Does God care about filibusters?

Sometimes I read things that are so pitifully erroneous that I feel compelled to set the record straight. This is one instance.

Recently Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D.-Ill., complained about Republican Majority Leader Bill Frist’s participation in a simulcast to religious conservatives. The simulcast will include pro-family leaders — such as James Dobson — who have portrayed Democrats as being “against people of faith” for blocking President Bush’s judicial nominations.

Durbin was not at all happy that Frist was participating in such an event. Durbin groused: “I cannot imagine that God — with everything he has or she[1] has to worry about — is going to take the time to debate the filibuster in heaven.”[2]

I will not deny the rhetorical effectiveness of Durbin’s statement. It appeals to peoples’ common sense that a transcendent God would hardly stoop to concern Himself with the mundane details of human existence — much less the jaded world of power politics. After all, isn’t God above all that? Aren’t there more important things in the universe than what happens in one small city located on the galactic speck known as planet earth? The reasoning goes something like this: “God doesn’t care about petty things such as politics, so why should we care what He thinks about our public policies?”

I think Durbin’s statement merely reflects another cynical attempt to remove God from the public square — in this case, from the give and take of political discourse. But the main problem with Durbin’s ill-informed words is that nearly every phrase is chocked full of biblical and theological error. In one fell swoop of misinformation, Durbin manages to turn the biblical portrait of God’s providence on its head. God’s Providence refers to His constant care and control over every aspect of His creation (Ephesians 1:11). And Sen. Durbin misses it.

For starters, Durbin’s “I-cannot-imagine” appeal to common sense gets his listeners off on the wrong foot in their reflections about God — as if what one “imagines” matters one whit in the determination of reality. We shouldn’t be surprised by kooky theological reflection when the source of it is the mere musing of a misguided muckraker. What really matters is not the god of Durbin’s or anyone else’s imagination, but the God who has revealed Himself in the written canon of Scripture. And it is to the Scriptures that we will have to look if we want to know what God thinks about anything.

Jesus taught about the Father’s stooping to be involved in the affairs of men: “Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Therefore do not fear; you are of more value than many sparrows” (Matthew 10:29-31). In other words, God is very much involved in the day-to-day mundane events of our lives.

When Jesus refers to falling “sparrows” and numbered “hairs,” He teaches that God’s providential concern extends to the smallest details of our existence, to what in our terms would be the molecular level of existence.[3] In other words, there is no aspect of our lives that is beneath God. All of life belongs to Him and only finds its proper meaning and purpose in relation to Him. This truth would of course include the mundane world of politics.

Durbin intimates that God has more important things to do than to “worry” about our politics. Yet God’s Providence in Scripture is not depicted as something that stresses God out. As if He can’t have anything else added to His plate because He’s already got too much to do (like preventing the universe from imploding). God’s meticulous providence does not cause Him worry. On the contrary, biblically speaking, our worry is relieved by our knowledge of His providence. In Matthew 10:30, it is this truth that is to be a comfort to disciples who suffer at the hands of evil governments. If God’s care over His creation extends even to the smallest animal, then it certainly extends to His people.

For Durbin to suggest that God doesn’t care about the judiciary that will decide whether abortion-on-demand will remain legal is to make a grave error indeed. If God cares about the sparrows, you can be sure He cares about the babies. Their justice will not tarry long as God Himself eventually will call to account their oppressors (Psalm 82:3, 8; 146:9), a fact I’m sure many pro-abortionists would like to ignore. And the pro-abortionists will cause many others to ignore this truth so long as God and our accountability to Him are banned from the public consciousness.

So let us not keep silent when dinky theology is substituted for substantive, sound statements about God. Remarks like Sen. Durbin’s may be clever, but they are not true.
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[1]A critique of Durbin’s dithering on the gender of God will have to wait for another time, but this issue in itself is important nonetheless.
[2]David D. Kirkpatrick and Carl Hulse, “Frist Accused of Exploiting Religion Issue,” New York Times, April 16, 2005. Accessed Online: http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/16/politics/16judges.html.
[3]John Piper used this phrase in connection with this text, that the Lord’s Providence extends to the “molecular” level. He used it in a radio interview concerning the tsunami disaster.
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This article appeared in the Baptist Press on August 20, 2005.
http://www.bpnews.net/bpfeature.asp?ID=1803

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The Veggie Tale Gospel vs. Teaching the Whole Counsel of God

I used to do the strangest thing during church services when I was a kid growing up in my home church of DeRidder, Louisiana. I made a regular habit of taking out the pew Bible during the sermon and reading the Old Testament stories that I thought were “cool.” I was fascinated by the biblical stories and their often stark portrayals of war, violence, and intrigue. I can remember reading about Amnon’s treachery against his half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13) and the 200 Philistine foreskins that David paid Saul so that he could become the king’s son-in-law (1 Samuel 18). Stories like these became my friends when I couldn’t get my little preteen brain to focus on the preacher’s sermon.

A conversation today with Dr. Russell D. Moore, guest lecturer at the Criswell College, reminded me of my childhood fascination with these stories. Dr. Moore explained how he thought the evangelical church in America tends to water down the blood and guts of the biblical story line. It’s not just the Veggie Tales who have transformed the blood-thirsty Ninevites into cute little creatures whose only sin is to slap each other around with cute little fish, but this kind of non-violent biblical revisionism happens every Sunday morning in children’s Sunday school classes in conservative churches all across America. As a result, most young boys grow up envisioning Jesus not as the warrior-King of the Gospels, but as the feminine looking “bearded lady” of the flannel graph. Dr. Moore argued that this trend reflects a feminization of the biblical story line that ultimately causes young boys to lose interest in the Gospel.

Dr. Moore has written a short essay on this topic titled, “Children’s Sunday School and the Battle for the Bible.” Dr. Moore is one of my favorite writers, and I regularly read his blog at http://www.henryinstitute.com/. Visit the website. Read it often. I’m certain he’ll become one of your favorites too.

“Children’s Sunday School and the Battle for the Bible” – by Dr. Russell D. Moore

Dr. Russell D. Moore is the Dean of Theology and Senior Vice President for Academic Administration at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, in Louisville, Kentucky. He also serves as executive director of The Henry Institute, a think-tank named after Carl F. H. Henry that is devoted to equipping churches and church leaders to engage the culture from a biblical worldview perspective.

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Eulogy for My Uncle: Hoy Dickerson

My Uncle Hoy went home to be with the Lord last Thursday, April 7, 2005 (click here to read his obituary in the Dallas Morning News). It was very difficult for our family to say goodbye to him now, as we will greatly miss him. The following is the eulogy that I gave at his funeral service last Sunday. My prayer is that the hope of the resurrection will sustain all of us and help us to face life and death with courage.
___________________________EULOGY FOR HOY DICKERSON
April 10, 2005

INTRODCTION
What do you say on an occasion like this? It’s always best at a time like this to do two things: to remember the deceased and to remember the Gospel.

I have my own remembrances of Uncle Hoy that I can tell. There are many stories. I have always loved Uncle Hoy’s sense of humor and impeccably timed practical jokes. I love the many ways that Uncle Hoy has found to torture my dad over the years. I will miss how he always liked to sneak up behind Dad and “goose” him. Even after all these years, Dad never got used to it. He would jump out of his skin every time Uncle Hoy got him.

The ultimate practical joke happened years ago when we lived in Fort Worth. Dad was connecting the gas line to the oven, and he lit a match and was passing it by the line to check for leaks. Just as dad held up the match to the line, Uncle Hoy snuck up and hit the side of oven as hard as he could. Dad nearly lost his lunch on that one. He also nearly threw Uncle Hoy through the window.

So we need to remember Uncle Hoy. But we also need to remember the Gospel. How do we speak the Gospel in a way that offers real comfort and hope and that does not sound like shallow, wishful thinking? How do we address our grief with the Gospel in a way that rings true with the way God made us?

I think we find ourselves caught between two temptations. There will be a temptation to paper over the very real grief with a sort of “praise God anyhow” kind of an attitude. The idea that Christians don’t cry because they have Jesus. Really spiritual people don’t let anything get to them. No matter what happens, no matter how profound the loss, if you’re really spiritual you will just put a plastic smile on your face, pretend like nothing’s wrong, and “praise God anyhow.”

The other temptation will be to let your emotions overrun you. It may seem that the love that you still feel for Uncle Hoy, the memories of your life with him, and the bitterness of having to say goodbye for now; it will seem that all of these things conspire against you to drag you to a dark place. So there can be the temptation to despair as the emotions run over you.

Yet you know and I know that neither one of these responses really rings true. On the one hand, the “praise God anyhow” response just seems to ignore the fact that you really did love Hoy and that it hurts to say goodbye. Just as we cannot pretend that the flame doesn’t hurt when we put our hand in the fire, we cannot pretend that it doesn’t make our hearts ache to see Uncle Hoy go. On the other hand, losing ourselves in a bottomless pit of despair won’t do either. So as we find ourselves tempted on the one hand to succumb to overwhelming grief and on the other hand to ignore it with a pretend “praise God anyhow” attitude, we desperately need a word from God to make a beginning of putting our broken hearts back together again.

And I want to say to you today that God gives us that. God’s word for us today is from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18: “13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words.”

God tells us that we need to do two things according to this text. We need to grieve, and we need to have hope.

WE NEED TO GRIEVE (1 Thess 4:13a)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13a).

Notice that it does not say, “Don’t grieve.” It just says, “Don’t grieve as if you have no hope.” In other words, there is a way to grieve and a way not to grieve. God is not telling us not to grieve. On the contrary He is telling us how to grieve. Don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that it’s wrong to cry. We need to cry.

In John 11:35 when Jesus learned of Lazarus’ death, the scripture says very plainly that “Jesus wept.” So if we want to be like Jesus in our loss, we have to cry. Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” This is a command. So we need to grieve. We need to have many tears.

But God tells us that He does not want our grieving to consist of tears only. He wants our grieving to be filled with hope. So . . .

WE NEED TO HAVE HOPE (1 Thess 4:13b-16)
“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13b).

Don’t grieve “as do the rest,” means don’t grieve “as non-Christians” grieve. When they grieve, they have no hope. No expectation that anything good lies beyond the grave. When the non-Christian grieves his tears are bitter because there is nothing more to come. It truly is the last goodbye. But we don’t grieve that way. When the tears flow and the anguish of loss is at its worst, we still have the promises of the Gospel. God comes to you now in your grief, and He’s saying to you, “Remember the Gospel. It’s not over now, and it never will be. There is more to come.”

Because “14 if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus.”

Paul addresses a group of Christians who had placed their faith in crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus. They had received the gospel at a time when it cost them dearly to believe. But they endured the persecution because they believed the word that Jesus had been risen from the grave and that he would come back again for his people. They had become discouraged because in spite of all their faith, the Lord chose to delay His coming, and the Thessalonian Christians were watching their brothers and sisters die. They were grieving because they thought their loved ones had missed it.

Paul’s response is just a reminder of the Gospel. “Just as Jesus died and rose again, in the same way God will resurrect from the dead those believers who die before Jesus comes back.”

Therefore, the way to address your tears is to believe that there is more to come:
“15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of [the] archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words”(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18).

I say to you, Aunt Judy, on the authority of the word of God, as surely as the Gospel of Jesus Christ is true, that there is more to come. You will have him back. You will have him back and then some. 1 Corinthians 6:14 says, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.”

Jesus Christ went into a grave dead, and He walked out alive. His physical body was remade perfect and whole. Uncle Hoy will indeed get up out of the grave with his body remade perfect, whole, and complete. You will see him again with your own eyes in the resurrection, just as you will see Jesus with your own eyes. And it will be better then than it ever has been here. And thus you shall always be with the Lord.

Where is Uncle Hoy now? Jesus is seated at the right hand of God right now (Eph 1:20; Col 3:1), and all of those who have fallen asleep in Jesus are with him right now. This is why the apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that he prefers “to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

But even though Paul preferred to die and to be with Christ (Phil 1:23), he knew that there was more to come at the resurrection. Being apart from the body and at home with the Lord is not how he thinks he will always be. Because he says that he knows “14 that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus . . . 16 Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. 17 For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:14, 16-18).

So right now, Uncle Hoy is with Jesus, in paradise, no tears, no pain, only joy increasing forever. And he knows now what you should know too. There is more to come.

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An Easter Hymn

by Denny Burk

O Jesus, Savior of my life,
My hope, my joy, my sacrifice,
I’ve searched and found no other one
Who loves me more than you have done. (John 15:13)

So I denounce my lingering sin
Whose power You have broke within (Rom 6:14)
My ever weak and faithless frame. (Rom 7:14)
Its vigor’s crushed in Jesus name.

For your death did at once proclaim,
The Father’s glory and my shame. (Rom 3:25-26)
And you did seize my cup of guilt (Luke 22:42)
And drank all that the chalice spilled. (1 Cor 5:21)

No condemnation now I dread
Because you went for me instead
To bear the Father’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 death’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 adversary’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.

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Peggy Noonan Writes on Ashley Smith


Peggy Noonan

My favorite columnist, Peggy Noonan, wrote about Ashley Smith’s seven hours with murderer Brian Nichols. Noonan’s piece is the best I’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 Smith’s testimony to reporters after the event. Noonan’s article is titled “Flannery O’Connor Country.” Go read this one. You will be glad that you did.

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A Ransom to Satan?


Paul Harvey

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 “the innermost meaning of the cross” from Romans 3:21-26. It would seem that this kind of a message would be “old hat” among mature Christians, the basic substance of our faith. Yet I find that popular misconceptions about the meaning of Christ’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. Here’s Harvey’s story.
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“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,
“$10?”
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!!”
“How much?”
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
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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.

Harvey’s story represents a view of Christ’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, ‘At one tremendous draught of love, He drank damnation dry.’ 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.

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The Death of a Postmodern Theologian


Stanley J. Grenz, 1950-2005

I was shocked to learn this week of Stanley Grenz’s death. He died very suddenly on Saturday, March 12 as a result of a massive aneurism. I cannot improve upon David Dockery’s review of Grenz’s life and career as an ‘evangelical’ theologian. So I recommend that you read Dockery’s very personal appraisal of Grenz: ‘When Piety Is Not Enough.’

I was introduced to Grenz’s theology in 1998 while working on my Master’s in Theology at Dallas Theological Seminary. I read Grenz’s Primer on Postmodernism, and my mind began to understand for the first time the philosophical and theological roots of postmodernity. Until his book, I had not properly understood the causes of the epistemological irrationality that seemed to permeate every aspect of the American culture in which I lived. His book made clearer the things I had only begun to be aware of from reading Francis Schaeffer years before. Grenz’s lucid description of postmodernism’s historical underpinnings made clear to me how the rationalism of modernity had vanished once for all as the ruling paradigm of knowledge. I remember reading the book and being so thankful for his clarity and insight into the postmodern ethos. I also remember very clearly how disappointed I was by the final chapter of the book. As an evangelical, I could not understand how he could be so sympathetic to the epistemology (or lack thereof) of postmodernity. In the years since that introduction to his thought, I have come to believe that his theological program is actually antithetical to evangelical orthodoxy. Grenz and his work will not soon be forgotten, but I do hope and pray that his theological paradigm will not carry the day.

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Puritan or Separatist? To Leave or Not To Leave

A person recently asked me what I though about the “downgrade controversy,” which was a doctrinal dispute that C. H. Spurgeon had with liberal members of his denomination. Ultimately, Spurgeon decided that separation from the doctrinal “downgrade” of his denomination was the best course. The question arises for us as to when it is appropriate to separate from a church or a denomination over doctrinal issues. For us as for Spurgeon, I think that the question is all about when it is proper to stop being puritans to become separatists (for the difference between the two, click here). Spurgeon believed that his denomination had become so compromised doctrinally that he had to stop being a puritan to become a separatist. I agree with him that sometimes a church or denomination can become so compromised that you cannot remain in fellowship. The question is when does a church or a denomination cross that line. For my answer to that question, I refer you once again to Dr. Mohler’s article, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity.” We have to separate with people who deny “first order” doctrines, and we have to regard them as non-Christians. We have to worship in separate churches from those who deny “second order” doctrines, though we may still acknowledge them as brothers. We have to strive for unity in spite of disagreements over “third order” doctrines.

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“Theological Triage”: Recognizing Doctrinal Priorities

For many students of theology, one of the last lessons to be mastered is the ability to discern how and when to engage in theological debate. On the one hand, some simply don’t know how to disagree amicably with those who have different perspectives. Too often, students become so abrasive and caustic that no one wants to listen to them, no matter what they are saying. When I was a student at Dallas Theological Seminary, I remember seeing three students arguing over the so-called “lordship salvation” controversy. One of the “free grace” advocates became so incensed at his opponent that he nearly punched the “lordship” advocate in the face. Though I’m sure he felt “free” to attack his poor brother, I’m glad that he chose not to. Instead, he stormed off in a huff, fists clinched and red-faced. It was clear to me that this guy had not mastered the how of theological discourse.

On the other hand, too many do not discern properly when debate is advisable and what the pitch of such dispute should be. I have known many who become more excited about the order of events on their prophecy chart than they do about the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. They do not seem to understand that error with respect to the former results only in division while error with respect to the later results in condemnation. This inability to discern a taxonomy in doctrinal priorities is one of the hallmarks of theological immaturity.

It is for this reason that Dr. Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, has recommended a “theological triage” to govern theological dialogue. In his essay, “A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity,” Mohler sets forth the necessity of identifying first order, second order, and third order doctrinal issues. He argues that the mature theologian will be able to distinguish each of the three from one another. I highly recommend that you make it your priority to read this short essay for yourself.

“A Call for Theological Triage and Christian Maturity” – by R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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To My Students: A Word of Exhortation

My writing today is dedicated especially to my students at the Criswell College. I am happy to hear that so many have been stopping by to read what I have posted, so I have all of you in mind as I write today. There is a short essay by B. B. Warfield that I read when I first began my trek in theological education many years ago. What Warfield wrote in this essay radically changed the way that I had been thinking about the task that I had before me. He argues with passion and vigor that there should be no bifurcation between the “head” and the “heart” when one applies himself to serious study of the scriptures. Warfield’s words were momentous in my life, and I think they will be in yours too. Princeton Theological Seminary has posted Warfield’s article on their website, and I am encouraging you to click on the link below, print out the article, and read it carefully. Blessings on all of you with much love, Dr. Burk.

The Religious Life of Theological Students – by B. B. Warfield

(About B. B. Warfield)

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