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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why doesn't God save everyone?

I've never done this before, but in responding to a comment on my previous post I got so long-winded (OK, I've done that before), that I felt compelled to make a second post as my answer. I've included the anonymous question below.

I agree with your argument [in The High, Holy Ideal of Man's Autonomy], but it's ironic because it's a pretty strong case for Universalism, which as an adherent to Reformed Theology, you obviously do not believe in.The question then, could be posed to you, if God desires the salvation of all men, and is willing to "stack the deck" in favor of that, then why cannot all be saved, in your view? Why stop at a few "elect"? Is it simply because your interpretation of the Bible necessitates it? And if so, wouldn't it be a worthy endeavor to consider perhaps an alternate interpretation? And if an interpretation exists, which can satisfy both God's will that all be saved, and still honor the free will of man, shouldn't that be the position we take?

Universalism is probably the last idea that I could accept on biblical grounds simply because of the sheer volume of passages that seem to be unequivocally clear about the reality of a future, eternal judgment for the unrepentant. So if I am trying to find a harmony between ideas present in the Bible, I feel compelled to reconcile the more common and dominant themes first. In this case, the reality of hell before the idea of God's will that all be saved.

Now for the idea that God desires the salvation of all men, I believe the Bible speaks of the will of God in a couple different ways. Or rather, there are a couple different wills of God. Let me explain. We are all familiar with the will of God that cannot be suppressed, resisted, or confounded, what I call his sovereign will. However, I see a second kind of will spoken of in the Bible. This second kind of will is subject to the behavior and obedience of mankind and is satisfied only to the extent that a certain group is able to live up to such desires. I call this God's moral will since, as often as it is used, it's satisfaction is contingent on a morally right response by a person or persons.

Let me give some examples:

For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. - 1 Peter 2:15

It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable. - 1 Thessalonians 4:3,4

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. - 1 John 2:17

And even from the mouth of Jesus . . .

Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother. - Mark 3:35

If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. - John 7:17

Notice that in every instance, the possibility is there (either implicitly or explicitly) that the subjects could choose to act in defiance to the will of God. This, then, is certainly not the sovereign will we usually think of. In fact, the two verses that you alluded to don't even use the word "will" at all, rather they are translated as "wishes", "wants", and "desires" which I believe fits the distinction I am making.

So then the obvious question (and one that has been addressed by much wiser men than myself) is: why is it not God's sovereign will that everyone is saved? I would point out (and everyone would agree) that God's mercy and grace are glorified and magnified in the saving of undeserving sinners. However, the opposite is also true. God's justice and judgment are glorified and magnified in the condemnation of deserving sinners. Notice, no one is receiving injustice from God. He gives grace to some and justice to others, but injustice to no one.

So why doesn't God deal equally with all men? Romans chapter nine deals with this extensively, but there is one phrase in particular that will help us here. In verses 11 and 12 we read "Yet, before the twins (Jacob and Esau) were born or had done anything good or bad--in order that God's purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls--". Thus, God calls some and not others in order that his own purpose in election might stand. This may seem arbitrary, but if God's purpose and call are magnified in such a choice, it is the furthest thing from arbitrary. And again, there is no injustice done here, those not called receive only what they deserve.

Incidentally, this also answers two other big questions that many people have: "Why did God make anything?" and "Why did God decree/allow evil to enter the world?" (or some variation thereof). By creating the universe and beings with free will and then permitting the fall, we see the stage set for the glorification and magnification of all of God's attributes through the course of history past, present, and yet to come.

So I believe this all comes back to the glorification of God and the magnification of his divine attributes. His grace and mercy are glorified and magnified in salvation, his justice glorified and magnified in judgment, and his purpose in election glorified and magnified in calling some and not others. And in all this, mankind receives no worse than what we deserve (justice) and no better than what we don't (salvation).

Want to read more? I recommend John Piper's longest-titled book Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. Click here for a free pdf. dowload of the entire book!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The High, Holy Ideal of Man's Autonomy

One of the primary objections I hear to the whole idea of predestination and election is that they both stand as an encroachment upon the free will of man. Of course those who hold to a Reformed view of predestination believe that man's will is free because it can choose what it wants, but fallen because it wants nothing to do with God. So without some sort of intervention by God (what we call the efficacious call), the will remains fallen and no one chooses God.

Libertarian free will maintains that man is a mixture of good and bad but still has the ability to accept or reject God's offer of salvation. Though the Bible says that God is sovereign and directs the paths of kings and kingdoms, and tends even to the sparrows and lilies of the field; yet He abstains from imposing upon our salvation so that a genuine decision can be made of our own free will. He will not and indeed cannot interfere with man's choice without compromising its freedom, so they say.

However, I want to challenge the idea that Reformed doctrine alone violates man's free will. If, in fact, this is the case, then I have a question for everyone who holds to the position of libertarian free will. Have you ever prayed for the salvation of someone? Maybe a friend, a co-worker, or someone even closer to you, a loved one perhaps.

If so, what exactly were you praying for if not God's intervention? Whether you were praying that God would "open their eyes", "soften their heart", or "show them the light", your intent in the prayer was that God would somehow alter or manipulate the circumstances (internal or external) so they would be more inclined to believe.

Such a prayer is directed against such circumstances as rebellion, the temptation of sin, ignorance, peer pressure, etc. that are essentially alternative options for the will of man to choose as more desirable than God's gift of salvation. These factors, left unchecked, would bring an individual to choose of their own autonomous free will against God and for the lure of sin and the flesh. How glorifying to God is such a such a situation, if this is in fact the case? That God must remove sinful lures and enticements of the flesh that our will would choose as more desirable than Him so that we will settle for His salvation amidst the remaining alternatives.

The problem as I see it is this: as long as an individual's autonomous free will is held up as the ultimate ideal in humanity, our prayers are useless or even offensive. Such a prayer at best falls on the deaf ears of God who dares not "stack the deck" for anyone to love him, and at worst asks God to violate the most precious of man's character traits, his autonomy (*note the sarcasm).

Of course every Christian knows this is absurd. We should be praying fervently for the salvation of all men. And my point is this: a praying Christian who believes in libertarian free will is not really so opposed to God's intervention and involvement as they claim (and one who isn't praying for the salvation of the lost, well, we've got bigger problems there). Thus, Reformed doctrine is not singularly guilty of doing violence to man's autonomous freedom by suggesting that we are slaves to sin and God must change our wills before we can respond to Him. If our will desires the inclinations of the flesh, how will we ever choose salvation unless God first performs surgery and removes our hearts (and wills) of stone and gives us a heart that actually pumps life through our veins?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Why the BCS is the bane of my existence

I know this is a radical departure from my usual diatribes, but enough passengers on my shuttle at work wanting to talk college football have worked me up into a lather about the whole BCS system. All the BCS shills (n. A person paid to endorse a product favorably, while pretending to be impartial) try to argue that "Every game counts" but I counter that "Every season is insufficient". Here's my three main gripes about the BCS:
  1. A loss early in the season is better than one late in the season, even if it's to a clearly inferior team. Case in point: Florida loses early in the season to an unranked, unimpressive Ole Miss but works it's way back to a spot in the Championship. Alabama plays an undefeated season up to their last game and loses to no. 4 Florida and drops out of contention. So if our top five teams are all one-loss teams, why should the teams that got that loss early have an advantage? Should the strength of the opponent be a bigger factor in a loss than how early or late in the season the game was played?

  2. The BCS clearly favors certain conferences over others. Not only do six conferences have automatic bids into BCS games, but those in the smaller and often weaker conferences are at a disadvantage in the BCS polls. Case in point: this year we have two undefeated teams (Utah and Boise State) who are both undefeated and ranked 6th and 9th respectively. Boise State isn't even playing in a BCS bowl game. I am not arguing that Boise State is the best team in the country, but you can't say that "Every game counts" if Boise State wins all of them and gets left out. What if the nation's best team in a coming year happens to be in a non-BCS conference, is the current BCS ranking system set up to reflect that? It seems not.

  3. A weak schedule can ruin your chances at working up to a BCS game. In fact, this is one of the primary factors for Utah and Boise State. They are both in non-BCS conferences, thus they will be playing weaker schedules (since the majority of one's schedule is made up of conference play). But this has even bigger implications. Most schedules are made 4-5 years in advance, and who's to say which teams will be good in five years (Michigan, Tennesee, and Miami for example)? Even a schedule designed to give a team every shot at the Championship can be ruined by a team's conference or floundering non-conference opponents.
So not only is "Every game counts" proven false by non-BCS conferences and weak schedules made five years ago, but the current system is inadequate to determine a clear-cut champion year after year. Only a playoff system will solve the problems above and give us a satisfying series of post-season games. Does a playoff system come with it's own set of problems? Sure. Underdogs can still upset. A strong favorite can still lose on a fluke. But do you hear the same volume of complaints coming out of the NFL about the Superbowl being a sham of a championship when it is set by games played on the field? No.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Proposition 8 and the Value of Marriage, Part 2

I am uncertain whether the same-sex marriage debate is a battle that the church should be fighting, I know it is not my fight. This is why, as delineated in my previous post, my fear is not equal rights given to same-sex couples but the loss of rights taken from church and individual. I want to make it clear that I have always been quick to admit that 1) the church has mishandled the issue of homosexuality both inside and outside the church (see blog "The Charges Against Christians") and 2) there are rights being withheld from same-sex couples on the state and national level that they should have.

However, the implications of current proposed legislation permitting same-sex marriage poses one of the greatest threats to a Christian's freedom of religion and freedom of speech we have seen in our lifetime. The threat is not in the rights given, but the rights taken away if there is nothing written into said proposed legislation protecting the freedom of churches and individuals. What follows was my primary motive in the first blog.

At the risk of passing myself off as prophetic, this debate will continue to rage even as same-sex couples are given not just equal but more rights and privileges beyond those of heterosexual married couples. The debate will continue because what they are fighting for is not equal rights, but equal value in the minds of Americans. This will only be established when they have changed how our children are taught and even what our churches can preach. If you disagree, consider the following:

1) Any school that teaches or even talks about marriage would have to change their content. This was a big factor in the Yes on 8 Campaign, because anyone with kids in the public school would be effected, without a say in the matter. Every state entity would be teaching a counter morality (and therefore inherently religious) subject which seems to encroach on the First Amendment and the establishment of religion.

2) Any person or organization who speaks out against same-sex marriage would see their thoughts and words criminalized as 'hate-speech'. We have already seen this take place in Canada, where one is not allowed to speak or preach on homosexuality and same-sex marriage or refer to the Bible's stance on it. We would most certainly see the same from the state in a hindrance of freedom of speech and an interference in the beliefs and teachings of the church.

3) If same-sex marriage is sanctioned by the state, any church refusing to marry a same-sex couple will be seen as taking a political stance and thus be threatened with losing tax exemption status (this has already taken place in Massachusetts). Similar consequences loom for churches refusing to ordain a homosexual in a same-sex marriage.

These are not examples of rights being withheld from same-sex couples. These are examples of attacks being made on our minds and what we are allowed to value, teach, and even think. If same-sex marriage could be allowed without the infringement of our freedom of speech and religion, perhaps I would consider it. But, from the examples we have already seen, this doesn't seem the likely scenario. As it stands, I cannot rescind on my earlier post but renew my defense of state's current definition of marriage.

I doubt those fighting for same-sex marriage and campaigning on a platform of rights, freedoms, and liberty would defend a parent's right to keep their child from being taught that same-sex marriage is OK and morally equal to heterosexual marriage. Or defend a preacher's freedom to teach what he believes is permissible for his congregation. Or defend a church's liberty to refuse to perform a wedding that they cannot morally endorse.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Piss Christ and Our Sin

Back in 1989, American photographer Andres Serrano stirred up a firestorm of controversy when he used $15,000 of taxpayer funds from the National Endowment for the Arts to create "Piss Christ". The photograph depicted a plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's urine. I do not know what the artist's intent was with the piece (I hate to imagine) but I do remember what my reaction was the first time I heard of it as a boy growing up in a Christian home. I was angry, shocked and a little scared at what our society was coming to.

And I am now curious what your reaction was (or is) upon hearing of this piece of "art". Perhaps you are angry at the seeming intended insult tossed at Christ and/or his followers. Maybe you are upset that public funds are being used to produce art such as this in our postmodern climate. Maybe you even resent a government and public that seems to support freedom of speech when it's anti-Christian but squash it when it's pro-Christian.

But I want to turn the finger back at you and at me. 1 Corinthinans 6:15-20 outlines for us the fact that, as believers, our bodies are joined with Christ. It goes so far as to say that our bodies are members of Christ himself, and when we willfully and deliberately sin, we are doing something much worse than what Andres Sorrano did. We are not joining a plastic image of Christ with physical bodily refuse. We are joining Christ and His temple (our bodies) with a spiritual refuse.

We can too easily become comfortable with our pet sins, our vices that we think no one knows of. I hope your heart, as mine does, rises up and cries "NO! This should not be!". Oh, that we could hate our sin that much, that we could comprehend the utter vileness of it. There should be nothing of the old man that we tolerate, nothing that we hang on to, nothing that we hold back. We must be in a constant process of mortification; death to our old self so the new creation may thrive.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Proposition 8 and the Value of Marriage

Under California law, “domestic partners shall have the same rights, protections, and benefits” as married spouses. (Family Code § 297.5.) There is not a single thing under California state law that same-sex couples have been denied except (by the passage of Proposition 8) a declaration of law that their relationships are exactly the same as heterosexual relationships. Yet in the wake of Prop. 8 we have seen nation-wide protests (including reports of vandalism, harassment, intimidation, and coercion).

Why? Because this is no longer (and perhaps never has been) a fight about rights but rather values. Same-sex couples can already have happy, committed relationships that have meaning, significance, and permanence without a piece of paper. However, the homosexual community wants their unions to be valued by society just as much as we value our own marriages and those of our parents. This is not a battle for rights, but for the minds and beliefs of the American people.

Please note, this has nothing to do with the value of the individual. Every homosexual is just as valuable as any other person in virtue of their humanity and inherent dignity. But I do not esteem a homosexual relationship as equal to a heterosexual marriage. (There is nothing wrong with this distinction. I do not esteem my relationship with my sister as equally valuable as that between my parents, but this does not mean I value her as a person any less than either of my parents.)

Consider my prediction and see if it doesn't hold true: this battle will continue to rage until our government, churches, organizations, and society at large value the homosexual union equally to heterosexual marriage. The fight begins with government because government has the ability to force churches and organizations to recognize what it recognizes (or shut them down if they refuse). And through our churches and organizations, they can begin to change the way our communities (and society as a whole) think and talk about marriage.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Christian and Science

I begin today with a quote from R.C. Sproul that I've been chewing on for a while:

"It's very possible for science to correct theology. It is impossible for science to correct the Word of God. But it is possible for science to correct the word of the theologians. And a judicious theologian is careful to examine that body of knowledge that comes to us from nature as well as that body that comes from grace . . . The Christian should be the most passionate scientist of all - the one who is most rigorously open to truth where ever he finds it - not being afraid that a new discovery of truth is going to destroy his foundation for truth. Because if our foundation of truth is true, all other truth can only enhance it and support it." - R.C. Sproul

This quote has it's most well-known historical example in Galileo and his proposition that the sun was the center of our solar system rather than the Earth. The condemnation of his idea stated "The proposition that the sun is in the center of the world and immovable from its place is absurd, philosophically false, and formally heretical; because it is expressly contrary to Holy Scriptures".

Today we see potential parallels in the area of Young Earth creationism (YEC) and other ideas that appear to fly in the face of popular science. While I am not suggesting that one should accept every new idea science rolls out without scepticism, neither should we discount it simply because of our own interpretation of the Bible. If our foundation of truth is true, all other truth can only enhance it and support it.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Must it be Evolution vs. Christianity?

When talking with others about our faith, one need not assume that every person that believes in evolution has a foundation of naturalism (the believe that the material world is all there is, no spirit or supernatural) beneath such a belief. There are those, like author Francis S. Collins, who believe in theistic evolution, a belief that God oversaw the process of evolution to accomplish His ends.

It is important to note that though theistic evolutionists believe in God, they have not necessarily placed their faith in Jesus Christ. While I personally find biblical Christian and evolution logically incompatible without doing some interpretive gymnastics with the first couple chapters of Genesis, I don't believe theistic evolution disqualifies a person from a genuine saving faith. However, I am not here to attack or defend that belief, but I do have a thought on evolution in general:

We should be careful that we don't make too big a deal out of evolution and burn our bridges at an opportunity to share the Gospel. For the theistic evolutionist, his belief in evolution usually will not be a barrier keeping them from considering Jesus Christ. (Though some consider God and evolution incompatible, the theistic evolutionist by definition does not, and therefore it is not a hurdle for them to at least consider Christ.) And for the naturalistic evolutionist, you must deal with the much bigger barrier of naturalism before they will consider Jesus Christ. Either way, it seems to me that evolution is a secondary issue when given the opportunity to share your faith.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

What kind of fruit are you producing?

My life is a endlessly frustrating mix of moral successes and failures, of sin and right living. Or at least it seems to be that way. I imagine your experience is similar. I know that most of the people I talk to would agree, though they may speak of it in different terms. Most would say something like "When I stand before God, I just hope my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds".

However, I was considering some of the words of Jesus, and was surprised by what I found. When Jesus talked about our lives and the things that "grow" out of them, He didn't speak in such vague terms and with such blurred lines. In fact, every time He talked about our fruit, He spoke in very black and white terms. He said, "A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits."

So if my experience doesn't line up with what Jesus always taught about the fruit of our lives, perhaps I have looked at my experience wrongly. If He is right, then the good things that I did when I was a "bad tree" thinking they were earning me "brownie points" were really not that good. And, in fact, Isaiah confirms that this is true of humanity: "all our righteous acts are like filthy rags". And if Jesus is right, then the things that I do now as a "good tree" that are wrong and sinful perhaps do not grow out of the deepest part of me, but rather grow out of something sick that still clings to me. And Paul confirms this in saying "It is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it".

So this is my point. We must pray for new eyes. We are living in the middle of this human experience that wants to gray the things that God sees clearly in black and white. We must pray for the discernment and humility to evaluate the fruit that is growing out of the deepest part of us. Is it good or bad fruit that my heart, mind, and hands are producing? As John the Baptist spoke of, we should strive to "bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance". If there has been no repentance, there can be no good tree or fruit in keeping with repentance. The nature of the fruit follows the nature of the tree and only Jesus, the cross, and repentance can change our nature.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

God as Father, and we His children

How often have you heard someone say "Were all God's children"? It is not unusual for the term Father to be used when speaking of God, at least in Christian circles. Jesus did so, and instructed his followers to do the same when teaching them to pray. However, this not only speaks of God's paternal characteristics towards us, but it also speaks of our relationship to Him. It is this relationship, of us to God as children, that I want to consider.

First, it cannot be said that just anyone is a child of God. Though He did create us all, there has been a fall and separation that must be atoned for and taken out of the way. As Paul said, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ". So it is clear that the qualification for status as a child is faith and baptism in Christ. Again, as John wrote, "To all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God".

Don't let the blessing and priveledge of this be lost on you. This is not something that we are born into like our natural sonship, it is adoptive. Thus we are chosen and it is soley by a gift of grace. We are heirs along with Christ. We are brothers and sisters of Jesus.

What does it mean to me that God is my Father? This is a quite comfortable and comforting question. All the answers that you may come up with probably make you feel cozy and require nothing from you. However, there is a question that follows that is less comfy: What does it mean to me that I am God's child? If I may put it another way: we are quick to elaborate on what the Father-son relationship means to us in terms of benefits, but slow to consider what it means in terms of responsibilities and expectations.

You see, Christianity isn't just a "one and done" deal. It's not just fire insurance. Being a child of God signifies that He is in a position of authority over us. It suggests a sense of affection and fellowship between us. And it means giving honor to Him in all these areas. When Jesus called his followers to live in a certain way it was always to either imitate, glorify, or please the Father.
While works do not save us, they are and must be a developing "family trait". As children of God, we do no follow the law to sustain our salvation, but as J.I. Packer wrote, "Law-keeping is the family likeness of God's children; Jesus fulfilled all righteousness, and God calls us to do likewise."

You cannot give the Bible even a cursory reading without finding a strong theme of God's Fatherhood over us. Yet there are so many who passively call God "Father" and live like anything but His child. Anyone who isn't being made into an obedient child of God, no matter how faltering or stumbling, may be no child at all. If there is no love, no deference to the will of the Father, no grief at sinning against such a loving parent, it can be rightly asked if He is truly your Father. If the Bible gives clear guidelines as to what a true child adopted into all rights and benefits looks like, we would be wise to ensure our lives mirror that.

For a more indepth treatment of the subject, see Knowing God by J.I. Packer, specifically the chapter "Sons of God".

Monday, August 25, 2008

Defending Christianity and the Bible

In an attempt to get involved in public discourse and represent a biblical Christian worldview, here's yet another installment from the Omaha World-Herald's Public Pulse:

Good and bad in Bible

In regard to Mike Goonan's Aug. 16 letter, "Evidence is in Bible," I question how he, like most Christians, chooses his faith and what to believe from the Bible. Most people admit that their faith is not of choice but stems from their upbringing.

Muslims are told in the Koran that any belief other than Islam will condemn them to a life in eternal hell (5:71-75). So either many Muslims or many Christians will be suffering for eternity due to where they had the fortune or misfortune of being born.

As for the Bible, which parts should we choose to believe? Do we kill our children for talking back to us (Exodus 21:5 and Leviticus 20:9)? Do we believe it is OK to sell daughters into slavery or own slaves (Leviticus 25:44-46)?

I don't believe there is anything wrong with wanting stronger evidence than the Bible. To me, parts of it are not that good.

Daryle LaFleur, Omaha

Read to understand

In response to Daryle LaFleur's Aug. 21 letter, "Good and Bad in Bible," it is unfortunate when a Christian leaves their faith unexamined and adheres simply because of upbringing. However, this is not an argument against Christianity itself, nor does it undermine the tried and tested convictions of many Christians.

As I noticed that you only quoted from the Old Testament when finding the "bad" in the Bible, let me offer a suggestion in hermeneutics (biblical interpretation). You should read the Bible with the precision you think the writer intended.

All of us read the newspaper in this fashion with no trouble; reading the front page, the sports page, and the comics page with varying degrees of literal interpretation and personal application. A headline like "Bears Devour Lions" may not be intended literally. A letter to the editor may not be intended for you.

Let me suggest you consider the life of Jesus before digging into obscure Old Testament passages intended for theocratic Israel. He claimed to be God and is the linchpin of Christianity. Muslims claim he was not God but merely a prophet and good teacher. Everyone should consider the historical and biblical accounts and decide for themselves.

Jared Totten, Omaha

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Tolerance is a buzzword

"Politically incorrect" used to be the card to play in a losing discussion to color one's opponent as the bad guy. Today "intolerant" has become the catchall missile levelled at anyone dumb enough to disagree with a closely-held pet belief in most dialogues (especially those regarding religion and morality). Postmodernism has completely distorted what the word tolerance used to mean. What follows is, in my experience, how tolerance is defined today:

1. Everyone is free to believe what they want without fear of verbal or physical violence from the public or coercion from the government.

2. Every belief is equally valid and true (if not for you, then for someone else).

3. Every belief should be celebrated by everyone.

I certainly agree with the first assertion. I believe the first concept is one of the founding ideas that formed our country. However, tolerance has been amplified in our day to encompass the second and third tenets as well. Allow me to explain why I have a problem with these two.

Let's start with a proposition that everyone can objectively say is false: 2+2=5. Now, in the spirit of tolerance, I will permit someone to believe that 2+2=5 without directing any hatred, violence, or bigotry towards them. I may tell them they're wrong, I may try to convince them to change their minds, but I will not act harshly negative toward them. However, you will never hear me (or any teacher I want teaching my kids) say "I believe differently, but your belief that 2+2=5 is true for you and valid". And hopefully you will never hear "Furthermore, I think it's great that you believe that 2+2=5 and I support you in such thinking". In this illustration, I can be tolerant (by the old definition) of a view different from my own while still considering it wrong and in need of correction.

Now, if you plug any of the hot topics of today into the above equation (the existence of God, one's personal view of God, homosexual marriage, just war, abortion, divorce, etc.) you see how this quickly rubs against today's definition of tolerance.

Note the implication: we can think and talk objectively about certain ideas (math, science, etc. where one view is the correct one and all others are wrong), but when it comes to the bigger thoughts of religion and morality, we must stay neutral. Neutered. Non-committal. Passive. Spineless. And the only people we should not tolerate . . . are the intolerant. And we'll define that word how we like, thank you very much.

D.A. Carson wrote, "It used to be that tolerance was the virtue of the person who held strong views about something or other, but who insisted that those who disagreed had an equal right to defend their views – the sort of stance picked up in the slogan, 'I may detest your opinions, but I shall defend to the death your right to speak them.' Today, however, tolerance is the virtue of the person who holds no strong views, except for the strongly held view that it is wrong to hold strong views, or to indicate that someone else might be wrong." - Maintaining Scientific and Christian Truths in a Postmodern World

Please don't misunderstand me, this is not my endorsement to be bull-headed, unlearning, close-minded, and elitist about your beliefs. But neither can I endorse a silencing of the gospel just because it presents the solution to our malady as the only solution. If one believes that Jesus was who He said he was, we must be as exclusive in our message as Christ was in His. This broader definition of tolerance is impractical and unsustainable in the real world. I do not expect to hear any time soon a doctor tell his patient, "I know of a solution to your deadly sickness, but whatever you believe will heal you is a valid belief as well and I celebrate it". I do not expect to hear this from Christians either.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

What's wrong with religion?

Recently I've noticed a pendulum swing in culture (Both Christian and secular) away from "religion". This is, to some extent, an outworking of the impact postmodern thinking has made on us all. Spirituality through the lens of postmodernism becomes very personalized, a kind of buffet of ideas. Just walk down the line and pick what you want.

In the Christian realm, this pendulum swing sometimes works itself out in the form of the Emergent Church. Distancing itself from what's perceived as the traditional "Christian religion", the Emergent Church is focusing on the things that many Christians have admittedly dropped the ball on. Granted, these churches still have more characteristics of religion than some people would like. I have a friend that, for that very reason, has not been to church for years.

Another effect of this pendulum swing in the Christian realm is that "religion" has almost become a taboo word. If you don't believe me, consider how many times you have heard something like this from a Christian: "My faith is a relationship, not a religion". Now, this is not a terrible thing to say. It is true, to a point, but it is misleading. I wholeheartedly agree that the crux of Christianity is an individual and personal relationship with Jesus Christ. However, in virtue of that relationship, Jesus expects us to do certain things that will inevitably be perceived as religion. Be baptized, take communion, don't give up meeting together. There are a whole host of things the Scripture calls us to that will undoubtedly color us as a religion.

I am not saying you cannot use that "relationship, not a religion" line. We must be thinking through how we present the Gospel to such a postmodern culture, changing the method without changing the message. What I have seen that worries me more are the serious Christians who take that next step and begin having a genuine distaste for religion. Though it has been mishandled at times, I stand with James that there exists (and we should strive for) a "religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father".

So how do we respond to this? I am sorry to say it's not as easy as just distancing ourselves from the word "religion". We can try to redefine, soft-pedal, or side-step the word but eventually an obedient Christ-follower will be called to do something "religious". Jesus instituted practices like baptism and communion in his followers, both which connote an ongoing gathering of the community of believers.

Rather, we must begin pin-pointing what drove the pendulum away from religion in the first place and begin the difficult work of correcting it piece by piece. Was it the bigotry toward the homosexual community? Was it the judgmentalism directed towards a world we are called not to judge? Was it the greed seen in our ranks? What ever it is you have seen, it begins with a grassroots effort where you are, redeeming the word and the idea of religion from where it is now. Perhaps we begin with James' characteristic of pure and undefiled religion, that we "visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and keep oneself unstained from the world".

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Depravity Necessitates God's Choice

Every Christian must have a view of predestination. I know, this is not a catchy intro paragraph, and if you're not a Christian, you've already clicked away. However, I feel compelled to write on this, because Reformed theology is foundational to my worldview and a particular position on predestination is foundational to Reformed theology. I know most of you are confused or bored by now. But if you give this material some time and thought, it may just clear up some tensions you've felt and seen in the Bible and even mankind (as it did for me).

I did not start out in my Christian theology as a Reformed thinker. Most people don't because all of us live most of our lives thinking we make all our decisions with complete autonomy. But at some point in a Christian's life they must (or should) deal with ideas of predestination and God's sovereignty. As I opened, every Christian must have a view of predestination. This is, of course, because it's in the Bible.

Now the popular view of predestination goes something like this: God predestined some people for salvation because He looked down the corridors of time and saw who would chose Him and He elected them. So this view would say we chose God (salvation) because God chose us (election in predestination) because we chose God (our decision seen by foreknowledge). This does not sound like the predestination I read about in Romans 9 done "in order that God's purpose in election might stand, not by works but by him who calls".

Rather, I hold that we chose God (salvation) because God chose us (predestination). No third step dependent on the decisions of man. However, I hold this position not primarily because of the Bible's teaching on predestination, though it is certainly there. Instead, I hold this position because of the Bible's teaching on man's fallenness, sinfulness, and depravity. Our state of sinfulness and helplessness necessitates God making the choice. It was the doctrine of human depravity that drove me to a Reformed position.

Spiritual ignorance: Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires (Rom. 8:5), they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts (Eph. 4:18), the man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them (1 Cor. 2:14), there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God (Rom. 3:11)

Spiritual rebellion: We were God's enemies (Rom. 5:10), [The sinful nature] does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so (Rom. 8:7) All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one (Rom. 3:12), both their minds and consciences are corrupted (Titus 1:15), the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9)

Spiritual inability: Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God (Rom. 8:8), Jesus said "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (John 6:44), The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God (2 Cor. 4:4), everyone who sins is a slave to sin (John 8:34), When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness (Rom. 6:20)
Spiritual death: The mind of sinful man is death (Rom. 8:6), you were dead in your transgressions and sins (Eph. 2:1), you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature (Col. 2:13)

As RC Sproul said in Chosen by God, "The uniform teaching of Scripture is that fallen men are fleeing from God. There is no one who seeks after God. We see people searching desperately for peace of mind, relief from guilt, meaning and purpose to their lives, and loving acceptance. People do not seek God. They seek after the benefits that only God can give them."

So, if I believe man is spiritually ignorant, rebellious, and dead, how are we saved? God must regenerate us, He must make an effective call on the heart that breathes life into it. Much like Lazarus, we make no decision to walk out of the grave until God speaks and life is created in us.

For a more in depth treatment of this issue by Greg Koukl, click here.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Same-sex marriage in the Public Square

The following is a letter to the editor printed in the Omaha World Herald in response to two other letters printed in an earlier issue. I have not cited those here, but their central thoughts are represented in my response. While the defense is very brief (I was limited to 200 words), I think the central themes and arguments are there.

In response to Jamie's June 2 letter, a vote in support of legislation to legalize homosexual marriage reflects approval of the lifestyle. When a pastor marries a couple, it is understood as an endorsement of that relationship. This is why marrying a homosexual couple is not the same as marrying an alcoholic couple. A marriage is not an endorsement of the alcoholism.

To call someone a bigot who objects to homosexual marriage on moral convictions, as Kelly did in a June 2 letter, is just name-calling. A bigot is someone who holds an intolerant position in an irrational way, considering others and their views substandard.To morally object to something is not to consider that person substandard. We are all sinners. We're all on an even playing field.

Since those of us who object to such unions are not pushing to make homosexuality illegal, it seems that the morality of others is being forced on us, not vice versa.The issue should be put to a vote, and opponents should not be subjected to bullying tactics like name-calling.

Jared Totten, Omaha

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cancer and God's Sovereignty

Recently I had a rare opportunity to meet one "of whom the world was not worthy". I received a call out of the blue from the wife of a friend. He was out of town for the week and unavailable when asked to visit another military man in the hospital who was undergoing treatment for lymphoma. When asked if I would visit this person I've never met under such heavy circumstances, I accepted with more than a little anxiousness.

This young man named Zach had moved to Omaha with his newly-wed wife just so he could receive specialized treatment at the med center. They were alone in Omaha, having spent their entire time in the hospital, and he needed "a brother to talk to" as he later told me. He told me how God had just recently gotten his attention and at the same time brought his wife-to-be into his life. There was such an atmosphere of joy in that room that at times I forgot we were in a hospital.

I was brought to tears as we read the first chapter of Ephesians. It struck me how one so afflicted according to the world's standards could speak so easily and affectionately about the sovereignty and providence of God. But, as one strongly influenced by Reformed thinking, the sovereignty of God is truly a source of comfort when understood properly. Certainly, while God does not actively cause everything, even that which He allows is in His design. As John Piper said, "What God permits, He permits for a reason. And that reason is His design. " As Christians, we are not promised to be saved from all sickness and pain, only that there is purpose behind it all and heaven after it all. Indeed, as we loosen our clutches on the world and grasp tighter to Christ, we can say with Paul "To die is gain" and see sovereignty behind it.

I know that a sick man's confidence in the sovereignty of God is not an argument for His sovereignty. But, if the Bible can be proven the Word of God (which I believe it has been), and if the Bible teaches the sovereignty of God (which I believe it does), then Zach's peace and confidence is the perfect outworking of loving God's sovereignty.

Not two weeks after I met Zach for the first and only time, he passed away from complications resulting from the lymphoma. For those who may read this and have differing positions about the sovereignty of God, my words may sound calloused or ignorant. For those who don't believe in any sort of afterlife, they may sound like the mental crutch of a wishful thinker. But for Zach, God's sovereignty gave him joy in his circumstances, hope in the future, and peace even in the prospect of death. And I came away from the hospital not depressed or second-guessing my theology, but rather more confident and at peace in the sovereignty of God than before.

Don't Waste Your Cancer by John Piper

Monday, May 12, 2008

Are you good enough to get into heaven?

How good do you have to be to get into heaven? What is the scale on which we will all be graded? Many people answer that it is simply a balancing act between one's good deeds and bad deeds. They believe the verdict is decided by which side of the scale outweighs the other.

God, in fact, gives us the scale by which to judge ourselves in the Ten Commandments. Don't steal. Don't murder. Don't lie. Most people have broken at least a couple of these commandments, but they feel they have at least not broken the big ones like adultery and murder.

However, isn't it interesting that Jesus had something to say about the very two commandments that most people feel they are in the clear on? Jesus said if you have entertained hatred in your heart for a person, you are guilty of murder. If you have entertained lust in your heart for a person, you are guilty of adultery. And to make matters worse, we find that "if a person keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at one point, they are guilty of breaking all of it". If this is true, that puts us all squarely on the same side of the scale as the most infamous murderers in the world's history.

If this seems unfair, it is because we underestimate the position we were given when God created us in His image. We were made image bearers, and as such expected to bear His image not only personality traits, but also behavior and morality. The reason lying is a sin and listed in the Commandments is that it is contrary to God's image. The same can be said for every Commandment. Every sin is, at its root, a violation of God's image in our person. Thus, lying and stealing puts you on the same plane as murdering because all of them put you in the category of a defiler of God's image.

As we realize that we are guilty not only of commiting individual sins in action, but also of entertaining serious sins in thought and breaking the entire law in violating God's image, things are looking pretty grim. And the nail in the coffin comes when we find that good deeds do not count as positive weight on our imaginary scales because good deeds are expected as image bearers. The image of the "good" and "bad" scales actually doesn't stand up to scrutiny. It would be more accurate to say that we've been given something precious and invaluable, like a ming vase, and as image bearers are expected to keep it in its original condition and value. A sin is a crack and, if the aforementioned factors are true, we've all done much worse than just crack the image.

If this analogy bothers you, it bothers God too. This is the reason He sent Jesus. Only Jesus kept the law at every point, only He bore the image of God perfectly. And only through faith in Jesus are we identified with Him and His perfect image. So the choice is yours, you can be identified with Christ the perfect image bearer, or you can be identified on your own and how you've handled God's image.

(For anyone interested in the picture I used, it is a perfect illustration! Notice even the restorer said experts would be able to see the cracks.)

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Misconception of Christianity

Perhaps the most frequent misconception I hear when talking to people about my faith is that Christianity is a club for the "good people". I hear it when someone says "Well, I could never be a Christian because there are certain vices I just can't give up". (Incidentally, I don't expect serious change to happen until after someone has committed their life to Jesus. Only He brings lasting life change.) And I hear it in more judgmental tones when someone within Christianity has made very poor, and very public, choices.

The central problem with this misconception is that it puts the defining characteristic of Christianity on our ability to live up to a perceived moral standard. The error here is, I hope, quite obvious. The point of Christianity is dealing with precisely that problem, none of us can live up to the moral standards expected of us. And this is exactly what I point out. My presentation often goes something like this:

"A lot of people think that Christianity is a club for the 'good people', when the opposite is in fact true. Christianity at its core is a group of people who recognize they can never be good enough to meet God's standards of morality. They are relying Jesus to pay for their sins, and they do their best to follow Jesus' teachings out of love for Him. So Christianity really isn't a club for the 'good people', but rather the 'not-good-enough people who know it'."

Notice what I intend to do with this clarification. First, I am attempting to remove that excuse in a person's mind that they can't be a Christian until they've got their life in shape. Second, I am trying to "defang" the red herring accusations centered around Christians who aren't living like they should. As Christians, we know that salvation is by grace through faith alone. But to the average person, Christianity is just like every other religion measuring followers by a moral code. We should take every opportunity to build a category for grace and faith in their minds.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

My Book List

I am not sharing this list to brag, far from it. I will readily admit that I haven't read the majority of these books half as well as they deserve. I have not taken the time or given the thought.

Rather, I share this list to give you a context for my thinking. I share to promote these books to others. And I welcome recommendations as you see holes in my reading. Ultimately, I hope this list pushes the reader and the author to better reading, as iron sharpens iron. (I will continue to add titles as I read them, so check back if you are interested!)

Note: Beginning with the list in 2009, books will be listed in descending order of my favorites. Top (1st) to bottom. A higher rating may not always be for the reasons you assume, so if your curiosity is piqued, feel free to e-mail me. The hyperlinks will take you to other posts that have been directly inspired by my reading.


  • Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl - N.D. Wilson
  • When Helping Hurts - Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert
  • Blue Like Jazz - Donald Miller
  • The Reason For God - Timothy Keller
  • Hidden Worldviews - Steve Wilkens and Mark L. Sanford
  • Total Church - Tim Chester and Steve Timmis
  • Hollywood Worldviews - Tim Godawa
  • Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) - Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck
  • Tactics - Greg Koukl
  • Finally Alive - John Piper
  • The God Who Smokes - Timothy J. Stoner (Yes, his name is ironic)
  • The Kingdom of Couches - Will Walker
  • Did the Resurrection Happen? - Gary Habermas and Antony Flew
  • Love Your God With All Your Mind - J.P. Moreland
  • God Is Great, God Is Good - William Lane Craig & Chad Meister, eds.
  • The Pursuit of Holiness - Jerry Bridges
  • True For You but Not For Me - Paul Copan
  • Sticky Church - Larry Osborne
  • The God Conversation - J.P. Moreland and Tim Muehlhoff
  • Trusting God - Jerry Bridges
  • The Case For Faith - Lee Strobel
  • The Devil's Delusion - David Berlinski
  • Being the Body - Charles Colson and Ellen Vaughn
  • Vintage Jesus - Mark Driscoll
  • Satan and His Kingdom - Dennis McCallum
  • Why I Am A Christian - Geisler and Hoffman (editors)
  • Love Is An Orientation - Andrew Marin
  • The Jesus I Never Knew - Philip Yancey
  • The Prodigal God - Timothy Keller
  • Unfashionable - Tullian Tchividjian
  • Rumors - Philip Yancey
  • The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning
  • Worldliness - C.J. Mahaney (editor)
  • The Mortification of Sin - John Owen
  • Faith, Film, and Philosophy - Geivett and Spiegel, eds.
  • The Truth of the Cross - R.C. Sproul
  • Escape From Reason - Francis S. Schaeffer
  • Respectable Sins - Jerry Bridges
  • The Pursuit of God - A.W. Tozier
  • Inside-Out Worship - Matt Redman
  • The End of Reason - Ravi Zacharias
  • The Irresistible Revolution - Shane Claiborne
  • We Become What We Worship - G.K. Beale
  • The Hole In Our Gospel - Richard Stearns
  • Searching For God Knows What - Donald Miller
  • Time For Truth - Os Guinness
  • Jesus Among Other Gods - Ravi Zacharias
  • This We Believe - Ravi Zacharias, et al.
  • Sola Scriptura - Don Kistler ed.
  • Symphonic Theology - Vern S. Poythress
  • The Lost Virtue of Happiness - J.P. Moreland and Klaus Issler
  • Souvenirs of Solitude - Brennan Manning
  • Through Painted Deserts - Donald Miller
  • To Know You More - Andy Park
  • Divine Nobodies - Jim Palmer
  • The Coffeehouse Gospel - Matthew Paul Turner
  • Velvet Elvis - Rob Bell
  • The Rabbit and the Elephant - Tony and Felicity Dale and George Barna
  • The Gospel According to Lost - Chris Seay
  • Between Two Worlds - Mike Timmis


  • Spectacular Sins (and Their Global Purpose In the Glory of Christ) - John Piper
  • Can Man Live Without God - Ravi Zacharias
  • Death By Love - Mark Driscoll
  • Orthodoxy - G.K. Chesterton
  • Becoming a Contagious Christian - Bill Hybels
  • Knowing God - J.I. Packer
  • The Language of God - Francis S. Collins
  • What's so Great About the Doctrines of Grace? - Richard D. Phillips
  • Roaring Lambs - Bob Briner
  • The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism - Craig R. Brown
  • Chosen By God - RC Sproul
  • Future Grace - John Piper
  • The God Who Is There - Francis A. Schaeffer
  • The Rest of God - Mark Buchanan
  • Prayer - Philip Yancey
  • Embracing the Mysterious God - James Emery White
  • The Big Idea - Dave Ferguson
  • A Mind For God - James Emery White
  • Basic Christianity - John RW Stott


  • What's So Great About Christianity - Dinesh D'Souza
  • The God Questions - Hal Seed and Dan Grider
  • In But Not Of - James Emery White
  • The Holiness of God - RC Sproul
  • The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
  • The Pleasures of God - John Piper
  • The Holy Wild - Mark Buchanan
  • Serious Times - James Emery White
  • 90 Minutes In Heaven - Don Piper
  • Don't Waste Your Life - John Piper
  • Experiencing God - Henry T. Blackaby
  • Praise Habits - David Crowder


  • The Consequences of Ideas - RC Sproul
  • The Sovereignty of God - A.W. Pink
  • How Movies Helped Save My Soul - Gareth Higgins
  • What Ever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? - James Montgomery Boice
  • The Purpose Driven Life - Rick Warren
  • Defeating Darwinism - Philip E. Johnson
  • The Bible Jesus Read - Philip Yancey
  • The Practice of the Presence of God - Brother Lawrence
  • Loving God - Chuck Colson
  • Things Unseen - Mark Buchanan
  • Reaching for the Invisible God - Philip Yancey

2005-Conception (College and before)

  • Mere Christianity - C.S. Lewis
  • What's So Amazing About Grace? - Philip Yancey
  • Your God Is Too Safe - Mark Buchanan
  • Wild At Heart - John Eldredge
  • Disappointment With God - Philip Yancey
  • Desiring God - John Piper
  • Sacred Romance - John Eldredge
  • The Gospel According to the Apostles - John MacArthur
  • The Joyful Christian - C.S. Lewis
  • The Vanishing Conscience - John MacArthur
  • The God Who Loves - John MacArthur
  • Every Man's Battle - Steve Arterburn and Fred Stoeker
  • Passion and Purity - Elizabeth Elliott
  • Losing Our Virtue - David F. Wells
  • A Matrix of Meanings - Detweiler and Taylor
  • The Anti-Christ - Friedrich Nietzsche
  • Shaping a Christian Worldview - Dockery and Thornbury
  • Christian Ethics - Dr. Jim Eckman
  • The Four Loves - C.S. Lewis
  • The Great Divorce - C.S. Lewis
  • Philosophy of Religion - C. Stephen Evans
  • Worldview - David K. Naugle

Monday, February 11, 2008

Abortion, Juno, and a Dire Education

Barack Obama was in Omaha the other day and, as I drove past the convention center, I saw a truck that was pulling a mobile billboard bearing large images of aborted fetuses. If there was a message on the billboard I missed it, being fully shocked by the photos. I drove home saddened, not only by the images and the reminder of the reality of abortion, but more so by the damage I felt those protesters were doing to the pro-life cause.

I do not mean that there is no place for protesting at an event or a clinic if it is done in an honest and compassionate manner. However, I am fully convinced that the most effective tactic to combat abortion is not guilt, not fear, not intimidation, but education. Most people I have talked to have put little or no thought into the humanity of the fetus. Their thought process has not passed "women's rights" before they've made up their mind. It is simply too uncomfortable to consider further. Thus, if we haven't proven to them that every abortion ends the life of a living human being, then all the screaming and offending we do only serves to push them further from a pro-life position.

Again, I do not mean there is no place for a photo of an aborted baby, for even that is information about what happens in an abortion. But if that is all we are using and couple it only with screaming tirades, I am certain we will not get the results we are hoping for. The following is at the core of every pro-abortion mindset: the right of a woman not to be pregnant is greater than the right of a baby not to be killed. Of course, the pro-abortion person would substitute the word baby with fetus. And if we are not doing our job of demonstrating that it is, in fact, a baby, we will convince no one. Showing that it is really a baby begins with information.

There is no love lost on my part towards PETA and their causes. I see them as generally angry, crazy, and overly zealous for a less than essential cause. But even as I write these adjectives, I realize that most pro-lifers have the same reputation. Most people have bought into the lie that unborn babies are sub-human (or lower), on par with the animals that PETA is fighting for. So unless we have convinced our audience of the humanity of the unborn, we will be as ineffective as the PETA people throwing red pain on fur coats or brandishing photos of skinned animals.

In Juno, the title character intends to get an abortion when she is approached by a classmate protesting by herself outside the clinic. With timidity and compassion the girl says to Juno, "It has fingernails, you know". Unable to shake the image as she enters the clinic, she watches the people around her use their fingernails to tap, scratch, and pick. Ultimately she leaves and decides to give birth to her baby. In wonderful narrative form (and possibly unintentionally on the part of the writer), the movie shows the value of the unborn human life and the power of information.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Does Jesus accept everyone?

Recently, I had a guest on my shuttle (I drive for a hotel) and she noticed I was reading What's So Great About Christianity by Dinesh D'Souza, a defense of Christianity. She told me that she had problems with much of what she saw in Christianity today because she has always heard that "Jesus loved and accepted everyone". Instead, she sees a church today that expects certain behavior and excludes certain lifestyles. Her implied charge was that today's Christians are not following in the footsteps and teaching of Jesus and, while she was fine with Christ, she couldn't get on board with Christianity.

This is not an unusual argument, but it is based on caricature of Jesus that is proven false after even a brief reading of the Gospels. I replied that, yes, Jesus did hang out with tax collectors and sinners. He did forgive the woman caught in adultery. He did draw criticism from the religious leaders of that day for the type of people He hung out with. Jesus loved everyone but Jesus accepted no one living an unchanged life. The rich, young ruler is a perfect example of this, as Jesus saw that his heart had not changed and brought this to the surface in asking of him something he would not give up. Jesus loved everyone but Jesus (as the church today) expected certain behavior and called people away from certain lifestyles. Jesus did not say to the woman caught in adultery, "Your sins are forgiven, go and keep living just as you have been".

Don't let an argument like this derail you in sharing the true Christ. Jesus loved everyone, but not everyone loved Him more than themselves. Jesus accepted everyone that followed Him, but following Jesus meant more than just walking behind Him. Following Jesus meant obeying His teachings and turning away from certain things. While Jesus loves everyone, certain changes in lifestyle and behavior are expected (even demanded) from the true followers.

My Moral Resolve

Today's blog will not likely be a long one, but I wanted to relay a short story that I haven't been able to shake from my mind. I have heard both John MacArthur and Ravi Zacharias tell it, so forgive me if it is not new to you.

A story is told of a very wealthy man who, during a flight, sees a
beautiful woman who arrests his attention. He strikes up a conversation with her and, as the plane is nearing its final approach, he propositions her for five million dollars. She accepts and joins him in a cab back to his hotel.

On the drive, he turns to her and says, "I feel that five million dollars is too much, how does five hundred sound?"
"Five hundred dollars?!!" she cries. "What sort of woman do you think I am?!"
To which he replies, "We've already established that. Now we're just haggling over the price."

Now perhaps I am overly introspective, but I am quite convicted at this story and how much I see myself in that woman. I have my moral standards and stances, but would I abandon some of them for a price? Mind you, I am not talking about gray areas of morality or white lies here. Of course I wouldn't murder anyone or prostitute myself, but why is there a hesitation when I consider lying or stealing? And what does that say of my moral resolve if some of my moral stances are for sale?

This tells me a lot about myself, my fallenness, and how poor my grasp is of the holiness of God. Lying and stealing is as contrary to the nature of God as murder. And for any follower of Christ to be more inclined towards some of these behaviors is only to highlight the residual effect of how bent humankind still is. Of course, murder has greater earthly consequences than lying, but both are an affront to the holiness of God.

I pray that we all, as Christ-followers, may establish what sort of people we are, so that it never comes to haggling over the price.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Thoughts on Capital Punishment

What follows is a letter to the editor printed in the Omaha World Herald and my response printed a couple days later. Certainly the issue cannot be satisfactorily covered in 200 words or less, but I did what I could. Enjoy!

Killing Breeds Killing
An Associated Press story in the Jan. 6 World-Herald discussed the financial benefits of banning the death penalty. But, of course, death-penalty advocates will just say that we should do away with the appeals.
The argument I prefer to make is about setting an example. For instance, a father who smokes has difficulty preventing his children from smoking because he has weakened his own authority on the issue by setting a poor example.
When the government says killing is against the law, except when it does it, the government weakens its own authority with this hypocrisy.
This is why homicide rates can go up during times of war. The atmosphere created in a country at war is inherently more tolerant of killing, just as the atmosphere created by a country with the death penalty is inherently more tolerant of killing. Perhaps this explains the high homicide rate in some states.
When the country stoops to the level of a criminal, it elevates crime to the level of normalcy. There can be no compassionate conservatism in such an atmosphere. A moral government demonstrates moral leadership by example.
Andrew White, Shelton, Neb.

Depends on Authority
A letter from Andrew W. printed on Sunday entitled "Killing breeds killing" stated that any government who uses the death penalty as a punishment for murder "weakens its own authority with this hypocrisy". Is it also hypocrisy for a country to have a prison system and yet consider kidnapping a crime?
White used the illustration of a father who smokes and the difficulty he would have in preventing such behavior in his kids (and his hypocrisy in trying). However, this analogy really only serves to cloud the issue around two differing acts.
Keeping the parent-child imagery, a better analogy would be that of a mother telling her son he cannot punish his sister when he is angry or feels mistreated because he does not have the authority. If he tries to spank her or send her to her room (either out of anger or revenge), he is in the wrong and is deserving of punishment himself. The mother has parental authority to do things the son cannot.
Talking of murder and the death penalty as two identical actions serves only to blur the difference between taking a life for selfish reasons and taking a life as punishment under the proper authority.
Jared Totten, Omaha, Neb.