The Greatest Cause of Atheism

The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.

This quote by Brennan Manning is pretty famous. If you were a DC Talk fan in the ’90s, you’ve probably heard it so often you’ve memorized it. It’s famous for a reason – it plays so well in our moralistic, works-screen-shot-2013-02-08-at-9-40-44-amoriented culture. It’s a good bit of public self-flagellation for the church, a solid mea culpa. If the Church would just get right with God, get out house in order, and start acting more like Jesus, we’d see so many conversions that all the churches we already have couldn’t hold the new Christians. This quote has emotional and spiritual punch.

But before we repeat it, put it on Facebook or Twitter, or write a blog post about Christians who don’t act like Christians, let’s ask a simple question – is it true?

To answer that question, and all other questions of theology, we must turn to the Bible.

Romans 1:18-23 :

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.

Paul’s argument here is simple – everyone has rejected God. Everyone knows about God because He has not hidden Himself, and yet all have rejected Him. No one has any excuse for rejecting Him that would let them escape judgement. Further, those who rejected God (which, again, is everyone) reaped darkened hearts and minds which cannot understand the things of God but rather have idols – animals in Paul’s time, other things in ours, but idols just the same.

2 Corinthians 4:2-4 :

We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Here, Paul’s argument is a little different but just as straightforward – unbelievers don’t believe because the devil (the god of this world) has blinded them to the truth of the gospel. They cannot see the glory of Christ on their own. This dovetails nicely with the above passage out of Romans. After the sin of our first father Adam, everyone who has ever lived has been blinded to the gospel by the devil because of original sin – the original rejection of God and His ways because Adam thought he knew better.

No where in the Bible are we promised that living a good life will bring people to Jesus. In fact, the Bible promises the opposite – that people will hate Christians because we live good lives (2 Tim 3:12). “Try harder” is the voice of legalism, not of grace, and it should not be a loud voice in the church.

This is not to say that it doesn’t matter how Christians act. When we were washed and regenerated by the Holy Spirit, we were also given the power to live lives that are pleasing to God. We should follow the example of Jesus (1 Pet 2:21-25). To not do this is to give unbelievers opportunity to blaspheme and profane the name of our Lord (Rom 2:23-24). Christians are to do good (1 Jn 1:11), imitate the faith of those who went before us (Heb 13:7), put off our sin and clothe ourselves with Christ (Eph 4:22-24). We are to live peaceable lives (Rom 12:17-18) and have such good conduct that, even when we are reviled, unbelievers see that we have good deeds (1 Pet 2:12).

Christians who do not live out what they profess are absolutely going to be used as an excuse for unbelief. While no man can stand before God and say “my Christian neighbor was a poor example, so I deserve to get into heaven,” it is tragic that so many people believe they are justified in their unbelief by those who profess Christ but live a life that doesn’t line up with that profession. But to say that Christians behaving badly are the greatest single cause of atheism is to reject what the Bible teaches about unbelievers. It is to take much more responsibility for other people’s regeneration than we need or deserve.

Advertisements

Our Self-Revealed God

BeFunky_IMG_2863.jpgFor this week’s Theology Thursday post, we’re going to tackle the issue of revelation – how God has revealed Himself to us.

Importance of Revelation

It is important to realize that God didn’t have to let us know anything about Himself. Everything that we know about God that is true has been given to us by Him. Our knowledge about God has come to us through two different means, but all of it comes from God Himself. It is within His ability to hide Himself completely, but our generous God has chosen to make Himself known to us.

The fact that God has made Himself known and knowable is itself an important bit of theology because without any ability to know God we would have no hope of salvation. The Bible is clear that Christians are those who know God (Jn 17:3; Phil 3:10; 2 Pet 3:18; 1 Jn 4:7) and that those who do not know God are not His (Gal 4:8).

General Revelation

There are two ways that God reveals Himself – through general and special revelation. General revelation is given to all people around the world. It comes to us through the created world and tells us basic things about God and His moral requirements. General revelation is the reason that most people in most times and places have held to many of the same moral ideas – for instance, that murder and theft are wrong.

The clearest passages on general revelation are both found in the book of Romans.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.

This passage (Rom 1:18-20a) teaches that all men know about God through creation. God has revealed Himself in creation from the beginning of the world clearly enough that He holds men accountable for their refusal to understand what He has shown them about Himself.

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.

This passage (Rom 2:14-15) teaches that God has given men a basic morality. We may not be able to derive all the nuances of the Mosaic law from nature, but God has given each of us a conscience that knows right from wrong.

Special Revelation

Special revelation is how God has revealed Himself to us through supernatural means. Miracles, healings, dreams, visions, prophets – all of these are special revelation. Special revelation is given to specific people or people groups at certain times.

The most important forms of special revelation are the person of Jesus Christ and God’s revelation of Himself through the Bible. Hebrews 1:1-2 reads:

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.

These verses teach that the ultimate form of special revelation comes through Jesus. Jesus is the One who shows us God as He is most clearly, to the point that if we know Jesus we also know the Father and have been given the gift of the Spirit (Jn 14:7; 15:26).

The Bible is the record of God’s dealings with man, His special revelation through part of history, and especially of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. It is inspired by God and was given to Christians for our good (1 Tim 3:16).

The Difference Between the Two

General and special revelation are similar in many ways. Both teach us about God. Both come from God. Both are infallible when correctly understood (source).

However, there is a major difference between the two. While both can inform us about God, only special revelation can give us enough information for salvation. General revelation teaches us general things about God – that He exists, that He is good, that there is a basic morality. Special revelation is what teaches us about everything needed for salvation – original sin and the fall, the person and work of Jesus, the need for faith in Him. That is why Jesus gave His followers the command to go and preach the gospel throughout the world. General revelation can ignite a person’s search for God, but only the Spirit working through the proclamation of the gospel can save (Rom 10:14).

Giving in Light of Christ

Last week my Twitter friend Calvinist Batman wrote an article about tithing as a command on Christians. If you didn’t read it, I recommend you take a minute to go do that. This is a response to that post, so the full title of this post should be “Giving in Light of Christ: A Response to Calvinist Batman.”

I will start with the things I believe he got right. He is right that American Christians have a hard time yielding ourselves to the commands of Scripture. We often throw out the word “legalism” rather than wrestle with the text itself. He is also right in pointing out that tithing is often a contentious topic, and it is my aim to be as kind here as he was there.

With that, let’s dive into his arguments and take a look at them one at a time.

Did Abel Tithe?

“…Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Gen. 4:4cain_and_abel2

Abel brought some of his animals as a offering to God. He either brought whole animals who were either the
first or the best of his flock (firstborn can mean either in the Bible), or he brought parts of those animals. The Bible clearly calls this an offering (Gen. 4:3), not a tithe, and there is no evidence that he brought 10% of his flock, simply that he brought some of the animals.

Did Abram Tithe?

“And Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Gen. 14:20b

While Abram did pay a tithe, I don’t believe this applies as a lesson for us. Abram was tithing on the spoils of war, not his annual income. We have no reason to believe that God commanded him to do this (it has been suggested by scholars that this was a tradition of the time), and there is no evidence that Abram ever tithed again. Much of the story of Abram and Melchizedek is a foreshadow of Christ, whose priesthood is superior to that of Abram’s descendant Levi (Heb. 7). That is the lesson to take from the story of Abram and Melchizedek, not tithing.

Did Jesus Support Tithing?

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” Matt. 23:23

Jesus’ main point here was that the teachers of the law were being overly scrupulous in certain points of the law while neglecting others. Tithing is a part of the Mosaic law,
to be sure, but so are the others. For the Pharisees to be so concerned with tithing from their spice cabinet (while the law only talks about tithing from the fields and flocks specifically, Deut. 14:22-23) and yet be unconcerned with justice, mercy, and faithfulness showed their hypocrisy. Also, we must remember that Jesus was speaking to people under the law who were trying to be justified through their keeping of the law, while Christians are not justified through keeping the law but through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Gal. 2:16).

Purpose of the Tithe

“For the tithe of the people of Israel, which they present as a contribution to the LORD, I have given to the Levites for an inheritance. Therefore I have said of them that they shall have no inheritance among the people of Israel.” Num. 18:24

The Levites were set apart by God to serve in the temple. They were not given a portion of land when the land was divided among the tribes of Israel. Therefore, God gave them the tithe so the Levites could care for their families and support themselves. Today’s pastors and missionaries need to be supported financially, but they are not prohibited by God to own land or have another job, which is illustrated by Paul’s career as a tentmaker while he was preaching the gospel.

How Then Shall We Give?

To say that tithing is commanded by God is to say that those who aren’t giving 10% of their income are in sin. I do not believe that to be a conclusion the Bible allows us to draw. Christians should give financially to the church (1 Tim. 5:18). That is not a question. The question is simply this – how do we know how much to give?

The clearest New Testament passage on financial giving is 2 Corinthians 9:7.

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

images (2)The NT pattern for giving is to give freely and cheerfully, not out of necessity. Christians must understand that giving is a way we show the love we feel for our Christian brothers and sisters (Rom. 12:9-13). We should honestly assess our income and give what we decide to give with a smile, remembering that God has given generously and lavishly to us.

Is it acceptable for the Christian to give 10% of their income to the church? Absolutely. I would argue that it is a good idea, either as a starting point or a goal to work up to (depending on your income). However, it is just as acceptable to give 5%, or 50%, as long as you give generously and from the right heart.

The Start of Something Thoughtful

BeFunky_IMG_2863.jpg

Today I start a new series called Theology Thursday. Every Thursday I’ll take a look at a different theological topic and write about it from the perspective of a conservative Calvinist. You can throw out your thoughts in the comments section and we’ll think through the topic together.

To kick off the series I’ll answer this question – What is theology?

Simply put, theology is the study of what a religion (in this case, Christianity) believes to be true, and/or the body of beliefs held by a religion. The word technically means the study of God (theos – God; logos – knowledge, study), but Christian theology has been broken down into many categories depending on what specific topic you are studying and therefore I think a broader definition is the easier one with which to work.

The second part of that definition is very important. If theology is the body of beliefs about God, everyone is a theologian. It is not something we can leave to the scholars and pastors. When someone makes a statement about God, they are making a theological statement.

Jesus is God – theology.

There is no god – theology.

We are all part of god – theology.

Whether their statement is right or wrong, orthodox or heretical, well-thought-out or simply shot from the hip, the things someone says about God are their theology. Even statements like “I don’t do theology” or “Theology is divisive” are theology because they are reflecting what someone believes about the importance of knowing the truth about God and our relation to Him.

What you believe about God is of incredible importance and carries huge consequences. It is worth taking the time to figure out what you believe, studying to find out if what you believe is right or wrong, and then learning more. It won’t be easy, but it will be infinitely rewarding.

For a post on the objections raised against learning theology, go here.

When Did You Get Saved?

It’s a question that gets asked fairly often in Christian circles (at least, in the evangelical/holiness circles I’m a part of): When did you get saved?

download (3)So many seem to have a date, and sometimes a time, they can point to and say, “That was the event. That was when I became a Christian.” So many, in fact, that I wonder if there is anyone out there like me. I can’t give you a time or place or date. My story goes a little like this.

The first time I really began to wonder about whether or not I was saved was when I happened to turn on a televised Billy Graham crusade. I called a friend about it, who walked me through the sinner’s prayer, and I thought that was that. For a while.

After that, though, I did what people do: I sinned. A lot. I knew I was wrong and I was driven to despair over my sin. I would pray and beg God to save me, to not let me go to hell. Sometimes I felt saved. Sometimes I didn’t. I went to the altar at a church service and thought I’d gotten re-saved. I got baptized. I attended church a bit more reliably, read my Bible. Then I stopped doing those things and got into a pattern of desperately saying the sinner’s prayer I had been taught before going to sleep in the hope that, if I died in the night, the prayer would be enough to get me into heaven. Back and forth. That was my life for almost a decade.

Over the past few years I have seen a change in my life. Small and subtle, but real. I want to read my Bible more often. I want to pray more often, and when I do I more easily offer praise to God and prayer for others, not just myself. I have an honest faith in God. And I know that I didn’t do these things myself – they are gifts from God. I can tell you today that I am a Christian and I trust Jesus to bring me safely home.

So the big question – when was I saved? At what point in my story did I move from death to life?

A simple answer – I don’t know.

Some people get one moment. One bright, shining moment where they know they have experienced God and that everything has changed. Paul got that on the road to Damascus, when Jesus knocked him on his rear and spoke to him. It is possible that Peter got it, too, although that is harder for us to pinpoint.

What about the rest, though? What about Matthew, Jude, or John? Is it possible that they didn’t experience a moment, but a process in which they were changed by God? A process guided by an unseen hand but nevertheless real and effective?

Further, does it matter at all if I have a date and time and place as long as I am a Christian now? I don’t know if I would have gone to heaven if I had died five years ago, but I trust that if I were to die today I would open my eyes to see my Savior.

I say we stop asking about dates and places and start celebrating our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ. If you have been purchased with the blood of Jesus you have cause for great joy, whether you can remember a specific moment or not. May the star of our personal story always be Christ and His glory.

Book Review: Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds

Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds: Family Devotions Based on the Heidelberg Catechism by 17688937Starr Meade is exactly what it sounds like – a devotional for families. It is arranged one week at a time. On Sunday you read one or more questions and answers from the Heidelberg Catechism, then every other day of the week there is a short devotional that ties into the questions from Sunday. Each day’s reading (except Sunday) also includes Bible verses for reference. There are 52 weeks of devotionals in the book.

We haven’t actually finished this book yet. We are reading it at the dinner table, and, as I noted above, it could be a year or more before we actually get through the whole thing. I wanted to write a review, though, so others could hear about this wonderful book.

The book is written at a low enough level that I think it could easily be used by families with very young children (older toddlers to young elementary), but it is also written in such a way that it doesn’t “talk down” to adults or older children. My children are a bit older (older elementary to middle school age), and the book works for them. They understand it but don’t feel like it is a “baby” book.

Here’s how we are using it: every night at dinner, either my husband or I read the night’s devotional with all the Bible verses (I keep the book with my Bible, as the verses are listed in the book but not written out). Then, we ask the children if they have any questions or comments related to what we read. We have had some really good discussion about theology and Bible interpretation.

I highly recommend this book to all Christian parents. While we can incorporate Bible reading into family like without using a book other than the Bible, it is so much easier to do so with a guide, and Comforting Hearts, Teaching Minds is an excellent guide.

Open Letter to Evangelical Worship Leaders

Dear Evangelical Worship Leader,

I’m going to open this letter by admitting that I am not Screen-Shot-2012-11-04-at-3.16.45-PMnow and have never been in your shoes. I know that your position is one that gets attacked quite often in the so-called “worship wars.” I don’t intend for this letter to pile on. I know you work hard every week to learn new songs, teach those songs to others, and make the musical part of church interesting and engaging. You are using your musical talent to glorify God, and – as someone who loves music but can’t play an instrument to save her life – I am so grateful that He has blessed the church with people like you.

However, I have noticed some trends in evangelical worship that I find very disturbing. I decided that I should address these things with you, if only to clear my own conscious. From a congregation member who cares a lot for both you and the rest of the congregation, here are some concerns I have and suggestions for addressing them.

Please remember that your portion of the service on Sunday is supposed to be corporate worship. You are leading us to the throne of God. I know you mean well and want everything to sound good, but vamping during a song (the improved “ooh, yes, Jesus” etc.) takes a lot away from the corporate nature of the worship and makes it seem a lot more like a concert. I promise you that the songs will still sound right without that.

Related to that, not everyone in the church listens to the cds and Christian radio stations that you do. New songs, particularly difficult new songs, need an adjustment period. Please stop telling us to “sing out” when the song is brand new – we’re learning. We’ll do better next time. Also, not everyone is an exuberant, hands-raised worshiper. This doesn’t mean that those people aren’t worshiping God as much as you are. Telling us to raise our hands or clap or whatnot doesn’t change how deeply we are worshiping.

Don’t dismiss the hymns. Many of us love the hymns and miss singing them. Often you seem to assume that the only people in church who want to sing hymns are over 60, but that’s not true. There are many good contemporary arrangements of hymns that don’t require an organ or choir robes (this cd is a good place to start if you haven’t heard any). I’m not saying ditch the contemporary stuff for the hymns, but simply asking you to add some hymns into your song rotation.

Remember that you have a role in the presentation of the Gospel and the teaching of Biblical doctrine. Please pick songs accordingly. Being played on Christian radio (or being in a hymnal, for that matter) doesn’t automatically mean the song has correct doctrine.

I beg you, look over your song list before Sunday and ask yourself one question – is there at least one song worship-crowd-320x311on the list that couldn’t be sung by an agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Mormon, New Ager, etc.? Be honest with yourself. Many songs on KLove and the like can be sung by non-Christians as easily as by Christians. Christian worship should include at least some explicitly Christian songs – songs that mention Jesus by name, talk about the cross, talk about sin, and so on.

One point that may sound a bit nit-picky, but that I think should be addressed anyway – if you are going to say something during the worship other than introducing a song, please think it over before you get up in front of the congregation Sunday morning. Consider writing it down. I’ve spoken in front of the church myself and I know that it’s easy to get started on something you think is deep only to realize halfway through that you’re simply rambling. Your congregation will thank you for saying your piece in a way that is short and to the point.

Once again, I appreciate what you do. I don’t say it to your face often enough, but it’s still true. May God richly bless you as you serve Him and His people.

Grace and peace to you,

CG