Something similar happened in Corinth during Paul’s missionary days (circa AD 53–54). Just a few short years after Paul brought the gospel to these saints, they were already out of the honeymoon phase. One group in the church favored Paul, the apostle and planter of the church. Others sided with Apollos, the eloquent Alexandrian (Acts 18:24). They were caught up in mere men rather than the God-man, and it was bringing deadly sepsis to their local body. In addition to the division there was grievous sin, idolatry, impure worship, and false teaching threatening to flatline the Corinthian church.
A Fresh Application of the Gospel
Paul, under the guidance of the Great Physician, sought to bring healing to the Corinthian church. Near the end of his first letter to the Corinthians, he urged them to focus on what was “of first importance” (1 Cor. 15:3). As a way of reminder, he once again declared the gospel to the Corinthians. They needed a fresh application of the message that brought them from death to life. As redeemed people, we too are prone to forget the most powerful message in all of the universe. We need to be constantly drawn back to the good news of Jesus Christ.
Before expounding the gospel to the Corinthians, Paul reminded them of four aspects of the gospel that are equally relevant for the bride of Christ today:
The gospel message was preached to them. Who can hear the gospel message without a preacher (Rom. 10:14)? It was Paul himself who “planted” the gospel seeds by preaching to them, and he stood so firmly in the message that he could call it “my gospel” (1 Cor. 1:6; Rom. 16:25).
The gospel message was received by them. The Corinthians had welcomed Paul and received the words he preached, and he was confident to call them brothers and sisters in the Lord. He addressed them as the church at Corinth because he was confident that the gospel had transformed them and made them new creatures.
They made their stand in the gospel message. When they heard the gospel, they responded and found their standing in that message, and they were still standing in that message when Paul wrote to them. They continued to stand firm as they trusted the work of Christ on their behalf.
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By William Boekestein — 2 years ago
God makes himself known in the Bible. Scripture is a lot of things, but mostly it is divine autobiography. Sadly, not everyone sees God in Scripture; some see only an ancient religious text. But “when we truly believe in Christ, we recognize our deep dependence on the Word of God as uncontestable wisdom and truth.” When Jesus speaks in the Bible, “the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:4).
Apologetics is often associated with the so-called proofs of God’s existence: ontological, cosmological, teleological—and already my head is spinning. But the quest to prove God has several problems. First, it ignores that all people already know God. Even animals can tell us that God created the world (Job 12:7–10). Everyone knows God. Not everyone honors “him as God or gives thanks to him” (Rom. 1:21). Second, it risks confusing intellectual assent with faith. Saving knowledge of God is a heart-soul-strength-mind love for him (Luke 10:27). “Our knowledge of God can never be limited to that which is merely grasped cognitively or academically.” Third, it wrongly makes human reason the conclusive factor. But creatures have no right to decide if there is a creator. When Job and his friends were judging God, they put themselves on the wrong side of the bench (Job 38:1–2; 40:1). Fourth, it underestimates humanity’s brokenness. Denying God gives way to futile thinking and darkened, foolish hearts (Rom. 1:21). Is such a person competent to judge God’s existence?
Christian apologetics is not responsible for proving God. Instead, it establishes “the existence of a God who is capable of being known by man and who has made himself known, not only in nature but in the revelations of his grace to lost sinners, documented in the Christian Scriptures.” To do this, Christian apologetics relies on three primary truths that we must believe and make known to others.
That God exists needs not be proved. It is understood. Humans are hungry for God. We are restless for him. Whether we admit it or not, we were made to seek and find the God who is (Acts 17:27). And we know this. We sense divinity because we proceeded from the divine. John Calvin taught that “There is within the human mind, and indeed by natural instinct, an awareness of divinity. This we take be beyond controversy” since “God himself has implanted in all men a certain understanding of his divine majesty.” J.H. Bavinck concurred: “There is in man an ineradicable intuition that there exists a Higher Being, a God, and that this God is concerned about his life… . Life continues to be… a dialogue with the mysterious Unknown, whose existence we can deny, but whom we can never wholly banish and expel from our thoughts.”
Some people “deny that God exists, yet willy-nilly they from time to time feel an inkling of what they desire not to believe.” Atheists establish God’s reality by venomously opposing the God they claim doesn’t exist. To borrow from Shakespeare, they protest too much. Only a fool denies the existence of God (Ps. 14:1). Only where such fools coercively challenged the corporate sense of divinity do we find any significant population that denies God.
Atheists want theists to bear the burden of proving God. But the existence of the Triune being who has created the world and still governs and preserves it doesn’t have to be proved. The onus rests on those arguing against God’s existence. But given human limitations, critics can never finish their search for the God they say does not exist.
The Bible “presupposes the existence of God in its very opening statement” and declares who he is and what he has done. Paul seized on the Athenians’ sense of God to proclaim to them what they knew only vaguely (Acts 17:23). The confessions and catechisms of the Reformation acknowledge and announce the God who is. “We all believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God.”
But even if God is, and even if we can sense the existence of a deity, can he be truly known?
God Can Be Known
Knowing God is the most basic of all truths. “And without faith it is impossible to please [God], for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Heb. 11:6). God is. And we can know enough about him to believe that he blesses faith.
By Samuel D. James — 10 months ago
Written by Samuel D. James |
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
The whole reason to call out church abuse wherever it happens is because the church is beautiful and valuable and immortal, and Satan, the master abuser, wants church to look more like him instead. To the degree that abuse awareness hands people a mirror and tells them they can only be truly safe at home, it surrenders the whole game to the enemy himself.
My review of When Narcissism Comes to Church generated some of the more pointed pushback I’ve ever received from those I would consider generally in my theological/political tribe. My friend John Starke thought I mis-characterized the book. Mike Cosper agreed with this, and went further to explain why the book is valuable even at those points where my description might hold up. In one interesting section, Cosper offers a scenario where Chuck DeGroat’s framework could be helpfully applied:
If you confront a narcissist and say, “You’re prideful, abusive, and manipulative of others,” you’ll likely get one of two responses. You might hear them say, “That’s simply not true — I’m deeply insecure and I’m surrounded by people who tell me they don’t think I’m abusive and confront me when they think I’m wrong.” In this case, that’s likely all true! The confrontation fails to consider the way the individual’s pathology makes them profoundly blind to their own sins and motivations, and it fails to account for the way modern society incentivizes others to attach themselves to narcissists. The outcome is often a mealy-mouthed, “I’m sorry for the way my behavior made you feel” apology.
On the other hand, you might hear them address the accusation directly, saying, “I struggle deeply with pride, tell me who I’ve sinned against and I’ll apologize.” In this case if there is a kind of narcissistic pathology at work, they can easily perform these tasks again and again. Critics might continue to say, “They’re abusive,” but co-leaders can point to the acts of repentance and attempts at reconciliation as evidence of a malleable heart. That’s all the more likely within a system that’s benefitting from a narcissist’s charisma and energy.
DeGroat’s framework challenges us to consider the more complex interaction between sin and suffering at the heart of the behavior. By understanding narcissism as a psychological defense, a built-in response to internalized trauma and grief, we see a different kind of inroad for caring for the soul of a narcissist. They can be confronted with their sin and its impact on a community while also being shown connections between that behavior and their deeper wounds. It does nothing to diminish the power of sin and the need for the cross to do so. In fact, it expands the way we can see its power — addressing not only the sins that we might have committed, but the power of sin to malform us.
Now, what I think is particularly instructive about what Cosper writes here is that he’s offered a mini-case study of confronting an abusive leader, and in this case study, there is no question that the accusation of narcissism and abuse is valid. Cosper’s case study envisions two endings to such a confrontation: either the leader will blame-shift, or they will try to pacify the accuser by appearing to “repent.” In either case, Cosper’s illustration presumes that the person being confronted really is a genuine narcissist, and with this assurance and using DeGroat’s ideas, the accuser can be equipped to see through even an apparent confession and apology. In other words, Cosper is saying that we need DeGroat’s book in order to really hold narcissistic leaders accountable, because otherwise we might be fooled by their apologies and their apparent contrition. Without doing the thick psychoanalytical work—identifying past traumas, naming one’s insecurities, perhaps even taking the Enneagram—we are at the mercy of having to take a narcissist at his word.
In the very beginning of my review, however, I offered a much different hypothetical scenario:
You are approached by two people in your church, both people that you know, love, and trust with equal measure. Person A needs to tell you something about Person B. Person B, according to Person A, has been spiritually abusing them. Person B has been using their leadership and influence to convince other people that Person A’s beliefs and opinions are wrong. Moreover, according to A, Person B has persisted in a pattern of manipulation toward A: saying things to belittle, minimize, or ignore A. Person A feels incredibly victimized by Person B, and does not know how they can persevere at this church while Person B remains.
By Dan Crabtree — 9 months ago
The Bible can seem so unclear to us because we have rejected the ground of clarity in the goodness of God. Of course, that struggle is even more painful because of our own natural finitude and the cultural distance between us and the authors, but the start of it all was a human refusal to cling to the goodness of God. We have a moral problem obscuring the clear light of Scripture. We need to see God’s glorious goodness in the pages of his book to rightly understand it, but our hearts have been blinded by our love of idols.
Ironically, the main reason why we talk about the clarity of Scripture is that it often seems so unclear.
Even though Scripture says that it’s intelligible in part and whole, and even though we know theologically that God’s goodness grounds the clarity of his communication, we still bang our heads against the unforgiving concrete of hard texts. Zophar’s diatribes, Moses’ “bridegroom of blood,” and John’s Apocalypse can feel unsurmountable. John Calvin didn’t preach Revelation, and likewise, Martyn Lloyd-Jones never finished Romans. And the apostle Peter himself says, “There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand…” (2 Pet 3:16).
If the Bible is so clear, then why is it so unclear?
One way to begin answering this question is to make a distinction between the intrinsic clarity of Scripture and the extrinsic clarity of Scripture. God has spoken clearly, but that doesn’t mean that we will always listen clearly. We can intentionally and unintentionally misinterpret Scripture, or cultural and historical factors outside our control can make interpretation difficult. None of those communicative barriers prevent God from inspiring a clear biblical text, but they do make the text seem unclear to us. Scripture is intrinsically clear but can be extrinsically unclear.
A few illustrations may help. If I tell my kids to “clean up your toys,” and they choose to interpret that as “don’t clean up your toys,” the obscurity does not lie in the speech but willfully in the hearer. Or, if you send a clearly worded email to a client who earnestly tries but fails to understand it, then the fault could unintentionally be on the hearer’s end as well. Or, an English speaker may turn on the radio and hear a song being sung clearly and beautifully in Spanish; he hears the clear words, but because of his cultural distance doesn’t know what they mean. While there may be intrinsic clarity all the way through, there can simultaneously exist extrinsic difficulty in interpreting those clear words.
While such categories about obscurity may be philosophically useful, we need to find out if they are biblically grounded. If it’s true that God’s clear Word can be mangled by our misinterpretation willingly and unwillingly, do we see that borne out in Scripture? And if so, where did obscurity in communication begin?
To see the genesis of our unclear interpretations, we need to head back to the garden.
Did God Actually Say?
Moses writes, “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?’” (Gen 3:1).
According to Scripture, this serpentine deceiver is the source of our obscurity. And he delivers his poisonous confusion in two attempts aimed at Eve, Adam’s wife.
The serpent (identified as Satan in Revelation 20:2) begins his attack with a plain falsification of God’s command to Adam. No, God did not say they couldn’t eat from any tree. He said almost exactly the opposite (Gen 2:15-17)! Satan is hoping, it seems, to suggest that God is hardnosed and miserly, unwilling to share his good creation with his image-bearers. But, in fact, God is immensely generous, liberal, and kind-hearted with his newly-minted world, and Eve remembers that, albeit with some modifications of her own (3:2-3).
Satan’s first attack is bound up in the word “really,” which translates two little letters in Hebrew. Implied by that word is something like, “Would God really do such a thing to you? How horrible! I’m shocked! Why would he be so tight-fisted with such a wonderful servant as yourself? I almost can’t believe that he would be so stingy. Did he really say that? How un-Godlike of him.”