Book Review: Churchless by George Barna and David Kinnamon

January 28, 2015 10:45 pm

Churchless

The number of churchless adults in the US has increased by nearly 1/3 in the last decade. Statements arise such as “I’m not interested in church” or “I used to attend, but it’s been years.” George Barna and David Kinnaman documents this alarming trend in the new book Churchless, which gathers together a number of research statistics (by Barna) and objectively analyzes the downward trends of churchlessness and Bible illiteracy in the US. It is a unique book and an insightful one as well, documenting many interesting subject polls (such as the number of churched in the US, salvation methods, Bible inerrancy, views of the afterlife) and describing how they differ from results a couple decades ago. The numbers make the message clear: the Christian influence is rapidly waning in the US.

 Churchless does not propose to be the solution. Rather, it documents the figures and describes what we can learn from the mind of unbelievers so we can get an idea of why they fall away from the church or what issues they are struggling with in life. In this sense, this is a good resource in order to understand issues that we should be aware of (as well as those doctrines that we should never compromise). This is one of the most thorough books that describe the state of the unbeliever’s thoughts concerning many biblical issues.

Ask Steve: Genesis 1-11: Fact or Fiction?

January 28, 2015 12:23 am

Genesis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Do you believe that the events described in Genesis 1-11 are historically factual or symbolic? Why?

Answer: The historicity of Genesis 1-11 is often debated by secular humanists, which in turn has influenced the thinking of many evangelicals since the early 20th century. There are two popular thoughts concerning evolution: 1. an unknowable force brought about life through the process of evolution (atheistic evolution), and 2. God used the process of evolution to bring about life as we speak (theistic evolution).

If this is true, then what can be said about the events portrayed in Genesis 1-11? Is the Bible wrong? Or does this section meant to be figurative – verbal expressions are not meant to be taken literally, but are employed to communicate the higher purpose of a story or lesson? Despite what humanists and liberal scholars theorize, I believe Genesis 1-11 is meant to be taken historically, which means that the section speaks about true events that happened at the beginning of world history. There are a few good reasons to support this view.

Genesis 2The first reason is that it is presupposed by the integrity of Scripture. If God exists and He had given His special revelation to us (which is timelessly binding on all humans), then that document (the Bible) can only speak truth, since God is truth (Jn 1:14; 17:17). Genesis 1-11 reveals the historicity of the 7-Day creation account, Adam and Eve, the Flood, and the Tower of Babel. Some argue that this section of the book is symbolic, or even poetry. However, this theory cannot be verified. The genre of the book of Genesis is historical narrative, which means that the whole book (including Genesis 1-11) is meant to be taken as history. There is also no identifiable difference of writing style between Genesis 1-11 and 12-50 that would categorize one as a totally different genre from another. To deny Genesis 1-11 while affirming the general historicity of Genesis 12-50 is to have a strong anti-supernatural stance (and possibly even a bias against the universal depravity depicted in Gen 1-11). However, if we believe that God exists and is omnipotent, then we should logically conclude that He can perform supernatural deeds, which includes creating the world and even overriding the fixed order of the universe if He so chooses.

The second reason to affirm the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is that it attests to the way that God meant Scriptures to be read and understood for both salvation and sanctification. Psalm 119:130 states, “The unfolding of your word gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” The Bible is meant to be understood by even the simplest of people so they can obey it. Its meaning cannot be so esoteric, or be relative according to the times and cultures, that the simple-minded is required to go to a learning institution in order to decipher its meaning. When read based on the normal sense of the language, Genesis 1-11 clearly reveals the historicity of creation, the Fall, the Flood, the long life spans of people, and the Tower incident. This attests to the integrity of the grammatical-historical hermeneutics, which is the method that Christians use to interpret all of Scripture. We come to understand the intended meaning of the Bible by the logical rules of grammar in the text and the historical and cultural contexts in which those words were penned. The result is a Bible that reveals its meaning in the normal, obvious sense, and has principles whose meaning to the original recipients are binding and understood by all generations. In other words, the Bible communicates literal truth, and not allegory (or at least allegory that is not explicitly explained by the authors of the text).

Genesis 3As with other texts or principles in the Bible, Genesis 1-11 has only one meaning and intention, which is to communicate the beginnings of life. This is the way the Israelites in Moses’ time understood this text, since there was no indication from other texts in the Old Testament, New Testament, or apocryphal writings that the Israelites and other biblical figures understood the world to be made through an evolutionary process. To claim that God perfected the world through evolution and hid this truth from Moses (because the evolution concept was too “difficult for them to grasp at the time”) is to cast suspicion on God’s truthfulness and even the Bible’s perspicuity. How likely is it that such important truths are unexplained to godly men like Moses but providentially revealed to God-hating atheists like Charles Darwin? The fact that the theory of evolution has done more damage than good to the cause of the gospel (since it is supported and lived out by many non-believers) is already a serious indicator of its erroneousness.

Even the meaning of the Sabbath in the 4th Commandment is based on the creation account. Because God created the world in 6 days and rested on the 7th day, the Israelites were expected to honor this creation account as part of their allegiance to Yahweh. The 4th Commandment would have no real meaning apart from the historicity of the creation events. Such a command for the Israelites would be quite mysterious, if not arbitrary.

A third reason to understand Genesis 1-11 is based on empirical observations. Skeptics claim that the world evolved through billions of years, and that there was never such an event as a worldwide flood or the scattering from Babel. Once again, such claims are based on the presupposition that there is no such thing as the supernatural, which includes God and all He is capable of doing. If evolution is true, then life in the world should continually be evolving into a better, more beautiful, and more advanced state. That is not what we see today, as we observe the order and beauty of this world degrading and running out of usable energy. This is the 2nd law of thermodynamics – that all things in the world tend to go from order to disorder, and not the other way around. Just the fact that there are no verifiable evidence that evolution is happening right now, that cells mutate drastically as to change into another species, or that life arises instantaneously from non-life, is an indicator that life must have been come from a first Cause who designed it the world in a certain manner. The Bible reveals that God created everything ex nihilo (out of nothing) (Gen 1), according to its own kind (Gen 1:12; 24), and instantaneously in order to demonstrate His power, glory, and purposes for people. In fact, God revealed this truth to Moses so that the Israelites would understand which God it is that created the world, how He did it, and why He did it so they could understand the truth of God, sin, tribes and languages, and God’s redemptive promises for mankind.

The historical accounts in Genesis 1-11 is reasonable in many different ways. If there was no God who created the world in 6-days and rested on the 7th, why does the world run on a weekly cycle of 7 days (in which people find it an inclination to typically rest one day from work)? Why is the world created good, but there is evil and suffering in it? Why is there such thing as death and not everlasting life? Can this be explained by the fall of Adam and the consequent curse? Why are there fossil records all over the world, even on mountaintops? Can this be explained by a worldwide flood which speaks of God’s judgment on the sinful world? Why are there flood accounts in many early traditions of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures? Does this point to the ancestors’ familiarity with a global flood, which people kept as an oral tradition from the time of the flood to the Tower of Babel? Why are there various languages in the world? How did they originate (instead of just one language to unite all communication between mankind)? Is this an indication of the historicity of Babel and God’s judgment on the sinful pride of man by creating disunity in language and scattering the people worldwide?

The final reason for the historicity of Genesis 1-11 is the theological issue. If the skeptic’s analysis of Genesis 1-11 is true, then most major doctrines of the Christian faith is distorted. If man was not created by God, but evolved, then who exactly is Adam? Was there really such thing as a fall and entrance of universal sin? If Adam was one of many Neanderthal men who evolved over time, does this mean that only Adam’s line fell into sin while the other Neanderthal were unaffected by sin? Of course, this poses problems to the gospel message and the necessity of Jesus’ atonement on the whole human race. If Adam was not a real person, who is to say that Jesus was real either. If the original man did not fall into sin, then who is to say that we need the righteousness that Jesus provides through His death and resurrection? This would make the Apostle Paul’s theological treatise of Adam and Jesus to be utterly vain (Rom 8:12-20), since they don’t correspond with reality. If the historical creation account were not true, then who is to say that marriage is exclusively between man and women (Gen 2), or that marriage must be lifelong? If the Tower of Babel incident is not historical, then what is the real significance of Pentecost (Acts 2) – an event in which Peter spoke in various world languages that indicated God’s desire to bring together what He once scattered through those same languages?

Much more can be said to prove the legitimacy of Genesis 1-11. But the real issue (for both skeptics and professing Christians) is submitting to the Lordship of Christ. Are you submitting to God’s word and His rule, or are you caving into academic respectability and cultural relevance? Are you desiring to obey God or be a man-pleaser? To deny the historicity of Genesis 1-11 poses theological problems and strikes at the foundation of God’s word. If one gets Genesis (the beginning of the book) wrong, then there is no telling how much more he will get the other parts of the Bible wrong. This is why it is important for Scripture be the interpreter of life’s mysteries, and not the other way around. True science and history will also be validated by the words of Scripture, as many historical discoveries have attested. The problem is not the clarity of Scripture, but sin in men’s hearts, which leads to distrust of God and compromise with the world’s system.

Recommended Resource: The Battle for the Beginning by John MacArthur

Ask Steve: Divorce and Remarriage

January 11, 2015 10:43 pm

Divorce 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, what is your view of divorce and remarriage? How strictly will you follow this view in practice?

Answer: Divorce and remarriage is a popular, if not touchy, subject in the world today. Societies try to redefine the moral boundaries of divorce and remarriage, as if the standard is entirely based on the person’s emotional preference or life circumstance. However, the Bible has definitive teachings on this matter, which no man can change. Marriage, divorce, and remarriage are defined by God. Therefore, to go against God’s timeless principles as it regards divorce and remarriage would constitute sin – a rebellion against God’s intentional order.

My view on divorce and remarriage is what I believe God’s word teaches about this matter – that it is permissible, but in limited circumstances. The Lord directly states in Malachi 2:16, “I hate divorce.” It is evident since the book of Genesis that God intended marriage between a man and a woman to be lifelong. It is not in God’s desire that marriages end in divorce, especially sinful divorce. Jesus the Son of God affirms this when He answers the Pharisees’ question concerning the legitimacy of divorce: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh…What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:5-6).

However, this does not mean that divorce is not permitted or sanctioned under any circumstance. In the same passage, Jesus provides a helpful commentary on the ancient Mosaic practice of a husband writing a certificate of divorce and sending his wife away (v. 7). Christ explains that Moses did not command or encourage that a husband divorce his wife after her unfaithful act or habit. Rather, Moses merely permitted it as a last-resort response to the spouse’s hardened heart. In other words, divorce (and remarriage) have been permitted by the Lord to accommodate to certain occurrences that happen as a result of living in a fallen, sin-cursed earth. Jesus teaches that a man cannot divorce his wife unless she has committed physical adultery or vice versa (v. 9). A person who divorces his spouse (without the proper biblical reason) and marries another woman is guilty of committing adultery (v. 9), because the marriage pact of the original couple is still divinely intact, no matter if the world separates them by a legal divorce.

Divorce 2Other sections of Scripture comment on the biblical legality of remarriage. Divorce is permitted if an unbelieving, unrepentant spouse wants to separate from the Christian spouse (1 Cor 7:15), although the Christian should attempt to keep the marriage intact if possible, for the sake of God’s design of marriage. In any case, the Christian should not be the one to initiate the divorce from the unbelieving spouse, especially if the unbeliever wants to keep the marriage binding (1 Cor 7:12). As the passage states, “…if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband…”

If the Christian has no choice but to agree to the legal divorce because the unbeliever cannot tolerate the spouse’s faith, then it is permissible for the Christian to let the unbelieving spouse go for the sake of peace in the family (Rom 12:18). In this situation, the Christian can either remain single and devote his life/her life exclusively to the service of Christ (v. 34-35) or he can remarry, but only to another Christian (v. 39-40). In fact, the marrying option was encouraged for widows who continually burn in their desire for a man (1 Tim 5:17), especially if it is evident that they have a greater desire for marriage than an exclusive, full-time service to the Lord in ministry.

Finally, remarriage is legitimate if the spouse dies. As Romans 3:3 says, “So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.” In this case, the spouse is freed from the spiritual liabilities and penalties of God’s law in marriage, since the statutes of marriage are only binding for this life. Marriage is not intended to go into eternity, but ends at death. The purpose of marriage is that it points to a greater reality: Christ. The picture of marriage is ultimately fulfilled in the final marriage between Christ (the groom) and the church (the bridge) (Eph 5:26-27; Rev 19:9). In fact, the entire gospel (man’s salvation and union with Christ) explains the mystery behind the human institution of marriage.

Divorce 3Why is there such thing as marriage in the world? Why is marriage supposed to be between man and woman? Why is marriage supposed to be lifelong? Why does marriage involve festivities? Why is marriage exclusive, in which partners cannot seek other “loves” outside of the two-party union? Because it is modeled on the future covenant between Christ and the church. The picture on earth is a type that points to the future heavenly reality. We see God’s faithfulness to the elect in that those who are saved by faith will not fall away from His forgiving grace, no matter how much Christians have sinned after their justification. In other words, Christ does not “divorce” or cast off those whom He has elected and justified. We see the picture of the marriage in heaven between Christ and the church (Rev 19:9), in which Christ promises to be their God, and they His people, forever.

This is the reason why marriage is to be permanent. Marriages cannot be broken because a husband is “bored” with his wife, desires a more compatible mate, or even because of constant conflicts or domestic abuses. “Irreconcilable differences” does not fit the biblical permission for divorce. Remarriage is only permitted when the spouse is unfaithful, dies, or the unbelieving partner leaves. Other reasons for remarriage are not permitted in the Bible.

Some dilemmas typically arise with these mandates. One of the prevalent reasons that people divorce is incompatibility or domestic abuse. Many see this as a legitimate reason to divorce. However, the Bible does not entertain this reason. The principles in Scripture are timeless and do not change based on unique circumstances. If a wife is suffering abuse from her husband, the most appropriate course of action is to seek biblical counseling for the marriage and/or enter into a period of separation (not divorce) from her husband for safety’s sake. She is to pray that the Lord would bring her husband to saving faith or repentance from his actions. If he repents, then reconciliation and healing takes place. If he does not repent and files for divorce (which demonstrates that he might not truly be a believer), then she is not obligated to remain with him. Remember, the Christian should not be the one to sin and initiate the divorce, but to do what is right and trusting in the Lord’s providence.

Another popular situation involves a person who becomes Christian after he has been divorced from his wife. Should he pursue reconciliation with his wife? What if she is an unbeliever? Though the man’s past sins (including unjust divorce) have been forgiven through his salvation in Christ (Acts 2:38; Col 1:14), he should still do what most honors the Lord and upholds the testimony of the gospel message. He is free to remarry another Christian woman, but he should seek to reconcile with his wife if it is possible. Even if she is an unbeliever, it is more appropriate to first pursue marriage amendments with her. If that reconciliation is not possible because she adamantly declines or she has remarried and/or started a new family with another person, then the Christian is under no obligation anymore in God’s law to pursue reconciliation with the former spouse (1 Cor 7:15), but is free to remarry. This same principle applies in the case of newly converted Christian women attempting to seek reconciliation with her unbelieving husband.

Another question that is typically asked, “Should I keep the marriage intact even if my adulterous wife genuinely repents?” Even though adultery provides the legitimate grounds for divorce, we must keep in mind that God’s intention from the very beginning is that marriages remain intact, since He hates divorce. Therefore, if an adulterous spouse genuinely repents from his/her actions, it is better to forgive, pursue reconciliation, and keep the marriage together. I say this not only for the peace of the family (including the children), but because such display of grace and mercy brilliantly captures the grace that Christ shows to His church (even when we sin in multiple ways against Him everyday, some of which includes idolatry).

Since Christ promises to commit to Christians until the end, so should we toward our spouse, even in severe times of conflicts. The preservation of the marriage, in the spirit of love, testifies to the grace that God provides for marriage, and is a sound testimony to the gospel itself. We love our wives and serve them selflessly (despite their difficulties) because Christ loved us (despite our daily disobedience to Him). We stay with them to the very end because Christ promises to be with His church to the very end.

My convictions regarding marriage, divorce, and remarriage impacts how I teach this principle and counsel others who are not living out the biblical guidelines concerning divorce and remarriage. Because these principles are grounded in God’s revealed will, it will be the basis for which I conduct marriages and remarriages. It will be the standard for which I advise couples concerning divorce.

Recommended Resource: God, Marriage, & Family by Andreas Kostenberger

Ask Steve: What Characterizes a Great Theologian?

January 4, 2015 5:46 pm

Uneclipsing

 

Currently Reading:

Uneclipsing the Son

by Rick Holland

Category: Christian Living

2011, Kress Biblical Resources

 

 

 

 

Question: Steve, I am slowly becoming familiar with such great church theologians as Clement, Augustine, John Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, and Martin Lloyd Jones? Can you explain to me what characterizes a great theologian (in contrast to a poor one)?

Answer: Theology comes from the Greek word theos (God) and logia (words, oracles, sayings). Theology is basically the study of God, which includes the study of man, life, purpose, and other importance doctrines of the Christian faith. A theologian is a man who is involved in the science of spiritual studies. He not only understands the things of God, but skillfully teaches it and knows how to apply it.

Because all Christians are commanded to know the truth of Scripture in order to grow in Christlikeness, we are all called, to some degree, to be theologians. We should make it a life’s mission to study the things of God in order to know and obey Him. However, there are Christians who are theologians vocationally (whether pastor, writer, or professor) and become of major influence to the Christian community, and even church history, in understanding who God is and what He requires of us. He seeks to make the entire Bible known to us so that we can better understand the depth of God’s word.

There are a few factors that characterize a great theologian:

Integrity. As with any vocation in the Christian faith, a great theologian must be one who is a man of God. He must be saved and filled with the Holy Spirit (Eph 5:18). The filling of the Holy Spirit is the means by which He is experiencing great sanctification, which leads to a life of holiness. If the man is continually grieving the Holy Spirit and is living a debauched lifestyle, he does not qualify as a great theologian, no matter how much he knows. The man whom God uses in this field must be an exemplary theologian who not only teaches theology, but does theology with his life.

Knowledge. A great theologian must have a near encyclopedic knowledge of Scripture and key doctrines of Christianity. Because a theologian is essentially a teacher of God’s word gifted to the local and/or universal church (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11), he must be able to understand the word of God, explain its meaning, and apply it to everyday life. A theologian should have the gift of knowledge (1 Cor 12:28), or else he would be bereft of the ability to know Scripture enough to explain and teach it.

Accuracy. A great theologian must have a truthful understanding of what the Bible says. Even if the theologian errs in minor or undeveloped parts of Scripture (ex. the destination of OT saints before Christ, the exact timing or nature of the kingdom of God), he must be able to discern all the major teachings of Scripture, which includes soteriology, ecclesiology, missiology, and, to some degree, eschatology. In other words, a great theologian should have the gift of discernment (Acts 17:11; 1 Cor 2:14), distinguishing between truth and error as much as possible, in order to be a good teacher of God’s word.

Insight. A great theologian has deep insights into the word of God. He does not merely restate what the Bible says or make general observations about God or the matters of the Christian faith. The great theologian understands the theology behind passages or verses in the Bible. He understands the original languages, cultural and historical contexts, and divine principles of the passage based on careful exegesis, and exposits it skillfully in order that we better understand the word of God. A great theologian can exposit a text and articulate doctrine that clearly explores, defines, and defends the Christian faith. A great theologian’s exploration of the Bible is profoundly deep but understandable, thought provoking but not esoteric, unique but not heretical, brilliant and not dull.

Defense. A great theologian defends the Christian faith against attackers, from both the secular world and professing evangelicalism. In other words, a great theologian is also an apologist. Studying and understanding Scripture theoretically leads the theologian to understand truth and error. Scripture commands the teacher of God to rebuke error and defend the faith (2 Cor 10:5; Jd 1:3), since the devil seeks to destroy the Christian faith, especially through distorting God’s truth. There are many Christians who teach God’s love, the beauties of salvation, and the benefits of Christian living, yet hardly speak on the dangers of heretics and compromise with the world. A great theologian does not ignore the world and the church’s battles. In fact, most of the doctrines we hold to this day (ex. Trinity, total depravity, justification by faith) were defined by great theologians who stood for the integrity of God’s word in the midst of concerted efforts to distort it.

Response. A great theologian is able to produce work that elicits response. I do not mean a response to the theologian’s great talent, but a response to the word of God. Does the theologian’s work cause men to love God more? A theologian can state facts or systematic theology of the Bible, but these things alone do not necessarily transform men or cause them to want to worship God. The question is, Does it cause believers to worship the Lord better because of a deepened understanding of men’s sin, the gospel of Christ, and the consummation of God’s plans for history? If the theologian’s work does not compel Christians to seek God in salvation or sanctification based on the greatness and wonders of God’s character, then he is not a great theologian. A great theologian’s work will influence many towards spirit and truth worship (Jn 4:24), and is usually used by other Christians in their teaching ministry or personal devotions.

These are some of the few main attributes of a great theologian. Authors, life inspiration teachers, pastors, and seminary professors may know much about the Bible and obey it, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a great theologian. In fact, there are many in the last 2,000 years of church history who were characterized as theologians. But there are theologians in the past and present who are known for teaching false doctrines (especially in core issues of the Christian faith), do not have an accurate understanding of Scripture, attack the trustworthiness of Scripture instead of defending it, and do not elicit a response of obedience for and awe of God from the audience. However, a great theologian will do as the commands teachers to do (understand the faith, explain the faith, defend the faith, exhort in the faith, and live out the faith).

This is what characterized fine theologians of the past like Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Thomas Aquinas, Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, George Whitefield, and what characterizes great theologians of the present like J.I. Packer, John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Norman Geisler, and John Piper.