Lyrical Theology

Over the next little while I’d like to do a series of posts using lyrical theology. Lyrical theology is, by my own definition, the truths of the God’s Word expressed in the form of music. Ideally, all Christian music should contain lyrical theology. Songs written by Christian artists should contain God’s truth or at the very least be inspired by it. Songs that are sung in a worship setting, in particular, need to contain lyrical theology. There is a difference between inspirational Christian music and worshipful Christian music used for gatherings. In the posts that will follow, we’ll be using worship and praise music designed for Church gatherings.

We see lyrical theology most obviously in the book of Psalms. Primarily written by David (famous for his slaying of the giant Goliath), the Psalms are a collection of poems and songs that have a variety of purposes. They declare God’s wonderful deeds; they sing praises to his name; they cry out for his mercy; they call upon him to defend the innocent; they draw forth a heart of repentance. Yet through all of this variety, David (and the other authors) clearly demonstrate a keen understanding of God’s Word. As such, their lyrics are Biblically informed and click with not only the emotions but the mind as well. This is lyrical theology at its best.

Though the Psalms hold a special place as divine Scripture, good lyrical theology can be found in plenty of both newer and older Christian songs too. Over the course of some time I will take some of my favourite Christian songs and write what will essentially be devotional posts based on the songs lyrical theology. I hope that it encourages you to listen to good Christian music, be mindful of the words, and to worship God on a whole new level.

“Offensive” T-shirt Causes Quite a Stir

One day after our city’s popular annual Rotary Festival, highlighted by the Rotary Fest Parade, an interesting article appeared on popular local news website sootoday.com posting an open letter by a woman named Heather. To summarize, Heather’s letter expressed her concern over a shirt worn by one of the young men within the Gay Pride section of the parade. The shirt had blazoned across it the phrase “haters gonna hate”. Heather specifically stated that she had no problem with the Gay Pride section being in the parade, but felt that the shirt was offensive because “messages of hatred should not ever be permitted from any party”. She felt that the shirt was likely directed at religious people as they tend to be the ones taking anti-homosexual stances. Overall, though I myself was not offended and don’t exactly agree with her, I felt like the tone of the letter was respectful and that she was not coming down on anyone in particular, but was simply expressing her opinion in a responsible way.

Others didn’t think so. At last count, within less than 24 hours of the article being published, 178 responses were posted in the comments section, the vast majority of them expressing their disapproval of Heather’s opinions. Below are some examples, copied and pasted directly (so forgive spelling, punctuation, and language):

  • really Heather??? sounds like a slogan on a t-shirt is the least of your worries…sure seems like there’s alot more deep-rooted issues troubling you. I’m also left with a struggle to deal with as well. I can’t come to terms with the fact that you wasted your time writing such useless dribble. What an absolute jackass
  • Wow Heather…you’re offended by that?! First I would suggest you give your head a good shake and then grow up ! “Christian values”….now that’s rich!
  • At next year’s parade I am going to wear a shirt that says “heathers gonna hate”…
  • Heather, thanks for writing this letter… you just proved his point. Haters gonna hate… seems to me you’re a prime example of the hater.
  • Shut up! Its didn’t hurt anyone! Quit your whining and stuck up talk!
  • Heather quit being a dingbat.
  • Heather I think you should have followed the advice that you gave your husband ‘to just let it go’. Now you have just expressed to the world how narrow minded (close-minded for that matter) you are. Quite embarassing to say the least…
  • I wonder if she feels like an ass yet.
  • Get a life Heather…your pathetic.
  • I bet you wish you didnt write to the editor now LOL!!!!!!!these are personal comments that are best served amongst you christians heather…In the real world there are others who are not of your faith and respect all persons decisions with respect to their beliefs……I think you need to get out a little more my dear……
  • Are you frikking kidding me right now?? It’s all Freedom of choice, relax!! This is almost as funny as that bored old housewife who found the picture of a penis on a Zoodle’s can way back when. Too much!!
  • It’s just a shirt. People like you truly make me sick.
  • Dear Heather, after reading maybe HALF of this article i myself was left disgusted that i had in fact wasted my time reading this…I am floored that someone whom in fact discusses in this article about christianity would have enough audacity to even think writing such crap is ACCEPTABLE! …people like you are sheltered and naive about the real problems of the world… go stress yourself out about someone significant and important.. instead of complaining go contribute to your community by volunteering instead of wasting EVERYONES TIME WITH YOUR IDIOTIC RANTS!
  • Heather..I had many thoughts come to my mind while I was reading your “opinion”. The one that stands out the most is “You mam, are an idiot of diabolical magnitude.”

In addition to these rather cruel comments, someone has designed a “Heather’s gonna hate” t-shirt which they posted and shared on Facebook to try and further ridicule this woman, as well as at least one person linking this story to their Facebook wall with the description “HATERS GUNNA HATE!!! Repost this to see how many people agree!!! Appauled by HEATHER!!!”

After taking the time to read every comment, and follow this story as closely as I can, I am a little disappointed, to say the least. Though some who disagreed with Heather were able to express their thoughts respectfully, a significant majority did not. Instead, the very people who called this woman idiotic, intolerant, and hateful were themselves acting in this way. I find it very unfortunate that people with differing beliefs are unable to share them in ways that are thoughtful and courteous. I also find it disturbing that individuals feel the need to launch attacks online against someone simply for sharing differing beliefs.

As a Christian myself, I do look to the Bible as the ultimate authority on life, religion, and morality. However, I am still able to live peacefully and respectfully with those who do not share this view, even if we may strongly disagree. Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, and have the right to free speech. This is good and healthy. But it is wrong when strong convictions are stated without love or respect for others. All people are valuable and worthy of dignity and honour, no matter how different from us they may be.

I felt it would be responsible to try and speak with the individual who wore the “haters gonna hate” shirt to see what he had to say about all this. His name is Theodore Syrette, and as it turns out, I went to high school with him and we actually were in the same grade together (I didn’t recognize him from the picture). In our conversation, which took place online, he told me of how in high school he was regularly bullied and ostracized for being gay and struggled with depression, identity issues, and substance abuse as a result. He went on to share:

“I let people wear me down and made me rethink of everything that I believed in and also made me forget about my goals and dreams. I managed to cope through this by involving myself in community theatre. When I was on stage I was able to be a persona that wasn’t me, that didn’t need to worry about what people thought about me while walking down the street. I didn’t need to worry about hurtful remarks, getting egged, pushed or punched. I was able to just be me and all the positiveness that was inside of me. It has taken a long time in order for me to get over all the hurt and not let anyone hinder me from being a successful and well accomplished individual.”

Teddy, as he is called by friends, is currently a student at Sault College studying Social Services in the Native Specialization Program. He went on to say “As a person I have my own values that are dear to me and I have walked a long hard path to understand who I am and what I can offer to the community. I am capable of this now, because I don’t let strangers dictate to me what I should do or how I should do it. Hurtful comments do not effect me as they once did, but only make me a stronger leader when faced with adversity.”

I also asked Teddy what his intentions were in wearing that particular shirt. He responded by saying that “the shirt wasn’t planned to provoke anyone or worn out of maliciousness of any kind. I really was just looking for a shirt to add to my purple outfit.”

In reference to the initial letter that sparked the controversy and the opinions stated by Heather, Teddy states “I’m not the one to ask, because it is only based on assumption”. He shared with me that he has read the comments on the article and that reading them “made me feel bad for her. It brought me back to when I was bullied.” He also told me that he has reached out to the author of the letter and expressed apologies for any hurt she has experienced, as well as placing an invitation to meet with her and discuss what has transpired over the last day. In one final attempt to put all of this behind, he is writing a statement for sootoday.com to publicly post in hopes that everyone can move on.

In the end, this fiasco has shown me that our world still has a long way to go in terms of being able to have people of differing beliefs co-exist. Even those who fight for tolerance and free speech are, at times, not good at allowing it for others. My hope is that we can learn to be more respectful of one another and learn to speak in ways that are thoughtful and respectful, and be able to dialogue and debate in ways that demonstrate value to each person. We don’t have to agree, but we do need to be kind. Hopefully something as small as a slogan on a t-shirt can become a valuable learning lesson for everyone involved.

What’s the Difference Between True Christianity and the Jehovah’s Witnesses?

Marking differences between true Christianity and the Jehovah’s Witnesses can be a bit tricky because both religions use similar language. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, call themselves Christians who believe the Bible and look to Jesus as the one who saves us and will give us eternal life. However, when you dig deeper, major differences can be found between these two faiths that push them worlds apart.

As a principle, the mark of a false religion can be determined by comparing it to the Christian view on five major points. A false religion will differ on one or more of the following:

  • A different God
  • A different Jesus
  • A different gospel
  • A different afterlife
  • A different revelation

Let’s examine the Jehovah’s Witness faith in these areas.

A different God?

Do Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses worship the same God? Certainly many would say so, but this cannot be the case. There are a variety of reasons for this but the primary one is that Christians believe in a triune God while Witnesses definitively do not. The Christian view of God is that there is one God who exists in three persons; Father, Son, and Spirit. There are not three God’s but one.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, however, reject this to say there is one God who exists alone as Jehovah. In fact the “Jehovah’s Witnesses official website” at www.watchtower.org devotes a lengthy article to refuting the Trinity, including quoting Yale University professor E. Washburn Hopkins “To Jesus and Paul the doctrine of the trinity was apparently unknown…they say nothing about it.” In addition, the article essentially suggests that Christian belief in the Trinity is the apostasy (falling away of true worship of God) that the Bible declared to be coming in future times. In other words, they are rejecting Christianity as a false religion.

A different Jesus?

Jehovah’s Witnesses also have a different view of Jesus. Although they refer to him as the Son of God and also the Savior of the world, just as Christians do, there are significant differences. Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is not eternal but rather is a created being, that he was originally the Archangel Michael (and became Christ upon his virgin birth), and that he is lesser than God the Father.

The Christian view is that Jesus was not created but rather is the Creator of all and that he is in fact God.

A different gospel?

Christianity rightly taught says that salvation and forgiveness of sins takes place not based on what we do (our good works), but rather by the grace of God. We cannot earn God’s favor or blessing no matter how holy a life we live, because each person is a sinner and therefore unholy. Because Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins, placing faith in him means that our sins are atoned for and we are seen as holy in God’s eyes.

The Jehovah’s Witness believe that grace is merely the opportunity to saved, and that actual salvation is based on works – obeying completely the teachings of the Jehovah’s Witness religion. Additionally, Jehovah’s Witnesses recognize two classes of “saved” people: 144,000 fortunate followers who will dwell in heaven, and all other Jehovah’s Witnesses who will dwell in paradise on earth.

A different afterlife?

As stated above, Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses differ on their views of heaven. The same is true of hell, as Christians hold to a hell that is conscious and eternal, while Jehovah’s Witnesses essentially see hell as the common grave of mankind and that unbelievers simply cease to exist after death.

A different revelation?

Perhaps the crucial crux to this lies here: where does each faith get their beliefs? Both Christians and Jehovah’s Witnesses turn to the Bible. However, it is not the same Bible! Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that the true revelation of God is contained in the version of the Bible kept and produced by the Watchtower Society and that all other versions have been tampered with and are to be rejected. In addition, only understandings of the Bible promoted by the Watchtower Society are correct, and individual interpretation of the Bible is condemned. The Watchtower Society is essentially seen as God’s visible representatives on earth and should be obeyed as the voice of God himself.

The Christian Bible, on the other hand, is kept and produced by dozens of publishers, making it easier to identify adapted versions. Not surprisingly, the version published by the Watchtower Society has changed key verses about Jesus and salvation, revealing it as an untrustworthy version. Think of it this way: in court, the same story told by multiple witnesses would be considered more accurate than a different story told by a single witness. Logic concludes that the Watchtower Society has changed the true revealed Word of God.

How to Listen to a Sermon (by George Whitefield)

[The following is an excerpt adapted from Sermon 28 from The Works of the Reverend George Whitefield.]

Jesus said, ‘Therefore consider carefully how you listen’ (Luke 8:18). Here are some cautions and directions, in order to help you hear sermons with profit and advantage.

1. Come to hear them, not out of curiosity, but from a sincere desire to know and do your duty. To enter His house merely to have our ears entertained, and not our hearts reformed, must certainly be highly displeasing to the Most High God, as well as unprofitable to ourselves.

2. Give diligent heed to the things that are spoken from the Word of God. If an earthly king were to issue a royal proclamation, and the life or death of his subjects entirely depended on performing or not performing its conditions, how eager would they be to hear what those conditions were! And shall we not pay the same respect to the King of kings, and Lord of lords, and lend an attentive ear to His ministers, when they are declaring, in His name, how our pardon, peace, and happiness may be secured?

3. Do not entertain even the least prejudice against the minister. That was the reason Jesus Christ Himself could not do many mighty works, nor preach to any great effect among those of His own country; for they were offended at Him. Take heed therefore, and beware of entertaining any dislike against those whom the Holy Ghost has made overseers over you.

Consider that the clergy are men of like passions with yourselves. And though we should even hear a person teaching others to do what he has not learned himself, yet that is no reason for rejecting his doctrine. For ministers speak not in their own, but in Christ’s name. And we know who commanded the people to do whatever the scribes and Pharisees should say unto them, even though they did not do themselves what they said (see Matt. 23:1-3).

4. Be careful not to depend too much on a preacher, or think more highly of him than you ought to think. Preferring one teacher over another has often been of ill consequence to the church of God. It was a fault which the great Apostle of the Gentiles condemned in the Corinthians: ‘For whereas one said, I am of Paul; another, I am of Apollos: are you not carnal, says he? For who is Paul, and who is Apollos, but instruments in God’s hands by whom you believed?’ (1 Cor. 1:12; 2:3-5).

Are not all ministers sent forth to be ministering ambassadors to those who shall be heirs of salvation? And are they not all therefore greatly to be esteemed for their work’s sake?

5. Make particular application to your own hearts of everything that is delivered. When our Savior was discoursing at the last supper with His beloved disciples and foretold that one of them should betray Him, each of them immediately applied it to his own heart and said, ‘Lord, is it I?’ (Matt. 26:22).

Oh, that persons, in like manner, when preachers are dissuading from any sin or persuading to any duty, instead of crying, ‘This was intended for such and such a one!’ instead would turn their thoughts inwardly, and say, ‘Lord, is it I?’ How far more beneficial should we find discourses to be than now they generally are!

6. Pray to the Lord, before, during, and after every sermon, to endue the minister with power to speak, and to grant you a will and ability to put into practice what he shall show from the Book of God to be your duty.

No doubt it was this consideration that made St. Paul so earnestly entreat his beloved Ephesians to intercede with God for him: ‘Praying always, with all manner of prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and for me also, that I may open my mouth with boldness, to make known the mysteries of the gospel’ (Eph. 6:19-20). And if so great an apostle as St. Paul needed the prayers of his people, much more do those ministers who have only the ordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit.

If only all who hear me this day would seriously apply their hearts to practice what has now been told them! How ministers would see Satan, like lightning, fall from heaven, and people find the Word preached sharper than a two-edged sword and mighty, through God, to the pulling down of the devil’s strongholds! 

Godly Manhood

The Bible has a great deal to say about what a godly man is like. Here are some of the characteristics he possesses:

He is a cultivator

  • Genesis 2:15 The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.
  • Genesis 3:17-19 And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

God put man in the garden to cultivate the land. As such, God has given man a nature to cultivate, create and build. Men are to cultivate their jobs, marriages, children, minds, churches, finances, homes, other believers, etc. Without God, men will direct their cultivation skills to the wrong things, like sin and rebellion (example: the tower of Babel in Genesis 5).

He is a provider

  • 1 Timothy 5:8 But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

The Bible is clear that it is the man’s responsibility to provide for his family. Many men offload this responsibility onto others: their wife, their church, the government. However, it is his duty and calling to meet the needs of his household.

He is a protector

  • 1 John 2:14 …I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.

Men have been given strength by God to protect and defend the vulnerable, needy, and helpless. They are to defend their wives (unlike Adam in the garden) and their children. The Word of God should abide in them so they can refute false teachings and the schemes of the evil one.

He is responsible

  • Galatians 6:5 For each will have to bear his own load.

A godly man is one who rises up to the challenge of his responsibilities. The difference between a man and a boy is not age or physical stature: it is the way they handle responsibility.

He is an honest worker

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:6-12 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living.

Godly manhood includes toil and labor. The man is called by God to make an honest living by working a job and doing it well. The godly man is not idle.

He is a leader

  • 1 Timothy 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.

Men are called to lead their home and their church. They are also to lead themselves and not follow the ways of the world.

He is a man of faith and character

  • 1 Timothy 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach…

A godly man is one who follows God, repents of sin, reads his Bible, prays with his family, tells others about Jesus, and serves in his church. As a good Christian he has a solid reputation, is faithful to his wife, wise, loving, and self-disciplined.

He is counter-cultural

  • 1 Timothy 3:3 …not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

The world develops men who get drunk, are violent, angry, and lovers of money. The man of God is not like this.

He is worthy of respect

  • 1 Timothy 3:7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

Godly men earn respect. They should have others looking up to them and desiring to be like them. (Note: women should only date a man they can respect).

He is a family man

  • 1 Timothy 3:4-5 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

Should a man be married and have children, he should be leading and managing his household well. He is attentive to his wife, loving her and meeting her needs. He is raising and disciplining his children. His house is in order and his family is blossoming.

Are Christian’s “little gods”?

One of the ways the prosperity gospel is supported by preachers is through the teaching that Christians are “little gods”, and that little gods are in some way entitled to the same kind of blessings and honor that the Almighty God Himself is worthy of. This teaching that Christians are little gods comes from two main sources:

  1. The Lord speaks in Psalm 82:6 saying ‘I said, “You are gods, sons of the Most High; all of you.” Here, prosperity preachers say, God is acknowledging that His people are little gods, a smaller, less complete slice of the Lord Himself. The truth of this is further confirmed in John 10:34-36, where Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 and affirms it as being true.
  2. In Genesis 1:11, 12, and 21 the things that God creates are said to produce “according to its kind”. Then, in verse 26, God says “let us make man in our image, after our likeness”. Therefore, the reasoning goes, since things produce after their kind, and “there can not be a product of something unless the product is a kind of what it came from”, human beings are little gods.

Though the evidence seems clear and the reasoning logical, there is more to this issue than meets the eye.

Regarding Psalm 82:6, the word “gods” there is Elohim in Hebrew, a term which usually refers to the Lord God. However, it does occasionally have other uses. Psalm 82:1 (just a few verses earlier) says “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods [Elohim] he holds judgment”. The next three verses make it clear that the “gods” referred to are human magistrates and judges. Therefore, calling a human a “god” in the context of Psalm 82 is referring to humans in positions of authority, similar to the way God is in a position of ultimate authority. In fact, verses 7 and 8 of Psalm 82 reminds the human rulers of the earth that they too will face the Judge. Ultimately, the point of calling human magistrates “gods” is to denote that they have a position of authority over people just as God does, but also that they are put in their place below the True King.

In fact, referring to humans as “gods’ happens elsewhere in the Old Testament, such as Exodus 7:1 where Moses is “like a god” to Pharaoh. This too indicates not that Moses is divine but rather that he is speaking the words of God and acting in a position of authority that God has granted him.

Additionally, when Jesus quotes Psalm 82:6 in John 10 he does so in the midst of an argument. Jesus has just claimed to be the Son of God and is charged with blasphemy (claiming to be equal to God). He then quotes Psalm 82:6 essentially to make this point: if those who are mere men can be referred to as “gods”, then how much more is the God-man Jesus worthy of a divine title?

Therefore, using the term “gods” in the Old Testament in reference to men is simply a way to indicate their God-given authority in a limited way. It is not meant to ascribe deity or a form of deity to human beings. If this were the case, it would be troubling to acknowledge that Satan himself is also called a “god” (2 Corinthians 4:4), as well as the false gods of other religions (Exodus 12:12; 18:11; Numbers 33:4). Should we expect that Satan and false gods are worthy of the honor the Lord deserves because they too are “gods”? The presumption that because a small number of human beings were called “gods” we are therefore entitled to glory is simply an unbiblical idea.

In reference to the logic of Genesis 1, there are a few things to be said. (1) God indeed did make man in His image; however, this does not mean that mankind is in part a deity.  Being made in God’s image means a great deal of things, but not that humans are in any way divine. Nowhere in the Old Testament it is ever hinted at that men are sharing in God’s divinity. (2) The principle of producing “according to its kind” is applicable to the things God has made. However, man is not the only thing that God created; He also made horses, water, wind, land, light, bugs, and planets. Does this mean that God is a horse? Or land? Or a planet? To assume that the principle of producing “according to its kind” is applicable from God to his creation is absurd. However, producing “according to its kind” from creation to creation is a confirmable truth. In other words, God produces many things in variety, but the things He makes reproduce not in variety but after themselves.

The heart of the matter concerning the doctrine of “little gods” is that of pride. To take a couple of obscure verses, use them out of context, as well as some faulty logic from Genesis and then blow up a very significant doctrine that men are gods is irresponsible. The “little gods” teaching adds nothing beneficial to the life of a believer (not to mention it is wrong). The true reason this teaching has gained some ground is that it puffs up our hearts with pride and makes us feel bigger than we actually are. It expands our self-esteem and self-worth. It results in Christians being worthy of things that only God is worthy of. The Bible uses the word “gods” in reference to humans or spirit beings that have significant power, though insignificant and minuscule in light of the power of the Almighty. Therefore, the prosperity teaching that we are little gods and worthy of such honor is an abuse of God’s word and the result of a prideful heart.

Young Christians: 3 Strengths and Weaknesses

Every generation of the Church has its strengths and weaknesses, characteristics than can propel the gospel forward with force or hinder the progress of the Spirit’s work. I recently shared with a retirement community what I view are the three most prominent strengths and weaknesses found among young people (ages 18-30) in the Church today. The elderly folks were receptive and thankful for the insight, but did struggle with what they could do about it. As always, the most significant thing we can do is commit these matters to prayer and leave it up to God.

Three Strengths

1. Young Christians are becoming gospel-centered.

They desire to break down the walls that unnecessarily divide Christians and unite around the Great Commission and the glory of God, our central common point. We see this coming about primarily in the removal of denominational labels and the cooperation of local churches.

2. Young Christians emphasize God’s mission.

There is a growing desire among young people to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ. In large part, gone are the days of the “Sunday Christian”. A new – and Biblical – emphasis on living out our faith 24/7 has been ushered in. Young people are getting better at connecting with non-Christians in ways that allow them to demonstrate and proclaim the gospel.

3. Young Christians have genuine concern for the needy.

Social involvement among young Christians has skyrocketed in recent years. The young Church is mobilizing to help the poor, the broken, the abused, the abandoned, the neglected, the sick, and the lonely. God’s love is being extended in practical ways and is spreading world-wide.

Three Weaknesses

1. Young Christians struggle with pride.

Like every other generation, young Christians act like they know it all. They are seemingly able to spot the faults of their elders and improve upon them. While this can be a good thing, if not done with a humble heart it can be very destructive. Young people need to remember that our elders have years of experience on us and while they too are sinners, they may have a thing or two to teach us.

2. Young Christians don’t always emphasize personal holiness.

In an effort to combat the previous generation’s fundamentalist attitude, young Christians rally under the banner of “freedom in Christ”. They are seeking liberation from unbiblical standards of moral behaviour. This primarily manifests in how young Christians engage with media and culture: they way they dress, the language they use, the movies they watch, the music they listen to etc. Unfortunately, this freedom in Christ is sometime more like “freedom from assessment”, and so many young people fail to check their hearts or pray through their daily activities. They often use their freedom as an excuse not to think through the implications of their level of personal holiness.

3. Young Christians often put relationship above truth.

Going back to strength one, young people are seeking to build bridges with as many people as possible. In doing so, however, they can sometimes compromise on the truth. The rise of “many path’s to God” thinking is the result of putting relationship above truth. While Christians should definitely seek to connect meaningfully with others, we also need to make a bold stand for the truth. Therefore, we must draw lines in our interaction with others particularly when it involves a co-mingling of religions.

Eternal Security: Once Saved, Always Saved?

The following is a paper I wrote in Bible college on the subject of eternal security. I think I could do a better job on it now, but it’s still pretty decent. The footnotes aren’t included in this version. 

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One of the most debated doctrines among Christians has been the permanency of salvation: can a Christian lose their salvation, or is their salvation secure? This debate goes all the way back to the early church, and shortly after takes its most intense and scholarly from in the infamous Arminian verses Calvinism feud. Rejection of eternal security “is an inseparable part of the Arminian system, flowing necessarily from their views of election, of the design and effect of Christ’s death, and of the sufficient grace and free will.”

This paper intends to reveal that eternal security is indeed a biblical doctrine and that it is also an integral part of Christian living.

Those who hold to an Arminian point of view tend to make two prominent arguments against eternal security. They are as follows:

  • God will surely never leave you, but you can leave Him.
  • The doctrine of eternal security means you can act any way you want to after you are saved because your salvation is secure no matter what.

There is also a plethora of scriptures that are used to “prove” that salvation can be lost. While we cannot deal with all of them here, we shall take a look at the above statements and a few key verses.

The first comment used says that one can willingly leave God and walk away from salvation. The verse used here is almost always John 10:28-29, which states “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”. Note that Jesus only speaks of salvation in one-way terms: God is faithful. Arminian thinkers point out what was not said by Jesus, that people can choose to walk away from God.

The problem with this thinking is twofold: (1) assuming that salvation is a two-way street and (2) assuming that a Christian might walk away from God. Concerning the first problem, the Bible makes a strong case for salvation being much more one-way than two-way. Calvinists do not deny the free will of man. They hold to the truth that “whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life”. However, Calvinists also rightly uphold the doctrine of divine election – that is, God sovereignly chooses some for salvation. This “predestination” is revealed most clearly in the conversion of Saul. It seems obvious that Saul’s salvation was a direct result of blatant interference by God. While Calvinists sometimes falsely ignore free will, Arminians often falsely ignore predestination. Both doctrines are in the Bible and we must accept them both without diminishing the other. This is all to say that viewing salvation in solely two-way terms is not biblical.

Concerning the second problem, the Bible demonstrates that true Christians do not walk away from God. The key verse here is 1 John 2:19, which says “they went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us”. Contextually, this verse is speaking of a Christian community. John is saying that truly saved Christians will continue in their faith. Christians who walk away from the faith were never Christians at all. This truth is “plain” to see.

Moving to Arminian’s second objection to eternal security, we deal with the issue of holiness. It is often stated that eternal security is a license for Christians to behave however they choose. This, however, is a gross misunderstanding of both the eternal security position and the mirrored position of scripture. Concerning this very issue, the apostle Paul asks “what shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2) Essentially, Paul is saying that the possession of God’s grace is not license to sin, but rather just the opposite. Being Christians means we have put away our old nature and put on Christ. Eternal security, and salvation in general, carries with it the responsibility of Christ-like living and continual sanctification and repentance of sin.

Of note, the phrase “once saved always saved” is not preferable. Though it is accurate, the phraseology carries with it a negative connotation. The Calvinistic phrase “perseverance of the saints” is better suited because eternal security, at its very core, is the belief that all Christians will continue with Christ until their dying day. Salvation, though a one time event, is also continued through life. Thus, “once saved always saved” is a less complete and flattering message for the biblical truth that true Christians endure to the end.

The Arminian belief that salvation is not eternally secure also seems problematic when lined up with the doctrines of regeneration, new birth, and Holy Spirit possession. Regeneration is a work of the Holy Spirit at conversion whereby the believer is made to be a new spiritual creature. Scripture declares “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the former things have passed away, and all things are made new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). If one can lose salvation, then this “new creature” would again have to die. And then, if one came back to the faith, the creature must be made new again. This is illogical, and the Bible nowhere indicates that regeneration is reversed or happens more than once.

Strongly linked to regeneration is new birth. Jesus said “truly, truly, I say to you, unless a man is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). In the following verse, Nicodemus asks skeptically if a man can climb back into his mother’s womb to be born again. Obviously, that would be absurd. A man is born once physically and once spiritually. To believe that spiritual birth can be reversed or repeated is as silly as saying a born man can climb back into his mother’s womb and be born a second time.

Lastly, the New Testament clearly demonstrates that the Holy Spirit is the possession of all believers. It is clearly states that there is “one baptism” of the Holy Spirit for each Christian (Ephesians 4:5). Again, this cannot be reversed or repeated. The Spirit is also called a “seal” until the day of redemption (Ephesians 1:13). Surely this seal (literally, down payment) secures salvation eternally.

To conclude, it is the overwhelming evidence of scripture that salvation for the Christian is eternal. May the church find this truth and hold to it, as it is a treasure to be enjoyed.

Six Ways People Choose Their Beliefs

Mark Mittelberg wrote an interesting book called Choosing Your Faith, where he discusses the common ways by which people choose their religious beliefs. He outlines six common ways people choose their faith. I have summarized them below for your interest.

  1. Relativism: truth is a personal choice. This mindset adheres to “what’s true for you may not be what’s true for me”, a common way of looking at reality in our modern world. Often it is declared that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but rather truth is relative to each person. It is a common way of thinking among many post-moderns. In terms of faith, this usually plays out as whatever religion works for you is the right one for you.
  2. Tradition: truth is what you’ve always known. Many of us have grown up with religious parents, and we simply believe what they have believed – no questions asked. This approach values what has been historically accepted as truth over what current thinking, evidence, or feelings might suggest. Faith is passed on from generation to generation simply because that is what we have always done and believed.
  3. Authority: truth is forced upon you. Some religions use a dictator-like approach to passing on the faith to the next generation, where it is simply forced along regardless of one’s will. In some extreme cases, those who deny that faith are essentially kicked-out of their community or sometimes even killed.
  4. Intuition: truth is what you feel. Some people believe something to be true not based on facts but on instinct. Even in the absence of evidence, something could be considered true merely because of a feeling or gut instinct. This approach to faith means that truth may be remain constant but not necessarily be found in the same way by different people. Intuition, it would be thought, is to be above factual information or logic.
  5. Mystical: truth is what God tells me. Getting a message from God is what is called “divine revelation”, and some people choose their faith through this method. They have some kind of mystical experience where they feel that God has spoken to them, and therefore they believe whatever was revealed in that moment. This can be through dreams, visions, voices, ethereal experiences etc.
  6. Evidence: truth is what logic and reason support. The final way people choose their faith is by examining what evidence there is for a given truth claim. They evaluate beliefs to see if they are logical, reasonable, and if there is evidence to back them up. This method places a high emphasis on thought and a low emphasis on feelings.

I would suggest that the wisest approach would be the final one. Each other approach is flawed in some form or another. Truth cannot be different for each person; this is a self-contradictory claim. Even to say “there is no absolute truth” is itself a claim of absolute truth, thereby debunking the whole concept of relative truth.

Additionally, while tradition may not always be bad, it can be if the tradition being held is one that is harmful or untrue. It is good and healthy to ask questions and not simply adopt tradition without first thinking critically. Traditions and common beliefs should be tested, not for the sake of stirring up controversy, but for an honest, humble search for truth.

The authoritative view as well is weak, since forcing someone to believe something does not make it true. Truth never changes regardless if it is forced to be believed or adopted willfully. One should not simply believe something because it is forced upon them, but rather assess the belief and think for themselves.

Relying on intuition is also unwise. Sometimes gut instincts are right, but other times they are wrong. Our feelings are inconsistent and unstable, while truth is neither of those things. Therefore we cannot trust our own intuition to lead us into truth.

The mystical approach does not take into account that spiritual experiences may not always be from God, but rather from an untrustworthy spiritual source. It is next to impossible to determine if a given experience was truly from God based on the experience alone unless there is a set standard to compare it to.

This brings us to the final approach of evidence. The reality of a set standard of truth means we have a way to measure mystical experiences. It also will keep us from allowing our unstable emotions to lead us astray, gives us a way to test our traditional understandings, provides an un-changing source of truth, and allows us to think for ourselves what we should or should not believe. Therefore choosing our beliefs should be done in a way that engages the mind and entails a thoughtful and careful examination of evidence. Using reason and logic in this way, we can form beliefs that have a strong foundation to stand on and are more likely to represent an accurate view of reality.

What does it mean to be “gospel-centered”?

We hear a lot these days about being “gospel-centered”. A search of that phrase on Google returns over 9 million results, as well as over 1,200 hits on Amazon. Many of these resources – books, websites, and articles in particular – have been produced within the past couple of years. Why this emphasis on gospel centrality, and what does it even mean?

As I understand it, being gospel-centered is a worldview that is presented by the Scriptures whereby all of life is seen in it’s connection to the good news of Jesus. Essentially, it means we look at the world through the lens of the gospel, giving us an accurate understanding of reality. The opposite of gospel-centrality for the Christian would be thinking of the good news of Jesus as nothing more than a way to get to heaven. Once converted, it would seem, the gospel is to be abandoned for other doctrines and growth. This may all sound very theoretical and intangible, so let’s take a subject and apply these two views to bring some additionally clarity.

Let’s say, for example, you are a Christian struggling with materialism. From a non gospel-centered view, you might acknowledge that the Bible condemns greed, coveting, and over-dependence on material things and respond by trying to willfully overcome your materialistic habits. What you might notice in this view is that the gospel is seen as good for becoming a Christian but not for helping us overcome sin. The gospel-centered view, on the other hand, would say that because of Christ’s redeeming work on the cross, we are set free from material cravings, forgiven for our coveting, and commissioned to using things as a means to glorify God and serve others. In this approach, the gospel is central to how we assess and address the situation.

So to be gospel-centered means we connect everything in life to Jesus’ redeeming work. The gospel is like the centre hub of the multi-spoked wheel of life, the crux on which all things turn and exist. Seeing things this way, the gospel is good not only for the afterlife but current life as well.

If this is what being gospel-centered means, why does there seem to be a surge in this kind of thinking? The basic reason is that much of Christianity, especially in the West, has lost its focus on the gospel. We have not altogether forsaken the gospel (for the most part), but we have made it simply one topic among many. It is not treated as supreme or central. As the statistics would indicate, this has caused a massive dropoff among the younger generation of the Church. In my opinion, it has also lead to unhealthy Christians who value any number of Biblical topics as much as they do the gospel of Christ.

It has been said that the first generation treasures the gospel, the second one assumes it, and the third one loses it. We seem to be in the transition from second the third generation, where many current Christian teachers do not make the gospel central or explicit, instead assuming the next generation already knows it. However, the up-and-comers miss the gospel altogether and adopt a “Christianity” that is more like vague religion than Christ above all.

Some Christian leaders are seeing this disturbing trend and fighting back with a return toward gospel-centeredness.When we begin to allow the gospel to inform our preaching, our churches, our lives, and our beliefs, Jesus returns to his place of prominence and God’s glory is restored to proper order. There also comes a rush of sin-conquering power, as the Christian life was meant to be lived as a daily walk with Jesus, not a momentary conversion followed by virtual abandonment of him. Only in the gospel is there power to change lives. A strong return to gospel-centeredness is just the thing this next generation needs to discover real faith in the living Savior Jesus and transform the nations for the glory of God.