Friday, April 26, 2013

Edwards, Whitefield, and Revival

Though they had many differences, Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield were both convinced of this: God was completely Sovereign and revival was in his plan. These two men were the catalysts for the First Great Awakening. They were some of history's best missionaries. They preached salvation through faith and repentance to and for every man and woman. And they were Calvinists. 

It cannot be ignored that it was these men's theologies that compelled them to bring the Gospel to the unsaved. They were both dedicated Calvinists and wrote extensively on the topic. What makes them great Calvinists is that they understood about Calvinism what Hyper-Calvinists and non-Calvinists do not: God predestined the ends and the means.

What do I mean by this? I mean that Hyper-Calvinists and most non-Calvinists believe that Calvinism says that God has planned that all people who are predestined to salvation will attain it, no matter what. This is true. But this is only a partial understanding of God's plan of salvation- and very, very small understanding of it at that!

Here's a question: How did you who are reading this get saved? How did you decide to follow Jesus? Well, I'll tell you how it was for me. I had heard the Gospel many times and it never did anything to me or for me, but one day the Holy Spirit opened my eyes to my need for a Savior. So God predestined me to accept the Gospel, but he also predestined that I hear the Gospel! This is the key here, people! Get this. In order for those he has predestined to accept the Gospel, God has planned that they hear it. God has predestined the Gospel to be received, not merely that people would receive it. The Gospel has been planned to be taken to people all over, and Jesus declares that it is our duty to take it to all of them (Matt. 28:19). I mean, which one of us was saved without hearing the Gospel?

Two of the greatest theologians, Edwards and Whitefield, both understood this and it compelled them to change the world. They literally changed the world. If they had not obeyed the call of God to bring the Gospel to all peoples and awaken their hearts, it is very likely that there would have been no First or Second Great Awakenings. In fact, it is likely that Christianity in the West would have simmered out soon afterward. But they did obey the call, and they did change the world. I often wonder what would happen if we understood the Gospel like they did. Would we change the world? Definitely.

I've been saying since the beginning of this school year that I wanted to be the next Jonathan Edwards. I want to revive this spiritually dead world by bringing the Gospel to everyone everywhere so that the Lord will call all men unto himself. I want to be the tool by which God saves those whom he has chosen. I want to go with utter confidence that, although I am myself useless and unable to save or convince or convert anyone, all of the elect, all who have ears to hear, and whosoever will will be saved. This is why Jonathan Edwards will always be remembered by people everywhere, because he believed in God's saving ability and his own responsibility.

I cannot stress enough the massive importance of truly understanding election and the doctrines of grace. To understand them is to understand missions and salvation. To understand them is to understand revival. To understand them is to understand the glory of God's mercy and love towards man, towards you and me.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

What's the Problem with Pain?

The problem of evil and suffering is the biggest barrier for a Christian to overcome. But it is only the biggest barrier because Christians have evaded and copped out of the question for years. They never let the Bible speak for itself. I do, however, want the Bible to speak for itself. I was not the writer; God was.

The first thing that people do to "answer" the problem of evil and suffering is toss the blame on free will. They say that people have a free will and so choose to do evil of their own volition, therefore evil and suffering cannot be blamed on God. But this does not really answer anything, does it? The earthquakes in Haiti: whose free will caused that? The tsunami in India: whose free will caused that? The child born with a hole in his heart: whose free will caused that?

Free will is no answer to anything.

The problem of evil is addressed so many times in Scripture, but people just throw the blame on human free will. Let's look at some Scripture that does address it.

Job is the obvious one that comes to mind. It is a bunch of bad things happening to a good person. Job has many terrible things happening to him, and he finally gets fed up and asks God, "Why?" Why are bad things happening to good people? Why is there suffering? Why is there pain inflicted on someone who didn't do anything wrong? Job knows that his free will did not cause this pain and suffering (38:24).

Job asks and God answers. Here's what God says:
"Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you will make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements- surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy? Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said "Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed"?... Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it."
Job later says after God says that he alone is king over all and knows all that is happening, "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted... There fore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know."

The first thing God tells Job is to put his big boy pants on and man up because what he is about to hear is heavy stuff. God is sovereign and in control and "no plan of [his] can be thwarted." If it happens, it's God's plan. And God has reasons for his plans. Just read Job and you'll see that God has terrible things to happen. But read the rest of Scripture and you'll see that God has infinitely more wondrous things to happen! The world may have evil and suffering in the world, but rest assured, our God has it all under control. One act of man's "free" will is not going to mess up all of God's plan. It is not going to bring something up that he had not previously known and planned for. God's ultimate plan and purpose, to glorify himself through our enjoyment of him and our praise of his abundant mercy, cannot be thwarted. All things are working for the ultimate good.

Paul was a man well acquainted with suffering. He said that he was convinced that the sufferings of this world are not even worth comparing to the glory of God that will be revealed to us. Though we now see through a glass darkly, but then, face to face, we will understand what all of this is truly for. I yearn for the day when God's glory is revealed to us, when the sense of awe we feel when we look up at the vast expanse that is the heavens overwhelms us and consumes us. Evil and suffering will then be only a contrast we can look back upon to see the riches of his glory and love and sacrifice for us, those who deserve only the opposite. I long for that day.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Just Thinking About Camp

I got an email last night from a fellow at camp who will be my supervisor. I've always loved this dude. When I was an AC two summers ago, we didn't get paired up, even though I really wanted to, and consequently, we didn't get to know each other very well. Anyway, all this to say that I'm really stoked he's my supervisor so that I'll get the opportunity to get to know him, as well as other staff members, better this time 'round.

I digress:
I've got a few thoughts about camp and what I need to do in preparation:
1) As a Christian camp, campers at Camp Cedar Cliff often have great, deep, theological questions, but are generally unable to understand the very deep, theological answers. I want to be prepared to make a complex theological system or idea, such as the Trinity or Hypostatic Union or eternality of God, easy enough for a young camper to understand... or at least partially understand.
2) I want to finally finish memorizing the chapters of Scripture that I've been working on. I've been working on Romans 8 and 10. I've got chapter 9 memorized already, and that one is pretty locked in, but 8 and 9 are much more difficult for me. I also need to start going back over Philippians. I've had that memorized for a while, but I'm starting to lose it.
3) I want to focus purely on Christ as my sustainer. I often feel like I need sleep and food more than I need the Word, but Jesus himself said that man cannot live on bread [and sleep] alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
4) I want to make bringing glory to Christ through my actions and attitude my primary goal. I want to display a true Christian life, showing the campers what it really means to follow Christ; that my counselors did this is one of the reasons that I am who I am today.
5) I want to live a life centered around the Gospel, so that campers and counselors alike can see what the Lord has done: bring a dead man back to life.

My Prayer:
My Prayer for this summer is that God would use me to bring his sovereign purpose to pass. I pray that I would not waste this summer pursuing my own vain pleasures, but instead that I would pursue my ultimate joy in Christ through making known the supremacy of God in all things. I pray that my words are not presumptuous or arrogant, but that my honesty would shine through and that everyone could see that I truly care about them personally and, most importantly, their own personal relationship with Christ. I pray that God would already begin to work on the hearts of the campers and ACs (and all other coworkers for that matter). I pray that God would already begin to work on my own heart, softening it to make me a most effective servant and tool to bring about God's ultimate purposes. I pray that the camp staff would work as the body of Christ, getting along and loving one another as only true Christians can. And finally I pray that we would all have a good time, because what's camp without a good time?!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Prosperity and the Gospel

The Gospel is not the good news to the rich. It is not the good news to people who cling to their possessions. The Gospel is not for those who are satisfied with their earthly idols.

The Gospel is not prosperity. It's not. Any time we hear that we can have "our best life now" or that "planting a seed" will force God into giving us a monetary blessing, know that this is a lie and that this is a false gospel. It is only taught by false teachers, false prophets, heretics, liars, idolaters, and blind guides. These men and women claim to be speaking a word they got from God. That's true to an extent. They did get the word from their god: money.

We need to get real about false gospels. We need to take this seriously. There are many who think that they have salvation because they are prosperous- that's what the Prosperity Gospel is telling them. They are living their best life now because this life is as good as it can get, hell comes next. They want don't want a Lord or a Savior. They want money. They want wealth. They want possessions.

Who is the rich young ruler of today? It's the people who don't think that the rich young ruler is them. That is, if you don't think that "sell all your possessions and give to the poor" applies to you, it was written there for you.

The Prosperity Gospel is not bringing the dead back to life; it's throwing gold into their tombs. The Prosperity Gospel is actively sending men and women to hell. And we're not saying anything about it. We're not naming heresy like we should. We aren't afraid to call a denial of the Trinity a heresy; why are we afraid to call the Prosperity Gospel one? It's just as big of a deal.

Yeah, this post was shorter than most, so I'm attaching a song that expounds my thoughts on this and really makes you think:


Monday, April 8, 2013

The Christian Mission

Is our contemporary theology killing the Christian mission? Is the Commission we have received even necessary?

Universalism: The Opiate of the Christian Mission

Universalism is the nail in the coffin of the missionary life. It is a selfish doctrine disguised as an empathetic, caring one. Universalism is left wanting in light of much of what Jesus said (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 8:12; 10:28; 13:42, 50; 18:9; 22:13; 23:33; 24:51; 25:30; and others... but those were just a few in Matthew). But there are a few verses that can support either a no-Hell Universalism or a temporal-Hell Universalism, if one will just ignore what Jesus already said about Hell and especially what Paul says with crystal clarity in 2 Thessalonians 1:5-9.
But what's the big deal with Universalism? What is it doing to kill the Christian Mission? What is it that makes it a selfish doctrine when it seems so empathetic toward those who are said will end up in Hell?
Universalism is the death knell to Christian missions for two reasons: it gives the missionary no reason or sense of urgency to go, because everyone will end up in heaven eventually; and the Christian mission is nothing but useless subsequent, additional suffering- the missionary for enduring pain, persecution, and possible/probable torture (think China, the Middle East, and northern Africa to name a few); and the one who does the rejecting and persecution being punished in the  temporal-Hell longer because of what he did to the missionary who should have never come anyway.
Universalism is one of the most selfish doctrines within Christianity today. Universalism gives the Christian the confidence to stay. Universalism gives the Christian the assurance that their doing nothing will actually end with all people in Heaven. Universalism gives the Christian the gall to downplay God's holiness, righteousness, self-love, and justice to the extent that humanity becomes more important than God and his attributes. Humanity becomes God's priority, not his own glory or worship or justice or any of the other perfect qualities of God.

Is an Eternal Hell Justifiable?

Our most basic intuition about justice is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. The punishment should fit the crime. Here I think some examples of how the punishment for a crime is decided would be helpful:
If someone were to steal from an average family, depending on what they stole, they would normally get about 3-6 years in jail. However, if someone were to steal from the President of the United States, they would get many more- probably 15-25 years or more. If someone were to kill  a criminal, they would probably get 10-20 years in jail. If someone killed an ambassador or prime minister or politician, they would, depending on the state, either get a life sentence or be sentenced to capital punishment. Now, as you can clearly see, the more important the person against whom the crime was committed, the bigger the punishment and the more serious the crime. So, let's imagine what it would be like if someone committed a crime against someone of infinite importance and perfection. The punishment for that crime would have to be infinite to be just, because the crime committed was of infinite value. An eye for an eye, an infinite punishment for an infinite crime.

Forced Love?

By far, the most popular argument against Calvinism is that it's forced love; it's not. Calvinism is bringing the dead back to life. If anything it's forced resurrection, although the dead don't often actively resist anything since they're dead and don't do anything. Because we're raised to life in Christ Jesus, we're thankful. We love God for what he's done, not for what he's forced us to do. He saved us. Saying Calvinism is God forcing us to love him is like saying this: you slipped and fell into a pool, passed out under the water because you couldn't swim, and God the lifeguard jumped in, pulled you out, gave you CPR until you started breathing again and saved you before you died; but, hey, it was unfair to you because he's forcing you to be grateful to him. This is absurd. You will be grateful because he saved you. There is no forcing. There is no resistance. It just happens. You are grateful because he saved you. Yet, the opposite is quite true with Universalism, especially the temporal-Hell brand.
Universalism is truly forced love. God gives you a chance on earth, so to speak, and you reject it. Then he sends you to Hell under immense suffering until you "change your mind"? Let's get this: he tortures you until you love him. How is that love? How is that not forced? Yeah, sure you might have chosen to accept forgiveness or whatever is offered then, but only because it's better than the option you have now. It's either "love" God or he'll torture you until you do. Maybe an example will help.
Imagine that a spy was in Russia getting intel on their plans to attack the US. He was captured and brought into an interrogation room where he was water-boarded and had a plastic strip pushed underneath his fingernails until he gave Russia the information he had on the US and what he had discovered from them. After several days of this, he gives up and tells them.
Was this him giving them the information freely or was it forced from him? Forced, obviously. The same thing is happening with Universalism. God forcing people to love him? That seems to me to be the case.

God Hates the Sin and the Sinner

That God hates sin is clearly taught, preached, and believed by most all Christians, but that God hates the sinner too is not. But the Bible teaches it. God loves all people in a way, but as sinners he also hates them. This is explicit in Psalm 5:5-6:
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; 
you hate all evil doers.
You destroy those who speak lies;
the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.
2 Peter 3 says that the Lord is willing that none should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Ezekiel 18 says that the Lord takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. So what do we make of this? This is a heavy topic that I hope to take up on a later day, but I'll try to address it very briefly here. 
Is he willing that none should perish? Does he really take no pleasure in the death of the wicked? Immediately, no, he doesn't want anyone to perish and neither does he enjoy sending them to hell. But, ultimately, yes, they are necessary for an ultimate joy. Romans 9:22-23 says that God prepared beforehand some vessels for glory and some for destruction to display his glory; for without darkness we cannot understand light, and without punishment we cannot understand mercy or grace. Immediately, condemning the sinner does not bring joy. Ultimately, though, condemning the sinner (justly still!) brings perspective and displays the riches of his glorious mercy and grace and love toward the Christian. But upon the sinner is the hate, wrath, and punishment of God. As hard as it is to understand, God hates (Psalm 5) and loves (2 Peter 3) the sinner at the same time.

The Christian Perspective

The Christian truly has very little basis for believing a universalistic eschatology. To believe that God cares less about his own justice, self-love and self-worth, and holiness than he cares about humanity is to make an idol out of humanity. Idolatry is putting more value on anything other than God. God must put himself before all else, otherwise he would commit idolatry. God's infinite holiness and worth being defamed by rebellious, sin obsessed, fallen humans cannot be and has not been and will not be ignored.


The selfishness of Christian Universalism is hidden behind an apparent compassion for people doomed for Hell. Reality shows us, though, that Universalism is really just a ruse to convince people that they are better and more valuable than they really are and God is less great than he really is. It is an attempt to feel okay about not proselytizing and sharing the Gospel with all people everywhere. It cannot hold up to any real study or exegesis of the Scriptures, yet is still growing like a tumor within the body of Christ. And this cancer has the potential to kill the Christian Mission. But many choose to accept this doctrine because it is an opiate for the pain we all truly feel inside for those we aren't missionizing, numbing us to the knowledge of the suffering they will eternally endure unless we go. And like any pain killer, we get addicted to it, the idea of Universalism. Eventually people who entertain the "drug" for too long, because of the good feeling they get from it, they get hooked and believe that it is truly necessary.
This selfish, mission-killing, unbiblical doctrine needs to be addressed in a more serious way. We need to recognize false teaching and address it directly. As we reject this idea, let's remember the urgency we have to bring the Gospel to all men everywhere. Just because we believe that there is a hell doesn't mean we want people to go there! So, let's go. Let's bring the Gospel to the nations like no generation before us has ever done!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Would It Ruin Your Life?

As I write this, I'm sitting in the School of Religion at Lee reflecting on the Easter weekend we just had. The finale of The Bible came on History channel Sunday night depicting Jesus' resurrection as if it actually happened. (I missed it but I heard about it.) But did Jesus' resurrection actually happen?

Did Jesus' resurrection actually happen? It's quite unreasonable to disbelieve in the resurrection for a multitude of historical reasons (most of which have to do with the fact that the tomb was indeed empty). But the question remains: did Jesus' resurrection happen? Did it happen to you? It's not a historical question. It's not a question of facts. It's a personal question. The resurrection changed everything, but did it change you?

So often I find myself thanking God for sending the Son to die for me, yet living like he wasn't raised back up only three days later. I've been reading through Acts again like I do at this time every year. Something clicked that the disciples' lives were forever changed on that third day. And I wonder, "Did it change my life too?"

I think that this is how we know if the resurrection has truly changed us:
If tomorrow they found the bones of Jesus in his tomb, if tomorrow the resurrection was proved to be a lie, if tomorrow Christianity was no more than another false religion, would it ruin our lives? Would I know what to do? Would I be able to go on in this world? Would I have a Plan B?

I can't answer these questions for anyone but myself, and I am afraid that I am not giving enough of myself to God's mission. I am afraid that I am not betting enough of my life on the hope that Christ was truly raised up again, that he is really alive.

My prayers have changed because of this. I pray that my life would continue to change because of this. I'm excited to see what the world will look like if our generation began to truly believe that Jesus is ALIVE, producing the white hot worship of the majesty and supremacy of God through the advancement of his kingdom to all nations, regardless of the consequences.

That would be worship. That would be faith. And that would be glorious.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Reading for Your Benefit: Book Recommendations for January-April 2013

Today, I'd like to give you readers a few suggestions for reading for this year. Following are a few books I've read recently that I feel I should recommend for your benefit this year.

"Not a Chance" by R.C. Sproul is a great read, very interesting, and one of the best answers to the myth of chance as a causal power in modern science and cosmology. If you were ever doubting as to whether God is necessary, this is for you.

"Desiring God" by John Piper is still the best book I have ever read concerning worship and the Christian life. This was one of the first books by John Piper I read and still remains my favorite. This book revolutionized worship for me. If you would like to revive a real desire in your heart for God, this is the book for you.

"John Calvin: A Biography" by T.H.L. Parker is the best biography I've ever read (ahem, twice!!). It is not only supremely interesting and entertaining, it's inspiring. I want to be a better Christian after reading about this great man's life and legacy. I recommend this for anyone even slightly interested in the life of one of the main players in the Protestant Reformation.

Another biography that is also incredibly inspiring. "Jonathan Edwards: A Life" by George M. Marsden is a much tougher work to begin and to finish; the first hundred pages or so are just about the context in which Edwards was born into. But this book is very informative: I have learned everything and more about America's greatest revivalist and, quite possibly, theologian. This book is not for the faint of heart, however. It is 700 pages of heavy scholarship and rich history.

"The King James Only Controversy?" by James R. White is very probably the best resource I have in my library. In this book, White, a Christian apologist and Biblical Greek and Hebrew scholar, gives very clear and very understandable explanations and descriptions of of textual criticism, manuscript traditions, translational history. The beginning of the book has portions dedicated to introducing different manuscript traditions (such as Codex Sinaiticus, Codex Vaticanus, the Alexandrian Texts, the Byzantine Texts, etc.), explaining textual criticism, accounting for the differences between manuscript traditions and Bible translations, and answering KJV Only advocates' questions and objections to modern versions. This is a great resource for anyone who wants to know if their Bibles are the real Word of God.

And last but not least...

"Killing Calvinism" by Greg Dutcher was a very convicting, extremely edifying read. It's short (only about 100 or so pages), but it was great. This book is for the Calvinist. It is for the new Calvinist especially. Dutcher implores his Reformed brothers and sisters to be humbled by the doctrines of grace instead of puffed up as people often are. This book inspired a season of reflection and prayer in my own life and I am sure it can do the same in yours.

Well, that's just a few books that have particularly impacted me recently (except for Desiring God which I read about a year ago, yet still continues to impact me daily), and I hope that they will impact you as well.

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