Roads Lead Places

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…which should be obvious to everyone, but apparently is not.

The other day I saw a post on the Patheos “Progressive Christianity” channel of blogs.  Patheos is a hub of religious blogs categorized in channels, and by the happy foreordination of the English language, the “Progressive Christianity” channel is listed right next to the “Pagan” channel.  This is simply an alphabetic necessity, but it is fortuitous nonetheless.

The unfortunate blog post in question was the tragic announcement of the blogger that she no longer considered herself any kind of Christian, and would soon be moving her blog elsewhere.  I do not know this blogger or her beliefs, but reading the post connected with my theory that departure from the faith is where so-called “progressive” Christianity leads.

After all, the very notion of progress suggests motion.  Progress is a word with positive connotations, and calls us to look towards the bright future we are supposedly moving towards.  But whenever you move towards something you are moving away from where you started; and the basis of “progressive Christianity” is a departure from Christianity as they knew it–traditional, confessional, evangelical (or, in what is I think the favorite derogatory label in that set, “fundamentalist”) Christianity.  It is usually a progression away from orthodoxy, though not necessarily at first.

Not necessarily at first–that is the key.  Embrace of “progressive” Christianity may begin simply as a distaste for certain features of evangelicalism.  Fair enough.  Evangelicalism has its share of house-cleaning to do.  But it almost always seems to involve, either immediately or very shortly, a move away from the truthfulness and authority of Scripture.  And, having derailed from the authority of divine revelation, it moves further and further from the contours of historic Christian faith.

If it’s moving away from God’s (written) Word, how long can it hold onto God’s (incarnate) Word?  If it’s “progressing” away from the revelation of the faith, what can it be “progressing” towards but denial of the faith?

That is why it is not surprising when someone who has identified themselves as a “progressive” Christian ceases to identify as a Christian at all.  That’s where the road of “progressive” Christianity leads.

I will gladly grant that not everyone who calls themselves a “progressive” Christian has departed from orthodoxy, and that most of them never outright denounce the faith.  By the grace of God, we often stop short of following a road to its end.  But why travel that road if the best thing that can be said about it is that it started someplace good and most people don’t follow it all the way to the end?

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Language and Truth

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Human language is complicated business, and the way we talk about a subject can deceive or speak truth simply by the labels we use.  When we speak and when we listen, when we write and when we read, we should be attentive to whether language is being used truthfully or deceptively.

Consider this piece of NPR’s journalistic guidanceNPR’s journalistic guidance (HT: Albert Mohler).  I had thought NPR an example for objectivity in journalism; then I started listening to them more.  Having a pervasive and slightly subtle bias is not necessarily better than having an overt one.  In this guidance memo, many things could be addressed, but the most obvious is this exhortation to pro-abortion bias (credited to Joe Neel):

“The term “unborn” implies that there is a baby inside a pregnant woman, not a fetus. Babies are not babies until they are born. They’re fetuses. Incorrectly calling a fetus a “baby” or “the unborn” is part of the strategy used by antiabortion groups to shift language/legality/public opinion.”

Yes, referring to the child in the womb as a baby is part of the pro-life strategy–the strategy of telling the truth.  They are babies; I suspect that most people know that.  Speaking the truth is indeed key, as we see media outlets arrayed against it.  Abortion kills a human baby.  If the lies should be defeated and this truth acknowledged, we may finally see this long horror brought to an end.

The Throne of Grace

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“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess” (Hebrews 4:14, NIV)

Easy as it is for Christians to overlook, the ascension is an important event in Christ’s saving work.  It is easy for us to think that it would be better if the risen Lord had remained here on earth; then every doubting Thomas could have their fears assuaged, and the church would never have to wrestle through issues of biblical or theological interpretation.

Well, one day Christ will return and all strife and doubt will be ended.  But for this present age, God in His wisdom has given us a greater gift than we would have designed for ourselves.  The risen Lord ascended.  He does not walk among us in the flesh; instead, He stands for us (in the flesh) in the true holy of holies as our great high priest.

The high priest is the mediator who helps the people to draw near to God.  Our high priest is God Himself, who first drew near to us.  He is the God-man, and after suffering for our sins He rose to bring us life and ascended to provide us with complete salvation.  On the one hand, His deity marks His greatness and ability to reconcile us; on the other hand, His humanity marks the fact that He understands our weaknesses and is able to help (v.15).

What is the result?  What is the wonderful privilege that Christians enjoy because of the ascension of Christ?

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v.16).

We come freely before the throne of God.  The high priests of the Old Covenant could only enter the holy of holies once a year.  Our high priest has entered and remains in the true heavenly holy of holies.  Through Him, we approach God’s throne–and it is a throne of grace.  Here stumbling saints may find not condemnation, but mercy.

Gracious and glorious is the salvation of our God.

Joy and Sorrow

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Our family has returned from a lovely vacation, refreshed but overwhelmed with the realization that the locals in our resident area have been pulling the wool over our eyes for the past few years.  You see, we had a splendid time in the Fort Walton Beach, FL area, soaking up the sun on the beach, leaping in the emerald waters, and listening to the crash of the waves.  We have now returned to Pontoon Beach, IL.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but something is missing.

However, the joy of relaxing in the beauty of God’s creation must meet against the sorrow of the human destruction of creation.  This is a manifold tragedy, one aspect of which I am reminded of today.

Today or tomorrow, the Illinois senate will vote on whether or not to ratify SB 25, the Reproductive Health Act–a blue state response to the abortion-denouncing legislation that has been going forward in red states lately.  This heinous piece of legislation, if passed, will greatly expand the slaughter of the most helpless, the killing of innocents in the womb.

Say a prayer for Illinois today.

And Maranatha–our Lord, come!

Growing in the New Life

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The new life in Christ has ethical ramifications.  Being born again means that you should cast off certain behaviors and earnestly seek God’s righteousness.  This is the two-faceted exhortation which begins 1 Peter 2.

On the one hand, those who have been given new and everlasting life by the word of God must, “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind” (1 Pet. 2:1).  Like other NT ‘vice lists’ this is a representative group, not exhaustive–that is, the apostle surely would want believers to throw off greed and lust as well, though he doesn’t mention them.  It is also a list that focuses more on the attitudes of the heart than on the external actions that emerge from these attitudes.  And it is a list of sins that particularly would disrupt the brotherly love that Peter has called for Christians to show one another.

But Christian ethics isn’t just about what you cast off; it’s also about what you take on.  “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (vv.2-3).  The sinful attitudes of the heart are to be replaced with the goodness of God, with His Word and the spiritual growth brought by the Spirit.  Peter is not suggesting here that the believers he’s writing to are immature, but he’s using the image of the new birth to urge believers to seek spiritual growth as earnestly as babies crave the milk that helps them grow.

All of this is predicated upon the work of God in the life of the Christian.  God is good, the source of all goodness and life.  You have tasted God’s goodness; let that taste drive you to more and more fulness in Him.

The Technocracy Is Not Your Friend

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Recently, Pulpit and Pen posted about how a Christian is trying to organize others to get them censored on Facebook.  Now, I can understand why someone would be concerned about Pulpit and Pen, and my point is not to defend them.  But I think it is a mistake to appeal to the technocracy to silence voices we find objectionable.

Facebook, Twitter, and so on, the social media platforms I am here referring to as ‘the technocracy’, are all too willing to silence voices they don’t approve of–troublingly so.  They will suspend accounts for things like saying men aren’t women or linking to sermons they find disagreeable.  They’ve established themselves as valuable networking tools, and use their influence to shut down Christian and conservative views, and even liberals who don’t toe the line.  This is disturbing, not laudable.

Now, I don’t mean to make this bigger than it is.  Having your Facebook account cancelled is hardly persecution.  But it’s not fearmongering to say that this sort of practice forebodes worse things to come.

To Christians, and to anyone who’s not lock-step with the spirit of the age I say this: the technocracy is not your friend.  They don’t need any encouragement in their censorship program.  Appeal to them at your peril.  You could easily be next.

Imperishable

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The gospel message may seem small compared to the powers of this world.  American culture loves the display of grandiose wealth and extravagance by the elite figures of the entertainment industry, the wonders of technology, the allure of power.  When we look with the eyes of the world, the church (or at least the average church) may seem insignificant and out of touch, a relic of the past.

But appearance does not always equal reality.  Peter reminds Christians that their spiritual new birth is the mighty work of God, which grows from the seed of His word: “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23, NIV).

This stands in start contrast to the pomp and prestige of the world: “For, ‘All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’  And this is the word that was preached to you” (vv.24-25).

The splendor of the world passes away, but the word of God does not.  The glitz of Hollywood and the power of technocrats is dust, but the word of God endures.  God is eternal, and the gospel of God imparts everlasting life.

The church has a treasure the world cannot buy and cannot compete with–the gift of the word of God.

A Beating Heart

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Babies with beating hearts should be protected–even if they are still in their mothers’ wombs.  So thinks the state of Georgia; and they should be applauded.  None of the social issues in America today are more important than standing up to the wickedness of the abortion industry.

It took some courage to make this stand.  Certain parties in Hollywood have threatened them with a boycott if Georgia stands up for the most vulnerable.  Hollywood is powerful, and Mammon is one of the chief gods in their pantheon, greed is one of their defining languages; it makes sense that they would expect Georgia to shrink before the coercive arm of Mammon.

Georgia’s Governor Kemp did not feel that way.  “We protect the innocent, we champion, the vulnerable.  We stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves,” he said.

Of course, Georgia could have had a different governor.  Stacey Abrams, who lost the gubernatorial race to Kemp, has her own view of Georgia’s pro-life legislation: she called it “an abominable and evil bill”.

What can we say to such a morally bankrupt statement?

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20, NIV)

It’s not evil to protect a beating heart.  It’s not abominable to shelter the precious life of a baby.  Hollywood elites and liberal legislators may threaten and fume, and they get their way often enough–but the truth will stand.

A beating heart is worth protecting.

From the Heart

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One of the great tragedies of the history of Christianity is our division–within local churches, denominations, and the faith as a whole.  Truth matters, and we need to make a stand for the truth; yet divisions are hardly a good witness for the gospel.  After all, one of the repeated messages of the New Testament is the call for believers to love one another.

“Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart” (1 Peter 1:22, NIV).

Love for the family of faith comes from the gospel.  God’s sanctifying work, which we receive by faith, gives us that love for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  As usual, the apostle Peter takes this redemptive reality and shows the ethical force: God has given you love for the church, so love the church.

And this love is not simply a matter of outward appearance.  God cares not only about behavior, but about our hearts.  He desires to form in us a heart-holiness, a heart-love that we then live out.

Love is the ethic of faith, the sign and witness of the work of God.  It begins at home, with the family of faith.  Christians, love one another.

A Road to Nowhere

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I have written before on troubling statements to come out of Union Theological Seminary, an institution that would at one time have been called a Christian school, but can hardly be given that label these days.  Earlier this month, journalist Nicholas Kristof did an interview with Union’s president, Dr. Serene Jones, for the New York Times.

Dr. Jones’s views highlight just how far the school has strayed from its original vision and from anything resembling Christian orthodoxy.  Her statements are also illuminating as yet another example of where we end up when we stray from the truth.

The interview might be characterized as a brief list of key Christian beliefs that Dr. Jones denounces.  She doesn’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ, the atonement (at least not in the biblical sense), the virgin birth, or even in the God of the Bible.

Where does such (un)faith lead?  Kristof asked, “What happens when we die?”  Dr. Jones answered,

I don’t know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife...

Theological liberalism is a road to nowhere.  Without the cross and resurrection of Jesus–the real cross and resurrection, the atoning death and bodily resurrection of the Son of God incarnate–there is no hope.  We are left with only this life and what we can make of it.  It is so tragic when people reject the gospel.

But God is real, God is strong, and His promises are good.  Christ is risen, and offers life eternal to all who trust in Him.  Christmas means light in our darkness, and Easter means hope unshakable.