Christians Cannot Agree To Silence

The men and women who comprise the great secular exchanges of knowledge often scowl at those who put forward the notions of universal truth. The exchange hums about on the premise that all ideas contain the same amount of truth or (if you will, error). Though an idea could be labeled useful by society, its true value remains nothing more than the cultural valuation of a shifting time. Today’s truth maybe tomorrows error. A world without truth, must becomes a world without judgement. No philosopher, teacher, or child has to condemn another person’s perspective for all ideas arise from the same sponginess of nothing.

The elites who manage the marketplace of knowledge often require Christians to abandon their claims of universal truth at home prior to entering the debate. After all most of the secular world abided by a no solicitation policy. Though the world requires Christians to affirm that Christianity is just one of the many members on the COEXISTS bumper sticker striving for greater meaning, Christians cannot agree to abandon their universal claims. They must speak up.

Jesus the Tribal Deity

In some ways, the God of the Bible does resemble a tribal deity concerned about the wellbeing of a small subset of the world’s population. In Genesis, Exodus, and the prophetic books, God repeatedly promised “I will be the God of all the families of Israel, and they will be my people (Jer. 31:1).” In the New Testament, God extends his promises to include the church comprised of men and women who trusted in the work of the revealed Messiah, Jesus Christ. Ephesians 5:25b-27 declares,  “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” At first glance, The biblical God appears to love his people in much the same way Zeus loved Greece.

Jesus the Ruler of the Universe

But the God of the Bible claims to be more. The first sentence in the Bible proclaims, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” The whole world is God’s world. Colossians 1:16 strengths the ideas of Genesis, reporting,

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.  

Colossians 1:16

Why does God prioritize the nation of Israel and then the church?

Jesus invests in the Jewish and then the Christian tribe for the express purpose of seeing the whole world come to Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned and found themselves exiled from the Garden, the marketplace of ideas became corrupt. Instead of spreading the peace and love of God throughout the world, the children of Adam and Eve spread hate and evil. Wherever the human race went, death followed.  

God established the nation of Israel and then the church to combat the virus of sin through the spread of truth. God declared that the nation of Israel was to be a “light for the nations (Is. 42:6).” After Jesus’s death and resurrection, the Church picks up the mantle of kingdom expression. Mathew 28:19-20 defines the mission of the church as follows,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.

Matthew 28:19-20

God created a tribe, and then a church to reestablish his kingdom, overcoming “evil with good (Rom. 12:21).” God promises that this campaign will succeed. Micah 4:1-2 concludes,

It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and it shall be lifted up above the hills; and peoples shall flow to it, and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

The Christian cannot be content to keep his or her faith within the confines of their homes because they God of the Bible lays claim not just to the Christians home or to the Christians neighborhood but to the world. Jesus proclaims:

You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Acts 1:8

The Christian must speak of his or her God in the marketplace of ideas for his or her God is not a tribal deity but the God of the universe. The famed scholar Abraham Kuyper correctly, noted the Christian Religion, “concerns the whole of our human race.” Friends, we cannot agree silence. We must share the whole Jesus with the whole world.

Are you speaking?

Stash Your Problems On The Gospel Shelf

When life falls apart, Christians often close their Bibles and turn to anyone and everything else for help. Afterall, the gospel seems to know little of Instagram bullies, chronically depressed spouses, and teenagers overdosing on opioids. The gospel bookshelf deals well with the issues of life, rebirth and death. But the Jesus shelf appears to weak and awkwardly shaped to hold the massive and never-ending series of short and long stories entitled “My Issues.” To make it through life, we stick these books onto the self-help bookshelf, or display them on the social media bookshelf, or jam them into the therapeutic bookshelf. In so doing, we miss out on some of the best aspects of our salvation and sanctification. Those books that contain our sorrows, sins, and trials belong on the gospel shelf. It is strong enough to hold them all. More importantly, it is the only place that can make sense of our pain, sorrows, and struggles.

Micah and the Hope of the Gospel

In Micah 5:1-6, the Old Testament prophet and his audience faced an existential crisis. The Assyrian army stood outside their gates intent on Judah’s death. All political options had been exhausted. The bribes for peace had been paid. The God’s Holy temple and the palace of the Davidic king had been stripped of their gold. The nation had been humiliated And still, the Assyrian army came, seeking more plunder

Seeing their panic and fear, the prophet Micah could have counseled the nation to adapt a new form of taxation, to have developed new geopolitical alliances, or to have reinvested into their national defense. The prophet did none of those things. He pointed his people to Bethlehem Ephrathah.

We do not have to impress God to gain salvation. Jesus did not come from Jerusalem. He come from Bethlehem. He came from nowhere to save nobodies.

Micah focused on the city of David because it represented the King who had arisen out of obscurity to defeat Goliath and to establish the kingdom of Israel. It was a story of redemption and salvation that pointed to the great salvation would be accomplished by the Messiah who would also come from the tiny, humble town of Bethlehem.

Jesus’s origin story reveals that he knew we were weak. He does not find our sins, failures, and weakness offputting. He knew we would face armies of adversity that we could not conquer. He came because he knew we needed help, his help. We do not have to impress God to gain salvation. Jesus did not come from Jerusalem, the land of the kings and the powerful. He come from Bethlehem. He came from nowhere to save nobodies.

Jesus arrived tiny and lowly in Bethlehem intent upon ransoming captive Israel. Times of sorrow wrapped in falleness drop into our lives. Back pains strike us unexpectedly and neighbors persecute us for our faith. The Egyptians enslaved Israel. The nation of Judah would go into exile. But the our fall is never the end of our story for we are tied to the gospel story, the story of creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. According to the gospel, the birth pains of sorrow that we experience in this world always point to our salvation: redemption and new creation.

The Hope of the Gospel

We hope and trust that God will work in our lives today, because he has saved us. He has redeemed us, the children of Adam and Eve, from the exile of our grandparents. Like them, we too had rebelled against God. And yet, Jesus still came and brought us back as brothers and sisters (Micah 5:3). Jesus lived, died, and rose again to transform rebels like us into sons and daughters of the king when we repent and believe. But that is not all.

Christ does not save men and women and then leave them to figure out what to do next. God guides his children to eternity. He walks with us as we struggle with temptation, failures, and disappointments, reminding us of God’s glorious promises. He protects us from false teachers, evil friends, and fools who seek to ravage our souls. And he empowers us to victory over sins and death. Theologian David F. Wells helpful captures the transforming hope of the gospel when he writes:

Hope…has to do, biblical speaking, with the knowledge that “the age to come” is already penetrating “this age,” that sin , death, and meaninglessness of the one is being transformed by the righteousness, life, and meaning of the other, that what has emptied out life, what has scarred and blackened it, is being displaced by what is rejuvenating and transforming it…hope is hope because it knows it has become part of a realm, a kingdom, which endures, where evil is doomed and will be banished.

Above All Earthly Powers

When we make the gospel our hope, we discover that our problems are not the measure of the power of God’s promises. Jesus is the guarantee of success. Micah proclaims, “He shall deliver us from the Assyrian (5:6).” God is at work. Friends do not despair of today’s problems, assuming you will be defined by brokennes. Place them into the gospel. Redemption, the return from exile, the new creation, is coming! The cosmic story of redemption will transform our lives. Don’t hide your problems from the gospel. Stick them right in the middle of it.

Do you trust the gospel with your problems?

Finding Clarity in Confusion: Understanding Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 Address

The following was published at Credo Magazine which is a excellent theological resource for scholar, pastors, and lay readers! I highly encourage you to visit their sight.

Confusion hung over the crowd of the Second National Assembly of Evangelicals like a cloud of secondhand smoke. Moments earlier, the famed pastor D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones had appealed for the creation of a new evangelical association. He believed an evangelical exodus from mainline denominations would facilitate “a mighty revival and re-awakening.” As he brought his appeal to an end, everyone seemed to know what was expected of him or her. The evangelical leader John Stott shared this impression believing his audience would “go home and write their letter of resignation that very night.” Fearing that this assembly which had been formed to further ecumenicism was about to condemn ecumenicism, Stott broke professional protocol and proclaimed, “I believe history is against what Dr. Lloyd-Jones has said…Scripture is against him, the remnant was within the church not outside of it. I hope no one will act precipitately.”

The battle had been engaged. Yet few in attendance could clearly articulate why these two leaders of British evangelicalism had exchanged blows. Both seemingly advocated for the gospel, the supremacy of the Scriptures and unity. Yet they had both just thrown verbal punches at one another. The crowd was confused. Historians and theologians are still confused about what happened. The debate over whether or not Lloyd-Jones was a unifier or schismatic still smolders in more than one evangelical fire pit and will not be put out anytime soon.

Much of the confusion over what had transpired on October 18, 1966 centered upon the content of Lloyd-Jones’s now famous speech “Evangelical Unity: An Appeal.” Stott and the evangelical press of the day believed that the Doctor’s speech “should be interpreted as calling for evangelicals to leave mixed denominations.” They believed Lloyd-Jones was schismatic, working against the unifying influences that had risen to prominence in British evangelicalism during the 1960s.

By contrast, the supporters of the Doctor believed Lloyd-Jones had offered a positive appeal that had little to do with the creation of a new denomination. His grandson and historian, Christopher Catherwood, concluded, “The doctor was arguing for unity, not for division or schism.” The debate over whether or not Lloyd-Jones was a unifier or schismatic still smolders in more than one evangelical fire pit and will not be put out anytime soon.

Though many scholars huddle about the fires that seek to illuminate the Doctor’s intentions, little effort has been devoted to understanding why Lloyd-Jones’s speech proved confusing. Though scholars have credited Stott, the evangelical press, and Lloyd-Jones with igniting the fire of controversy, they have not examined why Lloyd-Jones’s 1966 address was so ready for the kindling.

Why the Confusion?

Lloyd-Jones’s address lacked clarity in part because it lacked Scripture. Though Lloyd-Jones believed evangelicalism had reached a “most critical moment” in 1966, he approached this monumental times with a closed Bible. He referenced the Word of God only twice during his speech, mentioning Acts 2:42 and the “First Epistle to the Corinthians.” He spent more time discussing the Reformation than exegeting the Word of God. Consequently, J.I. Packer would conclude the Doctor had contended for a kind of Puritanism. Other listeners believed the Doctor had been consumed with denominational concerns. Catherwood wrote his grandfather had placed “his emphasis on structure rather than doctrine.” The Doctor had been misunderstood because he stood upon logic and church history instead of the Scriptures. Because of this mistake, he suffered the loss of both friends and influence.

The Lessons of Failure

Pastors, theologians, and lay leaders should take note of Lloyd-Jones’s failure. The man who had devoted his life to glorifying God through sermons designed “to make doctrine real to the heart and therefore permanently life-changing” had stepped out from underneath the shadow of the Scriptures. Without the Word of God, the Doctor’s logic and knowledge of church history proved to be as vibrant as a water-soaked piece of charcoal. He read his Bible regularly. He knew it and loved it. At the very end, when he couldn’t speak, he would point to verses out of it.

If Christians wonder into ecclesial, social, or political spheres without the Scriptures, they too risk being misunderstood by their listeners. Such presentations may win some adherents in the moment, but they will not advance the gospel, strengthen the Church, or edify local congregations. Lloyd-Jones correctly noted, “You cannot build up a church on apologetics, still less on polemics. The preacher is called primarily to preach the positive Truth.” The Christian’s ability to influence others rests upon his or her ability to exegete and teach the gospel. The Christian has no other power. The people of God must ground their arguments in the Word if they hope to influence hearts.

Lloyd-Jones: A Man of the Scriptures

In many respects, Lloyd-Jones would recover from the wounds of the 1966 controversy because he never wandered far from the Scriptures. Over the course of his life, he lived by the maxim, “Any doctrine that we claim to believe from the Bible must always clearly be found in the Bible.” Three years after the controversy of 1966, the Welsh pastor delivered perhaps his most famous lectures in Philadelphia. These addresses would later be edited and published under the title, Preaching and Preachers. His influence did not stop with this volume. Crossway and Banner of Truth continue to release new editions of his sermons and lectures which cover everything from Romans to the Psalms to the theology of parenting. He was a profoundly biblical man. As his daughter Elizabeth Catherwood noted, “He read his Bible regularly. He knew it and loved it. At the very end, when he couldn’t speak, he would point to verses out of it.” The Doctor remains a fixture upon the evangelical mantel because he loved the Word.

Lloyd-Jones, the Scriptures and 1966

Even his 1966 address had been sparked by his earlier exegetical work. Many of the arguments the Doctor put forward in 1966 had appeared in a booklet he wrote in 1962. In those pages, Lloyd-Jones built his understanding of ecumenicism upon his exegesis of John 17 and Ephesians 4. The booklet restated the conclusions of numerous exegetical sermons he had preached at Westminster Chapel in the 1940s and 1950s. Though Lloyd-Jones shared only his logical conclusions in 1966, they were conclusions that had been extracted from the Scriptures. He had not abandoned his principles. Rather, he had forgotten to fully share them. This oversight doomed the Doctor’s address.

The Scriptures clarify and empower our thoughts; our thoughts do not clarify and empower the Scriptures. Regardless of the Christian’s training, intellect, and persuasiveness, nothing can compensate for the absence of the plain and powerful words of the Scriptures. As Lloyd-Jones said in 1969, “What matters is not the man or his ideas: it should always be this Word, for it alone is the sources of the preacher’s authority.” May God keep us grounded in this Word.