Responses to Newsweek’s Article

From Dr. Al Mohler:

“Newsweek’s cover story is exactly what happens when a writer fueled by open antipathy to evangelical Christianity tries to throw every argument he can think of against the Bible and its authority. To put the matter plainly, no honest historian would recognize the portrait of Christian history presented in this essay as accurate and no credible journalist would recognize this screed as balanced.”

Full article here.

From Dr. Dan Wallace.

“Newsweek magazine decided to greet the start of 2015 with a massive cover story on the Bible. For decades now, major news magazines have tended to feature cover articles timed for Christmas and Easter, taking an opportunity to consider some major question about Christianity and the modern world. Leading the journalistic pack for years, both TIME and Newsweek dedicated cover article after article, following a rather predictable format. In the main, scholars or leaders from very liberal quarters commented side-by-side those committed to historic Christianity on questions ranging from the virgin birth to the resurrection of Christ.

When written by journalists like Newsweek‘s former editor Jon Meacham or TIME reporters such as David Van Biema, the articles were often balanced and genuinely insightful. Meacham and Van Biema knew the difference between theological liberals and theological conservatives and they were determined to let both sides speak. I was interviewed several times by both writers, along with others from both magazines. I may not have liked the final version of the article in some cases, but I was treated fairly and with journalistic integrity.

So, when Newsweek, now back in print under new ownership, let loose its first issue of the New Year on the Bible, I held out the hope that the article would be fair, journalistically credible, and interesting, even if written from a more liberal perspective.

But Newsweek‘s cover story is nothing of the sort. It is an irresponsible screed of post-Christian invective leveled against the Bible and, even more to the point, against evangelical Christianity. It is one of the most irresponsible articles ever to appear in a journalistic guise.”

Full article here.

Dr. James White’s youtube video responses:

Part 1:

Part 2:

The Origin of Sin

EdenFrom REFORMED DOGMATICS – Volume 3: Sin and Salvation in Christ by Herman Bavinck

The fallen world in which we live rests on the foundations of a creation that was good. Yet, it had scarcely been created before sin crept into it. The origin of sin is a mystery; it is not from God, and at the same time it is not excluded from his counsel. God decided to take humanity on the perilous path of covenantal freedom rather than elevating it by a single act of power over the possibility of sin and death.

Genesis 2:9 speaks of two trees, the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Both are integral to the Genesis narrative, and attempts to discount one or the other destroy narrative meaning. Similarly, efforts to explain the meaning of either of the trees in terms of progress and development (tree of life as awakening of sexuality) ignore the plain reading of prohibition and punishment associated with eating the trees’ fruit. No, the story is a unity, and it is about the fall of humanity and the origin of sin. Genesis 3 is not a step of human progress but a fall.

This fall, however, is not simply human effort to achieve cultural power as a means of becoming independent from God. The Bible does not portray human cultural formation as an evil in itself so that rural simplicity is preferable to a world-dominating culture. The point of the “fall” narrative in Genesis is to point to the human desire for autonomy from God. To “know good and evil” is to become the determiner of good and evil; it is to decide for oneself what is right and wrong and not submit to any external law. In short, to seek the knowledge of good and evil is to desire emancipation from God; it is to want to be “like God.”

The entry into sin comes by way of the serpent’s lie. The serpent’s speaking has often been mistakenly considered an allegory for lust, sexual desire, or errant reason. The various mythical interpretations and even attempts to explain the narrative in terms of animal capacity for speech before the fall all fail to meet the intent of the passage and the teaching of Scripture as a whole. The only appropriate explanation is to recognize, with ancient exegesis, the entrance of a spiritual superterrestrial power. The rest of the Bible, however, is relatively silent about this, though its entire narrative rests on this spiritual conflict between the two kingdoms. Sin did not start on earth but in heaven with a revolt of spiritual beings. In the case of humanity, the temptation by Satan resulted in the fall. Scripture looks for the origin of sin solely in the will of rational creatures.

The Christian church has always insisted on the historical character of the fall. In our day this is challenged by historical criticism as well as evolutionary dogma. Those who would challenge this notion attempt instead to accommodate it by demonstrating the reality of the fall from experience, thus validating Genesis 3 as a description of reality rather than as history. This rests on a misunderstanding; it ignores the fact that we need the testimony of Scripture in order to “read” our experience aright. Neither the Genesis account nor its historical character can be dispensed with. In fact, objections to the reality of the fall are themselves increasingly under review by more recent trends in the biblical and archeological/anthropological sciences. The Genesis account, especially of the unity of the human race, speaks positively to our conscience and our experience.

Though no true parallel to the biblical account has been found, it is clear from the myths of other ancients that underlying the religious and moral convictions of the human race are common beliefs in the divine origin and destiny of humanity, in a golden age and decline, in the conflict of good and evil, and in the wrath and appeasement of the deity. The origin and essence of sin, however, remain unknown to them. The origin of sin is sometimes found in the essence of things, its existence even denied by moralists and rationalists, treated as illusion or desire as in Buddhism, or dualistically traced to an ultimately evil power. Philosophers have treated sin as hubris that can be overcome by human will, as ignorance to be overcome by education in virtue, or even as a fall of preexistent souls. However, outside of special revelation sin is either treated deistically in terms of human will alone or derived pantheistically from the very necessary nature of things.

Both views also found their way into Christianity. The British monk Pelagius rejected all notions of original sin and considered every person as having Adam’s full moral choice of will. The fall did not happen at the beginning but is repeated in every human sin. Though the church rejected Pelagianism in its extreme form, Roman Catholicism maintained the notion of a less than completely fallen will, limiting the fall to the loss of the donum superadditum, which can only be restored by sacramental grace.

When the Reformation rejected Roman Catholic dualism, streams within Protestantism, notable rationalist groups such as the Socinians as well as the Remonstrants robbed Christianity of its absolute character by dispensing with the need for grace in some measure. The image of God is regarded as the fully free will, which, like that of the pre-fall Adam, remains intact. While we are born with an inclination to sin, this inclination is not itself culpable; atonement is needed only for actual sin. Suffering is not necessarily linked to sin; it is simply part of our human condition.

Interesting attempts have been made to reconcile Pelagius with Augustine. Ritschl agrees with Pelagius that the human will and actual sin precede the sinful state or condition. But he also then insists that these singular sinful acts mutually reinforce each other and create a collective realm of sin that exerts influence on us, a reinforcing reciprocity that enslaves all people. Others combine Ritschl’s approach with evolutionary theory. When this is envisioned in strictly materialistic and mechanistic terms, all notions of good and evil, the possibility of a moral life, vanish behind physical and chemical processes. A more acceptable route is to see the evolution of moral life as one in which human beings rise above their primitive animal nature as they become more humanized, more civilized. From this evolutionary viewpoint, sin is the survival of or misuse of habits and tendencies left over from our animal ancestry, from earlier stages of development, and their sinfulness lies in their anachronism. The remaining animal nature is shared by all people; sin is universal, but so is moral responsibility and guilt. Continue reading

Multiple Conversions?

I am not sure I would identify Dr. R. C. Sproul’s experience as “a second conversion” but I do understand the point being made. May God increase our capacity to understand and know God as He really is. David Murray writes:

Q. How many times can a person be born again?

A. Once.

Q. How many times can a person be converted?

A. Many times.

The Apostle Peter is an example of this. Although already born again, with God-given insight into the person of Christ (Matt. 16:17), Jesus told him that some time in the future he would be converted which would result in him being a strengthener of other believers (Luke 22:32).

R C Sproul is another example. Again, although born again, dramatically converted, and thoroughly changed in his desires and life, Sproul underwent a further subsequent conversion which was no less dramatic. In chapter 1 of The Holiness of God, he explains how in his early Christian life, “I knew who Jesus was, but God the Father was shrouded in mystery. He was hidden, an enigma to my mind and a stranger to my soul.”

While listening to a boring philosophy lecture in college, the teacher started explaining Augustine’s views on the creation of the world. The next several pages contain the most beautiful writing on God’s creation that I have ever read. Here’s a sample:

The first sound uttered in the universe was the voice of God commanding, “Let there be!”

The command created its own molecules to carry the sound waves of God’s voice farther and farther into space.

As soon as the words left the Creator’s mouth, things began to happen. Where his voice reverberated, stars appeared, glowing in unspeakable brilliance in temp with the song of angels. The force of divine energy splattered against the sky like a kaleidoscope of color hurled from the palette of a powerful artist. Comets crisscrossed the sky with flashing tails like Fourth of July skyrockets.

The Supreme architect gazed at His complex blueprint and shouted commands for the boundaries of the world to be set.

Then God stooped to earth and carefully fashioned a piece of clay. He lifted it gently to His lips and breathed into it. The clay began to move. It began to think. It began to feel. It began to worship. It was alive and stamped with the image of its Creator.

Sproul says he had always known that God created everything out of nothing; but it was when he realized how he did it that his whole view of God changed. He went from being a functional Unitarian to being a worshipping Trinitarian. He describes it as being converted not merely to God the Son, but to God the Father.

Suddenly I had a passion to know God the Father. I wanted to know Him in His majesty, to know Him in His power, to know Him in His august holiness.

It’s beautiful isn’t it! But what can we learn from Sproul’s second conversion? Here are five lessons.

1. Don’t rule out multiple conversions
We have so much to change in our lives, especially in our view of God, that we should not be surprised at subsequent “conversion-like” experiences where God enables us to take a quantum leap in our knowledge and understanding of God. We should be thankful for every such conversion.

2. Don’t seek multiple conversions
God normally works gradually not dramatically. We shouldn’t be worried if we’ve never had such a dramatic experience. The norm for most Christians is a slow gradual process of ongoing conversion in our God-view, self-view, and world-view. Seeking out the sensational or the dramatic is only going to disappoint and discourage.

3. Don’t make Sproul’s experience the norm
R C Sproul is a unique man with a unique ministry. Looking back, we now know that God had earmarked him to carry a radical message about the holiness of God to this generation of evangelicals who, like Sproul, were (and are) also guilty of a practical Unitarianism, or a Christo-monism. With that special ministry in view, God gave Him an overwhelming experience of His holiness that would flavor everything he would subsequently do, say, and write.

4. Use Sproul’s experience to challenge your faith
Although we shouldn’t make Sproul’s experience the norm, we should ask ourselves if we too have been guilty of practical unitarianism. Maybe we have focused almost exclusively upon Christ, with no real knowledge of or acquaintance with the Holy Father. If so, then Sproul’s experience should encourage us to ask God to show us His holiness, to reveal Himself to us through His Word. Who knows what might happen. Maybe the next R C Sproul is out there and about to be readied for a worldwide ministry.

5. True conversion will make us desire God
There are many spurious spiritual experiences that are nothing but sheer emotionalism, lasting only for a few minutes with no permanent spiritual fruit. But true spiritual experience results in a hunger for God and a passion to know Him, especially in His holiness.

The Law Keeping Redeemer

OldTestamentNick Batzig is the church planter of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Richmond Hill, Ga. Nick has written numerous articles for Tabletalk Magazine, Reformation 21, and is published in Jonathan Edwards and Scotland (Dunedin, 2011) In addition, Nick is the host of East of Eden: The Biblical and Systematic Theology of Jonathan Edwards. He writes:

One of the most important of all the statements about the birth of Jesus is that He was “born under the Law” (Gal. 4:4). The one who gave the Law on Sinai was, “in the fulness of time,” born under the Law. Of course, in making this declaration the question is raised, “Why was the One who gave the Law born under the Law?” After all, there was no Divine necessity for God to become man and to be made subject to His own Law. The answer comes on the heel of the statement when the Apostle explained that it was in order that Christ might, “redeem those who were under the Law.” In short, Jesus’ law-keeping was an absolutely necessary component of our redemption. Consider the following ways in which this plays out in the Gospel record:

1. At His Birth

At eight days, Jesus was circumcised according to the Law. He took to Himself the covenant sign–a bloody sign that pointed to His death on the cross. Circumcision promised the cleansing of the heart of sinful man by a bloody cutting away. The One who had the sign of circumcision was promised covenant blessings and curses. Either he would have the filth of his heart cut away by the bloody judgment that would fall on Christ or he would be cut off from the land of the living in the judgment of God. Though Jesus had no sin, and therefore had no need of the promise of the cutting away of the filth of the heart, he took to himself the sign because He would become the sin bearer for us. Paul tells us that, for Jesus, the cross was a bloody circumcision. Christ took the sign to himself as a boy to fulfill the demands of the law and to have a constant reminder that he was the one who would bear the curse of the law for His people.

At forty days, Jesus was brought into the Temple and was present to the Lord according to the custom of the Law. Mary came and sacrificed to set apart her son to the Lord. He was sanctified by the offering that pointed to Himself (though he needed no sanctification because of personal sin) because he was the sin-bearing substitute of His people. Isaac Ambrose captured this idea so well when he wrote:

There was no impurity in the Son of God, and yet he is first circumcised; and then he is brought, and offered to the Lord. He that came to be sin for us, would in our persons be legally unclean, that by satisfying the law, he might take away our uncleanness. He that was above the law, would come under the law, that he might free us from the law. We are all born sinners; but O the unspeakable mercies of our Jesus, that provides a remedy as early as our sin: first, he is conceived; and then he is born, to sanctify our conceptions and our births: and after his birth, he is first circumcised, and then he is presented to the Lord; that by two holy acts, that which was naturally unholy might be hallowed unto God. Christ hath not left our very infancy without redress, but by himself thus offered he cleanseth us presently from our filthiness.1

2. As a Boy

We are told that Jesus, at age 12, stayed behind in the Temple where He was “sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.” Continue reading

The Pastor’s Work Week

TimeTom S. Rainer exposes seven myths about the working week of a pastor:

It is an old joke, one that is still told too often. You go up to your pastor and say, “I wish I had your job; you only have to work one hour each week.” It is likely your pastor will laugh or smile at your comment. In reality your pastor is likely hurt by your statement. Indeed the reality is that too many church members have made wrongful and hurtful comments about the pastor’s workweek.

Sadly, some church members really believe some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek. And some may point to a lazy pastor they knew. I will readily admit I’ve known some lazy pastors, but no more so than people in other vocations. The pastorate does lend itself to laziness. To the contrary, there are many more workaholic pastors than lazy pastors.

So what are some of the myths about a pastor’s workweek? Let’s look at seven of them.

Myth #1: The pastor has a short workweek. Nope. The challenge a pastor has is getting enough rest and family time. Sermon preparation, counseling, meetings, home visits, hospital visits, connecting with prospects, community activities, church social functions, and many more commitments don’t fit into a forty hour workweek.

Myth #2: Because of the flexible schedule, a pastor has a lot of uninterrupted family time. Most pastors rarely have uninterrupted family time. It is the nature of the calling. Emergencies don’t happen on a pre-planned schedule. The call for pastoral ministry comes at all times of the day and night.

Myth #3: The pastor is able to spend most of the week in sermon preparation. Frankly, most pastors need to spend more time in sermon preparation. But that time is “invisible” to church members. They don’t know that a pastor is truly working during those hours. Sadly, pastors often yield to the demand of interruptions and rarely have uninterrupted time to work on sermons.

Myth #4: Pastors are accountable to no one for their workweek. To the contrary, most pastors are accountable to most everyone in the church. And church members have a plethora and variety of expectations.

Myth #5: Pastors can take vacations at any time. Most people like to take some vacation days around Christmas. That is difficult for many pastors since there are so many church functions at Christmas. And almost every pastor has a story of ending a vacation abruptly to do a funeral of a church member.

Myth #6: The pastor’s workweek is predictable and routine. Absolutely not! I know of few jobs that have the unpredictability and surprises like that of a pastor. And few jobs have the wild swings in emotions as does the pastorate. The pastor may be joyfully sharing the gospel or performing a wedding on one day, only to officiate the funeral of a friend and hear from four complainers the next day.

Myth #7: The pastor’s workweek is low stress compared to others. I believe pastors have one of the most difficult and stressful jobs on earth. In fact, it is an impossible job outside of the power and call of Christ. It is little wonder that too many pastors deal with lots of stress and depression.

Pastors and church staff are my heroes. They often have a thankless job with long and stressful workweeks. I want to be their encourager and prayer intercessor. I want to express my love for them openly and enthusiastically.

I thank God for pastors.

Ancient China and the Knowledge of God

Evidence from Herb Kersten that the ancient Chinese knew about basic Bible principles such as creation, temptation, the entry of sin, the fall of man, the first murder (Cain and Abel), the flood, the tower of Babel, blood atonement, righteousness by faith, an unblemished lamb for sacrifice, as well as many others.

Chinese characters and how they relate to the Book of Genesis:

Monogenes – the Begotten of the Father

Jesus02Daniel Mann has taught at the New York School of the Bible since 1992 and blogs at www.MannsWord.blogspot.com. He is the author of Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God’s Way (Xulon Press, 2004). This article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the Christian Research Journal, volume 34, number 02 (2011). For further information or to subscribe to the Christian Research Journal go to: http://www.equip.org

The letter to the Hebrews presents many teachings affirming the deity of Christ and His supremacy over the angels, Moses, and everything else that had come before Him.

However, after asserting that Jesus “made the worlds,” that He is “the brightness of [God’s] glory and the express image of His person,” and that He upholds “all things by the word of His power” (Heb. 1:2–3),1 this letter cites a controversial verse—at least controversial today—to prove that He is uniquely related to the Father as His Son: “For to which of the angels did He ever say: ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You’?” (Heb. 1:5; quoting Ps. 2:7).

Certainly, Scripture never does refer to angels in this manner. However, this verse suggests to some that Jesus is “begotten” in the sense of being created and having a beginning in time. If this is the case, then He can’t be eternal, and therefore He can’t be God. This same “problem” is also reflected in perhaps the most famous New Testament verse: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten [monogenes in Greek] Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Many cults understand this verse, and others like it, to affirm that Jesus was birthed into existence. Mormon Doctrine reads, “Christ was begotten by an Immortal Father in the same way that mortal men are begotten by mortal fathers.”2

However, this is to understand the term “begotten” with our understanding and not from the perspective of scriptural usage. Hebrews 1:5 was quoted from Psalm 2, a psalm widely regarded as messianic, even among ancient Jewish authorities: “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son; Today I have begotten You’” (Ps. 2:7).

“Begotten” must be understood in the way it was originally intended, and we can determine this by examining the context. In this context, “begotten” can’t possibly mean, “to physically birth.”3 The One who is “begotten” is being addressed. He therefore already exists, even before He is “begotten.” The verse therefore can’t mean, “The Lord has said to Me… ‘Today, I am giving birth to you.’” Instead, “begotten” must mean something else. Besides, Hebrews quotes Psalm 2:7 to prove the superiority of Christ over the angels. Reference to a physical human birth could hardly demonstrate His superiority.4 Continue reading

The Marrow of Calvinism

beeke3_2The Marrow of Calvinism by Joel Beeke

‘There is no true religion in the world which is not Calvinistic-Calvinistic in its essence, Calvinistic in its implications…. In proportion as we are religious, in that proportion, then, are we Calvinistic; and when religion comes fully to its rights in our thinking, and feeling, and doing, then shall we be truly Calvinistic…. [Calvinism] is not merely the hope of true religion in the world: it is true religion in the world-as far as true religion is in the world at all.’ – BENJAMIN B. WARFIELD

If you were to ask theologians in seminaries or people on the street, “What is Calvinism all about?” the answers you would receive would vary widely. Caricatures abound. For instance, on Thanksgiving Day 2007, the Grand Rapids Press printed an article by John M. Crisp titled, “Thinking like a Pilgrim on Thanksgiving.” It said of the Pilgrims: “Their religious roots reached back to the gloomy tenets of John Calvin, which means-at the risk of oversimplificationthat they lived with the nagging fear that they dangled every moment by a thin thread over the fiery pit of hell in spite of their own faith or good works or the outward manifestations of the blessings of God.”2

Does any Calvinist recognize this as a definition of Calvinism? I wrote back to the Grand Rapids Press: “This statement is not an oversimplification. It is a misrepresentation. Calvin and most of the Pilgrims rejoiced in Christ their Savior, and lived joyous Christian lives of spiritual depth with assured faith in the rich promises of God.”3

Of course, most evangelical Christians and, sadly, even some Calvinists, lack a proper understanding of the real heartbeat of Calvinism. “There is nothing upon which men need to be more instructed than upon the question of what Calvinism really is,” Charles H. Spurgeon once said.4 Whether you are a Calvinist, a non-Calvinist, or an anti-Calvinist, you need to give this question a fair hearing: what really is the marrow of Calvinism?

THE BASIC PRINCIPLE OF CALVINISM

Calvinistic theology includes all the essential evangelical doctrines, such as the deity of Christ, objective atonement, and the person and work of the Holy Spirit. It also includes many doctrines developed by theological giants such as Athanasius, Augustine, Anselm, and Martin Luther. Yet, it is not entirely correct to say, as did “Rabbi” John Duncan, “There’s no such thing as Calvinism [because] the teachings of Augustine, Remigius, Anselm, and Luther were just pieced together by one remarkable man [Calvin], and the result baptized with his name.”‘

Calvin’s synthesis is far more remarkable than that; he certainly was no midget standing on Augustine’s giant shoulders. Calvin’s presentation of the plan of salvation, choice of materials, and sense of the interconnectedness of biblical doctrine are unique. He was a genius in organization and systematization. His indebtedness to his predecessors does not detract from his originality, which is clearly evident in his doctrine of divine Sonship; his emphasis on the humanity of the Redeemer and His threefold mediatorial office as Prophet, Priest, and King; his explanation of the inward witness of the Holy Spirit; his development of Presbyterian church polity; and his exposition of how worship should be based on the Second Commandment, which the Puritans would later develop as the regulative principle of worship.

In addition, Calvinists throughout history have not been mere imitators of Calvin. For example, in their development of covenant theology, decretal theology, and the doctrine of assurance of faith, they labored hard to explain the whole counsel of God within the context of all the profundity, harmony, and consistency of Scripture. Continue reading

Confronting Evil

Here’s an article well worth reading by Joe Rigney entitled “Confronting the Problem(s) of Evil – Biblical, Philosophical, and Emotional Reflections on a Perpetual Question.

Where was God?

The question is always the same.

After the initial shock and horror subsides, after the news crews go home, we’re always left with the same question: Where was God?

Did he know it was going to happen? Was he aware of the shooter’s plans? Does he have foreknowledge, foresight, the ability to peer into what for us is the unknown future? Christians can’t help but say yes. God knows the end from the beginning. Indeed, he declares the end from the beginning (Isa 46:9-10), and this exhaustive foreknowledge is one of the distinguishing marks of his deity.

Was he able to prevent it? Was his arm too short to make a gun misfire, to cause an evil young man to have a car wreck on the way to his crime, to give an off-duty police officer a funny feeling in his gut that would cause him to drive by an elementary school? If God can’t prevent something like this, then what good is he? Why pray for God’s help if he can’t actually keep murderers from executing children?

But, of course, the Bible says more than that God could have prevented it; it says that it occurs “according to the counsel of his will” (Eph 1:11). Indeed, he works all things according to the counsel of his will. And when the Bible says ‘all things,’ it means all things:

This ‘all things’ includes the fall of sparrows (Matt 10:29), the rolling of dice (Prov 16:33), the slaughter of his people (Ps 44:11), the decisions of kings (Prov 21:1), the failing of sight (Exod 4:11), the sickness of children (2 Sam 12:15), the loss and gain of money (1 Sam 2:7), the suffering of saints (1 Pet 4:19), the completion of travel plans (Jas 4:15), the persecution of Christians (Heb 12:4–7), the repentance of souls (2 Tim 2:25), the gift of faith (Phil 1:29), the pursuit of holiness (Phil 3:12–13), the growth of believers (Heb 6:3), the giving of life and the taking in death (1 Sam 2:6), and the crucifixion of his Son (Acts 4:27–28). (John Piper, “Why I Do Not Say ‘God Did Not Cause This Calamity, But He Can Use It For Good’”)

All things — good, bad, ugly, and horrific — are ordained, guided, and governed by the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Continue reading