Written by T. M. Suffield |
Saturday, December 24, 2022
He came to be with the world despite our hatred of him, he came to dwell in you before you loved him. We love him because he first loved us (1 John 4). God arriving in a manger teaches us his character and his disposition. He is a God of gift. He gives. That’s what he does. The greatest gift he gives is himself.
It’s approaching Christmas time. We’re beginning, perhaps, to hear Christmas sermons, depending on how your tradition structures these things.
In the Evangelical world someone somewhere is advising us to remember to include the cross in our preaching—don’t give them the cute and sentimentalised baby Jesus, remind them that the meaning of Christmas is found at Easter!
I can get on board as far as it goes, Christ came to Planet Earth as human flesh to die in the place of sinners. That is true. But I part ways slightly, because its not everything that’s true. What I mean by that is that the gospel cannot be narrowed down to “Christ died for sinners” as though that were everything there is to say. The good news is far too big to get all of it out in one sitting, anyway, so we always present an aspect—a flavour if you will—of the grand story of the cosmos.
If someone preaches God in the Manger rather than God on the Cross, they have still preached the gospel. God in the manger is the gospel.
Why? Because the scandalous, outright ludicrous, suggestion that the almighty maker of heaven and earth, the unmoved mover, the first word and speaker of the first word, the alpha and omega, the grand storyteller, the author of life, Goodness himself, Love himself, the simple and incomprehensible God who is pure act, the Sovereign Lord Yahweh—him—that he would chose to become a creature—
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By Brandon Meeks — 6 months ago
If the prophets of the Bible were to appear on the scene in our day they would be lectured on winsomeness and shipped off for a Dale Carnegie re-education course. The court prophets of Evangelicalism would write long-winded think pieces against such “troublers of Israel,” in which they opine, “If only these Tishbites would stop destroying their evangelistic potential by cracking wise when Baal won’t come out of his bathroom.”
Turning the Tables on Christian Respectability
I blame Mrs. Hill. She was my childhood Sunday School teacher and she started it. She taught me the stories of Jesus with her warm smile and worn-out flannel graph. She would place paper figures of Jesus and the disciples on the flannel-covered board and move them about to illustrate the particular lesson for the day. I learned about a wee little man and his sycamore tree, a boy who gave Jesus his sack lunch, and Lazarus who rose like an Egyptian mummy from the dead. But mostly I learned about Jesus. Jesus, mean and wild.
I blame Mrs. Hill and her flannel graph for my contrariness. It was that story about Jesus turning the tables on the religious power-brokers of his day that got my blood up. To me this was the most exciting story of them all. Some of the more pious saints later told me that Jesus acted “out of character” when he pitched a fit in the general direction of the merchants selling their wares in the temple, but somehow I knew better than that. Jesus turned over the tables because he was mad as an old wet hen. If the picture of Jesus as a “raging rabbi” unsettles you, then the point of it all is getting through.
He was angry. He sent pigeons and penny-filled purses flying hither and yon. He scattered the sheep with cords and threatened the goats who were selling them for exorbitant prices. The zeal of the Lord consumed him. And as I heard the story it started gnawing at me pretty good too.
She didn’t paint a portrait of the Jesus who could do wonderful shampoo commercials, with his silken hair and perfectly apportioned face. She taught us that Christ had fire in his eyes and lighting in his fists. He was no doormat deity. He was anything but respectable. That made him worthy of respect.
He saw Peter, James, John, Matthew, and the rest being drones and he told them to walk away from it all. “Follow me,” he said. And they did. They weren’t cut out to be cutouts.
Jesus Christ was paradox incarnate. He blessed the down and out and he cursed the high and mighty. He stooped down to prostitutes and stood up to pharisees. He wasn’t given to the trite dearlybelovedism of most modern ministers. He addressed his combative congregants as pit vipers, whitewashed tombs, bastard sons of Abraham, and other glowing appellations. And he did so without quenching one smoking flax.
Every now and then we need to remind ourselves that Jesus had a rotten testimony. That is, He often behaved and spoke in ways that some of our more pious brethren would consider “un-Christlike.” Although no one could convict him of any sin (John 8:46), this did not prevent His enemies from talking as though they could. He was, it turns out, a glutton (Luke 7:33), a drunk (Matt. 11:19), a blasphemer (Mk. 14:64), and a companion of the disreputable (Mk. 2:15). To say that he was a man of questionable reputation would be putting it quite mildly.
Sometimes I entertain myself with thoughts of great men from the past hopping into a time machine in order to pay a clandestine visit to the institutions that were named after them. Most of these thought experiments end with furniture scattered around waiting rooms, toppled desks, broken glass, and whirling sirens in the background. And if you doubt that our “venerable dead” might behave in such an untoward fashion, just reflect on what happened when Jesus, the very image of God (Hebrews 1:3), showed up at the place where the Almighty made his name to dwell (Deuteronomy 12:11). First he made a whip. Then he made a scene.
By John Sweat — 10 months ago
If we build our hope and faith on anything other than Jesus Christ clothed in the gospel, then we are building our faith on sinking sand. The moment a church hurts you, a pastor fails you, or the church fails in living out the gospel in the world, your faith will be shaken because you have built it on these things (sinking sand).
Deconstructing1 and departing from the Christian faith appears to be a popular conversation right now. It should be noted that the problem of apostasy and sin within the church is not a new phenomena. The total depravity of man and deceitfulness of sin have been with man since the Fall. With that being said, Paul Maxwell’s recent “Joe Rogan” like interview with Anthony Bradley brings this conversation up again.
Dr. Paul Maxwell was a popular young theologian/ philosopher who left the Christian faith a year ago. He has written numerous journal articles, was a contributor to TGC and Desiring God, and has studied under some notable Reformed scholars. Also, his dissertation was recently published: The Trauma of Doctrine. By all accounts, Paul appeared to be a rising scholar, who many men in evangelicalism flocked to due to his straightforward writing and podcast at Self-Wire. Given these details, it is to no wonder that Paul’s “sudden” departure from the Christian faith was unsettling to some.2
In light of Paul’s recent interview explaining his “journey from Calvinism to atheism,” I want to offer a few observations on the interview itself, and then move to how these observations give Christians a timely reminder.
First, there is no doubt in my mind Paul Maxwell has dealt with some real hurt in his family upbringing and experience within the church and academy. Certainly, the hurt in the former shaped how he received and dealt with the hurt the in latter.3
Second, what is telling throughout the interview (“Maxwell’s” deconversion story) is that Maxwell came to “evangelicalism” out of a deep need of belonging and finding love due to his poor home life- where love was contractual. As he describes his “conversion” at age sixteen, there is little to anything said about the gospel and his need for reconciliation with God. It appears he found a warm home with Christianity because “love” could be found there. Christianity gave him a way to live to be loved by God and others.
Paul’s draw to Christianity appears to be something other than the gospel. This further plays into how he dealt with hurt from those within Christianity. This is neither an excuse for those who “actually” did hurt Paul nor is it placing blame solely at Paul’s feet. The point is that what drew Paul to Christianity likely became his foundation and identity of what being a Christian means. A Christian identity or belief built on something other than the gospel will always erode and crack under the pressure. Jesus’ parable of the seed and the sower is helpful on this point.
Third, there is a real sense in the interview that he pursued academic theology divorced from the local church and the foundation of the gospel. He pursued knowledge and credentials to understand the trauma of his life and to further belong in “evangelicalism” as a “good solider.” This approach to theology is a foundation that is ripe for deconstruction and leaving the faith
Fourth, the last fifteen minutes of the interview are the most heart-breaking. As Bradley asks Paul about the advice he would give to young guys who are trying to understand where he is at, Paul goes on an pretty animated piece about how people should not waste their time emailing him, telling him why he is wrong, and that he is going to hell. He says that he has tried with more effort and energy to be a Christian than any of those young guys. He goes on to say no one has read more, studied more, and wrestled more with Christianity than he has.
The reality is Paul tried to be a Christian on the basis of his works and never really understood the gospel in the first place, which was highlighted early in the interview when he speaks of being a supporter of N. T. Wright. It is understandable why there would be relief and even “happiness” for someone who departed the faith after years of “trying to be a Christian” on their own merit. That is a miserable pursuit that always ends in ruin. Sin will ensure it and the law will expose it.
Reminders for Christians
Deconstruction is simply disbelief and a departure from Christianity, fashioned with fancy postmodern language. Our hearts should be broken and should lament for those who have left the Christian faith, praying for their salvation, but we should not be shaken by their departure.
First, it is evidence that they were not really among the people of God (1 Jn 2:19). Second, the security and assurance of our salvation and hope is rooted in the object of our faith and not our faith itself. Jesus Christ is a sure anchor for our souls, who secured salvation for us through mediatorial work as our high priest (Heb 6:19–20). Our hope and trust is fully in God alone (1 Pt 1:19–21), who elected us in eternity, redeemed us at the cross, and applied salvation to us at our conversion all according to God’s great mercy (Eph 1:3–14).4
By Bill Muehlenberg — 12 months ago
What Schaeffer wrote there nearly 40 years ago was prophetic in nature. But as is so often the case, such prophetic words are ignored and rejected. As we look around the West today we see the sad fulfilment of what he had warned against.
On May 15, 1984, the great evangelical thinker, Presbyterian pastor, and noted apologist Francis Schaeffer passed away. Just a few months earlier his last book was released: The Great Evangelical Disaster (Crossway). Anyone who is familiar with his life and work knows that this volume very much followed in the same vein as his previous 21 books.
It continued the basic themes he had always preached on and written about, which include: an infinite personal God exists; he has revealed himself to us; Scripture is his inspired and infallible word; we can come to this holy God based on the finished work of Christ; Christians are called to model the truth and beauty of God in our relations with others, and the church must refuse to compromise and accommodate with the surrounding culture.
His final book certainly hammers home these key truths. In the dedication page he says the following:
To a new, young generation—and to those in the older generation—who will stand and be countedas radicals for truth and for Christ.
That is emphasised throughout this crucial volume. Plenty of quotes could be offered here. Let me feature just a few. On pages 31-32 he speaks about how utterly important all this is, and what a massive war we are in:
Make no mistake. We as Bible-believing evangelical Christians are locked in a battle. This is not a friendly gentleman’s discussion. It is a life and death conflict between the spiritual hosts of wickedness and those who claim the name of Christ. It is a conflict on the level of ideas between two fundamentally opposed views of truth and reality. It is a conflict on the level of actions between a complete moral perversion and chaos and God’s absolutes. But do we really believe that we are in a life and death battle? Do we really believe that the part we play in the battle has consequences for whether or not men and women will spend eternity in hell? Or whether or not in this life people will live with meaning or meaninglessness? Or whether or not those who do live will live in a climate of moral perversion and degradation? Sadly, we must say that very few in the evangelical world have acted as if these things are true. Rather than trumpet our accomplishments and revel in our growing numbers, it would be closer to the truth to admit that our response has been a disaster.
And on pages 48-49 he warns about which way we will go: with humanistic relativism or God’s absolutes:
Soft days for evangelical Christians are past, and only a strong view of Scripture is sufficient to withstand the pressure of an all-pervasive culture built upon relativism and relativistic thinking. We must remember that it was a strong view of the absolutes which the infinite-personal God gave to the early church in the Old Testament, in the revelation of Christ through the Incarnation, and in the then growing New Testament — absolutes which enabled the early church to withstand the pressure of the Roman Empire. Without a strong commitment to God’s absolutes, the early church could never have remained faithful in the face of the constant Roman harassment and persecution. And our situation today is remarkably similar as our own legal, moral, and social structure is based on an increasingly anti-Christian, secularist consensus.
On page 60 he discusses what happens when cultural infiltration saps the strength and vitality of the church. Everything that we have now experienced – including the evangelical acceptance of homosexuality and fake marriage, was all foreseen by Schaeffer: