The Twisting and Turning of christian Humanism

I purposely capitalized “humanism” but made “christian” all lower case. The reason I did this is that I’m disgusted and saddened at the same time by a post on the website of Creation Ministries International. The post is about a professor at Butler University, IN, USA, named, Michael Zimmerman, who has launched a project inviting members of the clergy to endorse his pro-evolution, humanist agenda. The saddening and disgusting part of all this is that his project is succeeding.

Personally I’ve never understood the massive compromise many clergy have made in buying into the theory of evolution. I mean, you guys—yes, I’m talking to you!—could have chosen a profession that didn’t involve preaching the Truth—that way you never would have had to sell out God’s Word in the first place! This is no small issue or secondary issue after all: if Paul is wrong, in Romans 5:12, when he says that sin and death came into the world through Adam, then he could also be wrong in Romans 5:15, when he says that God’s grace abounds to many through Jesus Christ! And if people believe that Adam was a product of evolution, then they are saying there was death before Adam (meaning Paul is wrong about where death came from since many generations of evolving life forms would have died before Adam was born), and therefore that Paul, and the Bible, are unreliable. The truth of the Bible is a primary consideration for a preacher of God’s Word.

In my final Hebrew class in seminary, there were only two of us left who had survived the prior course offerings. So rather than offer a whole course for only two students, we were sent across the creek to the campus of Trinity Western University (Langley, BC, Canada) to join the advanced Hebrew course offered at the University. The teacher of that class was Dr. Craig Broyles, quite a competent Hebrew instructor… but an incompetent exegete.

When we were translating Genesis 1 in class, I offered the opinion that “yom” actually meant a literal day, and that unless there was textual evidence (which there isn’t) to support a non-literal interpretation of Genesis 1 we should take it as literal. I guess I really stuck my foot in it when I added that I saw no reason to believe the Earth is any older than 6,000 years or so. For these views, I was mocked in class with Dr. Broyles leading the laughter. His words were, as best as I can recall, “I’d like to know what a young-Earth Creationist does with lime formations!” (I offered to find out for him, but when I did, and sent him the research, he never responded. Guess he didn’t like students who stood for what they believed in?)

When I further added that we should take Genesis 1 literally with regard to “yom” because Moses, the human author, understood “yom” to mean literal 24-hour days in Exodus 20:8-11, Dr. Broyles replied with the final word, “That’s an anthropomorphism!” Hmmm. Is that a literal anthropomorphism or a mytho-poetic anthropomorphism? (Maybe he didn’t even know what exactly he meant?)

Following that semester of Hebrew I was no longer content to remain an ignorant believer in the literal truth of Genesis 1. I began reading whatever I could find on science from a biblical point of view. This led me to a great deal of reading on the websites of Creation Ministries International (formerly Answers In Genesis) and Institute for Creation Research. It turns out that my real ignorance was about the role of “presuppositions”. Some Christians (and I have no reason to doubt Dr. Broyles’ faith in Christ) approach Scripture with a prior commitment to the authority of secular Science. They then interpret Scripture through the lens of evolutionary, anti-supernaturalistic scepticism. Armed with what I have learned about observational science, I have become committed to interpreting Scripture through the lens of faith in its inerrancy and total veracity.

I think it all comes down to what Dr. Dell Tacket of the Truth Project calls, “the Box”. Do we believe that the Universe is all that there is? In other words, do we presuppose a naturalistic world-view? Or do we believe that there is no lid on “the Box”?—that God created the Universe and all that is in the Box, and that His Divine Word is both true and accurate with regard to its witness of the events of Creation and subsequent history? The former is Humanism with a “christian” twist. The latter is Christianity untwisted.

How to Fail As a Preacher

Yesterday I preached the first in a series of sermons titled, “Reflections on the Trinity”. The deacons and council of my church had voted to instruct me to bring a series on God’s design for manhood and womanhood. This is because the leadership realized last Spring that there were some very strong feelings in our congregation against male leadership in the church, in the family and in marriage. These strong feelings seem to stem from experiences of the abuse of power by men in a variety of circumstances in the past. A very sensitive matter.

My first sermon, yesterday, was on the Fatherhood of God the Father. I was aware of the controversy in calling the congregation to relate to God as “Father” and to refer to Him with masculine pronouns in prayer and in our teaching. But I wasn’t really nervous… yet. After the service, I had the distinct impression that the words I had preached had disturbed some individuals. My impression might have been mistaken–most of the feedback was very positive. But that impression grew stronger overnight. This morning I felt some fear. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m afraid of upsetting people and so putting my job at risk (again!). Maybe I’m just afraid some people won’t like me?

But then in my reading this morning I came to Matthew 10:28,

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell (ESV).

What an odd encouragement! But I am reminded this morning that to preach the Word of the LORD is not to preach what pleases my congregation. If that was my calling then I would never call sinners to repent, I would call sinners to re-interpret the Scripture to fit their preferences. Then, if that was my calling, I would encourage my congregation to buy a copy of William P. Young’s The Shack and begin to change the way they think about God to fit their sensitivities rather than conform the way we think about God to His self-revelation in the Scriptures! Why fear a God who is nothing but nice and loving?

But as Jesus said, “fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” God is loving, yes. But He is also holy, just, all-Powerful and fearsome in His wrath. So if I ever decide to deliberately fail as a preacher, I think I’ll conform my sermons to the priorities and pre-conceived notions of my hearers. But as long as I fear my God who has graciously granted me to preach His Gospel by the working of His power (Eph 3:7), I think I’ll keep my fear of what people think in check. Thank you Father for the courage to preach through my fears!

How to stand before God as a preacher

Jeremiah had a tough assignment. He was to preach God’s Word to a stubborn and rebellious nation in spite of fierce opposition, abandonment, and the imminent doom of his own people (see? there are tougher jobs than being a pastor!).

In Jeremiah 15:19, God gives Jeremiah a promise of his own salvation and blessedness:

“If you return, I will restore you, and you shall stand before me.”

But then God gives Jeremiah his job description:

“If you utter what is precious, and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth.”

I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that this should be the mandate of every preacher: to “utter what is precious, and not what is worthless”. In other words, to proclaim and teach God’s Word, not our own words or the words of others. When we are faithful, as preachers, to this mandate, it shall be as if God Himself speaks to our people, giving them faith, regenerating them, with all the benefits of salvation. Then they too “shall stand before [God]” and not be cast from His presence forever.

So that’s what a preacher must do–as Jeremiah did. And that’s how we ourselves can stand before God and bring with us a people to stand before Him in the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5). But in this verse, God has more to say about Jeremiah’s task (and that of the preacher as well!). And as I look at this verse I see a theme: turning to God. Jeremiah is called to re-turn to God (so that He will restore him); Jeremiah is told to preach what is precious (which requires continual turning to God does it not?); Jeremiah is told that the people will turn to him (“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” Isa 52:7; Rom 10:15), but then he is told that he must not reciprocate:

“They shall turn to you, but you shall not turn to them.”

Doesn’t every preacher love to hear, “Good sermon, Pastor!” Don’t we love to see our pews filling up Sunday to Sunday? Isn’t it delightful to us when people flock to hear us preach? The pastor of a small church is in no less danger here than the pastor of a large church. No matter how few or many flock to hear us preach, we must not turn to hear the flock. We must not desire the praises of our people more than the promise of our God: “You shall be as my mouth.” We must not be influenced in the content of what we preach by the bleatings of the sheep in our charge. Since when do the Lord’s undershepherds get their marching orders from the sheep?

Let’s gaurd our hearts so that our pleasure is found in the Word of God and not in the admiration of His people. As we preach what is precious, God has said that His people will turn to us–but they aren’t merely turning to us: for when they turn in the direction of the one who preaches God’s Word, it is not really us to whom they turn, but God! So brothers, we must not turn from God, waiver from our mandate, or be found speaking “what is worthless”. Here’s that theme I see: preachers who turn to God turn their people to God. Preachers who turn to their people for direction lead their people astray.

However excellent our words may be…

I came across this from Spurgeon today. 

“Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation; and my tongue shall sing aloud of thy righteousness.” {#Ps 51:14}  

 

In this SOLEMN CONFESSION, it is pleasing to observe that David plainly names his sin. He does not call it manslaughter, nor speak of it as an imprudence by which an unfortunate accident occurred to a worthy man, but he calls it by its true name, bloodguiltiness. He did not actually kill the husband of Bathsheba; but still it was planned in David’s heart that Uriah should be slain, and he was before the Lord his murderer. Learn in confession to be honest with God. Do not give fair names to foul sins; call them what you will, they will smell no sweeter. What God sees them to be, that do you labour to feel them to be; and with all openness of heart acknowledge their real character. Observe, that David was evidently oppressed with the heinousness of his sin. It is easy to use words, but it is difficult to feel their meaning. The fifty first Psalm is the photograph of a contrite spirit. Let us seek after the like brokenness of heart; for however excellent our words may be, if our heart is not conscious of the hell deservingness of sin, we cannot expect to find forgiveness.

 

Our text has in it AN EARNEST PRAYER—it is addressed to the God of salvation. It is his prerogative to forgive; it is his very name and office to save those who seek his face. Better still, the text calls him the God of my salvation. Yes, blessed be his name, while I am yet going to him through Jesus’ blood, I can rejoice in the God of my salvation.

 

The psalmist ends with A COMMENDABLE VOW: if God will deliver him he will sing—nay, more, he will “sing aloud.” Who can sing in any other style of such a mercy as this! But note the subject of the song—”THY RIGHTEOUSNESS.” We must sing of the finished work of a precious Saviour; and he who knows most of forgiving love will sing the loudest.

“However excellent our words…” He was thinking of words we use in prayer to God. But how much more does this strike the heart of a preacher? We speak very excellent words Sunday to Sunday. And as I get ready again to speak tomorrow the words of Isaiah 66:2 come to mind:

Isaiah 66:2 But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.

If I know my sin and openly confess it to God then I will really tremble at His Word–in fear of Him, in awe of Him, in joy at His mercy and grace to me, in desire for Him. Think for a minute what sorrow over his sin engulfed David’s heart before he penned the words of Psalm 51:14? That sorrow should me mine and yours before we stand up and preach a very excellent Word. And then how sweet is the Righteousness of God! And as we savor His Righteousness in the hollow of a bruised and wounded heart we will find unction for preaching.

Our greatest glory is Jesus as the Propitiation of God's Wrath for our sin

Read this passage (again for the umteenth time!) and do it in Greek if that makes you read more slowly:

35 And James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came up to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” 36 And he said to them, “What do you want me to do for you?” 37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” 38 Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” 39 And they said to him, “We are able.” And Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized, 40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.” 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant at James and John. 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 4 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave 5 of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

(Mark 10:35-45 ESV)

The cup Jesus speaks of is the wrath of God and Romans 6:3 makes it clear that we who are justified by Christ’s death are united with Christ in the baptism He was baptized with. So instead of longing for wealth or prestige or power, what He points His disciples toward here is to envision one central act (identified by the cup and baptism He speaks of) as the ultimate display of glory: His death as the wrath-bearing propitiation for the sins we committed. Instead of emulating the rulers of the nations, Jesus calls us to emulate His values and example: that He loved the Father’s glory so exceedingly that nothing could compare with the allure of suffering voluntarily in obedience to His Father for the sake of the exaltation of the glory of God’s justice and holiness. I pray that God will thus make His own glory my greatest delight.

How can a sinner preach repentance?

I was listening to a sermon by John Piper today when all of  a sudden the Holy Spirit spoke clearly to me through His preached Word and brought me to tears of gratitude. The reason for my tears was the very present reminder of my own sin and tendency to be distracted from loving God by my flesh. The reason for my gratitude was the verse in 1 John 2:1, that Piper was at that moment reading, which says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

As he ministered to me (unbeknownst to him), Dr. Piper painted a picture of two conditions common to Christians. On the one hand are those born again Christians who have become too calloused toward their own ongoing sin, so that they need John’s reminder in 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” The born again Christian cannot ignore this verse or brush it off when he reads it. Because the Holy Spirit (the seed of God perhaps in this case?) uses it to convict him of his sin and need for humble repentance.

On the other hand is the born again Christian whose sin and sense of conviction has brought him to the brink of despair. Again, the Holy Spirit indwelling this imperfect Christian uses the Word of God to restore assurance, and more than that, to awaken a renewal of faith in Christ: “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1).  The born again Christian who is close to despair because of the weight of the guilt of his own sin does not go to 1 John 3:9 and use it to destroy his own hope in Christ. That’s not what the indwelling Holy Spirit does with the Word of God in the life of a Christian who is despairing. Rather, the Holy Spirit ministers to us in our despondent moments to establish our FAITH, to renew our HOPE and to inspire us to LOVE in and for Jesus Christ. We have an advocate with–the Judge, though John does not call him that in 1 John 2:1 but–the FATHER. We are His children. He gave us the right to become His children through faith in His only begotten Son (John 1:12-13).

I decided to blog about this because there are often times when I feel like I as a preacher cannot stand up and preach repentance because I myself am a sinner in my flesh. Now I am not side-stepping the importance of first submitting to the truth and God-intended message of the passage I am preparing to preach. The preacher must first let the text of Scripture preach to himself before he preaches it to others. This I believe. But in those times when our own indwelling sin causes us preachers to doubt our calling or wonder whether we shouldn’t quit the ministry because of our weakness, turn to the words contained in the Word that speak of our Advocate, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and let the Spirit of God lift your eyes from your sin and questions of your own worthiness, to focus instead on His supreme worthiness and holiness and righteousness. He, not ourselves, is our hope.

If you want to listen to, watch or read the aforementioned sermon by John Piper, click here.

Roll Over Menno!

A congregation member referred me yesterday to the website, rollovermenno.wordpress.com. What a delight to read some of the posts on that blog. I also read through a lot of the comments from readers. And here’s what distresses me about too many Mennonite groups: there seems to be a higher priority on peace than on truth; on unity than on the Gospel. Whether the rollovermenno people are always right in criticizing Christians’ use of pagan practices (I tend to agree with them though) is not really the issue. The argument offered by a number of readers runs along the lines that “It’s wrong to criticize sincere followers of Jesus because such believers are also just trying to serve the Lord the best way they know how.” I wonder how Jude 3 might apply to this kind of thinking? Good job rollovermenno: keep up the good work!

An Excellent Supplement to Nestle-Aland!

I love my little Nestle-Aland27 Greek New Testament. It’s compact size and handy lexicon makes it an ideal tool for quick reference. But around a year ago I read a short essay by the editors of a newer resource for Greek NT geeks. The essay, actually a foreword to The New Testament in the Original Greek: Byzantine Textform, helped me to understand why some scholars still insist that the “older is better” bias to manuscripts might not be all it’s cracked up to be. While I love the ESV and NASB and appreciate the accuracy of the so-called “modern translations,” I have found The New Testament in the Original Greek to be a very helpful addition in my own sermon preparation. In the apparatus it shows very simply where it differs from the Nestle-Aland. In the margin, it shows the major existing variances within the very large and rich complex of the Byzantine textual tradition. But as a readable book it is brilliant: its pages are larger than the compact Nestle-Aland, its paper is much brighter, its font is crisp and attractive. In more than a few instances I’ve even concluded that its rendering of a verse is more accurate than the preferred reading of the Nestle-Aland. I heartily recommend it for every preacher greatly concerned with accuracy. It’s also included in BibleWorks under the abbreviation “BYZ”.