• Theology •
July 10, 2005
On this Lord’s Day, direct your thoughts to the vision of God revealed in Walter C. Smith’s great hymn, “Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise.” The hymn is a beautiful and majestic testimony to the omniscience and sovereignty of our all-knowing God:
Immortal, invisible, God only wise, In light inaccessible hid from our eyes, Most blessèd, most glorious, the Ancient of Days, Almighty, victorious, Thy great Name we praise.
Unresting, unhasting, and silent as light, Nor wanting, nor wasting, Thou rulest in might; Thy justice, like mountains, high soaring above Thy clouds, which are fountains of goodness and love.
To all, life Thou givest, to both great and small; In all life Thou livest, the true life of all; We blossom and flourish as leaves on the tree, And wither and perish–but naught changeth Thee.
Great Father of glory, pure Father of light, Thine angels adore Thee, all veiling their sight; But of all Thy rich graces this grace, Lord, impart Take the veil from our faces, the vile from our heart.
All laud we would render; O help us to see ‘Tis only the splendor of light hideth Thee, And so let Thy glory, almighty, impart, Through Christ in His story, Thy Christ to the heart.
You can listen to the hymn tune, St. Denio, at CyberHymnal.com.
July 9, 2005
My family and I stood on a dark beach in South Florida tonight, watching a great storm build on the horizon. The eye of Hurricane Dennis is still several hundred miles away, but the crushing surf and the gusting winds announce the coming storm. Already, the waves are a spectacular sight and the winds leave a powerful impression. We watched the beauty of the storm testify of God’s power and glory.
July 8, 2005
The bombings in London force us to look evil in the face once again. While some observers and commentators wonder aloud how human beings could do this to each other, Christians must affirm what we already know — that great evil lurks in the heart of humanity. When that evil is set loose, unconstrained by conscience, law, or social sanction, the monstrous reality of human evil bares its teeth once again. The mounting casualty and death toll in London is but the latest face of the evil we have now come to know in the form of mass terror.
We must pray for the people of Britain, for the injured and the mourning, and for a world growing both old and weary with each attack.
The major media have been covering this story all day and will continue coverage in days to come. Comments ranging from the insightful to the insipid have filled the airwaves. For one interesting and informed response, consider Thomas L. Friedman’s column published in today’s edition of The New York Times. Friedman gets right to what he sees as the great challenge ahead:
So this is a critical moment. We must do all we can to limit the civilizational fallout from this bombing. But this is not going to be easy. Why? Because unlike after 9/11, there is no obvious, easy target to retaliate against for bombings like those in London. There are no obvious terrorist headquarters and training camps in Afghanistan that we can hit with cruise missiles. The Al Qaeda threat has metastasized and become franchised. It is no longer vertical, something that we can punch in the face. It is now horizontal, flat and widely distributed, operating through the Internet and tiny cells.
Because there is no obvious target to retaliate against, and because there are not enough police to police every opening in an open society, either the Muslim world begins to really restrain, inhibit and denounce its own extremists – if it turns out that they are behind the London bombings – or the West is going to do it for them. And the West will do it in a rough, crude way – by simply shutting them out, denying them visas and making every Muslim in its midst guilty until proven innocent.
And because I think that would be a disaster, it is essential that the Muslim world wake up to the fact that it has a jihadist death cult in its midst. If it does not fight that death cult, that cancer, within its own body politic, it is going to infect Muslim-Western relations everywhere. Only the Muslim world can root out that death cult. It takes a village.
July 1, 2005
With the Ten Commandments front and center in our current national debate, Christians may need a reminder of why God’s revealed law –including the Ten Commandments–is so important. In Written in Stone: The Ten Commandments and Today’s Moral Crisis [Crossway Books], Philip Grahan Ryken addresses himself to the church and then explains what is at stake:
Good teaching on the law and the gospel has never been more badly needed than it is today. We are living in lawless times, when disrespect for authority has led to widespread disdain for God’s commandments. People are behaving badly, even in church. Part of the problem is that people don’t know what God requires. Even among Christians there is an appalling lack of familiarity with the perfect standard of God’s law, and of course the situation is far worse in the culture at large. This ignorance undoubtedly contributes to the general lowering of moral standards in these post-Christian times, but it does as much damage to our theology. People who are ignorant of God’s law never see their need for the gospel. As John Bunyan explained it, “The man who does not know the nature of the law cannot know the nature of sin. And he who does not know the nature of sin cannot know the nature of the Savior.”
June 28, 2005
June 25, 2005
Joel Osteen has issued an apology for his disappointing June 20 appearance on CNN’s Larry King Live program. The apology is published on the Joel Osteen Ministries Web site.
“It was never my desire or intention to leave any doubt as to what I believe and Whom I serve,” he stated. “I believe with all my heart that it is only through Christ that we have hope in eternal life. I regret and sincerely apologize that I was unclear on the very thing in which I have dedicated my life.”
Further: “I believe that Jesus Christ alone is the only way to salvation. However, it wasn’t until I had the opportunity to review the transcript of the interview that I realize I had not clearly stated that having a personal relationship with Jesus is the only way to heaven. It’s about the individual’s choice to follow Him.”
The statement reflected both humility and candor. “God has given me a platform to present the Gospel to a very diverse audience. In my desire not to alienate the people that Jesus came to save, I did not clearly communicate the convictions that I hold so precious,” he acknowledged. He also described the interview and its aftermath as “a learning experience” and expresssed his confidence that “God will ultimately use it for my good and His glory.”
Mr. Osteen’s statement is encouraging on several fronts. First, it is encouraging to know that the constituency of Joel Osteen Ministries was so upset about the interview. Second, Mr. Osteen’s statement includes a clear and unambiguous affirmation of the exclusivity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Third, the timeliness of the statement underlines the importance of the issues at stake. Fourth, Mr. Osteen’s apology is free from the evasions typical of the pseudo-apologies so often issued to the public. He did not say that “statements were made,” but instead acknowledged that he had failed to communicate Gospel truth. The humility and honesty of the statement serve to fortify its authenticity.
This is a reminder to all of us who appear in the media. Statements made to an audience of millions are difficult to retract and are often impossible to correct. When Mr. Osteen writes, “I hope that you accept my deepest apology and see it in your heart to extend to me grace and forgiveness,” the only proper response is to extend the very forgiveness for which he asks — and with equal humility. Other concerns can wait for another day.
SEE ALSO: The We Believe statement from Joel Osteen Ministries. My weblog entry from yesterday, The Limits of Encouragement.
June 24, 2005
June 24, 2005
We would all like to be encouraging — and encouragement is one of the hallmarks of Christian ministry. After all, Barnabas was given his name as “Son of Encouragement” precisely in recognition of this invaluable ministry (Acts 4:36). Nevertheless, encouragement has its limits, and true biblical encouragement means encouraging that which is right and true, not that which leads to death. When the Apostle Paul urged Christians to encourage one another, he was encouraging them to encourage each other to faithfulness (see 1 Thessalonians 5:11).
The limits of encouragement were all too apparent when Joel Osteen appeared on CNN’s Larry King Live on June 20. Mr. Osteen, pastor of Houston’s Lakewood Church and author of the best-selling book, Your Best Life Now, affirmed his desire to affirm over and over again. It was not pretty. At several points, Mr. Osteen simply dodged theological questions, dismissing them with “I don’t know.”
When Mr. King asked about “fire and brimstone,” Mr. Osteen replied: “No. That’s not me. It’s never been me. I’ve always been an encourager at heart. And when I took over from my father he came from the Southern Baptist background and back 40, 50 years ago there was a lot more of that. But, you know, I just — I don’t believe in that. I don’t believe — maybe it was for a time. But I don’t have it in my heart to condemn people. I’m there to encourage them. I see myself more as a coach, as a motivator to help them experience the life God has for us.”
That was thin enough, but consider this statement: “You may not agree with me, but to me it’s not my job to try to straighten everybody out. The Gospel called the good news. My message is a message of hope, that’s God’s for you. You can live a good life no matter what’s happened to you. And so I don’t know. I know there is condemnation but I don’t feel that’s my place.” What about those things clearly condemned in the Bible?
Mr. Osteen said he believes in heaven and hell, but it is not clear how anyone would find themselves in hell. He even left the door open for atheists to go to heaven. “You know what, I’m going to let someone — I’m going to let God be the judge of who goes to heaven and hell. I just — again, I present the truth, and I say it every week. You know, I believe it’s a relationship with Jesus. But you know what? I’m not going to go around telling everybody else if they don’t want to believe that that’s going to be their choice. God’s got to look at your own heart. God’s got to look at your heart, and only God knows that.” To the extent that I can make sense of that statement, it appears that Mr. Osteen is determined to avoid telling anyone –even atheists — that they face the reality of hell.
In another section of the interview Mr. Osteen told Larry King that he doesn’t like to talk about sin or call people sinners. When asked, “Is that a word you don’t use?,” Mr. Osteen answered: “I don’t use it. I never thought about it. But I probably don’t. But most people already know what they’re doing wrong. When I get them to church I want to tell them that you can change. There can be a difference in your life. So I don’t go down the road of condemning.” Change from what? Why?
I have avoided mention of Mr. Osteen thus far. His church claims to have over 30,000 in weekly attendance and he has an expanding base of operations and growing influence. He obviously means well and loves to help people. His message of smiling affirmation is well received by thousands who come to his church and by millions more who watch him on television and read his books. But affirmation and encouragement, devoid of biblical content and context, will quickly turn into a message leading “from death to death” (2 Corinthians 3:16). In contrast, the Gospel leads “from life to life,” telling us the truth about ourselves and pointing us to Christ for our salvation. We must encourage persons to believe in Christ, to repent of their sins, to trust in Christ alone, and to live for God’s glory. Anything less is an encouragement to eternal disaster.
CHECK IT OUT: Read the transcript of the June 20, 2005 edition of Larry King Live with guest Joel Osteen.
June 20, 2005
The book’s title looks both promising and inspiring. Brian D. McLaren’s new book, A Generous Orthodoxy, is sure to get attention, and its title grabs both heart and mind. Who wouldn’t want to embrace an orthodoxy of generosity? On the other hand, the title raises an unavoidable question: Just how “generous” can orthodoxy be?
June 12, 2005
The following is a pastoral prayer by John Piper that concluded his sermon on Romans 8:3-9, How the Spirit Does What the Law Could Not Do. Dr. Piper’s prayer is a wonderful distillation of the Gospel:
O Lord Jesus, I am by nature a rebel and find more pleasure in what you made than in you. I am sick and corrupt. O Christ, how plain it is to me now that I need something so much deeper and more powerful and more personal than the law. I know your law is good. But I am flesh, and powerless to obey. And so, Lord Jesus, I turn away from the law, to you. You are my only hope. I turn away from my own resources and bank on your blood and righteousness for acceptance, and on your help for holiness. I turn away from all earthly pleasures and take you, and you alone, as the all-satisfying joy of my life. I renounce Satan and all his ways and all his works. I repent of all the sins I know, and those you know and I don’t.
And, O Lord, I pray that you would have mercy on me, and open the eyes of my heart to see you as you really are in all of your surpassing beauty. I pray that you would display your glory to me in the gospel. What I see and know of you now, I embrace with all my heart. I receive you as my Savior and Lord and Treasure. And ask you to dwell mightily in me and make yourself the Victor in my life so that when I love my brothers and my enemies – as I intend to do with all my heart – the glory will go to you.
This message, and so much more, is available through Desiring God. How the Spirit Does What the Law Could Not Do was preached November 11, 2001 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis.
May 29, 2005
As you prepare for worship this Lord’s Day, remember that all true Christian worship is Trinitarian in shape and substance. Consider these words from Gregory of Nazianzus, [330-394 A.D.]:
“No sooner do I conceive of the one than I am illuminated by the splendor of the three; no sooner do I distinguish them than I am carrried back to the one. When I think of any one of the three I think of him as the whole, and my eyes are filled, and the greater part of what I am thinking escapes me. I cannot grasp the greatness of that one so as to attribute a greater greatness to the rest. When I contemplate the three together, I see but one torch, and cannot divide or measure out the undivided light.” [From Orations 40.41]
May 27, 2005
ITEM ONE: John M. Swomley, Professor Emeritus of Christian Social Ethics at the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, is worried that Justice Antonin Scalia might be nominated as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing in Christian Ethics Today, he cites the fact that Scalia, a Roman Catholic, regularly attends the annual Red Mass, which he describes as “a medieval institution that has been repackaged in the United States in the twentieth century to influence judges and other lawmakers as well as the culture of the states and nation.” According to Dr. Swomley, “there is an underlying assumption that law and morality began with the Roman Catholic Church and divine revelation.” Well, the law and morality didn’t begin with the Roman Catholic Church, but they are ultimately established by divine revelation. From whence–or from whom–does Dr. Swomley think they have come?
Several years ago, Dr. Swomley argued in the same periodical that “abortion per se is not morally wrong, but should be left to private decision and medical judgment.” Further, “Public policy must defend the rights of existing living persons as over against religiously based claims made on behalf of fetal life.” And just who are those “existing living persons,” anyway?
ITEM TWO: Norman Mailer writes “On Sartre’s God Problem” in the current edition of The Nation. He accuses Jean-Paul Sartre of having “derailed existentialism” by his godlessness. Atheism, Mailer avows, is “a cropless undertaking when it comes to philosophy,” supposedly able to deal with ethics, but unable to contend with metaphysics.
Mailer would replace atheism with theological relativism: “Great hope has no real footing unless one is willing to face into the doom that may also be on the way. Those are the poles of our existence–as they have been from the first instant of the Big Bang. Something immense may now be stirring, but to meet it we will do better to expect that life will not provide the answers we need so much as it will offer the privilege of improving our questions. It is not moral absolutism but theological relativism we would do well to explore if our real need is for a God with whom we can engage our lives.” In other words, Mailer is characteristically absolutist in his program of theological relativism.
Above all, Norman Mailer retains the power of expressive language. He describes Martin Heidegger as having “spent his life laboring mightily in the crack of philosophy’s buttocks, right there in the cleft between Being and Becoming.” Perhaps not the most sophisticated philosophical analysis, but rather hard to forget.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: “The anointed talk about the sexuality of the young as if they had discovered it and copyrighted it. Why do they think people in olden times had such things as chaperones, early marriage, separate dormitories, and a thousand other ways of trying to cope with youthful sexuality and its consequences?” –Thomas Sowell in Barbarians Inside the Gates and Other Controversial Essays [Hoover Institution Press].