Who Is The Real Enemy?

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Photo by Aurelio Arias is registered under a Creative Commons License.

Not too long ago, I preached through the book of Jonah at Redeeming Life Church.  (You can listen to those sermons here.) As most pastors do, I broke it into four sermons, one chapter per week.  At this point, I'm not so sure that's the best way to break it up, but it works.  

When most of us think of Jonah we think of a great fish.  Some of us start debating the possibility of a big fish before we even try to comprehend the God who created and appointed that fish.  And we often forget that God also appointed a tempest, a plant, a wind, a worm, and most importantly -- a man to go proclaim God's message.  

I'm still struck by how reluctant Jonah was.  He was afraid, yes; but he was also unwilling.  He was unwilling to see or be a part of God mission to forgive and save Jonah's perceived enemies.  But who was the real enemy? 

It's hard to avoid the complexities in our world today.  We wrestle with issues of gay marriage, abortion, other religions and cults, politics, drug dealers, pornographers, and so much more.  Watching many Christians, I wonder if they have the same heart as Jonah?  Would they rather see God destroy their 'enemies' rather than save and redeem them?  Have we become a church of Jonahs?  I hope not. I pray not. 

At the heart is a grave misunderstanding.  It seems we've forgotten who the real enemy is.  The enemy is not Planned Parenthood.  The enemy is not the LGBT community.  Society is not the enemy.  The hard life of the street is not the enemy.  Our neighbor... not the enemy.  Hollywood?  Nope.  The government?  No.  The local church? Wrong! 

1 Peter 5:8 says, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour."  I wonder what would happen if a zookeeper let a lion free in your workplace?  Would you just go about your business as normal?  How about if there was a lion in your neighborhood?  I suspect you wouldn't be out mowing your lawn if there were a lion sitting on your front step stalking you. We'd be making phone calls.  We'd be going for guns.  The news media would be there.  And we probably won't be too concerned with the little things. 

We do have a real enemy.  There is a lion prowling around.  Ephesians 6:10:-20 tells us what to do: 

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak." 

Let us not forget who the real enemy is, and let us be ready when the lion comes to u

Seasons of a Leader's Life by Jeff Iorg

 Iorg, Jeff. Seasons of a Leader's Life: Learning, Leading, and Leaving Your Legacy. Nashville, Tenn: B&H Publishing, 2013.

In his book, Seasons of a Leader's Life, Dr. Jeff Iorg sets out to examine three seasons of leadership through the lens of the Apostle Peter.  In the Gospels we see Peter as a learner.  In the books of Acts he's a leader.  And by the time we read the two Epistles from Peter, he's leaving his legacy.

Iorg, a proven leader, has planted a successful church, served as the executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, and is the president of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary. Some of his other books include Live Like a MissionaryThe Painful Side of Leadership, The Character of LeadershipIs God Calling Me?The Case for Antioch: A Biblical Model for a Transformational Church, and Unscripted.

In the opening pages of Seasons of a Leader's Life, Iorg writes, "This book surveys the overarching story of Peter's ministry in Scripture, and examines leadership principles underlying the biblical narrative of Peter's life" (5).  But this book is not the definitive leadership 'how-to.' A few paragraphs later he says, "This book is organized to help you think through leadership issues; it is not intended to be a step-by-step formula for your life.  The book is also organized to stimulate further consideration of each topic" (5).

Here's a video of Iorg discussing Season of a Leader's Life with Ed Stetzer:

Jeff Iorg has hit a home run with this book.  I loved it and have recommend it to countless leaders and soon-to-be leaders. 

The chapters are short and easy.  The content is serious but peppered with stories and illustrations that make the book fun to read.  And at any point if it seems Iorg is off, he has provided the Scripture so the reader can open his or her Bible and personally examine Peter's life.

"Hopefully," writes Iorg, "this book will be an ideal resource for mentoring groups, reading groups, self-directed leadership development groups, staff improvement exercises, classroom readings, and organizational development for emerging leaders" (6).  I believe Iorg is correct.  I encouraged members of my church staff as well as some lay leaders in the congregation to pick up this book.  My intention was to allow them to move through it how they saw fit. (It's always nice to see how staff members address book recommendations from the boss!)  One staffer grabbed hold of the book and it really seemed to be helpful to him.  (He has since applied to go to seminary.)  An intern (from a seminary where Iorg is not the president) thumbed through the book and read chapters occasionally as he had time.  I suspect it will help him has he thinks through the material and eventually enters the leadership phase of his ministry.  A few of our lay leaders also found the book extremely helpful.  It has prompted some really good conversations with quite a few leaders and future leaders.

I personally loved this book.  I found it informative and extremely helpful in shaping my thinking about my own leadership.  It also helped me realize that leadership comes in seasons.  I've entered the season of the leader but my staff are in the learner season.  Those mentoring me are entering the legacy leaving season.  Understanding these seasons has greatly helped me relate to those in different seasons.

I highly recommend this book to anybody thinking about leading, presently in leadership, or trying to understand how to leave a lasting impact as he or she exits leadership.

In addition, Salty Believer Unscripted has conducted two interviews with Jeff Irog in a series on church planting and this book comes up in that conversation.

-- An Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio-- Another Interview with Dr. Jeff Iorg audio

Purchase  Seasons of a Leader's Life here.

*I am a doctoral candidate at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary where Dr. Jeff Iorg is the president; however, I initiated this interview.  In addition, purchasing Seasons of a Leader's Life through the links on this website help support this website ministry. 

Summary Verses of the Gospel

While all of the Bible provides us with an expression and explanation of the Gospel, there are some verses that serve as summary verses.  These verses, when understood within the big picture and proper context fire up believers.  They serve as succinct reminders of the Gospel.

Taken out of context and simply quoted to nonbelievers often doesn't produce the results we hope for because these are summaries and reminders.  (Of course this is not to say we shouldn't share these verses with nonbelievers.  We should and we should seek to provide the big picture and context.)

Allow me to use the movie, "The Empire Strikes Back" as an illustration.  Imagine you've never seen the movie or the one that came before it.  All you have is a 2 minute clip from the film.  You see a young man walk into a strange industrial area.  Suddenly a large, black, robotic looking warrior in a cape enters the scene.  They fire up their light sabers and engage in battle.  The young man eventually gets his hand hacked off and his weapon plummets far below.  He's defeated yet still manages to crawl out onto a catwalk far above an endless pit.  The darker character says something about the two of them ruling the galaxy together and something else about the power of the dark side. (Whatever that is?)

Then the dark character speaks with a deep voice and says, "Obi Wan never told you what happened to your father."

The younger man says, "He told me enough. He told me you killed him!"

Then the other character says, "No, I am your father!"

If we had see the entire movie, we'd gasp in shock and horror.  Having seen the the previous movie as well as this one up to this point, we can easily understand this absolute plot-twisting shocker.  If you've seen this movie, emotions and thoughts may already be welling up from this single summary clip. (I mean really, what voice did you use when you read that last line?)  Cultural references have been made from this scene for years, to include a scene where the character, "Tommy Boy" is speaking the words "Luke, I am your father" into an oscillating fan, just as many of us have likely done in our own lives.  But without understanding the movie, the clip is not as valuable.  So it is the case with the summary gospel verses of the Bible.

Those who don't know the Bible should ask many questions about these verses.  Who is this Jesus?  Who is the 'he' being referred here?  Why is this sin so series that we need rescued from it?  What is so significant about the death of this one man?  What is so amazing about the grace being referenced in this verse?  Salvation from what?  What do I do with this summary verse?  These are important questions, which is why believers should strive to understand these verses in their proper context, know the bigger story, and strive to explain these verses in greater detail to those who don't know the Bible.

But the gospel is for Christians.  We should be reminded of it often.  We should be spurred on by it, driven and motived by the gospel.  So the summary verses serve a great purpose.  They remind us of the bigger picture.  In one or two lines, these highly loaded statements fuel us.  They are very significant.

Listed below are a sample of the many summary verses that remind us of the Good News of Jesus Christ.  (They are quoted in the ESV.)

Isaiah 53:5 - But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.

Mark 10:45 - For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

John 3:16 - For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (Jared Jenkins and I discuss John 3:16 on Salty Believer Unscripted. Listen here.)

Acts 10:43 - To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.

Acts 13:38-39 - Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses.

Romans 4:24-5:1  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Romans 5:7-8 - For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

1 Corinthians 15:3-6 - For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures,  and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.

2 Corinthians 5:18-19 - All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

2 Corinthians 5:21 - For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Ephesians 2:8-10 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Titus 2:11-14 - For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

Hebrews 9:27-28 - And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

1 Peter 2:24 - He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

1 Peter 3:18 - For Christ also suffered nonce for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit,

1 John 4:10 - In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.

*Photo by flickr.com user, Ihar, is registered under a creative commons license.

What's in a Name?

"What's in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet"  -- William Shakespeare

Shakespeare's character, Juliet, asks a good question: "What's in a name?"  Would Romeo be any different to her if his name were Steve?  Would she love him less?  When we think about church names, we really ought to ask that question.  
Biblically churches were identified by a lose nomenclature.  For example, in Acts 13:1 the church meeting in Antioch is called the church in Antioch.  In Paul's letter to the Romans he mentions Phoebe who was a servant of the church at Cenchreae.  This is simple.  Many churches still name themselves by their general location.  Maybe the name of the church is the street their building is located on.  Or maybe it's a regional thing.

The Bible doesn't dictate that names have to be geographical, however.  In some cases, this would be really difficult.  So some churches take names from other significance.  Living Stones Church is an example that comes from 1 Peter 2:4-5.  A friend of mine named the church he planted Taproot Church because the taproot is the strong root that grows deep down and anchors the tree.  Some churches just select catchy words like Velocity or Amazing or some other buzzword.  Some churches go with Greek or Latin names.  Or maybe the church is named after a saint of the past. 

Theology often makes an appearance in church names.  Many churches attempt to draw distinctions by including theological words like grace or faith or free will.  Or if it's not a theological distinction, it may be a practical one.  To indicate something about a church they may add Bible or community or evangelical to their name.  And of course many churches at one time held the denominational distinction in their name.  First Baptist.  Some Church Presbyterian.

A lot goes into a name, but in the end, the church may actually be the same if it's called the Romeo Church or Steve Church.  The local church is a gathered group of disciples who have covenanted together to be a local church.  Who they are will say much more about the church than the name.  A bad name can be problematic, but a good name really will only be a good church if the people are good, Jesus loving people in strong unity.

Jared Jenkins and I discuss this in greater detail as well as give some examples, make jokes, and share personal naming stories on this episode of Salty Believer Unscripted

*Photo taken by Romana Klee is registered under a creative commons license.

What is the Church... or is it who?

Ask nearly anybody for a definition of "church" and chances are good that before they think through an answer, they'll have images of buildings in their head.  Some may define church as a building used for religious worship or a place where religious people meet.  This answer wouldn't be socially wrong, but it's not how the Bible defines church.  Others may say that church is in the mountains or wherever they commune with God.  This definition also stands in opposition to God's Word, unless when they say this they mean a location where they fellowship with other believers, that is.

The 27 books of the New Testament provide a good picture of God's intention for his Church.  The Greek work behind the word Church (transliterated, ekklesia) appears 114 times in the New Testament.  The ESV translation team translated 106 of those uses as church and 8 as something else such as assembly or congregation.  The Septuagint (or LXX) has nearly 100 uses from the Greek translation of the Hebrew and Aramaic Old Testament.  

Interestingly, the Greek word behind church only appears three times in the Gospels, and only in Matthew for that matter.  One usage appears in Matthew 16:13-20.  The specific verse, Matthew 16:18, reads, "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (ESV).  The other two uses are found in Matthew 18:15-20 which reads,
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed* in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (ESV).
In the first usage, Jesus provides some specific information.  Jesus will (not maybe or might) build it.  It will be built on either Peter's confession or the revelation of the Father or Peter himself or some kind of apostolic succession depending on your theological persuasion.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it.  Trying plugging our definition of church in here.  It doesn't work.  It's strange.  

The second and third uses of the word, church, are in context to sin and the proclamation of the gospel.  If  a brother sins against you, you are to point out his sin and hope that as a brother he would repent and see the gospel living and active in his life.  If the brother does not hear this from you, you bring another believer and try again.  If again this person refuses to repent of his sin and accept the truth of the gospel in his life, then you bring it to the church.  Here the larger body of believers makes every attempt to restore this brother to the gospel, but if no headway is made, than the church is to assume this man is not a believer.  They are to treat him like an unbeliever, continuing to preach the gospel to him hoping he may one day repent, be baptized, and profess an actual trust in Christ.  Try out the definitions here and you'll find they just don't work.

Either of the above mentioned definitions of church are really strange if applied in these Scriptures.  So it stands to reason that our definition of church as a building or a place where we commune with God is not exactly right. 

The disciples probably didn't fully understand what Jesus was talking about in Matthew until they were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and Christ started building his church through his people.  It may have been unclear to Peter when Christ first mentioned it, but he seems to have a good grasp of the Church later in his life.  In a letter to the elect exiles he wrote, "As you come to him [Jesus], a living stone rejected by men but in the light of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 2:4-5, ESV).

Peter, it seems, is stating that the Church is made up of believers.  Each one is like a living stone.  So the Church is not so much a 'what' as it is a 'who.'  If you're a believer, you don't go to Church, you are the Church.  But you alone are not the entire Church; you are simply a stone among the many who to together are the Church.

*Photo by flickr.com user, "mlhradio" is registered under a creative commons license and use by permission.

Beloved: A Love Letter From God

Reading the book of 2 Peter--a letter from God, through Peter, to Christians everywhere--one word should pop out.  Beloved.  Agapetos or agapetoi in the Greek are the words that are often translated into the English word, beloved.  In 2 Peter 1:17, Peter uses this word quoting the Father's words at Jesus' transfiguration.  At 2 Peter 3:15, Peter uses beloved to describe our brother Paul.  In the other four uses, it is a term of endearment toward the reader.  But is it Peter who loves reader?  Maybe.  Peter did have a great love for Christians; however, it is God who calls Christians everywhere 'beloved.'

Some may dispute that 2 Peter is a letter to Christians everywhere specifically from God, especially when 2 Peter 1:1 says, "Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours by the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ" (ESV).  But in this very letter Peter says,"For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21, ESV).  If 2 Peter is Scripture, than it is prophecy and therefore not written by the will of Peter, but by God as he was carried along by the Holy Spirit."  This is a letter from God and it is written to Christians everywhere.

The use of 'beloved' in 2 Peter 3:14 is especially encouraging.  God (through Peter, carried by the Holy Spirit) says, "Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (ESV).  When we look at this verse in light of what the rest of the Bible says, we know it is impossible to be without spot or blemish apart from Christ, the only one who is without spots or blemishes (1 Peter 1:17-21).  We trade our sin for Jesus' righteousness.  We trade our lies and likes of the false prophets for the Truth of the gospel of Jesus.  He takes our sins, dies for them, and gives us a perfection we will one day share with Jesus in his glory.  And the same is true for peace.  Apart from the knowledge that our Lord is coming back and believers will live in eternity with God, it is difficult, if not impossible, to be at true peace.  We trade our waring soul for one that is at peace with Christ.

When we see that we are beloved, we really ought to see that we not only traded our spots and blemishes and our worry, doubt, and rage for salvation, we are now seen with love by the Father.

In the four Gospels, the word beloved is used in some interesting ways.  In Matthew 3 and Luke 3 the word appears at Christ's baptism.  Here there is an audible voice that says "This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased."  At the transfiguration recorded in Matthew 17 and Mark 9 an audible voice again introduces Jesus, saying, "This is my beloved son, listen to him."  Matthew quotes Isaiah in Matthew 12 showing that Jesus is the fulfillment of the coming messiah and beloved son.  And even Jesus uses this word about himself when he uses a parable in Mark 12 and Luke 12 about a vineyard owner who has bad tenants.  Eventually this owner sends his beloved son.

God's people, that is, those who have repented and accepted Jesus as Lord become children of God, being loved as Jesus is loved.  Romans 9:25-26 is a quotation of Hosea 2:23 and Isaiah 10:22-23.  It reads, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'' And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God'" (ESV).  In Christ, we become children of God, sharing in Christ's inheritance and we gain entry into the "kingdom of his beloved son" (see Colossians 1:11-14).  By no means did we earn this love because as it is said in Romans 5:8: "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (ESV).     

If you are a Christian, repentant and calling on Jesus as Savior and Lord, then 2 Peter is a letter to you, from God.  As you read this letter, do not see it as anything other than a message from a loving father to a son or daughter.  Beloved, God loves you! 


* Photo by flickr.com user Pimthida is registered under a creative commons license and is used with permission.


Angels are a source of great fascination.  Speculation, personal desire, and artists' renderings seem to dictate most of what society thinks about angelic beings.  The Bible offers us some insight, but not much.  Many ask why the Bible doesn't give us a better idea on the topic of angels; however, it's important to see that the Bible is the story of God's redemptive history of fallen man.  The Bible is the revelation of God and shows his desire to be in relationship with us.  In this story, angels are just the extras, the bit parts. They play a supporting role in God's plan and what we need to learn from the Bible is not necessarily everything about angels, but as much as we can about the God who loves us and sent is only begotten Son, Jesus Christ to die so all who believe in him will have life rather than death.

That being said, Angels are in the Bible and there is an entire field of biblical study on the topic of angels called angelology.  (Much of angelology is spent knocking down misconceptions held by society.)  While most of what the Bible says about angels could be handled in a single post, this post will only deal with a couple questions.

What, or who are angels?

Angels are beings created by God.  Often they are unseen, but when seen they look like lightning or fire, or they seem to have the ability to look like humans (2 Kings 6:15-17, Genesis 18:2-19:22; John 20:10; and Acts 12:7-10 for example).   Hebrews 13:2 even suggests that they can blend in and be completely mistaken for humans.  In these cases, it seems that angels don't have wings; however, we must also remember verses like Isaiah 6:2 where an angelic being called a seraphim is said to have six wings.  In other accounts we see an angelic being called a cherubim.  This is the being that's waiving a flaming sword back and forth to prohibit man's reentry to the Garden of Eden and the Tree of Life (Genesis 3:24).  The cherubim is also the same creature God commanded the Hebrews to sculpt on top of the Ark of the Covenant. These cherubim had wings that touched each other (Exodus 25:17-22).   Demons are fallen angels, cast out of heaven and waiting for the final judgment and not granted forgiveness or salvation through repentance (see 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6).

There is nothing in the Bible that suggests that angels were ever human.  We do not become angels when we die and our deceased loved ones are not angels looking over us.  In addition, angels do not become humans; they are not our future family members in some kind of preexistence waiting for a body on earth.  The Bible does not speak of angels or humans in this way and there's nothing suggesting that humans were in a preexistence with God.  These ideas are simply creations of human thinking.  The Bible teaches that humans are the pinnacle of God's creation, not angels (to see this, start reading in Genesis 1 and stop after Revelation 22).

What do angels do; this is, what is their purpose?

Just as is the purpose of man, angels were created to glorify God.  We often see angels worshiping God (Psalm 103:20-21, Psalm 148:2, and Isaiah 6:1-7 for example).  Sometimes they act as God's messengers such as in Daniel 8-9 and Luke 1. They protect God's people (Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11,  and Acts 12 for example).  Matthew 18:10 seems to suggest that children have an angel watching over them and Luke 16:22 might suggest that angels have a responsibility at the time of a believer's death.  And most importantly, angels usher in and proclaim Christ at his birth, resurrection, and return.  Angels don't die and they they do not marry (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35-36).

Too often, people get hung up on the work of angels.  In doing so, they completely miss the bigger work of God as he is redeeming his creation.  Looking to angels, they do not look upon Christ.  In order to see angels rightly, it is best to first see Christ for who he is.  (If you have questions, I am happy to answer them and chat more about this with you.  You may contact me here.)   

* Photo of mourning angel at the churchyard of San Miniato al Monte (Firenze) in Firenze, Italy was taken by Mark Voorendt, April 2001 and is registered under a creative commons license.

All Things Die: The Curse of Genesis 3

Over the summer my son was in a bug club.  The purpose was to catch and identify bugs, kill them in a jar of chemicals or in the freezer, stick pins through them, and then display them in a box.  The contents of the box, became a tool to help us continue learning about the insects and spiders.  This project became an adventure for our entire family.  Together we caught bugs and pinned them.  Toward the end of the summer, we had over 90 varieties of insects and spiders.  We still marvel at the differences between the various insects.  We love the contrasting colors, sizes, and shapes.  We still cringe at the sight of the menacing hobo spider (not yet caught at the time of the top photo).  Upon opening the box, we still "ooh" and "aah" upon seeing the wings of the butterflies.  It's amazing every time.

But the bug box is a clear reminder of the Fall of Genesis 3.  We've managed to pin the earth's curse.  Displayed in our box is Genesis 3.  The box is a monument to death, corruption, and decay.

When we open the box, the stench of rotting abdomens and decomposing tissue wafts upward, lodging deep into our olfactory glands.  It's a bit of an illusion that these bugs are memorialized.  Really only their lifeless exoskeletons seem to stay on the pin.  We see the skeleton, but everything else (for the most part) is transforming into goo inside the visible insect shell.  In death, these bugs can't even hold on to the colors that at times define them.  I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the exoskeletons turn to dust.

Where these bugs were once bright and colorful, they seem to be growing dull and sad.  The vibrant yellow of the bees is becoming a flat brown.  The red of the lady bug is turning a pinkish gray.  The shiny blues and greens of the dragon fly have gone and only the color of stone remains.  The grasshopper is starting to look like a cigar with legs (although not at the time the above photo was taken).  And the discoloration of death is very apparent on the katydid that was once entirely an eye-popping green, only now to be partially green on the wings and a deep rusty brown on the head.  And like rust, the decay is rapidly spreading to other parts of the katydid's fallen body.

We have ninety-something varieties of insects and spiders and yet every single one of them shows similar signs of the Curse.

After Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and then handed some to Adam, God had something to say.  First he proclaimed a curse on the serpent (which also happens to be a promise of the coming Messiah). Then God proclaimed the curse that would befall the woman because of her rebellion.  Then to Adam, God 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"  (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV).
On the first pass, this curse clearly looks more like a curse upon Adam.  It doesn't seem to say that the earth is cursed, just the land where Adam works.  If we exegete this text correctly, we really don't see much of a curse upon the entire earth.  It's not like the proclamation of a cursed earth found in Isaiah 24.  But look again.  Notice what's happening here.  Look at the event beyond the moment covered in this text. Could it be that the "corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire" as mentioned in 2 Peter 1:4 (ESV) is more than a curse only upon Adam or the land under his feet?

In the beginning, the Garden seems to mirror the New Heavens and New Earth we see in Revelation 21 and 22.  There's a picture in the garden that looks much like what we'll find in the New Temple.  We even see the Tree of Life in Genesis 2 and 3 again in Revelation 22.  We get the feeling that there was no tears in the Garden, nor was there death, mourning, or pain, just as we see in the New Heavens and New Earth in Revelation 21:4.  As Jesus defeats sin that goes all the way back to the rebellion in the Garden, death is destroyed.  Jesus holds the keys of death.

Bugs die.  Why?  Why is there corrosion and decay in animals and plants?  Why does man have a constant reminder of death, rust, and disease all around him?

I propose that when sin entered the world, so did death and its effects.  The ground is cursed, but this curse appears to be much more than just the ground under Adam.  The curse appears to extend beyond the dirt of the field.  If we understand this correctly, man is indeed responsible for the destruction of the world, but recycling isn't going to redeem the earth--Jesus is.  The Curse has touched all of creation and my son's bug box is a monument to the Fall.  

RLC Men's Retreat - 2013

From September 27 until September 29, 2013, some of the men of Risen Life Church met in a large home in Heber, Utah to study the book of 2 Peter, fellowship, and grow under the authority of Scripture.  The retreat consisted of 4 teaching/preaching sessions, of which the first 3 included breakout discussion sessions immediately following the sermon.  Men were selected to lead their small groups through a series of questions written by the teacher-preacher.  Kevin Lund opened the retreat with his discussion on 2 Peter 1:1-15, Benjamin Pierce discussed 2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Jared Jenkins taught on 2 Peter 3:1-14, and I concluded from 2 Peter 3:14-18.  In addition, every session included prayer and a rich time of worship through music (lead by Scott Graves as well as other musicians).  Sharing of Lord's Supper closed our retreat on Sunday morning.  Andy Conroy served as our house host and community group director for the retreat and Jeremy Jeffs filled in as our retreat deacon. 

You can listen to the sessions by following the links below:
2 Peter 1:1-15, Friday Night, Kevin Lund
2 Peter 1:16-2:22, Saturday Morning, Benjamin Pierce
2 Peter 3:1-14, Saturday Night, Jared Jenkins
2 Peter 3:14-18, Sunday Morning, Bryan Catherman

You may also want to consider the questions from our 3 small group breakouts:

Session 1 (Kevin, 2 Peter 1:1-15):
1. Read 2 Peter 1:1. What Christian (past or present) do you admire? Do you realize that all Christians have a faith of “equal standing” to theirs? Why does God point this out?

2. Are you growing as a Christian? Which of the qualities listed in 2 Peter 1:5-7 are you strongest in? Weakest? What do you need to change for increased growth?

3. Read 2 Peter 1:10-11. True Christians stay faithful over the long haul. What are you doing to assure that you stay faithful to Christ to the end? Do you ever have doubts about your relationship with God? How do you deal with them?

Session 2 (Benjamin, 2 Peter 1:16-2:22):
1. How big of a priority is God’s Word in your life? How much time do you invest reading, meditating, and praying God’s Word regularly in your day or week? Knowing that our thinking, speaking, and interactions either point those we love to death or life, how should we view Scripture in our lives?

2. How do we identify false teaching? Who does Peter describe as a false teacher? What does false teaching look like “among us”…?

3. What areas of sin do you find yourself struggling with most in Peter’s description…sexual lust, pride and attention, greed, hardheaded stubbornness to listen, learn, and be discipled? In what ways are these sins teaching death to yourself and others?

4. In what ways do we cover up or blind ourselves to our own false teaching or false living? Why do we cover these sins or areas of our lives up? In what ways can we expose these areas of our lives?

5. What are some ways we can protect ourselves from becoming false teachers? How can you train yourself to regularly speak and live like Christ? How can you regularly encourage other men to follow and reflect Christ?

Session 3: (Jared, 2 Peter 3:1-14):
1. Have you heard your friends, co-workers, and family scoff at what the Bible teaches about our world? What do they say? Which of their questions really unsettle you? Have you been able to meet their accusations with truth? What have you learned today about the future of the world that has brought you peace?

2. What has God promised to do in the world and with the world as spoken through the prophets, Christ, and the apostles? Why has he waited so long to carry out His plan? Does this change your perspective on what God is doing in the world? What response in our lives does God’s patience with mankind demand?

3. Do you believe that God will destroy the earth and everything in it and make it new and perfect? Do you believe heaven is a floaty, spiritual place or a new, real, physical new heavens and earth? What is of true value in life if this is the case? How do you need to reprioritize your life if you believe Christ is coming back to destroy, judge, and remake the world?

4. How do we let the truth of the end of the world and eternity future drive us towards lives of holiness and godliness? Do we sit on our butts and wait for the end? Do we become street preachers and try to spread the Gospel at all costs? How does this truth bring us hope? What should your daily life look like living in light of the truth concerning the end?

5. How are we to be found without spot or blemish and at peace when Christ returns? How do we rest in the Gospel and yet strive for Holiness? What do you need to repent of today?

Christian Suffering 1 Peter 4:12-19

The Christian life is no bed of roses.  From time to time, followers of Jesus Christ face fiery trials and in these trials we sometimes find ourselves confused.  We ask questions like, "How can God let me suffer like this?" or, "Doesn't God even care that I'm suffering?" or maybe even, "Am I suffering because God is punishing me for something?"  In our times of difficulty, these questions become more than questions, they often become our way of inditing God.  But before we throw down accusations, we really aught to re-think Christian suffering.  

What often troubles us is why Christians suffer.  It's a serious questions and one worth wrestling through.  1 Peter 4:12-19 is one of the great texts that helps us come to a better understanding of God's will and purpose in our fiery trials. 

I recently preached on this topic at Risen Life Church in Salt Lake City.  If you're a Christian, you've likely suffered, are suffering right now, or will suffer sometime in your future.  If this is you, it is my hope that this sermon may be helpful to you. 

Christian Suffering -- 1 Peter 4:12-19

Tough Texts on Salty Believer Unscripted

January 1, 2013

Jared Jenkins and I are working through a series on Salty Believer Unscripted called "Tough Texts."  Inspired somewhat by the guys at Credo House as well as our desire to diligently keep our exegetical work sharp, we identified some biblical texts that are difficult to interpret, confusing, shocking, or greatly misunderstood without a little labor.  On the whole, the Bible is written in simple language and is easy to understand, but that does not mean that we don't at times find its words difficult.  Our listeners helped us out by e-mailing us some passages they've struggled with over the years and we selected some of our own to add to the list.

Examples include Paul's words in 1 Timothy 2:13-15 where he talks about women being saved through childbearing.  Genesis 6:1-5 has this strange thing with the Nephilim.  Can people be baptized on behalf of the dead or does 1 Corinthians 15:29 get at something different?  Does Paul suggest that parts of his Epistle are not inspired by the Holy Spirit in 1 Corinthians 7:12?   1 Samuel 28 contains a shocking story of Saul consulting a witch-like medium and raising Samuel to talk with him.  Uzzah is struck dead for touching the ark in 2 Samuel 6:5-7. How in the world can the psalmist write about smashing babies on the rocks in Psalms 137:9?  Romans 1:26-27 discusses unnatural relations and something about God giving these people up to their own desires.  Is total genocide to include even the animals what 1 Samuel 5:13 is getting at?  Peter is the rock has many meanings in the Church today based on how people understand Matthew 16:18.  1 Corinthians 11:27-30 seems to suggest that some believers have died for taking the Lord's Supper incorrectly.  And 1 Peter 3:21 has at times been taken to mean that baptism is an act that actually brings about salvation; how can this be?  We're dealing with all of these and we're still open to add some to the list if we get more tough texts before the end of the series. (You can contact us with a difficult passage you'd like us to address by using this contact form.) 

Jared and I believe that if it's in the Bible, we need to be able to deal with it, understand it, and allow it to change us no matter how difficult or shocking.  It absolutely cannot be that students of the Bible simply skip over parts of God's Word because it's tough, and it is for this reason that we want to discuss the tough texts and help those who truly seek the whole counsel of God.

You can find these podcasts as well as many other resources on the Resources pages of SaltyBeliever.com and EntrustedWithTheGospel.com or you can subscribe to the Salty Believer Unscripted podcast.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
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* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same.  

*The picture use in this post is in the public domain. 

Hipsters and the Bible Belt

What is it to be a Christian?  Is this title about being part of a social club or is it something more?

Much debate centers around this question and this is not the first time this topic has been discussed at SaltyBeliever.com.  At the most basic level, the Bible teaches that the Christians of the First Century were believers of something and someone.  The Greek word Christianos appears in the New Testament three times and in all three uses it seems to mean follower or disciple of Christ (Acts 11:26; Acts 26:28; and 1 Peter 4:16).  And the Bible teaches that a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ believes some specific things about Jesus, dies to self by picking up his or her cross daily, and is measured by how he or she loves others as well as by a spiritual fruit present in the believer's life.   

Yet if we travel to the Bible Belt, that is, some of the religious states in the southern portion of the US, we find lots of self-proclaimed 'Christians' who seem not to fit the definition of a disciple of Jesus.  Often they attend a local church but are absent from the Body of Christ.  There is a problem in what they believe and they often seem to turn to a moralistic-driven belief structure.  Some see them as rather judgmental.  Their religion is heavily tied to politics and one might think that their use of the title of 'Christian' is synonymous with a social club benefiting only themselves.  Clearly there is a problem here.

For years, the Bible Belt has had an impact upon much of how the evangelical church in the US functions.  The order of the worship service for example is typically three songs followed by announcements and an offering.  Another song is sung and then a pastor gets up and gives a 3-point sermon, wearing a suit of course.  Mission trips and youth programs look a specific way.  Ladies wear big hats and overweight guys rotate through their three favorite ties.  An entire Christian music and movie industry has spawned out of this 'Christian' subculture.  Christian bookstores sell trinkets and gifts found nowhere else in the world.  Coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets with out-of-context biblical passages are often discovered among this tribe.  Politicians pander to this crowd for votes. And while most of these things are not entirely bad (although sometimes very odd), being a part of this subculture is by no means the definition of what it is to be a Christian.  In fact, there are likely many non-believers among this subculture who are not a part of Christ's Kingdom, that is, they are not actually Christians but unaware imposters enjoying the culture for personal benefit and social gain. 

Enter the post-modern, post-church 'Christian' community.  This movement--often driven more out of a rejection of the Bible Belt subculture--is made up of mostly young artsy, but often jaded people.  They're the hipsters, musicians, painters, and environmentalists who feel they've evolved beyond their parent's subculture. They love social justice and reject the Christian bookstore trinkets while they marry their commercial endeavors with popular charity causes.  They seek community and authenticity in ways that look different than the communities of the Bible Belt Christian subculture. They seek a tribe that thinks alike but different than the tribe they grew up among.  Rather than a moralistic-driven belief structure, they turn to a liberty-driven system.  "Live and let live" is their motto.  But is this really much different than the subculture they reject? Might there still be many among this tribe who use the term 'Christian' in ways that only really benefit themselves?  Are there many unaware imposters among this different subculture wrongly using the title of 'Christian' for their own personal gain? It seems there is a problem here too.

Christians, through the power and calling of Jesus do indeed enter a new community, but it is a Kingdom and described like a body of all believers, a flock with Jesus as the Good Shepherd, and even as the very Bride of Christ.  These definitions don't paint much of a picture of the subcultures we see among the variety of local churches but we do see a special kind of culture.  This new culture is one of a multitude of diverse people all tied together with the thread of Jesus in their lives.  It's certainly going to be the case that local churches will have their own subcultures within the larger community of Christ, but the culture itself is not Christianity--only a byproduct of it.  And this should cause us to ask, what would our various tribes look like if they were shaped by Christ as true Christ followers rather than the subculture?   Additionally, this should also cause us to have more grace for our differences.  And finally, we must ask ourselves if we are Christians by title or by true transformation by the power of Jesus.   

*Photo of Man Painted on a Brick Wall was taken by Richie Diesterheft and is licensed under a creative commons licenses and used by permission.

Why Did Christ Have to Die?

Questions that are central to Christianity are worth discussion. For a couple years I've had a desire to create videos that start the conversation in a video format and then make those videos widely available. As I've been thinking through this idea I realized that I could potentially boil down the material I am teaching in a Systematic Theology class and start making videos. I hope they may be useful to individuals but also for community groups where the leader uses the video to simply start the conversation.

The question of this video: Why did Jesus have to die? I hope it is helpful to you. If you have questions or suggestions, please don't hesitate to contact me.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

Into the Hands of the Living God: An Examination of Hebrews 10:26-31

The author of Hebrews offers some frightening language in the tenth chapter, verses 26-31. Here, the author states that if we continue to sin, deliberately, after receiving the knowledge of truth, the consequences on the Day of Judgment are extreme. Few commentators argue with the severity in which God punishes those who sin yet do not, through grace, have upon themselves Christ’s blood of his merciful atonement. However, this passage raises both alarm and debate about both the identity of who this deliberate sinner might be and the nature of the sin committed. Is this one who at some point embraced and accepted Christ as his or her savior and now rejects that grace? Or has then person never been a regenerate believer. Or maybe this passage is this about post-baptism sin? The author of Hebrews says, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth. . . .”1 Does the word “we” refer to the possibility of the audience and even the author? Clearly, this passage could have serious ramifications on one’s understanding of the security of the believer. And it may shape one's thoughts about unpardonable sin. There are many differences of opinion regarding this passage. Therefore, this post will merely scratch the surface in an attempt to examine the passage as well as the views of Donald Hangner, F. F. Bruce, and George Guthrie.

Verse 26 serves to introduce the subject and action in question. The author writes, “For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth. . . .”2 The subject is simply 'we' and the action is the willful engagement of sin after the deliberate sinner has received a knowledge of the Truth. For this, the author says there is no sacrifice to cover the sin, and in fact, all this person has to expect on the Day of Judgment3 is a “fury of fire.”4 In addition, this punishment is even worse than if the deliberately sinning person had violated the Law of Moses. “Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of who or three witnesses,” writes the author, “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?”5 It seems this deliberate sin after the receipt of Truth and in some way is spurns or tramples upon Jesus and the the new covenant, and a greatly angers the Spirit of grace. The specifics of this sin raise many questions, but it seems clear that 'deliberate' and 'after' are significant to this problem. To strike fear in his readers, the author quotes portions of Deuteronomy 32:34 and 35. It might be worth noting that in the same manner earlier in the chapter, the author quotes two passages from Jeremiah regarding the new covenant where the law will be written on his peoples' hearts and God will remember their sin no more. The paragraph concludes with the statement, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”6

There are many aspects of this passage that shape how one views the remainder of the text. Hagner's primary avenue of approach is via sin nature, which in this case specifically includes a falling away.7 He sees the deliberate sinner as an apostate, or one that once had the knowledge of Truth. “But,” writes Hagner, “for those who have turned their backs on the sacrifice of Christ—the sacrifice to which all other sacrifices pointed and upon which they depended for their temporary efficacy—then no sacrifice for sins is left. One who rejects the sacrifice of Christ (v. 29) will find no other answer to the problem of sin.”8 Significant in his statement is that he holds that these individuals once depended upon Christ's sacrifice, suggesting that he concludes that these deliberate sinners were once believers. Taking this further it seems that Hagnar holds that there is a way for a believer to fall away so far that for them there is no longer any hope of salvation. Hagner states, “With resources exhausted, such a person must face the prospect of God's wrath against sin (cf. 2 Pet. 2:21).”9
Hagner makes it clear that rejecting the Law of Moses is serious; “But transgressing the law of Moses, grievous though that may be,” he argues, “is not as serious an offense as rejecting the work of Christ, once a person has received it as the truth.”10 This is so serious in fact, that Hagner argues that it is the unforgivable sin mentioned in Matthew 12:31ff. It is apostasy, which he points to the Scripture to say that this sin deserves to be punished more severely than any of the punishments found within Mosaic Law.11 And it is in this severe punishment that one might see and understand why the author of Hebrews would say that it is fearful to fall into the hands of the living God.

Bruce examines what he sees as the early incorrect understanding of this passage. Post-baptism is a problematic consequence of miss interpretation and Bruce appears rather concerned. Where Hagner only includes a post note on the topic of post-baptism sin, Bruce uses a large portion of his commentary of this specific text to deal with the matter. “This passage,” writes Bruce, “was destine to have repercussions in Christian history beyond what our author could have foreseen.”12 Walking through some early history, Bruce explains that eventually, some came to understand this passage as dealing with sin after baptism. However, in light of other teaching in the book of Hebrews, Bruce argues that the author “would probably have thought it preposterous that his stern words of warning should in due course give rise to a penitential procedure so similar to that which he dismisses as forever superseded.”13
For Bruce, like Hagner, this passage deals with outright apostasy, that is, the deliberately abandoning reliance upon the perfect sacrifice of Christ.14 The sin here is not merely sin, or even sin after baptism, it is like the egregious act of sinning with a high hand, which Bruce points out there is no pardon. “To have received the knowledge of the truth and then reject it,” argues Bruce,” is to give up the only way of salvation.”15 Once a believer has done such a thing, there is no further option and no other source for salvation. Much like Hagner, Bruce sees this passage as dealing with the regenerate believer who fell to the point of outright rejecting Jesus, having flagrant contempt for him to the point of spurning or trampling Jesus and the new covenant he ushered in. Bruce states, “The author is not given to wild exaggeration,” so when the authors says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, the deliberate sinner should be highly concerned.

Where Hagner and Bruce are in agreement as to the identity and nature of the deliberate sinner, Guthrie starts from a different approach. For Guthrie, the issue appears to be the meaning of receiving the knowledge of Truth. Guthrie makes light of this stern warning, seeing the idea of receiving not as some kind of full acceptance and taking upon, but instead he sees it as “receiving a knowledge of the gospel's truth.”16 Therefore, the deliberate sinner was never a believer in the first place, but instead one who heard the gospel message and rejected it. “What the author has in mind,” writes Guthrie, “is a deliberate, sinful lifestyle of high-handed rebellion against the gospel,” but this gives no indication of the salvation state of the person in rebellion. The only difference for Guthrie is between one who has never heard the gospel and one who has, with both cases focused upon the unregenerate person. Guthrie continues, “The distinction between those who sin in ignorance, wandering off the path (5:2), and those who radically rebel against the Word of God may be seen in Numbers 15:27-31, where the latter course is said to be blasphemy.”17 Guthrie does not address the “we” in verse 26.
Starting from a position that the deliberate sinner was never a believer directs the rest of the interpretation toward the idea that the deliberate sinner will have a greater punishment than any other sinner who never comes to a position of repentance and acceptance with Jesus, but both will receive punishment. This deliberate sinner has no sacrifice that saves because Jesus is the only sacrifice with the power to save.18 Guthrie says that those who have turned away from the new covenant are worse off than the apostates of the Old Testament, but he never addresses those who may have accepted the new covenant only to later turn away and greatly, deliberately reject. It is almost as if this is not an option that Guthrie would consider. At one point, he states, “Inherent to the argument is the assumption that those who have heard the message of the gospel have had a greater opportunity and greater resources for a response of obedience (2:3-4).”19 He also argues with examples of those that rejected Jesus during Christ's earthly ministry. And for those who rejected Jesus, and maybe even attributed his power to Satan, Guthrie stipulates that they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit by denying the gospel's true origin and importance. In doing this, according to Guthrie, “They have committed a sin with eternal implications.”20 And it is for this reason that they should be fearful to fall into the hands of the living God.

If one were to interpret the willful sinning in verse 26 as anything other than a complete rejection of Christ and his saving power, it is easy to see the slippery slope that may develop. If this is passage is warning of one kind of sin (other than apostasy), why might it not be another? There is no indication of degree, so might it be any sin? Once the first step is taken, one should be able to see how the idea of unforgivable post-baptism sin might have crept into the Church. We should have sympathy for those who desired to delay their baptism21 out of fear of eternal damnation. Just one sin could do a believer in. However, Bruce makes a sound argument against this incorrect understanding of Hebrews 10:26-31. Clearly the author of Hebrews is not discussing just any sin, but the willful or deliberate act of sin. And it seems that the committing an undefined sin is the problem, but rather the sin is the act of spurning or trampling on the saving power of Jesus. The author seems to identify the sin as profaning the blood covenant. The blasphemy is found in the apostasy. This is where it seems Hagner and Bruce are in agreement. 

Guthrie on the other hand, seems to see any sin without the salvation of Christ as the topic of the warning for those who have heard and rejected the gospel message. He neglects that the author hints that the readers (presumably believers) and even the author him or herself could fall into the scenario of which the author warns. But what Guthrie fails to address is why this warning is any different than any other call to repentance and faith in Jesus for salvation. Why the purpose for the passage at this point in the book? And what happens to one who turns away from Jesus after accepting the salvation found only in the gospel of Christ. Guthrie, it seems has skirted the bigger questions by way of making this passage about non-believers. 

As difficult as it may be, this passage appears to discuss deliberate sin so serious that it warrants the wrath of God, for which there is no sacrifice left. There is a suggestion of the unpardonable violation in the Law of Moses that was total rebellion or apostasy. And apostasy is not simply a rejection of something one does not have, but a falling away of something already obtained. It seems this warning is directed to the believer. In this regard, it seems Hagner and Bruce do a better job approaching this difficult passage. Guthrie seems to have missed something in the interpretation, causing his approach to view such a stern warning written to believers something of which they need not worry. This author agrees with the compelling approach of Hagner and Bruce. 

For believers this is a serious matter. The warning is dramatic and serious and should not be taken lightly. That being said, there is more than one way to view this passage. Careful consideration and prayer should be dedicated to this text if understanding is to be found. There are many other commentaries and journal articles written on this topic, some very technical, some more pastoral. It is the hope and prayer of this author that the Scripture is examined in greater detail and additional commentaries are consulted before conclusions are drawn. This author recommends, William Lane's technical work on Hebrews as well as that of Paul Ellingworth, and for a pastoral perspective Leon Morris's work found in the expositor's bible Commentary is worth consultation.


Bruce, F.F. The Epistle to the Hebrews. The new international commentary on the New
Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990.

Guthrie, George H., Hebrews. The NIV application commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich:
Zondervan, 1998.

Hagner, Donald A. Hebrews. New international Biblical commentary. Peabody, Mass:
Hendrickson, 1983.

1 Hebrews 10:26a, English Standard Version (ESV). Italics added for effect. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotation will be taken from the English Standard Version.

2 Hebrews 10:26a.
3 Hanger asserts that “the Day” in verse 25 “naturally leads to future judgment.” Donald Hagner, Hebrews, New international Biblical commentary (Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson, 1983), 169.

4 Hebrews 10:27.

5 Hebrews 10:28-29.

6 Hebrews 10:31.

7 Hanger 1983, 169.

8 Hagner 1989, 169.

9 Hagner 1989, 169.

10 Hagner 1989, 170.

11 Hagner 1989, 170.
12 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, The new international commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1990), 261.

13 Bruce 1990, 264.

14 Bruce 1990, 261.

15 Bruce 1990, 261.
16 George H. Guthrie, Hebrews, The NIV application commentary (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1998), 355.

17 Guthrie 1998, 355.

18 Guthrie 1998, 356.

19 Guthrie 1998, 357.

20 Guthrie 1998, 357.

21 Hagner 1989, 171.

* Photo by Thomas Hank is licensed under a Creative Commons License. 
** This post was, in its entirety or in part, originally written in seminary in partial fulfillment of a M.Div. It may have been redacted or modified for this website.

Sermon: 1 Peter 4:1-11

Peter was a gifted teacher within the Church.  His first letter was something of an instruction as to how Christians should live.  In the video below, I examine 1 Peter 4:1-11.

This sermon was preached on July 31, 2011 at CrossPoint Church in Utah.

This video and others like it are available in the Resources section of this website. Please check it out regularly as more content will be added often.

Subscribe to the Salty Believer iTunes Podcasts: Video | Audio
(Non iTunes: Video | Audio)
* While there may be some overlap, the content of the Video and Audio Podcasts are not the same. 

When I Teach Heresy

I co-teach an adult class on Sunday mornings that is presently dealing with the Synoptic Gospels from an exegetical perspective.  I'd like to think it's a good class, and both myself and the other teacher work hard to challenge the students while also rightly teaching the Word of God.  But I would be grossly fooling myself if I believed that I always get it right.

On this particular Sunday, I was given Matthew 10:17-42 and the subsequent parallel passages found in the Synoptics.  This text is larger than the selections we typically teach in the 30 to 40 minutes we have for class, depending on how fast the students trickle in.   Throughout the week, I had been reading and re-reading the passage, as well as looking at it in the Greek.  My Greek skills are certainly not fantastic, so this large text was a lot of work.  And I had prayed for illumination and understanding. 

On Saturday morning, sitting before my computer, books and Bibles open on the desk, I started feeling the magnitude of teaching God's Word.  Visions of standing before God to give an account of my teaching often weigh heavily upon me as I prepare to teach.  I think about verses like Hebrews 13:17 and James 3:1.  It was even worse on this day because there was just so much material; therefore, I opted to deal with the passage in themes.  

Approaching the text thematically, rather than working through it line by line would help me with the limited time but it would also mean that some of the verses that did not greatly impact the themes would get far less attention.  Even still, I carefully read through each verse and paragraph seeking to understand. Again, I prayed for guidance and understanding.  Occasionally I would deal with a word study as specific questions came up.  And then I examined some commentaries to see if I was on track or if maybe I had missed the mark.  (I go here last, but this often means I return to my study for more and then another return to the commentaries.)  I tried to prepare for potential questions that might be asked, especially considering there are a variety of study Bibles used by the students ranging from the NIV Study Bible to the ESV Study Bible to the Ryrie Study Bible, and these always seem to bring up a wide range of questions and comments.  But as it turns out, I did not prepare well for the questions that came at me about Matthew 10:28.

When I looked at verse 28 during my preparation, I noticed that Jesus was saying to fear 'him' (or 'the one'; ton, transliterated from the Greek) who is able to destroy the body and soul in gehenna.  I made a note that in this specific passage the ton does not seem to be clearly identified.  There seems to be some ambiguity.  I questioned if this was God who the Twelve (Jesus' specific audience at the time) should fear because he has the ability to kill and then destroy the soul, or if it was the devil.  Then I wondered how either of these ideas worked in light of the next few sentences about God placing such a high value on his children, even knowing the number of hairs on their head (Matthew 10:29-31).  I was thinking about 1 Peter 5:8 which reads, "Be sober-minded; be watchful.  Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour" (ESV).  Looking at just verse 28, it seemed that the ambiguity might be pointing to the adversary.

But having already spent a few hours on this lesson and still having much to do, I decided to move on.  I wish I hadn't because a systematic study as well as additional work with the specific passage may have yielded different ideas.  Then, to make matters more complicated, I misread the commentary I was looking at when taking my ideas to the scholars.  Yes, Carson's discussion has something about Satan, but in rereading it, I now see that while Satan is powerful, only God can ultimately destroy souls (understood from a systematic approach and clearly outlined by Carson).  It is clear now that I was skimming through the commentary on the passages that were not the primary focus of the class. For the texts I wanted to deal with in class, I was consulting multiple commentaries.  And I was using four different translations.  For those verses, I was putting in the work; for the others, it is apparent I didn't give them proper attention.

One of the students using the NIV quickly pointed out that this translation reads, "the One," with the One (ton) being capitalized.  The NIV--notorious for removing any ambiguity and filling in the gaps--might have actually better prepared me had I noticed the capitalized One as I was looking at the passage in a parallel format with other translations.  But I missed it, likely pressing on toward other verses.  And during class, I couldn't remember the extent of the ambiguity.  Then I heard, "My study Bible says. . . ."  Sadly, I grew defensive.  Over eight hours of study and work for the 30-minute lesson suddenly went down the drain as the class shutdown. 

The lesson I take away from this experience (and hope others may learn from my mistake) is this:  All teachers are heretics on some level.  We are never going to get it right every time.  I once had a professor that would end most of his classes by saying, "Well, that's probably enough heresy for today."  But this is not an excuse to try less.  We should not hide behind the reality that we will fumble the ball.  If anything, it should push us teachers of God's Word to work even harder and pray all the more.  We are obligated to teach God's word well.  It is my prayer that God will fill me even more so my teaching will actually not be from me, but instead from his outpouring to his class.

And that's probably enough heresy for one blog post.

*Painting, "Jun Hus at the Stake" is in the public domain.

Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 3)

[This review is a review in parts.  If you are just joining this review, start with "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Prolegomena)."] 

Rob Bell explores his thoughts about hell in the third chapter of his book, Love Wins.  With a part of this chapter he challenges the traditional Christian view of a place of punishment, sorrow, and anguish, and it also seems that he is laying the ground work for a future argument about the everlasting aspects of the biblical hell.  But Bell also uses this chapter to present an idea of hell on earth, maybe something like his ideas of heaven on earth. However, this twisted idea of hell that Bell shares speaks against the Gospel of Christ and against the biblical idea of hell; it is a heretical argument and a tragic concept with the potential for epic devastation, a message which no Christian preacher should ever suggest, preach, or teach.

Bell argues that hell on earth is for victims. 

How can this be good news?

(At this point, I realize that readers who love and support Bell and his book will be tempted to stop reading this review, and that's okay.  But it is my hope that those readers remember arguments that they themselves might have made.  "Don't pass judgment," they might have argued, "and don't form an opinion until you've read the book."  Some also argued that I would have to get to the end of the book to see the entire picture.  So if this is you, I hope you continue reading this review.  I hope you are willing to see it through to the end. I invite comments and questions via e-mail or in person.  Please feel free to contact me. And I realize I have just leveled some serious claims about Bell's ideas; so Mr. Bell, I invite you to contact me to discuss your ideas so I can better understand. Come out to Salt Lake so we can discuss this over a cup of coffee.)

In this chapter, Bell shares some of his observations and experiences he has had as a pastor--a trip to Rwanda, a time sitting with a rape victim, a question from a boy about his father who had just committed suicide, the look of a cocaine addict, the ripples of a marital affair, and a cruel dead man.

When Bell was in Rwanda, he witnessed many teenagers missing hands and legs.  They were victims of brutal treatment, forced upon them by no fault of their own. Bell says this was a tactic of a person's enemy.  Cutting off your enemy's hand or leg leaves a brutal reminder of what you did to him.  He is reminded of you every time he looks at his child.  To this, Bells says, "Do I believe in a literal hell?  Of course. Those aren't metaphorical missing arms and legs" (71).

Bell also asks if his readers have ever sat with a woman as she described what it was like when she was raped.  In another question he asks, "How does a person describe what it's like to hear a five-year-old boy whose father has just committed suicide ask, 'When is daddy coming home?'" (71).   

But here's the problem with these examples.  In the common vernacular, one might suggest that a hot stone massage is "heavenly" or maybe it's a piece of chocolate cake the warrants such a high description.  I even remember once buying a honey-baked ham from a company called Heavenly Ham, but I really don't think I bought a ham from heaven, not even heaven on earth.  This is metaphorical hyperbole.  Heaven is the greatest thing one can think of so we use it to describe great things, as if to say there is nothing better.  But in reality, the biblical heaven is not a hot stone massage or a piece of cake or a ham or even the commercial building where I bought the ham.  That's not what these kinds of statements are attempting to say.  We use the word and idea of hell in much the same way.  Hell is the worst thing we can think of so we make statements like, "War is hell."  We want to dramatically declare that it just doesn't get any worse than this.  So in that usage, armless, legless boys and rape victims and mothers who hear very difficult questions could easily say, "This is hell;" but that would not be the hell described in the bible.

What these horrific examples demonstrate is sin, or rather, the effects of sin.  See, the teens in Rwanda and the raped woman are the victims of sinful acts thrust upon them.  These are examples of sin in motion, the sin of humans; it's sin in the fallen world in which we live.  However, in the model Bell gives us, Abel would have been in hell during the few moments while Cain was murdering him (Genesis 4).  Stephen would have been in hell as he was being stoned to death, despite that the Bible says that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man was standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7).  In this model, it seems that the early Saints were passing into a hell on earth while Saul was ravishing the Church (Acts 8).

And let us take a look at a parable Jesus shared about a rich man who died and was in Hades. (Bell also examines this parable, but for a much different reason.)  Luke 16:19-31 tells us a parable of this unnamed rich man and a poor begger named Lazarus.  Lazarus sat out side the rich man's gates starving.  Dogs licked Lazurus' sores, while the rich man did nothing for him.  In the parable, Lazarus ends up in heaven while the rich man ends up in hell.  There is a chasm between the two that does not allow anyone to pass from one place to the other (Luke 16:26).  But looking through the paradigm Rob Bell is giving us, it seems that before the two died, Lazarus was in hell, not the rich man.

In this parable, the dead rich man calls out to Abraham (who is with Lazarus) for mercy, but Abraham reminds the suffering man, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received the good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish" (Luke 16:25, ESV).  And even later, the rich man begs that his brothers be warned so that they may repent (Luke 16:30) and avoid this . . . this what?  The rich man says "agony." Agony for what?  Could it be punishment?  But punishment for what?  His sin.  Maybe for neglecting the poor; maybe neglecting Jesus as Jesus discussed in Matthew 25 (another passage Bell examines for entirely different purposes in the previous chapter about heaven).  Doesn't this make sense in light of Romans 6:23 which states that the wages of sin is death?  Doesn't this make the gospel, that is, that Christ created a bridge across this chasm, seem like amazing news!  The painting that was so frightful to Bell is the bridge, and the reason it is a cross is because that is how Jesus made the bridge.

As I thought about those Rwandan teens, I couldn't help but think about the people inflicting "hell" upon these children.  They may have actually lived rather well, like the rich man.  And what about the rapist? And what about the religious people who stoned Stephen to death?  What about Saul?  It doesn't seem that there was a punishment or agonizing hell on earth for them.  Bell's hell on earth seems only to be agony and suffering for the victims.  Does the Bible really teach that the victims suffer hell on earth, a biblical hell, for the sins committed against them?  Or as with the rich man, does it seem that this judgment and punishment comes in the afterlife?

And what about the feelings and experiences of a cocaine addict or how the suffering a man might feel after he has sinned by having a marital affair?  Has God cast any of these living people in to hell, or at least a hell on earth? (And again, we can't say Mahatma Gandhi is in hell but it's okay to declare that these living people could be in hell?)  The answer is no, God has not cast these living people into hell on earth.  For the victims, we might think of this suffering in light of 2 Corinthians 1:1-11 and Romans 8:28.  These victims are not cast away from God.  And for the perpetrators who are suffering as a result of their own sin, we might call this conviction in some cases, or it may be that the law is acting like a schoolmaster (Galatians 3), all for the benefit of their salvation.  God may feel distant to them, but only because they have pushed him away, done as an act of their own self punishment.  But God has not cast them to the burning trash heap of hell, not yet anyway.  God is not neglecting them; he loves them and desires good things for them.

It may seem that the Bible only talks of hell as a garbage dump as Bell tries to present it.  (He says that the only mention of hell is the Greek word gehenna. But even staying on the surface of semantics, this argument neglects 2 Peter 2:4's use of the word tartaroō.)  And of course it would seem that there are very little mentions of hell or any kind of punishment if we only look for the word gehenna.  And if we neglect Jesus' parables and much of the symbolic hints of punishment and reward, and even much of the direct statements about a punishment for sin after death, we might think that hell is not that big of a deal.  We could falsely draw the conclusion that Jesus wasn't that concerned about hell.  But that would be a mistake.  Before you incorrectly draw that conclusion, read some passages in the Bible again, without anybody's commentary.  Here are just a few examples; there are many more: Genesis 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; Numbers 16:30, 33; Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:6; 1 Kings 2:6, 9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13, 16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Psalms 6:5; 9:17; Matthew 3:12; 5:22, 29–30; 7:23; 10:28; 11:23; 13:24-30, 42-43, 47-50; 16:18; 18:9; 23:15, 33; 25:32-33; Mark 9:43–47; Luke 3:17; 10:15; 12:5; 16:23; John 15:6; Acts 2:27, 31; James 3:6; 2 Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 9:2; 14:9-11; 18:8; 19:20; and 20:13–15

And I propose that if we are to look for any example of hell on earth we must look to the specific moment while Christ was on the cross as a propitiation for our sins; that is, taking on the sins of the world which were laid upon him (Isaiah 53:4-6; Romans 3:25; Hebrews 2:17; 1 John 2:2; 4:10).  In that moment, when it appeared that Jesus was isolated from the Father, he cried out, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34).  In that moment, Jesus was making a way for us.  And if anything were going to make an argument for hell on earth, it must be this moment.

Next up, "Love Wins by Rob Bell (Chapter 4)."

* I have no material connection to Rob Bell or his book, Love Wins.
** Photo of "The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door" by James Joseph Jacques Tissot is used with permission from the Brooklyn Museum.

What is the Kingdom of God?

I once taught a class where the kingdom of God was of chief interest.  For the sake of time, we didn't read all of the Scriptures listed below, but I did print this material as a handout to the class and I felt it would be worth posting here.  The question at hand is, what is the Bible referring to when it mentions the kingdom of God? 

A Systematic View

The kingdom of God (nearly interchangeable with kingdom of heaven, kingdom of Christ, kingdom of our Lord, and sometimes just the kingdom) is discussed often throughout the Bible. It can seem complex, because it is inside creation, outside creation, and above creation. Like the Trinity of God, there is no earthy analogy to adequately describe it. Presently, we only see it in bits and pieces but our understanding of it comes through faith.

“[The kingdom of God] is simply the reign of God in human hearts wherever obedience to God is found.”1

The Kingdom of God is not the Church. “The Kingdom is primarily the dynamic reign or kingly rule of God, and, derivatively, the sphere in which the rule is experienced. In the biblical idiom, the Kingdom is not identified with its subjects. They are the people of God’s rule who enter it, live under it, and are governed by it. The church is the community of the Kingdom but never the Kingdom itself. Jesus’ disciples belong to the Kingdom as the Kingdom belongs to them; but they are not the Kingdom. The Kingdom is the rule of God; the church is a society of men.”2

The kingdom of God (or kingdom of heaven) is not strictly speaking of the afterlife or future place or future existence. It has an “already/not yet” aspect about it present in many of the discussions about it throughout the Bible.

The kingdom of God should not be mistaken with the sovereignty or rule of God. God is sovereign over all of creation. However, presently, one can be inside or outside of the kingdom of God. And we do not truly, positively experience it until we are within the kingdom of God.

There are 66 uses of “kingdom of God” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of God.” (Matt 6:33; 12:28; 19:24; 21:31, 43; Mark 1:15; 4:11, 26, 30; 9:1, 47; 10:14–15, 23–25; 12:34; 14:25; 15:43; Luke 4:43; 6:20; 7:28; 8:1, 10; 9:2, 11, 27, 60, 62; 10:9, 11; 11:20; 13:18, 20, 28–29; 14:15; 16:16; 17:20–21; 18:16–17, 24–25, 29; 19:11; 21:31; 22:16, 18; 23:51; John 3:3, 5; Acts 1:3; 8:12; 14:22; 19:8; 28:23, 31; Rom 14:17; 1 Cor 4:20; 6:9–10; 15:50; Gal 5:21; Col 4:11; 2 Th 1:5.)

There are 32 uses of “kingdom of heaven” in the New Testament. There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17; 5:3, 10, 19–20; 7:21; 8:11; 10:7; 11:11–12; 13:11, 24, 31, 33, 44–45, 47, 52; 16:19; 18:1, 3–4, 23; 19:12, 14, 23; 20:1; 22:2; 23:13; 25:1.)

There are 2 uses of “kingdom of our Lord” in the New Testament. (2 Pet 1:11; Rev 11:15.) There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “kingdom of our Lord.”

There are 3 uses of “gospel of the kingdom” in the New Testament, and all of which are found in Matthew. (Matt 4:23; 9:35; 24:14). There is no Hebrew use of this term that translates into English as “gospel of the kingdom.” Matthew also uses the “word of the kingdom” in Matt 13:19.

There is 1 use of “The kingdom of Christ and God” and it’s found in Eph 5:5.

Not every use for kingdom without the various above qualifiers in the New Testament is referring to the kingdom of God, but many do. (There are 55 uses of kingdom not followed by either "of God" or "of heaven.") Significant examples include Matt 4:23; 6:10; 8:12; 9:35; 13:19, 38, 41, 43; 16:28; 20:21; 24:14; 25:34; 26:29; Mark 11:10; Luke 1:33; 11:2; 12:31–32; 22:29–30; 23:42; John 18:36; Acts 20:25; 1 Cor 15:24; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 4:18; Heb 1:8; 12:28; James 2:5; 2 Pet 1:11; Rev 1:6; 5:10; and 12:10.

The Hebrew word for kingdom is used though the Old Testament mostly for earthly kingdoms but there are references to the Kingdom of God. Examples include: Ex 19:6 (Kingdom of Priests), 2 Sam 7:10–16 & 1 Chr 17:9–14 (near/far picture of Kingdom), Psa 45:6; 103:19; 145:11–13 (Blurred lines between Sovereign rule and the Kingdom of God), Dan 4:3 (everlasting Kingdom), and Dan 7:18, 22 (future view of the Kingdom).

1 Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd Ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 1998), 1163.
2 George Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament; quoted by Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 1994), 863.

* Photo by Niall McAuley is registered under a creative commons license.

When the Hype Lets You Down

Salt Lake City recently had a national blizzard warning.  This warning was a big deal because these warnings rarely, if ever happen.  Early on, the Salt Lake media started their "blizzard watch" around-the-clock news coverage.

Residents were warned to stock up on batteries, water, blankets and other supplies.  We were told that this blizzard was massing power and intensity and would shut down Salt Lake City.  It had the potential of being the worst storm to hit the area in fifty years, they said.  The news was even breaking into regularly scheduled programing to provide updates hours before the storm arrived.  A scrolling banner was constantly moving across the bottom of the television screen to alert residents of emergency Red Cross locations. They hype was reaching overwhelming proportions.

But when the storm arrived, it didn't seem like anything out of the ordinary for Salt Lake.  There was very little wind and about 2 inches of cold, dry snow.  A week before, enough heavy snow came down to cause my neighbor's old tree to collapse in my driveway.   The week after the "blizzard," Salt Lake was covered in two feet of snow.  (It took me nearly three hours to shovel my driveway and sidewalks.)

The new outlets however, were not about to allow the hype (which they created) to fall short.  As the supposed blizzard started, they had reporters outside doing live broadcasts.  These reporters would say things like, "As you can see, nobody is outside because it's so dangerous."  Had they been in that same location on any other day, there still wouldn't have been anybody out, but not because of any blizzard danger.  At one point, the news put up images from a highway video camera.  In the shot, one could see about 3/4 a mile down the highway.  It was dark and there was a light snowfall.  Cars seemed to be traveling 30 or 35 miles per hour.  But the report stated that it was "whiteout conditions" and visibility was "zero."  "Cars were at a standstill" he said. 

After the storm, the news outlets in the Salt Lake area lost all credibility.  Not only was the storm nothing significant (showing the meteorologists' inability to accurately predict the weather), we also witnessed the reporters' inability to accurately report the news.  The next morning as the city was realizing that the blizzard was anything but, the news was still reporting that were lucky to be alive.

It seems that Christians do this from time to time when they share Christianity with those who do not know Jesus.  Intentional or not, there can sometimes be an unrealistic picture presented of what a life walking with Jesus looks like.  "Before I knew Jesus, I was a drug addict with lots of problems, but after I met Jesus, my life was great and I never faced any problems at all."  The prosperity gospel the worst culprit.  "I was poor before I new Jesus, but now look, I drive a Lexis and have lots of money."  But the truth is, life with Christ is not free of problems.  In fact, the Bible teaches that Christians will face trials.  (For examples, see James 1:2, Matthew 13:21, Mark 4:17, Luke 22:28-32, 1 Peter 1:6-7, Romans 8:35-39.)  We cannot expect that God will keep promises he never made to us.  At other times, Christians over-report the wonders of Christ's influence in their lives.  Emotion runs high and the hype grows to overwhelming proportions.  (I'm sure I've been guilty of this.)

So the best thing Christians can do is report the gospel accurately.  The gospel is life changing; no hype is necessary.  However, if we, like the news, create too much hype or incorrectly present the picture, we will lose all credibility and the gospel will be the victim.  And if we lose credibility, people will change the channel or read a different news paper.  Looking at America today, it is not hard to see many people changing the station because they do not see the Church as credible anymore.  It is important we remain honest and accurate if we are to be good ambassadors of the Kingdom.  Nobody should be left shoveling an inch of snow and three feet of cow manure because a Christian was more concerned about ratings than the truth of the gospel itself. 

*The photograph is in the public domain.

42% of Protestants Say Mormons are Christian?

September 24, 2010
LDS friends:  I realize the content below may have an upsetting potential.  Before reading, you might guess that this as an "anti-Mormon" attack of some sort.  If this is the case, or you're already uneasy about the topic, I ask that you please continue reading.  Then, if after you've read this post you feel the same as now, please feel free to e-mail me, call me, or get in touch with me here.  Let's chat.  Come over for dinner; even bring some LDS missionaries if you'd like.  Clearly we have some theological differences, but let's have a friendly conversation about them.   
The Pew Research Center recently released an article titled, "Glenn Beck, Christians and Mormons" that reported that 42% of Protestants say that Mormons--that is, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS)--are Christians.  52% of Catholics agree.  What's interesting is how quickly the argument will center on inclusion in Christianity before any effort is made to agree upon the meaning of the word "Christian."

When a word can mean anything, it means nothing.

In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis argued that the word "Christian" was becoming a meaningless word.  "Now, " wrote Lewis, "if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say 'deepening', the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word."(1)  He first made this argument in a radio broadcast in 1943; how true his statement remains in 2010.

It doesn't really matter if Mormons are identified as Christian if we can't even determine the meaning of the word today.  Therefore, I believe it might prove beneficial to discuss who is and is not a Christian.  Then, we can see if the LDS theology falls inside our outside the definition.

 The word "Christian" comes from the Greek word, Christianos.  Its first appearance in the biblical narrative is found in Acts 11:26.  Acts 11:25-26 reads: "So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians" (ESV).

Later, Paul was sharing his faith and theology with King Agrippa and Agrippa's response to Paul was, "In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?" (Acts 26:28, ESV).  While this passage does not exactly tell us what a Christian is, it does demonstrate that the term being used in Antioch was used wide enough that Agrippa knew it.

Some say that at the point we read the name Christian in the Bible, it was used by non-Christians as a derogatory term.  Correct or not, Peter not only uses the term, he instructs his readers not to be ashamed of the name if they are suffering as a Christian (1 Peter 4:16).

At this point, I could work through about 1,950 years of Church history and belief, but instead I'll simply leave it at this:  The early church wrote many confessions and creeds to determine what beliefs were required in order to be Christian.  They studied and debated and studied some more.  They discussed and prayed and fasted and discussed the issues some more.  Theologians wrote books.  My LDS friends might try to argue that this all happened after the Apostles and therefore happened in what they call an "apostate" time.  However, this conversation started with Jesus, and we see it get much more serious with the Apostles.

At one point, John approached Jesus and said, "Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us" (Mark 9:38, ESV).  John's concern seems to be that someone outside the Twelve (not hanging around with them and Jesus) was using the name of Jesus.  Jesus responds by saying, "Do not stop him, for no one who does a mighty work in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. For the one who is not against us is for us" (Mark 9:38-39, ESV).  It is here that the Mormon is quick to point out that Jesus is part of the name of their church, and also that they invoke the name of Jesus in their religious practices.  This is a fari point; however, we must also remain mindful of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:21-23, which in the ESV translation reads,
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?'And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'"
In Acts 11 and 15, and in Galatians, we read that there was a group of people who felt that in order to be Christian, one had to practice the Jewish covenant rite of circumcision.  An argument was played out by the Apostles.  Was circumcision to be a requirement of Christianity?  What practice is in and what is out?  Who is in and who is out?  What belief is required.  Who are the Christians?  Often Paul has to defend himself as a Christian and Apostle because there we some that didn't see him as a such.

This issue is not new.

These arguments serve to help us understand and define boundaries.  If there is no line, there is no in or out.  The Mormons understand this well because they have 13 Articles of Faith that build boundaries.  Because I do not believe that the Book of Mormon is the word of God (from the 8th Article), I cannot call myself Mormon.  It would be wrong for me to do so.

Therefore, by all of the discussions, arguments, and studies among the Christian Church over the past 2,000 years, below is what is generally understood as minimum requirements for Christianity.  I argue with Church history and say that being unable to accept all of these statements as they are written places a person out of bounds.  At a minimum, can Mormons agree with these boundaries?   Can we even come to agreement on the definition?  (What even further complicates the matter is that between Mormons and traditionally accepted Christians, the words in these boundaries and definitions also need definitions and agreement in order to come to an understanding.) 
1. A Christian must understand that the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were never created or ever had a beginning, nor will they ever have an end.

2. A Christian must understand that all things other than the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit were created by God (which is the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit), thus mankind has a beginning and a Creator.  
3. A Christian must accept that he or she is a sinner and that God will not permit anyone who has ever sinned (which is all of mankind) to enter into an eternal life in heaven with him apart from the saving work done for us by Jesus Christ. 

4. A Christian must understand that Jesus was born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, was crucified in our place (taking on punishment due to all of the sins of the world, across all time), was buried, rose again to physical life three days later, and after 40 days, ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God. 

5. A Christian must understand that in order to have eternal life with Jesus in heaven, the Christian must repent of his or her sins and believe in Jesus Christ as he is written about and revealed in the Bible.

6. A Christian must understand that there is no other way to enter heaven but through repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, because of his absolutely completed and sufficient work. 

7.  A Christian cannot deny that Jesus was and is both fully deity and fully man.

8. A Christian cannot deny the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, all equal and of the same substance.
I speculate that most Mormons do not agree with some of these statements.  I hope I am wrong, but I'm also guessing they will not even agree that this is the definition of what beliefs are necessary to be called Christian.

Bruce McConkie, a prominent Mormon, wrote of Christianity in his book Mormon Doctrine, saying, "True and acceptable Christianity is found among the saints who have the fullness of the gospel [referring to those who accept the Book of Mormon as the word of God], and a perverted Christianity holds sway among the so-called Christians of apostate Christendom."(2)  McConkie defines Christendom as "That portion of the world in which so-called Christianity prevails [...]. The term also applies to the whole body of supposed Christian believers; as now constituted this body is properly termed apostate Christendom."(3) If Mormons agree with McConkie, who seems to claim that Mormons are the only Christians and all others are not, then Mormons will likely still not be under the tent of traditionally accepted Christianity.

If you would like to discuss any of this in greater detail or if you are interested in learning more about Christ or Christianity, please feel free to contact me.

Related Articles:
"What is Mormon Doctrine?"
"It Doesn't Matter Which God?"
"Are All Christians Believers?"
"Mainstreaming Mormonism"
"An Analysis of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormonism)"

1. C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: NY, HarperCollins, 1980), XIV. 
2.  Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 132.
3. Bruce R. McConkie, Mormon Doctrine, Salt Lake City, UT: Publishers Press, 1993), 131. 

*Photo by Phillip Ingham is registered under a creative commons license.