My Spiritual Autobiography, part 1

This will be the first of a series where I explain the journey of religion that I have followed thus far, and where I am ending up. To many, this may be a waste of time, but to those who appreciate an intimate look through the window into another’s soul, I aim to please. No promises on how long between posts. I pray this benefits many.

I Write Because I’m Working out the Kinks

It seems fairly egotistical to set out to write of one’s own spiritual journey, expecting others to read it. In this case, I had thought to write for the benefit of my wife, daughter, parents, and other family and near friends who would be impacted by where I am headed, but in the interest of the Church catholic, that ancient and enduring body to which I forever belong, I thought to offer this to anyone who would read.

I am slowly moving toward embracing the Reformed faith in totality. Having been a credobaptist my whole Christian life, I know how this seems to us when someone else “goes paedobaptist.” I’ve watched other men move from credo to paedo and often wondered “how could they do that? Haven’t they read the Bible?” And yet, here I stand on the threshold. Follow along, don’t tune me out, dear friends. Your readership will be a blessing to both of us.

Seeking the Church

This is a story of seeking for the rock which does not move in the storms. I am not referring to Jesus, exactly, for He has already found and sealed me in His name. I speak of the Church catholic,[1] that ancient, enduring, and elusive body, for which our need is great. We need the Church, and in one sense, I am searching for Jesus, for He is found wherever one finds His Church. In another sense, I am seeking to follow Him, to lose my ego-centered American individuality in Him, and to somehow land among His people while walking with Him. Continue reading

Atheism: Confident Evangelism

Even though I talk about how atheism is one of my favorites to confront in evangelism, for some reason I felt completely off kilter in this lesson until about 3/4 the way through. Maybe you won’t notice it.

Evangelism to the atheist is unique in certain ways, so there is a different flavor to this approach from other religions.

When we talk to the atheist, we must do the heavy and difficult work of showing them, from 10,000 different angles, how impossible and illogical it is to posit a lack of the eternal Being of God. This isn’t easy, not because it takes a huge brain to do it, but rather because the atheist has fallen into a pit of deep, dark snares within his or her own mind. A total logical failure cannot be embraced without an awesome mental ability to enforce it upon one’s own mind and heart. In other words, self delusion through moral suppression of the light of reality.

Sin. That enemy and closest companion of every mortal human. Sin can corrupt and twist our minds until we cannot see the sun shining at noon day in a cloudless sky. Watch the video, and see if you follow. Comments are open. Workbook is here.

Thanks,

Adam

Jehovah’s Witnesses: Confident Evangelism

They’re the wily sect that everyone loves to avoid. The Jehovah’s Witnesses are an apocalyptic religion hunkered down awaiting the violent end to history, hoping their obedience to the Watchtower organization will earn them Jehovah’s favor and protection during Armageddon – but who has time to learn all about their mass of unique perspectives? Can we share the truth with a JW without a PhD in their doctrines?

This lesson is my best attempt to equip you with a confident course of action, without bogging you down in historical details. Give it a shot!

An added bonus in this episode is that we had a special guest in class – an ex-JW named Natalie, who kindly bore witness (punny of me to say) to my information, and added her perspective at certain points.

The workbook is here. Other episodes are available on this blog here.

Grace to you,

Adam

Who’s to Say? Answering the Roman Catholic on Matters of Authority and Truth

Recently I’ve been enjoying an amiable debate with a Roman Catholic from Lebanon (via Twitter). We keep coming back to the question of the early church – I insist that we Reformation Christians are the recovered, ancient church, and of course he insists that Rome has always been the chief authority over all other churches. Here’s a snippet from our exchange: Continue reading

I Think 1 Corinthians is the Hardest Book in the Bible

Over the past half decade, my study focus in the Bible has been in the field of biblical theology, as opposed to systematic theology. In the latter, we ask a specific question about doctrine, like “What is the trinity?” or “What is baptism?” and then search all 66 books of the Bible for relevant passages. The goal of systematic theology is to say “this is what the Bible says about X.”

Biblical theology, on the other hand, asks “How do all the different, little parts of the Bible fit together into a whole?” This question (like with systematic) presupposes the divine, inerrant nature of Scripture, and as such you won’t be taught biblical theology outside of a Bible-believing church or seminary. When we do biblical theology, we are seeking to trace the common theme and unifying principal of Scripture from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22.

Well, I love biblical theology, but as I run my fingers along the whole vessel of unified Scripture, I always get splinters in 1 Corinthians. Other books and chapters of Scripture are very difficult to reconcile with the whole, but in my opinion, 1 Corinthians is in a class of its own. It seems Paul comes out with insights unique to this letter – and hard to reconcile with the whole of Scripture. This is a fearful thing for an inerrantist. (We can be honest with each other, right?)

I recently took a poll on Twitter to see if anyone else agreed with me – and although some did, the majority fell into my Revelation trap:

Of course many Christians see Revelation as the tough one – a book of riddles and puzzles. I pitted these two against one another because my theory was that most Christians do not know their Old Testament very well – and that translates into confusion about Revelation. If we know our Old Testament, and if we read Revelation keeping in mind the second-century church would have gotten direct application and comfort from Revelation, then it unravels into semi-easy, understandable interpretation.

Yet 1 Cor is a belly flop of a letter. Paul is not addressing any one issue (like in Galatians or Colossians), and he isn’t writing a splendid overview of biblical theology and gospel (like Romans and Ephesians), and he isn’t giving apostolic guidance to a stable brother in Christ (like 1-2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon), but rather he’s attempting to corral a group of borderline wackos who had asked him a basket of difficult questions.

1 Cor begins well enough – in fact, I understand and enjoy everything pretty well up to chapter 7. From there on, Paul loses me, no matter how many commentaries I consult for guidance. Check out some of these gems of biblical enigma:

Because of the angels, Paul? Really? That’s all you’ve got for me? And what do you mean about the believing spouse “sanctifying” the unbelieving spouse? And please, Paul, tell us why you had to say all that stuff about speaking in tongues – I wish you could have seen all the fallout we’re suffering because of it. Couldn’t you have clarified that all that stuff expired with the closing of the canon?

And why, brother Paul, oh why did you have to say “I, not the Lord, say…”? That one is an apologetics nightmare, my dear father and apostle.

But are these questions just mine? How about you all – does anyone out there find 1 Cor equally confusing? In case you’re still feeling strong, looking down on this poor Adam as a confused, well-meaning saint, I deliver my final blow in 1 Cor 15:29

Otherwise, what do people mean by being baptized on behalf of the dead? If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized on their behalf?”

If you know what on earth he was talking about, I’m all yours, teacher. What’s my point in all this? I’ll be straight with you: I’m a teacher of God’s Word, I play a strong supporting role in my local church, and I teach multiple Bible studies in home meetings. When I write a post like this, it’s because I want to be vulnerable and open with my family in Christ. I want to have the credibility of admitting that this is not an easy book (the Bible as a whole), and there are some questions I cannot answer. I struggle in my faith just like anyone else, and even have days of heavy doubts at times.

I’m confessing publicly that I’m made of flesh and blood, and no matter how much confidence I have in teaching the Bible, it is still my master, and God is still its final interpreter.st-augustine No man or church can be the master of this divine library, we are forever its pupils and in submission to its wisdom.

And maybe, just maybe, I’m writing this blog post to celebrate a book like 1 Corinthians. Maybe it gives me a bit of comfort to know that “the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor. 1:25 ESV). You see that? He put it right in the hardest book in the Bible – “Not everything here will appeal to your human wisdom and understanding. Not everything in My book will be fully comprehensible. That’s OK – you know the center and foundation of Scripture (Jesus and His gospel) – you can let some of it be over your head.” (No, God did not say that to me. I’m imagining that would be something like what He would say to me about 1 Cor.).

I will always try to understand 1 Cor better, but I will be content in my personal faith and in my apologetic endeavors if these things remain an enigma to me.

What about you?

Thanks for reading,

Adam

 

The Law was a Candle, Christ is the Sun – John Chrysostom

Pastor John Chrysostom (b. 347 – d. 407) is one of Christianity’s greatest ancient preachers. He lived during a time of great turmoil in Church history, as the Arians had taken control of Christendom for decades around when he was born and raised. His “golden mouth” (Greek “Chrysostom”)

Johnchrysostom

gave forth glorious exposition of the Scriptures as He lifted up Jesus for all to see and love.

I’ve recently been creating posts to reflect the newness of the New Covenant of Christ Jesus, not to disparage the Law of God, but to show its true role for the people of God. The New Testament could hardly be clearer in expressing the place of Law for Christians: we are not under Law, but under grace (Rom. 6:14-15).

We are to exult in the Law of God as the revelation of His holy and good nature, but regarding the ethic of the Christian, we are to look to Christ Jesus Himself as the standard. He is the sun in comparison to a candle – He is God’s highest revelation of His moral nature, and of how we ought to live. All that Christ said and did fulfilled the Law, but also surpassed the strict letter of it.

Jesus gave us the new obedience, the new law-keeping in Him, by faith in Him and love of Him (e.g. Gal. 6:2). Here John Chrysostom lifts our eyes to a higher standard and norm than the law, as he makes exposition of Galatians 3:25-26 Continue reading

Justin Martyr on Israel, Jews, Christians, and the Old and New Covenants

The second-century saw a young Christianity getting her legs, and forming a more catholic, firm identity as the new covenant people. I recently researched early second-century father Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, a Jewish philosopher. The debate is representative of the friction between Jews of Judaism and the Christian Church. Fascinating in its depth, the dispute between them is revealing for Christians today who are seeking to learn more of their roots… in other words, the early fathers have a value that we must mine out and share with one another if we are to survive the vapid, materialistic Western culture pervading the American version of Christianity.

The following is my recent seminary paper reviewing the Dialogue. I encourage you to read it all, and to look up the references. If you’re like me, you need some depth and history behind your Christian life. Grace to all of you who love the Lord Jesus, our new Lawgiver.

Introduction: The Relationship between Israel and the Early Church

The early Church believed itself to have inherited the Old Testament promises given throughout the Old Testament narrative to ethnic Israel. Extant apologetic works from the first few centuries prominently feature Christians arguing that the new covenant was the fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, both for Jew and Gentile. The Church after the ascension “regarded itself as a continuation and development of Judaism,” and so the second-century Apologists like Justin Martyr examined the relationship between the old and new covenants.[1] In Justin’s Dialogue with Trypho, his contention was that Christianity was the natural continuation of Judaism as branch is to root (c.f. Rom. 11:17-18).[2]

Continue reading

How I Answered 6 Arminian Questions

Our brother the Seeking Disciple posted 6 questions for Calvinists. I answered them in the best way I can, as someone not-quite Calvinist. Check it:

Rather than “Calvinist,” I qualify more so as monergist, or sovereign grace Baptist. Here’s my best attempt.

Arminian question #1. Why preach ‘repent or perish’ when the non-elect can’t repent and the elect can’t perish?

A) Because God is worthy of the repentance of every man, woman, and child on earth, and to command anything less would be to lessen His holy Law.

B) Because God uses means to accomplish His plan, and in order for His people to be saved, we must preach the gospel, and even lay down our lives to reach every tribe on earth

(2 Tim. 2:8-10 8 Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel, 9 for which I suffer trouble as an evildoer, even to the point of chains; but the word of God is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.)

C) Because Christ commanded it, and Christ is more loving than we can imagine. The preaching of the gospel is an expression of His love to every person, and His desire that all people would come to repentance. It is an error of rationalism to conclude that because God desires all people to come to repentance that therefore He makes equal provision for all. (More on that below.) Our hearts ought to be content in trusting our Father, that since He loved the world in such a way that He gave His only Son, that therefore every living person is a potentially “elect” person, and ought to be commanded and loved and plead with to enter the kingdom through repentance and faith. That is Calvinism as I know it, and as I practice it.

Arminian question #2. How can God hold the non-elect responsible for ‘not believing’ and damn them for it, when He deliberately did not give them the faith to enable them to believe in the first place?

The foundation of this question is flawed. God holds people responsible for knowing Him and suppressing that knowledge in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18-21). Try asking this: how could God hold the angels who rebelled responsible for their continued rebellion when He sent them no Savior or redemption? Is that fair? The Calvinist (or monergist like me) does his best to refrain from putting God on the witness stand to be judged and questioned – and we marvel that not only are a few saved, but as John sees in Revelation, a sea of people are with Christ, too numerous to count. Hallelujah!

Arminian question #3. If Christ has already made an efficacious atonement for the sins of an elect person, is that elect person actually lost during the period prior to their being saved?

Yes. Eph. 2:3 we were once the children of wrath. Calvinists who believe in eternal justification are in serious error. Also, Calvinists in general do not express the atonement in a fully biblical language, in my understanding. Christ died for everyone, and the Father applies the atonement to whom He will. (This makes me a 4.5 pointer I think).

Arminian question #4. During the period before an elect person gets saved, how are they condemned already (for not believing) when their unbelief (which is a sin) has already been paid for by Christ on the cross?

Instead of rationalism, I choose a biblical doctrine to shape my thinking. Although Jesus atoned for all (or all the elect as Calvinists say), it is not effectual for their justification until applied by the Spirit, and when they repent and trust in Christ. To force eternal justification is to do major violence to all sorts of orthodox biblical categories.

Arminian question #5. If repentance is a gift only given to the elect, what did Jesus mean when He said that some of the people in hell would have repented if they had had the same opportunity as the people to whom He preached?

God knows in His wisdom exactly what type of application is needed from person to person to regenerate them. We have to take the statement at face value. Let’s turn it a little: If God knew what it would have taken for those in hell to have repented, why didn’t He do it? A blatant proof text for monergism/Calvinism.

Arminian question #6. Why does the Spirit of God strive and convict some sinners who later prove, by dying and going to hell, that they were non-elect? What is the purpose of such movings of the Spirit?

I believe (and this is piercing into the secret counsel of God a little bit Deut 29:29) that He is demonstrating His mercies and also the guilt/depravity of His enemies, that though they are given access to all the covenant graces of Christ, yet without His decisive, effectual grace of regeneration, they will ultimately persist in unbelief and sin. In a word, demonstration.

Grace in Christ,

-Justin

You Can’t Keep a Good Savior Dead: Tuesdays with Uncle Athanasius

Resurrection Sunday is just past, and here we are, almost 2,000 years later still celebrating. What are we celebrating? We rejoice that an obscure carpenter from the middle of nowhere, who was brutally put to death by the Roman government, raised Himself from the dead on the third day after His crucifixion. We are celebrating that this obscure carpenter, this peasant man from backwater Galilee was Himself the eternal God in human flesh, and that He somehow managed to put away the enmity between God and rebellious humankind. How did He somehow manage that? He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

A divine exchange.

The innocent, offended party reached out to the seething hatred of humanity, and allowed Himself to become the satisfaction for our sin. The innocent for the guilty.

His life was poured out to death, and death swallowed Him whole. In the belly of death, as it began trying to digest Him (like everyone else who ever died), He instead came back to life, bursting the body of death from the inside. Death could not handle Him, this Jesus of Nazareth. He was more than a carpenter. His resurrection is a glorious mystery only partially understood – yet we know that in some mystical way we share in His resurrection – those of us who have called on Him as Lord and been baptized in His name will in like manner defeat death on the final day of history.

Yes, please.

Our dear uncle from almost 1,700 years ago, Athanasius of Alexandria, has so much gold to share with us newer folk. I post quotes from his magnum opus (On the Incarnation) each Tuesday, and so I hope you are in some way helped in your Christian faith by reading these glorious nuggets of theological contemplation. Let’s see what he has to say about all this I’ve been saying.

Uncle Ath?

Yes, kids?

How has death been doing since it met Jesus Christ?

I like this question, kids…

If, then, it is by the sign of the cross and by faith in Christ that death is trampled underfoot, it is clear that it is Christ Himself and none other Who is the Archvictor over death and has robbed it of its power.

Death used to be strong and terrible, but now, since the sojourn of the Savior and the death and resurrection of His body, it is despised; and obviously it is by the very Christ Who mounted on the cross that it has been destroyed and vanquished finally.

When the sun rises after the night and the whole world is lit up by it, nobody doubts that it is the sun which has thus shed its light everywhere and driven away the dark. Equally clear is it, since this utter scorning and trampling down of death has ensued upon the Savior’s manifestation in the body and His death on the cross, that it is He Himself Who brought death to nought and daily raises monuments to His victory in His own disciples.Uncle Athanasius

How can you think otherwise, when you see men naturally weak hastening to death, unafraid at the prospect of corruption, fearless of the descent into Hades, even indeed with eager soul provoking it, not shrinking from tortures, but preferring thus to rush on death for Christ’s sake, rather than to remain in this present life? If you see with your own eyes men and women and children, even, thus welcoming death for the sake of Christ’s religion, how can you be so utterly silly and incredulous and maimed in your mind as not to realize that Christ, to Whom these all bear witness, Himself gives the victory to each, making death completely powerless for those who hold His faith and bear the sign of the cross? No one in his senses doubts that a snake is dead when he sees it trampled underfoot, especially when he knows how savage it used to be; nor, if he sees boys making fun of a lion, does he doubt that the brute is either dead or completely bereft of strength.

These things can be seen with our own eyes, and it is the same with the conquest of death. Doubt no longer, then, when you see death mocked and scorned by those who believe in Christ, that by Christ death was destroyed, and the corruption that goes with it resolved and brought to end.

My favorite uncle.

This convicts me to not hold this life too tightly, and to not be too afraid to meet the toothless death who is powerless to keep me from my Savior and King.

Thanks for reading, and I hope to share in the resurrection of the just with you (are you trusting in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins?).

-Justin

Spiritual Helps: Valley of Vision Prayer

I provide these prayers most Sundays for those of us who are weak in prayer, and who need help in devotion. Today’s prayer is an example of the beating heart of Christian faith. It is a recognition of our neediness for God’s kind mercies, and a confidence that He will grant to us what we need.

Peaceful Valley

Pray this with me.

Eternal Father, it is amazing love, that Thou hast sent Thy Son to suffer in my stead, that Thou hast added the Spirit to teach, comfort, guide, that Thou hast allowed the ministry of angels to wall me round; all heaven subserves the welfare of a poor worm.

Permit Thy unseen servants to be ever active on my behalf, and to rejoice when grace expands in me. Suffer them never to rest until my conflict is over, and I stand victorious on salvation’s shore.

Grant that my proneness to evil, deadness to good, resistance to Thy Spirit’s motions, may never provoke Thee to abandon me.

May my hard heart awake Thy pity, not Thy wrath, And if the enemy gets an advantage through my corruption, let it be seen that heaven is mightier than hell, that those for me are greater than those against me.

Arise to my help in richness of covenant blessings, keep me feeding in the pastures of Thy strengthening Word, searching Scripture to find Thee there.

If my waywardness is visited with a scourge, enable me to receive correction meekly, to bless the reproving hand, to discern the motive of rebuke, to respond promptly, and do the first work.

Let all Thy fatherly dealings make me a partaker of Thy holiness. Grant that in every fall I may sink lower on my knees, and that when I rise it may be to loftier heights of devotion.

May my every cross be sanctified, every loss be gain, every denial a spiritual advantage, every dark day a light of the Holy Spirit, every night of trial a song.

Thanks for praying with me,

-Justin

Valley of Vision