Song: “Matthias Job”

Earlier in this year, my nephew, Matthias Job, passed away shortly after birth. My wife and I wrote and recorded a song as a surprise for my sister-in-law and her husband. My wife’s parents and my brother-in-law and his wife helped with the lyrics and we also took some lines from my sister-in-law’s letter that she wrote to Matthias. We want to share it with you and hope it will bring comfort to others who have faced burdens and tragedies in their lives.

Lyrics:

As you felt your mother’s heart beat out her love for you,
And you heard your father’s whispered words of care,
Through a rain of tears we watched you slowly slip away,
And this path of pain seemed more than we could bear.

Yet I’ll trust in God, who heals and brings me peace.

Through it all God remains the same,
He’s still good and perfect and merciful,
And though he gives and He takes away,
Still I’ll choose to say blessed be His name.

Now we long to hold you, mourning memories never made,
And we hold to hope until that glorious day,
As we ache for Heaven, this Earth loses it’s appeal,
When we join you, sin’s curse in our hearts will heal.

In the afterward of Heaven.

Through it all God remains the same,
He’s still good and perfect and merciful,
And though he gives and He takes away,
Still I’ll choose to say blessed be His name.

You went far so we would draw near,
Pain is not wasted, God’s will is made clear;
Richer through losses, empty we are filled;
Joy in the morning, in the afterward of Heaven.

God healed your broken heart when He took you home,
And I have this hope, my God will carry me.

Through it all God remains the same,
He’s still good and perfect and merciful,
And though he gives and He takes away,
Still I’ll choose to say blessed be His name.

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Book Review: “Reformation Women” by Rebecca VanDoodewaard

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A large majority of the most famous Protestant reformers are, indeed, men. There are many reasons for this, but it would likewise be a mistake to think that the Protestant Reformation was a movement instigated and propagated solely by men. Rebecca VanDoodewaard’s Reformation Women: Sixteenth-Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth takes on the task of better understanding the role of women in the Reformation. While numerous women could possibly be selected, VanDoodewaard narrows down her research to twelve in particular. Some were fairly well-known, but others were virtually unheard of (to me, at least). At about 115 pages, this was a remarkably quick read. I finished more than half of it during down time on a weeklong missions trip, so it’s certainly not an intimidating size. For those interested in learning about women of the Reformation, who likewise want to be exhorted to Christian godliness, will find this concise book to be delightful.

By far, my favorite chapter was number one, which covered the life of Anna Reinhard. It is refreshing to hear of the personal details of what life was like for Anna and family in sixteenth century Switzerland, as the entire family pressed on to win people over to the Reformation. Many of VanDoodewaard’s citations are drawn from primary sources, though occasional secondary texts are referred to or quoted. VanDoodewaard makes it manifestly clear in her introductory remarks that she is not trying to follow the patterns of modern feminist historians, though she argues there is some good to be found in this recent historiographical movement. One thing that is probably most necessary to know from a historiographical perspective is the underlying motivation that VanDoodewaard seems to have in Reformation Women, namely, that this book is not merely to revise historiographical viewpoints of how women lived during the Reformation (in fact, that generally was not the case). And for that, professional historians might be a little disappointed. More so, this book could be lumped together in the “Christian Living” genre, since a great deal of emphasis is placed on finding these women  to be inspiring role models for Christian women today, and men as well. Furthermore, it is especially geared towards women in the “Reformed” theological camp. That is not to say that non-Reformed readers will find this book valueless, but there are noticeable criticisms of Catholics and Anabaptists that just did not seem to be as equally represented among those in the Reformed traditions. Overall, though, there is much to gain from reading Reformation Women, both for historical enrichment and spiritual encouragement.

***Disclaimer: Special thanks to Cross Focused Reviews for providing a free review copy. All opinions were my own.***

Help Me Get to Mexico!

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I am excited to announce to the world that I am planning on going to Mexico this summer (2017) for a missions trip opportunity through my local church, in coordination with International Christian Centers for the Deaf (ICCD). There, our team will work with one of the largest unreached people groups in the world–the deaf–in a very needy country. This trip will be a little over a week long in June, so it won’t be long until I cross the border to Rio Bravo, Mexico. Of course, in order for me to get there, I will need to raise some money, most of which will go towards the plane ticket cost. Although I plan to send out a prayer letter to people I personally know, anyone can help financially contribute to this cause in one simple way: buy one (or more) of my paperback books!

From the time I started selling two of my books on paperback and until the goal of $1,000 is reached, ALL of my royalties earned from the sale of these books, The Other Reformers and A Brief History of Virginia, will go to a fund for the Mexico trip. The books are quite low in price, so the royalty is not incredibly large, but every bit helps!

Click here to buy The Other Reformers from Amazon.com

 

Click here to buy A Brief History of Virginia from Amazon.com

Theodicy: A Justification of the Justice of God Amidst the Problem of Evil

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Introduction

On November 17, 2013, the date of writing for this opening paragraph, news outlets across the United States have been flooded with reports of tornado outbreaks in the Midwest.[1] Multiple people have been killed, homes have been destroyed, businesses have been greatly affected; perhaps the word “chaos” would be most appropriate. Beyond natural disasters, the world has also been tarnished with unspeakable horrors resulting from immoral and downright evil activities such as murder, rape, extortion, terrorism, and physical abuse. “How is it,” some would ask, “that God would allow such things to happen?” There is a logic frequently assumed in discussions such as these that a good God could not possibly eternally exist while such evils consume the earth. The question itself is understandable, but the answer to that question is one of the most vital reconciliations that a Christian can make. Matters of synthesizing both the existence of evil and the complete goodness of God are often part of a doctrine labeled “theodicy.” The Lexham Bible Dictionary defines theodicy as “The attempt to defend God’s omnipotence and goodness in the face of the problem of evil in the world.”[2] Theodicy comes from two Greek words, θεός and δικέ, to literally mean “divine justice.”[3] Therefore, this research will attempt to reconcile the justice, or more specifically the “justness” or “rightness” of God who has chosen to allow pain and suffering into His sovereign plans. And while many questions will continue to persist on this side of eternity as to why God permitted certain things, the “problem of evil” is answered sufficiently from the Christian perspective, and God’s justice is completely justified.

The Goodness of God

The whole issue of theodicy depends on what evidence one chooses to use for analyzing God’s goodness. If a wholly naturalistic presupposition is adopted, and the Bible is merely treated as a human document, then answers to theodicy will not even matter since God, in the naturalist’s mind, has not revealed Himself (if He exists) in any form of special revelation. However, if one begins his/her analysis on the goodness of God and the “problem of evil” with looking at the natural world as the primary source of investigation, adding occasional glances to Scripture, then one’s view of theodicy will be a never-ending state of frantic cluelessness. When the Bible is put in a secondary position for interpreting the world, whole theologies such as “process theology” and “open theism” arise to account for philosophical conjectures that put God in the position of being less than the sovereign ruler of the universe.[4] Only when the Bible is the lens through which one interprets theodicy can the goodness of God and the problem of evil be reconciled satisfactorily.

Before considering the reality and sheer power of evil present in the world, it is necessary to first seek what Scripture teaches on the goodness of God. After all, if God is not supremely good, then there is no possible way to reconcile the “rightness” of God in the study of theodicy since no true standard of rightness would exist. The Bible, however, is quite clear on the issue. First of all, God cannot sin and will not cause others to sin. James 1:13 says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God,’ for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” Secondly, it is noteworthy that God is frequently (over 900 times) described with the attribute of holiness, something of which Jonathan Edwards describes as “the sum of all His attributes, the outshining of all that God is.”[5] Thirdly, authors from Scripture appeal to God’s goodness quite often. The Psalmist David rather clearly declares in song, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!”[6] It is abundantly clear, then, that the Bible presents God to be wholly good and just, a Being fit for providing the moral standard for what constitutes “goodness” and “justness.”

The Evilness of Evil

Where the predicament lies in the discussion of theodicy is in how the presence of evil and suffering seems to contradict the goodness of God. The issue is complex to say the least, and as Daniel Clendenin states, “For some the problem is the fact that God allows any evil in the world, while for others the problem is not simply that evil exists but that too much evil exists.”[7] The existence of evil, although doubted by some, is one of the most verifiable doctrines of the Christian faith.[8] For as John Frame writes, “If evil is an illusion, it is a terribly troublesome illusion, an illusion that brings misery, pain, suffering, and death. If it is said that the pain also is illusory, I reply that there is no difference between illusory pain and real pain so far as the problem of evil is concerned.”[9] Indeed, the reality of evil is a “problem.” All of humanity suffers the ill effects of evil, and Christians particularly are faced with the apparent dilemma that leads back to Epicurus which has been quoted and paraphrased by philosophers in many ages since his time: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”[10] Although there are multiple questions listed, only the second and third questions require a rebuttal. Once again, the assumption is that a good God could not allow evil, and certainly not the degree of evil that infests the present state of humanity. The “problem” with Epicurus’ “problem of evil” is that Bible does not see it as a “problem” towards God’s goodness. On the contrary, the Bible majestically reconciles the goodness of God in the discussion of theodicy.

God and Evil: A Biblical Reconciliation

Pain and suffering are agonizing realities in the world today. However, if theodicy itself is as big of a problem as skeptics believe, then why does the Bible speak about the reality of evil so frequently? Far from being a concealed secret of Christianity, the Bible is actually unashamedly honest on the reality and purposes that God has for permitting evil. To demonstrate this proposition, three examples will be introduced from Scripture: Job, Joseph, and Jesus Christ.

The book of Job is possibly the oldest book of the Bible which, for purposes of the topic of theodicy, ironically is all about the reality of evil, pain, and suffering. In it, “Satan, Eliphaz, Bildad, Zophar, and to some extent Job wrongly assumed that punishment of the wicked and reward of the righteous in this life is a fixed doctrine.”[11] Out of all people in the world, the least likely candidate for enduring suffering was Job, described as being a man who “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.”[12] Yet God in his sovereign wisdom permits Satan to cause intense pain and suffering to Job, Job is accused of being blameworthy for his own troubles, but then in the final chapter God has the closing rebuke of the false accusers after Job repents of his questioning of God. And according to what has been revealed in Scripture, Job is never even given the answer as to why he had to suffer so brutally. But what is known is that God must have had a purpose for this seemingly senseless trial (even if not explicitly revealed in Scripture). After observing both Joseph and Jesus Christ, principles found elsewhere in Scripture for theodicy will help bring to light some of what can be known about theodicy.

Joseph is another example of a man who would be an unlikely recipient of pain and suffering, especially in regards to the goodness of God and what He sovereignly wills. Not only is he sold into slavery by his own family (Genesis 37) but also is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife for attempted rape, and is subsequently imprisoned (Genesis 39). Nevertheless, this story does have a happy ending, and unlike the story of Job, God’s purpose for Joseph’s suffering is included. In the final chapter of Genesis, Joseph reunites with his brothers, speaking these words to them concerning what had occurred: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[13] There are many who would still accuse God of being unloving towards Joseph by allowing him to suffer. But as stated by the very sufferer himself, “God meant it for good.”

In moving on to the third example, Jesus Christ, it must be mentioned that the first two examples were certainly what most would call “good” people. The truth is, however, that the Bible is clear that all have sinned and are deserving of God’s wrath, including Job and Joseph. What sets apart Jesus Christ so distinctly is that He never sinned (Hebrews 4:15) and was wholly undeserving of His suffering, both in human and in God’s standards. R.C. Sproul, Jr. once stated this humbling fact: “No matter what we are suffering, we are living in the lap of God’s grace. None of us ever gets worse than we deserve. What God owes us is death and destruction. Why do bad things happen to good people? Well, that only happened once, and He volunteered.”[14] Jesus Christ not only endured a grueling death via crucifixion, but it was on that very cross in which He endured the wrath of God for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2). If anyone had a reason to accuse God of fault in what He allows, it was Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, He submitted to the will of His Father because His suffering was not in vain. Likewise, those who trust in the Word of God can trust that their own forms of suffering serve a mysterious yet genuine purpose.

Moving beyond examples of the Bible, there are whole “systems” of theodicy views that need to be briefly investigated.[15] Some philosophers/theologians would resort to a “free will” argument of sin and its relation to the world, as well as God’s goodness. Norman Geisler states, “The answer [for theodicy] is found in one of God’s good gifts: free will. While freedom is good in itself, it also allowed the potential for evil. Hence, free will made evil possible.”[16] But a major problem with this view is that “Scripture never uses the free-will defense in any passage where the problem of evil is up for discussion.”[17] On the contrary, the Bible is clear that God is not simply a passive onlooker of the world’s events, allowing humans to do as they please, but that He is sovereign over all actions, even in matters of evil.[18]

Another proposed solution is in Jay Adams’s doxological view of theodicy, that the problem of evil is thoroughly summarized in Romans 9:17, God’s purposeful raising up of Pharoah to declare His own glory.[19] Certainly this is a helpful part of the theodicy question, but there are other biblical applications to consider as well. Hebrews chapter twelve, for example, speaks of God’s discipline to believers which could certainly include pain and suffering. Therefore, instead of narrowing down one’s view of theodicy to one locus classicus passage, a proposed solution would be an “eclectic” view of theodicy: doxological (Romans 9), sanctifying (Hebrews 12), for a greater purpose (Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28), etc. That is, taking a variety of Scripture passage together, as pieces of a puzzle that slowly fit together, to reveal a more substantial understanding of God’s reasoning for allowing evil and suffering in the world. Not everything about theodicy is revealed in Scripture, some things have been and will remain to be a mystery (Deuteronomy 29:29; First Corinthians 13:12), but there are sufficient foundational principles that speak life into the darkness of pain and suffering. They may not be all one wants to know, but they are sufficient for what one needs to know for “life and godliness.”[20]

Conclusion

It would be truly convenient for the Christian apologist to have every single “problem” of evil answered by direct revelation from God, but the simple fact is that God has not chosen to reveal all that is questioned. Nevertheless, based on what has been revealed in Scripture, there is ample evidence to be convinced of the proposition that: (1) God is good, (2) evil exists, and (3) God has a purpose for the permitting evil and will ultimately and comprehensively defeat the effects of evil. But until that day comes, there are questions that address legitimate concerns. As Al Mohler reflects on theodicy, “We cannot explain why God has allowed sin, but we understand that God’s glory is more perfectly demonstrated through the victory of Christ over sin. We cannot understand why God would allow sickness and suffering, but we must affirm that even these realities are rooted in sin and its cosmic effects.”[21] For all that is possible to be answered in this present age, the Bible is the source of authority on theodicy. But for all that the Bible is not explicit such as personal traumas, natural disasters, death, and disease, there are at least underlying glimpses of hope found in what is revealed. And it is in these passages of revelation that God’s justice is justifiable, even when one is in the midst of a world filled with pain, suffering, and evil.


[1] Steve Almasy, Ted Rowlands, and Catherine E. Shoichet, “Midwest Tornadoes, Winds Slam Towns and Trucks; 5 Killed in Illinois,” http://www.cnn.com/2013/11/17/us/weather/ [accessed November 17, 2013].

 

[2] D. A. Neal, “Theodicy” in The Lexham Bible Dictionary, ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012).

 

[3] Ibid.

[4] See for example, Harold S. Kushner, When Bad Things Happen to Good People (New York, NY: Schocken Books, 1981). See also John M. Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 157, for a brief overview of the “Divine-Weakness Defense” theodicy view, as well as a concise rebuttal.

[5] Quoted in John H. Armstrong, “What Makes God So Totally Different?” Reformation and Revival 4:2 (Spring 1995), 9. See also pages 11-14 of the article for an overview of God’s holiness.

 

[6] Psalm 34:8. Also, it is interesting to note that the prophet Habakkuk, in his distress of considering the evils in the world, appeals to God’s good nature by questioning, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong, why do you idly look at traitors and remain silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?” (Habakkuk 1:13)

 

[7] Daniel Clendenin, “Security But No Certainty: Toward A Christian Theodicy” JETS 31:3 (September 1988), 321-322.

 

[8] G.K. Chesterton once even noted that the doctrine of original sin was the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith. See Orthodoxy (Image Books, 1959), 15.

 

[9] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 156.

 

[10] Quoted in Michael Houdmann, “What is Theodicy?” http://www.gotquestions.org/theodicy.html [accessed November 10, 2013].

[11] Larry J. Waters, “Reflections on Suffering From the Book of Job,” Bibliotecha Sacra 154:616 (Oct 1997), 448.

 

[12] Job 1:1

 

[13] Genesis 50:19-20

 

[14] R.C. Sproul, Jr., “2011 Ligonier National Conference – Session 6 (R.C. Sproul Jr.)” http://www.ligonier.org/blog/2011-ligonier-national-conference-session-6-rc-sproul-jr/ [accessed December 1, 2013].

 

[15] The following views are propagated by orthodox, evangelical Christians to keep the discussion concise. There is an assortment of other possible views, so only a selected few were mentioned. Out of all views, the most common view among philosophers is the “free will” defense. See Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 159.

 

[16] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology, Volume Three: Sin and Salvation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2004), 98.

 

[17] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 162.

 

[18] One could look back to the life of Joseph and observe the quotation of Genesis 50:20. Likewise, even Christ’s own crucifixion was “according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23). It should be also noted that God is not the “cause” of evil by any means, but that He superintends evil plans of man for producing an even greater and glorious outcome.

 

[19] See John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 151-152, for a brief summary and mild critique of this view.

[20] Second Peter 1:3

 

[21] Albert Mohler, “The Goodness of God and the Reality of Evil,” http://www.albertmohler.com/2013/05/21/the-goodness-of-god-and-the-reality-of-evil-4/ [accessed November 29, 2013].

Biographical Wiki: William Lane Craig

A BIOGRAPHICAL WIKI ON APOLOGIST WILLIAM LANE CRAIG

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Biography of Life

It is an unfortunate yet all too common notion to believe that faith and reason cannot coexist. William Lane Craig would profoundly disagree, and has made it his life work to further prove his convictions and likewise empower others to do the same. After all, the phrase “reasonable faith” has accompanied his work in book format (Crossway, 3rd edition, 2008), via his podcast on philosophy entitled “Reasonable Faith,” and in his personal website: www.reasonablefaith.org. Craig was born on August 23, 1949, and while he did not grow up with Christian parents, he first encountered the teachings of Christianity in his teenage years. At the age of sixteen, he heard the message of the Gospel and “yielded his life to Christ” (www.reasonablefaith.org). Concerning his personal life, William married Jan in 1972 and have two sons. Regarding his academic credentials, Craig has a wide array of degrees: a B.A. from Wheaton College, two M.A.’s from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a Ph.D. from the University of Brimingham (England), and a D.Theol. from Ludwig-Maximilliéns-Universität München, Germany. William Lane Craig has already influenced the fields of Christian philosophy and apologetics in a significant fashion, yet it does not appear his contributions are slowing down. Therefore, an even closer examination of his work would be most worthwhile.

Major Works

Dr. Craig has written a plethora of publications, comprising of both scholarly and popular-level books and articles. Despite two doctorate degrees, Craig connects with the youngest of audiences in his ten-volume set of short children’s books on the attributes of God, “What Is God Like?” However, most of his work is aimed for adults in matters of philosophy, theology, and the resurrection of Jesus. Some of his more simplified works include: Apologetics: An Introduction (1984), Hard Questions, Real Answers (2003), Reasonable Faith (2008), On Guard (2010), and most recently, A Reasonable Response (2013). Also, some of his more complex works are The Kalam Cosmological Argument (2000), Time and the Metaphysics of Relativity (2000), Time and Eternity (2001), The Cosmological Argument from Plato to Leibniz (2001), and Creation Out of Nothing (2003, with Paul Copan) just to name several of many scholarly writings. Additionally, he has contributed to a wide array of theological and philosophical research journals and has even served as president on both the Evangelical Philosophical Society and the Philosophy of Time Society. Suffice it to say that William Lane Craig has compiled an impressive list of research for an assortment of readers young and old as well as scholarly and popular-level.

Methodology, Major Ideas, and Important Argumentation

Craig’s methodology of apologetics would fall in the category known as “classical apologetics.” Although similar to “evidential apologetics” in that it utilizes philosophical arguments for God’s existence, “classical apologetics” always begins with the evidences for the existence of God prior to introducing Christian doctrines such as the resurrection of Jesus and other miracles. Likewise, many ancient Christian philosophers applied similar techniques. One major issue (and debate method) that has been propagated by Craig is the Kalam Cosmological Argument, upon which he has written two books and multiple articles. Another significant contribution in a lesser-known subject has been in promulgating the “middle knowledge” view of predestination. While the latter issue is more of an in-house “theology” discussion among Christians, many of Craig’s debates have been in apologetics arguing against non-Christians. In whatever topic of debate he faces, his argumentation is always meticulously structured yet strikingly eloquent. Undoubtedly, he is an apologist of prominence.

Assessment of the Apologetic Approach

            Classical apologetics is a very intriguing approach, one that incorporates both extra-biblical sources of philosophy as well as biblical authority. No skeptic or spiritual seeker will ever be won over to Christianity by mere reason alone since “faith comes by hearing…the word of God” (Romans 10:17). Nevertheless, the apostle Paul engaged his audience Acts 17 without necessarily restricting himself to the Bible alone as argumentation. William Lane Craig appears to attempt a similar strategy, and while he may be a little excessive in his incorporation of philosophy, he has certainly been influential in his work.

Conclusion

            Very few Christian apologists alive today could claim more prominence than William Lane Craig. With his debates against some of the most distinguished skeptics in the world, he has done more than simply defend the faith; he has demolished his opponents’ arguments. In matters of theology, he has written and taught extensively. Some would most definitely argue that his conclusions are based upon philosophy than biblical exegesis, but regarding issues of philosophy, he has is a significant authority. What can hardly be disputed is that faith can coexist with reason, thanks to the contributions of William Lane Craig and many others like him.

 

Bibliography

Craig, William Lane. “William Lane Craig’s testimony,”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kV5vZQQCjiE [accessed September 8, 2013].

—. “Biographical Sketch,” “Curriculum Vitae,” “Publications,” and “Scholarly Articles.”

http://www.reasonablefaith.org [accessed September 8, 2013].

—. 5 Views on Apologetics, gen. ed., Steven B. Cowan. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.

Slick, Matt. “Classical Apologetics.” http://carm.org/classical-apologetics [accessed September

9, 2013].

Talbot School of Theology. “Faculty.” http://www.talbot.edu/faculty/profile/william_craig/

[accessed September 8, 2013].

The Heresy of Love

It’s possible that the greatest “sin” in the world today (according to Facebook comments, blog posts, and social media) is intolerance. If you are against something, then you will probably be seen as bigoted, hateful, and arrogant, especially if that something is a trendy topic of debate. People are demanded to “accept” others in what the secular media calls “love,” but the moment anyone takes a stand for a conviction, he/she will surely meet fierce opposition. The angry crowd will cry out against this heretic of hate. But in truth, the actual heresies are in the popular understanding of what love is supposed to mean.

  • Heresies of Love in Contemporary Culture

The very problem of the contemporary notion of love is that it’s misconstrued. Maroon 5 came out with a recent song that spoke of “love.” Here’s what the band says in a very sensual fashion:

“I really wanna love somebody
I really wanna dance the night away
I know we’re only half way there
But you can take me all the way, you can take me all the way
I really wanna touch somebody
I think about you every single day
I know we’re only half way there
But you can take me all the way, you can take me all the way”

Perhaps the problem in this debate is in semantics. For example, in the Greek language there are multiple words that express different kinds of love. But look at these lyrics, this isn’t wholesome, selfless love! This is one of the most self-centered, shallow songs I’ve ever heard. No, Maroon 5, you don’t really wanna love somebody, you want exploit her for your personal benefit. Genuine love gives, sacrifices, and works, even if it is a romantic love.

While romantic love is mistaken far too often in our cultures, so too is what some might call social or relational love – how we treat others on a non-marital or non-romantic basis. How ironic it is to see first-hand of people who act in hatred while accusing others of hatred. Back when Chick-Fil-A was receiving a lot of heat for the founder’s stance on homosexuality, a video went viral of a man named Adam Smith who went through the drive-thru line to accuse others of hatred all while he was showing nothing but actions of hatred. You can see the video here. What is so obvious in this video is that Smith was certainly not loving in any stretch of imagination. Since when does returning hate to whom you think is hateful justify your actions?

Another idea of love that is similar to the one just listed, but perhaps different, is tolerable love. I heartily recommend D.A. Carson’s book, The Intolerance of Tolerance if you haven’t read it, he treats this subject sufficiently. But essentially what has happened in our world is that our understanding on how we define “tolerance” has changed over the years. It used to mean that to tolerate something or someone, we do not agree with the person or thing causing us irritation, but we are still respectful despite our differences. In the religious realm, this would mean that I could wholeheartedly disagree with the Mormon view of Jesus Christ, even though I would still can be gracious. But that is not what tolerance has come to mean. “New tolerance” would mean that in order for me to be loving, I must agree with other people’s views about God. And although some might still testify that there can be some wiggle-room for credal statements on God, what is so frequently asserted is that the one unifying theme of the purpose all religions is love. First, this belief is not true. And secondly, this brings us back to the very significant problem I’ve already addressed: how is love defined? Love has essentially become “God” for many people, and primarily it is secularists who have made this new “God” into their own image so that the definition of love is standardized by their own agendas.

  • Biblical View of Love

Let me briefly pause to say that churches and individual Christians have not helped this situation. In fact, I would dare say that most professing Christians have been duped into conforming to the contemporary views of love. The blame must not be given to non-Christians, but rather, it is churches that have failed. And the reason we have failed is because we have looked outside of the Bible to define love. Let’s consider just a few passages to build a biblical theology of love.

– (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.” — God did not “accept” people in their state of depravity, nor did He express selfishness in His love.

– (1 John 3:1) “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.” — once again, selfless, sacrificial love.

– (Matthew 5:43-47) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?” — this is what a biblical view of love towards others looks like, even when we are in stark disagreement with others.

It is completely evident that love is sacrificial, it’s for the benefit of others, and it can be quite costly. Love is usually manifested through action, and it is not necessarily received by all. There are, I think, two “heresies of love” prevalent in local churches today that I would like to further expound upon.

  • Heresies of Love in Churches

Church discipline is usually viewed as hateful in today’s cultures. It’s no wonder why, contemporary thought doesn’t think too highly of correction and that “harsh” word, excommunication. And when we base our view of love on things outside of the Bible, then it’s only a matter of time before that unstable foundation gets tested and torn apart. First Corinthians 5:9-13 essentially tells us to keep two spheres of relationships in mind: those within the church and those without. For non-Christians, this passage doesn’t apply, except for the fact that God promises to one day judge them. But for Christians, this is undoubtedly important. It clearly teaches that churches are to hold members accountable in their lifestyle decisions. If someone is sexually immoral, he needs to be confronted (Matthew 18). And if repentance is not reached, then that person needs to be removed. You might not think this is loving, but it is. Church leaders are acting in selfless, sacrificial ways for the benefit of the one being disciplined. On the contrary, it would be an unloving thing to passively watch other Christians destroy themselves with sin. Perhaps the heresy of love in regards to church discipline is that we simply don’t know how serious sin and repentance are. And it is a heresy precisely because some of those being disciplined might not truly be saved – you could potentially be saving their eternal lives if they repent (see 1 Timothy 1:20).

Another heresy of love in churches is the “God loves you” Gospel. Now, this is true, God does love the whole world, each individual. But that love does not eliminate his justice. The implications of this heresy are quite obvious once explained a little further. What I am communicating here is that the good news of Christianity isn’t simply “God loves you.” The good news is that Jesus Christ died on a cross for your sin and was raised from the dead so that you can be delivered from your sin and declared righteous before a holy God – this happened because God loves you, but we need to explain what this love produced. What can be potentially heretical about the “God loves you” Gospel is that we diminish the true Gospel of Christ’s saving death, burial, and resurrection. Either we neglect what Christ has done to butter people up with a warm message of “love” (and, as already inferred, that meaning in contemporary culture is always changing) or we water down the justice and holiness of God Almighty. Could a loving God send people to hell? Yes. And it’s because the Bible’s definition of love is different from the world’s. God has already manifested the greatest love ever known, but people resist and reject that love. In other words, God’s justice does not negate His love, they are both continually present. God’s love is not contingent upon man’s response.

  • Conclusion

Hopefully, I have cleared some muddy waters on the understanding of what love means. Christians might be labeled as a bigoted (the secularist’s label for a heretic), but I would seriously question if that’s always the case. I should not be required to agree with other people on issues like abortion, homosexual marriage, and other social issues – but I do love them. No, it’s not a kind of love that advocates their agendas, but it’s a genuine concern for their well-being, especially their spiritual well-being. It’s a love that is caring enough to speak the truths of Scripture, but in a way that is sensitive yet unwavering. And when it comes to the sphere of in-church relationships, it would be unloving of me to be apathetic of the holiness of others. It seems, then, that the only antidote to the heresy of love is by applying Scripture to all of life.

P.S. If your last resort was to bring up Matthew 7, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”…read the rest of the chapter. Verse 5 says that you can pick the speck out of your brother’s eye once you’ve examined yourself. You know what that’s called? Love.

John 1:17 And Its Application to Classic Dispensationalism

Introduction

Among all of the biblical dispensations, perhaps none are more widely debated or misunderstood than the dispensations of the law and grace. Likewise, the distinctions between the two economies are vital to understanding the storyline of the Bible. However, the words themselves have been controversial in relation to soteriology particularly, but are necessary to understand for a thorough understanding of biblical theology. Understanding the Mosaic law and grace are important not only for biblical knowledge, but also for the daily walk in a Christian’s life. Speaking of the law’s relationship to sanctification, John F. Hart writes, “To promote obedience to the Mosaic law – even the Ten Commandments (the old covenant) – is to promote sin and defeat in the Christian…Legalism for sanctification must be replaced by an inflexible emphasis on the New Testament freedom found in living by the Spirit.”[1] First, it will be important to recognize the context of John 1:17, which states, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Secondly, it will be pertinent to analyze what the dispensation of the law constitutes and why it is important. Thirdly, an overview of the dispensation of grace will be considered. Fourthly, practical applications of the verse at hand will be brought forth. Upon conclusion, believers will be able to see both the necessity of the law and the sheer magnitude of God’s amazing grace. Altogether, the teachings of John 1:17 provide a powerful application to Dispensational theology.

Context of John

When it comes to authorship of the fourth book in the New Testament, the Bible Knowledge Commentary states, “[There is] a good case for the author of the Fourth Gospel having been John, one of the sons of a fisherman named Zebedee.”[2] Scholars, both liberal and conservative, have proposed a wide range for the possible date of John, though between A.D. 85 and 95 is most likely.[3] When it comes to the “purpose” or “purposes” of John’s Gospel, many commentators have proposed different possibilities, though it was almost undoubtedly at the very least an evangelistic appeal and perhaps even an apologetic of early Christianity.[4] While other possibilities could be added to the list of details pertaining to surrounding context of the entire book of John, what is for certain is that Jesus Christ is the main character, and what pertains to His personhood and work is vital to the audience both in the first century as well as the twenty-first.

While the surrounding context is indeed helpful for this research, it is also necessary to observe the immediate context of John chapter one. The chapter begins with the first five verses that speak of the Logos (“the Word”) who forever existed in eternity past and through Him all things were created. Next, the author informs his audience that John the Baptist was instrumental in paving the way to having His listeners behold the Word (verses 6-8). In verses nine through fifteen is a summary of the Incarnation of the Word and His reception by those who believe in Him. Near the end of this section (verse 14), the author states, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (italics added). It is interesting to notice that in the main passage up for analysis verse 17), the phrase “grace and truth” is repeated. In fact, just before verse seventeen, John states, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace [χάριν ἀντὶ χάριτος].” (verse 16, italics added). Therefore, two things can be concluded regarding the immediate context of John chapter one. First, John seems to have an awareness of chronology. Beginning with eternity past, he proceeds to referring to the ministry of John the Baptist, and finally Christ Himself. Secondly, it is clear from this passage that when Christ came as the Incarnate Son of God, He brought with Himself an overflowing amount of grace. Thus, the purpose of verse seventeen fits with the overall argument that the coming of the Logos is indeed good news, for by His coming, humanity becomes a recipient of a certain stewardship distinct from the dispensation of Moses’ lifetime. The implications of the various differences between the dispensation of the law and grace, however, call for further study in order to discover an even fuller picture of John 1:17.

Dispensation of the Law

            Charles Ryrie identifies the beginning of the dispensation of the law from the life of Moses in Exodus 19:1 until its conclusion at the death of Christ, though it could be carried over until about Acts 1:26.[5] It was during this period that the nation of Israel received the “great code” often called the “Mosaic Law.”[6] The Apostle Paul asks an intriguing question with a satisfying answer in relation to the Mosaic Law in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin.” Again he writes, “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12). Therefore, the Mosiac Law itself was a very good standard of righteousness, but unfortunately no one could keep all of its precepts. Paul states the crux of the matter in Galatians 3:24: “The law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” So then, the law itself (613 commands) was indeed good and operated effectively in the dispensation of the law; however, now that Christ has stepped down into the human history, Christians are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). There is a new economy, a new rule of life for believers. That is, Christians operate under the dispensation of grace, a title reminiscent of the indication of change in John 1:17: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (italics added).

Dispensation of Grace

            The present dispensation, referred to as the dispensation of grace or the church, is usually marked with the beginning of the church in Acts 2, continuing on until the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom.[7] Ryrie summarizes the changes between the dispensations of law and grace quite well: “To be sure, the dispensationalist does not say that there was no grace ever displayed before the coming of Christ (any more than he says there is no law after His coming), but the Scriptures do say that His coming displayed the grace of God in such brightness that all previous displays could be considered as nothing.”[8] The word “grace” is translated from the Greek word, χάρις, meaning, “To show kindness to someone, with the implication of graciousness on the part of the one showing such kindness.”[9] Certainly, then, the coming of Christ is an aspect of grace (John 3:16), but in His coming there was a provision of a special kind of grace through the Gospel – salvation grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Does this mean Dispensationalists teach that salvation was not always by grace through faith since the present dispensation is entitled the “dispensation of grace”? Absolutely not, for Lewis Sperry Chafer confirms, “There is, therefore, but one way to be saved and that is by the power of God made possible through the sacrifice of Christ.”[10] Likewise, Ryrie explains, “The giving of the law did not abrogate grace.”[11] Therefore, “John 1:17 does not mean that there was no grace before the coming of Christ, but it does mean that, in comparison with the grace of Christ, all previous revelations of grace were as nothing.”[12] Christ indeed has ushered in “grace upon grace,” and thus, the name “dispensation of grace” has been appropriately given (John 1:16).

Practical Implications of John 1:17

It seems to be that when John wrote his Gospel letter, his goal was not just for the audience to have mere knowledge about the Son of the God, but that such understanding would have a meaningful practical response for believers. Particularly in reference to John 1:17 can such a claim be made. Therefore, it is essential to carefully consider the implications pertaining to law and grace from this verse for even twenty first century Christians. First of all, then, it must be asked, “How does the law apply to a Christian’s sanctification?” Some Christians would say that believers are still under part of the Mosaic Law in some way, but the extent and specificity of that binding is usually a little unclear. Many Dispensationalists, however, approach this situation with relative ease. John F. Hart states, “If being ‘under law’ means obligation to the entire Mosaic code (1 Cor. 9:20; Gal 3:23; 4:4-5, 21), then not being ‘under law’ (Rom. 6:14; Gal. 5:18) means release from obligations to the entire Mosaic code.”[13] Thus, the law fulfilled its purpose entirely by operating as a “guardian”(ESV)/“schoolmaster”(KJV)/“tutor”(NASB) to direct people to believing in Christ for justification. But does the Mosaic Law now operate as a means for sanctification? Scofield would say “no.” He once wrote, “Law neither justifies a sinner nor sanctifies a believer.”[14] Scofield’s words appear to be in perfect harmony with 2 Corinthians 3:6, which says, “[God] made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” So then, the law is not able to produce sanctification in a Christian’s life; that is the role of the Holy Spirit. Because “living by the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) will not produce anything less than Christlikeness in the believer.”[15]

Secondly, “How does grace apply to a Christian’s sanctification?” While the law cannot produce sanctification, there is much room for grace. In fact, Hart says, “Biblically speaking, then, a consistent theology of grace must not only be concerned about the role of grace as opposed to obedience to the law for justification. It must also be concerned about the role of grace over against obedience to the law for sanctification.”[16] Therefore, since “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4), the message of John 1:17 makes clear sense: “Grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” This means that both justification and sanctification are available because of the grace of God, and through Him alone. Every ounce of a Christian’s sanctification is a result, not of obedience to the Mosaic Law, but of the Holy Spirit’s gracious power provided to the believer. That, indeed, is very good news.

Conclusion

One of the most helpful aspects of Dispensationalism is its ability to identify legitimate changes that have occurred in biblical history. Such a verse as John 1:17 makes it impossible to ignore the fact that certain features of a particular time in history are distinguishable from other eras. While one option would be to ignore these distinctions, a much better solution is to analyze the features (“law” and “grace”) and conclude with a balanced resolution. Based on the testimony of Scripture, the traditional explanations of Dispensationalists offer a satisfying exegesis to what John 1:17 teaches. Both the realities of the Mosaic Law and grace are inherently good, but each also serves a particular purpose. It is easy to see, then, why it is vital to understand the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and the treasures of the God’s grace in the present dispensation. For without grace, the Christian walk would be absent of all life whatsoever, “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).


[1] John F. Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, gen. ed., Christopher Cone (Ft. Worth, TX: Tyndale Seminary Press, 2008), 417.

[2] John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck and Dallas Theological Seminary. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 2:266.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Ibid. and Robert James Utley, The Beloved Disciple’s Memoirs and Letters: The Gospel of John, I, II, and III John. Study Guide Commentary Series. (Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International, 1999), 4.

[5] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism: Revised and Expanded, 2nd ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody, 2007), 63.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid., 64. And just to be clear, a majority of Dispensationalists teach that while the dispensation of grace started with the birth of the church, the rapture will take place well before the end of the dispensation in order to fulfill the prophecies of the 7-year Tribulation period.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York, NY: United Bible Societies, 1996), 748.

[10] Lewis Sperry Chafer, “Inventing Heretics Through Misunderstanding,” Bibliotecha Sacra 102 (January 1945): 1.

[11] Charles Ryrie, Dispensationalism, 128.

[12] Ibid., 135.

[13] John F. Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, 399-400.

[14] C.I. Scofield, Scofield Reference Bible Notes (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1945), 1245.

[15] See Hart, Dispensationalism: Tomorrow & Beyond, 417.

[16] Ibid.