Important Issues

1. Sola Camouflage by Pastor Anton Bosch

“Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.” (Matthew 7:15)

The use of camouflage in the military is a fascinating study. But long before armies, navies and air forces began to camouflage their men and equipment to hide them from the enemy, animals and insects had been designed and created by God with colors and shapes that made them impossible or difficult to spot. Hunters have learned from the military and nature and now also use the same techniques to be less visible to their prey.

During World War II, huge parts of Burbank, CA, including the massive Lockheed factories that produced planes for the war, as well as the runways of what is now Burbank Airport, were covered with painted nets that made the factories and the airport look like suburbia from the air. There are some very interesting pictures of this on the Internet.

Camouflage is not only used by the armies of this world but also by the armies of Satan to hide its agents in plain sight. Here in Hollywood (un)reality and movie stars, gangsters and politicians hide behind big shiny crosses around their necks. One of the best ways to detect the deception is the size of the cross – the bigger the cross, the bigger the deceiver. In addition to symbols that used to belong to Christians, they also use language to hide their true nature. Sayings like “god bless” and “we are praying for you” are all part of a clever ruse to lull the non-suspecting into believing the individual can be trusted.

The agents of Rome have long used their cassocks, sandals and crosses to hide their abusive and deceptive nature. The back-to-front clerical collar (aka dog collar) has in America become standard camouflage for all sorts of frauds, New Agers and other evil workers. This is so bad that I have come to believe that anyone wearing a clerical/dog collar is indeed one of the dogs that Paul warns about: “Beware of dogs, beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!” (Philippians 3:2). Yet millions are fooled by these imposters because of the camouflage they wear.

This kind of deception is also not new: “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ. And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”(2 Corinthians 11:13-15).

But recently, as a result of a book I have been reading and various preachers I have been listening to, I have become aware of another (also not new) form of spiritual camouflage, and that is the use of the term “Sola Scriptura”. Just as the big cross and the clerical collar immediately flashes a red flag that something is wrong with the picture, the profuse use of the words “Sola Scriptura” has, for me, become a warning sign that the speaker or author is trying to hide something.

Sola Scriptura is one of the terms that came out of the Reformation and is Latin for “only Scripture”. By using the term, we mean that our faith and doctrine is based on Scripture alone and not on the traditions of men, extra-biblical documents, “revelation”, human philosophies or anything else outside of the 66 books of the Bible.

But writers and speakers are increasingly using the term to camouflage the extra-Biblical sources of their ideas. One writer uses terms like “we base our doctrine only on the Scriptures” dozens of times throughout his book. All the while he blatantly builds his ideas on everything but the Bible. In fact, sometimes he would sandwich his extra-biblical teaching between two such statements! It is so bad that while reading the book I came to discover that those words were actually a siren to draw attention to those parts of the book where he most grievously departed from Scripture and where one had to be especially careful.

The sad thing is that pastors and mature believers whom I would normally regard as very discerning, and who have also read the book, see no problem with it. So the technique clearly works so well that even the most observant and experienced are fooled by it.

At a recent conference I attended, the speakers, one after the other, bandied the term “Sola Scriptura” about. Not only did they like to use the term but they seemed sincerely convinced that what they were propounding was based only on Scripture and they openly claimed that everyone else was adding to Scripture. Yet they did not have a single Scripture for the central idea they were propagating at the conference. Instead they relied on experience, statistics, the Church Fathers, and the Reformers as a base for their doctrine. Once again it seemed that almost all of the 5,000 attendees were thoroughly convinced that the speakers were speaking truth.

Does that mean that anyone who uses the term (or similar terms) is fake? No, not necessarily. But if someone makes a point of flashing a big shiny cross around, beware; and so too be very careful of those who like to assure everyone of their orthodoxy. If an author or preacher is preaching the truth from God’s Word, it should be pretty obvious and there should be no need to protest too much.

One of the many problems with identifying anyone using sources outside of the Bible is that it is impossible to be a Berean – in the sense that there is nothing in the Scripture to compare the new idea to because it finds its source outside of Scripture. But that should actually be the very basis for rejecting the new idea. If it is not found in the Bible, no matter how the author justifies the use thereof, then it should be rejected out of hand.

And don’t be intimidated by the preacher’s doctorate, credentials and background, elite “spirituality,” and least of all by his confident pronouncements, predictions and prophecies, bombastic pontifications, or affected meekness. The questions are simple: “Is it in the Bible and is this what the Bible plainly teaches?” If the speaker claims that you will not see what he sees because you do not have the special training, experience and background that he has, reject him. He is adding his “special insight” to the Scriptures. (This is a form of Gnosticism.)

Sola Scriptura also means that the Scriptures stand on their own. Yes, you need the Holy Spirit to lead you into all truth (John 16:13), but that’s it. No more. Anything else is a deception – no matter how red the speaker gets in the face when he insists he is teaching orthodoxy and Sola Scriptura.


The answer to all the bluff and bluster is easy and simple: “Show me where it is written.”


2. “Contextualization” and the Corruption of the Church by John MacArthur

It should be clear that modern church marketers cannot look to the apostle Paul for approval of their methodology or claim him as the father of their philosophy. Although he ministered to the vilest pagans throughout the Roman world, Paul never adapted the church to secular society’s tastes. He would not think of altering either the message or the nature of the church. Each of the churches he founded had its own unique personality and set of problems, but Paul’s teaching, his strategy, and above all his message remained the same throughout his ministry. His means of ministry was always preaching—the straightforward proclamation of biblical truth.

By contrast, the “contextualization” of the gospel today has infected the church with the spirit of the age. It has opened the church’s doors wide for worldliness, shallowness, and in some cases a crass, party atmosphere. The world now sets the agenda for the church.

This is demonstrated clearly in a book by James Davison Hunter, a sociology professor at the University of Virginia. Hunter surveyed students in evangelical colleges and seminaries, and concluded that evangelical Christianity has changed dramatically in the past three decades. He found that young evangelicals have become significantly more tolerant of activities once viewed as worldly or immoral—including smoking, using marijuana, attending R-rated movies, and premarital sex. Hunter wrote,

The symbolic boundaries which previously defined moral propriety for conservative Protestantism have lost a measure of clarity. Many of the distinctions separating Christian conduct from “worldly conduct” have been challenged if not altogether undermined. Even the words worldly and worldliness have, within a generation, lost most of their traditional meaning.… The traditional meaning of worldliness has indeed lost its relevance for the coming generation of Evangelicals. (Hunter, Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, 63)

What Hunter noted among evangelical students is a reflection of what has happened to the entire evangelical church. Many professing Christians appear to care far more about the world’s opinion than about God’s. Churches are so engrossed in trying to please non-Christians that many have forgotten their first duty is to please God (2 Cor. 5:9). The church has been so over-contextualized that it has become corrupted by the world.


John MacArthur


3. This is not Discipleship 

Some of the most frequently quoted verses in Evangelicalism are Matthew 28:18-20:

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father
and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you;
and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. Amen.”


Decisions

The Great Commission calls for making disciples rather than preaching the Gospel. (The same command in Mark 16:15 says “…preach the gospel….”) It is probably for this reason most Christians assume incorrectly that preaching the Gospel fulfills the Matthew 28:18-20, but it does not. Preaching the Gospel and making disciples are two entirely different (though related) things. Billy Graham, and others, have illustrated very well that there is a huge difference between these two ideas. Preaching the Gospel is relatively easy, and skilled evangelists can bring many to the altar through a single 30-minute sermon. But that is only the first step of many, and on its own does not fulfill the Great Commission at all. In fact, calling someone to the altar often does nothing more than give the candidate a false sense of security—they believe they are saved because they prayed a rote prayer and signed a decision card. Billy Graham worked that out and eventually started calling these “decisions” rather than “converts.”

So while preaching the Gospel is commanded and is vital, it is NOT discipleship and does not obey the Great Commission. For instance, many young men mistakenly think that inseminating a young girl makes them a father. It does not. A father provides for, trains, and raises that child until it is an adult. So evangelization without discipleship is like giving birth to a baby, and then dropping the newborn on Main Street and pointing the infant to a range of restaurants.


Assimilation

The more modern, and popular, system of assimilation is also not discipleship. This method involves inviting unbelievers into a non-threatening, non-confrontational social environment, vaguely associated with the church. These events could include enjoying coffee in the foyer of the church, attending church social events, playing on the softball team, joining (motorcycle) breakfast runs, etc. Some churches even invite influential members of the public to serve in some capacity, including serving on the board of the church. The idea is that the unbeliever will gradually be assimilated into the life of the church to the point that they become full-blown members.

It outwardly appears that this method works. Such people are quite successfully drawn into church membership, and learn to talk the right language and do the right things, eventually looking just like a real member. Many of these will even get baptized, take out church membership and rise to leadership positions. In the same way children that grow up in Christian homes become assimilated into the life of the church—they learn the right clichés, when to stand and when to sit, how to blend in, how to say “God bless you” and “I am praying for you”—but remain unregenerate. In the absence of having been born again, the first step of discipleship is missing. Therefore anything they say, do or learn is without any foundation and is simply learned behavior. There is no difference between such people and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, of whom He said: “… you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.” (Matthew 23:27).

Rather than teach disciples to become like Jesus, these “joiners” teach the church to become like the world.


Heavy Shepherding

Popular in more cultic groups, heavy shepherding (aka Shepherding) is seen by its proponents as the ultimate form of discipleship. In this system disciples are manipulated, controlled by fear, threatened, and coerced into becoming clones of the leaders. These leaders will make every decision for their minions, even control their thought processes, values and minutest discussions. Once again, the system seems to work as the “disciples” act and speak exactly as they have been taught. These groups are often marked by such conformity to the standard that they all dress the same, speak the same and think the same. This is sold as “unity” but it is not. This “unity” is achieved through the subjugation of the will and the mind of the individual to that of the leader(s). True unity comes about as the individuals are submitted to the Lord Jesus Christ rather than to men.

Louw and Nida confirm: “In rendering μαθητεύω in Mt 28:19 and similar contexts, it is important to avoid the implication of duress or force, that is to say, one should not translate ‘force them to be my disciples’ or ‘compel them to be my disciples.’”[1]

Heavy shepherding is most certainly not discipleship since it fails in the primary purpose of discipleship—to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Followers of these groups are disciples of men who have usurped the role of Christ in the heart and mind of the believer.


Mentoring

The words mentoring and discipleship sound like they mean the same thing, but they do not. A mentor is actually the name of a man who had occult abilities who lived hundreds of years ago (see HERE). In the occult world, a mentor became known as someone who was training an “adept” to have spiritual gifts that they could use to perform occult rituals. Promise Keepers (among others) brought the word mentor into the evangelical world and soon mentoring replaced discipleship in many churches.

Interestingly, the term mentoring conveys the idea of shadowing or mimicking someone else's behavior. It has to do with actions and activities that in psychology are known as “behavior modeling.” But it isn't about cognitive learning, which is a key component of discipleship (studying the Bible and Christ together). So mentoring becomes a substitute for actually delving into the Word and learning obedience to Christ. Rather it is some sort of trying to act like a leader. Hence the proliferation of popular books such as Lead Like Jesus, etc.


Bible Lectures

On the other extreme are those who believe that by simply preaching the Bible on Sundays that people will miraculously be changed into disciples by hearing the Word. This method is partially based on the King James translation of Matthew 28:19 as “Go therefore and teach…”

Many of these teachers do not even draw an application from the text for fear of “doing the work of the Holy Spirit.” This is a very comfortable way of doing ministry. The preacher simply prepares and delivers the Bible study and then retreats into his office in preparation for the next lecture. Members of such churches are marked by a proliferation of head knowledge about the Bible while simultaneously lacking in humility and most other characteristics of Jesus Christ.

Obviously, we do believe in the role of the Scriptures, and that the Word is indeed transformative. We must diligently teach the Bible, but this in itself does not constitute discipleship. David was very willing to say “Amen” to Nathan’s sermon about injustice, but failed to understand the message until the prophet pointed to him and said: “You are the man” (2Samuel 12:7).


Small Groups

Many bigger, and not so big, churches have some form of small group meetings under different names: cell groups, accountability groups, men’s groups, beer drinkers groups, cigar smokers groups, house churches,[2] etc. The idea of small groups is to supplement any formal preaching on Sundays with small groups which do the work of “discipling” the individuals in these small groups. Mostly these touchy-feely groups study anything but the Bible, and are more about getting in touch with one another’s feelings than discipling. Rather than teach people to follow the Lord Jesus, they encourage people to celebrate their differences, and to feel good and accepted no matter how sinful, rebellious, or unbiblical their behavior.

Very few members of these groups have ever been discipled themselves and thus they are not in a position to disciple others. Group consensus does not make the truth and is a recipe for rebellion against God’s Word. Small groups can have value if they are led by godly and gifted shepherds, but this is not often the case.


Counseling and Psychology

Others feel the need to get more personally involved with the individual, and do this on the basis of counseling and therapy. These sessions often contain a few misquoted Scriptures used to mask the true roots of the therapy. There are many variations on the same theme when it comes to counseling. There are many techniques and ideas culled from psychology, marketing, personal experience, group dynamics, behavior modeling, the human potential movement, holistic health, the New Age, etc. Spiritual self-help books containing new techniques proliferate, and include such mumbo-jumbo as inner healing, deliverance, positive confession, Reiki, Yoga, meditation and contemplation, guided imagery, confessing the sins of one's ancestors, spiritual "gift" inventories and assessments, etc. All of this serves to assist the counselee to become self-absorbed and needy, which is hardly a path to spiritual maturity. Yet, these immature people are often put in positions of ministry and leadership, especially in works-based initiatives filled with heavy requirements on the time of the individual.

These sessions are usually presided over by one of the pastors of the church, or by a specialist either from within or without the church, or by a graduate from an earlier class. Irrespective of the method, the philosophy remains fairly constant—to encourage the individual to accept his/her own “idiosyncrasies” (politically correct lingo for sinful behavior). In other words, the counseling is palliative, aimed at relieving symptoms without evidence of the transformation of the inner man through repentance and regeneration. The focus of every one of these methodologies is the individual and is never Christ. The standard of becoming like Christ is often rejected as too legalistic and a threat to the individual’s identity and self-expression. This is of course the antithesis of the whole purpose of discipleship, which is to help people become conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). The purpose of true discipleship is not to get to know self better but to know Him better.


Elements of Truth

Many of the techniques outlined above encompass elements of true discipleship, yet fail dismally in producing true disciples—mainly because they contain more human than spiritual wisdom and have not been based on a Biblical concept of discipleship. There is room for preaching on Sundays, small groups, individual counseling and so forth. But none of these individual components, on their own, constitute true discipling. But an even bigger problem is that each of these systems is based on a wrong premise, and seeks and produces an outcome that is in conflict with that of Scripture.


No Discipleship and True Discipleship

If we discount all the above methods that do not constitute biblical discipleship, and add to that the many churches that offer no alternative, it becomes evident that biblical discipleship is absent in the vast majority of churches today. This is true of big and small churches alike.

In addition, instead of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the majority of churches in the West are preaching a false Gospel of self. Thus without the preaching of the real Gospel and without discipleship, it is no wonder the church is adrift on a sea of humanism.

“… when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?”
(Luke 18:8) 

To be continued…

Endnotes:
1. Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains. New York: United Bible Societies.
2. Not to be confused with true house, or home churches.


4. The Money God

“God wants you to be rich, healthy and happy. If you have financial problems just become a Christian and all your problems will go away. Believers can get anything they wish from God by planting seeds in the form of cash. Every dollar you give God, He repays ten or a hundred fold.”

As a result of this message, millions of people have converted to Christianity and swelled the coffers of the TV stations, preachers and churches that preach this. But we must ask a few questions: Are they following the God of the Bible, and are those who teach and believe this message really Christians? How dare we ask such questions? Well, how dare we not!

It all hinges on one question: Is the god of the prosperity message the God of the Bible? That should not be hard to answer. All we need to do is compare the god of the prosperity gospel with the God of the Bible and it becomes clear that they are not the same. The god of the health and wealth message can best be described as the “money god” or the “ATM god.”

One day a rich young man wanted to follow Jesus. The money preacher would have told this young man to give his money to God (meaning the preacher) so that God will give back to him multiplied many more times. But what did Jesus say? “Go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me” (Matthew 19:21). Jesus did not promise the young man more money, but spiritual riches in heaven. Neither did Jesus tell him to give the money to God, or the Temple, but to just get rid of it because money had become his god. This Jesus of the Bible is different than the one preached today.

After this, turning to His disciples, Jesus said: “Assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”. To which the disciples responded, “Who then can be saved?” (Matthew 19:23-25). If it is hard, in fact impossible, for a rich man to enter the Kingdom, then surely God would be contradicting Himself by making people rich. This is because God also said He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). So, if the Lord wants people to be saved, and riches are going to keep them from getting saved, why then will He make them rich?

Jesus also said “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matthew 6:24). Mammon means money. Clearly serving God and money, greed and materialism, are mutually exclusive: You cannot serve money and God at the same time. Therefore the money god and the God of the Bible are two different gods. Jesus Himself places the two at opposites.

Paul confirms this: “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1Timothy 6:9). At the risk of oversimplification: “Everybody who wants to be rich will go to hell!” Is that too strong? No, it is exactly what it says. What else does it mean to drown in destruction and perdition? Clearly, the greed for money sends people to Hell. Who do you think is the master of the preachers who incite people to greed? God does not want any to go to hell, but the Devil does.

Paul continues: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness” (1Timothy 6:10). Yes, I know. it is the love of money and not the money. But what exactly is it that the money preachers are appealing to when they promise people that God will make them rich? It is the love of money. It is not the love of God. If that were the basis of their appeal they would encourage people to just give their money to God and not expect anything back. But they are expressly appealing to, and encouraging, the love of money. So who promotes the love of money? God or the Devil? God’s messengers, or the messengers of Satan?

Just think about it a moment before you reach for the mouse to delete this message. Wait before you sit at the keyboard to fire off a message telling me I am a heretic. Yes, I agree that God blesses His children, meets their needs and teaches them to look to Him for their daily bread. But there is a huge difference between loving God and loving money.

Millions of people have become “Christians” because of the promises of health, wealth and happiness. But I wonder if they would have become Christians if God rather promised persecution, hardship and problems. But wait! What does the Bible promise?: “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2Timothy 3:12). “In this world you will have trouble”. (John 16:33 NIV). And “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).

Not only do we have promises of hardship as Christians, but the record of Scripture confirms that to be the case. Jesus was never rich and had to be buried in a borrowed tomb. Paul had a few seasons of abundance but mostly his life was pretty miserable: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2Corinthians 11:24-27). Does that sound like the kind of life preachers are offering today?

Look at the wonderful “prosperous” life the heroes of faith lived: “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented-- of whom the world was not worthy. They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth” (Hebrews 11:35-38).

There are glaring differences between the promises of the Bible and those of the prosperity preachers. In fact, they are direct opposites.

It is very obvious that the god of the prosperity message is not the God of the Bible, and that those who preach that message are not messengers of God but of Satan. We must then ask whether their followers are really Christians.

If you have been following Jesus for what He can give you, then you need to repent and turn to the real Lord Jesus Christ who died for you on the cross. Ask Him right now to forgive you for following Him for things, when He already gave Himself as a sacrifice for your sins. God loved you so much that He gave His only begotten Son; but you want stuff?



5. Why do Evil Men Prosper?

This question plagues every believer who is trying to live a godly life and finds life hard while others who are evil and ungodly seem to prosper and have a good life. Sometimes we look at false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing who fleece the sheep, lead many to destruction and wreak havoc in the church and wonder why the Lord does not just strike them with a plague or death, as He did in the Old Testament.

If these questions worry you, then you are not alone. Down through the centuries many greater people than you and I have struggled with the same questions. Job asked: “Why do the wicked live and become old, yes, become mighty in power? Their houses are safe from fear, Neither is the rod of God upon them” (Job 21:7,9). Asaph said: “I was envious of the boastful, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For there are no pangs in their death, but their strength is firm. They are not in trouble as other men, nor are they plagued like other men” (Psalm 73:1-5). David said “Lord, how long will the wicked… triumph they break in pieces Your people, O Lord,  And afflict Your heritage” (Psalm 94:3,5). Jeremiah said: “Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why are those happy who deal so treacherously?” (Jeremiah 12:1).

One of the first things we need to understand is that there is no connection between prosperity, health, and life and the blessing or the judgment of the Lord. Rabbi Gamaliel’s advice  in Acts 5:38-40 is often misapplied to make a connection between the survival of people and organizations as indicative of a work of God. This is simply not true. Islam is not a work of God (in the good sense) and yet it has survived and prospered over 1400 years. The Roman church is a bit older than that and is very powerful and prosperous but it represents the apostate church. Mormonism is one of the fastest growing groups but it is a cult. So survival, growth and prosperity do not prove anything. In fact, if a preacher or church is popular, then they are very likely not the genuine article.

On the other hand, the true church has always been small and the true prophets have always been unpopular, hunted and killed. The road has always been narrow and the Lord’s chastening hand is heavy on those whom He loves. (Hebrews 12:6). Thus problems, persecution and being despised are not signs of failure but could well be signs of acceptance and of being on the narrow way. Obviously this does not mean that all people who are troubled are even saved, we know that is not true, so trouble in itself does not prove that we are right. On the other hand the absence of trouble is clearly a sign of not being a legitimate child of God (Hebrews 12:8).

The fact is that the wicked often prosper and die a natural death without any sign of God’s judgment against them while the righteous are often “destitute, afflicted, (and) tormented” (Hebrews 11:37). So let us not be discouraged and faint because these things have been so from the beginning when righteous Abel was killed while Cain continued to live a long life. It seems almost unfair that Genesis 4 records Cain’s descendants while it seems that Abel never produced offspring. The same can be said of the false prophets of the Old Testament who lived in luxury and received the honor of the kings while the true prophets were hated and killed.

There were times when God’s hand seemed to come straight out of heaven to judge the wicked and they were swallowed up by the earth, others died strange deaths and yet others suddenly contracted some terrible disease. This even happened a few times in the New Testament. But it is generally God’s purpose to wait until the Day of Judgment to judge men. Jesus taught this through the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13).

It is very hard to have to endure unrighteousness year after year and to not see God’s vindication. Jesus was also tempted to seek immediate revenge and to bring fire from heaven and destroy those who were crucifying, mocking and abusing Him. But rather “…when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1Peter 2:23).

God is righteous and He will judge and He will repay. Over and over the Bible assures us that God will vindicate injustice. Hebrews 10:30 says “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord.” When Job wrestled with this issue he concluded that “the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath” (Job 21:30).

We can be absolutely assured that God sees everything. Nothing is hidden from Him and every righteous deed and every unrighteous act is recorded in the books of heaven. Sometimes we feel that God is not aware of our distress and of the prosperity of the wicked, but He is aware. Not only does He see everything, He remembers everything. Thus we do not need to fret that some injustice has gone unnoticed and neither do we need to keep score since His records are perfect, not just recording the actions but also the attitudes.

God sees, He remembers and He will repay. We can be assured of that. Look at what Asaph says:
“Do not fret because of evildoers, nor be envious of the workers of iniquity. For they shall soon be cut down like the grass, and wither as the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good…  Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him; Do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, Because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; Do not fret – it only causes harm. For evildoers shall be cut off; But those who wait on the Lord, They shall inherit the earth. For yet a little while and the wicked shall be no more; Indeed, you will look carefully for his place, But it shall be no more. But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace. The wicked plots against the just, and gnashes at him with his teeth. The Lord laughs at him, for He sees that his day is coming. The wicked have drawn the sword and have bent their bow, to cast down the poor and needy, to slay those who are of upright conduct. Their sword shall enter their own heart, and their bows shall be broken. A little that a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked. For the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous. The Lord knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever. They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine they shall be satisfied. But the wicked shall perish; and the enemies of the Lord, like the splendor of the meadows, shall vanish. Into smoke they shall vanish away.” (Psalm 37:1-20, selected verses)


The Biggest Theological Debate of the Next Twenty Years By Andrew Wilson - THINK

I’ve never been very good at gazing into the crystal ball, so my predictions for the future probably aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. Nevertheless, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I think I know what the biggest theological debate of the next twenty years is going to be about. It doesn’t sound very exciting – and certainly not as likely to make headlines as hell, or penal substitution, or the roles of men and women, or the various other theological hot potatoes that the last decade has seen chucked around – but fundamentally, it is the issue that drives all the others. It is the question of the doctrine of Scripture: how we read, understand and apply the Bible.

Much modern discussion about hell isn’t really about what specific texts say, but how (or even if) we should form our theology of judgment, or God, from them. Much modern discussion about the roles of men and women isn’t really about what specific texts say, but about whether or not the situation in which they were written was different enough from ours to allow us (or compel us) to apply them differently today. As such, although the debates seem to be about one thing – hell, gender roles, gay bishops, the atonement, or whatever – they are actually about something else: how we understand and apply these ancient texts in the modern world.

It used to be easy to tell the goodies from the baddies. From the 1950s to the 1980s, you had evangelicals (hooray): strong, thoughtful, humble and godly people who preached the gospel and believed the Bible was God’s true and inspired word (John Stott, Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Martyn Lloyd-Jones and JI Packer). And then you had liberals (boo, hiss): weak, fluffy, compromising dilettantes who didn’t believe the Bible, didn’t believe the virgin birth, didn’t believe the resurrection, didn’t believe anything (Rudolf Bultmann, JAT Robinson, David Jenkins and John Shelby Spong). Forgive the caricature, but if you affirmed the resurrection, you affirmed the Bible and everything in it; if you rejected it, you rejected the Bible and everything in it. Simple.

Not any more. For many leaders and theologians today, not to mention ordinary Christians, there is not one danger to be warded off, but two: liberalism and fundamentalism. Liberalism is still at one extreme, but now fundamentalism is at the other, and evangelicals are increasingly self-identifying as those who sit in between those two positions. So, whereas fifty years ago a critique of liberalism would mark you out as a good evangelical, these days it might suggest you had drifted from the vitally important middle ground, and were in fact a fundamentalist in disguise – and this causes some influencers to avoid critiquing liberalism without critiquing fundamentalism as well (like Tim Keller, Tom Wright, Ben Witherington and many others), and others to devote far more time and energy to debunking fundies than liberals (like Rob Bell, Brian Maclaren, Scot McKnight and many others). Those who operate within the 1950s framework, and who speak in terms of those who submit to the Bible and those who don’t, are regarded by many as naïve bumpkins, divisive antagonists or worse (like Wayne Grudem, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler and many others).

This adjustment in the theological spectrum has a number of implications, some of them simple, some of them more complex. To start with four simple ones:

(1) Conservative evangelicals have become more marginalised within the Christian mainstream (oxymoronic though that term may seem).
Lots of self-identifying evangelicals disagree with their positions, which erodes the consensus on their biblical arguments; consequently, they have increasingly been accused of prooftexting and arguing based on their (conservative) cultural preferences. Sometimes these charges have been fair, and sometimes not.

(2) One flashpoint issue can quickly become a Shibboleth to establish someone’s evangelical credentials.
This is clearest in the USA, where theistic evolution is probably the most obvious one: for some, belief in theistic evolution proves someone’s liberalism, while for others, rejection of it proves someone’s fundamentalism. There are a number of possible British equivalents – sexuality, theistic evolution, hell, gender roles, justification, and so on – and I remember Tom Wright saying of the penal substitution debate: ‘It’s become a sort of witch-hunt. Hands up everyone who agrees with Steve Chalke? Right, now we know who the bad guys are.’ I think he was right, and it is obviously worth those of us in the UK working hard to maintain open dialogue about all of these issues to avoid ideological entrenchment and division.

(3) Splitting people into teams has become much harder, and this is a good thing. So: is Tom Wright a good evangelical, for defending the historical Jesus and his bodily resurrection, or a liberal scallywag, for denying imputed righteousness? Is Tim Keller the next CS Lewis (hooray), for his brilliant apologetics and credibility with the world, or is he the next CS Lewis (boo), for fudging hell, baptism, church government and evolution? And when I’m caught up in a debate between paedobaptist complementarians and credobaptist egalitarians, whose team am I on: the papists or the feminists? Both, and neither. Which is just as it should be.

(4) Loving and mutually encouraging relationships can make up for enormous differences in theology.
I can’t speak for the convenors of The Gospel Coalition, but my guess is one reason that they can happily disagree with each other on baptism, but make gender roles a deal-breaker – even though, you would think, how somebody becomes part of God’s people is more important than who gets to speak in a church meeting – is that DA Carson (credobaptist) really likes Tim Keller (paedobaptist), and Justin Taylor really likes Kevin DeYoung. When you love people, you see them as fellow believers before you see them as theological opponents, and that really helps.

So far, so good. But there are three further questions raised by all this, and in particular by some of those who believe fundamentalism is at least as big a danger to the modern church as liberalism, which require more thoughtful responses.

(5) Do we believe in the clarity of Scripture, and if so, what do we mean by it?
If the disagreements within the evangelical community are anything to go by, the texts of Scripture appear to be far from clear on all sorts of issues that (you would think) are fairly important, and would certainly fall under the category of instruction, reproof, correction and training so that we may be equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:17). How do we respond to that?

(6) What sort of hermeneutic is appropriate to the Bible?
Even when agreement on the meaning of a specific text is achievable, its application today can be hotly contested, because of different views of the narrative shape of the scriptures. What do we do with passages about slavery, circumcision, mildew, silence in churches, eating blood, head coverings, the Sabbath and brotherly kissing? We will generally justify each decision with reference to the narrative shape of the whole Bible, but what is this narrative shape? Do we read the Bible dispensationally (like Charles Ryrie), covenant-theologically (like Michael Horton), with a redemptive-movement hermeneutic (like Bill Webb), or as a five-act play (like Tom Wright)? Why?

(7) What is the relationship between reason and Scripture? To rely on human reason without reference to Scripture is classic liberalism, but what about relying on Scripture without reference to reason? Is this desirable, or even possible? What do we do when human reason appears to conflict with Scripture, whether on trivia (like the identity of ‘the smallest of all seeds’, or the age of the earth) or on theology (like an all-loving God ordaining that some go to hell)? How should reason and scripture interact?

God willing, I’m planning to do a few posts on these big questions over the next few Wednesdays. If I’m still alive after all that, I might even consider (8) whether ‘inerrancy’ is a useful word or not. Let’s keep thinking, and keep talking.

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