Solus Humanus: Why We Need a Sixth Sola in Our Confused Age

woman carrying baby at beach during sunset

It used to be a given that humans, made by God, were assigned a gender based upon their biological sex. As Genesis 1:27 puts it, God made them “male and female.” Culturally, this is no longer the case, however. As documented in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman shows just how modernism has turned the person inward and how psychological man (i.e., the self-directed person) has been eroticized and taught to create a world in their own image.

Most recently and most dramatically, the transgender movement has assumed a view of the world, where the inner feelings of a person outweigh their biology. No longer is gender something that comports with the givenness of the world, or God’s gift of a physical body—made either male or female. Now, individuals are taught that they can create their own fluid identity and they can demand that others recognize their self-created self, even if it does match traditional norms. Everything is queer now.

To say it another way, as gender studies have defined identity as something people can create, gender is no longer biologically determined. This shift away from an essentialist view of gender to a constructivist view is a key change in our society, and one Christians must address in order to share the gospel and to rightly relate to reality. Yet, the trouble goes beyond gender; it relates to the larger question of what it means to be human.
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Strong and Courageous: Why Resisting Tyrants is an Act of Love

jon-tyson-UK61KZPnpyY-unsplashLast week, a few members of our church put on our masks, boarded planes, and traveled to the Founders Conference, where we heard from the likes of Voddie Baucham, James Dolezal, Tom Ascol, and the leaders of Just Thinking, Virgil Walker and Darrell Harrison. In short, the trip, drenched in warm Florida sun, was encouraging, and the messages, saturated with biblical truth, were edifying—especially with respect to the subject of standing for Christ in an age that has become increasingly hostile towards Christians.

Addressing that subject and the new religion of universal autonomy and equality, Tom Ascol and Jared Longshore have released a new book called Strong and Courageous: Following Jesus Amid the Rise of America’s New ReligionFalling in line with newer books like Glenn Sunshine’s Slaying Leviathan and Rod Dreher’s Live Not by Lies, as well as older books like Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto, and even older books like Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex: The Law and the King and Junius Brutus’s Vindiciae Tyrannos: A Defense of Liberty Against Tyrants, this new volume promises to bolster the church at a time when public silence and civil cowardice are spreading faster than COVID.

In other words, this book comes at a time when Christians and especially pastors need courage. And this will be a book I hand to many pastors, as it provides bold and biblical arguments that stand against the online pablum that  undercuts biblical courage with Christian civility (read: niceness). Indeed, when a Christian’s best testimony to his neighbors is found in waiting patiently for governing officials to permit churches to gather again, thus denying Christ’s command to gather, we have a new instance of Corban—replacing the law of God with human traditions. But thankfully, some are seeing through this misguided application of Scripture and are providing solid food for God’s flock. And in Strong and Courageous, Ascol and Longshore do just that. Continue reading

A Sincere and Pure Devotion to Christ: Why the Sufficiency of Scripture Means Rejecting Secular Sociology

aaron-burden-9zsHNt5OpqE-unsplashBut I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or if you accept a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it readily enough.
— 2 Corinthians 11:3–4 —

In his book, Doctrine of the Atonementnineteenth century evangelist and pastor James Haldane wrote about the ways Scottish churches fused biblical doctrine with modern philosophy. In his opening chapter, he makes a case for a pure and undiluted biblical orthodoxy, over against those who unite Scripture with philosophy. He writes,

True philosophy consists in our sitting at the feet of Jesus, and receiving the truth as He has been pleased to reveal it. The Scriptures teach us, that the understanding of fallen man is darkened, and that the Holy Spirit alone can illuminate its inmost recesses with the light of truth. (22)

Though written more than 150 years ago, Haldane’s words still ring true. In his day, various Enlightenment philosophies, especially those arguing for morality sans biblical revelation, were infiltrating the church. As an evangelist, he saw thousands come to Christ who had received instruction in their churches on morality, but had not on Christianity. And in response, Haldane exposed the errors of combining biblical Christianity with worldly philosophies, a pastoral practice we should continue today.

Sociology Can Be a Vain Philosophy

In our day, the fusion of truth and error is equally pernicious, but perhaps more difficult to discern. For, instead of seeing a fusion of Christianity and Enlightenment philosophy, which we have been trained to observe and reject, it is more often the case that we see the fusion of Christianity and sociology. Sociology has become a leading assistant in churches today who are employing diversity training and all other forms of cultural awareness. Continue reading

Let Us Fix Our Eyes on Heaven and the Christ Who Reigns There: A New Year’s Reflection on COVID Regulations and Social Justice

clouds dark dramatic heaven

As we prepare to welcome 2021 this week, this post is meant to consider how the largely unexpected and unprecedented events of 2020 have impacted us, especially the church and its pastors. May the Lord give us wisdom to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and courage to say so.

At the time of America’s founding, heterodox pastors attacked the doctrine of hell, while many of the Founders appreciated religion for its earthly and civic benefits. A century later, theological liberals exchanged the reality of heaven for the earthly message of the fatherhood of God and brotherhood of mankind. In the last century, prosperity preachers have promised heaven on earth, while many pragmatic pastors have made earthly success as important as—and often more important than—entrance into heaven.

Looking from the past to the present, it shouldn’t surprise us that the message of heaven has been threatened. Going back to Eden, there have always been those who have doubted God’s judgment and misjudged God’s eternal gospel. Movements like the social gospel, the prosperity gospel, and liberation theology have, in various ways, exchanged the glories of heaven for “Christian” messages that focus on the here and now. And always, when heaven is lost, the lost suffer.

Today, we are seeing a de-emphasis on heaven in a new way. Unlike theological liberals who might affirm universalism where everyone goes to heaven or deny the reality of hell, some evangelicals are mis-stepping with heaven on the basis of their ministerial focus. Without abandoning their orthodox confessions, Bible-believing churches are veiling heaven by focusing their attention on matters related to earth.

In 2020, you don’t have to be a “liberal” to downplay heaven in your daily living. You don’t have to preach a message of prosperity to illicitly transport heavenly blessings to earth. You don’t even have to deny Scripture to lose the heavenly mission of the church. In fact, you can hold firmly to the faith and lose heaven by doing nothing at all. The cultural winds of 2020 are that strong! Here’s what I’m getting at: Unless you realize how the events of this year are causing pastors and churches to focus almost exclusively on earthly matters, you will lose heaven—if not its doctrine, than its declaration.[1]

In what follows, I will highlight two cultural winds that are blowing Christians off course. Instead of preaching the glories of heaven and discipling the nations to obey all the Lord of heaven has commanded, churches are being tempted to give all their attention to (1) COVID regulations and (2) social justice. As a result heaven is assumed and not asserted. My argument, then, is that without Spirit-empowered effort, focus on these earthly concerns will cause us to mute the message of heaven. And if this is not corrected by faithful pastors, the reality of heaven—not just its emphasis—may soon be lost by some too. Continue reading

Good and Evil: A Live Look at Love, the Law, and Liberty of Conscience: Three Sermons from Romans 12–14

rom-12-14

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
— Romans 12:21 —

For the last three Sundays, our church has been thinking about what Scripture says about God and government, love and law, COVID and consciences. Pressing pause on our series in Daniel, which also has a lot to day about  governing authorities, we looked at Romans 12–14. In these three chapters, Paul instructs believers, but especially churches, how to worship, think, assemble, love, obey (and resist) governors, and treat one another with hospitality and care.

If the church needs to remember anything in 2020 it is how to be a people who are

  1. thinking clearly from God’s Word and not the media-frenzied patterns of this world,
  2. assembling in the name of Christ and not scattering in the name of executive orders,
  3. loving one another in ways that exceed wearing masks,
  4. obeying governors, but not blindly, or in ways that deny God’s commands, and
  5. welcoming one another, without binding the consciences of others.

Following the words of Romans 12–14, our last three sermons have addressed these matters. Paul’s words help us think about going to church, wearing masks, and relating to COVID regulations. If there was ever a time in my life when Christians need to learn again what it means to be the church and how to be the church when the governing authorities offer slight and/or significant opposition to being the church that time is now.

Thankfully, God’s Word is sufficient to instruct us on what God thinks is good and evil. In fact, Romans 12–14 is actually held together by numerous references to good and evil (Rom. 12:2, 9, 21; 13:3–4; 14:16). And I offer these three sermons (two by myself, one by Ben Purves) to help you think about what is truly good and evil in our day.

Considering an array of current events, you can also find blogposts on COVID, quarantine laws, resisting tyrants, resisting tyrants again, and mask-wearing. In all, we need a great measure of wisdom in our day—wisdom and boldness. Thankfully, God’s Word supplies us with grace for both. Knowing that, let us continue to seek first his kingdom and trust him for all the provisions we need to follow him faithfully. “He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24). So let us go with him, as he works all things for our good.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

What Can We Learn from God’s Quarantine Laws? Four Truths for Today from Leviticus 13–15

cdc-jRI67r_u-Jg-unsplashSo here we are, watching COVID-restrictions fall into place like dominoes, and many of us are wondering if these are the best protocols or not. Since around March of this year, they have become a “normal” part of life in our state and around the world. Yet, it is worth asking, are they effective? Are they just? Where did they come from? Will they work this time? And what if anything does Scripture say about quarantines?

Earlier this week, I pointed to an article by Brian Tabb on a biblical view of diseases. If you haven’t read that, you should. Today, I want to follow up with a summary of an article from Old Testament scholar, Roy Gane. Gane has written extensively on the Old Testament, but especially on Leviticus and its purification laws. More recently, in response to COVID-19, he has written up a short piece (“God’s Guidance for Controlling Contagions“) outlining things we can learn from the Law of Moses regarding quarantine laws today. And it’s this piece that I want to consider today. Continue reading

Weighing Obedience and Resistance: What Romans 13 Does and Does Not Affirm about Governing Authorities

tingey-injury-law-firm-DZpc4UY8ZtY-unsplashIn his commentary on Romans, Colin Kruse observes that in Romans 13 “Paul is drawing upon teaching in Jewish literature about God’s sovereignty over the rise and fall of earthly rulers” (Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 493). Supporting that claim, he lists a handful of key passages from the Old Testament, the Jewish Apocrypha, and Josephus. Here’s his list.

By me kings reign and rulers issue decrees that are just; by me princes govern, and nobles—all who rule on earth. (Prov 8:15–16)

In the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is a stream of water that he channels toward all who please him. (Prov 21:1)

With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him. (Jer 27:5–7)

He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. (Dan 2:21)

The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms on earth and gives them to anyone he wishes. (Dan 4:17, 25, 32)

For your dominion was given you from the Lord, and your sovereignty from the Most High; he will search out your works and inquire into your plans. (Wis 6:3)

The government of the earth is in the hand of the Lord, and over it he will raise up the right leader for the time. (Sir 10:4)

He will for ever keep faith with all men, especially with the powers that be, since no ruler attains his office save by the will of God. (Josephus, Jewish Wars 2.140)

Standing upon this biblical worldview is important not only for understanding Paul’s argument in Romans 13, but also for understanding its limits. In other words, as Paul commands believers to willingly submit to governing authorities (Rom. 13:1, 4), he does not mean that governing authorities have absolute autonomy or unchecked authority. As Romans 13:4 says, they are “God’s servants,” hence subject to God himself. And it’s this point of reference—the relationship between governing authorities and God—that we need consider more fully.

Far too many have a simplistic, even child-like, understanding of Romans 13. And if the church is going to survive our post-modern, post-Christian world, we need to think more carefully (read: more biblically) about Romans 13. Continue reading

A Theology of the Face: How Endless Mask-Wearing Hides the Image of God and Hinders the Church

Christian themed stained glass, Freeport, Grand Bahama, Bahamas

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord,
are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.  For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
– 2 Corinthians 3:18 –

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
– 2 Corinthians 4:6 –

We are in the season of that ancient of holidays, the one where humans put on masks and pretend to be lions, ghouls, super heroes, and villains. This year, however, Halloween’s game of dress up has become ubiquitous. It has been going on ever since “social distancing” became 2020’s favorite neologism. And there is no end in sight. Masks, it seems, are here to stay long past Halloween, and it is worth asking—to what effect?

What are the consequences of wearing masks? And what are the consequences of not wearing masks? The latter question is easy to answer; just read the regular updates on the CDC website or visit your local grocery store. State regulations, governors’ orders, and local business practices have converged to declare with legal force—no mask, no service.

Following this line of thinking many churches have pursued the same approach. With good intentions, especially in the early stages of COVID-19, many sought to love their neighbor by wearing a mask. Yet, as masking as become the new normal, I want to ask: What are the not-so-hidden consequences of hiding the face for months on end? And what are the consequences for churches who are called to live distinct from the world and who are to proclaim the glory of God in the face of Christ?

While medical experts continue to debate the efficacy of preventing COVID-19 with a cloth mask and doctors demonstrate the inefficiencies of various masks, I want to approach this subject theologically. Opinions continue to change about masks, but with the exception of a few articles (e.g., They Don’t Own Your Face You Know), I have seen little consideration for the theological impact covering the face has on humanity and the church who gathers to worship God.

With that in mind, I want to answer a few questions: What does Scripture say about the face? What impact does hiding the face on a regular basis have on humanity, the glory of God, and the gathering of God’s people? In particular, can we worship God face-to-face with masks constantly on? And if so, what implications do that have on the church?

As we will see from Scripture, the veiling of the face, with no certain change forthcoming, distorts our ability to embrace the knowledge of God, and hinders the community of faith created to reflect the image of Christ. More than that, masking as a normative practice in worship services runs into multiple New Testament commands. In other words, the commands of God are strained, if not violated, by making mask-wearing the normative practice.

What follows is not the only line of argument we need to consider when making decisions about gathering God’s people in these days and wearing or not wearing masks. Loving our neighbor (Romans 12), obeying civil magistrates (Romans 13), and considering weaker brethren and not violating conscience (Romans 14) must all play a part in our decisions. Yet, we must not forget that Romans 12–14 follows an expansive description of the gospel (Romans 1–11), and is followed by Paul’s description of the gospel ministry.

Thus, setting Romans 12–14 in context, it is my contention that in recent application of Romans 12, 13, and 14 for mask-wearing without end, we are picking up habits of heart and face that may interfere with the clearest declaration of God’s mercies (Rom 12:1) in the gospel (Romans 1–11 and 15). In that vein, I offer this God-centered argument, that seeing and showing the face matters. And I ask Christians to consider the impact of endless masking on the spiritual health of image bearers and Christ’s Church.

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Voting is a Strategy, Not a Sacrament Nor a Sign of Superior Virtue

hands with vote pins

The heart of man plans his way,
but the Lord establishes his steps.
— Proverbs 16:9 —

So yesterday, one of my heroes, the pastor-theologian and prolific author, John Piper, posted a compelling argument for why he cannot vote for Trump or Biden. His words are worth reading, and they are worth responding to.

For as much as I agree that the morality of our leaders are of national importance and that the realities of Christ and his kingdom outstrip all earthly elections, I also believe Piper’s estimation of voting is mistaken. And so instead of addressing the sum of his argument, I want to highlight one point—namely, that voting is a strategy, not a sacrament, nor the tell-all signal of our eternal hope. Continue reading

Oppression and Slavery Under God’s Sovereignty: Five (dis)Comforting Truths from Psalm 105

Maybe you have had an experience like this: While walking or driving somewhere, you suddenly realize that the beauty of the scenery around you is littered with complex moral issues. If you visit Mount Vernon or Monticello, you are struck by the beauty of both presidential homes. Yet, in learning the history, you are also confronted with the fact that both plantations depended on slave labor. Likewise, if you celebrate the Civil Rights victories of the 1960s, you must consider that many of the programs implemented to help blacks during that era have done more harm than good.

Something similar occurs in Psalm 105, only the findings there are not based upon fallible interpretations of history. In Psalm 105, we have the inspired and inerrant Word of God. And strikingly in these 45 verses, we find multiple, morally-complex statements. Some of these issues concern oppression (v. 14), others talk of slavery (v. 17), but in every case, God is praised for his sovereign actions in history.

Indeed, for all the beautiful comfort that Psalm 105 brings, for it is a Psalm that speaks of God’s faithfulness in leading his people from Abraham to Moses, it also introduces many complexities in God’s sovereignty over the nations. Yet, instead of impugning God with error or wrong-doing, a rightful understanding of Psalm 105 actually helps us to know who God is, how he works in the world, and how we can better understand our own morally-complicated history. To that end, let’s look at Psalm 105 and its discomforting truths which in time lead to a greater confidence in God.

1. God can and does stop oppression.

While the history of our fallen world knows no period when or where oppression has been absent, it is clear from Scripture that when God intends to prevent oppression and overturn slavery, he can. In Psalm 105, the Psalmist reflects on God’s care for Abraham, when the patriarch and his children had no land to call their own (vv. 12–15). As they sojourned among warring nations (see Genesis 14), Psalm 105:14 says that God “allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm!'”  Continue reading