A Tragedy, the Gospel, and My Peace of Mind

Oh great another gospel post.  Is this guy obsessed or something?…One of the things I do to work out my thoughts is to write about them.  You don’t have to read, but I appreciate it when people do read.  Feel free to comment. A tragedy:

Recently there was a tragedy in my life.  One of my coworkers, Ed, died.  He literally just fell over dead while at work.  He was 46 years old, and though he was not in great health, nobody expected  him to die.  I have worked alongside him for over 2 years.  He was possibly the most likeable person I have ever known.  I can’t imagine who he wouldn’t get along with.

When a thing like that happens there is a cycle of emotions that you go through.  I believe that emotions are mostly outside our control.  They happen at a visceral level. Emotions are why fear or phobias have a hold on us even though we understand that they make no rational sense.  For me that gamut of emotions began with simple shock.  I could not really do my job effectively, and I was just stunned.  It is almost like every thought that is necessary to function properly is cut-off by this other thought, “I can’t believe it.”  That shock was followed by simple sadness.  I was sad because I’ll miss him and I was truly sad because his teenage boys no longer have a dad.

The Gospel:

All of that is really introduction for what I want to write about today.  The Gospel.  I know I write a lot about the message of the gospel. (Obvious confession; I don’t really write a lot about anything anymore)  There are two reasons I write on this subject often. Number one, because it is important.  The gospel changes lives.  Number two, I’m afraid that it is becoming hidden in church culture.  There are so many things we have put on top of the gospel that many people could not even tell you how it is that they were saved.   In fact, I think that many church people believe they need the gospel less and less as they live, as if the goal of the Christian life was to become more independent from God by doing less and less of "the bad stuff," and therefore, need the atonement even less.  This could not be further from the truth.  The closer we become to God the more we should realize how desperate we are for His grace.

I have shared this recently.  But I will now repeat myself.  The message of the gospel is this: God made us for fellowship with Him, but we cannot be in fellowship with Him because we are sinners and He is holy.  Because of sin, we deserve death and hell.  But because God loves us and wants that fellowship He made a way to restore it and for us to avoid the consequences of our sin. What is that way? Jesus, who is God, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected.  In order for the gift of salvation to be effective you must, by faith, believe in this sacrifice on your behalf and ask Jesus to take control of your life.

My piece of mind:

As far as I am concerned this message is the most important thing I can tell anyone.  When you tell someone the story of the gospel you get different reactions. Some people will want to know immediately how they can accept this message.  Others will put you off.  They say, “I’ll deal with this later,” or “I’m not ready now.”  I have heard this many ways.  Once somebody who I had just witnessed to simply nodded and said, “Interesting.”  Our conversation ended there.

I once had an opportunity to have this conversation with Ed...and I changed the subject.  That’s right.  I was given the opportunity to witness to him and I failed, miserably.  I regret that, but it could have been so much worse.  I would be typing this now with the knowledge that I failed to tell him the most important thing I know.  The most important thing he would ever hear.  I would have nothing but doubts and a guilty conscience.  Nothing resembling peace of mind.

Fortunately that was not the last chance I ever got to have this conversation with Ed.  Later I took advantage of the opportunity to tell him the Gospel.  Not quite as pointed or succinctly as the paragraph above, but when our conversation was finished, I knew he understood.   I asked him simply, “Has there ever been a time in your life when you asked Jesus to be your savior?”  He nodded, and said yes. For me that conversation gives me great piece of mind.  At that point I can stop worrying about judging his behavior to see if this is the way a Christian should act. (I really want to write a whole paragraph here about church discipline and judging others.  Instead all you get is this parenthetical note.)  I can simply take his word as truth.  Because he told me yes, I can expect to see him again after the resurrection.

The same is true for almost all of my loved ones.  If I have known you long enough and we are more than simple acquaintances, then I have probably heard your testimony.  If you are reading this and that doesn’t describe you then tell me.  I would love to hear it.

Just Tell Them the Gospel

Yesterday I told you about an opportunity to share the gospel with a coworker.  He immediately left the room after making the comment that opened the door, so I was not able to share with him.  However, another coworker was.  And the path of the conversation was relayed to me shortly thereafter. The conversation quickly, almost immediately, became about what is and is not a sin.

I wish I could say this was the first time I ever heard a conversation go this way.  Many times I have seen conversations which should have been about the gospel turn into conversations about morality.  Is drinking wrong? What is the line you cross that becomes lust? So-and-so is a hypocrite.  You can believe in God and not go to church.  I have heard all these things repeatedly.  Those conversations are not necessarily bad.  However, if they distract from the Gospel they are a tragedy.

The person with the spiritual questions will almost always begin to turn a conversation this way.  It is natural.  They do it because they associate Christianity and morality.  They think it is where the conversation should go.  Also, I believe it allows them to feel better about their spiritual condition.  If we are all sinners and we all fail, then a conversation about how we disagree about what even is a sin makes them feel as if they are in the same boat with the rest of humanity.  Misery loves company, confusion does as well.  There is comfort in the confusion I suppose.  The problem is, this does not address their problem. A discussion of this type gives them no answers.  A discussion of sin or hypocrisy with a person who is not a Christ-follower is completely unhelpful.

Imagine this conversation.

Cletus says, “How do you get to the grocery, Joe?” “Well, I’ll tell you.  I always take the first left.” Joe replies. Cletus interrupts, “Jimbo says that there’s a lot of ways to go.  He thinks that the second left is the best way” “C’mon Cletus.  You know Jimbo gets lost wherever he goes.  My way is better” “He might get lost a lot, but so do you.  What makes your way so much better?”

Hopefully you can see that this conversation is not going to help Cletus get to the store.  Ultimately it is going to leave him unsatisfied.  He may find the store, but not because of his conversation with Joe.

This is a [probably overly distracting and unclear] analogy designed to illustrate the futility of focusing on the wrong thing.  Whether or not Jimbo gets lost a lot does not matter.  The question was, how do you get to the store?  It was not answered.  The most important thing is to answer the question.

Why does this happen so often?  Two reasons. Number one I already shared.  Lost people do not know the problem, they have a notion that morality and the afterlife are connected. So morality discussions seem to be the natural path for them.  Also there is comfort in feeling like everyone is confused.

Number two is confusion on the part of Christians.  Talk to some people in your church.  I will bet that many of them cannot clearly articulate the gospel.  And worse, many of them have also confused Christianity and moralism.

Briefly, the message of the gospel is this: God made us for fellowship with Him, but we cannot be in fellowship with Him because we are sinners and He is holy.  Because of sin, we deserve death and hell.  But because God loves us and wants that fellowship He made a way to restore it and for us to avoid the consequences of our sin. What is that way? Jesus, who is God, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of the world, and was resurrected.  In order for the gift of salvation to be effective you must, by faith, believe in this sacrifice on your behalf and ask Jesus to take control of your life.

That is the gospel message as briefly and clearly as I can state it.  You may notice that there is not one word about morality in that, other than to say that everyone sins and Jesus did not.  If I had been in the conversation with my coworker I guarantee he would have heard that message. Probably not that succinctly, but as clearly as I could make it while being sure that he understood.   I would have asked him if he had ever heard that message before, and if he had come to a place in his life where he had placed his faith in Christ.  I have no idea how he would have responded.  I only know that by allowing the conversation to become about morality the message of the gospel was lost.

If you are reading this and you think that the gospel is the same as moralism, go back and read that paragraph again, click through the scripture references.  There is nothing there about whether you can or cannot drink alcohol or how much money you give to the church or whether your neighbor kicks his dog or even whether you were baptized.  None of that. The gospel is about restoring sinners to fellowship with God.

When we have opportunities to share the gospel it is very important that we use them wisely.  With many people you may only get one opportunity.  GIVE THEM THE GOSPEL. Please don’t get sidetracked with moralism.

What I miss about being a youth minster

Tomorrow will mark six months since I found myself without a youth ministry.  And since I have decided, at least for now, not to pursue a youth ministry position, I thought it would be a good time to write about what I miss about it and what I am doing to compensate for these things. #1 The number one thing I miss about being a youth minister is a distant runaway number one.  I was a youth minster because I felt a call to work with students.  The thing I miss most about youth ministry is those relationships with students.

Working with students is wonderful because it keeps you young.  Middle and High school students have boundless energy.  Some of it rubs off just be being in their presence.  It is wonderful because they are not yet jaded or cynical and there is so much potential for them to do great things for God’s kingdom.  And it is wonderful because you get to see them mature and become adults.  I still maintain relationships with many of my students from the past.  And I try, even if it’s only through Facebook, to keep up with the lives of all my former students.  Some students will break your heart, they make poor decisions, drift out of church and follow the world’s way, but there are so many that I am proud of for their choices.  At least 2 of my former students are now ministers, and, even though it may be statistically unlikely, most are involved in their churches.  On a slightly different note, I do not miss the relationships with parents nearly as much, but never wanted to be antagonistic towards parents, and I never allowed students to disparage their parents. I always valued the opportunity to have influence in the lives of students, and I appreciated their parents for allowing me those relationships.

After leaving my previous church it took me about 3 months to find a new church home.  But I am now quite content and I am a regular adult volunteer with the students at Edgewood.  Though it is slow going I am beginning to again develop these types of relationships.  It’s different, I’m not in charge anymore, but the opportunity is still there.

#2 The second thing I miss is teaching regularly.  I really enjoy teaching and as a church staff member I got the opportunity to teach at least 3 times a week for 14 years.  I was hoping that my apologetics ministry would fulfill this need in my life, but so far that ministry has yet to get off the ground.  Now allow me to praise the youth minister at my church.  My appreciation for Joey Snyder is immense.  He has allowed me opportunities to teach, and I believe that he views me as an asset.   Though he is a better youth minister than I am he still allows me to help.  I consider him a good friend and I am always glad to help him out.

How do I fulfill this need to teach regularly? I already said that I hoped my apologetics ministry would take off and I would get the opportunity, but that hasn’t happened.  (Please take a minute to visit my website and consider having me lead an apologetics weekend at your church) I am officially the teacher of my Sunday school class, but that is such a different style that it does not quite scratch the itch.  Plus I only actually teach every third week.  So far, I just really miss this.  I try and not lecture my friends and family in normal conversation.

#3 The third thing I miss about being a youth minister is the “identity” issue I talked about when I decided to launch a new ministry.  For years I have been Jeremy Mathis: Minister of Youth, now I am Jeremy Mathis: guy who works in a kitchen.  It’s a big adjustment, and it’s one I haven’t fully made.  I still get an incredible amount of mail regarding youth camps and curriculum and I still want to go to the Lifeway youth ministry conference.  All these things have been a part of how I think of myself for a long time and I struggle with this regularly.  I don’t want to beat a dead horse here, but if my apologetics ministry were to become successful, I believe it would almost completely alleviate the pain of this identity problem.

That’s it.  That’s what I miss.  I considered writing a “what I don’t miss about being a youth minster” post.  But that would be cynical and wrong.  Being a youth minister was a great experience for me and I was blessed to have the opportunities I had..


We tend to take for granted the many things that we usually consider the providence of God.  Providence is the way that God cares for and holds together His universe.   Since it is Thanksgiving, I’d like to pause a minute and thank God for some of those things.

  1. Oxygen to breathe
  2. The fact the ice floats so all the fish don’t die in the winter
  3. Gravity to hold us down, but not so strong we are crushed
  4. A heart that beats without having to concentrate on it

Feel free to add to this list in the comments

Apologetics for every day – The Answer (Finally)

A few weeks ago I told of an encounter I had with someone who had a “Karma is real” sticker on her desk.  I asked you how you would attempt to begin an evangelistic conversation with her.  Literally one person is interested in this question so I decided to finally answer with my approach. I love Christian apologetics, and for people like me, it is rather easy to get caught up in the wonky, philosophy and argument-making version of apologetics.  This stuff has a place and it is even valuable in the right setting.  However I believe that for apologetics to be worth pursuing it must have for its goal, evangelism.  In other words, if I take an opportunity to use my apologetics training to destroy someone in an argument and make them feel stupid, I have done nothing for the kingdom of God.  I have alienated them and at best I have demonstrated to them that Christians are smart jerks.  This version of apologetics is divorced from evangelism and is wrong.

Having said all that, this question is both an apologetics and evangelism question.  Fundamentally this is a question about worldviews that work and worldviews that don’t.  My goal in trying to witness to this lady is not to tell her how stupid her worldview is, but merely to get her to question it so that she will be open to a worldview that is actually true.  If I were to tell her that she is stupid she will not be inclined to listen to me.  In love, I need to appeal to the truth which makes the logical conclusion that her worldview is false.

Since this entire exercise is intended to suggest that her view is false, it will be inherently offensive. (The gospel message is inherently offensive.)  So the approach has to be delicate.  Again, my goal would be to make her question the validity of her worldview and to offer to her the Christian worldview.  True for false.

If I had this opportunity again, I would ask her if she found that statement, karma is real,  to be true in her life.  Does it seem to her that good people prosper and that bad people suffer?  To me it seems like all people suffer and there is no correlation between goodness and prosperity.  I would suggest to her that Jesus says that it rains on the just and the unjust alike.  And that sinfulness does not figure into the way suffering is handed out on earth.

I realize that this is far, far away from a full gospel presentation, but again, the reason I called this an apologetics exercise is that my goal is to get her thinking about the worldview she holds and replacing it with one that works.

I welcome your comments.  Does this approach seem right to you?

Apologetics for every day - the question

Last week I had an encounter with someone working in an office and on her desk was a sign that read "Karma is real."I have spent quite a bit of mental energy in the last week thinking how I could have best broached the gospel with this lady.  So I think I'll toss this question to you, my reader.  Tell me. What would you have said to begin the process of evangelism in this case?

Later  I'll tell you what approach I have decided on.

Book Review: Love Wins

I think it might be an internet rule that if you are a Christian and a blogger you must write a review of Rob Bell's latest book, Love Wins.  I don't want to run afoul of the internet so here is my review.  I know that many of my readers have not read other reviews but I should say, there's probably nothing too original here. Much ink has already been spilled in reviewing Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell, so I will not be offering a traditional review here.  Rather I will be answering some of the questions that people have heard about the book.

What is the thesis of Love Wins?

Rob Bell’s writing style doesn’t lend itself to clarity.  Any time he is getting close to a conclusion, instead of saying what he believes or even what he means, he asks leading questions.  But it seems that the thesis is as follows:

God gets what He wants. Because he is loving, God wants everyone to be saved. Love wins.

Again, he never comes out and says that everyone will be saved, but he makes that implication strongly.  Apparently they will be saved even if they desire nothing of God.  Although he doesn’t reconcile this tension.

Is Love Wins at least careful with the scriptures.  Does he come to his conclusions Biblically?

In short, no.  One would have to strive to mishandle the scriptures as much as Bell does in Love wins.  He is a pastor and one charged with preaching the word.  He should have a basic grasp of hermeneutics, but he is utterly irresponsible with God’s word.  One brief example is quoting John 12:47 [pg 160] to say that Jesus didn’t come to judge the world.  However, in that very same sentence Jesus says that His words will judge those “who reject me.”  There are so many examples of either terrible hermeneutics or outright mishandling of the scriptures that it would be hard to list them all.

What about the holiness of God, does he care about that?

The word Holy appears on page 182. That’s it.  And on page 182 he describes substitutionary atonement correctly and follows it by suggesting that it teaches a false message.  So yes he does deny the holiness of God.  The god of Love Wins is loving, but he is not holy.  That is not the God of the Bible!

I have to also say that Bell is very loose with the way he speaks of the Trinity.  He doesn’t deny the trinity, but he is not at all careful in the way he speaks.  It is extremely off-putting to hear somebody say Jesus and God.  It implies that Jesus is not God.

Does he really deny the atonement?

He does in fact describe the crucifixion as a powerful metaphor. And he says that “most of us do not understand sin, guilt, and atonement in those ways.”  He says the first Christians, “put the Jesus story in language their listeners would understand.”  I wonder if he has read the book of Hebrews?  I said at that outset that His style doesn’t lend itself to clarity.  Bell never actually says anything.  What he does is imply it in a way that only an idiot could deny what has been said.  So yes, he strongly implies that the atonement is just a metaphor.

Is there anything good about the book?

I will give him credit for understanding Heaven as a physical place.  Many times in many evangelical churches, heaven is seen as this ethereal place that neither seems heavenly or particularly real.

Also the book is quick to read.

Would you recommend the book?


The next 2 posts on this blog

Last week I wrote a post about the holiness and love of God because I knew the pull that Rob Bell has and I knew more or less what the thesis of his new and very popular book was.  That post was not written as a review but as a theological critique to the picture of God the book paints.  I decided, however, that it is unfair to do so without reading the book.  So I bought it and read it.  I have decided to write the review in 2 parts and to make those parts 2 posts.  I don't want anyone to read the first one and take it too seriously. First there will be a snarky review because the style of the book annoyed me and it was fun to write.

Second, there will be a serious review of the book.  Read whichever one you prefer.

Holiness and Love Win

This title is obviously inspired by the title of Rob Bell’s newest book Love Wins, but I have not read that book.  I have however seen it reviewed in a handful of places.  So I will say a bit about it here then move on to my point in this post.  If the quote from Russell Moore’s blog, The Blood-Drained Gospel of Rob Bell, is accurate, (and it is) then Rob Bell is simply not a Christian.  One cannot claim to be a Christian and deny the necessity of the blood of Christ.  The cross is the center of Christianity.  If it is unnecessary, then we can toss out everything else the Bible has to say.  Let me put that a slightly different way.  Why would someone feel the need to call themselves a Christian if they deny the atoning work of Christ?  If the cross is merely “the  Jesus story in language listeners would understand.”  That is a denial of the atonement.  The person who says that is Christian in title only. In past generations Christian liberals abandoned the scriptures because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by academics.  Now it appears Christian liberals are denying the gospel because they don’t want to be embarrassed culturally. It’s the same story just a different generation, and it is sad.

There is, however, something about the character of God that all Christians struggle with.  This struggle is what starts someone like Rob Bell down the path toward universalism and it is the same thing that causes other Christians to feel as if God would never redeem certain “types” of people.

The Bible makes it clear that God is Love.  In fact, it directly says, “God is love.” (1 John 4:8) The Bible also makes it clear that God is Holy and says so directly. (Leviticus 11:45)

The Holiness of God means that He hates our sin.  Has a hatred of it more than we can imagine.  And even the sins we think are cute, or the ones we are somehow proud of, God hates.

The love of God means that he is willing to forgive, and even forget, all of our sins. Through the Son He has justified us and does not see those sins.  He loves us more than we can imagine.

Here is where it gets difficult for every Christian I know.

We all tend to place the holiness and love of God on a continuum and we find that we view God far on either side of that continuum.  If we overemphasize the holiness of God we become legalists and think we are somehow righteous because we are able to keep God from squashing us.  If we overemphasize the love of God we become antinomians (or universalists) and think that we can behave however we wish because God will forgive.  (Apparently Rob Bell would say that God will forgive even if we desire to reject Him)

Neither of those views of God are true or fair.  God is perfectly holy AND perfectly loving. He hates our sin and he loves us enough to forgive it.  The hard part is understanding this and living accordingly.  I do not want to worship a god who is not loving, neither do I want to worship a god who is not holy.  Fortunately, I do not have to make this choice.  The God of the universe is both and all Christians will do well to remember this.

I hope I have been able to say this clearly.  I welcome your comments.

Nativity Scene Poll

Last week in my Church I presented an apologetic lecture on the historical reality of Christmas.  As part of the lecture I pointed out that most nativity scene Jesuses have their hands raised as if they are worshiping the Father. (Like this one pictured on the left)

This one random point seemed to be remembered more than any other point I made in the presentation.  Now I would like you to answer a poll question.

Please take just a minute to answer this question.  Look at your nativity scene in your home and let me know if Jesus has his hands up or are they at his side.  The poll won't spam you, and I will use the results in the future.  I predict that Yes will win like 80-20

[polldaddy poll=4291358]

What about those who have never heard? (pt.2)

I started a blog post a week ago about what happens to people who never have a chance to hear the gospel.  Then I kinda forgot about posting part 2.  So even though it is much delayed, here is part 2. You may remember from part 1, two arguments.  1) It is the testimony of scripture that those people are lost, and 2) the notion that general revelation is enough to condemn but not to save.

My third argument is one from logic.  So I’ll start with propositions:

-          Jesus commands his followers to share the gospel message. (Matt: 28:8)

-          Many people who hear the gospel message will reject it. (Matt 7:13-14)


-          If ignorance of the gospel was enough to save, the great commission would be cruel because it would bring about condemnation for many

I think that is pretty clear, but I’ll elaborate a bit.  Why would Jesus command us to tell everyone if the simple telling would bring about condemnation to so many?  Because many will reject the message of Christ, then the act of telling them is cruel.  I expect none of us would be willing to call Jesus cruel.  And we know that God wishes for none to perish.  So the very giving of the great commission implies that those who have no access to the gospel are lost.

My final argument is not so much an argument as it is a comment.  We should not underestimate how much God hates our sin. (2 Cor 5:21, 1 Jn 1:5)  Nobody will declare that those who have no opportunity to hear the gospel are not sinners.  If they are human, they are sinful. God has been very clear about His penalty for sin.  We all know we are guilty of sin and so we look on it much more lightly than God who is completely holy.

I believe that all this evidence leads to  no other conclusion than to say that those who never have the opportunity to hear the gospel are lost.

In light of this - Give to Lottie Moon.  Pray for missionaries.  Be open to God's call to become a missionary.  The great commission is more important than we can express.

What about those who have never heard? (pt.1)

Three times in the last few weeks someone has asked me a question about what happens to those who have never heard the gospel of Christ.  It is one of those questions that is always closely under the surface for evangelicals because we have compassion for the lost.  There is a special concern for those who are lost and have not had the opportunity to know about Christ.  For some reason, I rarely post about theology on this blog.  In this case I think it has become necessary.  So I will do my best to explain why I believe that these people must be lost. My first argument is a simple straightforward argument from scripture.  Salvation is only obtained one way, by faith in Christ.  John 14:6 makes this abundantly clear.  That there is no way to get into heaven except thorough the sacrifice of Christ.  This is not simply prooftexting or taking one verse out of context, the same idea carries throughout the Bible.  Faith is the only method of salvation.

This may sound repetitious, but it bears saying.  There is no other god, person, entity, or idol to appeal to for salvation.  Acts 4:12 says, “There is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  This is clear.  Faith in a tribal sun-god, or in the moon, or in a giant rabbit or anything other than the name of Christ is worthless.

If I had no further argument, this would be enough to establish this doctrine.

My second argument is to appeal to general revelation. (A topic which I’m surprised that I haven’t blogged on before) Romans 1 makes it clear that God has made Himself known to everyone through creation. Romans 1 also makes it clear that this knowledge is enough to condemn, but not enough to save.  An awareness of God does not even remotely resemble saving faith.  James 2:19 says that even the demons believe in God.  The doctrine of general revelation, therefore tells that this knowledge makes us without excuse.  That is to say that all people know that they are guilty.

As I was writing this post, I realized that it was becoming way too long.  So I have split it into 2 parts.  Come back tomorrow and read part 2.

Tiger Woods, Buddhism, and Atonement

Unless you live under a rock, you know about Tiger Woods’ apology last Friday.  Many people have said many things about this apology and about his well-publicized dalliances.  I want to focus on only two portions and point out what I believe to be an inconsistency.  I am not critiquing his sincerity or even the quality of his apology.  I am only looking at the logic behind a couple of his statements. First, let’s look at a quote regarding Tiger’s Buddhist faith.

I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path for me is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don't realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously I lost track of what I was taught.

Tiger has accurately stated the point of his faith.  Buddhism teaches that the major problem with the world is suffering, suffering comes as a result of desiring, and the way to end suffering is to stop desiring.  I will only point out briefly here that if Tiger ends his desire to be the greatest golfer of all time it would do major damage to his career.  So I doubt that he will end all desire.  Desire is where ambition comes from and ambition has made him a truly great golfer.

The greater inconsistency in the speech came earlier when Tiger said the following:

“For all that I have done, I am so sorry. I have a lot to atone for”

Atonement means making up for the wrong a person has done.

Here is why I see a great inconsistency with Tiger’s statement.  According to Buddhism, there is no need for atonement.  That is what karma and reincarnation are for.  If what you have done is wrong, the universe will handle it.  There is no need to try to make up for bad deeds and no point in trying.  Also, the universe, or the oneness of Buddhism is impersonal and therefore cannot be wronged, again making atonement unnecessary..

This is one of the many reasons that Christianity is beautiful.  When we do wrong, we know innately that we have wronged God.  The message of Christianity is not that God will “get even” that way that karma will, but rather that, through faith in Christ, all the work of atonement has been done already.  We cannot atone for our wrong actions, but Christ already has.

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 4

All week long I have been trying to answer the following question: What do Christians do with the Old Testament law?  Today I will try to answer the hardest related question; What is the point of all the law? We all understand the reason behind some of the laws, for example, don’t worship other gods, but why are some others so obscure?  E.g. Don’t eat lobster, or catfish.  Build a fence around your roof.  Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.   If you kill someone on accident their relatives can come after you, unless you flee to a city of refuge.

Depending on who you ask, you get different answers about the nature of the Pentateuch.α These views fall basically into 4 camps.

  • Some say the point is to relay the law and give moral guidance. – In other words, the main purpose for the Pentateuch is to give the laws.  Which is understandable view since so much of it is made up of laws.  But that ignores some extremely important narrative.
  • Some say that the point is to offer a simple history – Plain enough right.  The laws are basically extraneous
  • Some say that the point is a biography of Moses – I would like to dismiss this out of hand because it ignores Creation, and everything about Abraham.
  • Some say that the point is to offer specific commands to specific people. (e.g. Build an ark)  This also seems silly.

Having dismissed all these views, how will we arrive at an answer to the question at hand?  let’s turn to Old Testament theology genius, and my Hebrew professor, John Sailhamer.β

He will say that main idea of the Pentateuch is to contrast 2 people; Abraham as seen in Gen 26:5, and Moses in Num 20:12.

Follow those links and read the 2 passages closely.  I’ll bet you see something you have never seen before that will transform the way you look at these passages.

What is so transformative about this view?

First, Abraham is said to have kept the law even though he lived and died before it was given.  Do you see it?

Then compare that praise to the sin of Moses.  Which according to Num 20 is a lack of faith, not disobedience to the law.

Have you ever seen this?  Abraham is praised for his faith, Moses (the bringer of the law) is condemned by his lack of faith.

So what conclusion do we draw from this contrast?  How does it help answer the question I have spent all week on?  It means that the point of the OT law is just as Paul says in Rom 10 “the righteous live by faith.”

I hope this series has been helpful.  I enjoyed writing it.  Feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

α I’m not sure where I got this from.  I think from lecture notes by Robert L. Cole, Old Testament Survey 1,  Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

β John Sailhamer, “The Mosaic Law and the Theology of the Pentateuch,” Westminster Theological Journal, 53 (1991) 241-261.

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 3

So why did I choose to spend a whole week writing on this topic?  Because it seems like every Christian struggles to some degree with the answer.  They don’t often ask the question “Am I responsible for keeping the Old Testament law?”  But they do wonder “why can’t I get a tattoo?” or, “Is it okay to mow my yard on Sunday?” or “Is it okay to go to a restaurant on Sunday after church?”  These questions revolve around issues that are not addressed specifically in the New Testament but are clearly addressed in the Old.

I wrote a while back on the morality of tattoos and that post is one of the most popular of all time on my blog.  (Tattoo is a top 5 word in search referrals every month) So let’s take that issue and look at it from the different approaches I laid out yesterday.

So to clarify, Tattoos are not addressed at all in the New Testament, but they are clearly forbidden in the Old Testament. (Lev 19:28)  How does our approach to OT law affect our answer to the question “are tattoos morally acceptable?”

View 1 – The law-gospel divide.  If we approach our question from this view then we are left to conclude nothing.  This view which says that the OT law is of no consequence to NT believers tells us nothing.  We are left to judge the morality of tattoos from a strictly New Testament perspective.

View 2 – Theonomy.  This view says that the OT law is binding on Christians would offer a clear answer to the question.  According to this view, tattoos are morally unacceptable because they are forbidden by Lev 19:28.  I will add here that according to this view, sausage, and clothes of mixed fabric are immoral as well.

View 3 – Principlism. This view, which says that Christians are bound only by the moral law and not the civil or ceremonial law, would also not help us to answer our question.  This command is in the category of ceremonial law, so it is no consequence to the Christian.

We could do this same illustration with any number of common moral questions and find a similar result; it depends on your view.  So maybe this isn’t the most helpful post of all time, but it should help in making the questions contextual.  At least you have a way to think about these sort of moral questions when they arise in your life.

Tomorrow I will try to answer a harder question; What is the point of the Pentateuch and all this law?

Christians and the Old Testament Law pt. 2

Don’t eat eagles or geckos (Lev 11:13,30) If you marry a foreign slave woman, shave her head and wait a month to consummate the marriage (Deut 21:10-14)

Don’t cook a baby goat in its mother’s milk.  (Ex. 23:19) (That one is there 3 times.)

Build a fence around your roof (Deut 22:8)

These are just a few of the 613 laws of the Pentateuch.  New Testament believers have always had a precarious relationship with the law of the Old Testament.  There are many we keep and many more that we do not.  However for the vast majority of Christians, there is no reason why we keep some laws and not others.  They seem to us either random or culturally-driven.  Today I will attempt to show how Christians throughout the ages have viewed the Old Testament laws throughout time?

Most views of the law fall into these three categories:

1.         The Law-Gospel divide – This view says that the law of the OT is useful, (because it is scripture after all) but it does not help Christians make moral decisions.  NT believers live by the law of Christ not the law of Moses.  In other words, Christians are not bound at all by the law of the Old Testament.

What are some problems with this view?  Most significantly, it reduces the OT to a mere book of history.  If the law does not apply, how do we know the narrative passages are relevant to New Testament believers.   Secondly, Christ quoted much of the OT law. The majority of 10 commandments are explicitly repeated in NT.  If this is the case and Jesus thought it was important enough to reference, then maybe it should speak to His followers

2.         Theonomy – This view says that OT law is binding on the lives of Christians.  Ceremonial law (festivals, temple rules) was fulfilled in Christ so we are off the hook for that.  But the moral and civil law applies unless nullified by architecture or sanitation.    In other words, Christians need to keep as much of the Old Testament law as possible.  Most who hold this view would also say that it is the job of government to bring about adherence to this law as much as possible.

This view has a host of problems as well.  Most significantly, there is no longer a theocracy to implement these laws.  Also, the New Testament seems to clearly do away with OT civil law.

3.         Principlism – Among people who have thought about this question and know what view they hold, this view is the most common.  It divides the OT law into moral, civil, and ceremonial and says that Christians are only responsible for keeping the moral laws.  What exactly are these categories?

  • Ceremonial law, which was given to make the temple/sacrificial system function, was fulfilled in Christ. (Matt 5:17-18)  This was illustrated perfectly when the veil of the temple was torn. (Matt 27:51)
  • Civil law was given to order the Hebrew theocracy and it passed away with the theocracy.
  • Moral law is best summarized in the Ten Commandments is based on the character of God.  These laws are timeless.

These categories are generally pretty to see as we look at the law.  This view helps reconcile the reasons why we keep some but feel no need to keep others.

Tomorrow -  How these views function in real life situations.

Christians and the Old Testament Law

One of the difficult questions for Christians is, what do we do with the Old Testament law? We all feel bound by the 10 Commandments and we know inherently that they are meant to guide us today. We do not, however, feel bound by many other laws found in the Pentateuch. I do not personally know a single Christian who feels any guilt whatsoever about wearing clothes made from mixed fabrics. Nor do I know any Christians who have built a fence around their roof in order to keep the law. So why is it that we can only keep a portion of the 613 laws, rules and regulations found in the OT? I will attempt to answer that question in a series of posts this week. Today will be a bit of an introduction to the Pentateuch, Tuesday I will offer some answers that people have given throughout church history, Wednesday I will take a quick look at how these views work out in real-life situations, and Thursday I will share with you what I believe to be the best answer to the question, “what is the point of the law.”

So now let’s get started with an introduction to the Pentateuch.

The word “Pentateuch” means five-fold book and refers to the first five books of the Old Testament. The narrative of the Pentateuch begins with creation and goes through the life of Moses. The narrative flows smoothly through Genesis and most of Exodous, however the rest of it is broken in order to insert hundreds of commands. These commands regulate everything from how to build the temple to what foods are acceptable.

There are so many laws, in fact, that the Pentateuch is often called the “Torah” which means instruction or law. This is where our question arises. As New Testament believers we believe that Jesus came to “fulfill the law.” (Matt 5:17) So does that mean that we do not have to keep any of it? That doesn’t seem to be the case. Every Christian I know feels that murder is wrong, and Jesus himself said that the most important command was to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Matt 12:20)

With this tension laid out, we will look tomorrow at how Christians have chosen to deal with it.

The Importance of a Theodicy

Theodicy is a theology of evil.  More specifically, it is a defense of God in light of the existence of evil.  This post is not the place for me to expound upon my theodicy.  I will say, however, that evil and suffering of all kinds (tsunami, terrorists, or tetanus) all exist because we live in a fallen world.  I do not believe that any evil actions/events need a further explanation.  Suffering happens.

Why blog about this today?  Because of the earthquake in Haiti.  We all have seen the pictures (the best I have seen are here) and they are heartbreaking.  For so many of us we feel the need to understand why.  The answer is, because we live in a fallen world. Genesis 3 makes it clear that the earth was broken by the fall and in a broken world, horrible things happen.

If you have a different theodicy, that answer may not be satisfactory.  And for someone who does not have faith in Christ, or maybe doesn’t even believe in God, these events bring up questions.  That is why every time some great disaster happens, some journalist asks some famous preacher why and said preacher gives some answer.

This time around that answer happens to have come from Pat Robertson.   He wasn’t asked a direct question, but he felt the need to justify God by explaining why this happened.  So he blamed the earthquake on the Haitian people.  Robertson’s answer stems from his theodicy.

I don’t have time to go into why his answer is presumptuous at best and superstitious at worst.

For my Christian readers I will say this, you need to think today about why you believe evil exists because one day it will hit close to home.

If you are interested, I will write more about this next week.