Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Houses and Crowns

Today I received a request from a friend to explain a bit of the Scriptual teaching on rewards. Will we have mansions of glory and jewels in crowns? What follows below is the bit of wisdom I attempted to pass on to this friend.


As for your question about rooms in the house or jewels... Take a look at John 14:1-2 - Jesus here talks about preparing a room for each believer. This is for each person who trusts in Christ, it's not a graded reward as you read about in other places.

Regarding rewards in general the best author on this topic is not me. Randy Alcorn has written extensively on this topic. Below are some links to things he's written that will help you gain a Biblical perspective on rewards for the believer.

This is not an easy topic. In fact I've never taught on it for that reason. It will take some thought to get your arms around it. Let me give you my couple of sentence answer and you can read the details in Alcorn. Here goes ... for some reason (I believe that it is to motivate us to do good works out of gratitude for grace) God has chosen to crown His work of grace in us with rewards when we choose to take the grace He supplies and serve sacrificially in His Kingdom. It's not as though we'll get to heaven and look at our rewards and say, "WOW! Didn't I do good, look at my haul." Instead our response will be gratitude and wonder that God would crown our pitiful response to His grace.

When you asked if "the closeness of our walk" is what will gain rewards I think you were on the right track but not quite there yet. What God is interested in - as I read the Scriptures - is that Eph 2:10 results because of our in-depth appreciation of Eph 2:8, 9. What I mean is this ... love is a feeling whose existence is proven by action. Our love for God is proved by our responding in gratitude to His grace by doing good works. It is our worship of God (perhaps that's what you meant by "a close walk") both in our hearts and with our lives that He's looking for.

What you want to avoid is thinking about it like this ... I'm not going to get any rewards because I didn't do anything "notable" for God. For example I think it would be very common that a mom could think like this, "Oh the preacher is going to get a greater reward than me because all I did was run kids around, do laundry, keep a house, and cook meals all while supporting my husband." But what I just wrote is absolutely wrong. I think it is likely that my wife (and likely you!) will receive a greater reward than me as you do those good works God prepared beforehand (i.e. Eph 2:10) that come up in your daily life as you pursue your calling as wife and mother. Again what God is looking for is that you seek daily to reflect upon His grace and show forth your gratitude for it by the way you live.

http://www.epm.org/articles/rewards2.html - basics
http://www.epm.org/articles/qaeternalrewards.htm - questions answered

Friday, November 18, 2005

One strand of the 20th century web or Why you should read Dr. Peter Jones' books

In my last post I indicated the usefulness of reading the works of Dr. Peter R. Jones. In fairness to the reader I should mention that I'm a personal friend of Dr. Jones and also serve on the board of CWIPP, the ministry which provides a support structure for Dr. Jones' work. Thus I am not a neutral recommender but rather a enthusiastic supporter. But as I hope you'll find below, it's for good reason.

In my years of knowing Dr. Jones and ministering among different groups of people I've been asked with some frequency, "Why should I read what Dr. Jones writes?" At some point I get weary of repeating myself and so this post is an attempt to answer that question in a rather full form.

The reason why Peter Jones is an important current author to read begins with thinkers who ministered beginning in the latter half of the 19th century. As David Naugle has ably documented in Worldview: The History of a Concept (well worth the read on its own merits) worldview thinking while necessarily present since the beginning of time became more conscious from 1850 onwards. One of the seminal thinkers in developing worldview thinking was Abraham Kuyper. If the reader is to fully appreciate reading Dr. Jones' work your first stop on a literary trail must be Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism. This will introduce you to the concept of Christianity as total system of thought which touches every aspect of personal life and culture.

To understand where Dr. Jones fits into the picture we must move on from Kuyper to J. Gresham Machen. Machen's Christianity and Liberalism reads in the words of one of my deacons, "like it was written yesterday" though it hails from 1923. Machen, in the same stream of theological worldview thinking as Kuyper, prophetically (in the forthtelling sense of telling the truth as it is in foreboding terms) announced that Liberal Christianity was not simply an attempt to modernize Christianity (as it's proponents stated). In reality Liberal Chrisitanity - in Machen's words- was/is an entirely different religion akin to paganism. Dr. Jones' work is essentially the continuation of Machen's prophetic ministry but in more detail and covering other religious traditions in addition to Liberal Christianity. Machen wrote in a time when there appeared to be only two players on the world religious field, Christianity and Liberal Christianity. In our time a better metaphor would be that we have religious alphabet soup (see the previous 4 posts for how this metaphor works out).

But before we begin thinking about why Dr. Jones is important to read today we have stop at one more spot on a strand of the 20th century web of thinkers. Kuyper ministered into the beginning of the 20th century while Machen ministered in the 1920's-40's primarily. Dr. Jones took his PhD in the early 70's and didn't begin to write material about the resurgence of paganism until mid 1990's. In the years between Machen and Jones, Francis Schaeffer ministered ably through the work of L'abri. Most importantly for our thinking in this post is Schaeffer's How Should We Then Live? (the link is to a recently released DVD set which is very reasonably priced. You can also find the book of the same name here.) If you've never had the privilege of reading this book or watching the film production, do yourself a favor and get it for Christmas. Schaeffer reviews simply and helpfully the history of the world relating historical events, religion, and the arts in a high quality production shot in fabulous locations. Most importantly Schaeffer stood (he produced How Should We Then Live in 1977 and died in 1984) in the prophetic tradition of Machen. Some details are important for helping the reader see why Schaeffer is an important figure.

Near the end of How Should We Then Live Schaeffer - after reviewing the worldviews which have existed in the world from the beginning - gives his opinion as to where he thinks things will head in the 80's and beyond. Prophetically he predicted that religion in the West having rejected rationality and the Christian worldview would begin to move eastern in its religious thinking. This as it turns out was an accurate prediction. The alphabet religious soup with interfaith services, Jewbu's (that is a person who is both Jewish and Buddhist at the same time, see this link for more details) and Liberal Christians emphasizing not only a lack of miracles (the issue in Machen's day) but also overtly pagan forms of spirituality (i.e. labyrinths, centered prayer, etc.) is a product of the West going East religiously.

Now we can talk about where Dr. Jones fits on this strand of the 20th century (and now 21st century) web of thinkers. Summarizing the above we could simply say Kuyper developed Christian worldview thinking while Machen observed the jettisoning of it in Liberal Christianity. Surveying the history of religious thought and the particular thought forms the 20th century produced, Schaeffer predicted that the outcome of what Machen observed would be that the West would become Eastern in its religious thinking. What Scheffer predicted Dr. Jones documents as actually occurring in our present culture.

It would be useful - as I've hinted at above - to read the works cited above from Kuyper, Machen, and Schaeffer (in that order!) before reading Dr. Jones' books. This is not required but it will help you get a sense of the theological and worldview environment which preceded our current alphabet soup. If you take up my exhortation to read Dr. Jones, the place to begin is with his little book Gospel Truth, Pagan Lies. (all of the books I'm going to mention are available from the online store at the CWIPP website) This may seem simplistic at first but will help lay the foundation for what else you may read. Next I would read Spirit Wars. This book documents the rise of the pagan worldview in the West. Then you'll be ready for Capturing the Pagan Mind. This work is less documentation of the rise of a new movement and more helping you relate what you've learned thus far to how to believe and practice your faith as well as equip you for the massive task of evangelizing pagans. Hasn't everyone and everyone's friend read the Da Vinci Code? Dr. Jones' latest work - co-written with James Garlow - responds to the worldview claims of Dan Brown's influential book. If you are seeking to talk to a friend about the true Christ who's been influenced by the Da Vinci code, this would be a useful read.

Well as I advertised at the outset, I'm not a dispassionate observer. One of the reasons I serve on the board of CWIPP is because the work which Dr. Jones is doing is absolutely crucial in equipping the church to answer thoughtfully a growing paganism in our midst. Tolle legge! (for those who don't know at least little Latin, that translates "take up and read")

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Alphabet Religious Soup - part 4

If we survey the modern - or more accurately postmodern - religious landscape we find a unique phenomena occurring. Religions which used to be opposed to one another are coming together. Just last week I saw a sign for an interfaith service at a local church. What lies behind this movement towards interfaith dialogue and unity? Is it simply - as we've just commemorated Veteran's Day in America - that everyone has decided religion isn't important enough to get into a war about? Or is the movement evidence of another war? If you've read the posts in this series up until now I've been using two metaphors to discuss the history of world religions. We've been thinking about this history as a spiritual war between God and Satan fought between the followers of each. In addition, we been looking at the religions as though they were pasta letters floating in alphabet soup. If we merge these two metaphors the current battle in the war is evidenced by a developing ring of F's in the bowl of soup.

Prior to 1850 it would have been inconceivable that a Jew, a Christian, a Muslim, and a Buddhist could argue for interfaith dialogue to find common ground between them. But the philosophical and religious landscape has changed dramatically since then. Several significant scholars have written on this upheaval and some time soon I'll survey them for you. At this point I don't want to give details but instead want to simply observe the movement and indicate why Christians should be especially vigilant during this battle in the war. While lacking physical aggression as a tactit, the current movement to unify religions is dangerous and should be expected by Biblically informed Christians.

If you've pondered some of what I've written in the previous 3 posts, the current scene in America and in the West in general should be expected. If - as I've been arguing - all religions which don't acknowledge Yahweh and worship Him alone are essentially unified, this unity you would expect would come forward at some point. And indeed it has and is. When anyone refuses Yahweh (as happens even in Liberal Judaism and Liberal Christianity especially through the embrace of evolution as an explanation of origins) as Creator, the ground has been laid to join hands with any other worshipper. This is because what unifies religious adherents (i.e. the suppression of the truth, the refusal to worship Yahweh) is greater than the superficial details that might separate them. What was present in Athens in Acts 17 is what is present today. Lots of people worshipping lots of different gods in different ways but without rancor. Rancor only exists where an absolute claim exists to which people must adhere or face consequences. Yahweh makes this claim and thus this is why in our modern context any religion is fine but Christianity. The real enemy in our postmodern context is someone who believes they have the truth and lives like it seeking others to believe it. Interestingly we wouldn't be upset by someone who claimed to have the truth about how to prevent people from getting the bird flu. This is because this kind of truth doesn't make any claims upon me, it only benefits me. What offends people about Yahweh as Creator is that He demands - and rightly so - absolute allegiance and repentance from worship of myself or any other idol.

So as we look at the soup and we see a ring of F's beginning to form should we be concerned? ABSOLUTELY! We should see behind it something more than simply everyone wanting to get along. If you recall where we began way back in Genesis there is a war going on. Satan is rather interested in getting his forces unified against God. The beginning of a ring of F's in the bowl of soup should be recognized for what it is, the marshalling of one army we might call neo-paganism. I don't use the word "army" lightly. There is a militaincy in the unified forces of neo-paganism. All you have to do is look to the jailing of Christian teachers in Australia and Scandinavia who taught an antithesis between Christianity and other religions (Islam in Australia, paganism revealed in radical suport of homosexuality in Scandinavia).

Our concern should manifest itself in different ways. First, Christians should get better informed about the army which is coming together. An excellent source for this is the work of Dr. Peter Jones. Second, we should move forward with the gospel in confidence. As of the writing of this post I'm preaching through Mark's gospel. What you see in the early ministry of Jesus is that Satan and his minions are not equals with Jesus. Instead, they fall in battle before Him. Satan knows he is a vanquished enemy and is now conducting a guerilla war. The end of the war is known to us (Rev. 20:9, 10) and Satan won't win. But how will those blinded by Satan (2 Cor. 4:4) be set free to true liberty in worship of the One who made them? It is only through the preaching of the gospel, the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16). What Paul did in Athens we must do in our time, call people to repentance to turn back to the One who made them and sent His Son for them. In preaching the gospel we proclaim our unity with all people in that we are all sinners but also proclaim that true unity between people must be based upon a shared belief in Christ (Eph. 2:11ff) not on a shared rejection of the Creator. This is God's call to us in these neo-pagan times.

Alphabet Religious Soup - part 3

In brief compass we've considered the history of the world in its religious aspect. My point has simply been this: although God made man to worship Him, man from the garden onwards has rebelled against worship of the one true God and in many cultures through time has developed various forms of false worship which are the world's religions. We were last considering the fact that although religions like Mormonism and Buddhism appear rather distinct from the outside, at the core they are actually rather related.

In Romans 1:25 we find the most important text that will help us look into our alphabet religious soup and see that in actuality all we have are an A and multiple F's religiously speaking. That is we have a successful religion and failing religions. Successful religion revolves around worship of the one true God - the Creator - who made everything. The multiple F's are the various forms of worship which aren't centered on Yahweh the Creator of the world. The world's religions exhibit the behavior described in Romans 1:25. Adherents of the world's religions exchange the truth about who made them and thus deserves their worship for the lie (NKJV gets it right on this translation). God clearly wants you to see through the hand of the apostle Paul that there is one truth and one lie. You might protest at this point that I'm not taking seriously the differences between something as "unsophisticated" as animism and as "sophisticated" as secular atheism.

I won't dispute that the lie exists in different forms. The next passage we'll consider indicates that Paul experienced that in Athens. I'm not disputing the valid differences between the world's religions. But at their core there is something that unifies them. Their unity lies in this: they refuse to worship God the Creator alone. Instead, they worship something or someone created. This is true whether one is Marxist (economic equality is worshipped), Mormon (self-elevation to godhood is worshipped), Buddhist (enlightenment is worshipped), or secular (human self-progress is worshipped). This is what unifies the world's religions and provides the impetus towards harmonizing religions. Instinctively people realize that a mutual avoidance of Yahweh is a unifying factor that supersedes real but essentially superficial(!) differences.

How do we react to the fact that as we look closely into our alphabet soup there are multiple F's and one A? We would do well to follow the Apostle Paul in Acts 17:16ff as he ministers in Athens. Paul recognizes that despite the diversity of false gods they still had some doubt and even worshipped an unknown god just to cover their bases. Paul picks up on this opportunity and preaches to them not about another god they could add to their pantheon but instead about the Creator. This Creator needs nothing from man and instead is the one who made man and even is the one directing history and sustaining each person's being. Because God is a spirit he can't be captured in a statue. Those who have worshipped the creature in the past must repent from worship of something created and instead worship the One who made them. In this brief sermon Paul makes the case for what I've been arguing in the last 3 posts.

Despite their diversity, the world's religions are similar in that they refuse the true God, make of heaven and earth. For those following the current debates about the inclusion of teaching about intelligent design theory in high school biology classes this is simply the latest skirmish in the war. What lies behind that debate is what we've been discussing. Will we acknowledge the Creator or do something, anything, else? Is there a Creator or isn't there? Evolution has been a convenient excuse to exclude the possibility of a Creator from public discource and teaching in the schools. Any thought that there might be a no-name creator (all that Intelligent Design posits) must be resisted absolutely because if someone or something made us, then that something or someone might place obligiations on us. Since people want to avoid the obligations (worship and service) they avoid even the possibility that they are made.

So if we sum up a bit of what we've been considering over these last 3 posts we see that God began the war in Genesis 3 and expanded the war onto multiple fronts in Genesis 11. As the war raged on these multiple fronts it appeared Satan was winning the war as various world religions developed and expanded their influence. Certainly by the time Christ came, the Jewish people were a huge minority in the ancient world with millions of people worshipping around the world in a zillion forms with very few worshipping the one true God. But though the war looked for a while like it was going badly for God, it was a facade. God is zealous for His own worship knowing that man will only be truly satisfied when he worships the One who made him.

In compassion towards confused idolaters God steps in decisively in Jesus Christ and the world hasn't been the same since. In the teaching and preaching of Paul we see the war clarified. We see that this isn't a competition between multiple equally promising proposals for satisfying man's religious impulse. Instead it is a simple war with only two sides in reality. Some are on the side of the worship of the Creator of all things the rest are on the side of worshipping anything but Yahweh. In our next and last post we'll consider the crucial nature of seeing this war rightly and what hope there is for the end of the war.

Alphabet Religious Soup - part 2

As we look at the world today we see an alphabet soup of religion. In this series of posts I'm attempting to trace how we got such a mishmash of religious traditions in the world. We began last time looking at God's creative work in Genesis 1. God created man in His image thus establishing a special relationship between God and man not found between God and animals. Made in God's image man must worship. He was designed to worship Yahweh but Adam's relationship with Yahweh was broken when Adam disregarded God's Word and snubbed Him in eating from the tree. Rebellious Satan, having seduced Adam and Eve, is cursed by God. God declares war upon Satan establishing a personal hostility between Satan's servants and the servants of the woman and her God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Thus the war was begun. But how was the war conducted in history?

Simply flipping through Genesis we realize the war looked like a losing proposition for God for a long time. Already in Genesis 6 we find God distraught with Satan and his forces influencing a great majority of people to not serve God but him. Thus God starts anew with Noah and his family. But alas this doesn't turn out very productive either. In Genesis 11 we find the people's idolatry to be so great that they sought to make a name for themselves rather than for their Creator who they were designed to worship. In response God judges in a unique manner crucial to the history of religion. In Gen. 11:7, 8 we find God judged the people by splitting them up geographically and culturally. This division of people prevented them from cooperating effectively and pooling their idolatry. This is the origin of the many people groups, languages and thus cultures we find in the world. We must note carefully that God didn't separate joyful adherents to him but rather active idolaters, that is people in rebellion against Him unwilling to serve Him.

What is the result of this judgment of God at Babel? The result is that separate groups of idolaters develop different ways of expressing their religious impulse. Remember all people are religious and worship - even the irreligious are religious about their irreligion - because God made them that way. People can't avoid worshipping, they are made to run on it. It is simply what or who they will worship not whether they will worship. Thus as we think about religious history what we find is that in different parts of the world as people developed culturally they also developed different ways of expressing their idolatry. This is the origin of the world's religions.

Seems simplistic doesn't it? I agree. It's much simpler than other arguments. But remember that most other arguments about the history of religion begin with different people groups existing via evolutionary dispersment. This evolutionary dispersment results in different cultures advancing at different rates etc. What is missing in the traditional arguments is WHY people as they were dispersed - whether by God or evolution - worship. Worship is universal because man is made in the image of God and is created to worship. The development of the world's religions is evidence of this.

As we survey the world's religions we find their diversity is at the same time both real and apparent. Yes they are different in many ways. But they are also all similar. If we look at the Scriptures we find that there are not multiple options people can choose from religiously. In reality there are two options to choose from: worship of the true God who made everything or worship of something created. That is, everyone will either worship Yahweh or an idol. Every other world religion is idolatry except Christianity. In the last of these posts we'll consider why this is important to maintain in the face of multi-culturalism and attempts to harmonize world religions. In the next post we'll consider in more depth the two religious options which exists for all people everywhere in all cultures and times.

Alphabet Religious Soup - part 1

"Pastor, where did all the world religions come from." This question came to me twice in one week a while back. No one had ever asked me that question before. I don't think I had ever overtly pondered the question either. So - perhaps foolishly - I answered the question on the spot by referring both of those audiences to the first Scripture passages that came to my mind. Some months later I've discovered through discussions with other Bible teachers that while my formulation of an answer to this question isn't profound, it also hasn't been written down by anyone, at least not recently. So below you'll find the beginning of a Christian answer to this question. This question will take several posts to answer, so please exercise patience. Hopefully your patience won't be disappointed. First though some comments on why I'm going to offer a "Christian" answer to the question.

It's rather possible that if we took a religious historian, a historian, a sociologist, a psychologist, a liberal Biblical scholar, a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, a Marxist, a secularist, and a Jew and put them around a table with me that we would offer competing answer to the question I've listed above. While much wisdom derived from God's common grace might be shared around the table, there would be insufficiency in all of the answers except that offered by me. The reader might be thinking, "Oh my, what an arrogant blogger!". Don't misread me. The insufficiency of the answers posed by any of the above folks - as fine and moral people as they might be - would be that they lack the viewpoint of the one true God.

I'm of course assuming that one true God exists amidst the competing claims of religious and irreligious adherents. This is what I mean that the below is a "Christian" response to the question. There is no answer to this question that can be answered "neutrally" from the vantage point of a disinterested observer simply looking in from the outside assessing the facts. This is because each observer brings his web of beliefs or worldview with him to the facts of the history of religion and assesses those facts through the interpretive grid his worldview provides him. No one can step out of their worldview and shake themselves of their foundational beliefs to look dispassionately at anything. So I don't offer the below assessment as a disinterested observer but rather as a committed Christian who believes that a true God exists and that He can be known by people.

So where do we begin answering the question, "Where did the world religions come from?". The most suitable starting point is Genesis 1:1. If you look there you'll see a most profound statement. In the beginning there was nothing only God existed. Then God created the universe. When He created He made man and woman in His image (Gen. 1:27). This made man unique among the creatures and formed a relationship between God and man which has a different character than the relationship God created between Himself and the animals. God's creative work must be emphasized if we are to understand the religious impulse which exists universally in the world which is captured in various faith traditions. Made in God's image, man yearns for relationship with the One who made him. This is what lies behind all religion whether true or false.

The world of course didn't stay in the state of bliss. Instead when we flip over a page to Genesis 3 we find that something went horribly wrong in God's world. A rebellious angel - Satan - entered the garden in the form of a serpent. Adam diregarded God's command to tend the garden (Gen. 2:15, the word used in Hebrew has clear religious overtones in that "tending" is to be taken as "guarding" or even "priesting") keeping it not only productive but pure and the results were destructive. While Adam stood there, Eve was seduced to disobey God doubting His Word and goodness. Adam continued disregarding God's command and also ate. Then the cursing began and that's where things get crucial as we look into our alphabet religious soup.

Genesis 3:15 is in the same breath the most hopeful verse in the Old Testament and the most foreboding. It is hopeful in that it is the first preaching of the gospel of salvation through Christ who will crush Satan in His birth, life, temptation, ministry, death, resurrection, ascension and eventual return in world judgment. It is most foreboding in that God here declares war upon Satan. If you think in outlines this point would be titled "The War Begun". Notice carefully in Gen. 3:15 that God is the one who puts enmity - personal hostility - between Satan and the woman and between Satan's progeny and the woman's progeny. The most simple history of the world would be this: God and Satan are at war through those allied with both of them. In Gen. 3:15 God declares war and also certain eventual victory through the seed of the woman who is clearly Christ.

In God the Father's timing He didn't choose to send His Son immediately. The war wasn't a quick one comprised of few decisive battles. Instead decisive victory would be delayed. It is during this time of delay that the world religions begin to arise. In our next post we'll consider how the war continued as Biblical history proceeded.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Have you wondered how it happened?

I was catching up on my reading of Al Mohler's commentaries today and came across an interesting factoid that put together some pieces for me. Did you even wonder how the Supreme Court - who rules on Federal matters - even began to decide 1st Amendment cases for individual states? In this commentary Al Mohler quotes a constitutional scholar who exlains that it was a misapplication of the 14th Amendment to the 1st Amendment which started it all. Very interesting as a power grabbing strategy.