.

Many people think America is pretty much Israel Part II and the Constitution and Bill of Rights are another book of the Bible. Many insist that America was founded for religious freedom.

I’ve read quite a bit of history. I’ve also read the Bible.

The actual formation of America was done contrary to biblical commands. People are supposed to submit to their government and pay their taxes. The Revolution was fought so as to not pay taxes and to overthrow the supposedly oppressive regime. This was not biblical to any degree.

I’m usually in the minority among Christians with this viewpoint and people tend to get hostile about the issue enough to generally make me just shut up.

However, I was recently reading a book by Norman Geisler critiquing humanism in all its forms. I’ve learned several things.

The first thing I learned, which has nothing to do with my main point, is that C. S. Lewis is a Christian Humanist and thought the Old Testament was mythology and not to be taken seriously. He thought many of the Psalms were demonic in origin and thought David only wrote one of them. I had no idea.

The second thing I’ve learned is that I’m not alone in my understanding of American history and Christianity. Geisler also does not buy the idea that America is or was a Christian nation. Here’s a quote:

“Contrary to a myth popular among many American Christians, most of the nation’s founding fathers were not evangelical Christians. . . Actually our nation’s founders were largely humanistic (or deistic). Some prominent men in early American history were even anti-Christian. Thomas Paine for example launched a bitter attack on Christianity in his book The Age of Reason. There were few evangelical Christians among the signers of the Declaration of Independence, John Witherspoon being a notable exception. And when George Washington was asked if the United States was a Christian country, he replied that “the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.” It is these early humanists who saw to it that our nation is committed to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

Those three things are not Christian virtues, but they are solidly embraced as humanistic virtues.

Humanists think that religion gets in the way of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. If you don’t think so, feel free to read Geisler’s book Is Man the Measure? It is a fantastic explanation of the dangers of humanism and how we are all part of its satanic lies at this point.

I am grateful to live in America as it has afforded me many opportunities and freedoms I hope to use for God’s glory. At the same time there are many pitfalls, temptations, and dangers wired into its structure. Be aware of them or else you might be one of those who is choked out with the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches.

New Testament Christianity is not compatible with humanism, or with American politics. It just isn’t. We are citizens of heaven with a better country and a better King. We live for heaven. Use what you’ve been given here, but be on guard. Don’t compromise. Don’t conform to the world around you. You can’t serve two masters.

Why Christians Hate Nietzsche

Many Christians hate things because they think they are anti-Christian when in reality they are just anti-established church.

Christians hate things, not because they know what the thing is, but because they know they are supposed to hate it.

The reason why we’re “supposed to hate it” is often because the established church at some point decided it was evil.

For instance, Friedrich Nietzsche gets a bad rap because he said “God is dead.” There are bumper stickers and t-shirts that say

“God is dead.”

— Friedrich Nietzsche

“Nietzsche is dead.”
–God

Ha! We know that the guy who said “God is dead” must be an atheist scum we should hate.

However, Nietzsche was actually criticizing the church/professed Christians because they were not taking their faith seriously. He came after established churches and denominations. His point is that even Christians act as though God is dead.

He was not wrong, and in fact, remains correct in his observation. Here’s the fuller quote:

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

Since we’ve gotten rid of God, we will replace His role with ourselves. Pretty insightful if you ask me.

So, why do Christians hate Nietzsche?

Because Fred was attacking the established church, mainline denominations. Mainline denominations have people in them that the world listens to.

Every year on Easter and Christmas the History Channel and the Discovery Channel have documentaries tearing apart Jesus Christ and Christianity. All through these they have interviews with mainline clergy: Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, all of whom have “PhD” after their names.

People the world respects. The world respects them because they’ve ripped the life out of Christianity and the divinity out of Christ. People then hear the watered down opinions of mainline denominational structures and then go with that.

“Hey, Anglican priest guy with a PhD doesn’t like Nietzsche saying that God is dead. All Christians should hate Nietzsche.” In reality, mainline denominational smart guys hate Nietzsche because he was criticizing them!

Now, in the end, I don’t care if you like Nietzsche or not. I do care why you believe what you believe. Bottom line is: do you believe what the Bible says, or just what some PhD guys in a clerical robe said about the Bible?

Do you believe what the Bible says because you’ve read it and understood it, or do you believe what people told you the Bible says, whether they are clergy or PhD people or not? Trusting the experts is probably keeping you from truth.

Know the Bible, believe it, and show that belief by your actions.

Avenge Not Yourself

We’re all familiar with Romans 12 and how we’re not supposed to be conformed to the world. We think we do this when we don’t drink and don’t do weed and we stand against weird sexual sins.

Although that might be part of it, the rest of the chapter gives a different idea. Most of the ideas can be summed up with Paul’s command, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves.”

This is a mighty radical statement. If you’re not blown away by it, I dare say you’re not hearing it.

When they serve your coffee wrong, do you get all up in their face? Do you use a tone of voice that conveys how stupid they are? Knowing they will throw it out if you take it back, should you just drink it?

Oh come on, give me a break! You think Paul is talking about wrong coffee orders?

No, that’s not all he’s talking about, but he’s clearly telling you to act differently than the world. I’ve seen how people treat those who serve them. It aint nice.

“Avenge” mean to retaliate, to get back at someone, to vindicate one’s right. It basically means to bless and curse not those who misuse you. We’re not just being called to not do something. Paul goes on to say we let the Lord do the avenging while we go out of our way to love those who wronged us.

It just goes from one level of insane to another.

You know you’ve heard him right when everything within you objects to what you’re being told to do. Here’s a quote from Donald Barnhouse:

“Never avenge yourself.” The natural heart will spout a stream of objections, but the answer of the Bible is, “never avenge yourself.” There is no way around it. It is a flat statement that has no loopholes. It does not say, “Never avenge yourselves except under such and such conditions.” It says, “Never avenge yourself.”

That is indeed what it says. When you’ve been robbed, attacked, criticized, cut off, interrupted, disrespected, when your rights have been trampled. It even applies to the most egregious of insults, when you are absolutely right and yet misused, even then, don’t avenge yourself.

Then the topper: let it go, let God deal with it, and show your adversary nothing but love and provision. Not just happy thoughts and a smile, but food if they are hungry and drink if they are thirsty.

Yes, give them actual things.

We are called to love people. Love goes above and beyond, even to the point of laying your life down for someone else’s benefit. Kind of like your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ did for you!

He’s our example. We all love talking about what He did for us and we love this teaching when others do it for us, but it gets real annoying when I’m supposed to let things go and do nice things for people who are clearly stupid and wrong and have accused me of false things.

Never avenge yourself.

Never.

Love all the time. Esteem others better than yourself. You can be offended by this teaching. We Americans have been inundated our whole lives about our rights. Be not conformed to the world. One huge way to do that is by giving up your rights.

I pray you understand what Christ did for you. If it has meant a lot to you, if what He did changed your life, then show others that same love so that their life might be changed by Christ too.

No one said following Christ would be easy. In fact, that’s why most Christians think following Christ is optional or at best explained away with nuanced circumstances and loopholes.

Don’t do that. Be like Christ. Commit your life into the hands of the Righteous Judge. Love. Forgive. Show mercy. Avenge not yourselves.

Asking God For Mercy

I came across a quote today that made me pause. You know how hard it is to let a questionable statement just float on by; someone must respond!

Here’s the quote:

“For anyone to pray, ‘God have mercy on me,’ is the equivalent of asking Him to repeat the sacrifice of Christ. All the mercy that God will ever have on man, He has already had when Christ died. This is the totality of mercy.”

I don’t know what your reaction is to that quote, but I immediately stopped reading and said out loud, “What?”

The larger context is about the death of Christ and the cross being sufficient for everything. Never mind the resurrection is left off. This sort of thing happens all the time. In an effort to elevate the cross, things are pressed out of measure and thus undermines the thing hoped to be elevated.

It’s similar to what I’ve heard said about forgiveness. John says we are forgiven of all unrighteousness, therefore, if you ask forgiveness for some recent sin, you are claiming that God has not forgiven you of all unrighteousness.

It’s an attempt to elevate the totality of God’s forgiveness. I get it, but to go on to say if you dare ask forgiveness you are somehow violating a rule or not understanding forgiveness, just seems goofy.

But people do this sort of thing all the time. We should say things the way the Bible says them and be content with that. When we get busy over-emphasizing stuff; heresy enters.

I’m not convinced that if I ask God to have mercy on me that I’m asking God to re-crucify Christ. That just seems weird, especially weird in light of verses like Hebrews 4:16:

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

There is mercy available for us in a time of need. Certainly I can ask for God to have mercy on me without Christ being re-crucified. Frequently Paul and the other apostles say things like “Grace and mercy be with you.” It’s available not only for salvation but for living in general!

It’s not necessary to overstate things to make a point. You can call on God for mercy. Don’t let people intimidate you with their high fallutin extreme points. Stick with Scripture.

OK, I feel better now. Thank you.

BOOK REVIEW: Gentle and Lowly

I’ve been reading Gentle and Lowly: the heart of Christ for sinners and sufferers, by Dane Ortlund. I’ve heard this book praised by many people, not all from the same theological background either.

One of my hobbies in life is to analyze things that “everyone” likes. I enjoy being contrarian! I know that if many people like something, it’s probably wrong!

So, those are my upfront admissions! You know where I’m coming from.

The point of the book is that Jesus is a lot more loving than we think. He bases his points on Puritan writings, which I find slightly ironic. Puritans are Calvinists. Calvinists are the ones who have beaten wrath and judgment into our heads.

One of the reasons people don’t think God is as loving as the Bible says is because of Calvinism! Their stress on wrath and justice in the Gospel has diminished love. You can look at all the verses in the Bible that mention the Gospel and you will see love associated with it way more than wrath or justice. Yet Calvinism has majored on those and minored on love.

So, for a guy to use Calvinist writings to prove God is loving and not so wrathful is kind of odd. You will also notice he can’t quote a ton from most of them!

If Calvinism hadn’t taken over the Gospel, this book would not have been necessary.

At the same time, I also think people like the book because it emphasizes love and mercy. Both are fine things, but in so doing he does kind of make it sound like sin isn’t that big of a deal. I know that’s not the author’s point, I’m not accusing him of anything, I actually like most of the book as it is a needed corrective of the Calvinist wrath motif. But I do know people are hearing him that way.

“God loves to be merciful” sounds to most people like, “Should we sin that grace may abound? Absolutely yes, go for it!”

I think the two reasons people like this book are because for once a Calvinist emphasizes love, and his emphasis sounds like an ok to go sin.

Me, being a not-Calvinist, heard his Calvinism throughout the book. He never harped on it much, so it was not a hurdle to my enjoyment. Then I got to chapter 22! He let it all out in this chapter!

How much less could we comprehend what it meant for God to funnel the cumulative judgment for all the sinfulness of his people down onto one man. But reflecting on what we feel toward, say, the perpetrator of some unthinkable act of abuse toward an innocent victim gives us a taste of what God felt toward Christ as he, the last Adam, stood in for the sins of God’s people. The righteous human wrath we feel—the wrath we would be wrong not to feel—is a drop in the ocean of righteous divine wrath the Father unleashed.

After all, God punished Jesus not for the sin of just one person but many. What must it mean when Isaiah says of the servant that “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:6)? What was it for Christ to swallow down the cumulative twistedness, self-enthronement, natural God hatred, of the elect? What must it have been for the sum total of righteous divine wrath generated not just by one man’s sin but “the iniquity of us all” to come crashing down on a single soul?

So, there ya have it! Calvinistic wrath in all its glory.

God “unleashed” “divine wrath” on Jesus. It would be more than the wrath we would feel toward a child abuser. God views Jesus as worse than a child abuser is the idea. The “sum total of righteous divine wrath” “came crashing down on a single soul.”

There are no verses that say any of this. Yes, he includes Isaiah 53:6 that our iniquities were laid on Christ, no argument there. But the whole divine wrath on Jesus is a complete abstraction. The Bible nowhere says that God the Father had wrath toward His Son. “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” Isaiah 53 has several mentions of God being pleased with the Suffering Servant. There is no wrath. Why would God be upset with Jesus for doing the most loving, sacrificial work ever done to save us from our sin? It makes no sense.

Several times Ortlund says Jesus suffered hell. Again there is no place in the Bible where it says Jesus went to hell for us. The KJV uses “hell” sometimes instead of “the grave,” but other than that, there is nothing about Jesus going to hell. “Today you will be with me in paradise” is the only mention of where Jesus went after His death. Maybe he’s being metaphorical with the hell talk. That’s my best take, otherwise it’s all speculative.

During his explanation of suffering God’s wrath, Ortlund doesn’t quote many verses. There’s a reason for that! Here’s one snippet he throws in to give seeming biblical support:

And in venting that righteous wrath God was not striking a morally neutral tree. He was splintering the Lovely One. Beauty and Goodness Himself was being uglified and vilified. “Stricken, smitten by God” (Isaiah 53:4).

Isaiah 53:4 has more words in it that Ortlund leaves out:

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.

There are some key words in here he conveniently leaves out: “we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God.” See, that’s not saying Jesus was stricken and smitten by God; it means that’s how we viewed it. When Christ was on the cross He was being mocked. “He saved others, he cannot save himself.” This was their ultimate victory. They overcame and killed the one who claimed to be equal with God. Humanity’s view is that God was against this so called Messiah. Is God really for a guy who we just nailed to a cross? I don’t think so! God is clearly against this guy.

So, where does all this orgy of God’s wrath on Jesus come from? It comes from extrapolating a lot out of “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Ortlund talks about this passage for a few paragraphs. Allow me to quote his opening phrase about Jesus being forsaken:

“It’s speculation.” (pg. 200).

Yup, it is!

The whole God’s wrath on Jesus angle is speculation, because it says it nowhere in the Bible. If the point were clear, Ortlund would not have to speculate. But he does.

If you read the context of Psalm 22, which begins with “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” You will note that the forsakenness is dealing with physical death. As the chapter goes on you’ll see many prophecies that were fulfilled while Jesus was on the cross. You will also note that the Psalm ends with a clear understanding that he’s not forsaken by God. Yes, he’s forsaken to the point of physical suffering, but essentially he knows he’s ok. His feeling is not the full story.

For he hath not despised nor abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; neither hath he hid his face from him; but when he cried unto him, he heard (Psalm 22:24).

Jesus did suffer, but God did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted. He wasn’t really forsaken. It looked like He was, we esteemed him stricken, smitten of God, but in the end the Lord was with Him and heard His cries.

I guarantee you the thought of God when Christ was on the cross was not wrath against Jesus; it was sorrow. If our sin grieves the Holy Spirit, how much more must it have grieved God to see what was going on here?

In the end, this chapter refutes the entirety of the rest of Ortlund’s book. Ortlund tells me several times that God is my Father and the Father loves His sons. God only has love and mercy and compassion toward His kids. Except of course for His one Son who never did anything wrong; He blasted Him with His wrath! If God can be that upset with His one perfect Son, what chance do I have?

That’s exactly why Ortlund wrote this book, to balance out the wrathful extreme of Calvinist doctrine. I like that people like the book because he’s right when he’s right. He just can’t bring himself to admit that it’s Calvinism’s gospel that caused the problem in the first place!

Oh well. Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.

God was never wrathful about His Son this I know, for the Bible also tells me so.

Stick with the Bible. You’ll have a much better understanding of God.

Does Grace Give F Students an A?

I’ve heard many times that law and religion say “do,” but grace says “done.”

I understand the point, and in many ways it’s true. The law was all about do, but the law was never given to save anyone. It was a covenant between God and the racial nation of Israel to abide in the Promised Land. No one was ever saved by the law. Anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by the Gospel. Genesis 3, right after the first sin, reveals the Gospel—a seed of the woman will come and crush Satan’s head. People have always been saved by grace through faith. Jewish people of faith in the Old Covenant would endeavor to keep the law still as that was the terms of the covenant they were in. Unless they wanted to get wiped out, kicked out of the land and live in slavery, they kept the law.

Just a reminder: people got saved before the Mosaic Law existed. This is a big point in the Book of Galatians.

The New Covenant has replaced the Old Covenant (read the Book of Hebrews for more details). The Old Covenant is gone. You don’t have to keep the regulations of the law to stay in the Promised Land. It’s over. You can keep those laws all day and the land of Israel is not going to flourish, especially since odds are you don’t live in the land of Israel. We are in the New Covenant. We are still saved by the Gospel. We are still saved by grace through faith. The New Covenant also has commands.

This is where most explanations of grace fall apart. Grace does say “done” when it comes to how God provides for your salvation—the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. There is nothing you can do to make a road to God other than The Way laid out in Jesus Christ.

But that grace was available just as much before the resurrection as it is now after the resurrection. No one can work their way into heaven. No one can impress God through effort. We need God Himself to intercede for us, which is what He does through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God and has always been in existence. Jesus Christ eventually became flesh and dwelt among us, died, and was raised again. This has always been and will always be the only way to salvation, in both the Old and New Covenant.

Here’s the big shocker: the New Covenant has things in it you’re supposed to do!

If you were a person of faith in the coming Messiah in the Old Covenant, you would demonstrate that faith by keeping the Law. Lay keeping did not save you. Lay keeping meant Israel could stay in their land.

If you are a person of faith in the already come Messiah who already died and rose again, you will demonstrate that faith by keeping the commands of the New Covenant.

Grace brings salvation and also teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, so we live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world. Grace saves us through faith and also makes us Christ’s workmanship to do good works, which God has always wanted us to do.

How do you know you have God’s grace? Because it makes you do better things.

That’s the test. Works won’t save you. They can’t. They never have and never will. If you’re saved, you will do good works. Grace gives you enough from God (all things that pertain to life and godliness) to completely transform your life. Grace doesn’t just save you; it changes you into the likeness of Jesus Christ.

Often the illustration given for grace is about taking a test. The Law tells you to study and then take the test. Your grade will determine your salvation. Grace, however, gives everyone an A whether they studied or not.

Again, I understand the point and when it comes to salvation it has some truth to it. However, I fear it goes too far and makes people think that I don’t have to do anything at all ever and God just gives me A’s while I keep living it up in sin! Sounds like a good deal.

But if this is true, if I can do everything consistent with an F student and yet get A’s, in what sense is Galatians 6:7 true: “Be not deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a person sows, this he will also reap.” If I sow an F, I’m guessing I’m going to get an F! If I sow to the flesh I will reap flesh results; if I sow to the Spirit I will reap Spiritual fruit. Paul commands Titus to tell his people to do good works that they be not unfruitful.

If, however, I’m told that grace means I don’t have to do anything, and can in fact continue to act like an F student, how do any of those verses make sense? In fact, why would God have written a New Testament? If you read the New Testament you will find many, many commands. Why? “Well, if you really want to be a special disciple you can do all that, but you don’t have to.” Are there upper tier believers, or are their just believers all called to grow into the perfect man Christ Jesus?

There is one kind of believer. There is one Gospel. There is one body. There is one Spirit. Believers may look different as far as their giftedness and the roles they are to play in the Body of Christ, but all of us are equally in submission to the Head of the Body, Jesus Christ.

Grace is not F students acting like irresponsible F students but magically getting A’s. Grace is taking F students and making them progressively into A students doing A student things. Grace transforms us into the perfect man Christ Jesus. If this transformation isn’t happening, if instead you find yourself still acting out F student traits, there’s a good chance you have not come into contact with God’s grace.

You don’t work yourself into being an A student to get God’s grace; you humbly recognize your failings (because God gives grace to the humble), and call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. In His grace He will save you, and then that very same grace will begin to transform you, from glory to glory, into Jesus Christ.

That’s what grace does. It’s not F students getting A’s while they continue to be F students. It’s F students being transformed, taught, corrected, instructed, and trained into being A students.

Holiness and Pastors Oprah Likes

I’m reading a book by a popular pastor. He’s been on Oprah. He’s gotten in much trouble over the years from Evangelicals. I’ve read several of his books and totally get why he’s in trouble with Evangelicals.

His take on Christianity is typical in our day. He’d rather be cool and hip and smooth over the rough edges of Christianity rather than actually deal with the Bible. He has theories and finds a few phrases from verses as backup. He mocks all those serious Christians with their hardline Bible interpretations. “Everyone should be cool like me then everything would be cool, man.”

So yeah, I’m annoyed.

Here’s one annoyance:

He’s talking about the strong divide many make between the spiritual and secular world. Why are people called to ministry but not to making tacos? He actually used that example. Taco makers are lower than pastors in this take. I’d agree to an extent. I think the whole “call to ministry” thing is a crock, but alas, whatever.

Anyway, he doesn’t stop there, he goes on to state that everything is holy, spiritual, and of eternal value. Everything. He can’t just make the simple point, oh no! He has to go all the way. So, here’s a quote:

“Jesus comes among us as God in a body, the divine and the human existing in the same place, in his death bringing an end to the idea that God is confined to a temple because the whole world is a temple, the whole earth is holy, holy, holy as the prophet Isaiah said.”

I hope that paragraph troubled you. For several reasons. First of all, at no time does the Bible say the earth is a temple. Revelation 11:19 says God’s temple is in heaven. The earth is not God’s temple.

Secondly, did Isaiah say the whole earth is holy, holy, holy? Short answer: no. Long answer: absolutely not. Isaiah 6:3, which I assume is what he’s referring to, says, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty, the whole earth is full of His glory.” In this passage, what is holy, holy, holy? Seems pretty clear that the Lord Almighty is. The glory of His holiness is seen throughout creation, but Isaiah does not say the earth is holy.

Pastors and taco makers are equal before God. Both jobs provide a service that people can value. I can go with that point. But to say that all the earth is God’s temple and is therefore all holy is just silly. In what sense are believers saints? To be a saint means to be holy, set apart. Come out from among them and be ye separate. How does that even make sense if everything in creation is holy? Why does creation need to be redeemed if it’s already holy? If everything is holy, then nothing is truly holy, since holy means set apart. If everything is equally set apart, then nothing is set apart.

In an effort to make a point in one area, he’s just completely undermined Scripture in all kinds of other points. All the guy had to do was properly quote Scripture, but he couldn’t, he had a cool point to make. He bent Scripture to fit his point and now Pandora’s Box (which isn’t holy) has been opened.

Be careful with Scripture and also with any pastor who has been on Oprah.

Does Religion Make People Hate?

Probably.

Many Christians have found it popular to say, “Christianity isn’t a religion, it’s a relationship.” This is inane because most of our relationships are religious. “Religion” just means the stuff you do regularly. Any relationship of any worth is going to have regularity in it.

Jonathan Swift said, “We have enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”

I don’t know the larger context of why Swift said this, I just saw the one line quote. I imagine it’s something like this:

Most people are half-hearted with their religion/spirituality/faith/Christianity. People are double-minded. We want the easy parts of Christianity, but not the hard parts. Just the blessings please.

When you play around with religion, never take it seriously or devote your whole heart, soul, and mind to God, you will be defensive and guilt-ridden.

Defensiveness and guilt results in attacking others. One of the most effective ways to justify yourself and feel spiritual is to attack others.

Half-hearted religion turns people into monsters.

If you were to take Christianity seriously you would grow in love. Every time it’s tried love is what happens. So if love isn’t happening, then you’re not doing Christianity right.

Don’t be half-hearted in your faith. Hot or cold, God spits out the lukewarm. The double minded man is unstable in all his ways. How long will you halt between two opinions? Choose you this day who you will serve.

Stop playing around with faith. Either do it or don’t. Half-heartedly fence sitting will just make you an angry, lonely, judgmental, abusive jerk. No one needs that.

What Does “Eye for an Eye” Really Mean?

“An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind.”

So goes the saying. It appears as though this saying came from Gandhi, or at least one of his biographers as a summation of Gandhi’s thoughts. It’s popular for many Christians to celebrate Gandhi. I am not one of those Christians who does so.

Gandhi was a fine political leader and accomplished a perfectly noble political end. I’d celebrate his political accomplishments. As far as his religious views, and more precisely his biblical views, I’ll take a pass.

Exactly how would the whole world be blind if we enacted an eye for an eye? I’ve lived for 47 years and never poked out anyone’s eye. I don’t know anyone who has poked out anyone’s eye.

The context of the edict is from Exodus 21:23-25, “But if any harm follows, then you shall give life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.”

Physical harm is what is in mind. If you hurt someone, the punishment for so doing should be equal. This is the reverse of, “And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”

The context is also the political setup of the nation of Israel. The Old Covenant law was not a means of salvation. It was, in part, the legal code to direct the nation of Israel. This is what a Messiah-creating nation’s laws would look like if God were its King. People get punished for their sin.

The Book of Proverbs tells people to use just weights and measures, not to favor the rich and disfavor the poor, nor should you nail the rich and let the poor off the hook. They should judge with equity and fairness.

Today there are stories where people get millions of dollars for burning themselves on hot McDonald’s coffee. They do that because McDonalds has a lot of money. Let’s stick it to The Man! Make em pay! Israel’s law was written to prevent such extreme court results.

Jesus brings up an eye for an eye in The Sermon of the Mount. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”

Ah, so Gandhi was right! Down with eye for an eye!

Nope: context. Remember, in Exodus God is giving a nation their legal code, how to enforce the law of a nation consisting of believers, non-believers, Jews and non-Jews. Jesus is correcting the notion of individuals seeking revenge on those who wrong them.

When it comes to individuals, let wrongs against you go. It’s not your job to smite those who smite you. If you are a nation, then yes, your legal code should have a fair and consistent form of punishment for evildoers.

Jesus was correcting the personal desire for revenge that many took that verse to mean. That’s not what it’s talking about. It was specifically a command for the nation of Israel and their legal code.

So, in summation: Context is king. Gandhi is not a good interpreter of the Bible. Don’t poke people’s eyes out first or second.

How to Arrange Deck Chairs Before Hitting Icebergs

I’m not an alarmist, nor am I a guy who publicly pontificates about politics and stuff going on in the larger world. In the past 20 years the alleviation or avoidance of problems in my church and family has consumed me more than the fear mongering news.

But it has become very obvious to me that we are about to enter a time of trouble in our world and it’s going to get rough.

There are two sides to the “rough” that’s coming: Great opportunity for pleasure distracting us from faith and persecution.

It seems odd these things would go together, pleasure and persecution, but they will. Materialism and entertainment are overtaking the world. It’s already overtaken the church. The Health and Wealth Gospel is not a side note anymore; it is today’s Christianity.

The materialistic entertainment around us is removing the old standards of sin and morality. Those who will oppose the decadence will be done away with. I don’t know how exactly, it probably won’t be gulags. As government and business join forces (Babylon the Great of Revelation 18), it will be more like ramped up Cancel Culture.

I think the new persecution will look like removing your ability to make money and buy things. Here’s a quote I recently read:

“The old totalitarianism conquered societies through fear of pain; the new one will conquer primarily through manipulating people’s love of pleasure and fear of discomfort.”

As Revelation tells us, without the mark of the beast you won’t be able to buy or sell. I know many people mock the rapture and tribulation take on eschatology. You are free to do so, but I’m increasingly impressed with how exactly it is  moving in that direction!

Continue reading “How to Arrange Deck Chairs Before Hitting Icebergs”

Compensation: A Lovely Poem

In many older theological type books, authors would put poems and hymn lyrics in to emphasize their points. This doesn't happen as much in modern theological type books, perhaps because our modern songs don't contain any theology. 

Ba-dum-bum.

Typically I skip these poems. I don't know why. Probably has something to do with wide margins and being easy to skim over.

But tonight I read one and though it was quite good. I believe it's entitled, Compensation and is by Mary Frances Butts. Perhaps you'll like it too.



For the joy set before thee — 
The cross. 
For the gain that comes after — 
The loss. 

For the morning that smileth — 
The night. 
For the peace of the victor —  
The fight.  

For the white rose of goodness —  
The thorn.  
For the Spirit's deep wisdom —  
Men's scorn.  

For the sunshine of gladness —  
The rain.  
For the fruit of God's pruning —  
The pain.  

For the clear bells of triumph —  
A knell.  
For the sweet kiss of meeting —  
Farewell.  

For the height of the mountain —  
The steep.  
For the waking in heaven —  
Death's sleep. 

Monks and Other Wasted Lives

Our library is open again. Couldn’t wait to check out the New Non-Fiction section to get my latest fill of leftist politician hagiographies, weird diet cookbooks, and various other books no one in their right mind would ever possibly check out.

But tucked in the couple hundred books are at least two books that seem like they’d be worth reading.

I picked up four. I made it through ten pages of one before returning it. So I started another one I hesitated getting, I walked past it twice, but eventually picked it up because I really didn’t want to read Madeleine Albreight’s thrilling autobiography.

It’s about a guy who lived his life as a Buddhist monk in India. Buddhists are full of themselves. Buddhist monks are like, overflowing with themselves. He is massively impressed with himself.

However, from my reading, all monks are full of themselves, at least the ones who write books about their monking. He mentions what a great guy St. Francis of Assisi was. Goodness. Francis drives me nuts. He’s a spoiled rich kid who leaves home to talk to birds and make up rules for people to obey. Nice life.

Well, Mr. Buddhist Monk was also a spoiled rich kid who left his home and spent time feeding ants and not making rules because, “whatever, man.”

On Judgment Day there’s going to a lot of massively disappointed monks.

All that effort. All that discipline. All that rule keeping. “Hey, I never even told anyone to do that,” I imagine God telling them. “Yeah, but, look how impressed we were with ourselves. Surely that must count for something?”

“You have your reward.”

I also note how many famous people endorse his book on the back cover. Everyone likes Buddhists. All the cool self-helpy people in our world just love them. Their meditation, their peace and tranquility, and their pseudo-intellectual agnostic, nirvanaing. They are no threat, primarily because no one has a clue what they are talking about.

Here’s a quote from Mr. Buddhist Monk:

Every one of the sutras–the accounts of the Buddha’s teaching that have come down to us–begins with the phrase, “Thus have I heard.” That opening, hedged as one listener’s experience, implies that this is just one possible account of what happened, filtered by a human mind and the limitations of memory. As scripture goes, it’s a rather tentative beginning

So, Buddha heard some stuff and is like, “Hey man, this is cool. Do you think it’s cool? I think it’d be cool if you thought it was cool. But whatever, man.”

He says later:

They are not divine revelation, absolute and incontrovertible, but communication skillfully framed for a particular audience. It was emphasized again and again that each listener heard those words differently, according to their own capacity and their own concerns.

Well that’s enough to make a guy vomit.

If their scriptures are just things that mean whatever to whoever hears it in whatever context, then why bother with scripture?

Buddha says, “Here’s some stuff I heard.” The Bible says, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Guess which one the world prefers?

Ultimately Buddhism is about the furtherance of the individual. Thus it becomes a self-serving religion. Christians start hospitals; Buddhists sit on mountains feeling superior to sick people. Christianity wants you to get your hands dirty, helping those who are hurting, loving your enemy, sticking with truth despite opposition, and generally living life with hope. Buddhism wants you to sink into yourself and not let anyone mess with your buzz, man.

Selah.

OK, I’m done.

Man’s Depravity is Not Total

It doesn’t take genius to know that people are creepy. Sin is natural to us. We are “by nature” the children of wrath.

At the same time, Paul says Gentiles “do by nature” things contained in the law. Which means our nature is not all bad and it aint all good. This would seem to have to be the case if we are made in the image of God and yet fallen. There still has to be some God image in us.

If you express this thought in theological circles, you will get hammered. We’ve been told countless times that we are totally depraved. Calvinism has taken this and stretched it so out of place, they don’t even think you can believe the Gospel.

Not only is this massively contradicted by Scripture, it makes life pretty much pointless. We’re just automatons doing what we’re programmed to do with no choice. Yet God remains ticked off at us for doing what he programmed us to do.

The simple solution to avoid making God into a complete monster, is to admit we’re not totally depraved.

Yup, that’s right, we should drop the traditions of men for the biblical doctrines of God. I know, bizarre, but I’d suggest it.

I’ve held this view for years, yet don’t see many other people going public with the view, because if you do, Calvinists will beat you into the ground. So I’m always encouraged when I see someone else publicly express it.

I came across one today in Ellicott’s Commentary on Matthew 7:11. God is saying that even earthly fathers know how to do nice things for their kids, “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

Ellicott says this:

The words at once recognise the fact of man’s depravity, and assert that it is not total. In the midst of all our evil there is still that element of natural and pure affection which makes the fatherhood of men a fit parable of the Fatherhood of God. We mount from our love to His, abstracting from our thoughts the evil of which we cannot but be conscious.

Beautiful. Thank you, Mr. Ellicott! You the man.

Keep the Gospel Simple

I came across the following quote in Ellicott’s Commentary on 2 Corinthians 5:20. His basic point is: keep it simple. Watch out for theories and elaborate theological structures. Don’t miss the main point, which is that God loves you and sent His Son to provide all you need to be reconciled to God. Don’t confuse the simple beauty of that.

It will be seen, in this conclusion of the language of St. Paul as to the atonement, how entirely, on the one hand, he recognises the representative and vicarious character of the redeeming work of Christ; how entirely, on the other, he stands aloof from the speculative theories on that work which have sometimes been built upon his teaching. He does not present, as the system-builders of theology have too often done, the picture of the wrath of the Father averted by the compassion of the Son, or satisfied by the infliction upon Him of a penalty which is a quantitative equivalent for that due to the sins of mankind.

The whole work, from his point of view, originates in the love of the Father, sending His Son to manifest that love in its highest and noblest form. He does not need to be reconciled to man. He sends His Son, and His Son sends His ministers to entreat them to be reconciled to Him, to accept the pardon which is freely offered.

Getting God’s Approval

I picked up a short, fluffy Christian book after finishing Luther’s Bondage of the Will.

Unfortunately, I think the level of stupid I’m going to encounter will be similar.

The book is about Romans 5-8, which are great chapters in the Bible, but rarely ever handled in a way that does them justice.

This book is living up to that assumption.

I knew right off I was going to have trouble when it defined justification as “a legal declaration of not guilty.” Makes my skin crawl.

The book is more than likely going to get in to some kind of weird let go and let God, what I do doesn’t matter stuff, and I know that just from the definition of justification they gave.

Sure enough, here’s a quote from page four:

Bask in God’s grace. There is nothing you can do or need to do to earn God’s approval.

One verse that popped into my head immediately was 2 Timothy 2:15

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.

The word “study” means diligent effort. We are to use diligent effort in getting God’s approval. If there’s nothing I can do to get God’s approval, why is God constantly telling us to change our behavior so we don’t get judgment?

Grace, to many people, means nothing I do matters. We get a free ride because Jesus did some stuff.

The Apostle Paul says in Galatians he’s not seeking the approval of men, but of God. God is the one person in the universe we’re supposed to be doing things to get approval from.

The “nothing you can do” idea is an attempt to elevate the concept of grace. But if grace means everything I do is fine, then why bother doing anything?

“We do it because we’re approved, not to get approval” is typically the answer.

OK, so if we do approved things because we’re approved, what does that mean for people who don’t do approved things? Would it mean they aren’t approved then?

Doing approved things and being approved are related. The Bible says there are things we can do to get God’s approval. God gives grace to the humble.

To deny this is to undermine the words of Scripture and the character of God.

I’m only on page four. Sure wish I had a library of Christian books that didn’t continually tick me off.

Luther and Foreknowledge

The Bondage of the Will slogs along to Erasmus’ argument about foreknowledge. Paul said, “Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate.” If words mean anything, God’s predestination is based upon His foreknowledge.

But, as we know, words don’t always mean what they appear to mean. A Calvinistic trick is to define the word “foreknowledge” as essentially meaning “predestine.” Luther does the same thing.

If God foreknew that Judas would be a traitor, Judas became a traitor of necessity, and it was not in the power of Judas or of any creature to act differently, or to change his will, from that which God had foreseen. It is true that Judas acted willingly, and not under compulsion, but his willing was the work of God, brought into being by His omnipotence, like everything else.

Luther, who recently said God’s revealed will is different from his non-revealed will and that God does not use words like man does, adds,

There are no obscure or ambiguous words here, even though all the most learned men of all ages should be so blind as to think and affirm the contrary.

Just wondering how Luther knows when words mean what they mean and when they don’t.

Luther goes on about foreknowledge meaning God making things happen and redefining words when he says,

We know that man’s foreknowledge is fallible. We know that an eclipse does not occur because it is forecast, but is forecast because it is going to occur. But what relevance has that foreknowledge for us? We are discussing the foreknowledge of God! And if you do not allow that the thing which God foreknows is necessarily brought to pass, you take away faith and the fear of God, you undermine all the divine promises and threatenings, and so you deny deity itself.

So, here’s Luther’s idea about God words and Man words meaning different things in action. So when God foreknows it’s akin to God doing, but when man foreknows it’s just man knowing beforehand. Words don’t mean things then.

The essential idea of the Calvinistic and Lutheran view of God is that God’s sovereignty means no one else can know or do anything. God can only control what He does. He’s not strong enough to control if man had free-will to do things.

Their attempt to elevate the character of God ultimately undermines it. God is a dictator who can’t allow anyone any freedom apart from His control.

But God foreknowing what is going to happen in no way necessarily implies He does everything or that God can only know what He does.

God is made smaller with this view, not bigger. They are viewing power, ironically enough, entirely from a weak human perspective. This is the God of Islam, not the God of the Bible.

Inconsistencies in Theological Arguments

The last two posts address what I view as a flippancy towards God’s word. The Bible says stuff that seems to contradict Luther’s points about The Bondage of the Will. So Luther finds other meanings for those words–he says God uses words differently from how man uses words, and then said God’s revealed will differs from His unrevealed will.

There is no way to take these ideas in any other way than to conclude Luther doesn’t think the Bible says what God means.

Luther, however, moves on to Erasmus’ challenges against passages that disprove free-will.

His first example is God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. Erasmus says that when it says God hardened Pharaoh’s heart it means that God allowed Pharaoh’s heart to be hardened because God didn’t stop Pharaoh in his sin.

Luther now questions Erasmus’ ability to interpret what God really meant! Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Luther says we should take the literal meanings of words!

Everywhere we should stick to just the simple, natural meaning of the words, as yielded by the rules of grammar and the habits of speech God has created among men; for if anyone may devise ‘implications’ and ‘figures’ in Scripture at his own pleasure what will all Scripture be but a reed shaken with the wind and a sort of chameleon? There would then be no article of faith about which anything could be settled and proved for certain, without your being able to raise objections by means of some ‘figure.’

This is too rich!

Two days ago I put up a quote where Luther said God doesn’t use words the way man does. Today, when it suits his purpose, all of a sudden God uses words according to man’s natural use of grammar!

Listening to people argue theology can be frustrating. Clearly these two guys (Luther and Erasmus) are talking past each other. They each bend the Scripture when they need to in making a point. I don’t think either of them is truly hearing the actual words being spoken and, when convenient, are not taking the simplest meaning of words.

Be careful that your theological doctrine does not become more important than hearing God’s Word. Just hear God’s Words and go with what it says. Both guys would say they are doing that. Sometimes you are the last one to know how inconsistently you are using Scripture.

That’s why, I think, it’s important to share your views with other believers. They may be able to point out your inconsistencies. Unfortunately, when that happens, we immediately get defensive, attack them, and miss an opportunity to learn.

Aint none of us right all the time. It’s important to remember this when “correcting” others as well. I’m not suggesting you listen to trolls, but to people who actually are trying to be edifying and constructively criticizing.

Be humble enough to be corrected. I shall endeavor to do the same.

God’s Will(s)

Luther’s Bondage of the Will takes up Erasmus’ question: how can God say He doesn’t like death and sin if, according to Luther, He makes people die and sin?

It’s a good question, one that hits at the central problem I have with the denial of free-will: it impugns the character of God.

The answer you’ll get is massively troubling.

First, they will tell you that you’re an idiot for asking.

Second, they will tell you that God is a mystery.

Third, they will start defining for you the various kinds of wills that God has.

Luther does all three of these things in the four paragraphs that answers Erasmus. Here are a few sentences about God’s different wills.

[Erasmus is not making any] distinction between God preached and God hidden, that is, between the Word of God and God Himself. God does many things which He does not show us in His Word, and He wills many things that He does not in His Word show us that He wills. Thus, He does not will the death of a sinner–that is, in His Word, but He wills it by His inscrutable will.

I agree that God has not revealed everything, that’s just common sense. But Luther says God is not revealing things that are opposite of what He revealed.

In other words, you can’t trust God’s Word because God might not actually will what He said He willed!

Again, as with yesterday’s post, and how, pray tell, does Luther know God wills the opposite of what He said? Where does God tell us that He doesn’t mean what He says? How is Luther figuring this out? And, once again, why is it that God always agrees with Luther while disagreeing with His own revealed will in His Word?!

This is the kind of stuff that makes me write blog posts on days where I didn’t even want to pick up his book because I didn’t want to write another blog post about it.

If Luther is right, you might as well stop reading the Bible, God didn’t mean it anyway. He’s just lying to you. Goodness, what cost must be paid to maintain your doctrines? He’s thrown out the reliability of God’s Word and made God a liar in order to maintain his doctrine. Unreal.

Words Mean Things

I’m in a part of Luther’s Bondage of the Will where he is addressing the verses that Erasmus uses to “prove” man has free-will. So far Erasmus has not used the verses I would use, but we’ll see if he gets there.

So far he is dealing with verses that say “if we obey,” ‘if we are willing,” “if you shall obey.” Erasmus uses these to say that obviously we have a will and ability otherwise God wouldn’t say this.

Here’s Luther’s basic defense. You ready? I know I am!

If I ask how it is proved that the existence of ‘free-will’ in man is indicated and implied wherever the phrase ‘if thou art willing,’ ‘if thou shalt hear,’ ‘if thou shalt do’ are used, she will say, ‘Because the nature of words and use of language among men seem to require it.’ Therefore, she bases her judgment of things and words that are of God upon the customs and concerns of men; and what is more perverse than that, when the former are heavenly and the latter earthly? Thus in her stupidity she betrays herself as thinking of God only as of man.

Luther’s point is this: I know that’s what it says, but that’s not what it means.

He maintains that God uses words differently than people do. It appears as though God is saying that, but God uses words differently so we know He doesn’t mean that.

Couple things:

–If God uses words not like men, how does Luther, a man, know how God is using words? And, more curiously, how is it that God is always using words to back up Luther? Rather coincidental, no?!

–If God uses words not the way man does, wouldn’t God explain that to man at some point? Is God aware that He’s talking to man? Seems like God, who is pretty smart, would communicate to man in such a way that man could understand Him, rather than obliquely saying things.

–If this is true, then all bets are off. You can make the Bible say whatever you want as long as you maintain this is what God really meant.

This is highly frustrating to me. The only thing I can use to make my doctrinal points is the Bible. So when a person tells me the Bible doesn’t mean what it says, then I have nothing left. It’s a winning tactic, but will also keep you from ever hearing and understanding what God actually said.

But that’s the tendency that many Christian Leaders have used and still do. “You idiots can’t understand this book, but thank God you have me! Now listen up because I, for some unexplained reason, really know what God meant.”

I’m not buying it. God said what He meant. He’s not playing games or obfuscating. Words mean things. Take the common sense, literal meaning of His words and you’re gonna be just fine.

All false doctrine at some point makes you have to ignore the common sense, literal meaning of words. Your alarm bells should go off when you hear people say words don’t mean what they say. Every Calvinist I’ve ever talked to has argued about the meanings of words. Luther does the same thing.

Of these things put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit, but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
–2 Timothy 2:14-15

Faith and Works, Gospel and Law

I’m about half done with my copy of Luther’s Bondage of the Will. I agree with him that the case Erasmus makes, at least the parts he quotes, isn’t that great. But I also don’t think Luther is doing that great either.

The main issue is over free-will and whether we have it or not. But there are minor issues that come up that are off too.

In the midst of attacking Erasmus’ definition of free-will, Luther says:

As for those things that ‘lead to eternal salvation,’ I suppose they are the words and works of God, which are offered to the human will so that it may apply itself to them or turn away from them. I take the ‘words of God’ to include both the law and the Gospel; the law requires works, the gospel faith.

This one phrase stood out to me: “the law requires works, the gospel faith.”

I think this is a root misunderstanding that leads to lots of trouble.

It is true that some of Israel, like the scribes and Pharisees, felt they had to do works alone for salvation. They felt no need to love God, they just did some stuff God said and called it good. Jesus corrects this, as does everyone else in the New Testament. In fact, most of the prophets are trying to correct that.

But since the Pharisees did that, everyone assumes that’s how people were saved under the law. Paul says in Romans 10:5, “For Moses describeth the righteousness which is of the law, That the man which doeth those things shall live by them.

See, there ya go; people under the law were saved by works!

Read the law. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Show me where, like in the entire book of Deuteronomy, it says anyone was saved by the law. It never says that. The law was a covenant between God and the nation of Israel to stay in their land. If they kept the law they would live and prosper there, if they did not keep the law they would be kicked out.

Never once does Moses say by keeping the law, doing all the works, you will go to heaven and be with the Lord.

When the Gospel comes along, people assume a BIG CHANGE occurred. Instead of doing works, we just have faith. Faith alone. Easy.

What this misses is that anyone who has ever been saved has been saved by grace through faith. There is no other way of salvation. Whether Abraham before the law, David under the law, or us today under the Gospel, everyone is saved by faith (Romans 4).

People under the law who were saved by faith did indeed desire to do the works of the law.

But get this, today people under the Gospel who are saved by faith desire to fulfill the works of the law too! It’s a little thing called “love.”

The idea that people under the law were the only ones who had to do what God said is crazy. What we do is different because the covenants are different. But faith always desires to do what God says.

“Faith without works is dead,” this is true under the law as well as under the Gospel. There is no difference in faith and it’s desire to do what God says. God says to do different things under each covenant, but faith wants to do what God says.

Luther wanted James ripped out of the Bible. Luther, when translating Romans 5, said we were justified by faith alone. Never mind that he added the word “alone” in there.

Anyone remember what the Bible says about people who add or subtract words from the Bible? Anyone? It says nothing good about them. Don’t do that.

Faith Doesn’t Mean Believing Nonsense

Luther’s Bondage of the Will continues talking about how God does everything in salvation and yet few are saved and this is entirely God’s fault.

The obvious question then is: how can God say He is love and likes to show mercy and yet He saves so few?

Here’s Luther’s answer:

Thus God conceals His eternal mercy and loving kindness beneath eternal wrath, His righteousness beneath unrighteousness. Now, the highest degree of faith is to believe that He is merciful, though He saves so few and damns so many; to believe that He is just, though of His own will He makes us perforce proper subjects for damnation.

Luther doesn’t think God is merciful and righteous, he can’t because according to his theory, God makes people unrighteous (which implies that God is unrighteous) and then has wrath on them for doing the unrighteousness God made them do.

Luther’s answer to the conundrum is faith! It obviously makes no sense, so this is where faith comes in. Faith is only required when things don’t make sense. God’s character, according to Luther, makes no sense, so we embrace the nonsense and just believe it to be.

If God says He’s righteous, well, then He must be righteous. Luther falls for the old line, one also maintained by Calvinism, that God doesn’t actually have to be righteous. God says He’s righteous, therefore, by default, everything He does is righteous even if according to all appearances it isn’t righteous.

In other words, God isn’t righteous because He does righteousness, God is righteous because He said so.

If that’s the case, then words don’t mean anything. When John says, “Be not deceived, he who doeth righteousness is righteous” John can’t be describing God. Everything falls apart.

Luther makes the point even clearer later:

If I could by any means understand how this same God, who makes such a show of wrath and unrighteousness, can yet be merciful and just, there would be no need for faith.

If God made sense, Luther wouldn’t need faith. That’s amazing. A startling misunderstanding of the concept of faith.

It is an amazing thing to me that Luther coins “Sola Fide” (Faith Alone) and is viewed as the authority on what faith is for the entire Reformation and yet shows very little biblical understanding here as to what faith is.

Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the Word of God.

Luther never stops to consider whether his conception of God’s character is correct. Luther is admitting his doctrines make no sense. And some how, by developing completely incoherent doctrine. Luther thinks this proves his faith!

If your doctrines make no sense, perhaps consider whether you’re actually hearing the God of truth, wisdom, order, and uprightness.

Believing incoherence is not a sign of faith; it’s a sign you’re listening to incoherent people.

Faith is not a blind leap. Faith is not a thing that fills in the gap that reason and wisdom can’t fill. His understanding of faith is more akin to paganism and idolatry–why are we praying to an idol we carved and had to nail to a wall to keep standing? I don’t know, but that’s where faith comes in.

The more things make sense, the less Luther thinks we need faith.

I think if the Catholic Church had just ignored this guy, no one would have paid any attention to him.

How to Earn Salvation Without Earning Salvation

Back to Luther’s Bondage of the Will. He says this:

God has surely promised His grace to the humbled; that is, to those who mourn over and despair of themselves. But a man cannot be thoroughly humbled til he realizes that his salvation is utterly beyond his own powers, counsels, efforts, will, and works and depends absolutely on the will, counsel, pleasure and work of Another–God alone.

As long as he is persuaded that he can make even the smallest contribution to his salvation, he remains self-confident and does not utterly despair of himself, and so is not humbled before God; but plans out for himself (or at least hopes and longs for) a position, an occasion, a work, which shall bring him final salvation. But he who is out of doubt that his destiny depends entirely on the will of God despairs entirely of himself, chooses nothing for himself, but waits for God to work in him; and such a man is very near to grace for his salvation.

OK, so a couple things:

First, it should be remembered that at the root of the no free-will, God does all the saving, monergism, predestination/election, emphasis is a sincere desire to elevate the supremacy of God and the weakness of humanity. They are indeed trying to get to humility. This is at the root of what they are trying to do. It doesn’t do any good to blast the Calvinist or the Lutheran as completely deranged. Their intentions are good. Their execution of their intentions misses the mark, in my opinion.

Secondly, this quote makes absolutely no sense. Luther ends the quote by saying the only people who get God’s grace for salvation are those who despair entirely of themselves. Which is fine, I can go with that. But the entire rest of the quote says how there’s nothing anyone can do to get God’s grace for salvation! Isn’t me being entirely in despair over myself a “smallest contribution to my salvation” that he just said I couldn’t do?!

This, again, is where this entire doctrine falls into the realm of non-sensicalness. The previous pages before this quote Luther defends himself against a charge from Erasmus that his doctrine doesn’t make any sense.

Luther’s defense is that, no, it’s not me that makes no sense; it’s God who doesn’t make any sense. I’m just saying what God says, so therefore God is the one who doesn’t make sense.

Now, granted, Luther doesn’t quite say it that bluntly, but that’s what he’s saying.

Your lecture is wasted on me! If, however, you believe these paradoxes [that if God wills all things then He rewards the good that He made us do and punishes the evil that He made us do] to be words of God, then where is your conscience, where is your shame, where is the fear and reverence which you owe to the true God? For what you are saying is that there is no information more useless than God’s word! So your Creator must learn from you, His creature, what may usefully be preached and what not? God was so stupid and thoughtless, was He, that He did not know what should be taught?

This is the classic defense when you point out the contradictory nature of what no free-will leads to. “It’s what God says, your problem is with Him, not me. It’s all a giant mystery.”

I disagree. This stuff makes no sense and there really aren’t any verses that say this is the way the entirety of all human existence works.

Their desire in all this is to elevate God and diminish humanity. I get it. I applaud the efforts. But in so doing they are left with contradiction and illogical conclusions. I think it’s actually much easier to just take everything written on the subject in the Bible rather than select a few passages and philosophize some nonsense.

But they maintain that if you disagree with them, you’re an arrogant jerk who thinks he deserves salvation and knows better than God. What’s my defense against that?

It’s always handy to assume your doctrine is exactly what God says, so disagreeing with you is disagreeing with God. It’s handy, but not often true. It also seems, ironically enough, to be the exact opposite attitude of someone who characterizes themselves as “humbled; one who mourns over and despairs of themselves.”

The Stupidity of Crowds and Strait Gates

Charles Mackay, author of the book Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, said:

“Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, one by one.”

He wrote this in the 1800’s summing up his study of human behavior. His basic point is that following people makes you stupid; getting out of the crowd allows you to come to your senses.

This is massively true. Christians, of all people, should know this already.

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Following the stream of the world does no good; getting a new brain, a new way of thinking, a mind set on truth not theories, is the remedy.

Jesus said that the broad road leads to destruction and many people are on it; the narrow road, limited by a strait gate that prevents you entering with a crowd, leads to life.

The world around us is fighting and arguing. They need to get theirs, which they think means taking from you. One group is pitted against another group. Hatred and violence are the result.

Want some peace? Want some tranquility? Want some release from this? Follow Christ. Unplug from the world’s madness.

Few are going that way, but the ones who do have way fewer earthly problems that freak them out. There is a trust and a confidence that all things are conforming me to Christ and every day brings me one step closer to my Savior.

If you do this, don’t be shocked if the world despises you. They’ll tell you your head is in the sand, that you’re pie in the sky, and no earthly good.

Little do they know, it’s all their theoretical solutions that came out of heads in the sand. Their hopes that now they’ve discovered the right way clearly shows their heads are in the sand. The enactment of their solutions are typically the things that do no earthly good.

The world needs light and truth. It doesn’t need more darkness. Leave the kingdom of darkness. have no fellowship with the darkness. Be light. Act on the truth. Go the narrow way. You won’t regret it.

Alexander the Great, Ezekiel, and Tyre

Reading a biography of Alexander the Great. Got to the portion where Alexander desires to wipe out the city of Tyre.

This is an interesting piece of history because the Book of Ezekiel contains a prophecy concerning the destruction of Tyre. The prophecy says:

And they shall destroy the walls of Tyrus, and break down her towers: I will also scrape her dust from her, and make her like the top of a rock. It shall be a place for the spreading of nets in the midst of the sea: for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God: and it shall become a spoil to the nations.

The original city was on the mainland. It was wiped out by Nebuchadnezzar. He left a bunch of ruins on the mainland while the people moved to the island. The presence of the ruins contradicted the prophecy of being scraped bear and thrown into the sea. Except Alexander the Great came along, threw all the ruins into the sea for the causeway and now the prophecy is complete.

The author of the biography says, “What Ezekiel foretold had now come to pass in all its terrible finality.” Always fun to see such things about the Bible in “secular” history books!

But Ezekiel also says, “And I will make thee like the top of a rock: thou shalt be a place to spread nets upon; thou shalt be built no more: for I the Lord have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

This has been taken to mean that Tyre will never be a city again. It will never be rebuilt. There is a city of Tyre today. The author of the biography says about this, “Tyre was repopulated, and whatever Hebrew prophets may say, thrives again today.”

So the parting shot is that the Hebrew prophet got lucky, but probably should have stopped before that last bit!

There are many theories about this. The new city of Tyre is not in the same place. The prophecy says people will be there spreading their nets, so obviously Ezekiel knew there would be people there. Someone has to spread nets!

You can also take it to mean it won’t be built as a massive place like it was before, its grandeur won’t be rebuilt. Also, Ezekiel was talking about judgment upon the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was never rebuilt. The Phoenician empire was done away with right at the time Tyre was done in.

Another historian writes, “Alexander did far more against Tyre than Shalmaneser or Nebuchadnezzar had done. Not content with crushing her, he took care that she never should revive; for he founded Alexandria as her substitute, and changed forever the track of the commerce of the world.” Tyre was removed from consideration as a place of any importance, which is the main thrust of the entire prophecy (Ezekiel 26-27).

The main point of the prophecy was a judgment against the Phoenicians. Tyre today is not a Phoenician stronghold. It’s a nice city with a harbor. The prophecy concerned the enemies of Israel, the Phoenicians. The Phoenician city was also on the mainland and not where Tyre is today. There are archeological excavations on the original site, even if a city called Tyre exists nearby.

All in all, the prophecy of Ezekiel about Tyre is one of the more literally fulfilled prophecies in the Bible that should give strong evidence of the Bible’s uniqueness. It should also aid you in knowing that when God says stuff; He means it literally.

God’s Immutable Will and Promises

Luther proposes the idea that if God is not fully in control (meaning humans have no free will because God does everything) then we can have no assurance that God will do His promises.

[If it’s not true that] God foreknows and wills all things, not contingently, but necessarily and immutably, how can you believe, trust, and rely on His promises? When He makes promises, you ought to be out of doubt that He knows, and can and will perform, what He promises; otherwise you will be accounting him neither true nor faithful, which is unbelief and the height of irreverence, and a denial of the most high God!

At the root of the “there’s no free will” teaching is a desire to elevate God’s glory and supremacy. I’m all for that, but I think it goes to unnecessary lengths to do so. For in so doing, they actually limit His glory and supremacy.

According to Luther, the only way God can do anything is if He does everything. If God is not in control of every part of creation then He would not be able to do anything. If people are allowed to act freely, do whatever they want, God wouldn’t be able to do what God wanted to do.

That’s just sheer silliness. In no way does our free will eliminate any power from God. God is sovereign over creation, including over the laws that govern what creation does. We have freedom within the bounds He has set.

At any point God can override the laws (ax heads floating on water denied all manner of natural law). It is not hard at all for God to do what He wants. The idea that if Jeff has free will, God would be powerless to stop Jeff, is just crazy!

Yet you’ll hear this argument a lot. Don’t fall for it.

What God would have more power:

A God that can control only what He does, or a God who can control everything at any time no matter what anyone else is doing?

This view of God comes from a human standpoint. If I were to have ultimate power, yes it would mean I would dictate what everyone does. If you could resist me, then yeah, I would not be in control.

But God is way bigger than us. He’s in control of His creation, to the extent He’s not at all afraid to let us run around within the bounds He’s set.

Interestingly enough, Luther, about two pages before the above quote, says denying free will should be easy for Christians to do, because even heathen poets deny it! He goes on to quote Vergil a bunch. “See, even heathen philosophers know we don’t have free will.”

Yeah, I know Martin, that’s one of the reasons why I question whether it’s right!

Denying our free will is a humanistic idea that comes directly from people like Vergil. It doesn’t come from the Bible or from God.

Watch out for the human attempt to ascribe glory and power to God in ways that ultimately completely eliminate His glory and power, but rather elevate human notions of glory and power. To me this is what denying free will does. It’s one more reason I know it’s wrong.

Disagreeing With People and the Holy Spirit

I’m into the actual words of Martin Luther in Bondage of the Will now.

He begins by saying what a good communicator Erasmus is, but also unbelievably stupid. He says Erasmus’ writings are like piles of dung being delivered on a plate of gold! Genius.

Some people don’t like that language in their theologians; I actually find it absolutely hilarious.

Anyway, Luther explains that the reason he delayed so long in replying to Erasmus is not because Erasmus has any kind of good argument, it’s because Luther doesn’t think replying to him will do anything. Luther claims he’s already said enough on this issue, anything else would just be wasted.

For people of that sort, you could never speak or write enough about anything.

Pearls before swine, basically is what he’s saying. but alas, he continues:

To those who have drunk in the teaching of the Spirit in my books, we have given enough and to spare already, and such find no difficulty in dismissing your arguments. But it is not surprising if those who read without the Spirit are tossed hither and thither, as a reed is tossed by every wind that blows.

This is a classic theologian line: If you had the Spirit you would totally agree with me. The only reason you think I’m wrong is because you don’t have the Holy Spirit.

Luther is just one of many people I’ve heard say this.

In one sense, I get it. Spiritual things are discerned by spiritual people. Jesus said to His disciples “whoever receives who I send, receives me.”

So, like, yeah, maybe, it’s not outside the realm of possibility that this might be true.

However, the sheer arrogance required to say to someone, “I’m right; if you had the Spirit you’d agree with me” I find a little sketchy.

I’ve heard people on both sides of an issue claim this. Someone’s got to be lying.

I’d refrain from saying it myself. I’ve disagreed with myself enough to know not to say this. I’ve changed my doctrine enough to know not to say this.

One of the downfalls of good doctrine is to assume you’ve already got good doctrine. No further adjustments needed. In order to say “If you have the Spirit you’d agree with me” you’d have to be 100% sure you had completely right doctrine.

Luther, I don’t think, has any trouble admitting he’s 100% right.

I can’t go there.

I plan on growing and learning until the day I’m made like Christ when I see Him as He is. Until then, I assume I can say some stuff wrong and believe things that are not 100% perfectly rightly understood. Even Paul said, “I have not yet apprehended.” He still presses toward the mark, wanting to know more about Christ.

Luther is not saying anything out of the ordinary for theologian types, but I’d caution anyone to go there and, just guessing, Luther knows better now.

Don’t Confuse Your Favorite Theologian with Jesus

I’ve finished reading the 61-page Introduction to The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther, a cause for celebration.

Incidentally, I am reading a translation done by O. R. Johnston and J. I. Packer, so if you know those names, I assume they are the ones who wrote the Introduction.

The conclusion emphasized the centrality of denying free will and promoting the concept of monergism in salvation (the idea that God acts alone in saving people; we have nothing to do with it).

Faith is only something God gives you after He regenerates you, they say. Then they say this:

to rely on oneself for faith is no different in principle from relying on oneself for works, and the one is as un-Christian and anti-Christian as the other.

Eesh. That makes me cringe all over the place. But they go a step further. Disagreeing with Luther is un-Christian and also, get this, don’t know if you knew this or not, but disagreeing with Luther means you disagree with Jesus Himself.

I’m serious. Here’s the quote:

If the almighty God of the Bible is to be our God, if the New Testament Gospel is to be our message, if Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–is any other position than Luther’s possible?

Double eesh.

Let me answer that question with a very definite “yes.”

Disagreeing with Luther is not disagreeing with Jesus. Statements like this should alert you that you’re dealing with fanboys.

He went through a list of Reformers who held Luther’s views on this issue, including John Calvin, of course. They maintain that all the Reformers, at least the ones they like, all agreed on our inability to have faith and be saved unless God does it all.

One thing all these Reformers, at least the ones they mention, have in common is that they all loved Augustine.

Disagreeing with Luther does not make you disagree with Jesus Christ; it makes you disagree with Augustine. Which is totally fine by the way.

1 John 2:27 says “the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you.” If you have the Holy Spirit you don’t need a man to teach you.

If your doctrine is entirely based on a person, you’re not using the Holy Spirit. If you think you need to adhere to Luther or Calvin or Augustine or me in order to know Jesus, you’re out of your ever lovin’ mind.

People can help teach you, but to think you need a person to know Christ is insane. Never, ever elevate a person’s teaching to a level where you think disagreeing with them is disagreeing with Jesus.

Agree with Jesus; to the extent we agree with Jesus is the extent to which we will agree with each other.

This Introduction has entirely creeped me out.

Luther, Erasmus, and Weird Things Done With Grace

The next book on my pile is a book that’s been there a long time: The Bondage of the Will by Martin Luther. I haven’t read much of it, I’m still in the Introduction. The Introduction is long. I’m going to be reading this book for a long time!

Luther’s Bondage of the Will is him responding to the ideas of Erasmus, a theologian type who didn’t like stuffy theologians. Erasmus was more of a mystic than an academic. Luther represents academic theology. They liked each other but had disagreements about grace and free will.

The Introduction says:

Erasmus followed Jerome in interpreting the justification by works against which Paul writes as merely justification by outward ceremonial observance. Luther, believing that any kind of effort or any contribution man may attempt to make toward his own salvation is works-righteousness, and therefore under condemnation, preferred the thorough-going exegesis of Augustine, who magnifies the grace of God.

Let me just pause to let you know how much I’d like to puke now.

This is going to be a long book.

I’m no scholar on Erasmus, I imagine I will learn more about what he taught by reading this book. I am not defending him since I don’t know what he said.

I would like to point out the trend I’ve noted in my time in Christianity that is plainly evident in the above quote.

Human effort is the opposite of God’s grace.

That’s the underlying assumption of the quote. Therefore, the more you emphasize grace; the less you’ll emphasize human effort.

This is a handy way to promote sloth and laziness as spiritual virtue.

This has been my experience in the church. I’ve seen Grace-Happy people try to outdo one another in how little they do. Their complete absence of any virtuous effort proves how much they love God and His grace.

In fact, some even go so far as to say that sinning is better than doing good works. Sin requires grace; good works make grace unnecessary and lead to self-sufficient pride.

“Should we sin that grace may abound?” Paul asked. His answer was no. Much of Christianity’s answer has been, “Yeah, actually, that sounds reasonable.”

It is clearly true we are not saved by works. It is also equally clearly true that good works always come out of salvation. Ephesians 2:8-9 are always followed by an Ephesians 2:10.

“Faith without works is dead” is how James put it.

Luther wanted to throw the Book of James in the furnace.

Faith without obedience and works is not faith. It just isn’t. By faith people do what God says. If you don’t do what God says, then you’re not exercising faith.

The Bible is clear on this point.

People who like to sin muddy the clearness of the issue. We like to think that what we do doesn’t matter. God tells us what we do matters quite a bit; every judgment in the Bible is based on works. There are no exceptions.

But the popular belief in Christianity is that you doing stuff means you hate grace and are trying to merit your own salvation.

People need to read their Bibles more.

God provided the Gospel of Jesus Christ as the only means by which we can be saved. It’s the just way to justify the ungodly. We give ourselves to Him, to His grace, to save us, to deliver us from sin. One of the main reasons you come to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to be freed from sin. Upon receiving His grace and the new birth, becoming a partaker of the divine nature, you can now use all that God has given you to pursue Christlikeness and spiritual growth.

If there is no change in character, if righteousness doesn’t show up, then you didn’t get God’s grace. If there’s no new life, you’ve not become a servant of righteousness, there’s no sanctification and progress in faith, then grace didn’t show up.

You don’t prove you have God’s grace by how little you do; you prove you have God’s grace because you are able to do, and desire to do, what God says.

And God is able to make all grace abound toward you; that ye, always having all sufficiency in all things, may abound to every good work
–2 Corinthians 9:8

Unger’s Dictionary on Moses Being Meekest Man on Earth

Numbers 12:3 says, “Now the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.

This is often laughed at because Moses wrote the Book of Numbers, therefore, Moses is saying he is the meekest man on the earth! How does the meekest man on earth say such a thing about himself?!

Unger’s says this under the entry on Moses: Character

The word meek is hardly an adequate reading of the Hebrew anaw, which should rather be much enduring. It represents what we should now designate by the word disinterested. All that is told of him indicates a withdrawal of himself, a preference of the cause of his nation to his own interests, which makes him the most complete example of Jewish patriotism.

Unger says he gets this from Smith’s Bible Dictionary.

I cannot find any other dictionary that takes this approach to the Hebrew word anaw. Therefore I am left wondering if this is legit or just one guy’s idea.

Most dictionaries give the definition as depressed, bowed down, lowly. The word is used 18 times and is either translated meek or poor.

Much enduring and disinterested seems foreign to the essential idea and appears to be a reading into the word.

It’s important to remember that many Bible dictionaries are biased toward interpretation and doctrinal camps. You should use a multitude of these resources and stick with how the definitions overlap rather than some guys idea that makes him feel better about a verse.

That’s my idea anyway.

T. W. Hunt on Jesus and Eating Food

In The Mind of Christ, author T. W. Hunt says this about Jesus and food:

Jesus was the most wholesome man who ever lived. He loved his friends and cultivated their companionship. He even loved to eat. Every Pharisaic charge held some grain of truth. They called him a glutton, so obviously they had noticed that he enjoyed eating. Some of them invited him for meals. Jesus was no more a glutton than he was a drunkard, but he evidently ate with relish. He also knew when the next bite would be sin.

Now, I could easily make a joke about Jesus eating with relish, but I’m not going to do that.

I’m going to be mature and comment on the point.

My comment would be this: I don’t know about that.

I like the idea, I’m not opposed to it. One of my favorite points from the Bible is that one of the few things Ecclesiastes says isn’t vain is eating and drinking well. I think Jesus being a good eater fits nicely.

At the same time, I also know Pharisaic judgments are grossly overstated opinions based on very little factual evidence. Therefore, I’m not sure the conclusion would be that Jesus ate in the manner of a glutton.

He didn’t have a home. He ate out a lot. He ate in public. Pharisees saw him eating in public. Only gluttons were seen eating that much, but he didn’t have a home to eat it.

That’s how I always interpreted their criticism.

The criticism might mean he ate with relish, but I guess I’d have to come up short from being sure about it. I don’t even know that he liked pickles.

I like the idea. It made me think. I had to pause and read it again and think about it. I’m not totally opposed, just not sure I can digest the whole thing with relish.

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