Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Hoaxes and Hermeneutics

The biggest problem facing the church is lack of discernment.  If you can’t discern the truth you can die of a thousand heresies.”  - John MacArthur  
Shortly after the Civil War an atheistic cigar maker named George Hull got into a debate with a Protestant minister over the literal interpretation of Scripture.    The pastor’s insistence that Genesis 6:4—“There were giants in the earth in those days”,   should be taken literally, sparked a brilliant marketing scheme in the huckster’s mind.  Hoping to gain a profit while making a mockery of Christians,  Hull  created a  “giant petrified man” out of gypsum. 
Stonemasons and a Cardiff, New York farmer colluded with Hull on the ruse and buried the Giant in the farmer's field.    They hired workers to dig up the "new wonder",  placed it  under a tent,   and charged 50 cents for admission,  drawing crowds by the thousands.   When a group of investors bought shares in the Giant for $30,000  and moved it to Syracuse,    P.T. Barnum offered $60,000  to lease it.    His offer was denied so he created a plaster replica and made  even  more money than the original hoax.
People were divided over the Giant’s origin.   Some  believed it was a petrified man while others, including geologists, believed it was an ancient statue.     A Yale paleontologist finally uncovered  the scam declaring it a fake—and a poor one at that.    Many consider The Cardiff Giant to be one of the greatest hoaxes in history.
 “The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps.” Proverbs 14:15
 We may laugh at such naiveté but the truth is,  people today  can be as  gullible as ever.   Who hasn't  received an email hoax  or seen a Facebook  post  that  can be proven  false with a  quick Snopes search, right?   

 When it comes to  discerning  Biblical  truth everything we  hear  must be tested  against the Scriptures  regardless of how convincing it may seem.    The devil’s most cunning deceptions are  lies with an element of truth in them—a modus operandi that is as old as the Garden.   Truth distorted plunged the church into centuries of  apostasy before the  Reformation and  continues to do so in all of the Christian cults. 

Charles Spurgeon said,  “Discernment is not knowing the difference between right and wrong.   It is knowing the difference between right and almost right.”1.      Cultivating discernment is commanded of  all  believers  (I John 4:1) and it can only be accomplished through  the  means of  careful and diligent  Bible study. (Acts 17:11). 
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”  Hebrews 5:14
Heresies arise  when faulty methods of interpretation are used,   but applying sound hermeneutical principles can  guard against false teaching.   Hermeneutics is the science of  Scripture interpretation which uses  a specific  set of  rules.    Those rules include in part,  interpreting the Bible in the  plain and literal sense,  corresponding  to the author's intent and  the context of the passage.   But when that approach is replaced by allegory, scientific opinion,  or subjectivism  the  text no longer speaks for itself and the meaning is left to the  reader's own  interpretation.   Tragically,  this  way of interpreting Scripture  is rampant today. 

There's  another alarming trend in the church today  and that  is the resurgence of  rank liberal theology.   These kinds of heresies were  fought against in the early twentieth century  by  men like J. Gresham Machen  but have turned up again like a bad penny.
We still have our silly hoaxes today but  far  more insidious  is the "new hermeneutic".    It is no surprise that an atheistic con artist  like George Hull would deny the literal interpretation of the Bible,  but we should be appalled  when this type of  thinking seeps into the church. 

For information regarding the current battle for the Inerrancy of Scripture,  many excellent articles and resources are available at Inerrant Word.
Quotes: John MacArthur -Strange Fire Conference 2013- Introduction
1. Spurgeon -reference unknown

The Museum of Hoaxes

Worth a click:
 Responding to the New Attacks on Scripture: Dr. David Farnell
A Disastrous Hermeneutical Replacement by Grant Kolkow
No Adam, No Fall, No Original Sin, No Substitutionary Atonement by Rachel Miller

Worth purchasing:
Protestant Biblical Interpretation: A Textbook of Hermeneutics by Bernard Ramm
Evangelical Hermeneutics: The New Versus the Old by Robert L. Thomas


Monday, June 29, 2015

Eating My Words

If you are a regular reader here, perhaps you remember that it was just six months ago I wrote a post about not reading the Bible through in a year. I had planned to spend this year reading the Gospels thoroughly. The truth is, I haven't gotten past Matthew 5. I could probably spend the rest of my days studying the Sermon on the Mount and still find there's something new to discover. This method has taught me much about being a follower of Christ.  I've been making copious notes from all the cross-references and a fantastic commentary.  It's been good.

Then a friend of mine linked to an old blog post written by Douglas Wilson, "As Somebody Somewhere Said". As I read, one particular sentence stood out. Wilson writes, "The only way to learn the Bible the way you should is to read and reread it."

As an all-or-nothing type of gal, I immediately starting thinking, What, give up my slow and methodical approach? I didn't want to do that. But I couldn't get away from the truth that I don't know the Bible as a whole the way that I should. I finally decided there is room for both in-depth study and reading Scripture in its entirety. So I'm taking Wilson's advice and beginning with the New Testament. Since I'm sticking with my plan to study Gospels carefully, I started with Acts.

I admit I'm having to squelch the desire to pull out my commentary to read along; however, I didn't have to read very far in Acts before I knew I'd made a wise decision. Over and over again I've been struck by the ability of Peter, Philip, Paul, and Stephen to give in-depth accounts of the Scriptures. Could I do that?  Shamefully, the answer is no. Sadly, I'm not alone. Even among those in Reformed circles who declare their great love for the accurate and systematic teaching of God's Word.

We live in a time of unprecedented access to the Word. There is a translation, type, and form of the Bible to fit everyone's needs. And for all that, our culture is still biblically illiterate, in a time that biblical literacy could not be more important. We have this treasure in jars of clay (2 Cor. 4:5-7), yet it's often reduced it to a list of buzz words and catch phrases that fit on tee shirts and church signs. This watering down has dulled the sharp, two-edged sword (Heb. 4:12). Instead of allowing it to pierce the thoughts and intentions of our hearts, we wield it as a blunt instrument to numb ourselves and others to the real, deep pain of sin. We pick out the verses we like and slap them over our wounds, leaving our souls to fester in our ignorance.

My husband and I have been discussing how the Lord uses people to draw unbelievers to Him. Can He use a tee shirt? Of course. He can use anything He wants. But we must be guard against sentimentalizing the Gospel to the point that it becomes culturally-acceptable kitsch. We may plant seeds by posting, tweeting, or wearing a verse but if we can't properly open the Scripture in explanation, we're overlooking the call to water (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Peter exhorts us to always be "prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Peter 3:15).

You may consider this a retraction of sorts. Do I intend to read the Bible through in a year? No, but I do intend to read it through using Wilson's suggested method, however long it takes. It's time to rip off the bandages and cleanse my sin-sick soul with the whole counsel of the Word.

Friday, June 19, 2015

True community

Years ago when our oldest two children were our only two and only babies at that--and even before--my husband and I had a large circle of several close friends and it was wonderful.

We were raising our babies together, we shared meals together, we went to church together, we talked on the phone, we hung out, we did Bible study together, we went on vacation together. One friend and I shared clothes like sisters and even took a smocking class together. Our lives intertwined in friendship and fellowship and, yeah, lots of fun.

I had no idea what I was experiencing was unique. When my husband and I moved away from that city and that group of friends, I assumed I’d just as easily find another peer group that was equally as welcoming and friendly.

I was wrong.

True community is rare. The friendships we enjoyed all those years ago were based initially and perhaps mainly on our common stage of life but I’ve discovered that as the children grow older it is more and more difficult to maintain a friendship with even that in common.

True Biblical community is even more rare and becoming increasingly so. I just finished reading True Community: The Biblical Practice of Koinonia by Jerry Bridges. In this book that is encouraging and convicting and exciting, Bridges outlines the markers of true community, the most important being common communion with God through His Son Jesus Christ. The Lord joins us together as His church and it is there we find the fellowship and partnership we were made for.

In addition to our common faith, true community happens as we partner together on mission for the gospel, as we serve each other for the common good, as we share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, and, yes, of course, as we sit down together over a good meal. This kind of community can and should and will stretch across superficial commonality like age or stage of life or vocation or gender.

I look back on the community I enjoyed and loved twenty years ago with such nostalgia because it was not the norm. It was a unique and beautiful stage of my life that I miss in many ways. Don’t get me wrong, I know community, Biblical community, in my current church and among my current group of friends both real and virtual and I am profoundly, humbly grateful. But it lacks the ease and the openness I once knew.

Community is harder now, I think, because of the demands of our busy lives and because of the distractions of social media. We didn’t have all the expectations of Pinterest thrust upon us. There were no mommy blogs telling us what good moms did and didn’t do. We didn’t know the tyranny of email and Facebook and Twitter. I mean, the only social media I engaged in at the time was talking on the phone. Yeah, me. For real. Now I never do.

True community may be rare and the forces of our culture stacked against it but that only means it is all the more imperative we pursue real, true, and open community, the sort of community that sees and serves another. One of the first things we can do in this pursuit is put down our smartphones and focus on people over Facebook. I’m serious. Few things communicate a lack of engagement, a lack of community, than attention focused on your phone, whether that is the intention or not. Body language speaks volumes. Could you, when you are out and about and with someone else, put the phone away and ignore technology's demands? Could I? Let’s try. 

Regardless of whether your phone stays in your purse or not, let’s be about people, about sharing, and about serving. Let's talk. Let’s engage others. Let’s hang out both with our friends and those not yet our friends. Let’s pursue Biblical friendship and community. As we do so we bring glory to the Savior who loved us and brought us to communion with Him.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Book Review - Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer's Disease

The fall has taken its toll on our bodies. We get sick. We grow old. We die.

We may also forget.

Something has gone wrong with the intricate inner workings of our brains, and we can't recall recent events. This may begin gradually, but it doesn't stop here. The inexorable progression of this disease begins to impact other areas of our lives. The normal day-to-day routine becomes more difficult, which ultimately leads to the inability to function and the need for constant care. It's as though we have lost who we are. We've lost our intellects, skills, talents, and personalities at the hands of this foe, and we are left as mere shadows of who we used to be.

This is the picture of Alzheimer's disease, and it is heartbreaking.

How do we respond as Christians to this tragic effect of the fall? How do we respond if this indeed becomes our own diagnosis or the diagnosis of a loved one?

Dr. Benjamin Mast, an Associate Professor at the University of Louisville, has written a book on Alzheimer's titled, Second Forgetting. It contains information about the disease itself and wise counsel regarding care, prevention, and planning. But the strength of this book is its application of the gospel.

Dr. Mast defines the first forgetting as the experience of memory loss.  However, the second forgetting is when not only the patient, but the family and church experience a spiritual forgetting. We forget God and His promises and are overwhelmed by it all. Thus the author seeks to remind us that God does not forget us because of Christ's work on our behalf. Through the Scriptures, he offers specific encouragement to the sufferer and those who are providing care. Additionally, the book provides very helpful suggestions for interacting with someone with Alzheimer's and ways to spiritually engage him/her through prayer, song, and the Lord's table.

I was eager to read Second Forgetting because I have a loved one with dementia. I learned a great deal and cried a great deal, but there was hope mingled with the sorrow. I was reminded that God cannot and will not forget for Christ's sake, and my family member's identity in Him is something that this illness can never take away. I was also encouraged that, as time goes on, my family can cry out to the Lord for wisdom and grace, and He will hear those prayers.

I highly recommend Second Forgetting if you have a loved one with Alzheimer's. This would also be a great resource for the local church as it seeks to minister to families who have been affected by this disease.

Though Alzheimer's disease is a frightening and powerful enemy, the promise of God is greater: nothing can separate those who are in Christ from the love and grace of God. Not the plaques and tangles of Alzheimer's disease, not memory impairment observed in psychological testing, not the behavioral problems, the aggression, the confusion, or even the apparent forgetting of the Lord can separate us from him.

Because of Christ's suffering and resurrection we are promised that our suffering will come to end, and God will bring us into his presence where all things are made new. Here we will know incomparable glory, enduring joy, true freedom from sin and decay, and restoration to the perfected image of God.  
We may doubt and forget, but God has not forgotten us or his promises.2

1. Second Forgetting: Remembering the Power of the Gospel During Alzheimer's Disease, Benjamin Mast, Zondervan, 2014, pg. 69.
2. Ibid.pg. 167.

About the author: Dr. Benjamin Mast, PhD. is a licensed clinical psychologist, Associate Professor in Psychological and Brain Sciences and an Associate Clinical Professor in Geriatric Medicine at the University of Louisville, and an elder at Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

On Suffering and Summer Reading

I tell you again, if there be any pathway in which there be not fire, tremble, but if your lot be hard, thank God for it. If your sufferings be great, bless the Lord for them, and if the difficulties in your pathway be many, surmount them by faith, but let them not cast you down. 
- Charles Spurgeon

It seems that I can't get away from suffering. Lately it's been a recurring theme in my reading and listening, and not by my own design. Which makes me wonder if the Lord is preparing me for something. Or maybe He's preparing me to minister to others. Either way, I haven't been able to ignore this providence.

And as I've been reading and listening, I've been thinking about the disappearance of suffering from the contemporary Christian vernacular. It's been lost amidst the dialogue of having your best life and and doing big things for God. It's interesting to me that theologians past (especially the Puritans) wrote about suffering and discipline much more than authors of today. They knew they should expect it. They understood its purpose and importance. We, on the other hand, want to - feel we are entitled to - skip over suffering. We hold to a perpetual belief that God wants to bless us, that He has something better for us.  It is indicative of the narcissism that pervades our culture and has quietly crept into the church.

While God does have something better for those He predestined according to His purpose (Eph. 1:11), He does not guarantee us a comfortable life here on earth. Heaven - not Heaven on earth - is the guarantee we've been given (Eph. 1:14). I wonder if our groanings for Heaven (2 Cor. 5:1-5) are motivated more by our own happiness and less by eternity with God. Perhaps that explains the phenomenon of the "Heaven tourism" books. Perhaps people aren't content with relying on what the Bible says about Heaven because they want to know if Heaven is as desirable as they think it should be. Perhaps they feel they should have a piece of Heaven now.

Yet Scripture is abundantly clear that we will not enter into Heaven without enduring trials.

For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.
- 1 Peter 1:19-21
And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
- 1 Peter 5:10
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
- Romans 8:16-17
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.
- Acts 14:22

We cannot ignore suffering. It will come. If not to us, certainly to those around us. Either way, I want to be prepared. This summer, instead of burying my head in the sand, I'm tackling some hard reading on suffering and ministering to others.

~The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life's Hard, by Kara Tippetts
~Rejoicing in Lament: Wrestling with Incurable Cancer and Life in Christ, by J. Todd Billings
~Surprised by Suffering: The Role of Pain and Death in The Christian Life, by R.C. Sproul
~Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands, by Paul David Tripp

Not your typical light summer fare. I'm going to refrain from dubbing this season as the "Summer of Suffering" (how depressing would that be?!). In the coming months I'll be sharing tidbits of what I'm learning from this heavy reading, which will be light compared to the eternal weight of glory that affliction is preparing us for (2 Cor. 4:17).   If you'd like to read along with me, leave a comment below.

Friday, June 5, 2015

In Christ

I love the first chapter of Ephesians and Paul's obvious effusion as he attempts to describe the glories of grace and the blessings of salvation. It seems to me he struggles to pile words and phrases, superlative after superlative, one over another, to describe what is, finally, gloriously, indescribable.

Paul also employs repetition as he reminds his readers that each blessing of salvation is found in Christ. We are blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing, he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, and in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ. In him we have redemption through his blood and the forgiveness of our trespasses according to the riches of his grace. This is according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ, to unite all things in him.

In Ephesians 2, this theme continues as Paul emphasizes that even though we were dead in our trespasses, God made us alive together with Christ and raise us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. God the Father has done this so that he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

The Gospel Transformation Bible offers the following commentary on this glorious gospel truth of our union with Christ:

Paul uses the language of "in Christ" or "in him" or "in the Lord Jesus" roughly 40 times in Ephesians. The whole of our salvation can be summed up with reference to this reality. Union with Christ is not a single specific blessing we receive in our salvation. Rather it is the best phrase to describe all the blessings of salvation... 
Our entire blessedness--our victory, our happiness, our hope--is bound up in our being bound to Christ. How foolish, and ultimately disappointed, are those who stoop to drink from any other fountain. 

My life is hidden with Christ in God! What victory! What happiness! What hope! So often we are tempted to think of the blessings of salvation apart from our being found in Christ. "Come, find relief from the burden of your sin," we say, a wonderful and amazing gospel invitation, but the truth of our union with Christ is that we are forgiven in Christ and as new creatures, saved and redeemed, we live in him.

Last week as part of my devotions I read the following prayer from Prone to Wander: Prayers of Confession and Celebration by Barbara Duguid and Wayne Houk.

Holy Spirit, produce in us growing faith that we may live in Christ. May all our desires rest in him constantly. Make Jesus our greatest hope and all our glory. May we enter him as our refuge, build on him as our foundation, walk in him, follow him, conform to him, rely on him, and obey him. Let us never be ashamed of him or his words. May his death comfort us, for we have been loved with unfathomable love. May his resurrection assure us that his obedience was perfect, his sacrifice accepted, and his work finished. Help us to hold fast to the gospel we have believed, to cherish it in our weakness and to profess its power when we stand strong. Deepen our faith and guard our hearts and minds with the helmet of Christ's salvation, the breastplate of his righteousness, the shield of his faith, the sandals of his peace, and the sword of his truth. In his strong name we pray, amen.
Yes and amen.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

My only comfort

At the ripe age of six, I was convinced that there was too much responsibility once you entered 1st grade.  At least that's what I thought after the carefree days of kindergarten. I decided that it would be better to keep repeating the first five years of my life over and over again - an endless loop of play with a little bit of learning thrown in. Setting aside the theological problem of reincarnation, I had an inkling even as a youngster that with age comes responsibility. And now that I'm in the thick of midlife, responsibility weighs heavy at times.

Perhaps it's introspection that comes with age, but I find myself stopping and considering what I've done with my life. What do I have to show for it when all is said and done? How have I been as a daughter, a mother, a sister, and a friend? What is the fruit of decisions I have made, and who has been affected by my choices for good or bad?

There's nothing wrong with honestly taking stock of life. It's healthy to admit where I've sinned, pray for grace to do otherwise, and trust that God is greater. But this type of musing can turn inward and become a meltdown in the making. Pretty soon I'm tallying up all the ways I haven't measured up to the "All Good Christians must be or do..." yardstick that hovers in the back of my mind. And when the sense that it's all up to me to get it right grabs hold, it's easy to be crushed by its weight.

But does my life and its outcome rest solely on my shoulders? Absolutely not.

Question 1. What is thy only comfort in life and death?
Answer: That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ; who, with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all my sins, and delivered me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must be subservient to my salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.1

When I read the words from this catechism, it's like a breath of clean, gospel air that revitalizes my soul. It's a gust of truth that sweeps away the choking fog that it's all up to me. At the end of the day and at the end of life, I won't be resting on my laurels but on the merits of Another. Even if I tried, I couldn't keep myself from day to day let alone to the end, but I am preserved by my heavenly Father. The desire to please God is a fruit of the Spirit's work which He will complete. And all things, the good, and bad, the trials and the joys are working for my salvation.

So when the question comes up, "What do you have to show for your life?" I can answer it with these words:

"That I with body and soul, both in life and death, am not my own, but belong unto my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ..."

This is great comfort indeed.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Book Review: Theological Fitness

I could hardly believe Housewife Theologian author Aimee Byrd was actually coming to our annual retreat. I'd spent the previous months working out the logistics and anticipating her arrival. Since Aimee and I had met through blogging, I'd gotten to know her a little. I was responsible for bringing her to the women of my church. and I was practically giddy.

When she opened with a Bruce Lee quote, I may or may not have wondered what I'd done.

Aimee opens her second book, Theological Fitness: Why We Need a Fighting Faith with the same quote. Like me, readers may shake their heads but, also like me, they will soon understand the connection between Bruce Lee's words and persevering in the Christian faith. Throughout the sessions, she gave us a peek into her book. I was intrigued and told her I was looking forward to its release. I wasn't disappointed.

Theological Fitness is a study of Hebrews 10:23

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.

Drawing upon her unique background, Aimee brilliantly constructs an analogy between physical fitness and healthy Christian living. She writes, "Theological fitness, then, refers to that persistent fight to exercise our faith by actively engaging in the gospel truth revealed in God's Word. It isn't just a remembering of some Bible verses about God, but a trust in his promises that motivates us in holy living." (16, original emphasis).

Throughout the book, Aimee breaks down the meaning of each section of this one verse, encouraging readers in how to have a practical, fighting faith that will help us endure. From the imperative at the beginning of the verse to the reminder at the end, each word is tremendously important if we are to persevere. Theological Fitness is a call to stop resting on our theological laurels and to work out our salvation (see Phil. 2:12). It is a reminder that this world can be brutal, and we will be pummeled by it unless we are theologically fit.  It isn't easy, but it's the call on our lives as believers in Christ.

One of my (many) favorite excerpts is found in the chapter entitled "Plateau Busters"
I am fighting for a Warrior who has already assured my victory. He paid the highest cost, robbing Satan of any collateral. He has given us our assurance to persevere. The beauty of the Christian life is that you don't peak in your twenties. Our goal isn't merely to read through the whole Bible or to reach some moral platitude. Our goal isn't to have a Christian life that looks squeaky clean to the watching world. It isn't to marry the perfect person, get the right job, or raise brag-worthy children. Our goal is nothing less than to see Jesus Christ face to face and eternally dwell with him in the new heaven and the new earth. (147-148)
Focusing on this goal encourages me to keep practicing my faith, to keep running the race toward the finish line of heaven. Just as we reap benefits when we set ignore the potato chips and go for a walk instead, the rewards of theological fitness will be evident in our lives.

For those who want to have a fighting, victorious - and yes, sometimes difficult - faith, Theological Fitness is like having a personal trainer teach and encourage you to reach that goal.

*Thanks to P&R Publishing for allowing me to review this book.