Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Covenant Student and the Skeptic

An Adaptation of “Why I Believe in God” by Cornelius Van Til PH.D.

Hey! We have been around each other a lot lately and I have loved getting to know you. I’ve been waiting for the right moment to have this conversation with you. I hope you will allow me some time to share some things with you today.
I am taking a lot for granted. I am assuming that you want to discuss these things. We both should agree that they are important. I’m assuming with your intelligence you have from time to time asked yourself some questions about the foundation and direction of your life. Maybe you have gone as far to question about death and whether there is an afterlife. Deep down you may ask, how do I know that there is no God?
I hope I am not being too intrusive and you can stop me at any point, but I really desire to discuss with you our differences. I want to hear what you believe and deeply desire to share with you why I am confident of my belief in God.
To start with, I want us to talk about our past. We both have studied the psychological debate of nature and nurture. We both live in a world that seeks to make all truth relative and discount faith as completely separate from any reason. My desire to share this with you is social taboo because I am supposed to keep all of this quiet.

One of your first arguments against my faith will be that I was brought up to believe these things, while you were not.

My answer is that I don’t deny this at all, I was taught to follow God early in my life. But my childhood was not a cocoon. I have heard all the reasons why not to believe and I have observed a lot of people who live differently than me. In spite of issues within and without myself, I am more convinced of the truth of God’s existence than ever before and I am more in love with the Christian gospel than ever before.
You see, without God, nothing in this world makes any sense. Because of God, the whole of history and civilization makes complete and perfect sense. I am so convinced of this that I dare propose that if God is not in back of everything, you cannot find meaning in anything. I can’t argue for God without taking my belief in Him for granted.
Here’s the kicker- I contend that you can’t argue against Him unless you take him for granted also. You see, when I listen to you argue about God I realize that He has given you the very air to breathe the very words, that comes from the very thoughts that come form the very intelligence that He has given you.
After I listen to your arguments, they make no assault on my position of faith, because I believe you argue from the darkness while I stand in the light. You believe the opposite is true.
So, in love, I want to continue my story and then we can proceed.

I come from a family of faith. It doesn’t discount truth to be in it at a young age. Our family wasn’t a bunch of holy rollers, but it was a family impacted by the Christian worldview.

I see you are ready to jump out of your skin to counter me- go ahead.

Why the Christian God? Well I believe in Him and you do not. Let me argue from what I know than from what you can’t know.

Why do you not see Him? Well surely you don’t expect me to bring Him in the room so you can see Him? If I were able to do that, He wouldn’t be the God of Christianity.

What I want to offer to you are reasons to believe. People want proof, but all that exists is evidence. That is true for any worldview. I serve a reasonable God- He invented reason, and organization, and orderliness.

Why are you so agitated? Calm down, I am being a friend. We can stop at any point a get a cup of coffee and talk football.

You ask me why you are agitated? Well, you know what this conversation means. If you change your belief about God, you will have to see yourself in a whole different way- and that may bother you.

Hang with me a little longer- I want to continue my story.

When I was little, our family believed. We said prayers at meals and went to worship services on a regular basis. If I told my mom I was afraid of monsters she would give the answer that you would expect – “ There are no monsters and I shouldn’t be afraid anyway” “Why mom?” “ Your body and soul belongs to your Savior who died for you on the cross and rose again that no one should be afraid.”
That’s the way we talked from time to time at our house. It was the atmosphere of our home. We still watched TV and talked about everyday stuff and even fought! But there were Bibles and Christian music and occasional family devotions.
As I went to Sunday school and Bible camps, I began to grow accustomed to the grand old stories of Abraham and Moses and Paul. All of these things began to condition me. I cannot help but believing. The love of Christ rained on me in soft showers of gentle moments that seemed very insignificant at the time.
Let’s stop there and parallel what you have told me about your life. Your family did not believe in God. Your parents worked hard to keep your upbringing free from the trappings of religion. They spoke to you of hard work and freethinking. They worked hard to cultivate an open mind. Where I was conditioned to believe in God you were left free. But were you free? I dare say that you were conditioned to not believe. You think that religion was poured down my throat and I counter that anti-religion was poured down yours. And that becomes the first truly awkward moment of our conversation. Can you agree with me at this point?
My story goes on. My parents sent me to a Christian school and my conditioning continued. I was daily instructed by a formula – it said that I had been conceived in sin, like all men. But I was now a child of the covenant of grace- redeemed by Christ- and part of my parent’s responsibility was to bring me up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Part of that training was to constantly teach and remind me of what God’s Word taught about the world.
This environment prepared me for the day of my conversion- where I personally committed my trust in Christ’s death as the only means of salvation. According to God’s word, at that moment I was justified and adopted into God’s family. I now began a road of being set apart for God’s work and His glory. I wish I had been completely faithful to this and understood it with the depth I know now. I have done a lot of harm in the name of Christ. I still have sin in me.

You tell me that your schooling was much different. You went to a “neutral” school. Your school outlawed religious expression and remained secular. God was never mentioned in your study of nature or history. Even allusions to the Bible in literature were kind of skipped over as teachers became very fearful of what might happen if they were accused of “bias”.

I hope you are smart enough now to realize that the classroom was not neutral. To secularize the classroom becomes a worldview itself. An unbiased, neutral classroom is just a thin disguise of a negative attitude toward God. Can you agree that the person not for God is actually against him?

I see that you don’t agree with me. Let me put it this way. God is plainly seen everywhere. This is His world, He made it. He made the majestic mountains and encoded our DNA. We are living by His decree and are we are living on His property. You don’t see them, but His ownership signs are everywhere. His stamp is on every song, picture, and poem - He is the expression of life and love and beauty.
If you stay “neutral” to Him- is it not the supreme insult? Atheists will say, ‘God has not given me enough evidence, so how can He blame me?” But our counter is that the evidence is as plain as the engineering of their pinky. If they cannot see, it is because they are blinded by sin. See, the Bible says that we are dead in trespasses and sin. That deadness is also blindness. I am telling you that unless God opens your eyes, you will see me only as a “goody- goody” and will resent my proposition of truth as arrogance and intolerance.
My Christian schooling continued. Can you see the difference in my conditioning? All my teachers pledged to teach their subjects from the Christian worldview. It wasn’t just Bible class. Even Algebra was presented under the authority of God’s Word! We were taught that to leave God out of the picture would prevent us from understanding the framework of truth.
We studied non-Christian teachings and philosophy. I have a keen understanding of Darwinism and existentialism. We read Plato, Kant, Emerson, Freud, and Marx. I was taught the best logical reasons to not believe in God. I heard all these things, but was also given sound refutations of these arguments and philosophies.
My Bible classes became exhilarating. I was exposed to systematic theology and read from great minds like C.S. Lewis. Martin Luther, and Blaise Pascal. I had great teachers explain Biblical history and geography. I learned how to defend the reliability of the Bible and argue my faith through apologetics. I was taught about evangelism and missions. I also heard countless testimonies about the life changing effect of the gospel. I became equipped in sound doctrine and Church history.
I am finished with my background. You know the God to which I am testifying for. This God was behind my parents, my teachers, my youth leaders, and many of my friends. It was He who conditioned all that conditioned me. He is the God of Christianity. He is the All-Conditioner.

Believe it or not- He also conditioned everything that conditioned you.

I love that laugh of yours. I hear it as one of incredulity.

What do I mean by this you say? He is real and outside of us. He is objective truth. He is the God who controls all things. In Him all things exist and are held together. The counsel of His will controls all reason. We do not condition him - he conditions us. My belief in Him does not make Him anymore real and your disbelief in Him does not make Him less real.
Think about this. I have heard of all of the best arguments against His existence. All of these theories of life and philosophy have been propounded for centuries of discourse and dialect.
I can tell by your gestures, that you cannot understand how anyone acquainted with the facts and arguments can believe in a God who created the world. Well, I am one of many who hold to the faith in full view of what science and philosophy is telling us.

If you give me time, I will be happy to show you where science ends and where faith begins. But again, let me warn you- that all men are biased and all live by faith. The scientist pulls a little sleight of hand and wants you to believe that he lives by fact.

The bottom line is this. When someone rejects God- that person offends Him. God’s displeasure rests on the rejecters. Do you worry about this at all? You and God are not on speaking terms. You feel like you have very good reasons that He does not exist. Now, if He does exist, you are in trouble. Your anti-God glasses are not an excuse for refusing to acknowledge or thank Him. Even the good things in your life heap up wrath because you never thanked Him for any of it- you took all the credit. You have tasted all His goodness without offering even a dime of reverence.

I am about to offend you without apology. I am telling you that God has made His existence and presence plain to you. I can give you all the sound arguments- but you will counter them all. I say creation- you say evolution. I say providence- you say accident. I say prophecy- you say human agenda. I say miracle- you say human ignorance. You ignore him because you want to.

So what am I to do?
I want to win you to Christ. But in every technique of trying to win you I cannot offend my Savior.
I apologize that the Christian church has let you down in this way. The American church in particular is a poor and impotent expression of the true gospel of Christ. We have marketed a messiah to consumers instead of boldly sharing the truth.
But again, in spite of my shortcomings, in spite of the churches failings throughout history, - the sacred canopy of salvation in Christ alone, by grace alone, through faith alone, understood by scripture alone, to God alone be the glory still stands in victory and momentum.
What am I to do? …….. I just did it.
I am to share my story and my faith. It should be plain to you by now the sort of Savior I believe in. It is God, the All-Conditioner. It is God who created all things, including you. It is He who by His providence conditioned me, making me believe in Him, and by His grace makes me want you to believe in Him. It is by His love that I can say that I love you. It is by His word that I want to serve you. It is by His truth that I will not compromise for you.
So our debate is really over. From now on, you need to take it up with Him. Down in your heart, you know I am speaking the truth. I am praying right now that God will open the eyes of your heart. But that is up to His pleasure. I do not have to save you. I cannot save you.
I have peace- do you have peace?
I am not afraid of death? Are you?
I have joy, true Biblical joy? Don’t you want to find that?
I have a purpose? Can you define yours?
I base my belief in a God inspired authority called the Bible? What is your source of truth?

Trust Christ now, please! Each moment you reject Him, the more hardened you get to Him. Your callousness will one day seal an unimaginable doom. God is a gentleman. He will give you your desire- a life without Him.

Just know that at some point the decision will be permanent. The gates of hell are locked from the inside.

I will be your friend. I hope you appreciate that I shared all of this with you because I believe I owe it to you. If I held it back, it would say one of two things. Either I really did not love you or I really did not believe this to be true.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Hard Glorious Frustrating Beautiful Road of Christian Sanctification

Call me a joker, call me a fool
Right at this moment I'm totally cool
Clear as a crystal, sharp as a knife
I feel like I'm in the prime of my life
Sometimes it feels like I'm going too fast
I don't know how long this feeling will last
Maybe it's only tonight

Darling I don't know why I go to extremes
Too high or too low there ain't no in-betweens
And if I stand or I fall
It's all or nothing at all
Darling I don't know why I go to extremes

“I Go to Extremes” Billy Joel

Questions: What is your life about? If you are a believer in Christ, why are you still on the planet? Why didn’t God just catapult you straight to the heavens upon conversion?

Part of the answer is that we are in an amazing and miraculous period referred to as ‘sanctification” that is- we are being molded and set apart as a vessel of service to the glory of God.

There are many Biblical passages we can look at to investigate the process by which we are putting off (actually putting to death) the Old man of sin and putting on the righteousness of Christ.

There are two passages I want to use as a foundation for information to share with you what Christ is doing in my life and an outline of what we all can do to “walk in the light as He is in the light”.

The first passage is an introductory reminder in Psalms 119:1-10
1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!
2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with their whole heart,
3 who also do no wrong,
but walk in his ways!
4 You have commanded your precepts
to be kept diligently.
5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast
in keeping your statutes!
6 Then I shall not be put to shame,
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with an upright heart,
when I learn your righteous rules.
8 I will keep your statutes;
do not utterly forsake me!
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments! Blessed are those whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the Lord!

We live in a “How to America”- How to win a million dollars, How to install surround sound. In our quest for How to we often miss the instruction book- We cannot neglect the Bible- Christian books, magazines, programs, music are all great- but don’t allow them to substitute the pure refined milk of God’s word.- The Holy Spirit will only be enabled to produce gospel fruit in your life with the tools available to Him by scripture- Holy Revelation. God’s word is fine tuned to steer us down the road of sanctification.
Michael Horton wrote a recent article called “The American Religion” I wanted to read a small section of that as food for thought.

Just imagine a first-century Christian hearing an average "testimony" in a modern church. Here's someone who has lost his job and has been imprisoned for believing that Jesus Christ is the only Savior and King. He may also be fed to lions or turned into a lamp for Nero's garden. And this first-century believer is sitting in one of our meetings listening to a well-meaning brother or sister saying something along these lines: "Since Jesus came into my heart, it's been one blessing after another. I got a new job and I've claimed prosperity and healing in all areas of my life. It fixed my marriage and made me feel good about myself for the first time in my life. So what do you have to lose? Try God! Give Jesus a chance! He'll turn your scars into stars and your sorrows into stepping stones." How do you think your first-century Christian friend would react to such a display of uniquely American religious pragmatism?

We do not find a single instance of conversion in the New Testament based on the usefulness of Christianity vs. other religions. Instead, the issue is always objective truth. Either Jesus did or did not rise from the dead. Either he was God incarnate saving sinners by his life and death, or he was a deluded imposter. So what if it "works" for you! Mormonism has worked for millions, as have other cults, sects and non-Christian religions. False religion is very good for people in this life, but the end thereof is death…this… falls short of St. Paul's assertion that "If Christ is not risen, our faith is in vain....If we have only been able to trust Christ in this life, we are of all men the most to be pitied" (1 Cor.15:18). The Apostle, for one, saw the validation for Christianity in the truth of the resurrection as a historical fact, not in the utility of Christianity for living a jollier and fuller life.

An example of the Bible’s ability to steer us in the walk of sanctification is found in Ephesians 2:8-10
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

What a great passage- we often leave off vs. 10 But it is a great balancing verse.

The Spiritual walk with Christ is a beautifully balanced and properly paced journey that needs to be enjoyed as much as endured.

We have an impossible time living this kind of life.

Why? Well we are sinners - the reformed idea of “total depravity”. It is a concept that is losing credence in our post everything world.
Total depravity does not mean that we are as bad as we can possible be. It means we are born in sin, it is in our very DNA, and we are comfortable with sin and are immersed in our own sin and the sin of others. Any good that man is a gift of the common grace of God and the remnant of God’s image on his life. Everything we touch is tainted by sin. Do you believe this?
We are subtly tempted to not believe this. The conventional wisdom of our day is that man is good. President Clinton was described as a good man who did a bad thing. Is this true?

C.S. Lewis described our sin as having two distinct personalities- our animal self and our diabolical self. Sometimes we join a church and clean up our animal self- we have 2 beers instead of 20. But our diabolical self so twists our thinking, motives, and imaginations that we begin to believe that we are good and pleasing to God and he is lucky to have us.

Now back to this passage:
We are not saved by our works. When we speak of sanctification, we are not putting a plan together to make God happy with us. The Great Solas of the Reformation still ring true today- Christ Alone- Grace alone- Faith alone. We never say “I am covered by Christ and I an active in men’s group”. Christ + nothing is where justification and adoption are found.

Without the redeeming blood of Jesus, we are still in our sins- dabbling with life and losing our very existence. Building up a day of wrath for not acknowledging the precious blood spilled for us and our blaspheming of God’s Holy Spirit.

Now this passage is like a beautiful highway- an expressway with day to day road signs and top down exhilarating travel.

The problem is that there are two huge ditches on either side of this road. And we often steer in them. On the right side of this road is legalism- our diabolical self comes in and says- Oh you are cleaning up so well- and you start feeling really good about yourself – and you start looking around at others- and in your desire to help them you package your rules and rituals and begin to try and help others. Before long, we find ourselves as self righteous Pharisees- looking down at sinners and trying to be everyone’s Holy Spirit.

I know the Pharisee well- I play him a lot. Our culture helps me play him very well. We have become the biggest opinionated and judgmental civilization in the history of man. We have talking heads on TV espousing one view after another and call it entertainment. I love it! I am an O’Reily junkie. The problem is that I began to love my arguments over loving people.

The worst part of my Pharisee legalistic self is my gossip and criticism of others. I am not loving- I am condemning. We point out the 10% bad and refuse to see the 90% good.

So I finally get out of the legalistic path and drink grace and liberty. Ahh! Christian freedom. It is glorious! Christ’s death frees us from the ceremonial and civil law. There is a better law- the moral law, written on my heart- the Sermon on the Mount puts it into my motives and mind- it is a beautiful thing!

But just beyond Christian liberty is license. It is a ditch as derailing as legalism. Paul wrote in Romans “How can we who died to sin, still live in it?” In this state, everything goes- all truth is relative, I do what I think and I feel- there is no suspicion of my motives or actions. I do what is right in my own eyes and put it under the blood.

I walk into a situation, run to sin, eviscerate my conscience and say “I am forgiven”. Before long, I am powerless, hardened, and my God is my comfort. The irony of the ditch of license is that we love people even less than the Pharisee. I don’t care about their eternal destination. I am afraid of confrontation. If I stand for truth, it will indict me. So I walk around and tell people all is fine when I know we are growing colder and darker by the second. Loving someone means saying no - and that includes to myself.

Out of that ditch I find this beautiful path- a balanced and tense walk with my Savior as He directs me by His Spirit and through His word in a new life- in this life I learn to love and lean on Christ- I become an admirer of people- I seek my way less and edify others more- I pour myself into relationships, especially my wife and children. I laugh- I cry- I get weary- I long for heaven- God picks me up at the right time- I fall in ditches- He cleans me off and starts me straight again- 1 step forward- 2 steps back- 3 steps- 5 back and when I lose hope- He allows the dust to settle and I look back and God’s kingdom has been built- in spite of me. To His praise and glory!

I wanted to list a few things that help me avoid these ditches:
Devotion to the Word and Prayer
Unflinching commitment to consistent worship
Private fasting- hobby/TV/delicacies
Prudent feasting
Small group accountability
Loving my wife well
Pushing work down my priority list
Crying out for God’s spirit- I am powerless to do it- I need to abide in the vine of Christ.

A final note: Be patient- God’s sanctification takes TIME. It is measured in decades, not in days.

Well as we close- we do all of this to live the greatest of all the Solas- To God alone be the Glory- may we be great beacons of light to the glorious life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ-

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Modern Reformation Recommended

I want to recommend "The White Horse Inn" and Modern Reformation Magazine- great stuff!

Example below:

Who Are the Reformers?

© 2007, Modern Reformation Magazine, "A Time For Truth" (January / February 2007 Issue, Vol. 16.1). All Rights Reserved. Subscription Rate: $29 Per Year or call 1-800-890-7556.

Martin Luther (1483-1546)
Luther is credited as the founder of the German Reformation. Luther's study of the writings of the Apostle Paul and Augustine of Hippo led him to the belief that men and women could only be justified by the grace of God, through faith rather than through good works or religious observances. Luther's writings include On Christian Liberty (1519), To the Christian Nobility (1520), The Babylonian Captivity of the Church (1520), and On the Bondage of the Will (1525). In his Small Catechism (1529), Luther commented briefly in question and answer form on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper. The Small Catechism explains the theology of the Lutheran Reformation in simple yet colorful language.

Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560), Lutheran
Melanchthon shared a lifelong friendship with Luther. Having arrived at Wittenberg with a strong humanist background, he was won to the Reformation by Luther, and became the reformer's leading associate. It was Melanchthon who urged Luther to translate the Bible into the German of his day for the common people. In Wittenberg, Luther had little time to systematize the various doctrines of evangelical theology, so in 1521 Melanchthon took on this task, writing the first systematic summary titled Loci Communes. Based on several already completed writings and on the negotiations of Augsburg, Melanchthon also wrote the first great confession of the Reformation, the Augsburg Confession (1530). Lutheran pastors to this day are ordained with this confession.

John Calvin (1509-1564), Reformed
Calvin was the French reformer best known for his work in Geneva and his seminal work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). Calvin's teachings shaped the beliefs of most Reformed churches. Calvin had a great commitment to the absolute sovereignty and holiness of God. Because of this, he is often associated with the doctrines of predestination and election, but it should be noted that he differed very little with the other magisterial reformers regarding these difficult doctrines. The five points of Calvinism are a reflection of the thinking of the great reformer, but were actually a product of the Synod of Dort, which issued its judgments in response to five specific objections that arose after Calvin's time.

In 1541, Calvin began to reform the institutional church in Geneva. He established four categories of offices: Doctors held an office of theological scholarship and teaching for the edification of the people and the training of other ministers; Pastors were to preach, to administer the sacraments, and to exercise pastoral discipline, teaching and admonishing the people; Deacons oversaw institutional charity, including hospitals and physical welfare; and Elders were twelve laymen whose task was to oversee the spiritual well-being of the church.

Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), Reformed
After the death of Ulrich Zwingli in 1531, Bullinger became pastor of the principal church in Z├╝rich and a leader of the Reformed party in Switzerland. He played an important part in compiling the First Helvetic Confession (1536), a creed based largely on Zwingli's theological views as distinct from Lutheran doctrine. In 1549, the Consensus Tigurinus, drawn up by Bullinger and Calvin, marked the departure of Swiss theology from Zwinglian toward a more Calvinist theory. His later views were embodied in the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), which was accepted in Switzerland, France, Scotland, and Hungary and became one of the most generally accepted confessions of the Reformed churches.

Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556), Anglican
In 1533, Cranmer was chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury. With Thomas Cromwell, he supported the translation of the Bible into English. In 1545, he wrote a litany that is still used in the church. Under the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer was allowed to make the doctrinal changes he thought necessary to the church. He is credited with writing and compiling the first two Books of Common Prayer (1549, 1552), assisted by the Strasbourg Reformed leader Martin Bucer, and the Thirty-Nine Articles, which established the basic structure of Anglican liturgy for centuries.

Hugh Latimer (c. 1485-1555), Anglican
Hugh Latimer was Bishop of Worcester in the time of King Henry, but resigned in protest against the King's refusal to allow the Protestant reforms that Latimer desired. When Mary came to the throne, he was arrested, tried for heresy, and burned together with his friend Nicholas Ridley. His last words at the stake are well known: "Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, and play the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God's grace shall never be put out." In October 1555, he was burned at the stake. The deaths of Hugh Latimer, Nicolas Ridley, and later Thomas Cranmer are now known as the Oxford Martyrs.

John Knox (c. 1513-1572), Reformed
John Knox was a Scottish teacher who embraced the principles of the continental Reformation. As chaplain to Edward VI he was involved in the revision of the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. After a period in exile following the accession of Mary he returned to Scotland, where he pioneered changes along Reformation principles. He was primarily responsible for the First Book of Discipline and the Book of Common Order, which were adopted by the newly formed Church of Scotland.