Our Refuge

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“Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:12, ESV).

            These words come at the end of Psalm 2.  In the verses before, God’s invincible might is declared, and the futility of those who defy Him.  Jesus is Lord.  The message of God’s unstoppable victory is a dread warning to those who oppose Him; but to those who run to Him it is a word of utmost comfort.

            God Almighty shelters and protects those who turn to Him in faith.  Fierce and uncertain as the world may seem, the children of God have nothing to fear.  When you take refuge in Him you rest secure.  Dark days may come, but the victory of God—and the salvation of His children—is assured.

A Reckoning

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Religion News Service, a hub of journalistic advocacy for the religious left, has had several rather telling articles lately. First on the docket is this piece from Ryan Burge, who urges Christians to abandon unpopular teachings of Scripture in pursuit of numerical growth.

The headline reads, “On LGBT and women’s equality, stark statistical reality is coming for white evangelicals.” The title alone has several notable features. First is the framing of the issues in terms of equality, which itself suggests that white evangelicals are bigoted in their views on these matters. Next, the liberal triumphalism: the future belongs to them, “stark statistical reality” looms before evangelicalism. Third, of course, is the focus on “white evangelicals”, a favored target for the left in recent times. Are evangelicals of other ethnicities significantly more open to sexual immorality or women preachers? I suspect not; in any case, Burge makes no effort to demonstrate that they are.

Through the course of the article, Burge notes some facts about the American social and religious landscape that are, indeed, important–but not news to most. The rise of the “nones”, and shifting opinions related to LGBTQ issues and women preachers are discussed.

Then he takes the data, and applies it towards the usual ridiculous but unsurprising liberal conclusions. Visualizing churches as businesses, he says that evangelical churches aren’t selling what the younger generations are going to want to buy. Our beliefs are outdated, like a Blackberry in the iPhone age. Our options are 1) to maintain doctrinal orthodoxy regardless of numerical decline, or 2) “evangelicalism could begin to slowly shift its stance on issues like women pastors and same-sex relations.”

To his credit, Burge grants some validity to option 1, stating “There is integrity in this path.” What’s ridiculous is his implication that option 2 would lead to numerical growth. He’s basically suggesting that evangelical take the path of the liberal mainline denominations: change doctrines and practices to keep in step with the times. But his own research shows the correlation between the rise of the “nones” and the decline of liberal mainline Christianity, and he describes his own projection saying that “The results indicate that the ‘nones’ will unequivocally be the largest group in America by 2029, and that’s largely a result of more mainline decline.”

Even in purely pragmatic terms, liberalizing evangelical doctrine and practice so as to be more like the mainline denominations is a terrible idea, and not likely to bring numerical growth. Burge says our ‘product’ is unappealing to young American ‘consumers’; but what his own statistics express much more pronouncedly is that the ‘product’ being sold by liberal churches–a watered-down accommodation of Christianity to secular culture–is precisely what American ‘consumers’ are rejecting.

It is true that secularism is on the rise in America. But what the religious left cannot seem to grasp is that the quickest way to kill your denomination is to liberalize it to meet (post)modern mores.

But the more fundamental issue is that this whole way of looking at things is flawed, one might even say idolatrous. The metaphor of the church as a business selling a product to consumers is natural to Americans, but it is offensive to the church and to the church’s Lord. And this sort of thinking has been a poison within the evangelical world for quite some time.

We are concerned about lost people finding salvation. But they are not consumers, Christianity is not a product, and the church is not a business. We are the body of Christ, the people of God in the midst of a world of darkness. The church has no right to cast aside God’s commandments in pursuit of popularity. It’s an understatement to say, as Burge does, that “there is integrity in this path.” It is the only path with integrity.

It is also the path with the most hope for Christianity in America. As the mainline denominations are strangled by their own compromise, evangelicalism may see another great awakening, if God so chooses. Burge says, “I’m sympathetic to the view that God can change hearts. But I see no evidence of divine intervention in the data.” That’s a remarkably short-sighted view of things. The history of the last two millennia has provides ample demonstration of God’s ability to change hearts. This is not guaranteed in any given time and place; it is possible anywhere, in any circumstances.

God can and does change hearts. The responsibility of the church is to be faithful to her Lord, to advance the kingdom of God in the dominion of darkness, and to pray Maranatha–our Lord, come. The “stark statistical reality” of shifting American opinions is not the reckoning people should be most concerned about.

His Strength

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Towards the end of the book of Ephesians, the apostle Paul exhorts Christians, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might” (Eph. 6:10, ESV). It is a charge to stand firm in the faith and fight the good fight, it is an earnest command–and yet it is remarkably comforting for the believer faced with “this present darkness” (v.12).

We are not asked to stand firm by our own strength. We are not exhorted to somehow muster the might to contend with all the powers of darkness. We are not expected to accomplish such impossibilities, and we would be foolish to attempt them. We are called “be strong in the Lord“. Whose strength will enable us to stand fast? The “strength of his might“.

And He is mighty! He stretched out the heavens and scattered the stars like gems in the vastness of space. He crafted the creatures of the earth. He designed this physics of maddening complexity and strange forces, and maintains all by the strength of His arm.

He raised Jesus Christ from the dead and exalted Him to Lordship for His people (1:20-23).

We are called to stand in His strength, to face the world in His power, to hold steadfastly in His might. That is a different matter entirely. It is a challenge of faith, but a comfort in the face of the storm. Stand firm. Stand in the strength of Almighty God.

Disarmed Apologetics

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Continuing ruminations about musician Jon Steingard’s departure from the faith, I want to draw attention to the methodology used by one apologist, Robin Schumacher, in trying to appeal to Steingard. In a piece in the Christian Post, Schumacher invited Steingard to consider the evidence for God and Christ, specifically without reference to Scripture.

This is a tricky matter, and I want to be clear that I’m not wholly out of sympathy with what Schumacher is saying. It’s true that the world is sufficient evidence for men to conclude that God exists; it’s true that the life of Jesus is historically attested; it’s true that the non-biblical evidence for the reality of the resurrection, via the witness of the disciples and the rapid growth of the church, should be taken seriously. These are real apologetic claims in defense of the reasonableness of Christianity, and have their value.

What I find problematic is the wisdom of appealing to someone with such pronounced exclusion of the Bible from the discussion. Again, I understand, we want to reach people where they’re at, and Steingard doesn’t seem like someone who’s going to see the Bible as very authoritative. But there is a sense–and I think Schumacher misses this–that the authority of Scripture abides even when someone is deliberately resistant to it.

For Schumacher says of belief in God, “you don’t need to reference the Bible to have confidence in this fact”, “You heard me right–you don’t need your Bible for this one”, and “you don’t need to open your Bible to reach a conclusion” on the evidences for a Creator. Three times he hammers the point in the space of a short article. This runs the danger, I think, of pursuing a disarmed apologetic.

In the first place, we may question how much understanding man is capable of apart from the illuminating work of the Spirit. While the world IS adequate testimony to the existence of God, sin has so corrupted mankind that we suppress the truth (Rom. 1). That the cosmos justifies belief in God, and that fallen humans will see that justification apart from the gift of faith, are two different things.

But, even more, Scripture is the greatest weapon in the apologetic arsenal, the sword of the Spirit, God’s testimony to Himself. How can we possibly set it aside and try to persuade men without it?

For the Bible is the Word of God written. God has spoken, by the Holy Spirit, through the inspired writers. And God’s Word is authoritative, powerful, transforming. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Going into battle without your sword is an obvious tactical mistake. Disarmed apologetics is not the approach we should take towards a lost and dying world.

Farewell, J.I. Packer

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J.I. Packer went to be with the Lord on Friday. At 93 years old, he had long stood as one of the key statesmen of evangelical Christianity–and we badly need statesmen of his kind. You can read a little about his life here. Few combine the wisdom, warmth, learning, and charity that Packer displayed. The Church shall miss him. But he has gone to his reward, and we trust that he now enjoys that commendation which is, to every Christian, the blessed reward of a gracious Father: “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Light of All Lights

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Light of all lights, illumine me with the brightness of your holiness, so that I may today reflect in some small measure your brilliant purity.  Put to flight, Light of light, the brooding clouds of the world, and shine into the darkness of my soul.  Warm my heart and guide my steps, so that my life may be worship and my worship glorifying to you.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, shine upon us in your infinite majesty—Amen.