Category: Heading to the Holy City

Assessing Atheism and Its Problem of Evil

August 23, 2019 (Transcript)

How can a good God exist in an evil world? This question addresses the problem of evil. What’s important for every Christian to understand is that the problem of evil is a serious problem for everyone, regardless of your views on God, religion, and the world. Atheists have a problem of evil, as we’ll see in a moment. So, I want to take several videos to address this complex issue from a variety of worldviews. Only Christianity provides a perfectly consistent foundation or grounding for morality in the world, because God has created the world to function in a certain way for His glory and for our good.

Today, I want to examine atheistic naturalism. This view is popular in our culture. In our nation, you often see atheistic naturalism in pop-culture or hear it in the classroom. I’ll aim to show that the atheist’s problem of evil ultimately shows the moral bankruptcy of naturalism. Christians must address the assumptions that atheists make. They make lots of assumptions! And many of their assumptions are actually borrowed from Christianity. Atheistic naturalism generally argues this idea: all humans are simply a result of billions of years of random chance and mutations. There is no Creator, the Big Bang simply happened (how it happened we have no idea—atheists trust evolution by faith). After many years of evolution, we’re here. The natural world is all there is to know and to see. There’s no God in the heavens.

It’s often the case in my life that this kind of atheist is the first person to say after a tragedy or disaster, “how could a good God let this evil happen?” Now, that atheist assumes a moral standard by which he judges the world. In asking the question of “how could God let this evil happen,” the atheist is making a moral judgment—this disaster or tragedy is morally evil or wrong. It shouldn’t have happened. The atheist then turns around and accuses God on the basis of that moral judgment. But what moral framework or moral standard does atheism provide? If we assume, for a moment, the atheistic worldview that we’re all just products of cellular mutation and evolution, there is no evil. Life happens. Natural selection happens. Chance, randomness, and chaos are what drive the universe. A child dying of cancer is terrible, but it’s survival of the fittest. Life stinks. Evolution provides no meaningful purpose for your life. More complex than an amoeba, but not more valuable.

Now, the atheist will often reject these ideas, but he’s simply living in conflict with his own worldview. An atheist can call something “evil” but just because you call something “evil” doesn’t make your judgment morally binding on me. In fact, atheists will often borrow from the Christian worldview, our understanding of good and evil as revealed by God in Scripture, and then use our worldview to judge us and God. Why? Because billions of years of evolution doesn’t give you a moral framework or standard of good and evil. If I steal an atheist’s wallet and his car, why does he consider my action unjust? The laws of naturalism don’t give you good or evil, they give you strongest and weakest. The strong take from the weak because it’s survival of the fittest. Again, the atheist may come back and say, “you can’t steal my wallet and car because it’s against the law.” It’s inescapable that every law is an expression of someone’s morality. If our nation didn’t outlaw theft, would me stealing your wallet and car be morally evil? Why or why not? Is the standard for morality based upon our civic laws or government? Many actions that are generally considered evil aren’t outlawed—in most situations, it’s legal to commit adultery. Does that mean that adultery is morally good? In some nations, good actions are outlawed—it’s illegal to homeschool in India and Germany. Does that make homeschooling morally evil? Many nations united against Nazi Germany and morally condemned their actions in the Holocaust. But if morality is based upon civic law and government, how can anyone judge the Nazis for doing what their laws allowed? Is it only because we had a stronger military that we can say that what they did was morally wrong?

Another pushback I hear from atheists is “your action is morally wrong if it hurts others or it hurts a majority of others.” The Christian response to that is two-fold: 1) again, there is no good or evil in an atheistic universe. There is only life and death. No action is morally right or wrong because there’s no just standard that’s bindingon anyone; and 2) why is something wrong simply because it hurts someone? On what basis is something wrong because it harms someone else? You’re assuming a moral standard to make that statement, but that standard isn’t inherent to the world of naturalistic atheism. In our world, predators eat the prey. Lions don’t care if an antelope has a family. The lion wants to eat. That’s naturalism. Why are we different? Random chance and mutation don’t give any human being any meaningful purpose or value—you’re a collection of cells and chemicals. Here today, gone tomorrow.

Christians, however, have a reasonable defense for why we shouldn’t harm others: people are made in God’s image and are worthy of respect and dignity. God created the world, ordered it, and His character provides the moral framework and standard by which humanity ought to live. While naturalistic atheists don’t have a compelling case for a binding moral standard for humanity, Christians do have an answer to the problem of evil—in fact, Christian Scripture provides us the only framework that makes sense of the world in which we live.

In the videos to come, I’ll unpack the Bible’s argument that our Triune God provides the only sufficient ground for morality and ethics in the world He created and He has revealed that moral standard to us in His Word.

What is a deacon? May a woman serve as a deacon?

August 21, 2019 (Transcript)

What is a deacon? Who may serve in the office of deacon? Though Scripture prohibits women from serving as pastors, does the Bible permit women to serve as deacons? These are important questions for each local church to answer.

To review: there are two offices in the local church—elder and deacon. These two offices are outlined in 1 Timothy 3, and we see in Philippians 1:1 that the pastors and deacons of Philippi are the recipients of Paul’s letter. Pastors govern, teach, and exercise shepherding authority over the congregation. The word “deacon” means “servant.” Deacons serve the congregation. But how?

When you compare the qualifications of elders with the qualifications of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8–13, the lists of requirements are nearly identical. The primary difference in qualifications between pastors and deacons is that pastors must be able to teach. Deacons do not need to be able to teach. This difference is an important one, because Paul has tied teaching and authority together in 1 Timothy 2. Teaching in the corporate gathering is an exercise of authority over the congregation. It’s important, for the purposes of our questions today, to recognize that teaching and authority are tied together, and deacons don’t have teaching authority as a part of their office. So, if deacons don’t exercise authority through teaching, what do they do?

As you zoom out and look at the entire New Testament, you’ll see that deacons are called to various acts of service in the local congregation. Deacons are seen as being given the task to help meet the material needs of the saints. They are “premier servants” in the church. Deacons help meet the mercy needs of the saints and free up their pastors so that their pastors may be wholly devoted to teaching, prayer, and leading the local church. In Acts 6, you see the early stages of what would later become the office of deacon. 7 men are chosen in Jerusalem to ensure certain widows aren’t being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Now, we have to be careful in saying that Acts 6 becomes the standard by which deacons are selected because, at this time right after Pentecost, the local church in Jerusalem doesn’t have elders or deacons. The apostles are doing it all. I think Acts 6 does help us see what kind of ministry future deacons would carry out once the office was established by Paul in 1 Timothy 3.

So, may a woman serve in the office of deacon? Yes, I think Scripture and church history teach that the office of deacon is open to qualified women. I’ll give a few reasons.

First, in 1 Timothy 3:11, many English Bibles read “their wives.” That’s one possible translation, but the Greek word there means “women” or “wives.” Paul doesn’t include the possessive pronoun “their” in his letter. English translators have added that word. In 1 Timothy 3:11, it’s more likely that Paul writes “women,” not “their wives.”

Second, why would Paul make a point to give qualifications for the wives of deacons—deacons don’t teach or shepherd—but not give qualifications for the wives of elders? That seems odd, unless Paul’s not referring to deacons’ wives, but rather to women qualified for the office of deacon.

Third, some argue that since Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:12 that deacons are to be the “husband of one wife,” that must disqualify women. That idea, however, misunderstands Paul’s point. A better translation is that a deacon should be a “one-woman man.” Paul’s point in 3:12 is that a man being considered for deacon should be faithful to his wife, not that a man must be married in order to be a deacon. Paul’s referring to marital fidelity, not marital status. If only married men could be deacons in the church, then single men, including Jesus and the apostle Paul, are disqualified from the office of deacon. That doesn’t make sense.

Fourth, we have good New Testament evidence of a woman deacon. A straight-forward reading of Romans 16:1 indicates that Phoebe very likely served as a deacon in her local church. Paul’s not describing Phoebe as simply a servant. The phrase that Paul uses in Romans 16 to describe Phoebe as deacon at Cenchreae is consistently used in the NT to identify a person who held a particular office. Paul is using the same grammar and language to describe Phoebe’s official status in her office at a particular church—namely, deacon at Cenchreae. Phoebe is described as a helper in 16:2 to differentiate from her official position as deacon in 16:1 and to demonstrate that she served well in the office of deacon.

Fifth, the early church had women deacons. The 1st century Roman leader, Pliny the Younger, wrote a letter to the Roman Emperor Trajan detailing his efforts to get Christians to worship the Roman gods. Pliny describes torturing two Christian women who were called deacons in the church.

Many local churches do not allow women deacons because they misunderstand the office of deacon. Deacons do not exercise authority over the congregation and they do not teach. But if a local church only has one pastor and a board of deacons, those deacons are actually serving as elders. In a local church where deacons are functioning as elders, a woman should not be a deacon because she’d actually be serving as a pastor, which Paul forbids. That local church needs to fix their views on deacons.

Deacons are wonderful servants in the local church and give a clear picture of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who came not to be served, but to serve. All Christians in the local church should aspire to the office of deacon because deacons gain a good standing for themselves and great confidence in the faith.

What is a pastor? Who may serve as a pastor?

August 20, 2019 (Transcript)

What is a pastor or elder? Who may serve in the office of elder in the local church? These two questions are very important in the life of the local church because God has organized his local churches in a particular way for His glory and the advance of His gospel. The local church is very important, so the local church’s structure and leadership is very important. The New Testament, particularly in Ephesians 4, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1 teach that elders teach and govern local congregations in order to equip local believers for the work of Christian ministry. Now, not as many people use the language of “elder” in our culture today. The term “elder” or “pastor” refer to this same office. “Elder” comes from the Greek. “Pastor” comes from the Latin, meaning “shepherd.” Elder, pastor, overseer, and bishop are all different terms referring to the same New Testament office: the local church pastor. Contrary to what you may see in some denominations, there isn’t a hierarchy between a pastor and a bishop. In Scripture, bishop and pastor refer to the same office—the office of elder. In the local church, there are elders, deacons, and the congregation. Christ has given the local church a certain structure in which Christians live together in submission to our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ. So, I have 5 points about pastors:

1) In the New Testament, you don’t see a local church that only has one elder or pastor. You see this issue today in many Baptist churches, although Baptists historically didn’t hold to this idea. In the New Testament, every local church had multiple pastors, a plurality of elders, to lead and to teach. The local church shouldn’t be led by a single pastor and a board of deacons. These deacons are working as elders, when many of them aren’t qualified to do so. Pastors shepherd, deacons don’t shepherd. Pastors govern, deacons don’t govern. Hebrews 13 commands Christians to submit to their pastors because local pastors will have to give an account for their congregation on the Last Day.

2) Every local church should have multiple pastors who all have equal authority and an equal vote on the elder board. You may have only one elder who does a majority of the preaching—no problem. That man doesn’t have more pastoral authority than the other pastors. Some pastors may be staff and some may be lay pastors. There is parity, or equality, amongst all the elders.

3) Paul teaches in 1 Timothy 2–3 that only qualified men may serve in the office of elder or pastor. This point is not a popular one in the egalitarian West, but Christians submit themselves to the authority of God’s Word, not cultural whims. Paul doesn’t ground pastors being only qualified men in his cultural setting in 1stcentury Ephesus or Palestine. Paul grounds his command that elders be only qualified men in creation itself. Paul points to the creation account before sin, as well as to Eve’s role in the fall in Genesis 3, to ground his command. Paul isn’t arguing that men are more important or are smarter. He grounds his command in God giving different roles to men and women in creation itself.

4) Pastors or elders lead the congregation primarily through faithful teaching. Pastors or elders rule and govern, but we can’t go beyond what Scripture commands. I can’t command my congregation to do anything that goes beyond Scripture. I don’t have that authority. I exhort, encourage, and correct from the Scriptures because that’s my authority in governing and ruling. I’m not a dictator, which is why it’s wise to have many pastors in a congregation so one man can’t turn it into a dictatorship.

5) 1 Timothy 3–5 and Titus 1 teach that men who serve as pastors or overseers must be qualified according to the Scriptures. The overwhelming emphasis of these qualifications are moral or character qualities. The pastor or elder must be able to teach, yes, but he must live a holy life that’s worthy of imitation by the congregation. He must model what he teaches. James 1 teaches that they’ll be held to a stricter standard of judgment for their teaching and leadership in the congregation.

Many local churches want a pastor who’s charismatic or entertaining in his teaching, but who’s not qualified in character. Paul puts the overwhelming emphasis on an elder’s character qualifications, not his charisma in teaching. This means, then, that local churches should know the man well before they make him a pastor, not just hire him from a resume or online sermons. The primary means of getting new pastors, according to Scripture, is through local churches raising up qualified men from their midst and making them pastors.

Pastors are a gift to God’s church. Pastors are qualified men who serve as under-shepherds, teaching and leading their own congregations for the glory of our Chief Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and the good of his saints.

Who has authority in the local church?

August 16, 2019 (Transcript)

How is the local church governed? Or who has final authority in the local church? Is it a Pope? Bishops? Do elders or pastors rule and make most, if not all, decisions? What about presbyteries, synods, and general assemblies? Is every decision, including the carpet and paint colors, voted on by congregations?

I would argue that the Bible grounds final authority for the local church, particularly issues of membership, church discipline, and maintaining a faithful gospel, in the congregation itself. This idea is called congregationalism. Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven first to Peter in Matthew 16, then to the local assembly, or local church, in Matthew 18. Paul’s letter to the Galatians and the first few chapters of Revelation demonstrate that the final authority in the local church for maintaining sound doctrine and rejecting false teaching is the congregation itself.

Throughout the New Testament, particularly in the book of Acts, we see that Christ is the Head of the church and Christ gave authority to his apostles, those men appointed by Jesus himself and individual witnesses to Christ’s bodily resurrection, to write Scripture and to start planting churches throughout the world. Now, all the apostles are dead, so no one today actively holds that office.

In Ephesians 4, 1 Timothy 3, and Titus 1, Paul gives qualifications for the office of pastor, bishop, overseer, elder—all these terms are interchangeable in the New Testament and refer to the same office. The office of pastor or elder has been given to the local church and only qualified men are able to serve in this role to teach and govern their own local church. Also, nowhere in the New Testament do you see a local church with only one pastor. In the New Testament, each church has multiple pastors who all have the same authority in their local body. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul teaches that elders or pastors are to teach and rule over or govern their local congregations. The author of Hebrews commands the local church to submit to their own leaders, or pastors, because pastors, as under-shepherds of Christ, will give an account to God for those Christians in their care. In 1 Timothy 3, deacons are given the authority to serve the congregation by meeting the mercy, material, and service needs of the saints. Deacons are not given shepherding or teaching authority to rule over congregations. They’re not pastors. Only pastors govern.

In the New Testament letters, you regularly read the apostles command Christians, particularly in the local congregation, to correct and rebuke one another with the Word. Local church members are to encourage and exhort one another in the gospel. That authority to correct, exhort, encourage, and rebuke one another means that a Christian in his local church exercises that kind of authority over other members in the body. That’s authoritative member on member care.

So how can the local congregation have final authority, but pastors also govern and rule at the same time? I would argue that elders or pastors lead congregations primarily through their faithful teaching and shepherding even though the congregation has final authority, particularly with new members, church discipline, and maintaining sound doctrine. This idea is called elder-led congregationalism.For example, I can’t, as a pastor at Holy City Church, just take people into membership. I can’t, on my own, excommunicate people through church discipline. The local church must not submit if I’m teaching a false gospel. The elders of Holy City Church do lead our congregation, however, in taking in new members and disciplining out unrepentant members. We do much of the background work and help lead the congregation through these decision-making processes. I’ll do the membership interviews and recommend prospective members in whom I’m confident that they love Christ. I’ll work with individual members in the church discipline process as we chase after wayward saints who are running after unrepentant sin. I govern and rule the congregation as a pastor, so carpet color or a sermon series isn’t voted on by a congregation. Elders are raised up by the local church to make leadership decisions on behalf of the church, but I don’t make final determinations regarding church membership or church discipline. God hasn’t given me that authority. He’s given it to the entire local church. I lead the congregation through my faithful teaching, calling the saints to obey the Scriptures, and persuading them through wise and prudent counsel.

Elder-led congregationalism certainly makes sense when you see the nature of the local church rightly. If the church is fully-regenerate—if everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit—the more Spirit-filled saints I have giving counsel and wisdom to membership and discipline issues, the better. If the church were made up of believers and unbelievers, then yeah, it makes sense why some denominations give most, if not all, authority to the pastors. Baptists don’t read the Scriptures that way. The church is Christ’s Spirit-indwelt people, which is why Christ gave final authority to the entire local congregation, not to pastors. Though each congregation is autonomous, the Bible clearly pictures local churches having strong networks with one another for gospel ministry, accountability, and mutual encouragement.

Christ is the Head of his church and in the local church, we submit ourselves to the teaching and leadership of our pastors, while also rightly recognizing that the buck stops with the local church, the congregation, as a whole, exercising the keys of the kingdom, defending a faithful gospel, and maintaining sound doctrine.

What does it mean to be Baptist?

August 15, 2019 (Transcript)

What does it mean to be Baptist?

There a lot of conceptions out there. Of course, my first and primary identity is as a Christian—there’s no disputing that—and that’s the case for my other Baptist brothers and sisters, along with our brothers and sisters from the Presbyterian, Anglican, Methodist, and other Christian denominations. We’re all Christians first, of course. But having denominations is wonderful—we live in a nation without a state church, so Christians who differ on points of doctrine are free to live out their biblical convictions and worship according to their consciences. But with so many denominations, what does it actually mean to be Baptist? The biblical and theological reasons for being Baptist are many, but I’ll lay out two:

1) Baptists believe that the church, the new covenant community of Jesus, is fully-regenerate. Everyone in the new covenant is represented by Christ, so everyone in Christ’s new covenant community enjoys the benefits Christ has won for us. We have the Holy Spirit, new hearts, new minds, and the full forgiveness of sins. So, Christ’s new covenant community, the church, is made up of only believers, unlike ancient Israel. Israel was a mixed community of believers and unbelievers. Baptists believe that Old Testament promises in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, and others teach that Jesus saves and keeps everyone in his new covenant. In fact, the New Testament teaches that the new covenant community is a royal priesthood—all new covenant members have equal access to our Heavenly Father through the Son by the Spirit. Baptists do not believe, as some other Reformed denominations do, that the new covenant is made up of believers and their unbelieving children. This idea affects baptism. Baptists baptize professing believers upon their conversion. Unlike Presbyterians, for example, Baptists don’t sprinkle infants or children with water. Israel’s old covenant community and Christ’s new covenant community are different in both their structures and their natures. Baptists aim only to baptize believers. And Baptists immerse you fully—you get dunked because that’s what the Greek word, baptizo, means. Full immersion reflects Romans 6 and gives the best picture of our salvation in Christ. Baptism by immersion gives a beautiful picture of the Christian’s faith union with Christ. We’ve died to sin with Christ, and we’ve been buried with him. But we’re now alive to Christ by faith through his resurrection.

2) Baptists believe in meaningful membership and church discipline. In Matthew 16, Jesus gives the keys to the kingdom of heaven—to bind and to loose—to Peter because of Peter’s confession of Christ as the Son of God. Two chapters later in Matthew 18, Jesus teaches about church discipline, the process of disciplining an unrepentant Christian. Jesus teaches that if an unrepentant church member won’t turn from sin after one believer and then two or three believers pursue him, then the entire local church calls him to repent in order to win him back to the faith. If the unrepentant member still won’t repent, then the local church is to treat him as an unbeliever, to remove him from church membership. Jesus takes the exact same language he used with Peter in Matthew 16 —the keys of the kingdom of heaven—and now applies it to the local church here—”whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” The local church now has the authority of the keys of the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean? Well, what do keys do? They open doors and lock doors. You let someone in or shut someone out of your house with your key. Jesus teaches us that the local church is God’s authority on earth to affirm or deny someone’s profession of Christian faith—to welcome people into God’s kingdom or to keep unwelcome people out of God’s kingdom. The local church affirms someone’s profession of Christian faith by taking them into church membership. Someone who professes faith but lives like a scoundrel, contrary to their own professed faith, the local church is supposed to keep them out. That’s meaningful membership. But since we don’t have the eyes of the Lord to see someone’s heart, local churches may take someone into membership who makes a credible confession and appears to be a faithful Christian, only for them to later run unrepentantly after sin. In God’s wisdom, He’s given local congregations church discipline as a means of guarding the unity, purity, and testimony of the church. If a church member is in unrepentant sin, the church seeks to win him to repentance through this process of church discipline. If that member won’t turn away from their sin and back to Christ, then the church disciplines him out of membership, and, with the authority of Christ, removes the church’s authoritative affirmation of that person’s faith. Someone disciplined out of a faithful, gospel-preaching church shouldn’t be confident that he or she is actually a Christian.

Sadly, many Baptist churches have moved away from meaningful membership and church discipline in the past 100-150 years, but it’s not because they’re being faithful to Scripture. They’re not being consistently Baptist. Baptists have, historically, argued for a high view of Scripture, a high view of Christ’s redemption, and a high view of the church. Meaningful membership, baptism, and church discipline are all grounded in the Baptist belief that Christ saves His new covenant people completely. And so the local church, as the visible expression of Christ’s new covenant community, should reflect those truths in our local congregations. Being biblical (and being Baptist) is a wonderful thing.


How is Scripture relevant today?

July 31, 2019 (Transcript)

To answer the questions—what is the nature of the Bible and how is it relevant today?—let’s first look at the common viewpoint of truth and authority today.

The last 100+ years of Western philosophy has shifted how a person sees the world and interprets reality. What Christians often hear today from people around them is not so much radical atheism—though that certainly is still alive and kicking—but rather a new form of spiritualism tied to individual wisdom and desire—“that’s true for you, but that’s not true for me.” Why is this response so common? Postmodernism.

Postmodernism is the worldly wisdom of our age. Postmodern philosophy has rightly rejected modernism and modernism’s argument for human reason as the foundation for truth and knowledge. The term “postmodernism” began in architecture in the 1930s and but this philosophical movement was really born out of the 20thcentury study of language and linguistics. Men like Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucalt argued that all people are subjects of their time, place, and culture. No one can claim objective truth, truth that supersedes culture and history, because everyone is biased by their own culture, place, and time. This biased view of the world is expressed in all of us, first and foremost, in the use of language. Knowledge and language is power, and are the means by which a person oppresses or imposes their will on someone else. The following point is crucial to understanding our Postmodern culture today: language itself doesn’t picture or mirror reality as it is. Rather you use language to shape and determine reality.

Now, that may all be confusing, but we see these beliefs playing themselves out in everyday life. For example, this philosophy forms the foundation for the modern transgender movement. How can a biological male be a woman? Most people reject this idea as nonsensical, but what postmodernism has done is argued that your use of male/female language is something you’ve constructed. Your use of male/female distinctions don’t correspond to reality, rather, your use of language is something you’ve used to oppress other people who don’t identify with your binary categories. So what does the transgender community do? They use language as a means to determine and construct their own reality as it pertains to gender and sexuality. If gender is a social construct, why can’t a man call himself a woman even if it doesn’t correspond to his biological realities? A man identifying as a woman is forcing you through language to conform to his construction of reality.

As Christians, it shouldn’t surprise us that the unbelieving world sees language as powerful and authoritative. God is the Ultimate Author of reality. God created the universe through His speech. God saves and redeems through His Word. Postmodernism understands the power of language, but postmodernism is just another form of idolatry. Postmodernism rejects God as Author and replaces Him with human authors writing and constructing their own realities. What people need today isn’t an appeal to their own reason—human reason can be, and is often, wrong. What people need today is revelation from God Himself. We can’t see the world rightly because of sin, so we need God to reveal Himself to us, how He has created the world, and how we are to live in light of His revelation in the Bible.

Despite the claims today, people can know universal truth because we’ve been given a God’s-eye view of the universe in the Word of God. When reading the Bible on its own terms and in its own categories, we see how God has acted in human history. But the Bible doesn’t simply record God’s actions in history. The Bible also gives us God’s interpretation of His actions in history so that we’re not left in the dark, guessing about His purposes in the world or how to live. Psalm 119:105—“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” We’re finite and sinful people. We need God to reveal Himself to us so that we might know Him and His salvation in Christ. Because the Bible is God’s revelation, it is completely authoritative and true in all matters to which it speaks. In Scripture, we see that God is there and He is not silent.

Going back to the example of postmodernism and the transgender movement, Christians can lovingly and graciously reject these false ideas and provide others hope because God has revealed that He created humanity in his image—male and female. God’s revelation, not our own construction, is what determines human sexuality, gender identity, and marriage. As Christians, we were brought out of darkness and into the light by God’s Word so that we can know God and share His revelation and His gospel with everyone around us.

Is the Bible true?

July 30, 2019 (Transcript)

What is the nature of the Bible and is it true? The Bible is self-attesting—it claims to be God’s Word, God’s revelation of Himself and of His work in all of His creation. The Bible claims to be the final authority in understanding ourselves, reality, and our Creator-God. This claim is repeated throughout all of the Scriptures. A few examples:

Psalm 119:142—“Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true.”

John 17:17—Jesus prays for His people, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

2 Timothy 3:16—“All Scripture is breathed out by God.”

2 Peter 1:21—“no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

The Bible grounds all truth and claims to truth are to be measured in light of Scripture. Ultimately, the Bible perfectly testifies to Jesus Christ and His gospel. And our view of the Bible must be built upon a right view of God. God is perfect and true, so when He speaks, He always speaks truly, perfectly, and authoritatively. God inspired the biblical authors to write exactly what He wanted those authors to write. But in writing Scripture, each prophet or apostle was not simply a robot—a passive divine mouthpiece—nor did the man lose his own personality and freedom. Human freedom is compatible with God’s sovereignty, and God carried men along by the Spirit to reveal His character, His will, and His redemptive plan with its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. The Bible claims to be the Word of God and when read in light of its own assumptions and categories, it is perfectly consistent, unified, truthful, and authoritative for all people everywhere. The Bible alone is the final authority for the church (Hence, the reformation cry: sola Scriptura).

Now there may be someone who says, “you can’t claim that the Bible is the final authority simply because the Bible says so, that’s a circular argument—it’s invalid.” It is a circular argument, there is no doubt, but every ground or foundation for ultimate truth and authority is circular. Circular arguments aren’t necessarily invalid. Someone might say, “well, I believe logic is my authority.” Why so? “I believe in logic because it’s logical to do so.” Another might say, “I believe human reason is the final authority.” Why? “I believe in reason because it’s reasonable to do so.” They’re circular. If something claims to be the final authority on truth but then has to appeal to something else to ground its claims, that something else has become the final authority on truth.

The Bible claims to be the authoritative Word of God and it’s authoritative because it’s God’s speech. It can’t appeal to human reason, or science, or whatever to ground its truth claims because then human reason, science, or whatever becomes the final authority. Reason and science can affirm truth claims, but they can’t ground truth claims. Everyone, including the atheist, must appeal to something to ground his view of the world and reality. And no one is neutral. If none of us is neutral and all authority claims are circular, the question becomes: can the authority you appeal to bear its own weight? Naturalists may appeal to science, but science can’t ground the immaterial laws that govern it. Some atheists appeal to society to ground their views of morality, but societies change or have different codes of morality. If morality is grounded in you or in society or in human laws, how can you say that what Nazi Germany did in the 30s & 40s is morally evil? Nazi Germany believed that what they were doing was right. You say it’s evil. Who’s right, and why? How do you analyze competing truth claims? We must approach competing worldviews and holy books honestly, interpreting them on their own terms to see what view is consistent, faithful to reality, and without error.

Christians believe that the Bible, the 66-book Protestant canon, not only makes these claims but is internally consistent, true, and can bear the weight of its own authority and truth claims. At the end of the day, we need the Spirit of God to help us read the Bible rightly, submit ourselves to its authority, and faithfully defend its truth claims as we share the gospel with others. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There is wonderful theology in this children’s song! Christians should be confident that God has spoken and has revealed Himself truly in the Bible so that we might know and love Jesus Christ rightly.

Is there unity in the Bible?

July 27, 2019 (Transcript)

In recent months, there’s been movement towards downplaying the usefulness of reading the Old Testament. Some teachers seem to be parroting the early church heretic, Marcion, who argued the god of the Old Testament was different from the New Testament god. Marcion strove to eject the Old Testament from Christian living and practice by undermining the unity of the Bible. Other teachers today have gone on record to argue something akin to “we only need Jesus.” We only need Jesus and his sermon on the mount for Christian life and practice. Today’s debate over human sexuality—same-sex behavior & transgenderism—has led many professing Christians to drive a wedge between the Old Testament and New Testament. So, is the Bible unified from Genesis to Revelation? I believe the clear answer of Scripture is a resounding “yes,” so I want to spend a couple of minutes briefly unpacking why the Bible is unified and how it’s unified.

The church has always held that Scripture, read on its own terms and in its own categories, affirms its unity from beginning to end. On the road to Emmaus after his resurrection in Luke 24, Jesus rebukes 2 disciples for their unbelief saying, “‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Jesus affirms what the rest of the NT teaches—all of the Old Testament, from Genesis to Malachi, points to and finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. How can this idea be true with such a diversity of human authors across hundreds of years and dozens of books in the Bible? Scripture teaches that every Bible passage has two authors: the human author and the divine author. 2 Timothy 3:15–17 & 2 Peter 1:19–21, along with a host of other passages, teach that God, by the Spirit, breathed out His Word by inspiring and carrying along the human authors to write exactly that which God intended without violating their freedom or personality. The New Testament authors cite a wide variety of Old Testament texts to argue that Christ has fulfilled them because, while there are many human authors across the biblical canon, there’s one divine author, God, who’s writing a unified story from Genesis to Revelation. So, the unity of the Bible is ultimately grounded in an orthodox doctrine of God. God is consistent and doesn’t change.

When Christians approach difficult biblical texts or ones that seem to contradict other passages, the answer isn’t simply to throw our hands up and say, “well, there’s an error here or the Old Testament is really offensive, so we’ll just stick with Jesus and the New Testament.” If you assume there’s no unity in the Bible, then you’ll assume there’s a contradiction. This reflects a low view of God and the consistency He brings as the one divine author inspiring all of it. Rather, we must first recognize that we’re sinners and our minds have been distorted by sin so that we don’t always see or think rightly—postmodern philosophy has confirmed that biblical truth. Since the problem is with us and not the text, we must understand and interpret the Bible as one unified canon with one consistent redemptive story and one divine author. So, it shouldn’t surprise us that the Bible opens with a perfect garden in Genesis and closes with a perfect garden in Revelation. They’re book-ends. God is showing us how He’s taking us from the old creation to the new creation. Everything between those bookends is telling us how God is accomplishing that in Christ. We see sin and death in Genesis 3 work themselves out throughout the rest of the Bible story. More importantly, we see the promise of God to save His people and undo sin and death begin in Genesis 3:15. It moves along the storyline through Abraham and his offspring, Israel, and get picked up with King David and his future offspring. And then this promise ultimately finds its fulfillment in the Son of God, Jesus Christ. So when you read the genealogies of Jesus in Matthew and Luke, those family lines aren’t placed there accidentally. God is showing you that He has kept His promises to His people from the beginning of Scripture all the way to the end. When we see the unity of Scripture rightly, we see the beauty and glory of our promise-keeping God, who will never leave us nor forsake us.

Is the Bible Reliable?

July 26, 2019 (Transcript)

When Muslims or atheists argue that the Bible has been corrupted and is full of errors, it might seem troubling, initially, for some Christians that we don’t have any of the original manuscripts or writings of the Old Testament and New Testament books. How do we know that the Bibles we have are accurate and reliable? The answer to this question takes us into the realm of text criticism. Textual criticism is the discipline that attempts to determine the original wording of any documents whose original no longer exists. ”Before the printing press, you made hand-copies of letters. We don’t have any of the original works of any Greco-Roman, Babylonian, Persian, or Ancient Near Eastern literature, but we do have copies of Plato’s writings, Aristotle’s teachings, among many, many other ancient writers. As we examine this topic, this point is important—you don’t have to have a physical copy of the original manuscript to have the original text. For example., when you pick up a recent New York Times’ Bestseller off your bookshelf to read, you’re not reading the original manuscript of that book, you’re reading a copy. The original manuscript for that book is likely with the author. But you don’t doubt that you have the original text even though you can’t access the author’s computer hard drive.

Like other ancient works, we don’t have the originals of each of the 66 books of the Bible. We have copies of copies of copies, and they come from Israel and Palestine, Egypt and North Africa, and various parts of Europe and Asia, and they all come to us from a variety of time periods: 2nd century BC, 2nd century AD, 4th century AD, 10th century AD. What text critical scholars do is take all these ancient manuscripts and compare them with one another to see where there may be differences in the text. At that point, they can determine with confidence the original text. The less manuscript copies you have, the less certainty you have that you have a faithful copy of the original text. For example, if you only had 2 ancient copies of the gospel of Luke from roughly the same time period. Both copies had significant differences between the two—which one is right? But in that same scenario, if you had 50 copies of Luke’s gospel, and 49 were the same, the evidence would strongly support that those 49 copies were faithful copies of the original letter.

There are 10 copies of Julius Caesar’s Gallic Wars (written in the 1stcent BC). There are only 10 copies in existence and the earliest copy we have is from nearly a thousand years after Caesar wrote the original.The Greek poet, Homer, wrote The Iliad and The Odysseynearly 3,000 years ago and we have less than 2,400 manuscripts copies. The oldest copy comes at least 1000 years after Homer wrote them. No one doubts the reliability of those works. What about the Bible? We have over 5,800 Greek copies of the New Testament. We have over 25,000 New Testament manuscripts total. The oldest manuscript copies we have of the New Testament come only decades after the originals were written by the apostles. We have over 10x as many New Testament manuscripts as we do of Homer’s works. And the differences between these copies are nearly all spelling mistakes, word order, replacing words with a synonym, or are meaningless differences. The 1940s discovery of the Dead Seas Scrolls has shown us the extreme reliability of our Hebrew Old Testament, giving us copies of Old Testament books that are 1000 years closer to the originals than our previous copies. The Septuagint—the earliest translation of the Hebrew text into Greek—dates to the 3rd century BC and is quoted frequently by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament. Not only do we have thousands of manuscripts, but the early church fathers quoted Scripture in their own letters over a million times. The Jewish community and the church have preserved the Scriptures amazingly well so that Christians today can know with great confidence that their Bibles are identical to the Word first written by the prophets and the apostles. Ultimately, our trust in the reliability of the Scriptures is that our sovereign God has preserved His Word for His people so that we might know Christ and His gospel.

Do you need the local church?

July 25, 2019 (Transcript)

I’ve heard many professing Christians say something along the lines of “I have a personal relationship with Jesus, I don’t need the local church.” And today, social media, live streaming worship, and “online church services” have created even greater opportunities for Christians to avoid regularly gathering in person with the local church for corporate worship. Can you be a faithful Christian without gathering regularly with the local church? I’d argue that the answer is nearly always a “no.” It’s not faithful to the Bible nor is it loving Christ to forsake your local church, when it’s in your power to gather. Now, I’m not talking about Christians who are sick, handicapped, or shut-in. I’m not talking about frontier missionaries where no local church exists. There will be times when Christians are hindered for a time from gathering with the local church for worship, but those rare occasions are the exception, not the rule. It should cause any Christian serious pause to argue that the pattern of God’s people gathering regularly for worship throughout the entire Bible has now been tossed out or is irrelevant. Scripture & church history totally reject this idea. That being said, I think Scripture gives us many reasons why Christians should regularly gather together in the local church for worship, but I’ll briefly give 5 reasons:

1) 1 Timothy 5:17 and Hebrews 13:17 teach us that Christians are to submit to their own pastors. How can you submit to or be led by pastors when you fail to gather with the local church?

2) Paul teaches us that the local church is a body with many members (Romans 12:3–8; 1 Corinthians 12:12–31). The eye can’t say to the hand “I have no need of you.” A member that’s cut off from the body will grow sick and die. A Christian can’t say to the local church “I have no need of you.” That person’s professed faith will shrivel up and die.

3) Jesus and the apostles commanded Christians to regularly participate in the ordinances of the local church—baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Matthew 28:19; 1 Corinthians 11:23–34). Also, the NT commands local churches to practice church discipline (Matthew 18:15–20; 1 Corinthians 5:1–13). You can’t restore repenting members to the body if you’re not there to pursue them and win them back.

4) James commands Christians in local churches to confess their sins to one another (James 5:16). Paul commands Christians in the body to bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). These commands demand that Christians be present in a local church. I know I have brothers and sisters in Christ overseas, but I can’t know them, confess my sins to them, and bear their burdens regularly to the degree Paul and James command me to know, confess to, and bear the burdens of my fellow church members.

5) Finally, and most importantly, God commands Christians to regularly gather with the saints for worship in Hebrews 10:24–25. And the context of this command is important for our question. I often hear this statement. “I wasn’t being fed at that church, so I stopped going. I’m fed by my TV or online preacher.” In Hebrews 10, God doesn’t command you to gather with the local church primarily so that you might be fed, but rather so that you might encourage the other Christians in your local church.Christians who fail to gather with the local church or who opt to watch a sermon online every week on their couch are thinking like American consumers, not biblical Christians. Christ came to serve, not to be served. Christians who have been deceived by this mindset are thinking only in terms of how they might be served when the overwhelming emphasis of Scripture is on you serving others.

Ultimately, failing to gather regularly with the local church is a failure to love God and to love your neighbor as yourself. Scripture says we must encourage and exhort one another in the gospel, so if you fail to gather regularly with the saints, what brother or sister will miss your encouragement or exhortation? The church is the bride of Christ and the local church is the primary means of God saving, growing, refining, and protecting His people (Ephesians 2:1–10,17–22; 4:11–16; 5:22–33). You can’t love Jesus and hate his bride. Jesus is jealous for his church. We must strive diligently to love and value the church as the Lord does, laying down our lives for one another as we follow our crucified Savior.