Just One More: A New/Old Kind of Skeptic

Though academics such as Bertrand Russel have won recognition from their ability to skillfully assault the claims of Christ, the typical skeptic that buzzes around the modern evangelical congregation has spent little time debating whether or not Jesus’s claims in Matthew 16 can be applied to the transfiguration. He or she possesses a different sort of skepticism altogether.

The Essence of Skepticism

Their issue is not so much the intellectual solvency of Christianity as much as their felt needs. I suspect many pastors and faithful church members have heard numerous people on the fringes of their congregation say that they would return to church if they had the time, or if their church had better preaching, more engaging music, or a more lively kids’ program. Others remain distant because God failed to meet a non-church need in a timely fashion. Despite the now skeptic’s prayers, he or she is still single, childless, sick, stuck in a professional rut, and hurting. In other words, this skeptic needs God to do one more thing for him or her in order that he or she might believe. They require another sign: a better preacher, a wedding date, or just something that proves that Jesus is truly who he says he is. Until then, they will happily give their Sunday to the local sports complex or to hiking the blue ridge mountains. Will they get it?

Jesus’s Response

In Matthew 16:1-4, the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the spiritual elite of Jesus’s day, come requesting a sign. They want to know whether they can trust Jesus. And their question arises not from their study of the Scriptures but rather from their denial of their Old Testament scrolls. If these men had truly believed their God’s word, they would have understood that Jesus was the Messiah for his miracles fulfilled the promises of old. Matthew makes this explicitly clear when he writes of Jesus’s miracles, “This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: ‘He took our illness and bore our diseases (Matt 8:17).’ In other words, these men want another sign because they have rejected the revealed words of God as found in the Old Testament and Jesus ministry. Jesus condemns them as being “An and adulterous generation,” and then declares that they will receive only one more sign, “the sign of Jonah” the sign of the resurrection (Matt 16:4; 12:39-41).

If the resurrection of Jesus will not convince someone to follow our Savior, nothing else will. If a soul can assent to the reality of their sin, to Jesus’s death as the substitutionary payment for said sin, and to his resurrection which grants us eternal life and then say, “show more me,” it will never be satisfied. Even if Jesus were to comeback and perform a modern-day miracle or bless a church with the most amazing music ministry, or give someone a positive pregnancy test, the skeptic would still not believe. If God’s currently revelation as contained in the Bible is not enough for them, future revelation will also fail to convince them of the reality of Jesus’s claims. There is no greater sign than the sign of Jonah.

Our greatest need is not tied to our love life, or our professional career, or to the efficiency of our church. Our greatest need is deliverance from sin and death. If Jesus’s unique ability to give us eternal life will not draw us to our bibles throughout the week and to our churches on Sunday morning, neither will good health nor a full bank account. The Jesus of our health and family will ultimately prove as convincing or unconvincing as the Jesus of the resurrection.

How To Pursue the Skeptic

Men and women who regularly find Jesus and his church wanting do so not because of some great fault in either Jesus or his people but because their hearts are hard. And if Jesus responds to such skepticism with fresh mentions of the resurrection, then we should follow suit. We should not stress about whether we have the best this or that. Nor should we should spend our time trying to produce a program or event that will positively meet their felt need. Rather, we should continue to lovingly and unapologetically preach the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, the only antidote for the religious skeptic who frequently buzzes about our church is the gospel of Jesus Christ. If the sign of Jonah is not enough nothing will be.

King Saul: The Progressive, Liberal Faith of the OT

liberalThe core of liberal Christianity is not the brain child of twentieth and twenty-first century theologians. People who wore tunics and rode in chariots were writing off the Bible as being too harsh, too outdated, and too confining long before ascot adorned professors arrived on the scene. In fact, Adam and Eve wrestled with this very question of the whether or not God really said what he meant. “Did God really say, not to eat the fruit?

In 1 Samuel 15, we come across another precursor of liberal Christianity. God commands Saul to annihilate the Amalekites because they had abused the nation of Israel and other people groups. By obeying God’s command, Saul would fulfill a divine prophecy. In Exodus 17:14-16, God had declared, “I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”  If Saul fails to destroy Amalek, he would violate the Word of God just a a child violates the Word of God by stealing. God said, “You shall not steal.” 

Sadly, Saul fails to obey God’s command. The text reports that

Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of that fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (1 Sam. 15:3).

Saul and his army profited from those they were sent to execute. The Jews under Saul were like a prisons guard stealing a convicts Air-Jordan’s and Apple watch as he received a lethal injection.

Saul and the people seemingly disobey God’s Word for personal profit. Though their actions would cause most of us to gag, we can still relate to the two heart desires driving Saul: a desire to be relevant and a desire to be liked. The king refuses to kill Agag because Kings in the ancient world considered the killing of other kings bad Karama. The cultural thing to do was to kill the armies and the people but to spare the king. And so, Saul spares King Agag even though he had spent his reign terrorizing and murdering women and children (1 Sam. 15:23).  As the great theologian John Calvin noted:

“Here then was Saul’s sin; He wished to be more merciful than God.”

Saul looked at his culture and concluded that God’s commands were too harsh and so he lessened them.

Postmodern, progressive Christians often make the same argument. They deem the prohibitions against sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, and divorce to be too harsh. The liberals know that Bible-deniers are some of the most powerful and popular people in their community. If they cling to the Bible, they will offend the powerful and lose social status.

To maintain their relationship to the divine, progressive souls must declare that God has changed his view of sexuality declaring yesterday’s evil to be today’s holiness. As Saul before them, liberal Christians extend the mercy of God to keep pace with the cultural elites.

Second, Saul disobeys God because he feared the common people. He wants to please the people and so he fails to follow God’s Word to the letter. The people desire nice stuff, so Saul allows his troops to profit from the execution of Amalekites. He feared men more than he feared God.

The fear of man continues to plague modern men and women of faith. No one wants to be hated, picked last for kick-ball, or discover that they are in the minority on any substantive issue. We feel a lot more confident when we are part of the 90% of America as oppose to 10%. Yet those who follow the Word of God are promised perpetual minority status. Jesus said, “because you are not of this world…the world hates you (John 15:19).”

But, we still love to be loved, creating a problem.

The majority culture that has the greatest reservoirs of human love hates the words of God. Before we can access the culture’s love, we have to repudiate the Bible’s teaching on sin, homosexuality, and the exclusivity of Christ. If we don’t walk back God’s commands, the culture threatens to empty our churches. And sadly, we often listen to our culture, believing the ends will justify the means. We think God will understand that we have to abandon parts of the Bible to reach and influence more people with the Bible. Popularity demands we fear men and women instead of the Scriptures. And so, we follow after Saul and our culture.

Unfortunately for Saul and for liberal Christians, God does not tolerate changes to his commands. God never stutters when he speaks. God is not a college student who needs the opportunity to rewrite his term paper.

The prophet Samuel reports, “The Glory of Israel will not lie or have regret, for he is not a man, that he should have regret (1 Sam. 15:29).”

God does not change. God never outlaws sexual sin and then regrets his harsh words a few millennia later because he saw how “in-love” two unmarried coeds were.

Those who change the law of God, have not helped God and have not stumbled unto deep religious truth. They have defied God and deserve death. Samuel point blank tells us that ‘Rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.” Those who change the Bible by expanding upon God’s mercy to appease cultural elites or by whipping away truths to appease the masses do not worship the God of the Bible. They worship a false God of their own imagination.

J. Gresham Machen correctly notes that the modern, liberal, progressive Christianity that dominates much of the media, “is fundamentally hostile to the Christian faith.” He goes on to say,

Liberalism is totally different from the Christianity, for the foundation is different. Christianity is founded upon the Bible. It bases upon the Bible both its thinking and life. Liberalism on the other hand is founded upon the shifting emotions of sinful men.

The religion of Saul and of liberalism is a false religion. God hates such half-heart, evolving, man-centered faith because it is not true faith. Samuel tells Saul, “Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king.” Regardless of their titles and their church affiliations, those who disobey the Word of the Lord receive God’s judgment.

According to liberal theologians, children who have grown up talking to Suri will only stay with Jesus if we make his teachings more culturally aware and relevant. King Saul made this same argument long before radios, cars, and airplanes dotted the earth. God was not impressed then and he is not impressed now.

The Bible has never been modern enough for even the most rudimentary of people. But it has always been true. Will you believe it?

Bedside Evangelism: Yes or No?

bedside-evangelismSharing the gospel with those about to wade through the river of death can seem daunting and at times inappropriate and unkind. The Clinical Pastoral Education movement ardently discourages ministers from discussing the cross, Jesus, and eternal life with those in the middle of a medical crisis. The group believes pastors should offer comfort through listening and through sharing encouraging thoughts that restate the patients’ beliefs, concerns, and desires.

While this pastoral trend towards therapeutic listening has a certain appeal because it keeps ministers from unnecessarily stepping on the toes of suffering and seems to picture God’s love, it actually hides the love of God from those who need it most.

Illnesses, car accidents, and natural disasters exist because of the fall. They are manifestations of evil. Christians should always seek to rescue, help, and comfort people who acutely feel the effects of the broken world. But sorrow and suffering are not random evils. They are often used by God to accomplish his divine will.

God afflicts the wicked with suffering because he desires their salvation. In 1 Samuel 5-6, the Philistines come to grips with this reality. They had defeated the Israelites and captured the Ark of the Lord. As the begin to celebrate this great victory, God pummels them with divine wrath. Their god, Dagon,  is smashed to pieces. Their people develop tumors and begin to drop like flies. Mice overrun their fields. Because of their great anguish the Philistines realize that the God of Israel is the most powerful God.

C.S. Lewis, the author of the Chronicles of Narnia, wrote,

The human spirit will not even begin to try to surrender self-will as long as all seems to be well with it. Now error and sin both have this property, that the deeper they are the less their victims suspects their existence; they are masked evil. Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt

When life goes well, people are prone to ignore God. As Jeremiah 22:21 reminds us, “I spoke to you in your prosperity but you said, ‘I will not listen.” Pain gets the attention of the modern man and woman just as it got the attention of the ancient Philistines. But pain does not save. As Thomas Watson noted,

If pain and trouble were sufficient to repentance, then the dammed in hell should be most, for they are most in anguish.

Pain only knocks people off of their demigod thorns, revealing that someone else rules the universe. But pain does not fully reveal who that ruler is and how one can enjoy a peaceful relationship with God. The Philistines returned the Ark and escaped their pain. But they did not follow their cows into Israel and become followers of the one true God. The Philistines never found salvation.

Pastors have the amazing opportunity to supply the prophetic voice that the Philistines lacked. When a minister learns that a sinner is dying or hears that a less than faithful church member is approaching death, he should come to their bedside equipped with the gospel. The pastor should share the truth that Jesus has died to save sinners. As the Puritan Pastor Richard Baxter noted,

Even the stoutest of sinners will hear us on their death-bed, though they scorned us before.

The pastor should seize the bedside moment and share Christ with the dying, risking social scorn and a few bruised toes.

Is not the salvation of the wicked worth a little angst in the pastor’s souls? Did not Christ offer paradise to the thief on the cross? Can the faithful minister do any less?

Admittedly, pastors can abuse the suffering. The pastor can wrongfully offer salvation in exchange for physical blessing and peace. The sick and weak can be prone to do anything to get relief. The Philistines made golden tumors and mice. Pastors must offer Christ crucified and not some twisted gospel of self-interest where people come to God in order to get favors from him. God does not want to be treated as a genie bound to do the will of human flesh. God wants the sinner to repent and follow Him with his or her whole heart. Anything less is not real salvation and will not last. Watson rightfully notes,

A passionate resolution…raised in a storm will die in the calm.

Salvation ultimately has to be a work of God. And God often uses suffering to draw men and women to faith. Pastors should not hide the gospel when at the bedside of the dying. Rather as Baxter said, “it is time for us, while there is hope, to help him if we can.”

Pastor…Minister are you ready to help?