I know many people who have become Christians from non-Christian family backgrounds. They want to live a life honouring the true God but need to set up new family traditions and ways of living. What does it look like to be a Christian husband? What does it look like to live a single life that is faithful to God? These are questions their parents never asked or attempted to answer, yet they are trying to do these things day by day. And, by God’s grace, they are setting up ways of life that might well not only influence themselves but their families and those around them.
Every family falls into patterns of doing things. It can be something minor, like placing the cups in the cupboard upside down when you have washed and dried them. Or it might be something major, like a pattern of responding to disagreements with anger or resentment with little forgiveness or grace. Some families value sport above all other things, while others value reading with every member of the family engaged in a book of their choice.
There can be something very positive about family traditions. But there can also be something terribly destructive. Following other religions often continues for generations. Big issues like drunkenness and violence also have a tendency to be passed on from parents to children.
If you’ve grown up in a destructive family tradition, or a family who have followed another god than the true God, you might feel negative or despondent about it. All of us are a product, to a significant degree, of the way we have been brought up. Yet there is always hope; you can change the path set before you by your parents.
We see this in the latter chapters of 2 Kings. The family line of kings in Judah was almost entirely negative. Most kings tolerated the high places where people worshipped other gods. Some of the kings went far further than this, actively following other gods and persecuting the prophets of the true God. What hope was there that a child born into this kind of family would end up living a faithful life?
Well, we do see this on a couple of occasions. Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz, a man who built a major altar in the temple to another god.
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By Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra — 1 year ago
Strangely enough, the fire has recentered people on the hope of the gospel. God’s timing is infinitely kind. I think this could be a severe mercy from the Lord and may open up tremendous opportunities. When we were sitting on folding chairs in the fellowship hall on Sunday, I thought, This feels like a church plant to me.
The 911 call came in just before 11:00 p.m. last Saturday.
Someone driving by the historic College Hill Presbyterian Church in Oxford, Mississippi—the one founded nearly 180 years ago, the one that served as a Civil War hospital, the one where William Faulkner got married—had spotted smoke.
Firefighters arrived within a few minutes, but the building—including the original pulpit and pews—was already aflame.
“The fire was in full blaze by midnight,” said Clint Wilcke, who works as catalyst for the Mid-South Church Planting Network of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). Since College Hill Presbyterian is between pastors, he also preaches there a few times a month, organizes their pulpit supply, and shepherds the elders and staff. “It seems there was an electrical fire in the back of the church, but it’s still under investigation.”
Wilcke’s phone was set to silent, so he didn’t hear the news until he saw a morning text from a friend. “So sorry to hear about College Hill,” it said.
Uh-oh, Wilcke thought. What’s he talking about?
“I reached out to some folks, and we drove straight there,” he said.
He remembers pulling in. “I thought there would be more of a structure left,” he said. “It was hard to look at—just devastating. It was a complete ruin.”
The brick walls, which had been reinforced in the 1940s, were still standing. But the interior walls and roof and original wood pews were ashes. The communion table and hymnals and stained glass windows were gone. The pulpit was a charred stump.
But not all was lost. No one was hurt. One of the firefighters grabbed the Bible from the pulpit—the Bible pastors had been marking up and preaching from since the 1860s. And the fellowship hall, which had been built much later, was untouched in a separate building 200 yards away.
That’s where College Hill Presbyterian Church met on Sunday, seven hours after the fire was extinguished.
The Gospel Coalition asked Wilcke about that service, the reaction of the congregation, and how he’s seen God’s faithfulness over the past week.
What was the church service like on Sunday?
A lot of people were flat-out weeping and really struggling, because they were married in that church, and baptized there, and came to Christ there. Place matters.
But there was also tons of hope and encouragement. The elders have done a good job of listening and praying and coming alongside the members. The longest-standing ruling elder, Bill, was preaching that morning. He never even went out to the fire; when he heard about it, he knew he had to work on the sermon instead. I really appreciated his focus.
Some of the other elders went out to the fire and then put together emails in the middle of the night. Sunday morning, everyone jumped in—moving chairs and hymnals over to the fellowship hall. There was some crying and hugging and looking at the ruins in disbelief, but then everyone was focused on worship.
Bill’s texts were Romans 8:28, Ephesians 1:15–22, and 1 Peter 2:4–10. He did a great job celebrating the history of God’s work and reminding us that we are the church, the building, the body, the bride of Christ.
Salvation by God at the Cross of Christ: A Reflection on Chapter 6 of Christianity and Liberalism (Part 1)By K.J. Drake — 5 months ago
Written by K.J. Drake |
Thursday, July 6, 2023
Theological liberalism presents not merely a sub-Christian view of salvation but a different conception of it entirely, which depends on and elevates humanity rather than God. Machen sharply contrasts the liberal view of salvation, Christ as example, with Christ as vicarious sufferer in the mode of legal penal substitution. Far from being an arcane and “subtle” theory, substitutionary atonement “is itself so simple that a child can understand it. ‘We deserved eternal death, but the Lord Jesus, because He loved us, died instead of us on the cross’” This is the gospel.
Understanding salvation requires a picture of the world, its purpose, and ultimately its Creator, Savior, and Judge. For this reason, J. Gresham Machen discusses salvation only after the other foundational doctrines in Christianity and Liberalism. In the first chapters he established the divergence between the Christian faith and modern theological liberalism regarding God, humanity, the Bible, and Christ. Machen then turns to the gospel, the way of salvation, in order to demonstrate their opposing concepts of humanity’s plight and reconciliation. He presents a theocentric vision of salvation that proclaims sin in its fullness and centers the cross of Jesus as the Triune God’s act in history to bring gracious redemption. The Christian faith and theological liberalism diverge on the need of salvation, the basis of salvation, the means of securing salvation, and the new reality brought about by the saving activity. Most fundamentally, “Liberalism finds salvation (so far as it is willing to speak at all of “salvation”) in man; Christianity finds it in an act of God.” Machen will show us how orthodoxy Christianity and theological liberalism present difference accounts of atonement, sin, the character of God, and the instrument of salvation.
The parting of ways on salvation secures Machen’s thesis that, in fact and by honest assessment, Christianity and theological liberalism are different religions: “Despite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.” Each religious tradition presents some sort of problem-solution schema of the world. Something has gone terribly wrong; human existence is not as it is supposed to be. Theological liberalism presents not merely a sub-Christian view of salvation but a different conception of it entirely, which depends on and elevates humanity rather than God. Machen sharply contrasts the liberal view of salvation, Christ as example, with Christ as vicarious sufferer in the mode of legal penal substitution. Far from being an arcane and “subtle” theory, substitutionary atonement “is itself so simple that a child can understand it. ‘We deserved eternal death, but the Lord Jesus, because He loved us, died instead of us on the cross’” This is the gospel.
Different Accounts of Atonement and Sin
Machen presents the modern liberal atonement theories in contradistinction from the Reformation view. Fundamentally, liberal theologians posit a subjective effect of the death of Christ on the human being rather than and objective accomplishment that alters the relation of the sinner to God. Broadly conceived, the liberal views of the atonement addressed by Machen fall under the category of moral influence theories or exemplarism. “The essence of it is that the death of Christ had an effect not upon God but only upon man.” Machen delineates three varieties of these modern theories of Christ’s death, each of which attribute an exclusively revelatory effect to the cross of Christ.
The cross reveals the ultimate “example of self-sacrifice of us to emulate”
The cross reveals God’s hatred of sin therefore motivating us to do so as well
The cross reveals God’s love for us.
Machen acknowledges that each of these points have some basis in biblical truth, but they do not address the underlying plight of the human person before the Holy God nor account for human inability because of sin. Such atonement theories portray the problem between God and humanity as one of knowledge rather than iniquity.
The heart of the division between Christianity and theological liberalism regarding atonement is different ideas of sin. As Machen explains in his chapter on Christ,
Without the conviction of sin there can be no appreciation of the uniqueness of Jesus; it is only when we contrast our sinfulness with His holiness that we appreciate the gulf which separates Him from the rest of the children of men. And without the conviction of sin there can be no understanding of the occasion for the supernatural act of God; without the conviction of sin, the good news of redemption seems to be an idle tale.
Early-twentieth century liberalism, across the whole spectrum, maintained the idea of fundamental human goodness and inevitable progress through human will and action. Sin was recast in a utilitarian form as that which adversely effects human flourishing, with the Godward direction of sin minimized or rejected. For this reason, the traditional Protestant concepts of guilt, justification, and Christ’s substitutionary death were overturned. As Machen notes, “[Theological liberals] err in that they ignore the dreadful reality of guilt, and make a mere persuasion of the human will all that is needed for salvation.” Under the liberal schema, humanity’s problem was ignorance and not condemnation; therefore, the solution of the cross was reimagined.
On the various subjective atonement theories presented by liberal theologians, the revelatory aspects of the cross float in the air, lacking grounding in history or theological truth.
But they [the revelatory aspects of the cross] are swallowed up in a far greater truth—that Christ died instead of us to present us faultless before the throne of God. Without that central truth, all the rest is devoid of real meaning: an example of self-sacrifice is useless to those who are under both the guilt and thralldom of sin; the knowledge of God’s hatred of sin can in itself bring only despair; an exhibition of the love of God is a mere display unless there was some underlying reason for the sacrifice.
In rejecting these views, Machen has Harry Emerson Fosdick’s controversial sermon, “Shall the Fundamentalists Win?” firmly in sight. He quotes Fosdick’s repudiation of penal substitution as an example of this point: “They speak with disgust of those who believe ‘that the blood of our Lord, shed in a substitutionary death, placates an alienated Deity and makes possible welcome for the returning sinner.’” Fosdick, however, is not the only, or even the main, target of Machen’s criticism but a leading example of what he sees as the theological drift of the Church from the faith of the Bible.
Different Accounts of the Character of God
Machen addresses two specific critiques of Christ’s death as a vicarious sacrifice: (1) how can one suffer for another and (2) what does this communicate about the character of God. Regarding the first, he writes, “modern liberalism has still more specific objections to the Christian doctrine of the cross. How can one person, it is asked, suffer for the sins of another? The thing, we are told, is absurd. Guilt, it is said, is personal; if I allow another man to suffer for my fault, my guilt is not thereby one whit diminished.” But, Machen maintains, the death of Christ is not like this. Christ’s death was unique because his person is unique, as the God-man. “It is perfectly true that the Christ of modern naturalistic reconstruction never could have suffered for the sins of others; but it is very different in the case of the Lord of Glory.”
By Don and Joy Veinot — 10 months ago
State governments, the Federal Government, and Supreme Court have been clear and consistent throughout U.S. history: Rights and Constitutional protections are not for allhumans; those protections are only for those legally recognized as persons—according to whatever subjective criteria the ruling elite are using at any given time. Focusing the argument on Human Rights protects innocent life on both ends of the mortal life continuum.
My daughter, Jennifer, tends to be a bit timid and shy. She has formed solid opinions but, unlike myself, doesn’t feel compelled to share them with everyone who walks by. In other words, she is not a fan of confrontation. She has had a quieter faith and has found less “in-your-face” ways to open the discussion. When she was in high school, she would wear a shirt that had a picture of a garbage can with the caption under it: “This is no place for a baby.” Jennifer was one of only perhaps two or three who were pro-life in her freshman class.
During that time, she had to compose a persuasive paper for her English class and wanted to write “Murder is Socially Acceptable” to compare slavery, the Holocaust, and abortion. Her teacher’s response was: The concept is interesting, but there is no evidence abortion is murder, and so she wouldn’t let her write the paper. Jennifer was not happy, and as the old saying goes: “When Jennifer ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Instead of giving up, she decided to reframe the argument and write a persuasive paper demonstrating that abortion is murder. As we thought about it and talked with a few teachers and college professors we know, we realized Jennifer’s teacher probably has one or two students each year who want to make a biblical case for a pro-life position. Jennifer and I decided the best approach would be to make a sound, compelling case, which would be consistent with biblical teaching, but not quote the Bible in the process. She gathered the scientific data on fetal development, talked about what is in the mother’s womb (a human rather than a plant, bird, fish, etc.), and Jennifer developed her persuasive argument. After reading it, her teacher changed her personal opinion from “pro-choice” to “pro-life.” In a later class assignment, she was to debate students who took a “pro-choice” position; and she went first. I suggested while giving her a positive “pro-life” case; she should refute the arguments the other students likely would use for the “pro-choice” position. After she finished, the students affirming the “pro-choice” side, really didn’t know what to do since their arguments had been destroyed before they even took the floor.
Reframing the Argument
The July 22, 2010, Washington Times article “Clinton pushes Vietnam on human rights progress” raised the issue of human rights in foreign lands (in this case Vietnam), and how much Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would focus on that in her discussions with the leaders of Vietnam. Some of the U.S. Congress thought this important as well:
“The government of Vietnam’s desire to reap the benefits of the global economy must be matched by efforts to respect comprehensive human rights,” a bipartisan group of 19 members of Congress wrote to Clinton on July 15.
As I read this and other articles since then, I thought back to Jennifer’s high school days, which seems another lifetime ago now that our grandchildren are getting close to their teen years themselves. A new idea or way to reframe the human rights argument began to crystallize. This is a subject I have been thinking about for a while, but there was something in that particular article; or perhaps, it was just the mood I was in while reading it, but I wondered: Do humans have rights based solely on being human, or is there some other criteria? If there are some other criteria, is it constant, or does it change from culture to culture and/or time to time in order to exclude certain humans from protection? Rather than simply developing a position and asserting my view is correct, I decided to put the question to an organization that specializes in addressing violations of human rights: Amnesty International. I e-mailed them and asked:
There seems to be some confusion when using the term “human rights.” Do you mean by this that humans have rights based solely on being human? If a nation decides that a human is not legally a person and, therefore, has no rights, for only persons have rights, is that something you affirm?
The question is fairly simple and straightforward. Do humans have rights because they are human, or are there some other criteria for deciding which humans are worthy of human-rights protections? Perhaps, a human has no inherent rights, and lawmakers or the ruling elite in various societies are free to use any arbitrary criteria they choose in defining which humans have rights and which ones do not. Currently, in the United States, only those who are legally deemed a “person” are members of the protected class. In this scenario, non-persons—human or not—do not have any legal rights and, therefore, are not deserving of protection. I received their response in less than 24 hours:
Thank you for your interest in Amnesty International and the work that we do.
I’m unaware of the confusion that you mention.
Human rights are those which all humans should be entitled to, regardless of legislation introduced by an individual country that may undermine any of these.
I do not understand your differentiation between people and humans, but I hope that this goes some way to answer your question.
I have spoken with others and asked this question and have watched as they, like Amnesty International, also short-circuited and changed the parameters of the question from “person” to “people.” There is an important distinction here. The word person is a legal designation and may be applied to a human or a corporation. It might be people or some other legal entity. On the other hand, the word people is used interchangeably with human. So, people are always human, but person may not be. I responded to Amnesty International:
Thank you for your timely response and clear answer. The confusion wasn’t between “people” and “human” but between “person” and “human.” For example, in the United States, when slavery was legal, no one denied that slaves were human. However, in the eyes of the law, they were not “persons.”1 Therefore, even though they were human but not persons, they had no rights or protections under the law. They were simply property and could be cared for and protected or beaten, sold, dismembered, and even killed without legal reprisal since they were not persons and had no rights. This classification was based on the arbitrary criteria of skin color.
Currently, preborn humans are legally classified as non-persons based on the arbitrary criteria of geography. They are living inside the womb vs. outside the womb. Based on these arbitrary criteria, state legislatures and the U.S. Supreme Court do not extend “personhood” and the attendant legal rights and protections afforded “persons” until a geographical change occurs from inside the womb to outside the womb. Even though human, they are property and can be cared for and nurtured until they make the geographical change; or they can be dismembered, burned to death with saline, or even have their brains vacuumed out a few centimeters away from a full geographical change, since they are property and not persons even though human. As long as this arbitrary classification stands, I am not really sure on what basis someone could say that slavery was wrong or, in the case of other nations, if they are abusing humans who have been legally classified as non-persons on what basis they could be charged with human rights violations? In the U.S., legally, persons have rights, humans do not.
It has been nearly two years, and so far, they have not responded. At this point, I doubt they will. I think I can safely assume it is probable they have chosen to ignore the question at this point. Why? Well, if they affirm the law can use any arbitrary criterion which excludes certain humans from protection to determine a legal definition of person, then there is really no “human rights” basis on which to say slavery was wrong. After all, slavery was legal. The ruling elite of that day determined the slaves legally were not fully counted as persons in the census (which determined state representation) even though they were human. It is wrong to own slaves in the United States today, but that is only because the criteria for human rights are arbitrary and changeable, and, consequently, the current law has changed and eliminated skin color as a criterion for being a person or non-person. It isn’t because today’s blacks are any more human than were their ancestors, but simply because the ruling elite currently has declared it to be so.