Archives For Theology

universal-diagnosis

regaltribune.com

It’s about as puzzling as it is pervasive. Especially in our nation, people assume the label, “Christian,” for themselves as easily as a food preference. A 2014 survey revealed that about 70% of Americans consider themselves Christians. Often at funerals (in an understandable grasp in grief) individuals—even clergy—will proclaim with certitude the individual’s presence in the eternal place for Christians, despite an absence of Christianity in the individual’s life. Some of the more common answers to the question, “How do you know that you are a Christian?”, are things like, “I have always been one,” “I believe in God,” “I was baptized or confirmed,” “At camp I came forward,” “I just grew up that way,” “I prayed a prayer,” “Because I am a decent person,” or, “Because I grew up going to/go to church.”

But how do those reasons match up with the Christian manual—the Bible—on what it means to be a Christian? Are 70% of 300 million Americans characterized by the Bible’s definition of Christian characteristics? What does the Bible say about what it means to be a Christian?

It’s critical that we use God’s objective word when evaluating whether or not we are a Christian, and not our subjective opinion. Scripture, not experience or sentiment, is the say on the status of our soul. After we die, when and we stand before God in the judgment (Heb. 9:27), he is not going to ask, “So, did you think you were a Christian in life? You did? Oh, OK, come on in to heaven.” He will judge by his standard. And, according to Jesus, on that day many will be surprised when they are shut out from heaven for all eternity (Matt. 7:21-23).

So, this matters. Eternity is at stake. This is a matter of our own souls and those of people we love. Thus, it is inappropriate, and even more, perhaps, spiritual suicide, to respond, “Who are you to question me?” The answer, of course, is, someone who cares about you and your eternal well-being.

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Today is December 1. That means there are only 25 days until Christmas.

Visit your local coffee shop, take a trip to the mall, or just drive through your neighborhood at night, and it’s easy to see that the so-called “Christmas spirit” is alive and well in American culture.

Some of the ironies of our culture’s fascination with Christmas are especially evident where I live in Southern California.

• It hasn’t snowed in Los Angeles in years, but snowflake decorations are everywhere.

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compassIt’s not uncommon for me to hear of Christians claiming that God led them to this or that by means of a dream or vision or word from the Lord. When I probe what they mean by that, more often than not it’s just their way of saying they had an idea or imagined a scene.

Only occasionally has the person insisted that they literally had a supernatural experience of direct revelation like Paul going to heaven (2 Cor 12) or Peter’s trance (Acts 10). Dismissing those claims as spurious hogwash is fairly uncomplicated (see the cornucopia of articles on this blog by searching “Strange Fire” or “prophecy” or any other charismatic sounding term).

What deserves more leniency is the acknowledgement that the Spirit prompts us and guides us in our everyday lives. After all, those “who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.” (Rom 8:14).

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TriageMore than ten years ago (can’t believe it’s been that long!), Al Mohler wrote a seminal blog post outlining what he called “theological triage.” Borrowing the term from the emergency room, Mohler discussed the need for Christians to prioritize certain doctrinal issues over others. In what can be the chaos of an emergency room, medical professionals need to know how to weigh the urgency of various patients’ needs against one another; that is, a gunshot wound should be prioritized over a sprained ankle. Similarly, in the theological world, Christians must understand the difference between (a) “first-order” doctrines—where to hold an errant position actually precludes one from being a true brother in Christ—and (b) “second-” and “third-order” doctrines—issues on which two genuine Christians can disagree and nevertheless be truly saved. In other words, we need to be able to discern the difference between bad doctrine and heresy.

All biblical doctrine is important. I would go so far as to say all biblical doctrine is essential. It’s difficult to put any doctrine into a second or third tier, because it somehow feels as if to do so is to say it’s not important. But employing theological triage doesn’t mean that everything that’s not first-order is unimportant, any more than a doctor prioritizing a gunshot wound means that he necessarily thinks a sprained ankle is unimportant. But the fact remains: genuine Christians can disagree on things like the mode and recipients of baptism; but if two people disagree on the triunity of God, one is a Christian and the other isn’t.

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Paris_attacks_rt_img

thenation.com

Much of the world continues astir in the wake of ISIS’s brutal attack last Friday on Paris which left 129 people killed and more than 350 wounded.

Social media was quick to explode with prayers, cries of shock, outrage, and condemnation. But one common thread we have seen running throughout the tweets and headlines and comments of many has been along these lines: “ISIS are not real Muslims.”

We understand the desire of peaceful Muslims to distance themselves of such despicable acts. Yet, the question remains: Can ISIS be considered Muslims in any way? It’s a difficult question, especially for westerners and Christians. In order to speak accurately and intelligently on the issue, some careful consideration is needed.

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Southern Africa’s theological landscape is immersed in the heritage of the Reformers. A tide of persecution in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries washed legions of harassed French Huguenots and Dutch Calvinists up on the shores of the Cape of Good Hope. Their theology was understandably soaked with covenantalism and its most distinctive mark—infant baptism.baby under water

Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Presbyterians, and Methodists are all well established denominations in South Africa. The practical implication for a Baptist pastor like myself is that almost everyone who wants to join our church—old and new believers alike—inquires about why we don’t recognize their infant baptism.

I’d like to piggy-back on Jordan’s excellent post from last week, and offer a primer to help frame the discussion you may have with someone who wants all this explained to them.

This eon-old debate is very nuanced and complicated, and unlikely to be settled by one discussion unless the person is already predisposed to change their view. But this is a primer for the discussion. The following five points are not an exhaustive treatise, but may help keep your head above water in the discussion.

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One of my favorite events that we get to experience in the church age is Baptism. To watch someone courageously declare the Lordship of Jesus in their life is an awesome blessing to witness. It is a declaration of freedom. It is the symbol of being dead to sin and alive to Christ. (Rom 6:11) It is the announcement that it is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2:20). That’s why we believe in believer’s baptism. That is someone who knows the difference between good and evil and can declare their commitment to Christ.

Sometimes in our circles (those who do not believe baptism saves) we are tempted to minimize the importance of baptism, but it is of vast importance. Baptism is the way a person declares their commitment not only to Christ but to a local body of believers as well (Acts 2:41). This declaration of commitment is why churches require baptism before membership. I believe that for the sake of obedience to Jesus and for the sake of conscience we should take the practice of baptism seriously.  So, in light of the importance that Scripture places on baptism, here are three reasons which might lead a person to consider getting “re-baptized.”

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han soloWhat body do we occupy between the time our lifeless bodies decompose into worm-fodder and when they are resurrected in glory?

The short answer is that we don’t know. The Bible doesn’t say. Biblically speaking, it’s a secret. But it’s no secret that the absence of knowledge can’t deter bloggers from opining for 800 words.

So, let’s start with what the Bible does say:

  1. Disembodied spirits seem to require a material, animated host, i.e. a person or animal (remember the pigs) in which to operate in the material world. In Scripture we see spirit beings such as angels and demons disengaged from the material dimension until they manifest in a bodily form.
  • Matt 12:43 When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none.
  • 2 Kings 6:17 Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.
  1. Bodies are mortal but spirits are immortal. A human being’s spirit separates from his/her mortal body when that body stops functioning—dies—and translocates to where Jesus is, a realm called Paradise (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 12:3).

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Reformation Day - Nerds498 years ago tomorrow, on October 31, 1517, Martin Luther famously nailed his 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, Germany, kick-starting the Protestant Reformation. Nearly 500 years later, God’s people reserve this day to celebrate the rescue of His Word from the shackles of Roman Catholic tyranny, corruption, and heresy. The glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ as revealed in the sufficient Scriptures had been recovered, and it’s been doing its saving work ever since.

Romans 1:16–17 stands at the heart of the Reformation, especially because of how central it was in Luther’s conversion. Luther speaks of how he had hated the phrase, “the righteousness of God,” because he understood it to be speaking only of God’s standard of righteousness by which He would judge unrighteous sinners. But eventually, he says, “I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that through which the righteous live by a gift of God, namely by faith. Here I felt as if I were entirely born again and had entered paradise itself through the gates that had been flung open.”

Today, as we reflect upon and remember the grace of God that fell upon the world in the Protestant Reformation, I want to reflect upon the Gospel that made it happen—and particularly the concept of righteousness which was so central to the regeneration of the great reformer. And to do that I want to focus on another text that Paul penned, which gives us wonderful insight into the saving righteousness of God. In Philippians 3:9, Paul explains what it means to be found in Christ—namely, “not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith” (NKJV).

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95-theses

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This Saturday, October 31, commemorates nearly 500 years since one of the greatest movements of God in church history; the Protestant Reformation. Up to the time of the Reformation, much of Europe had been dominated by the reign of Roman Catholicism. To the populace was propagated the idea that salvation was found under Rome and her system alone.

But as the cultural and theological fog cleared in Europe and beyond, God’s people gained a clarity that had been mostly absent for centuries. The Reformers gained this clarity from keeping with a simple principle: sola scritpura, or, Scripture alone. As they searched the word of God, they discovered that Rome deviated radically on the most critical points of biblical Christianity. With one mind, God’s people discerned from Scripture that, tragically, Roman Catholicism was a desecration to the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today, nothing has changed. To my evangelical and Catholic friends, it’s important that we no longer erroneously say that Roman Catholicism differs from Scripture only on minor points of doctrine and history. As the Reformers saw clearly, and will be demonstrated here, the differences could not be greater.

In keeping with that movement of God by the word of God, here are a few reminders of how Rome is a desecration to Christ:

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