Don’t Ignore the Gospel

In our last post examining the Letter to the Hebrews, we saw how real the supernatural is. As Hamlet told an old college buddy, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Yet even those spiritual beings and realities that our eyes haven’t (or can’t) see are subject to the rule and control of King Jesus. He is not an absentee king, and he uses the spiritual beings of our world — both good and evil — to do his good and perfect will.

But the author of Hebrews wants to do much more than persuade us that angels and demons exist. In the beginning of chapter 2, he answers that most serious question: “So what?” Why should I care that Jesus is better than the angels? This is his answer:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
— Hebrews 2:1-4 (NIV)
In these verses, the writer shows us that a smart person’s reaction to the news of Jesus’ kingship should include a fair dose of sober self-examination. Is it good news that Jesus is better than anything else? Absolutely — there is no better news! But it also shows that Jesus is a king to whom the world owes absolute loyalty and devotion.

Left to ourselves, we don’t “pay more careful attention” (2:1) to Jesus. Instead, our tendency (and it is a dangerous one) is to “drift away.” We’re called to set our course and stick to it, to aim everything in our lives toward loving and obeying the High King of heaven. But what do we do? We get caught up in the daily grind of living in a corrupted world full of pain and confusion. Our jobs are hard. Our relationships are tiring. Our desires go unfulfilled. And slowly, day by day and hour by hour, we drift off course, away from the only safe port in a stormy and unpredictable sea.

Of course, this is exactly what our King told us would happen: life presses hard on us, and many who claim to be his subjects will abandon him because of it (Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23). He isn’t so harsh as to leave us without a warning of the dangers we face — he loves us! We see that in the way his love warns us against the great danger our souls face of drifting away from knowing him and obeying him. Yet the warning is serious: the church in the Old Testament was held responsible for obeying a message of salvation from God delivered by angels (see Acts 7:53 for the same point and two examples in Exodus 32:25-28 and Leviticus 10:1-2). The salvation was real, and so was the punishment for ignoring it. If the angelic messengers turned out to be trustworthy, aren’t Jesus and his message to be believed all the more?

As if the mere word of Jesus weren’t enough, he loves us enough to give us corroborating testimonies. God himself is a witness to the truth of the gospel, and he affirmed its reliability “by signs, wonders and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will” (2:4). He also allowed the original readers of this letter to hear eyewitness accounts supporting the claims of Jesus and his apostles. Could there be any more convincing witnesses? Could the evidence have been any clearer? If not, could the truth possibly be ignored? Sadly, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

We need to remember that this warning is primarily for those who have affirmed their belief in Jesus and claimed him as their king. The warning is for us so that “we do not drift away” (2:1). Through this passage of Scripture, God wants us to ask whether our lives need a course correction. Do we say one thing about our relationship with God while unknowingly doing otherwise? Are we like so many of the believers of the Old Testament who heard the message of deliverance from sin and misery only to drift away from it? Their punishment should lead us to change — to repent — and to renew our attention to God’s message. Don’t ignore such a great salvation. And don’t ignore the Son of God, the King of angels, who died to deliver it to us.

Genesis, Science, and Humility

According to many young-earth creationists (YEC), non-Christian scientists falsely interpret Nature, and they do so on-purpose.  This is because they have their own, unbelieving worldview, and they also are trying to make people not believe in God.  Now of course, there are some scientists who “have an ax to grind” (Neil deGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, and the like come to mind).  If only they knew the Lord, so the argument goes, they’d interpret nature aright.  While that may be true for some scientists, is it true of all of them who aren’t YEC?  This claim is especially used with respect to the age of the universe and understanding starlight and time.  Let’s examine this claim from the perspective of  both YEC and OEC (Old Earth Creationism).

Navigating the turbulent waters of YEC and old-earth OEC creation is like trying to cross a stream on slippery rocks without getting one’s feet wet.  One false move, and whammo, you’re in trouble.  Whatever one’s position is, the important thing to remember is one’s metaphysics (theory of reality).  Along with metaphysics, comes one’s epistemology (theory of knowledge).  The crux of the discussion is the relationship of Scripture to Nature.  There is also the issue of arrogance, and there is a serious moral problem among many people in this discussion, of which I will comment toward the end of this post.

For many YEC’s, Scripture trumps nature every time, and is the lens through which Nature must be interpreted.  For OEC’s, Scripture and Nature are the “Two Books” God has given us, where both fit together in a mosaic, aiding human understanding of creation and Creator.  Now, given the fact that starlight takes millions of years to get to earth so that we can see it, YEC’s say God created the light in transit during the creation week.  Hence, we can now see such light.  OEC’s accept the prima facie understanding that because starlight takes millions of years to get here, that the universe is old.  I’m not going to discuss the science of that in this post, so much as the epistemological issues at stake. (For an easy-to-understand article on this see, Greg Koukl’s “Starlight and the Age of the Universe.” 1

The YEC view often says things that, in my opinion, are harmful.  For example, I’ve heard arguments that scientists who think the universe is billions of years old are “darkened in their understanding” (Ephesians 4:18) and are hostile to God.  They have an “unbelieving worldview” and therefore, their interpretation of reality (metaphysics) is untrustworthy.  Well, I have two issues with this.

First, as a rejoinder, I’d like to point out that texts like Ephesians 4:18, and others such as Romans 1:18, where unbelievers “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” are speaking of moral problems in men and women.  Of course, epistemology and ethics are interrelated, and unbelievers do “suppress the truth” and they do so in “unrighteousness.”  Hence, there is such a thing as “moral knowledge.”  Still, these texts aren’t indicting humans as to their interpretation of the natural order with reference to its age. Romans 1 is concerned with idolatry, lack of thankfulness to the one, true, God (v. 21), and immorality (vv. 18-32).   Romans 1 is concerned with humans’ interpretation of the natural order with respect to its nature and essence.  In Romans 1, the indictment is against the worship of nature, not age of it. Similarly, Ephesians 4:18 is about Gentiles who have a “hardness of heart” and live lives of greed, impurity, and “every kind of indecency.”  Again, this is more of a moral problem, than a “scientific” one.

Secondly, would we say that an unbelieving doctor, or engineer, or math teacher has a faulty interpretation of reality?  “But,” a YEC may counter, “If scientists really knew God, they’d believe the Bible and interpret Nature accordingly, as recent, young, and so on.”  Well, if that were the case, then why do so many Christians understand Genesis as teaching something different than YEC?  Do we want to say that they, too, have capitulated to unbelieving understandings of Nature?  The burden of proof here is then for the YEC to show that such an interpretation of Genesis is the only viable one available.  But this is biting off a lot to chew: it requires intimate knowledge of hermeneutics and Hebrew.  On that score alone, things get complicated, and the YEC faces the dilemma of this fact: due to things being complicated, the YEC view loses its power, because the thrust of its argument is that the beauty of YEC is how very simple and easy it is to follow.

For example, in Genesis 1:2, it says “the earth was formless and void, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.”  Here, the earth is in existence prior to the completion of Day 1 (v. 5).  How long was the earth there before the completion of Day 1?  I don’t know.  Do you?

Another example of how Genesis 1 and 2 are complex is the use of the word “day” (Hebrew, yom).  In Genesis 2:4, it says:

“These are the generations of the heavens and the earth, when they were created, in the day (Hebrew, yom) that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.”

Of course, in chapter 2 v. 4. there is no numerical adjective followed by the phrase “evening and morning” in chapter 1.  But that’s just the point, isn’t it?  The text is complex.  Further complexity is seen in that God made them male and female on the 6th day (1:31), but in chapter 2, Adam seems to have lived for at least more than a single day before the creation of his wife, as Adam worked the ground, named the animals, and listened to the Lord’s command about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  Did all of this happen in a 24-hour period?  Maybe it did.  However, to say it is a hard-and-fast interpretation seems a bit stretchy, like those old toys I had in the 70’s.  (Stretch Armstrong.  Remember the weird, green goo inside of them?  I bet it was toxic, for sure.)

Does it make sense why some Christians see complexity in the text and have reasons to believe the YEC understanding isn’t as simple as it seems?

Now about the knowledge of unbelieving scientists.  Does my allergist not know that if she gives me my allergy shots that I’ll get better?  This is a common theme in presuppositionalism which feeds a number of YEC’s, that unbelievers don’t truly know reality, because they don’t know (or, rather, believe) that the Triune God is the author of that reality.  Ok. Here, we would get into some serious metaphysical and epistemological discussions about the justification of knowledge, univocal and analogical reasoning, and so on.  Do we really want to go there when talking about whether my Hindu, atheist, Jewish, or Muslim heart surgeon truly knows what he’s doing in making me better?  He understand my heart, and its mechanical workings, yes? This is a simple, practical question that has a simple answer, doesn’t it?

The OEC view follows the Belgic Confession’s “Two Books” doctrine whereby Scripture and Nature both speak of God’s acts and ways.  Scripture is special revelation, and Nature is general revelation (Psalm 19:1-6; Matthew 6:26; Romans 1:18ff).  Both Books inform us of what God is like, and what He has done, is doing, and will do.  Scripture, of course, tells us more about God’s actions and ways, and His future plans.  Nature, though, is something that humans, with the aid of their God-given reason, can discover, manipulate, cultivate, and use to His glory, and for the good of mankind. The Belgic Confession would seem to eschew the idea that in order to understand Nature on a practical, truthful level, we would need Scripture to tell us about it.  While it’s true that some in the unbelieving world hold to metaphysical notions that are untenable and indeed impractical, such as that reality is an illusion (some forms of Hinduism).  But that’s not everyone, and it’s still the case that such people eat, sleep, and carry on with their lives.  It seems to me then, that the YEC presuppositionalism needs to be jettisoned for a better fusion of Scripture and Nature as understood by the Belgic Confession.  Unbelievers do understand reality at a good, practical level and extent.  Agree?

Now about arrogance.  Without naming names, I have told people time and again, the main problem I have with YEC’s is their arrogance.  There is a flippancy in argumentation, and also an ungodly attitude towards OEC’s (and other brothers and sisters in Christ) that is prevalent among YEC’s.  It’s true that arrogance can be found among theistic evolutionists, OEC’s, and ID theorists.  That’s part of the human condition.  However, I have witnessed and have personally experienced terrible arrogance at the highest levels in the YEC movement.  I wonder how it can be, that if someone has the correct understanding of Scripture, that such an ungodly demeanor can be manifest so expressly among people?  Is it fear?  Perhaps it is fear.  For fear will override the rational faculties in people, and cause them to operate on emotion.  Maybe that’s it.  Whatever it is, it needs to stop, for “the Lord opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34, cf. 1 Peter 5:5).  There is a better way than to treat people with a different point of view who still hold to orthodox Christianity.  Take the Apostle’s Creed for example.  If we can agree on that, can we love each other, even as we are called to love our enemies–people who don’t hold to such a statement of belief?

This was originally appeared at Van Allsblog (www.vanallsblog.blogspot.com)

  1. Greg Koukl,  http://www.reasons.org/articles/star-light-the-age-of-the-universe

The Fruit of Following God – Part 5: A Life of Obedience

Another quality exhibited by the follower of the Lord is that of obedience, i.e. observing or keeping the commands of the Lord. Reading through this list of attributes that we’ve been studying for a few months now in Deuteronomy 10:12-13, it is difficult to imagine that even in this Old Testament context (as the “next” generation prepares to enter the Promised Land) this attribute would be seen as legalistic and perfunctory. The fear of the Lord is a heart attitude as is love for the Lord.  Service to the Lord is to be wholehearted–engaging the entirety of one’s soul. Surely the obedience of the Old Testament people of God and the obedience of any disciple of Jesus was and is motivated by a grateful heart.

The bigger context of this passage is set in the reality of salvation, i.e. the exodus of the children or people of God out of Egypt, a beautiful drama of salvation in their lives. The follower of Christ, living in His grace, is always wondering how he or she can please the Lord in daily life and that desire to grant the Father pleasure is demonstrated by expressions of trusting faith and sensitive obedience to the Father’s will. In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught his disciples to pray, “….Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” (Matthew 6:10, ESV). And as Jesus prepared to die and depart, he reminded his disciples:

“Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him,” (John 14:21, ESV).

I might also suggest that the natural consequence of “fearing, walking with, loving and serving” the Lord would be heartfelt obedience. And if obedience was expected of the believer in these early days of God’s redemptive plan (salvation from Egyptian slavery), one might expect an even greater response of obedience to the full light of salvation revealed to us by the cross of Christ. Appropriately, Jesus’ Great Commission to “make disciples” appears to be an imperative and includes “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you….” (emphasis mine). Disciples of Christ are commanded to teach obedience to Christ’s commands. He is pleased when we do so as His obedient followers!

Is Community Optional?

Is community necessary for the Christian?  Scripture teaches that there are commands given to us by God that cannot be completed or fulfilled alone. One of the most obvious examples is the “cultural mandate” in Genesis 1:28: “Be fruitful and multiply…”

Pastor Josh talks a little about some of these this week in this video blog entry.

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The Fruit of Following God – Part 4: A Servant Life

Christian discipleship always results in the creation of servants. The Christian disciple’s motto should inevitably reflect the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mark, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many,” (10:45, ESV). Some scholars believe that this verse is the summary or key verse of the entire gospel of Mark as the author’s theme is to demonstrate that Christ came as a man in order to serve and die for humanity. In order for a disciple of Christ to live for the glory of God, he must learn to be a servant. This service is displayed in the local congregation (or the local church), in the surrounding community as well as among the broken and those needing mercy.

Servanthood flows out of one’s understanding of both God’s greatness and being, as well as His worthiness, and also out of the realization of Christ’s own condescension to earth in order to procure our salvation. The Apostle Paul clearly reinforces this concept from the example of Christ himself, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,” (Philippians 2. 5-8, ESV).  And according to the passage in Deuteronomy, this spirit of servanthood is not simply a dutiful, obligatory activity. Whenever and wherever we serve the Lord, it is to be with all of our hearts and souls.

The Fruit of Following God, Part 3: Walking With God and A Life of Love

Below, we continue our survey  describing what it means for a believer in Christ to follow Him.  What does a true follower of Christ look like?  We looked at the first major quality a couple of weeks ago, the fear of the Lordnow we take up qualities two and three (all stemming from Deuteronomy 10:11-12).

Quality Two: A Walk with God

The Christian life is so often pictured in the Scriptures as a walk. The word “live” (peripateo) in the New Testament is also the word for “walk.” The picture is one of step by step progress. Slow, methodical forward moving progress and that done by faith. This is indeed the portrayal of discipleship, whether as an Old Testament saint (did they ever understand walking!) or a New Testament believer who is trusting in the One who came and revealed the Father. The follower of Christ faces the day-to-day grind of daily life and prepares to face each new sunrise as a forward moving walk, holding the hand of the Savior and more importantly taking those baby steps of faith knowing that ultimately the Savior is holding his or her hand.

Quality Three: A Life of Love

The Christian life and indeed the life of the disciple of Christ is a life that resonates with love. First and foremost this love must be a deep love for the Lord and not simply being in love with an ill-defined concept of love. We love because He first loved us. The Apostle Paul recognized that the love he had for the Lord, particularly for the saints and extending even unto the many lost and needy souls in the world, was a love derived from God through Christ, “For the love of Christ controls us….” (2 Corinthians 5:12, ESV). Until we comprehend God’s love for us, a love that exists in spite of the fact that we were his enemies, ungodly and sinners and a love demonstrated through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we cannot exude the love of God from our hearts.

May each of us engage in a daily (even a moment by moment) walk with Christ, a walk of faith that is exhibited by a life of deep love, both for Him and for others!