Despite the increasing opposition to Christianity, let’s face it, in western civilization it’s pretty easy to proclaim Christianity as one’s established religion.
What is the gospel? It is God’s rescuing his creation from the ownership of sin that happened at the fall through his work in the Son. It is recognizing the fact that something went terribly wrong in Genesis 3 that disconnected all mankind from eternal communion with God and subjected creation to futility (Romans 8:19-21). The gospel is the good news of redemption, forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with the Father and hope of enjoying him forever (See Eph 1:3-14). The gospel is sourced in God’s work through the Son, whose sacrificial atonement on the cross nailed the debt of sin for those who believe and whose resurrection forever expunged the condemnation associated with that required payment. (The first 8 chapters of Romans pretty much sums this up.)
I think its safe to say that if you’re a Christian, you might automatically nod or even get a little smug since you probably would rattle off different iterations of this description. You wouldn’t hesitate to say, yes I believe the gospel because I believe that Jesus died for my sins.
But do you really believe the gospel? See it’s one thing to know facts about God’s work through Christ in rescuing what was lost. But it’s quite another to live as if that is true. It’s one thing to say that it took the work of God by the Holy Spirit to bring us into union with Christ completely on his work, but quite another to put assurance in that work and not on ourselves. It’s one thing to verbalize that you were dead in your trespasses and sins, cut off, unable to even respond to God without his intervention, it’s something else all together when we act like we can qualify the gospel with our contributions.
Here’s a little test…
1) Do you feel like you’re a good Christian because you haven’t committed any egregious sins?
If you’re proud of yourself that you’re not like those who have fallen into error, chances are you believe that you had something to do with your righteousness. That’s not believing the gospel but our own works
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works so that no one my boast.” (Eph. 2:8-9) Continue reading
Over at The Gospel Coalition, Erik Raymond wrote how the cessationist position concerning gifts often receives the rebuttal, aptly titled for his piece, Don’t Put God in a Box. By cessationism, he means that the operation of certain gifts as normative practice have ceased. Since he uses the word normative, I can’t tell whether he means it can’t happen at all or rather there is no need for God to move. I think this is an important clarification since the cessationist position often gets interpreted as not believing in miracles. Though there are some cessationist who take the position, I think it safe to say they are in a small minority. The rest of us would contend that God can work as he pleases but does he really need to on a regular basis?
Nevertheless, this gets to the thrust what interested me about Raymond’s piece that I want to connect to a couple of other areas in which some say God must move. He rightly asserts that the God in a box argument is actually limited because it restricts movement of God to extraordinary events instead of seeing the whole of what God does in his divine Providence.
Now we see the issue clearly. It is not so much the gifts as the activity of God. We also see something of the reflex of 21st Century, particularly Western Evangelicalism. The thought is that the evidence of God working in the world is the miraculous. God shows up and we all know it. We know God is working when tragedy is averted, disease is healed, life is spared, and the occurrence of personal experiences that cannot be explained.
But, what if God’s work is far more than this? What if his activity in the world is not limited to our perception of the miraculous? What if God’s activity in the world is less like Superman—rushing in to ‘save the day’ and then rushing out before he is spotted—and more like Atlas—holding the weight of the world on his shoulders? What if God is not actor in the story of our life but that we are in his story? What if God is the writer, director, producer, main character, and set designer?
The doctrine of Providence helps us here. Providence is God’s infinite power that upholds and governs all things that come to pass. As the Heidelberg Catechism says,
“God’s providence is his almighty and ever present power, whereby as with his hand, he still upholds heaven and earth and all creatures and so governs them so that: leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and barren years, food and drink, health and sickness, riches and poverty, indeed all things, come to us not by change but by his fatherly hand.”
The main things you need to know about this is that God is not disconnected from what is happening in the world today. God is upholding, governing, and ordering all things as with his very hand.
I have often thought that eschatology, the doctrine of the end times, gets treated as a tag-on to Christian theology. In other words, it is possible to treat how we view the end as something additional to what we would consider the primary basis of Christianity.
From first to last, and not merely in the epilogue, Christianity is eschatology, is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present. The eschatological is not one element of Christianity, but it is the medium of the Christian faith as such, the key in which everything in it is set . . . Hence eschatology cannot really be only a part of Christian doctrine. Rather, the eschatological outlook is characteristic of all Christian proclamation, and of every Christian existence and of the whole Church.
Yes, the truth is that our view of eschatology shapes the lens through which we view our Christian life in the here and now. And there is no greater display of this than when tragic or culture shifting events happen in our society. Most notably, I can’t help but note the hysteria that has happened among Christians regarding the Supreme Court ruling declaring same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. This has sent many Christians into a fearful tizzy with common declarations that this must be the end times.
I think one of the reasons for this presumption is a faulty understanding of end times interchangeably known as the last days. Many Christians view the end times as a series of cataclysmic events that happen to usher in a 7 year period that is commonly known as Great Tribulation (but not before the rapture of the church) prior to Christ’s final judgement (dispensational premillennialism). In this line of thinking, it makes sense that every disruptive event might be a sign that sets off this chain of events leading to the final judgment. It’s not surprising then, that this scenario elicits fear. Continue reading
I came across this article the other day on The Gospel Coalition, Let’s Be Honest: Reasons Why We Don’t Read Our Bibles. Erik Raymond suggests 5 reasons:
1) It makes us uncomfortable
2) It’s too hard
3) We are undisciplined
4) We think it’s stale and lifeless
5) We have a dysfunctional relationship with God
He gets to the crux of the matter with this statement;
Let’s be honest: if you don’t read your Bible it is because you don’t want to read your Bible. And to bottom line this further, this is indicative or your relationship with God. We cannot separate a love for the Word of God and the God of the Word.
Now, a lot of this really resonated with me since I’ve written similar prescriptions of why we might find Bible reading boring. Anyone who has followed this blog for any amount of time knows my passion for believers being serious about Bible reading and comprehension. In fact, I would expand on his 2nd point about the Bible being too hard in that Christians really need a framework to understand how the 66 books fit together as God’s complete story of redemption. When I consider my own trajectory in Bible reading, my comprehension of the holistic Christ-centered nature of Scripture has evolved and is evolving over time because of the direction of others. But especially because of how it is emphasized in the preaching and teaching of the Word at my church. Over the past decade, I have been increasingly exposed to preaching that considers the holistic nature of Scripture not just cherry picked verses to support whatever instruction the preacher wants to provide so that I do x, y and z. Continue reading
The Gospel Coalition posted the first article in a series on the prosperity gospel. As I read through, 5 Errors of the Prosperity Gospel, and I’ll get to these points in a minute, I couldn’t help but think that calling it prosperity might be a bit misleading. Why do I say that? Because in reality, proponents of prosperity teaching don’t refer to it as such. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that many proponents of prosperity teaching would reject the notion that the aim of our Christian existence is to get rich and would be quick to label the Creflo Dollars of TV fame as charlatans. So I think by labeling it “prosperity gospel” might have the impact of turning a deaf ear to it’s troubling foundation.
Herein lies the subtle deception of prosperity teaching. The premise of what is called a prosperity gospel is simply put: material blessings are a sign of God’s acceptance and favor. One does not necessarily have to believe that riches are the goal to buy into prosperity teaching. This is evident in looking at the five points outlined in the article. More than anything, I think that many people who buy into prosperity teaching are well intentioned about the Christian faith and strive earnestly to live that faith out. But I believe the main contributor to prosperity promotion is a lack comprehension of what material blessings meant in the Old Testament. It is evident in the teaching (which I myself embraced for many years, that prosperity teaching fail to consider that the whole theme of Scripture is rooted in God’s redemption of his creation in an elaborate scheme that involved calling out a people called Israel as his own. This only serves as the basis of how he will unite Jew and Gentile as equal heirs to his promises fulfilled in Christ.
For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight a couple of the five points in relation to point I’m making that prosperity teaching is more about the material blessings as the basis of genuine faith. But I encourage you to read all 5 points; Continue reading