Recently I found myself in at least two discussions with professing believers about the nature of the atonement (the process of sinners being made right with God) and the true meaning, and purpose, of the cross of Christ.
Writ large across the pages of scripture and therefore heralded for centuries as one of the central components of the Christian faith is the truth that since sin entered the world through Adam (Romans 5:12-21) we have all fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:22-23), none of us is righteous in and of ourselves (Romans 3:9-18), we are all slaves to sin (John 8:34), and we are all deserving of its consequences.
The fact that we all deserve to face the ultimate consequence (or wage) for our sin, but in His mercy God has saved a people for Himself, is to me one of the most awe-inspiring aspects of the Christian gospel message. Romans 6:23 reminds us of this important fact by saying:
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So why would anyone want to twist that message?
Amidst the annual revelry that was the 2016/17 New Year celebration, a particular phrase thrown about by well-wishers caught my attention. It is probably something that gets said every year, but I noticed it more this year than in the past. Countless blogs popped up with tips on how to make 2017 your ‘best year yet’ and many people promised loved ones the year would take them to new heights. Perhaps it was particularly prominent given the fact that many saw 2016 as a big black mark on history thanks to several blows to their collective positivity throughout the 365 day journey around the sun – including a series of high profile celebrity deaths and a less-than-desirable US presidential election with two highly questionable candidates. Perhaps not. Either way, it struck me as presumptuous at best, perhaps even arrogant.
Earlier this year I read Kingdom Come by Sam Storms. I suppose until recently I held the default eschatological position of many Christians, known as historic premillennialism. However, the ministry through which I came to understand the truths of reformed theology is heavily postmillennial and while I listen to their teaching and appreciate their optimism and passion for the world to continue to get better, I can’t fully reconcile postmillennialism with the world around me.
As I began to study eschatology more closely I said to several people that I think the church would be in a much better place if more Christians lived like post-millennial believers, but again, the overarching flow of historical events stopped me short of believing that we are heading for some sort of golden age on this side of the second coming.
Enter Sam’s book, which became for me a turning point and a source of clarity on the ‘end times’. It is quite scholarly and is not an easy read at times. I think it has more footnotes than any other theological book I’ve read to date (minus the Bible)! It is worth reading though and I commend it to all (reformed or not) who are serious about understanding what the book of Revelation means in light of the Bible as a whole.
I should preface the following statement by saying that I am generally comfortable with the standard social conventions and greetings of western culture; a handshake, a quick hug and perhaps a peck (kiss) on the cheek, depending on how close the two people are. That said, there is something just not right about a man giving a soft handshake. For a long time now I’ve taken to referring to such an encounter as a ‘wet fish handshake’. Like a wet fish, it is just not pleasant – it is limp, perhaps lazy, seemingly weak and usually unexpected. I don’t want to get into an argument around gender stereotypes, but in my experience a soft, non-committal handshake just seems… not worth it at best or a bit icky at worst – sort of like holding a wet fish, except without the cold and the stench (unless of course you’re outside in winter and your handshake partner hasn’t showered for some time). The reason for this article though isn’t really my discomfort with a certain badly handled (excuse the pun) social convention, but rather a concern I have that, in some ways, for many evangelical churches, the culture and even the means of presenting the truth of the gospel have become a bit like a wet fish handshake – hence the title – escaping the evangellyfish culture.
There are but a few events in life that really change a person, perhaps not completely, but so significantly that the effects of the change cannot be denied and become an integral part of the fabric of a person.
So it is, I believe, with parenthood…
This morning, the Easter series at church continued, this time with the theme “imagine a world where death wins”. In some ways we all live in a world where death at least appears to win the mortal battle. As they say, the only certain things in life are death and taxes! Though, for those of us who believe we know that death has not won the war and we delight in the fact that it has lost its sting and will therefore not have a lasting impact on us for eternity. The reason it has lost its power is because of the glorious resurrection of Jesus, who nailed our sin to the cross, fulfilled the death penalty on our behalf and then conquered death itself by rising again. In the words that follow I hope to unpack just a few thoughts about the significance of Resurrection Sunday.
Today is Good Friday, 25 March 2016 – a day to pause from the busyness of life and remember afresh the significance of what Jesus has done for His people.
The title of this post might be confusing at first, particularly due to my use of the term ‘full justice’, but hopefully the meaning of this will soon become clear and you will see as I do the beauty in the truth of the title’s statement.
About a year ago I was asked to speak at an inter-church worship team training/day seminar as one of the guest speakers. The event was organised around a key note session and then breakout groups for each instrument. I had been asked to speak to the bass players breakout group about what worship is and how those who serve the church as part of a worship team can do so effectively. I was then to offer some more specific tips to bass players about their particular role in the overall team (which I may include in a later post). While I was honoured to be asked, I unfortunately was unable to make it to the event, however I had already penned some thoughts which until now have remained unused. I thought I’d post them here and I pray they are helpful to someone.
Over the last few years perhaps no other preacher, teacher or theologian has taught me as much as John Piper. For this reason I feel somewhat strange when I say it has taken me until now to fully read through his magnum opus ‘Desiring God’. I’m sure, however, that others will attest to the fact that this book is not one to rip through in an afternoon. The depth of theology and the paradigm shifting presentation of the Christian’s pursuit of joy in God as foundational to a Biblical understanding of the gospel requires much thought, contemplation and reflection.
“The difference between just doing what comes naturally and principled self restraint is called civilisation…”
– Greg Koukl
Writer’s note: I wrote this post originally in June 2015, around the time of the SCOTUS decision. I didn’t properly publish it for any length of time back then for several reasons, one being that I didn’t want to add to what was (at the time) a climate of extreme emotionalism on both sides of this issue. I hope that as the smoke clears something I wrote back then might be helpful for those still interested in this topic (in December 2015) and particularly for anyone interested in giving the Christian perspective a fair hearing.
It is my hope that upon reading this you still feel able to call me ‘friend’. Let me say I am well aware that we may disagree on this issue and for some of you this disagreement will be quite wholehearted and passionate. However, I believe friends should be able to acknowledge their differences and even have rigorous discussions on such matters without writing one another off as valued human beings based on their differing views. I write this letter not simply to add to the plethora of [often angry] posts on social media in support of or mourning the [at the time of writing] recent SCOTUS decision, but rather to try to respond accurately and consistently to two groups of people;
- Those who have engaged in conversation with me on this issue with genuine interest in the conversation prior to various social media threads becoming entirely cumbersome and genuinely unhelpful as a result of militant, angry or emotionally driven posts that cloud the train of thought of all parties and derail any form of helpful discussion.
- The many friends whom I have seen jump on the social media ‘progressive activism’ bandwagon (so to speak) by painting their profiles with rainbow colours in support of the decision and who may have been wondering why or how I could possibly not do the same with a clear conscience.
Before I continue I would like to make clear what I believe and why I am seeking to write this letter in love for those who struggle with same-sex attraction and for those who have been swept up in the wave of popular opinion in support of the marriage redefinition agenda.