Thursday, June 27, 2013

Christian Credibility

If you believe in the creation of the universe in 6 days, you are an idiot, and there’s no point in having a conversation. And if you believe that marriage should be reserved only for men and women, shutting out loving same-sex couples, you are a hater, and you ought to be silenced. If you hold either of these positions, you have no credibility in modern society. You are an old fool who should be ignored or quarantined.

That is fast becoming the attitude toward Christians in our society. Now, not all who profess to be Christians hold to 6-day creation or a traditional definition of marriage, but I want to make a point about Christian credibility. It is not established in the court of public opinion, but depends on a consistent reliance on a firm foundation.

Biblical authority is our firm foundation. Christians are credible when they consistently form their positions from what God’s Word, the Scriptures, say. Our consciences and our conduct must be shaped by what God has said. We must face every issue with the question, “What does the Bible say?”, and then act accordingly. 

But we must face the fact that, regardless of a stiff headwind from secular society, we have created our own Christian credibility crisis. We have done so by failing to be consistent in our appeal to the Biblical witness. Pastors and churches have entertained all kinds of theories about creation, often opting for renditions that feel a little less rigid, and many have placed solid exegesis of Scripture in a secondary position. Also, Pastors and churches have not honored and protected marriage between a man and a woman, and most have ceded spiritual oversight in the area of marriage preparation and practice and also in the area of dealing with the threat and fact of divorce.

The world around us can then rightly say, “If you don’t take your own Book seriously, why should we take you seriously?” And so the issue is, if we are to have credibility, do we stand firmly on a Scriptural foundation.

Yes, there are differences in Biblical interpretation. But not so many as you may think. Most of the differences have to do with ignoring or abandoning what the Bible clearly says. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

All Truth is God’s Truth

The quote, “All truth is God’s truth,” attributed first to Augustine, implies that truth should be easy to come by. If this world belongs to God, then all that is truly true must square with God, and with His truth. But for practical purposes, our search for truth is not that simple. Many people are out there giving answers. We have to ask, “Whom can we trust?”

Our brains easily opt for true/false solutions and easy answers. What is true stands in white over against that which is false, which is painted in black. This absolute dichotomy leads to a “right answer” kind of faith that tends to trust Wikipedia more than we trust God’s Word. It’s quicker and more concise. 

So two kids are taking a true/false quiz. One student struggles with a question, because the “true” answer would be basically right, except in maybe just a couple of cases. But if it’s not true in every case, then it’s not absolutely true, and so must be false. He marks “F.” Another student has no clue, and since he has marked “F” on the 3 previous items, he throws down a “T.” The teacher judges “T” to be the right answer, but who really knows the “truth”? Point: a lot of people get the right answer and don’t know the truth.

A Hebrew (rather than Greek) approach to truth has more to do with reliability than with right answers. You go to a wise man for advice, not just to get right answers, but because he is wise, and because he has shown his wisdom through a pattern of living and advising. It is not that he does not give right answers. But his advice is more dense, contextualized, and properly applied.

When John 1:14 tells us that the Word (Jesus) is “full of grace and truth,” we are not being told that he is nice and has right answers. We are being told that he initiates a covenantal relationship in which he is completely faithful and even undertakes for the failings of his covenant partners (grace), and that he is perfectly faithful in all that he does to fulfill the covenant and in all the promises that he makes to us (truth). He rarely gives easy, right answers. But we can trust him, lean on him and learn from him, and follow him.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Prayer as Pleading

The prayer exchange between Abraham and the Lord in Genesis 18 is shocking. If you start at the beginning of the book you’ve travelled from creation in Genesis 1 and 2, where the unrivaled God makes man from the dust of the ground. He kicks man out of the Garden in Genesis 3, and wipes our humanity in the Flood in Genesis 7. It is now surprising that God would bother to invite a conversation with this lone individual, Abraham, about a subject which is much more God’s business than man’s.

The question God asks Himself, for our benefit, is this: “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Gen 18:16). God has willingly bound Himself to Abraham in such a way that he purposes to engage Abraham in the carrying out of His purposes, whether it be to build or destroy; whether to show mercy or exercise terrible judgment. He chooses to let Abraham in on a secret that would have been unknowable to natural man. “Surely the Lord GOD does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets.” (Amos 3:7 NAS95)

Is it any different for us? Having been drawn into covenant relationship with God, through Christ, no less, does not God also purpose to engage us in His purposes, so much so that he wants us to plead with Him concerning the extension of His mercy and the delaying of His judgment? I would argue that, though Abraham is indeed a Biblical giant, followers of Christ have all the standing of sons of Abraham. In fact, the Bible identifies us as one and the same.

Abraham may not argue with God in the exchange that occurs in Genesis 18:23-32, but he certainly makes an argument. Abraham’s progression of thought is not so surprising as is God’s patience with the whole negotiation process. But when we think about it, we are not seeing Abraham move God so much as we see God moving Abraham. Abraham is growing in his realization of the loneliness of righteousness in a world and culture that is overwhelmingly dark and evil.

Perhaps Abraham assumed that Lot and his family would have had a “salt and light” influence on the city of Sodom. Surely Lot would have won over at least some of his neighbors to the worship of the one true God, and that they would be living in fear and worship of Him. I am guessing that Abraham was overly optimistic about Lot’s influence. On the other hand, it seems that Abraham under-estimated the enemy influence of sin and evil on Lot and his family. And we are left to wonder, how many righteous people were there really in Sodom? Certainly less than ten. Less than 6, or 4? Maybe not even one.

The story and after-story lead us to wonder. Lot offers his daughters to the men of the town who have lewd desires for the visiting angels. Lot pleads not to travel too far from his beloved, wicked city. His wife cannot bear to turn her back on her former, judged life, and is turned to a pillar of salt. Lot’s daughters later take matters into their own hands and get their dad drunk in order that he might impregnate the two of them. Who could dream up a story like this? We, like Abraham, like to think better of our nephews, and of ourselves. We’re not that bad. We’re better than that. But we’re not. We must conclude that the reference to “righteous Lot” in 2 Peter 2:7 is not based on Lot’s own righteousness, judged in its own right. He may have been somewhat righteous in contrast to his wicked city. He did, at least, deny the townsmen’s initial demands. Or, Lot may have been righteous due to a gift given to him rather than what he was in himself. God may have declared him righteous as a gift of His grace.

I would suggest that Abraham’s prayer helped Abraham discover both the real paucity and the absolute necessity of righteousness. Psalm 14, quoted in Romans 3, says that “there is none righteous, no not one.” There is no hope for any of us in ourselves. But there is a Righteous One, not merely one of us, but one who became like us, so that he could take our sin and give us righteousness. In 1 John 2:1, we are told that “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous.”  We see the drastic contrast with Lot’s character when Jesus is described in Hebrews 7:26 as “holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” He’s not like Lot. He’s not like me. The old hymn tells us we have “no friend like Him who’s so high and holy; and yet no friend is so meek and lowly” (No, Not One).

The Lord’s decision to invite Abraham to engage with Him in this prayer shows me that God wants to engage with His children in the carrying out of His purposes. He is patient with me in helping me to discover the deep truths of His purposes and His ways. May I plead like Abraham for the extension of God’s amazing mercy to those living under the threatening clouds of judgment.