How the Easiness of ‘American Christianity’ Minimizes the Atonement of Christ

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“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
– 1 Corinthians 1:18 (NASB)


For several months now I have been burdened by what appears, to me at least, to be an increasing apathy and indifference on the part of Christians, particularly in America, to the import and significance of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

These observations have led me to the lamentable conclusion that this spiritual lassitude is rooted primarily in a collective ignorance of and, consequently, a lack of appreciation for, Christ’s vicarious Atonement and its eternal implications to our lives, both in this world and in the world to come.

In his book, The Crucified King: Atonement and Kingdom in Biblical and Systematic Theology, Dr. Jeremy R. Treat has defined the doctrine of the atonement as:

“…faith seeking understanding of the way in which Christ, through all of his work but primarily his death, has dealt with sin and its effects restoring the broken covenant relationship between God and humans and thereby brought about the turn of the ages. At its core, the doctrine of the atonement is the attempt to understand the meaning of Christ’s death as “for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3).”

When compared to Christians in other parts of the world, believers in America have it easy.

Perhaps too easy.

For the vast majority of professing Christians in America, living the so-called “Christian life” – a term that is becoming more ambiguous by the day – is a relatively effortless and often superficial undertaking.

We attend church if and when we feel like it. Conversely, advances in technology have made the Word of God so readily accessible that we tend to treat it no less casually than we would any other book. Consequently, personal convenience becomes the primary variable by which we determine to commit (or not) ourselves to study to actually know God to any great extent (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

It is with the aforementioned thoughts in mind that I am reminded of the words of J.I. Packer, who comments that:

“He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe. The most excellent study for expanding the soul is the science of Christ, and Him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the Deity.”Knowing God, p. 18

Unlike our persecuted brethren in countries like China and North Korea, who must resort to obtaining bibles through clandestine and surreptitious means – often at risk of their own lives – we need not concern ourselves with the hazards of having the gospel smuggled in to us because, as the saying goes, “there’s an app for that”.

The stylistic nuances and ecumenical aesthetics to which we have become so accustomed, particularly as it relates to our personal preferences in corporate worship, have fostered a collective spirit of indifference to the fundamental reason why we gather together to worship to begin with: the death of the Son of God on the cross.

It is against the backdrop of this kind of apathy that Charles Spurgeon declared:

“Nothing provokes the devil like the cross. Modern theology has for its main object the obscuration of the doctrine of atonement. These modern cuttlefishes make the water of life black with their ink. They make our sin to be a trifle, and the punishment of it to be a temporary business; and thus they degrade the remedy by underrating the disease.”

When examined on the whole, there really is nothing about being a Christian in America that can be said to be sacrificially demanding.

Not really.

Notwithstanding certain targeted political attacks against Christians in recent years, the truth is that the Christian experience in America can largely be defined not in terms of suffering (Philippians 1:29), but of indulging in creature-comforts like coffee bar lounges in our churches that resemble the neighborhood Starbucks®.

After all, how can anyone be expected to practice good liturgy without a good latté?

“We live in an age where the one wrong thing to say is that somebody else is wrong. One of the impacts of postmodern epistemology is that we all have our own independent points of view, and we look at things from the perspective of our own small interpretive communities. What is sin to one group is not sin to another group. But not only does the Bible insist that there is such a thing as sin, it insists that the heart of its ugly offensiveness is its horrible odiousness to God – how it offends God.” – D.A. Carson, Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, p. 42

Christianity in America has become so accommodating, so unexacting, so facile, that we have numbed ourselves to what it truly means to be a follower of Christ (Matthew 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). And, perhaps more importantly, what was accomplished for us as a result of God volitionally bringing about that reality in our lives (Ephesians 2:8-9).

As the late theologian John R.W. Stott writes in his masterwork, The Cross of Christ, it is vital for Christians to realize that:

“The essential background to the cross…is a balanced understanding of the gravity of sin and the majesty of God. If we diminish either, we thereby diminish the cross. If we reinterpret sin as a lapse instead of a rebellion, and God as indulgent instead of indignant, then naturally the cross appears superfluous. But to dethrone God and enthrone ourselves not only dispenses with the cross; it also degrades both God and humans. A biblical view of God and ourselves, however – that is, of our sin and of God’s wrath – honors both. It honors human beings by affirming them as responsible for their own actions. It honors God by affirming him as having moral character.”

Our nature as sinners is such that the degree of appreciation we have, even for those we say mean the most to us, can tend to wane the more comfortable with them we become. I can only imagine how many marriages today are being destroyed because one spouse is inclined to take the other for granted.

But, as Christians living in America, is our mindset any different when it comes to how lightly we treat the death of Jesus? Are we any less guilty of taking for granted the One who espoused Himself to us, His bride, through His propitiatory death on the cross (Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2, 4:10)?

Has the easiness of American Christianity reduced the cross of Christ to a mere symbol in our eyes? Or do we carry within us the incredible weight of knowing that the cross is absolutely the only means by which a just and holy God could ever be satisfied with sinners like you and me (Acts 4:12; John 3:36; 2 Peter 3:7)?

As you contemplate those questions, consider prayerfully these words from theologian James M. Hamilton, who reminds us that:

“The cross uniquely displays that both Jesus and the Father are committed to justice and mercy, even unto death. The cross displays that Jesus and the Father are unique – holy – in their devotion to righteousness, to mercy, and to one another. The cross displays the all-conquering love of Father and Son for rebels who will repent and believe in Jesus. Such a sacrifice to save sinners!”God’s Glory In Salvation Through Judgement: A Biblical Theology, p. 416

Please understand that none of what I have said is to suggest or imply that biblical Christianity either is, or should be, based upon a life of perpetual suffering.

Nor am I intimating that Christians in America should feel guilty for not suffering, either at all or as much as, their brothers and sisters who are in other countries around the world. God is sovereign over all events that occur in the universe; and it is He who ordains the outcomes of those events in our lives (Psalm 115:3).

Nevertheless, I do caution against giving in to the allure of the kind of Christianity that minimizes the death of Christ, making the cross an adornment to be worn around our necks as opposed to a way of life to be borne on our backs (as it were).

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” – Matthew 16:24 (NASB)

Jesus Christ, who is God incarnate (Colossians 2:9), died a brutal, demeaning, dehumanizing, and gruesome death for unworthy and undeserving sinners like you and me (Mark 14:65; 15:17-20). This reality should serve to remind us that it is we who, by virtue of our innate sinfulness, put Jesus on the cross thereby necessitating the shedding of His blood.

Despite the relative comforts of living as a Christian in America, as followers of Christ we must avoid at all costs the temptation not to take the death of Christ seriously. Instead, we must see ourselves as our gracious and merciful God saw us before the foundation of the world – as worthless sinners in desperate need of a Savior.

American Christianity would have us believe that we are somehow worthy of Christ’s dying on the cross for our sins, but I assure you we are not (Ephesians 2:8-9).

There is no church apart from the cross.

The cross of Christ should not only be worn; it must be borne.

May we not let a single day pass without contemplating the inexplicable wonder of which the great hymnist Charles Wesley wrote nearly 280 years ago:

“And can it be that I should gain an interest in the Savior’s blood! Died He for me who caused His pain? For me who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, should die for me?”

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Abortion, Evil, and the Sovereignty of God

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways”, declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
– Isaiah 55:8-9 (NASB)


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For many within the evangelical church, the doctrine of the sovereignty of God is a difficult one to accept.

Fundamental to this tension is the issue of theodicy. Theodicy is that aspect of systematic theology that deals with the problem of evil in light of the existence of God.

The “Prince of Preachers”, Charles H. Spurgeon, has said that,

“No doctrine in the whole Word of God has more excited the hatred of mankind than the truth of the absolute sovereignty of God.”

Spurgeon is right.

That you and I struggle at times with the notion that a loving, kind, and merciful God would allow evil to exist, is interesting if not ironic. For rarely, if ever, do we consider our own sinfulness as contributing to the evil which God, to our bewilderment, seems to us to tolerate (Romans 3:23; 2 Peter 3:9).

It is in the context of this mindset that I concur with theologian Millard J. Erickson, who states that:

“…the problem of evil occurs when some particular aspect of one’s [personal] experience calls into question the greatness or goodness of God, and hence threatens the relationship between the believer and God.”Christian Theology, Third Edition, Evil and God’s World: A Special Problem, p. 385

Our nature is such that the sovereignty of God is usually broached only in situations in which we have personally experienced some degree of grief, disappointment, or discouragement. It is in those instances that we are quick to remind ourselves that “God is in control”.

We are less inclined, however, to give God the benefit of the doubt in situations that are somewhat removed from any personal point of reference we might assign to them. In other words, unless “it” happens to us – whatever it is – or to someone in whose well-being we have a vested interest, the sovereignty of God is a distant consideration (if it is considered at all).

Sin has so affected our earthly existence that there are any number of situations that would prompt us to question the notion of a sovereign God (Romans 8:22-23). Who of us has not experienced a circumstance in our life, that caused us to doubt whether there actually is a God “up there somewhere” who is aware of the evil that occurs in the world (Proverbs 15:3)?

It is in moments of our deepest pain and perplexity that we seek answers to the question “Where was God (Malachi 2:17)?” This inquiry is borne out of a preconceived notion that the nature of God consists primarily of one attribute: love. As such, we assume that a “God of love” would never abide evil in any form or under any circumstances (Psalm 5:4).

“In the day of prosperity be happy, but in the day of adversity consider – God has made the one as well as the other.” – Ecclesiastes 7:14a (NASB)

One such evil that is often debated in the context of the sovereignty of God is that of abortion, particularly in cases of rape.

Many people today, including Christians, who otherwise would be opposed to abortion – save perhaps for the sake of the life of the mother – are comfortable with making an exception in instances where a child is conceived under such odious circumstances.

On the one hand, this mindset seems perfectly understandable. Practically every religion that exists today proffers a deity who is loving, merciful, and who abhors and punishes evil. On the other hand, however, one should guard against contextualizing an attribute of the biblical God solely on the basis of religious tradition or personal experience.

It is with this thought in mind that I find the words of the Puritan reformer John Calvin to be particularly noteworthy:

“There is a great difference between what is fitting for man to will and what is fitting for God…for through the bad wills of evil men God fulfills what He righteously wills.” – Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1:234 (1.18.3)

Augustine of Hippo, whom Calvin quoted more than any other theologian, expressed similar thoughts in that:

“Man sometimes with a good will wishes something which God does not will, as when a good son wishes his father to live, while God wishes him to die. Again it may happen that man with a bad will wishes what God wills righteously, as when a bad son wishes his father to die, and God also wills it …For the things which God rightly wills, He accomplishes by the evil wills of bad men.”

Both Calvin and Augustine touch on what is an unarguable yet often misunderstood aspect of God’s sovereignty, one that most people fail to consider when contemplating what the sovereignty of God actually means: that even our unrighteous deeds are ordained by God for His righteous purposes.

Consider the words of theologian Wayne Grudem, who writes that:

“All things come to pass by God’s wise providence. This means that we should adopt a more “personal” understanding of the universe and the events in it. The universe is not governed by impersonal fate or luck, but by a personal God. Nothing “just happens” – we should see God’s hand in events throughout the day, causing all things to work together for good for those who love Him.” – Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Chapter 16: God’s Providence, p. 337

In speaking on the matter of theodicy, and God’s sovereignty over evil, a key text of Scripture is Exodus 21:12-13, one of the many ordinances against personal injury that God established for the nation of Israel:

“He who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But if he did not lie in wait for him, but God let him fall into his hand, then I will appoint you a place to which he may flee.” (NASB)

Admittedly, the aforementioned text in Exodus is a difficult one to digest. Nevertheless, it is unambiguous in declaring that not only is God aware of the evil that occurs in the world, He also ordains that evil to occur.

If the Lord hath done it, questions are out of the question; and truly the Lord has done it. There may be a secondary agent, there probably is; the devil himself may be that secondary agent, yet the Lord hath done it.” – C.H. Spurgeon

The very word rape – let alone the act itself – engenders within us feelings of anger, outrage, and indignation – and rightly so (John 7:24).

The reason such a response is right(eous) is because there exists within each of us an innate awareness of God’s objective standard of right and wrong, particularly as it relates to how we who bear His image (Genesis 1:27) are to treat one another. We possess this awareness because God Himself placed it within us (Romans 1:18-19).

That God ordains evil should never be construed to mean He approves of it or receives some morbid sense of satisfaction from it.

God is not a masochist.

Unlike you or me, God is holy by nature (Numbers 23:19). As such, all that He sovereignly wills to happen – either to us or to the world in which we live – is inherently right and good (Psalm 145:17; James 1:13).

The words of theologian Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr. prove helpful in that:

“To say that God “allows” or “permits” evil does not mean that He sanctions it in the sense that He approves of it. It is easy to discern that God never permits sin in the sense that He sanctions it in His creatures.”

Likewise, Wayne Grudem exhorts us that:

“In thinking about God using evil to fulfill His purposes, we should remember that there are things that are right for God to do but wrong for us to do; He requires others to worship Him, and He accepts worship from them. He seeks glory for Himself. He will execute final judgment on wrongdoers. He also uses evil to bring about good purposes, but He does not allow us to do so.” – Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Chapter 16: God’s Providence, p. 329

When a woman is raped, and conceives a child as a result, there are those who feel justified in devaluing the pregnancy on the basis of the circumstances in which it occurred. Their rationale being that because the attack was unprovoked, unwarranted, and undeserved, that it becomes not only the woman’s right but also her prerogative to abort the child.

But, as sensitive as I am to those who hold to that position, the truth is God does not value life on a curve.

To argue that a child who is conceived in rape should be aborted because of the rape, is to rob God of His sovereign authority in ordaining the rape – and the subsequent conception – to occur. Though rape is never God’s prescriptive will – neither is murder nor molestation nor any sin for that matter – such acts of evil are sometimes His permissive will for our lives.

When a woman is sinned against in such an egregious manner as to be raped, we must be mindful that, even in the midst of such heinous evil, God is sovereign and there is nothing that escapes His divine notice (Proverbs 15:3).

Consider, again, the words of C.H. Spurgeon, who encourages us that:

“God has a plan, depend upon it. It were an insult to the Supreme Intellect if we supposed that He worked at random, without a plan or method. To some of us it is a truth which we never doubt, that God has one boundless purpose which embraces all things, both things which He permits and things which He ordains. Without for a moment denying the freedom of the human will, we still believe that the Supreme Wisdom foresees also the curious twistings of human will, and overrules all for His own ends.” 

To whatever extent the devil, as Spurgeon noted above, is in fact a “secondary agent” in God bringing to pass the evil He has ordained to occur in a person’s life, he is not autonomous in that capacity (Job 1:6-12).

Satan is not sovereign.

He is not omniscient.

He is not omnipresent.

He never has been any of those things.

Only God can claim to possess those attributes (Psalm 103:19; Isaiah 45:5-6).

The sin of rape is both horrific and inexcusable. It is so egregious, in fact, that the Old Testament records that a massive civil war ensued among the tribes of Israel over the rape of one concubine (Judges 19:22-20:48).

And yet the sovereignty of God is such that we must understand that the sin is in the act of the rape, not in the conception that resulted from it.

“I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God. The One forming light and creating darkness, causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these.” – Isaiah 45:6b-7 (NASB)

Sin – all sin – grieves the heart of God (Genesis 6:5-6; Psalm 78:40; Mark 3:5). And because we are made in the image of God, that which grieves the heart of God should grieve our hearts as well.

As followers of the only true God (John 17:3), we must resist the urge to construct for ourselves an emotionalized or compartmentalized theology of the sovereignty of God in that we trust that He is in control of certain events but not others (Roman 8:28).

“If a calamity occurs in a city has not the Lord done it?” – Amos 3:6b (NASB)

That the God of the Bible is a God who ordains evil is neither easy nor comfortable for our finite minds to comprehend. Nevertheless, as Christians, we are called to trust that even in situations of the most nefarious and intolerable wrongdoing, we serve a good and just God whose ways we will not always understand (Proverbs 3:5-6).

God does not value life on a curve.

He is the sovereign God of all the universe and, as such, remains the Author of all life regardless the circumstances under which that life is created.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Related:
The Problem of Evil (audio message) – Dr. John MacArthur
God’s Sovereignty (audio message) – Dr. R.C. Sproul, Sr.
Ten Aspects of God’s Sovereignty Over Suffering and Satan’s Hand In It (audio message) – Dr. John Piper
The Sovereignty of God – John Murray (as published at opc.org)

Lessons From the Garden of Eden About Trump’s Travel Ban


The first thing God did after He created Adam (Genesis 2:7) and placed him in the garden in Eden (Genesis 2:8), was to set boundaries by which he was to order his life in the place where God graciously ordained he should dwell (Genesis 2:15).

This boundary is clearly defined in Genesis 2:16:

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it, you will surely die.”

The word Eden means pleasure.

It is with this definition in mind that theologian John Calvin commented that, in the garden of Eden, Adam “had been bountifully enriched by the Lord with innumerable benefits, from the enjoyment of which he might infer the paternal benevolence of God.”

God created the garden of Eden for Adam and endowed him with the freedom to rule over everything contained within it (Genesis 1:27-31; 2:18-20a).

And yet the liberty conferred to Adam was not open-ended.

The permission Adam had to freely eat from any tree of the garden was offset by the prohibition to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

This lesson from the garden of Eden is one which, in my humble opinion, has implications for us today. This is particularly true, I believe, with regard to the topic of immigration and the Executive Order recently issued by President Donald Trump (which many are referring to as a “travel ban”).

According to Section 3, the Order allows for the “suspension of issuance of visas and other immigration benefits to nationals of countries of particular concern” [as it relates to threats of terrorism], the impetus being that “The United States must be vigilant during the visa-issuance process to ensure that those approved for admission do not intend to harm Americans and that they have no ties to terrorism [Section 1].”

To suggest that the issue of immigration is a heated one would be a gross understatement. I have not witnessed this level of national acrimony over a single issue since the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) became the law of the land on March 23, 2010.

Americans of almost every conceivable ethnic, religious, and socio-economic stripe seem to have an opinion or viewpoint about what “rights” foreign nationals, or “refugees” as they are more commonly referred to, have or do not have to enter and remain in the United States.

My pointing out that there exists such wide-ranging opinions on this issue is not a criticism. After all, what ideal better defines America than that of having the freedom to openly express one’s opinion without fear of retribution or reprisal?

But having this so-called “freedom” raises the question: what is freedom?

What is most concerning to me in the discourse I’ve observed regarding President Trump’s travel ban, is there are those who have convinced themselves that merely having the ability to come to America from another country is tantamount to possessing the inherent right to do so.

This is a misnomer (to say the least).

That I happen to possess the capacity or ability to do a thing, does not necessarily translate to my having an inherent “right” to do it.

I may have the freedom to rob a bank in the sense that I am unrestrained and unobstructed in my my ability to obtain a weapon, arrange transportation to the bank, and physically enter the facility when I arrive. However, that I possess the freedom – in the aforementioned context – to rob a bank does not mean I am inherently free to do so.

The command that Adam not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil was a boundary established by God for Adam’s benefit and protection.

It is in this same sense that God established a two-fold purpose for government relative to its divine obligation to:

  1. act as “a minister of God for your good” (Romans 13:4a), and
  2. act as “an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil” (Romans 13:4b)

There are those today who hold fast to the notion that foreign nationals have no desire to “practice evil” against America, the rationale being that their status as “impoverished refugees who have nowhere else to go”, somehow renders them wholly incapable of harboring such destructive attitudes toward this nation and its citizens.

But at the heart of this credulous mindset is a denial of the reality of evil;  and the fact that all human beings are innately sinful (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:23).

It is on the basis of this naivety that many who oppose President Trump’s travel ban argue there should be no restrictions or limitations whatsoever on refugees being allowed to enter this nation.

But in a nation whose citizens murder one another over a pair of sneakers, what makes us think foreign nationals would not do likewise, especially considering that the vast majority of them are motivated by a “religion” that promises eternal reward in Paradise for doing so?

“…for the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” – Genesis 8:21b

If there is anything to be learned from Adam’s existence in the garden of Eden, it is that God’s benevolences are always accompanied by His boundaries and, conversely, that His provisions are never exclusive of His prohibitions.

The bottom line is that freedom is not license.

Not only is the United States government constitutionally obligated to protect its citizens, it is biblically obligated to do so.

Notwithstanding any ideological differences one might have with President Trump, to remain willfully ignorant about the intentions of some whose hearts are bent toward murdering innocent people in the name of religion is a mindset which, frankly, is devoid of common sense.

A pretty hijab does not portend a pure heart.

We are all sinners.

Yes, even refugees.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Why President Trump and Jesse Jackson are Both Wrong About Chicago Violence

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A recent CNBC.com article contained an embedded tweet from President Donald Trump that caught my attention.

It reads:

“If Chicago doesn’t fix the horrible “carnage” going on, 228 shootings in 2017 with 42 killings (up 24% from 2016), I will send in the Feds!”

In response to this somewhat cryptic presage by our nation’s 45th president, Jesse Jackson, a man who many today still regard as a leader in the cause of civil and human rights, counter-tweeted President Trump, saying:

“We need a plan, not a threat. We need jobs, not jails.”

In reflecting on the conspicuous ideological dissonance expressed in this social media tête-à-tête, I am reminded of the 1959 epic film Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, in which a similarly heated exchange occurs between Sextus, the retiring Roman general, and the young tribune Messala, who is zealous to take over from Sextus and make his own imprint on the military unit he has dreamed of commanding since he was a boy.

Messala has been ordered by Caesar to quash the violence in the Roman-ruled province of Judea, and forcefully restore order to a citizenry that has been in constant rebellion against the occupation.

The exchange is as follows:

Messala: “The emperor is displeased. He wishes Judea made into a more disciplined and obedient province. He has ordered the new governor and me to restore order. I intent to carry out his wishes!”
Sextus: “Yes, but how, Messala?! Oh, you can break a man’s skull, you can arrest him, you can throw him into a dungeon. But how do you control what’s up here [in the mind]? How do you fight an idea?! Especially a new idea?”
Messala: “Sextus, you ask how to fight an idea? I’ll tell you how. With another idea.”

It is clear from this discourse that Sextus realized something Messala did not: that genuine behavior change is a matter of internal transformation not external manipulation (Romans 12:2).

Sextus understood that all rebellion is borne in the heart, and that no use of force or other external influence would result in making Judea into the “disciplined and obedient province” Messala determined to bring to fruition.

Like Messala, what both President Trump and Jesse Jackson fail to understand is that matters of the heart cannot be remedied through government intervention or economic incentive.

Oh, you can send the Feds into Chicago to beat up people, arrest them, and throw them in jail. You can even designate certain areas of the city as Empowerment Zones in the hopes that doing so will reduce unemployment and provide economic relief to poverty-stricken communities.

But how do you deal with someone who, for whatever reason, has made up their mind that they’re going to murder someone else?

Does the threat of arrest in and of itself change the person’s mind?

Apparently not.

And how does simply being employed alter the sinful intentions one might have towards another of God’s image-bearers? Does merely having money in my pockets assuage the enmity and bitterness I harbor in the deepest recesses of my soul?

If so, what happens after the money runs out (Proverbs 23:4-5)?

After He called the crowd to Him again, He began saying to them, “Listen to Me, all of you, and understand, there is nothing outside the man which can defile him if it goes into him; but the things which proceed out of the man are what defile the man.” When he had left the crowd and entered the house, His disciples questioned Him about the parable. And He said to them, “Are you so lacking in understanding also? Do you not understand that whatever goes into the man from outside cannot defile him, because it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach and is eliminated?” And He was saying, “That which proceeds out of the man, that is what defiles the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man.”Mark 7:14-23 (NASB)

None of this is to suggest that the federal government should not do what is Constitutionally mandated to protect us (even from one another, as is the case with Chicago). Nor is it to imply that the government has absolutely no role in helping meet the essential needs of those who truly are poverty-stricken and destitute (Galatians 2:10).

Though I remain convinced that helping the poor is primarily the responsibility of the church (James 1:27), we who are Christians, especially those of us who, like myself, identify as socially conservative, tend to forget that governments are established by God (Romans 13:1) as minsters on His behalf for our good (Romans 13:4a).

So, yes, there in fact is a role for the government in such matters as these.

Not all government involvement in the welfare of its citizens is inherently bad (the operative word being inherently).

Nevertheless, notwithstanding what governments may or may not be able to do at enhancing one’s station in life, one thing it most assuredly cannot do is change a person’s heart.

“The gospel is not a doctrine of the tongue, but of life. It cannot be grasped by reason and memory only, but it is fully understood when it possesses the whole soul and penetrates to the inner recesses of the heart.” – John Calvin, Golden Booklet of the True Christian Life

At the root of the hundreds of murders committed in Chicago in 2016, is the same issue that compelled Cain to murder his brother Abel many millennia ago (Genesis 4:3-8).

With all due respect to the “reverend” Jesse Jackson, Cain killed his brother not because he didn’t have a job. Both he and his brother were gainfully employed – Abel as a shepherd and Cain as a farmer (Genesis 4:2).

No, Cain murdered his brother because he purposed in his heart to do so.

It’s that simple.

In fact, Cain was so determined to carry out the deed that he completely ignored God’s direct warning against it (Genesis 4:7).

You see, contrary to what Messala might say if he were alive today, what Chicago needs is not “another idea”.

It doesn’t need “the Feds” or “a plan” for jobs not jails.

What Chicago needs is what the world entire is in desperate need of: the soul-liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. For only the gospel can so transform a person that murder – or any other type of violence – is no longer a desire of the heart (Romans 1:16).

Our problem, if we were honest, is we don’t really believe the gospel is what it says it is or that it can do what it says it does.

Consequently, we think more like Messala than Sextus.

One need only look at Chicago to see where that kind of thinking has gotten us.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

A Biblical Theology of the Black-White “Wealth Gap”

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Much is being said today about the so-called wealth gap that purportedly exists among black households and white households in America.

I say purportedly not to deny that such a divide exists – it does – but to highlight that the very term wealth gap is inherently misleading, as it assumes that such imparity is innately unfair – if not immoral – and, as such, should be redressed under the nirvanic pursuit of “income equality”.

The publication The Economist defines income equality as:

the ratio of the share of national income going to the richest 20 percent of households in a country to the share of the poorest 20 percent.

When speaking of the wealth gap strictly in terms of numbers the data are indisputable.

But therein lies the rub.

A study on income inequality conducted by Pew Research found that:

From 2010 to 2013, the median wealth of non-Hispanic white households increased from $138,600 to $141,900, or by 2.4%. Meanwhile, the median wealth of non-Hispanic black households fell 33.7%, from $16,600 in 2010 to $11,000 in 2013. 

On the surface, these numbers appear to paint a rather disadvantageous and inequitable picture in and of themselves. Nevertheless, in today’s politically-correct, hyper-sensitive society, context is more important now than ever.

This is especially true considering that the default milieu in which matters of wealth acquisition and distribution are debated – in terms of race as opposed to socio-economic class – is that any “gaps” that do exist are solely the result of institutional and structural injustices committed by white people against black people.

Notwithstanding the above-referenced data from Pew, the truth is the black-white wealth gap should not be viewed strictly in terms of dollars and cents.

True, there are any number of quantifiable reasons for why such disparities exist, but that they exist does not suffice as a sufficient argument that they should not exist.

In other words, that there is disparity does not necessarily mean there is inequality.

“Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. It is the comparison that makes you proud: the pleasure of being above the rest. Once the element of competition is gone, pride is gone.” – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

There is a fundamental problem with using “inequality” to describe the income disparity between black and white households.

The word inequality intrinsically conveys that the wealth “gap” is a problem to be remedied simply because there is a gap, and that the acquisition of wealth is the only solution to mitigate that disparity under the subjective premise that income inequality is patently “unfair”.

But to assert that income inequality is somehow unfair is to place oneself in the throes of a philosophical dilemma. For to argue that anything is “unfair” is, by definition, to introduce into the conversation the question of morality.

Consequently, one is forced to consider by what or whose standard of morality should income inequality be deemed unfair. Hence, what began as a circular discourse rooted in subjectivity and ambiguity has morphed into a theological exercise on the level of untying the Gordian Knot.

“When people look at questions of income and the disparity, they’re not looking for causes. They’re looking for blame. And those are not the same things.” – Thomas Sowell, from an interview with World magazine, 12/30/2014

A highly popular television sitcom The Jeffersons ran on the CBS network for 11 seasons (from 1975 to 1985).

The Jeffersons followed the lives of George and Louise Jefferson, an African-American couple who relocated from the poverty of Queens, NY to Manhattan, as a result of the success of George’s dry-cleaning business chain.

The theme song from The Jeffersons was titled Movin’ On Up, the lyrics of which celebrate the fact that the rambunctious George, and his beloved wife Louise, had finally achieved their dream.

In other words, they had conquered the wealth gap.

Well,, we’re movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin’ on up)
To the east side (movin’ on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

Fish don’t fry in the kitchen;
Beans don’t burn on the grill.
Took a whole lotta’ tryin’
Just to get up that hill.
Now we’re up in the big leagues
Gettin’ our turn at bat.
As long as we live, it’s you and me baby
There ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Well, we’re movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
To a deluxe apartment in the sky.
Movin’ on up (movin on up)
To the east side (movin on up)
We finally got a piece of the pie.

“The rich and the poor have a common bond, the Lord is the maker of them all.” – Proverbs 22:2 (NASB)

Please understand that I do not believe there is anything inherently wrong with an individual endeavoring to achieve the “American Dream” and acquiring their own “piece of the pie”.

But when those pursuits are engaged in solely under the pretense of “income inequality”, a philosophy predicated on pitting the haves of the world against the have-nots, then perhaps the time has come for a re-evaluation of motives (James 4:1-3).

“Do not weary yourself to gain wealth, cease from your consideration of it.” – Proverbs 23:4 (NASB)

A major fallacy of the black-white wealth gap is it assumes a cause (e.g. systemic racism) without regard to other factors that might contribute to it.

A case in point is a report published by Demos, progressive public policy organization, which found that:

  • 42 percent of African Americans report using their credit cards for basic living expenses like rent, mortgage payments, groceries, utilities, or insurance because they do not have enough money in their checking or savings accounts.
  • African Americans carry an average credit card balance of $5,784.
  • Just 66% of African American households report having a credit score of 620 or above, compared to 85 percent of white households.  
  • 50 percent of indebted African American households who incurred expenses related to sending a child to college report that it contributed to their current credit card debt.
  • 71 percent of African American middle-income households had been called by bill collectors as a result of their debt, compared to 50 percent of white middle-income households.

What no one is talking about concerning the black-white wealth divide is the role human behavior plays in helping facilitate that gap.

It is a universal truth that when, in our self-centered efforts to “move on up” in life, we choose to violate the principles of God’s Word, we should expect certain outcomes as a result.

Scripture is clear on matters of:

This is not to suggest or infer that the black-white wealth gap is attributable solely to a collective disregard for biblical principles on the part of black Americans.

Not at all.

I am not naive to the reality that not all black Americans – nor Americans in general – are believers in Jesus Christ and submit their lives to the spiritual disciplines set forth in His Word.

To be sure, not even we who are believers in consistently abide by His precepts (Luke 6:46).

Nevertheless, the reality is personal responsibility is a major factor in the black-white wealth gap being what it is. It would be disingenuous, to say the least, to suggest that socio-economic factors alone (e.g. unemployment, racism) are at fault in creating this imbalance.

“The measure of our success cannot be defined by what we accomplish here on earth; it has already been defined by the fact that we are in Christ.” – Dr. Ian Duguid, from the January 2017 issue of TableTalk Magazine, p.13

It may not be politically correct to say this, but the truth is not everyone is destined to achieve the American Dream.

The sovereignty of God is such that, ultimately, it is He who determines to what degree we experience success in this world, whether material or otherwise (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 20:4; 118:23-25;  Deuteronomy 8:18; Romans 9:14-16). With this (God’s sovereignty) in mind, as followers of Christ, contentment should be our goal not closing the wealth gap (1 Timothy 6:6-8).

This is not to suggest that one should not aspire to improve their socio-economic station, but that they should do so with the larger picture in mind – eternity.

For, indeed, what does it profit a person to gain the whole world, and forfeit their soul (Mark 8:36)?

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credit:
huffingtonpost.com

Related:
Thomas Sowell on the Root Causes of Income Equality – World

The ‘Hidden’ Theology of ‘Hidden Figures’


“Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your lovingkindness, because of Your truth.” – Psalm 115:1 (NASB)

The critically-acclaimed 20th Century Fox film Hidden Figures tells the story of the gifted mathematician Katherine Johnson who, along with Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, played key roles (to say the least) in NASA‘s endeavor to launch astronaut John Glenn into space.

As someone who has had an interest in history since my earliest childhood, I can appreciate the significance of films like Hidden Figures in that they help to educate and inform us about aspects of American history that were previously unknown (or little known) to the masses.

A case in point is yours truly, who readily admits to having absolutely no idea who Katherine Johnson was prior seeing the movie trailer for Hidden Figures while watching television one weekend afternoon.

And though I now count myself among the millions of Americans who, by virtue of the Hidden Figures film, have come to greatly admire Katherine Johnson for her invaluable contributions – to America and the world – particularly considering the degree of racial and gender animus she was required to endure, my esteem for her, and her colleagues, is not based solely in the fact that they accomplished what they did as women who are black.

Having said that, I am not at all naive to the likelihood that the ethnicity of these women served as a primary impetus for why the film Hidden Figures was made or the book written.

Given the cultural and societal implications of what these women accomplished in the Jim Crow 1960s, when racial segregation was openly practiced at workplaces like NASA, it is both logical and natural that ethnicity and gender would be considerations when reflecting on what is unarguably an incredibly unique story.

NASA’s own website provides a glimpse into the kind of work environment the women of Hidden Figures would have encountered:

The first African-American “computers” did the same work as their white counterparts, but in a period when segregation was policy across the South and in the U.S. armed services, they also encountered segregated dining and bathroom facilities, along with barriers to other professional jobs. One woman, for example, recounted being hired to work in the chemistry division, but ended up reassigned to the West Computers because African-Americans were not employed for her original position. Computing sections became more integrated after the first several years. Katherine Johnson, who joined the West Computers in 1953, only spent a few weeks there. Then assigned to work with Henry Pearson in the Flight Research Division, Johnson went on to join the Space Task Force in 1958 where she calculated trajectories for Alan Shepherd and John Glenn’s space flights. 

So, yes, I fully comprehend the racial, social, and cultural ramifications of what Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson accomplished.

I get that.

In fact, I have no doubt that the film Hidden Figures will serve – and is already serving – to encourage and inspire many young people, regardless of ethnicity or gender, to pursue their own dreams of a STEM-related career (perhaps even at NASA).

But to whatever extent the film Hidden Figures may serve as a catalyst for such admirable pursuits – be it to one person or one million – the impetus for such desires should not be that these gifted individuals are black and female.

As laudable as their accomplishments are, what Mss. Johnson, Vaughn, and Jackson achieved should resonate with us not as beacons to highlight what those who are of a particular ethnicity or gender are capable of in and of themselves, but to shine a light upon a sovereign God who created us with the unique biological and physical attributes we each possess and, likewise, endows us with the various talents and gifts we employ in our daily lives (James 1:17).

“God is actively involved in bringing about the worldly success of His people and leveraging that success for His purposes.” – Nate Shurden, “Worldly Success”, as published in the January 2017 issue of TableTalk Magazine, p. 7

In titling this blog post The ‘Hidden’ Theology of Hidden Figures, I am in no way suggesting that there exists an underlying Davinci Code-type message to be deciphered by watching the film, but to proffer that our accomplishments in this life, however significant or insignificant, should point us always to God and never to ourselves.

Notwithstanding the well-intentioned and much-appreciated objective of films like Hidden Figures in raising our awareness of the achievements of women like Katherine Johnson – if for no other reason than that her accomplishments are so incredibly unique – the greater story is of the God who created Katherine Johnson to possess her unique talents, and who foreordained that she would employ them in making the monumental impact on the world that she did.

“I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.” – John 15:5

As we appreciate women like Katherine Johnson, and the encumbrances she, and others along with her, were forced to endure and overcome, namely racism and sexism, obstacles that are inherently anathema to the biblical doctrine of imago Dei, we must not lose sight of the fact that the discernible characteristics that make us who we are as human beings – such as ethnicity, sex, gifts, and talents – are determined and imparted by a sovereign God for the purpose of bringing glory to Himself (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:23-24).

It is not that Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson accomplished what they did as black women “computers” at NASA that makes Hidden Figures story so noteworthy, but that God, who created them black and female (Acts 17:26) chose, in His sovereign grace, to imbue them with the requisite talents and gifts which He, in His divine omniscience, knew they each would need for such a time as theirs.

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image credits:
pressenza.com
spaceflightinsider.com
kuow.org

Why Christian Love Doesn’t Actually Look Like What Many Christians Think


That you and I live today in a politically-correct society should not be understood strictly in a secular sense.

The truth is in many ways the same can be said of the church.

In recent decades the ideals of relativism and pluralism have gradually gained traction within the church, so that long-held orthodoxy is being second-guessed, if not outright rejected.

This is nothing new of course.

For centuries the evangelical church has endured challenges to its stated beliefs, the vast majority of which have originated from within the church itself.

It is no different today.

Only instead of arguing over Christian orthodoxy, the discourse has morphed into a fundamental question of what the term Christian means to begin with.

The pluralistic, all-inclusive theology of 21st century Christianity is, in many respects, a worldview that has become virtually indistinguishable from other worldviews.

Talk to most professing Christians – the operative word being professing – and they would likely opine that to be Christian is essentially to “love everybody”.

It is this “kum-bah-yah” view of Christian love that assumes every person on the face of the earth, simply by virtue of his or her existence, is my brother, my sister, or my neighbor, regardless of how Jesus Himself defined those terms.

But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother.”Matthew 12:48-50 (NASB)

There is an inherent danger in espousing a theology that teaches Christians are to “love everybody” without regard to other considerations, namely, the innate sinfulness of all human beings (Genesis 8:21b; 2 Chronicles 6:36a; Romans 3:10, 23).

Biblical counselor Dr. Heath Lambert underscores this point by declaring that:

“…God’s image is marred in fallen human beings. We see that the image is broken in all the ways we fail to represent Him as we should. We demonstrate that God’s image is broken in us every time we do not think as we should, obey as we should, love God and others as we should, or care for the creation in the way we should. In short, the defacing of God’s image in all those places where sin distorts how we were created to function.” – A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry, pp. 188-189

Conversely, consider the words of the late Dr. Jerry Bridges, who states that:

“Most people, even people who have already become believers, have never given much thought to how desperate our condition is outside of Christ. Few people ever think about the dreadful implications of being under the wrath of God. And most of all, none of us even begins to realize how truly sinful we are.” – The Gospel For Real Life: Turn to the Liberating Power of the Gospel…Every Day, p. 19

The world has successfully convinced many Christians that loving everybody is not only a command to be unquestioningly obeyed, but complied with to the complete disregard of its hamartiological implications.

Consequently, we subjectively parse selected Scripture passages so that certain tenets of the Christian worldview, namely love, come across as more inclusive, even of those who do not subscribe to its teachings.

A primary example of this type of hermeneutical genuflection is how we twist and contort Matthew 5:44:

“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  

There are those today who would leverage these specific words of Jesus in an effort to promote a politically-correct theology of Christian love that is boundaryless and open-ended.

It is this kind of “blank check” approach to Christian love that has convinced many believers it is anathema to point out sin in another person’s life (James 5:19-20), or to exercise spiritual discernment with regard to the intentions of one’s motives (John 7:24).

What those who think this way fail to understand, however, is that intrinsic to Jesus’ command to “love your enemies”, is the universal attestation that everyone who follows Him will have enemies (John 15:18).

This reality is clearly underscored in Paul’s exhortation to believers at the church in Thessalonica:

“Finally, brethren, pray for us that the word of the Lord will spread rapidly and be glorified, just as it did also with you; and that we will be rescued from perverse and evil men; for not all have faith.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (NASB)

Contrary to the pluralism inherent with 21st century Christianity, a person’s mere physical existence does not suffice to deem him or her my “brother” or “sister”.

Though we are all God’s creation (Genesis 1:27), we are not all God’s children (John 1:12-13).

The Muslim man, for example, though he, too, bears the image of God, as do I, is, nonetheless, not my brother. Likewise, the Hindu woman, though she also is God’s image-bearer, still, is not my sister.

My pointing this out is not to suggest that we who, by God’s unmerited grace (Ephesians 2:8-9), are believers in Christ should be less motivated or inclined to genuinely (from the heart) demonstrate His love toward those who do not believe in Him (1 Peter 3:8-9; Romans 12:14).

To withhold that love – as if you and I have that right – would be both hypocritical and an egregious affront to the One who loved us before we ever loved Him (1 John 4:19).

Nevertheless, the Word of God is clear that unbelievers in Christ are the enemies of God (James 4:4) and, as such, remain exposed to His wrath (John 3:36).

“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.”Matthew 10:16 (NASB)

Christianity is not a faith to be lived blindly.

That we are to love others must not be at the expense of biblical discernment or common sense, which God gives abundantly to all who belong to Him (Proverbs 2:7-11Romans 12:3; James 1:5).

The open-ended “love everybody” Christianity of today’s politically-correct culture is a theology rooted in spiritual naivety.

But, as James 1:27 points out, Christians are to be spiritually discerning in all our actions and decisions as we strive to keep ourselves “unstained” by a sinful world (John 17:151 John 2:15-17).

As followers of Jesus Christ we must reject the empty pluralism and vain ecumenicism that calls believers in Christ to “love everybody”, yet would leave us blind to the reality that this world is becoming increasingly hostile toward the things of God and His people (Romans 12:9).

Humbly in Christ,

Darrell

Image Credit:
diggingtheword.blogspot.com

Related:
Family: Forgiving Church Shooter Doesn’t Mean Sparing Life