“Jesus and the Hooters Girl” is a must-read. Click here, and you will be directed to the appropriate web-page.
Several years ago, I attended a conservative Presbyterian church as an associate member. This was a bit of a strange fit, since I was still a Baptist in my ecclesiological convictions. In my interview with the elders to become an associate of the church, they asked me if I took any exceptions with the Westminster Confession of Faith, the doctrinal standard of the Presbyterian Church in America. I had read through the confession in preparation for the interview and had come up with two things.
First, I told them that I did not believe in infant baptism but held to believerâ€™s baptism. Surprisingly, that was okay with them! Second, I told them that I could not agree with the Confessionâ€™s statement that the Pope is the antichrist (WCF 25.6). To my mind then and now, that aspect of the Confession seemed a bit over-the-top and not born out by history or the Bible in any clear way. It certainly was not a hill that I was willing to die on, so I cited it as an objection. Surprisingly, again, this exception was okay with them too. It turned out that the Presbyterian Church in America had excised this portion of the Confession from the one that they were using at that time.
We Protestant evangelicals would all do well to excise this kind of blanket dismissal from our statements about the Pope. I think that Francis Schaefferâ€™s principle of â€œco-belligerencyâ€ still provides a useful model for how we as evangelicals relate to Roman Catholics in general and to the Pope in particular. Co-belligerence means that we evangelicals can stand together with Roman Catholics in our fight against the pervasive secularism that is overtaking western culture. We are united in our belligerence.
But unity in belligerence does not mean unity in confession. The historic theological differences that divide Roman Catholics and Evangelical Protestants still exist. Even though we Protestants still do not agree with Roman Catholics about issues such as the Apostolic succession of the Pope, the meaning of the sacraments, and the doctrine of Justification, this fact should not keep us from standing together against evils such as abortion and gay â€œmarriage.â€
A good example of this kind of co-belligerence occurred this week in a televised discussion about the senate filibustering of President Bushâ€™s judicial appointments. Al Mohler appeared on the news program Scarborough Country on MSNBC and went to bat for a Catholic judge whose nomination is being filibustered because he is pro-life. Al Mohler is a reformed and Baptist in his theology and hardly sympathetic to Roman Catholicism on a number of issues (click here). Yet during the debate, he announced: â€œIâ€˜m an evangelical Christian, but Iâ€˜m going to speak up on behalf of that man, who is a Roman Catholic, who holds to his churchâ€˜s teachings on abortionâ€ (click here for transcript).
The posture that Francis Schaeffer, Al Mohler, and others advocate is not an ecumenism that ignores, minimizes, or compromises on the fundamental doctrines of Evangelical faith. Rather, it is what Timothy George called â€œan ecumenism of the trenches.â€ That is, a united fight against the cultural onslaught. Al Mohler writes:
â€œGiven the cultural disaster we face, and what is at stake, it simply makes sense for men and women who share basic worldview concerns to gather strength from each other, join hands and hearts, and enter the cultural fray. On this point, all but the most extreme separatists among us would agree.â€
Evangelicals should welcome the new Pope with a spirit of co-belligerence. While not compromising the â€œsolasâ€ of the Reformation, we can be thankful that there will be another voice in the public square opposing the downgrade of western culture. Pope Benedict XVI has taken public and outspoken stances against stem-cell research, abortion, homosexuality, relativism and more. While we are not united with the Pope in our confession, we can stand with him in our belligerence.
For more on this controversial topic, I recommend the following article: R. Albert Mohler, Jr., â€œStanding Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise.â€
Quoted in R. Albert Mohler, Jr., â€œStanding Together, Standing Apart: Cultural Co-belligerence Without Theological Compromise,â€ Touchstone July/August (2003).
For these reasons, his election has frustrated liberal Roman Catholics around the world (Ian Fisher, â€œGerman Cardinal Is Chosen as Pope,â€ New York Times, April 20, 2005).
by Denny Burk
O Jesus, Savior of my life,
My hope, my joy, my sacrifice,
Iâ€™ve searched and found no other one
Who loves me more than you have done. (John 15:13)
No condemnation now I dread
Because you went for me instead
To bear the Fatherâ€™s hell-bent rage,
To pay the debt I would have paid.
Yet your work finished not with death,
Nor with your final murdered breath.
For deathâ€™s blows could not ever quell
The One whose life is in Himself. (John 5:26)
Your passion broke forth full with life
And foiled the adversaryâ€™s wiles
And broke the chains and killed the sting (1 Cor 15:55-57)
In which death had imprisoned me.
O Savior, who died in my stead, (Mark 10:45; Heb 9:28)
You firstborn from among the dead, (Col 1:18)
O Savior, you who saved my life, (Matt 1:21; John 12:47; 1 Cor 1:21)
Will take me whole to paradise. (Rev 22:1-7)
So on this resurrection day
I lift my voice with all the saints
And sing with all my ransomed might (1 Tim 2:6)
Of You, the Savior of my life.
My favorite columnist, Peggy Noonan, wrote about Ashley Smithâ€™s seven hours with murderer Brian Nichols. Noonanâ€™s piece is the best Iâ€™ve read yet on Ashley Smith’s encounter with the killer, and I think you should read it too. She includes the entire transcript of Smithâ€™s testimony to reporters after the event. Noonanâ€™s article is titled â€œFlannery O’Connor Country.â€ Go read this one. You will be glad that you did.
I preached in my home church of DeRidder, Louisiana this morning, and I chose to preach a very traditional Palm Sunday sermon. I addressed the topic of â€œthe innermost meaning of the crossâ€ from Romans 3:21-26. It would seem that this kind of a message would be â€œold hatâ€ among mature Christians, the basic substance of our faith. Yet I find that popular misconceptions about the meaning of Christâ€™s death still abound.
I heard Paul Harvey share the following story on his radio program on the Saturday before Easter, March 30, 2002. It’s a sweet story, but it represents a fairly common misunderstanding of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. My aim is not to criticize Paul Harvey; I’ve always loved to listen to his show. However, I think the anecdote does reflect an unwitting error that Christians are prone to make–namely, that Jesus’ death was a payment to Satan. Hereâ€™s Harveyâ€™s story.
“The Bird Cage”
There once was a man named George Thomas, a pastor in a small New England town. One Easter Sunday morning he came to the church carrying a rusty, bent, old bird cage, and set it by the pulpit. Several eyebrows were raised and, as if in response, Pastor Thomas began to speak.
“I was walking through town yesterday when I saw a young boy coming toward me, swinging this bird cage. On the bottom of the cage were three little wild birds, shivering with cold and fright. I stopped the boy and asked, “What you got there son?”
“Just some old birds,” came the reply.
“What are you gonna do with them?” I asked.
“Take ’em home and have fun with ’em. I’m gonna tease ’em and pull out their feathers to make ’em fight. I’m gonna have a real good time.”
“But you’ll get tired of those birds sooner or later. What will you do then?”
“Oh, I got some cats. They like birds. I’ll take ’em to them.”
The pastor was silent for a moment. “How much do you want for those birds, son?”
“Huh??!!! Why, you don’t want them birds, mister. They’re just plain old field birds. They don’t sing – they ain’t even pretty!”
“How much?” The boy sized up the pastor as if he were crazy and said,
The pastor reached in his pocket and took out a ten dollar bill. He placed it in the boy’s hand. In a flash, the boy was gone. The pastor picked up the cage and gently carried it to the end of the alley where there was a tree and a grassy spot. Setting the cage down, he opened the door, and by softly tapping the bars persuaded the birds out, setting them free.
Well, that explained the empty bird cage on the pulpit, and then the pastor began to tell this story.
One day Satan and Jesus were having a conversation. Satan had just come from the Garden of Eden, and he was gloating and boasting.
“Yes, sir, I just caught the world full of people down there. Set me a trap, used bait I knew they couldn’t resist. Got ’em all!”
“What are you going to do with them?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, I’m gonna have fun! I’m gonna teach them how to marry and divorce each other. How to hate and abuse each other. How to drink and smoke and curse. How to invent guns and bombs and kill each other. I’m really gonna have fun!”
“And what will you do when you get done with them?” Jesus asked.
“Oh, I’ll kill ’em.”
“How much do you want for them?”
“Oh, you don’t want those people. They ain’t no good. Why, you’ll take them and they’ll just hate you. They’ll spit on you, curse you and kill you!! You don’t want those people!!”
Satan looked at Jesus and sneered, “Your life.”
Jesus paid the price.
The pastor picked up the cage, opened the door and he walked from the pulpit.
Accessed 4/5/05 – http://www.webedelic.com/church/birdcagef.htm
In spite of its shortcomings, we should acknowledge that the story does illustrate a couple important truths. First of all, it illustrates God’s love for sinners through Jesus’ sacrificial work (e.g. John 15:12; Rom 5:8). It also rightfully proclaims that Jesus’ death on the cross releases sinners from the ruling power of sin, which includes satanic bondage (Acts 26:18; 2 Cor 4:4; Col 1:13; 2 Tim 2:26).
However, the story completely misunderstands the Bible’s teaching about the payment that Christ made in behalf of sinners. In the story, Christ’s sacrificial death is pictured as a payment to Satan. Satan has humanity caged up, and unless he’s properly paid off all humanity will be damned. So Jesus steps in and pays the ransom to Satan in order to release sinners who are held captive by him.
Harveyâ€™s story represents a view of Christâ€™s atonement that the church rejected centuries ago (click here for more info on the early church’s rejection of this view). But the main problem with this “ransom to Satan” view of Christ’s death is that it misunderstands what the Bible teaches about the meaning of the cross. The scriptures are clear that Jesus Christ’s death on the cross constituted a payment to God, not the devil.
Why is this point significant? It’s important because the Bible everywhere affirms that sin is an offense against God (e.g. 2 Samuel 12:9-10; Romans 3:23). All of us are sinners and have thus offended God. The offense of sin has created a rift between God and humanity (Isaiah 59:2). Sin has incited God’s angry and terrible wrath, and all of us therefore owe God a debt of eternal punishment because of our sin. This debt is paid in hell, and when one goes there one never finishes paying the debt. It lasts for eternity.
It’s important to note here that hell is not a place where Satan doles out punishment upon sinners. No, hell is much scarier than that. Hell is the place where God metes out His just punishment upon sinners. We must not think of hell as a place where Satan rules. On the contrary, hell is the place of Satan’s punishment (2 Peter 2:4; Rev 20:10). So if hell isn’t the realm of Satan’s wrath, then who’s wrath is it that is poured out in hell? It’s the wrath of God. When we let ourselves reflect on this truth, the thought is almost too difficult to bear. The same God who is the treasure of heaven is also the One who is the terror of hell. This is why Jesus warned people, “And do not fear those who kill the body, but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28). Whereas heaven is the realm of God’s mercy, hell is the place of God’s wrath. Hell is scary not because Satan is there but because, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
All of this further illumines the point that we as sinners owe a debt of eternal punishment to God, not to Satan. Therefore, when Jesus died, he was making a payment to God, not to Satan. When Jesus died, he was being punished by God, not by Satan. On the cross, Jesus Christ was receiving the punishment from God that we deserved. Someone may object to this last statement by asking, “But does the Bible really teach that God is the one who punished Jesus? After all, it looks like the Romans and the Jews are the ones who punished him.” Numerous texts could be cited in response to this objection. Let’s look at a couple.
The prophet Isaiah describes Jesus’ death as follows, “But the Lord was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10, emphasis mine). In Isaiah’s words, “the Lord” is the One who crushed Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel, God says “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered” (Matt 26:31). In this text, God is clearly the agent of Jesus’ death. Also, let us not forget 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” God made Jesus to bear the guilt and punishment for our sin! This couldn’t be any clearer in scripture.
So the payment that would have taken us an eternity in hell to endure, Jesus endured in the moment of the cross. Jesus’ physical sufferings were horrific. But who can imagine the terror of the spiritual anguish of bearing God’s wrath against sin? All the frightful rage of the infinite creator and judge of the universe was poured out in full on Jesus at the cross. As C. H. Spurgeon once put it, “it seemed as if Hell were put into His cup; He seized it, and, â€˜At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.â€™ So that there was nothing left of all the pangs and miseries of Hell for His people ever to endure.” This is the true meaning of Christ’s death. Jesus took the wrath of God upon himself as a substitute in the place of sinners. In this, Jesus rendered payment to God, not Satan.
The amazing paradox is that the measure of God’s wrath is also the measure of his love because “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God’s love is demonstrated in Jesus’ death. How can this be? The measure of Jesus’ anguish on the cross demonstrates the extent of his love. He suffered to the uttermost for those he came to save. So when we view God’s wrath poured out on Jesus at the cross, we are at once viewing the measure of his love for us. Isn’t this the reason that we sing, “Amazing love, how can it be that Thou my God wouldst die for me?”
We give away precious gospel truth if we say that Jesus’ death was a ransom to Satan. If we say that Jesus’ death is a ransom to the devil, we don’t see the true measure of God’s love because we don’t see the true measure of His wrath poured out on sin. But we see the gospel in all of its glory when we realize that Jesus’ death was a payment to an offended God who loves us. God offers Jesus as a substitute penalty-bearer to anyone who will place their faith and trust in him. Whoever turns from their sin, whoever forsakes all attempts to reconcile himself/herself to God through human effort and good works, whoever will trust in Jesus alone will find salvation from the eternal debt of punishment owed to God. That is the heart of the Gospel.
Several weeks ago I wrote about the resignation of Robert Sloan from the presidency of Baylor University in a blog titled, â€œThe Demise of Sloan and the Fortunes of ‘Baylor 2012’.â€ In that essay I concluded with the following: â€œI fear that the vision of â€˜Baylor 2012â€™ will have a whole different character or be perhaps entirely lost without Sloan at the helm. However, I am reminded by a good friend that the glass may not be half empty, but half full . . . I will be hoping and praying that my friend is right.”
According to an article in the March issue of Christianity Today, the glass may indeed be half full. In â€œVision Minus the Visionary,â€ Robert Benne predicts that, â€œthere is good reason to believe that Baylor 2012 will go firmly forward under a new administration. There is no guarantee that this ambitious plan will be completely successful or that it will now be free of controversy, but its likelihood of success is now greater without Sloan than it was with him.â€ It remains to be seen whether this analysis will be correct, but I recommend your reading the article anyway (click on the following link).
President of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers, has gotten himself into a catfight because of comments he made recently at a session on the progress of women in academia organized by the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass. Although there is no transcript of his remarks, he reportedly claimed â€œthat the shortage of elite female scientists may stem in part from â€˜innateâ€™ differences between men and women.â€
He shared an anecdote about his daughter to illustrate the point. He once gave his daughter two trucks in an effort at â€œgender-neutral parenting.â€ His daughter soon began referring to one of the trucks as “daddy truck” and the other as “baby truck.” The event led him to ponder whether there was any truth to the notion that certain proclivities are connected to gender. For his daughter, at least, despite his best effort it seemed clear that something inside her compelled her to play what little girls are often wont to play. His is the kind of observation that many parents make when they actually deal with reality and not with ideology. Boys and girls are different.
Not surprisingly, Summersâ€™ concurrent analysis of the shortage of women in math and sciences was not received well by the dogmaticians of political correctness that inhabit the halls of academia. Indeed, at least one listener received his words as a personal vote of no confidence with respect to the role of women in the academy. Nancy Hopkins, a biology professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, actually got up from her seat in the middle of the speech and walked out. She said, â€œI felt I was going to be sick . . . My heart was pounding and my breath was shallow . . . I was extremely upset.â€
A faculty committee of Harvard University has responded to Summersâ€™ remarks with a reprimand, saying that his words â€œdid not serve our institution well. Indeed, they serve to reinforce an institutional culture at Harvard that erects numerous barriers to improving the representation of women on the faculty, and to impede our current efforts to recruit top women scholars. They also send at best mixed signals to our high-achieving women students in Harvard College and in the graduate and professional schools.â€
Dr. Summerâ€™s remarks were hardly an assault on women or modern feminism. He has subsequently said that he did not mean to imply that women were mentally inferior or somehow less apt for scholarship in math and sciences than men are. His words were merely an observation concerning the differences between men and women. Yet the storm of controversy that has erupted reveals the extent to which feminist dogma has gripped the popular consciousness. One cannot even make the suggestion anymore that there are innate differences between boys and girls without causing an uproar.
It never ceases to amaze me how anti-feminine the feminist movement has become. At least in some of its more radical wings, the movement encourages females to pretend that there are no differences between men and women beyond the biological accidents of their anatomies. The practical effect of this ideology has not really been a thoroughgoing egalitarianism, but a suspicion of everything male. Ironically, women are encouraged to act less and less like women, and more and more like men. Who would have thought 100 years ago that the feminist movement would result in a suppression of traditional femininity? Yet this seems to be what has happened.
The controversy surrounding the Harvard Presidentâ€™s remarks reveals that there is still a pitched battle going on over the meaning of gender in our culture. Ultimately, this conflict can only be resolved by a willingness to listen to what the Creator of gender has to say about who we are and what he intends for us. As long as the feminists keep up their effort to shut Him out of the conversation, however, the fight will have to continue.
Washington Post, Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A02, accessed on-line: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19181-2005Jan18.html.
Washington Post, Wednesday, January 19, 2005; Page A02, accessed on-line: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A19181-2005Jan18.html.
New York Times, Wednesday, January 19, 2005, accessed on-line: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/01/19/education/19harvard.html.