Why We Should Remember the Reformation

It is the beginning of October 2019, and we know what this means, do we not? No, I’m not talking about Halloween, a questionable practice amongst Americans. Whether or not you celebrate Halloween, it is a tragic thing that this tradition in America has overshadowed one of the most important anniversaries of October 31st. For myself, the greatest tragedy is that I spent my entire youth without ever being told about it (even though I was raised in a Christian home). It wasn’t until I was in my mid twenties that I learned of this historic event, and even then, I only learned about it through self-education, not as a tradition among my Christian brethren.

What I’m speaking about, of course is the Reformation. 502 years ago from this October 31st, the famous 95 Theses that Martin Luther is said to have hammered to a Wittenberg church door, as was custom for the scholars of the day to do when they made propositions such as these, became the iconic moment that started it all. It was the posting of these theses on October 31st, 1517 that began the spark of the Reformation, which would change western civilization forever. But of course, we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves here. I want to discuss in this article why the Reformation still matters today, and why every Protestant Christian should celebrate it, and if I can speak personally, I prefer we celebrate this day over Halloween. While I find dark themes interesting, the sheer fact and weight of the Reformation is far too important to pass over, especially for a relatively meaningless holiday.

Remembering The Reformation

There are many factors that lead to an ignorance of the Reformation; some of them are unintentional, others are intentional, while still more others have a bit of both. For the unintentional ignorance, I will save for a later section. For now, I want to discuss the group that decidedly rejects any kind of allusion to the Reformation of 1517.

I once spoke briefly to a brother at church about the Reformation and church history, and he did not want to go there. He didn’t like church history, and his reasoning was because the men of church history were bad, filled with so much error and sin, and did terrible things. I smiled at him and had to say what I hope you the reader is thinking, “Strange. Sounds like you’re describing sinners!” Which is of course correct. They were sinners, just like we. I suppose we’ll stop reading about David, because after all, David was an adulterer, and a murderer.

Of course we read about David, and we read about him for two reasons (three, technically, it being divine revelation): One, he is central to the biblical story, and two, because from reading about David’s mistakes, we learn how to not do those things, and from his great successes, how we can glorify God in our own lives. In other words, it is to learn from the past of the men who walked the faith before us. To read about how their humanity limited and conflicted with them, and then how God in spite of such, used such a man (or woman) for His glory.

And that’s exactly why we should read and know church history. They were connected to the biblical story (how God works through His church, even in the darkness of pre and post-Renaissance), and two, because they did great things for God, and they did terrible things in His name. If we claim to be part of the body and church of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord and King of all, we should desire to know about the body that came before us. There is a rich history in studying the church throughout the ages.

Truly, if you are not a Roman Catholic or of Eastern Orthodox, you owe your roots in some way to the Protestant Reformation, especially if you are Baptist, Southern Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Calvary Chapel, Pentecostal, Charismatic and probably more (aside from the NAR and groups like it). The Five Solas are the basis for essentially all of these groups (in their basic form; whether they are consistent with these is not the point I am making) and those five solas find their origin in the Reformation. It is an inescapable fact.

It would seem to make sense then to want to discover the roots, history and tradition that gave rise to whatever denomination you ascribe to. Please understand, I am not here saying that everyone should become reformed as I am, but I do think that everyone who is connected to these groups in some way should celebrate this day, one of the most memorable moments in the history of humanity.

The Reformation in the West

The importance of the Reformation extends into various different areas. Firstly, let’s consider the Reformation in the west as a whole. What it did was it led to a revolt of a certain kind against the papal authority, which claimed to hold the Church in its hand, and consequentially the whole western world, and ultimately the salvation of anyone who lived in its domain. To be saved, therefore, required loyalty to the Church and its holy sacraments and dogmas.

This ultimately led to a darkness and corruption in the west. As the saying goes, absolute power corrupts, absolutely. The papal sea truly carried with it tremendous power, and with that centralization of power, history always tells us it never ends well. That kind of power typically always attracts the most ambitious, and most ruthless of men, and sure enough, it did.

This was until 1517, when Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. Ironically, Luther had no intention of messing with papal authority at first. His only desire was to discuss the matter of indulgences and the abuse of them in Germany. When he did not receive his audience to discuss this matter, the consequence for the Church was that the people of Wittenberg got a hold of the theses, translated them into the vulgar (common tongue), and distributed the copies across Germany, causing the people to rise up against the papacy and its abuses of them.

While Roman Catholics today can cry foul and make a big issue about the “Revolution” (as they often call it), the fact is that the Roman Church had itself to blame in Luther’s day. Imagine what would have transpired if, instead of ignoring Luther, they responded to the theses immediately. But they opted to ignore it, which allowed the theses to stay up long enough for the people to get wind of it. The rest was history.

With the Reformation underway after Worms in 1521, when Luther was excommunicated, the result would be a split in Christendom that exists unto this day, leading to great wars across Europe, and a battle between the Protestants and the Roman Church over control of the land. While in the end, no one won, one thing the Reformation did achieve was breaking the Roman Catholic Church’s hold on Europe, never to have it again. The result of Protestantism would eventually lead to the Enlightenment (something we may see as a detriment and consequence of the Reformation, but not a direct result), the nation states, and the fall of feudalism and monarchical reign across Europe and further west.

The Reformation in the American Revolution

While the Reformation itself is not to be considered a revolution, it’s impact would lead to an eventual revolution. Two, to be exact. However, one of these—The French Revolution—was a terrible event, the other was a far greater revolution that did not lead to the rivers of blood and gore in the streets from headless, limbless bodies in the Reign of Terror carried out by one Maximilien Robespierre. This revolution would spark the conception of the most remarkable country ever to exist in history. That of course is the United States of America.

Yes, the Reformation was an important role in the American Revolution. In fact, most Americans, even among conservatives, don’t realize just how much they owe to the traditions that came out of the Reformation. These traditions would be extremely influential on the lives and thinking of the Puritans (who were Calvinists) that came to the Americas, seeking refuge from the persecution in Europe.

That unique Puritan tradition would raise generations after it that reach to the founders themselves. The majority of the leading founders were themselves Calvinists, and those that were not, owed their influences in some way to Protestantism, or in other words, the Reformation. Even for Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian by confessional standards, loved Jonathan Edwards’ preaching, and George Whitefield, two major Protestant reformers in America during his time.

As with the five solas, the simple fact of the matter is that every American who loves America, and the history of America owes much credit to the Reformation, and what came out of it in the next three centuries.

The Reformation in Liberty

While Luther and Calvin after him did not intend the Reformation to lead to what the American Revolution envisioned and realized (that is to say, the Reformation was a magisterial one), their work and influence would inevitably lead to these things. As we have shown, in brief, the Reformation led to the breaking of Roman Catholic control over the west, and sub-sequentially, it lead to the United States.

Remember, the five solas were a radical idea during the Reformation. Jan Hus and John Wycliffe, who came before Luther, had a less crystallized view of the concept of the five solas, and one of them ended up martyred over it. Imagine when Luther and Calvin come along, and especially with Calvin’s brilliant systematic thinking, putting these together in ways no one had done before, what that would end in. In other words, it was the most radical form of what Hus and Wycliffe were preaching.

The reality is that the Roman Church realized the danger of the solas. If the solas were true, it completely and utterly shattered Roman Catholic control over all of Europe. It meant that the Church could not control salvation, could not be the mediator between God and man. It had no right to stand in the way, and dictate to any man whether he was a sinner or saint. Only God had that power, and the church’s job therefore was a steward, a faithful servant to God on behalf of those whom God has Himself saved and is saving.

The consequence of this truth, therefore, meant that the church did not have the authority it claimed, and when the Reformation’s ripple effect of those who followed after the Reformers, continued to crystallize what they themselves started, the result was the recognition that no man, no matter how pious and godly he may appear, has a right over any other. The life of every man is squarely in the hand of the Almighty Himself, who owns all peoples by His sovereign right as God of the universe.

The church’s responsibility, therefore, was to be a witness to the world on behalf of her Bridegroom, her Lord and God in heaven. She is never to be seen as He the Judge on earth. Once this concept took shape in the Puritans, which would then influence the founding fathers, the concept of true liberty took form in the United States of the eighteenth century.

The Reformation Today

Now I wish to begin addressing those who are unwittingly ignorant of the Reformation. With this brief overview of the impact of the Reformation, my hope is that we now have the context to understand where we are today, and perhaps a greater insight as to why our society is crumbling around us. Listen to your standard talk show host on either left or right, and you will likely never get to the root of the problem. If you understand what led to the American Revolution and the government it produced, it would make more sense why the government that claims to be the same one of two-hundred years ago is nothing like it.

It is not an increase of God in America that is causing our societal collapse, it is a removal of Him from American society. The fact is that man was made to worship something. When the One to whom proper worship is owed becomes obscured and removed, who do we then go to for hope? Someone has to be our god, and hence, the government must come in to take that place. When man no longer has a God over him that gives him light to see who he is and who the world is, man will be left in darkness and decay, and will rot, taking everything else with him, including his neighbor, and eventually his society.

Hence it requires a recognition of the holiness of God, that He has the right to rule over us, and when we recognize that, and repent of our sins, then true liberty reigns. The Reformation restored that idea to the western world, and the United States adopted the crystallized essence of it, recognizing that true liberty is not when man is freed from all authorities, but freed from all man-made authorities, so that nothing stands in his way of being fulfilled and thus truly free in the God he belongs to.

I hope that this will inspire many of my readers to begin to study the Reformation, and the rich history from it. Not all of its history is great; there are many terrible things that Luther did. And if I can speak frank here, I don’t even think I could stand to be around Luther. In fact, Luther and Calvin both would consider me a heretic. I might not even be safe in Calvin’s Geneva because I am of a baptist persuasion.

Why then do I love Calvin and Luther? Because I look past these things, and see the value in studying what they gave to us. We have to be willing to do the same. I cannot stress to you, my reader, in these written words the deep conviction of my heart when I say this: You who do not study the history of your heritage as a Christian, who denies to your children the history of your heritage as a Christian set them up for disaster in the future. I pray that in that case, God is merciful to them, and will keep them safe despite your failure to show them these things. That is how strongly I believe in this.

I am not saying that you will lose your salvation in the slightest over this. Nor am I saying that you need to learn about the Reformation and be reformed. I believe you can truly celebrate what the Reformation gave us without being uber-reformed. You don’t need to be a Calvinist to believe in the five solas, nor to celebrate the Reformation. To my Calvinist brothers, please understand, I am not talking about consistency here, I am just stating a mere reality, that you and I must realize: Not everyone who holds to the central tenants of the Reformation are themselves reformed. You have to deal with that, just like I have to deal with it. Maybe the best way to do it is to meet your local church family that does not share your reformed convictions, buy them lunch and talk it over in brotherly love and grace.

My simple point is that those who do not learn from history are always doomed to repeat it, and even as Ronald Reagan said, freedom is always one generation from extinction. Franklin also said it is only in the religion of ignorance that man will lose his freedom. A people who know their heritage, know their history cannot be enslaved, and are far greater prepared for the future when they learn from the mistakes of their forefathers, as well as their successes.

The Reformation is, of course, not the gospel, but what it gave to us was a lesson in history that there is hope even in darkness, that God can and does do amazing things, with sinful human beings, and each and every one of us are connected to it in some way. Take some time this month and discover how you are connected to the Protestant Reformation, to the glory of God, Soli Deo Gloria!

What Harris and Sampson Prove About American Evangelicalism

By now most of us have heard the news about Joshua Harris apostatizing from the faith. I never knew about him (though I’ve heard of his book) and his background. The more and more the news came in, the more it became apparent to me why this was a big story. Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye was a huge success for him, and shot him up in popularity, becoming something of a celebrity minister in evangelicalism. Naturally, then, news about his departure from the faith comes at a great and heavy shock, especially to those who looked to him as a great example of a biblical man.

Not long after this, we hear of more news of apostasy, this time from a Hillsong worship leader and artist, Marty Sampson, who posted an Instagram article on why he was leaving the faith. Once again, I had never heard of this person before, and once again, it seems like in certain circles, he was a well-known and respected minister. Either way, this is two prominent figures in their respective evangelical worlds that have rejected the faith.

There is little doubt that this will, much like the recent shootings in El Paso and Dayton, cause many people to question things, and begin to wonder how and where things had gone wrong. I want to encourage my brothers and sisters in the faith, especially in reformed circles, to be mindful of the confusion and perhaps even betrayal many evangelicals feel about this. It can never be a kind feeling to discover that someone you once held at such high esteem (regardless of what other people may have thought of them) had betrayed the faith. We should pray for these people, that God would comfort them, and that perhaps these men would realize that they had never truly known Christ, and would hence truly repent and desire to know the true faith that saves.

At the same time, we have to talk about why, what Dr. James White has called, “a tsunami of apostasy”, seems to be happening right now. Granted, it seems that way primarily because we have two individuals who happen to have a significant spotlight that, when it goes out, drastically affects the lighting everywhere else. Nevertheless, more and more will come as our culture continues to deteriorate into God-hating rebellion, and if we do want to comfort those who followed these men all through the years, and help them through this confusing time, we need to discuss why (at least in a human perspective) this kind of thing happens, so that we can better ensure it happens on a far less frequent basis.

These Things Are Talked About, Sampson

I think the best way to diagnose what the problem is is found in Sampson’s Instagram article. There he states numerous “reasons” for why he is leaving the Christian faith. We cannot assume that these are recent developments. I suspect these have been things creeping in the back of his mind for many years, and he tried to push it down until he couldn’t take it anymore. His reasons include the claim that preachers “fall” and no one talks about it, miracles don’t typically happen, and no one talks about that. Finally, that there are “contradictions” in the Bible that no one wants to talk about.

It seems clear to me that these are things he could not find any solution to, and it was enough to destroy his faith. Sadly, if his faith could be destroyed by things like this, it demonstrates his faith was self-produced and self-sustained; not the biblical idea of faith, which is another theological problem that I address here.

Looking at the things Sampson said, and in particular, when he made the claims that the problems he mentioned in the church go with no one talking about them, those were some pretty strong statements. They were blanket, absolute statements; he didn’t say that people don’t often talk about them, but that no one actually does. That is simply untrue, of course, and the fact that he would say that demonstrates that Sampson was in certain circles and probably echo chambers where quite simply, no one did talk about them.

But if he had shared some of his concerns, instead of simply turning away, I can guarantee that someone somewhere, who takes their faith seriously, who knows that this is more than good vibes and being nice to people, has the answer to the alleged contradiction. I know for a fact that fallen pastors is something that is talked about, not swept under the rug. It’s just talked about in circles that will actually hold Christian ministers accountable.

It’s not discussed in the circles that Sampson was hanging around in, where the movement gets so big, that it has to engage in politics on some level to maintain its image and hence its income. This means that morally troubled pastors are not helpful for that, so they are swept under the rug, and most certainly, sound theology that is willing to divide over truth is not helpful to that kind of ministry’s growth.

Finally on this point, the same circles that will talk about fallen pastors will also be the ones willing to answer your difficulties with Scripture. The solution then is to get away from the Hillsong, good-vibes Christianity, and start taking your faith seriously. This is not a roller coaster ride. The God of the Bible is a righteous God, who demands justice–perfect justice, and you are a sinner. That is not something to glibly declare a thing Jesus magically sets aside for everyone, and is not a problem anymore.

The Origin of Good Vibes Christianity

The reality of the matter is that mainstream evangelicalism has forsaken sound, doctrinal teaching for emotional, romantic feelings about Jesus. At work, I was working on a gentleman’s car the other day, and his radio was playing a Christian music station. I don’t listen to Christian mainstream music, so I had no idea who this was, but I could tell so quickly from listening to the brief clips, and considering this sounded like the thousands of other Christian hit songs that comes out each year, all of which sound the same, that this was what I sometimes call “good-vibes Christianity”. It had the feel-good vibe, talked about having struggles but still having faith, and that they always trust and love Jesus. Your standard, dare I say lukewarm Christian who only goes to church on Sundays listens to that and gets their high from it. These are shallow songs that do not truly capture the power of God in Christ.

But songs like these honestly are not the cause of shallow evangelicalism. They are the symptom of it, feeding itself the same lukewarm poison that does not create a disciple of Christ. It just gives someone enough positive vibes wrapped in Christian buzz words to live lives of self-determination, self-interest and self-promotion until they meet their Judge in the afterlife, and may we pray God has abundant mercy, and that they learn truly in that moment what the words “mercy and grace” actually mean that they heard vaguely said in all those songs.

Of course, there are times when such desensitization is not able to keep a person fully inoculated with the good-vibes Christianity that Hillsong sells. Sampson is one such case. The result was that he could not find answers to the genuine questions he had in his mind. No amount of the emotional stimulation was able to sustain this lurking white noise in the back of his mind. He was aware of the alleged contradictions in the Bible (none of which he names in his Instagram post), but apparently, he could not find answers to these.

Which reminds me, Sampson also said in his post that he couldn’t understand how a God who is all loving would send 4-billion people to hell because they did not believe. Again, this is not a problem if Sampson knew what the Christian faith he sung about for so many years actually was. But he was not given any of this. He was pranced around on the stage because he happened to be a good musical artist, and had a way with crowds. That honestly is probably the only reason, and the “ministers” who put him out there like this evidently had no regard to his doctrinal security and personal conviction of the faith.

Joshua Harris was evidently a similar case. Here was a man thrust into a spotlight before he was really ready for it. What happens is he instantly becomes someone that people look to for guidance and help, while he is actually hiding secret, deep problems and cracks in the foundation. How can he come out and honestly express this problem when so many people rely on him? So he continues to take on the pressure of pastoral ministry when he’s not ready for it. Something eventually has to give.

The real problem here is we are dealing with an evangelical culture that does not have the doctrinal soundness, and the mental and spiritual conviction of what those doctrines stand for. As a result, men who once appeared to be great, wonderful, had the outward appearance of being men of God, eventually cave to the growing pressure of the culture around them. The flashes are there, but the conviction within is nowhere present.

If Sampson perhaps was taught right theology, rooted and grounded in solid, biblical faith, this may never have happened. That’s what the real problem here is. If Joshua Harris was given the sober truth about what it takes to be a pastor, to be an elder in a church, maybe he would have saved a lot of people the heartbreak later down the road and said then and there, “This ain’t my thing”. But It appears that there are Christian ministers and leaders out there who perhaps themselves are deceived as they deceive, who are pushing out these people when they don’t have the conviction to be in those positions.

The Importance of Sound Doctrine

We cannot look at what has happened to both of these men and continue to accept the idea that they simply apostatized, and there was no inherent reason for it. Though God always has His decree, that does not take away the fact that there are always internal reasons for why things happen. If we ignore what caused this, we will continue to see more and more people like them drop like flies. Again, I don’t want to discount the fact that God always keeps His elect, but we don’t know who they are, and hence must always be vigilant, must always be doing what God has commanded us to do, and be faithful to it.

If we do not want our children and our youth to be the next Joshua Harris, or Marty Sampson, we must learn from these fallen men, seeing that giving our youth good-vibe Christianity will not save their faith. It will not persevere in college, or in the adult world. We must be teaching our kids what the Christian faith is, and stop treating them like they are children who cannot understand theological truths. They can. I have had kids ask me about eternal security before, and I’ve heard them talk about the mystery of the Trinity. They are smart, so stop treating them like they are not. That kind of attitude towards them is why we lose them.

Look again at Sampson’s Instagram post. Show that to your kid and see if they can see the problems with it. If they can’t, your kid is in danger of apostasy just like him. Teach your children who God is, and that means teaching them sound theology. I’m not asking people to become covenant-theology, raving Calvinist reformers. I’m simply pleading that we desire to raise children to think and ponder upon Scripture.

Paul in Romans 12 calls us to be renewing our minds. Not renewing our feelings, renewing our minds. That involves intellectual exercises, and exegetial exposure to the word of God. Not eisegetical, narcegetical silliness that turns the Bible into something about us. It’s all about God. Knowing God is always first and foremost, and knowing God requires a life of devotion to prayer, worship, service and studying of His word. That sometimes means that college careers are to be sacrificed. But if you must choose between God’s word and a good career, the choice is obvious. God will always supply you with what you need. Simply throw away this life and come after Christ!

In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author rebukes and warns his audience against apostasy, and how does he do it? By telling them to listen to more emotional Christian music? No! By lecturing them on being dull of hearing, of needing milk rather than meat. In other words, not being able to discern deep theological truths that ground them in the faith to protect them against heresies and vain philosophies.

Churchianity will not save your children, nor will it save evangelicalism. Yet also still, neither will doctrine alone. The Spirit of God saves, and keeps His people. But part of that saving is renewing saved sinners in the things of the Spirit. There must be a balance between our heart-felt experience and our theological knowledge that helps us discern our feelings and our experiences. Make no mistake, a theological soundness with no functioning doxology is as worthless as good-vibes Christianity. But the existentialism, so to speak, cannot truly have any meaning unless proper theology is applied.

I can personally testify that growing in my theology deepens my conviction of the faith, emboldens me further in it amidst the pressure of the culture, and false religions around me, and more importantly, brings me into deeper worship of God. The more I know Him, the more holy He is, and hence the more I know myself and how much of a sinner I am, and hence, how much more I need Christ. That is how we sustain a healthy Christianity.

Questions Asked, Christianity Has Answers

Closing this article, I want to return once more to Sampson’s Instagram post for a brief moment. As has been stated before, it seems very clear to me that Sampson’s loss of faith was a result of a shallow, good-vibes Christianity that had a nicely decorated and impressive outer shell with nothing to show for it on the inside. Sampson said further that he wanted “genuine truth” and not simply “I just believe it”. Once again, that is sadly the reality of the Christian circles he was around, which is the mainstream of evangelicalism. He’s right. That is shallow and not worthy of being embraced or defended.

Unfortunately, that’s not what Christianity is. It goes far deeper than that. But Sampson did not get any of it because he drifted on the surface, and was never encouraged nor challenged to go deeper. As linked above, I have an article The Nature of Faith that you can read on the subject of faith and what it is. It shows that this is much more than a simple blind faith scheme.

But I would also like to say to Sampson one of the reasons this really hits home with me is because I was close to where you are. I never gave up my faith, of course, but like you, I had many questions. I was not content with just a faith in faith kind of Christianity. I had difficulties, and they needed answers. But that’s where we’re different. I knew that I needed more than what I was getting, and so I went looking, and I did, in fact, find more. I found answers. I found real answers to the questions I had–answers that did not try to satisfy what I wanted, but answers that I needed.

I do not believe that Sampson ever truly heard the gospel. My hope and prayer is that at least now, knowing he never truly knew the faith, he would actually attempt to understand what it actually is, as I have done. As I said, I’m not content with simply saying, “Jesus died for my sins”. Why did he die? Why did he have to die? Why did he have to be God? Questions like these, I needed to know the answer to, and learning the answers has deepened my faith. Knowing the answers to even the claims that the Bible contradicts itself (yes, Sampson, there are answers) has made my faith stronger, has convinced me more of the truth of the triune God, and hence given me the desire to live after His revealed word even more. I pray that happens for you one day.

For the rest of us, we must reject this empty shell of feel-good Christianity, and teach our people the faith. Yes, that will have consequences. I know it will. But the consequences are far less costly than the consequences that follow if we do not do this. We will lose more people to this culture of death. Unless we are willing to take seriously the phrase “theology matters” we will always be susceptible to this empty shell of feel-good Christianity that, because it has nothing inside of it giving it life, is a dried up shell that will eventually break apart, leaving a person in the situation that Marty Sampson has fallen into, and furthermore, will lead to incompetent Christian ministers who ordain more of themselves, more ill-prepared men like Joshua Harris, for ministry that leads only to collapse and ruin.

The Nature of Faith

In every major religion that, in some form or fashion, arises out of the middle east, which is to say Islam, Judaism and Christianity (along with all of Christianity’s subsets and cults), throughout all their differences has been one thing in common that each have said is necessary to live out their religions, and that is faith. Faith is the buzz word, it is the ingredient that seems to be the bloodstream or the life of each religion.

Truly the word goes with almost all forms of life, religion, or spirituality. It’s a catchy word that has a mystical and romantic essence to it. To simply say “Christianity” or “The Christian religion” as well as “The Islamic religion” sounds almost too academic, or too static in some sense. To instead say, “The Christian faith” or “The Islamic faith” personalizes them. It makes them sound more than a simple exercise in formal living. The use of the word faith almost takes the object being discussed into a realm of transcendence, beyond the physical into the metaphysical.

There is a reason for this, however, which we will discuss soon. But for now, I wish simply to say that what I will be discussing in this article is the very nature of what faith is and ought to be. What is it truly? Does it have any relationship to reason? Does it go deeper than the simple experiential aspect we are prone to think it is as by today’s culture? I will begin by seeing how the secular world defines religious faith, and contrast that to what the Bible teaches that faith really is.

Faith in the Secular World

If you go on YouTube and listen to all the celebrity scientists such as Neil DeGrasse Tyson, or Richard Dawkins, two men well known for their animosity towards religious faith, you will see how they define what faith means. It is described as a “blind faith”. The secular world sees the word faith as a trust in non-reason, in irrationality.

In their view, faith means that where all reason goes out the window, my feelings and wishful thinking take over to formulate what they describe as faith. On the other hand, they say, they have science, which is truth, which is reason–solid grounding. They don’t need to have “faith” (in their definition) to believe in what they believe, they only need to “know” the truth of scientific discovery.

The Birth of Blind Faith

This narrative is borne out of the Enlightenment era, wherein the rising secularists and philosophers against religion began to push forward the rhetoric of separating faith and science, as it once was in a perfect unity. Notice how I said that it was “rhetoric” that was at the forefront of this. That’s because all it really was, was rhetoric, it was never really attempting to meaningfully engage what the biblical idea of faith was.

Fredrick Nietzsche, for example, along with other well-known atheists like Karl Marx, never attempted to contemplate with any meaningful inquiry (to my knowledge, anyway) the validity of the Christian faith that built the societies they lived in. Instead, they simply assumed it was false, unreliable, and needed to be abandoned. It was superstition by virtue of its own existence, nothing more. Hence it required no real, meaningful contemplation upon. It was simply dismissed as archaic and no longer useful as an answer to society’s problems. The western world was entering a new era, and needed new answers as a result. Science had proven that the god of lightning was simply a phenomenon of weather patterns, and so on. The great question of the philosophers of their day was, “If God does not exist, why are people hopelessly religious?”

The question was not an honest inquiry for truth. It was an assertion–God does not exist, yet people cannot help but need Him to exist. Why is that? That was the essence of the question. Neither Nietzsche nor Marx really attempted to discover the truth of this. Instead, the two used rhetoric, which is the art of using articulation and thoughtful speech to gain an audience, rather than actually debating ideas.

The centuries would prove the use of rhetoric a useful tactic; pragmatic and economic, in some degree, as we see that the rhetoric of Nietzsche’s atheistic existentialism and Marx’s classless society of communism make devastating inroads into western civilization. There was also Immanuel Kant in the nineteenth century Enlightenment, whose work also contributed heavily to the separating of reason and faith that would eventually be the catalyst for what we have in society today, which is a rhetoric that faith and reason are on complete opposite ends of the spectrum.

It is the works of men like these, particularly during the Enlightenment era, that gave rise to secularism’s definition of faith. It was not a matter of, “Are faith and reason compatible? Is there a fundamental and meaningful relationship between the two?” Rather, it was, “Due to the scientific discoveries of our current age, religion is no longer necessary to answer the questions man needs.”

From Faith to Reason

The great sadness in all of this is how the church responded. Rather than meaningfully confronting this rhetoric with the truth of Scripture, the church attempted to adopt the trending philosophies of “rationalism” of the day to try and make a synthesis with Scripture. The result was to allow an epistemology that is fundamentally at odds with the Christian worldview into the church and begin to infect it from within. The key error in this (which the church still utilizes to this day) is to attempt to sell Christianity to the culture, rather than expose them to the God of the Scriptures.

The emphasis was on trying to preserve the church, rather than God’s word, a fundamental error that has led to the Roman Church, and the LDS Church, which are focused primarily on the foundation and structure of their institutions over God’s revealed word. It’s a common confusion of God and His church, one that is easy to fall into, but is nevertheless costly. If we don’t distinguish between God in the revealed Scriptures and the church He has made in Christ on the authority of Scripture, the result is the tendency to defend the church at the cost of God’s revealed truth. This confusion has and continues to lead to a de-emphasis on Scripture, and eventually an abandonment of it as theopneustos (God-breathed) and to instead defend an institution that is nothing more than an empty shell without God’s word to give it life.

In response to the works of Kant and Nietzsche, Hume and others, Soren Kierkegaard developed his philosophy of Christian existentialism, wherein instead of attempting to combat the rationalistic arguments of the Enlightenment thinkers, Kierkegaard capitulated and codified the idea that faith was a blind leap into the dark of irrationality, separated from reason. Few true endeavors were made by Christian thinkers to combat the presuppositions of the titans of the Enlightenment.

Yes, even our soteriology was compromised–the great slogan of the Reformation, that salvation was a work of God the Holy Spirit by a supernatural rebirth of the soul was replaced with believing that the human mind had the ability, in and of itself, to rationally connect the dots and come to a saving knowledge of Christ. Salvation, then, was wrought by “reason” and not God’s sovereign grace. Once this fundamental truth was compromised, it was only a matter of time before the corrosive effects of secular, post-Enlightenment thought would break away at the foundations of the church from within.

Faith in Scripture

Having understood, in a brief sense, what the secular world, out of the Enlightenment, saw faith as, we will begin to contrast that with what the Bible says faith is. As stated before, today’s secular people see faith as a kind of blind, senseless, irrational leap into the dark. And the church’s capitulation to this rhetoric, rather than to confront it head on, only allowed it to persist, and to eventually make inroads into the church itself that has led to all the problems we have today.

Remember as before, the Enlightenment thinkers never really attempted to interact with the Bible’s concept of faith. It was simply dismissed. This is important because if we are going to honestly speak truth, we have to honestly investigate propositions and worldviews. A worldview rises or falls on its presuppositions. Hence to discover this, one must investigate the worldview in question. Simply to dismiss it is to at the same time dismiss one’s own credibility on the subject. You don’t go for a medical checkup with someone who hasn’t honestly understood the medical field and who is not a licensed doctor for the checkup. Why, in the same way, would we rely upon people who are openly, willingly ignorant of biblical theology, for understanding what the terms related to biblical words are?

It is therefore necessary that if we are going to have a proper understanding of what the Bible describes as faith, we must go to the Bible’s understanding. It is a bad form of argumentation to impose upon the Bible a foreign concept of faith and use that as its definition. In the Greek, the word for faith is pronounced “pistis” which means to trust, to believe, to be convinced of something or someone. That is the simple meaning of faith.

Based upon this, can we already declare that the secular idea of “faith” is the same as the Bible’s? No. For the secularist, faith is a blind, irrational and unsupported belief in something that’s not real. Biblical faith is to trust in something. Whether that something is worth trusting in is not even relevant to the subject. But for the secularist, this narrative has to fit, otherwise their argument collapses. We can talk about whether what we have faith in is a reasonable thing to have faith in, but it is simply false to demand that faith means not only trust in something, but trust in something inherently foolish.

Real faith, then, is to trust, to be convinced in the mind of something, or of the words of someone. What then does the Christian–the true Christian, have faith in? Romans 3 and 4 give an in-depth discussion on the nature of faith, and how we are justified by faith, or through faith, apart from the law (Romans 3:28, 4:1-5). Clearly there is something about the nature of “faith” that makes it powerful to save. Exploring Scripture helps us to see what that is.

Faith to Salvation

There are many places to start, but I think one of the best is to begin with what I believe is the citadel passage on the nature of faith as the instrument of salvation, and that is in Romans 4. Of course, in reality, it begins back in Romans 3; in Romans 3:1-20, Paul is laying down humanity’s greatest problem, that we are desperately wicked before a holy God, completely and utterly exposed to His righteous wrath against sin. Our very existence is an abomination in His sight.

It is only after this, beginning in verse 21-26, that Paul finally shows us the Light and that is Christ. Our hope comes apart from the Law, meaning that our hope does not come from obeying God’s commandments, but from beholding the One who has obeyed the commandments. Hence, as verse 21 says, this salvation is “apart from” the Law, but the Law “witnesses” it. This righteousness is the account of Christ, and it is acquired not by the exertion of the human will, which Paul just condemned as utterly unreliable.

It is acquired “through faith”. When rendered from the Greek, it literally reads: righteousness now God dia–through or by; because of–faith-in Jesus Christ. The word for righteousness in verse 22 in the Greek means primarily that this “righteousness” (dikaiosyne) is authored, or brought about by God. It’s not a righteousness that God presents and says that this is the kind of righteousness we need to build to get into heaven. It is a righteousness that He Himself has revealed and brought about in Christ that is acquired by faith.

In Romans 4, Paul explains this doctrine more clearly, using Abraham as his example. The point once again is to show that Abraham was ultimately made righteous before God by a righteousness that God was the author of, not Abraham. Abraham simply believed God’s promise in Genesis 15, and it was counted as righteousness to him (Romans 4:3). It was when Abraham believed God, which is to say when he was convinced by God, that he was declared righteous, or justified before God. It wasn’t his willingness to work for God that did. That very idea Paul rebukes in the following verses.

Faith then is the instrument of salvation, it is through faith that God saves by the righteousness of Jesus Christ. But we are not done yet by any stretch. Faith indeed is the instrument whereby we are saved, but so many Christians don’t go any farther than this. In point of fact, the Bible has much more to say about faith. We must go deeper.

Faith to Repentance

From that point, we move on to our next. We could easily combine this section with Faith to Action, but I want to take time here to focus exclusively on repentance. What is repentance? Repentance is often gravely misunderstood by the cults, and by Christians themselves, and no less by unbelievers. Repentance is often viewed as a form of working, of building oneself up. I know that I personally struggled with this confusion for a while, and primarily because as someone who held so strongly by conviction (to this day) in the doctrine of sola fide (faith alone), why was repentance so important, then? Not that it wasn’t, but if my repentance doesn’t earn me anything, why is it nevertheless necessary?

The problem of course was with what I was assuming, and that was that repentance was a form of making oneself worthy before God. It was because I confused repentance with this that I struggled with understanding how it fit into the whole issue.

The word “repentance” in the Greek (metanoias) means to have a change in mind; to turn from one state of mind to another. In this case, to turn from the love and desire of sin to the love and desire of God. You may ask again, how is this not working our way to heaven? It seems that way if you understand, again, repentance to be earning you something. But it’s not.

Remember that in justification, I’m made righteous by a righteousness outside of me, authored and perfected by God. My turning away from sin, therefore, does not merit me anything. It’s not something I do to be righteous, because I already am by legal declaration. It’s something I do firstly out of love for what God has done for me, and because it cleanses me. It doesn’t make me more valuable, more noble, it cleans me from sinful thoughts and desires.

Paul in Romans 6 demonstrates to us that saving faith (which he has already explained) leads to repentance. He asks the rhetorical question that anticipates the objection that if I’ve been completely justified, why repent? This question may find legitimacy if we misunderstand how man’s will operates in this scheme. As long as we view man’s will as autonomous, free of any and all creaturely inclinations, this excuse will always invade evangelicalism. However, if we understand man’s will as subservient to his natural desires, Paul’s rhetorical question and answer makes perfect sense.

Paul’s retort is that the one who has been justified truly, cannot possibly live in sin, or in other words, without repentance coming out of that justification by faith. Jesus declares throughout the gospels that repentance is synonymous or an essential part of believing in the gospel. Repentance, then, is something that comes out of saving faith.

In the Old Testament, God speaks through His prophet Ezekiel and says that in the new covenant that is to come, He will “sprinkle clean water on you” to clean us from all uncleanliness and all our filthy idols. And He further says that He will put His Spirit within us, removing our hearts of stone and giving us a heart of flesh which will cause us to obey His statutes (Ezekiel 36:25-27). This will connect with Faith as a Gift later, but for our current subject, the point here is that genuine faith leads to, or causes repentance, to turn from sin and to obey the Lord.

Faith to Action

As I said above, repentance and this section may almost be one, but I wanted to dedicate some time on repentance in particular. Now I want to move on to faith that leads to action. What does saving faith cause one to do? As we have seen, it causes one to repent. It also causes one to grow in the light of that repentance. John the Baptist says in Matthew 3:8 to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance”. Meaning that we must repent not merely for the sake of ceasing to do bad things, but repent in order that we, in being cleansed, will in turn grow in faith towards God, and that growth leads to action for Him.

The important thing once again to notice is that faith and repentance is not earning us anything; it is a response on our behalf to what has been done to us. Remember in Ezekiel 36 the ordo salutis (order of salvation): God’s action comes first, and we merely respond. This is absolutely key to understanding the gospel. The gospel is not, nor has it ever been what you can do for God. It is what God has done for you, and you holding onto that with all your heart. It is in the light of this, and understanding this order, that we are disposed to action.

James 2 is often used so poorly as a proof-text for works-based salvation, and that is a terrible tragedy, because we miss what James was talking about. The proof text is often verse 24, where James says that we are not justified by faith alone, but by our works. The problem first is that this interpretation puts James in clear contradiction with Paul who specifically says in Romans 3:28 that we are justified by faith apart from works of the law. So either the Bible contradicts and hence is not God’s word, or there is a proper harmony that makes both speak true to each other.

The reality is that if you read James 2 in its context, James is telling us that faith alone saves, but a mere profession of faith that is not backed up by works is a worthless, false faith. It is not saying that the works are giving life to the faith, anymore than fruit gives life to the tree.

Notice James’ example for a working faith. It is Abraham, just like Paul when Paul is explaining justification by faith alone. So once again, it seems as though the two are using the same character, speaking about the same subject, but yet come to two different conclusions. Not so fast.

Notice that while they use the same patriarch, they use two different events in his life. For Paul, he is going to where Abraham was justified before God, when Abraham believed God (Genesis 15). James uses the event in Abraham’s life when he offered up Isaac on the altar (Genesis 22). This was after Abraham was counted as righteous. What’s the point? The point is that in the former, Abraham was saved, in the ladder, Abraham demonstrated that he was a saved man, under God’s grace by his willingness to sacrifice his beloved son that was promised. Why? Because that’s what faith does! It causes action!

In Hebrews 11, the author is preaching, going through the entire history of the biblical patriarchs and shows that they all were not motivated by any need to make themselves right before God, but that they believed God’s promise to deliver them Himself. It was God they were trusting in, not their performances, not their abilities to do things. They were weak men, who did extraordinary things because they were relying on God and His promises. They were moved to action by faith.

Faith as a Gift

Our next section covers what is often controversial, but absolutely necessary to the subject of faith. We are attempting to present the utmost biblical nature of faith here, and that means we must talk about some things we may otherwise find uncomfortable. Faith, as we have seen, is more than just blind, irrational and empty hope in foolishness. It is an instrumental cause of justification before God.

Now we must recognize faith as going even farther. As we will discuss, faith is a matter of persuasion, but it goes even deeper than this. Remember in Romans 3:20-26, Paul is explaining how we are saved, and he makes these claims in the backdrop of what he said previously, that mankind in his corrupt, fallen state, is utterly hopeless in himself to do anything pleasing to God that would save his soul. No one seeks for God (Romans 3:11). That is, no one in their unsaved state seeks for God.

Later, in Romans 8:5-8, Paul makes the strong statement that those in the flesh cannot please God. They have no capacity to do so. In Ephesians 2:1-3, the same apostle describes our state outside salvation as being “dead in trespasses and sins”, meaning that our state was so desperate, that like zombies that feel no pain when being struck, so to we feel no pain for having violated God’s law. There was no care in us at all–no life anywhere to be found. In verse 4, Paul provides the great words “but God” which indicates that the decisive factor of how such desperately wicked people could believe was because of an act of God.

That’s where in Ephesians 2:8-9, Paul tells us that faith is a gift. If indeed the human mind and spirit is so depraved, dead in sins and trespasses, then how can it even ascend to saving faith? It cannot. Therefore the faith that saves is a faith granted by what? It is by grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). Grace is an activity performed by God unto a sinner that blesses them. It’s done all in grace, meaning it has absolutely nothing to do with the sinner.

In John 6:39-44, Jesus specifically says that it cannot be that anyone comes to him unless it is granted to him by the Father. In other words, anyone you see coming to Jesus comes because God has given them the gift that grants them to do it, and what is this gift? It is the gift of faith, and that faith is far more than an intellectual exercise. It is a faith that causes one to change, to move, to repent and grow more in their trust in God.

The thing that separates the believer and the unbeliever is an act of grace on the part of God to grant that believer faith. And it is because it is a gift from God that it cannot fail.

Blind Faith in Nature

There is an irony in this discussion. Remember how our secular friends identify faith as a blind, irrational leap into the dark. But once again, how does the Greek define faith? It defines it as to be convinced, or to believe someone. Who in our society is immune to this? No one is. We all, even the most anti-religious, take someone on their word for what they say. Hence, they too have great faith in the people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye, or Christopher Hitchens.

But who are these men trusting in? Whose word are they taking on face value? We all adhere in some sense to an appeal to authority. For example, biology, and the nature of the universe. We take that verbatim as being reliable on its face. That is to say, we may be having faith in the laws of nature. But the real problem here for our secular friends is that while both of us may have faith in the laws of nature to be as they are, as a Christian, who believes the essential predication for faith in the laws and uniformity of nature is a God who is Himself eternal, self-existence, absolute and unchanging, I have a strong ground for believing in the laws of nature.

For the secularist, what does he ground his faith in the laws of nature in? The answer must be nothing. He has no reason to believe the laws of nature are of absolute uniformity, and hence, what assurance has he that he will be a coherent chunk of functioning matter today, and tomorrow explode? He has none. He must take the claims of his mere human observance at its word (despite it not being the absolute arbiter one needs to confidently rest that faith in it). We may put this in another way, that the secular atheist, when truly examining his worldview, has to conclude that the definition of “blind faith” that he wishes to ascribe to the Christian is actually true for himself.

Conclusion

As we have explored, the nature of faith in the Bible is far more in depth than our secular friends try to make it appear as. Sadly, it is also far more in depth than many evangelicals see it as. Faith is the instrument that saves us, it is to be convinced in the mind of God’s truth and His promises. Faith is a gift that God grants to His elect that they may be able to hold onto His promises. Faith grants the power to repent. Faith causes one to act.

Earlier in the article we looked at the rising tension between faith and reason in the Enlightenment era, and how eventually these two were on a collision course. But it is not the case that the two are at odds. Faith renews the mind (Romans 12:2), and purifies us more and more. It disposes us more and more to the God of the universe, and in understanding Him more, brings us into greater harmony with His creation. That is to say that true faith does not cancel out reason, but it promotes true, rational, and meaningful inquiry into reality. This is why Christianity can be so exclusive and hold to absolute truths over and against subjective experiences.

Ask an LDS how they know the Book of Mormon is true and they must fundamentally rely on a feeling they get. But God’s world and hence His truth does not operate on this kind of thinking. My thoughts and feelings don’t give rise to reality; God does, and hence the discovery of truth in the world is to, in faith towards God, be subject more and more to a renewing of my mind that allows me to grasp hold of truth more and more.

This is why Christianity is behind the greatest scientific findings in all of history, and it is only when the Creator is taken out of the picture does chaos ensue and mankind deteriorates, and drifts farther into the outer darkness.

To Believe God

What does it mean to believe God? What does it mean to trust Him? How are we ultimately saved? These questions are questions that all of Christendom has asked over the centuries, and it is a question even the cults are obsessed with answering. The LDS gospel claims to hold to Paul’s teachings. But reading it’s own scriptures in the Book of Mormon, and even talking with LDS, you are hard pressed to find them truly confessing the truth of what the Bible had been teaching all along. What does it mean, therefore, to truly believe God?

The doctrine of Sola Fide (Faith Alone) is at the center of the Christian faith. Everyone wants to say they have faith in God, but who truly demonstrates it as Paul defined it in Romans 4? To truly capture the heart of this doctrine, it was no coincidence that Paul went to the Father of the Faithful, Abraham. Paul could not have picked a greater candidate to explain this doctrine.

For several reasons Paul goes to Abraham. One is as I stated above: he is the Father of the Faithful. Another reason is because Paul is dealing in Romans with Judiazers who are trying to teach Gentile Christians that to be truly followers of Christ, they must become members of the old covenant first, and adhere to the laws and statutes of the Jews. This is what Paul is responding to, and he does so by going all the way back to the beginning, before the Jewish nation even existed to prove to Jews and Greeks that his doctrine of faith alone supersedes the Jewish laws and customs. This is exactly what Paul is correcting in the Galatian church as well (Galatians 3:16-18).

A God of Promise

What it tells us is that the doctrine which Paul will be teaching us beginning at the end of Romans 3 and into 4 is not something Paul is inventing here towards the later half of the first century. It means that what he is about to explain to us began all the way back to Abraham himself. Before we can get into Romans 4, therefore, we should revisit exactly what it is Paul is pointing us to in order to understand the context of this chapter, which is the citadel of the doctrine of Sola Fide. Paul is pointing us to Genesis 15:

[After these things the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.” But Abram said, “O Lord God, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?” And Abram said, “Behold, you have given me no offspring, and a member of my household will be my heir.” And behold, the word of the Lord came to him: “This man shall not be your heir; your very own son shall be your heir.” And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness.]

-Genesis 15:1-6 (ESV)

This is the passage Paul is referring to specifically. However, I think Paul is hoping that you read further in Genesis 15 to see something amazing, which all has to do with trusting God over our own efforts. Abram (as he was known then) fell asleep and saw a vision. We read this in the passage:

[When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, “To your offspring I give this land…]

Genesis 15:17-18 (ESV)

The three dots indicate that there is more to the verse cited, but what I want to focus on is in the nature of these two verses. This strange ritual that Abram saw in a dream represented Yahweh passing through the pieces of the dismembered animals as an oven, or a fire. The symbolism represents the reality that Yahweh had bound, not Abram, but Himself to this covenant He makes with Abram. Hence the burden of keeping the promise which God had given to Abram earlier in the chapter (verses 1-6) was not on Abram, but God.

If the promise rested upon God to uphold, how then could it fail? It could not. It was not what Abram was going to do, but what Yahweh Himself was going to do. That promise, as Paul tells us, is fulfilled in Christ.

Romans 4: By Faith Alone

He begins Romans 4 with a rhetorical question, iconic to Romans:

[What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh?]

-Romans 4:1 (ESV)

The question is meant to get the reader to think. Paul expands upon his rhetorical question in verse 2 that if indeed Abraham was justified by his works, then he had accomplished something apart from God’s own doing.

What Paul is doing here is contrasting a salvation by works and a salvation by faith. He offers no categories of some form of faith plus works–nor even faith with works. Either you work, in which case it is something owed, which means now God owes you according to your merits, and consequentially, your salvation is based on your merits, or it is by faith alone, in which you believe that God has earned the merits for you.

Paul then quotes Psalm 32:1-2, where David describes “the blessed man” who is the one whose sins are covered and their lawless deeds forgiven. How are they covered? How are they forgiven? Many of the cults love to talk about forgiveness of sins, but when you sit and talk with them, they will typically end up describing to you a gospel of works, of legalism in some fashion, and you can often tell when you cite a passage such as Romans 4:1-5, ask them if they believe it and they typically reply, “Yeah, but…” Once the ‘but’ comes in, then they’ve just removed faith from the equation. Remember, Paul does not provide any such categories here for faith with works. It is either by works, in which case faith is null, or by faith in God’s promise to do it for you, in which case it is a gift.

Hence, the Latter Day Saints, the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Roman Catholics, as much as they might like to cheer on faith in Christ, none of them can follow Paul here without interrupting him in some way, indicating they do not truly believe in Paul’s doctrine of salvation by grace through faith, and why as Christian as they may sound, they have no gospel of salvation. How then are we saved by what Paul is teaching here?

Imputed Righteousness.

Let’s return to Romans 4:3, where Paul takes us all the way back to Abraham. When Abraham believes God, it is counted as righteousness. What does Abraham believe? He believes what we just went through, God’s promise of salvation by covenant. It was when Abraham believed God that he was counted as righteous. What ‘righteousness’ was counted to him, then? Firstly, let’s consider the Greek word being used as ‘counted’ here. The word means to be accounted as, to be considered to be. It is the equivalent of providing to one’s account, such as their bank account, in our day in age.

Abraham’s faith, then, accounts a righteousness to God, and what righteousness is that? Paul just told us in Romans 3:22–the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ, acquired by faith. So it is the righteousness of Jesus Christ. How then does this work? When you consider the Old Testament, particularly in Leviticus, when God is going through the nature of the atonement, an animal is killed on behalf of the one being atoned for, by the high priest. The high priest represents this person in the sacrifice, offers the sacrifice as being the ‘sin-bearer’ on behalf of the person being atoned for. This is to appease the righteous wrath of God for that sinner.

Christ becomes the ultimate sin offering on the cross, bearing upon himself the sins of all those who would have faith in him, and in return, his righteousness he had acquired is given to the sinner Christ represents in his atoning sacrifice. This is what we call the doctrine of imputed righteousness. My sins are placed upon the sin-bearer; not some, not most, all of my sins. And in return, I attain his righteousness; not some, not most, all of it. Since Christ’s atonement is infinite in its value, it atones eternally on my behalf. What left is there for me to do? This is essentially the question Paul asks later in Romans 8:31. God has done this. No one can add to it, nor take it away. Not even my own sin.

Now Christ’s righteous account is made mine by grace through faith, and God has dealt with my sins on the cross. And so we return to Romans 4:7-8 and ask again, how are our sins covered? How are our lawless deeds forgiven? By repentance? No. Paul never mentions it here. Our sins are covered by the sin offering, our lawless deeds are forgiven by the atonement of Christ. When I put my trust in Christ, my sins have all been dealt with. There is nothing left for me to do. It is done and finished, and I can therefore say with Paul in Romans 5:1 that I have peace with God because I have been justified, not by my repentance, not by my works, but by faith in and through our Lord Jesus Christ.

This is how Abraham was justified before God. And if Abraham is the Father of the Faithful, this then is how every believer is justified before God. They are not justified by any of their merits, nor their works, and to bring anything of our own to the cross is to blaspheme the cross and the work of God, claiming that Christ’s work was not enough on our behalf.

Paul continues his teaching of his doctrine of salvation in Romans 4:9, again by using Abraham as our model. He moves on to ask another rhetorical question, which is to ask if this justification occurred before or after Abraham began to work and live for God. This is another important point.

Take, for instance, in the Book of Mormon, in Moroni 10:32, where it says that once we deny ourselves of all ungodliness, and love the Lord with all our hearts mind and strength, then is God’s grace sufficient for us. It is after we have done these things do we have forgiveness. Interestingly enough, this contradicts what Enos says in Enos 5-8, where Enos is not forgiven after he has denied himself of all ungodliness, but rather by faith in Christ.

But for Paul, he goes in a completely opposite direction. Instead, Paul declares that Abraham was justified before he circumcised himself. In other words, before any works were performed by Abraham, he was justified and saved from all his sins. This is the significance of Paul’s use of Abraham. If this is how Abraham, who was the father of Israel, was saved, then that means all Israel is saved in this way (Romans 9:6), and that’s exactly what Paul says in the next set of verses.

To Believe God

This is how we are justified before God. Christ himself, when asked what the work of God was, answered that “you believe in him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). That is, to believe in the Son that the Father has sent. To believe with Abraham what God had promised to him thousands of years ago. Remember, when we go back to Genesis 15, it was not Abraham who walked through the parted animals to make an oath with God that he would do his part. It was God Himself passing through the pieces. It was God holding Himself to fulfill the covenant.

This God has done in Jesus Christ, and it is by this promise we are saved. I am not saved by my works, I am not saved by my obedience. Lord knows I cannot do this work. I have no ability to be perfect, as is demanded of me. Christ was perfect on my behalf, and when I trust in him, his life is for me. This does not mean that works are not involved. Indeed, James speaks of this in James 2. But the works flow out of justification, they don’t merit justification.

That is precisely what James was discussing, and indeed Paul’s doctrine, by implication, says what James also said of Abraham; that it was because Abraham was already justified and saved that he began to live in faith towards God. Abraham circumcised himself not to be just before God, but because he was, and he was trusting that God was going to do what He promised to do. It was because Abraham trusted God and His promise that he was willing to sacrifice Isaac, the promised and beloved son of Abraham, because his faith carried him through the trial, it made him see that somehow, some way, God was going to get Isaac through this because He promised. That’s what it’s all about.

In Hebrews 11 (which I believe was a written sermon of Paul by Luke), he says this very thing as he goes through all of the patriarchs of Scripture. From Abel, to Abraham, to Moses, to Gideon, David and on to all the elect, that it was faith that drove them, not their works in or towards God. They were not driven by what they were going to do. They were driven by what God promised He would do. That is who our God is, a God of mercy, of grace, a God of promise. That is what it means to believe in God.

What Christians Can Learn from Game of Thrones

Many years ago I attempted to give Game of Thrones a try. It was at the release of season three in 2013. As a promotion for the highly acclaimed show, HBO offered people to watch the first episode for free. I didn’t know anything much about the show at all, and decided to give it a try. I couldn’t make it through the episode as it featured nudity unlike anything I had ever seen before. And it seemed particularly accustomed to violence in a way that was disturbing. As it turned out, many Christians had come to the conclusion that the show is unhealthy for a Christian to watch, and I agreed wholeheartedly.

Still, however, I found the plot of the story interesting, and it was a great shame that the overall concept was ruined by the graphic nature of the show. I maintained what I like to call a distant interest in the development of the story. I frequent some video game/television media and fan sites, and my YouTube recommendation circulations include a lot of the recent gaming and TV show news. Game of Thrones came up especially during pre-season release periods and during the season, and YouTube would have clips of episodes released.

Without watching the whole series, and rather only some key moments, I was able to essentially put together the basic plot points without going into the detailed stuff. I heard enough rumors, theories and so forth about some of the most horrific moments of the show, such as the live burning of a little girl, a boy pushed out of a window (I did see the clip of that anyway), incest, the sexual affairs, the brutal rape of Sansa and all that other stuff I really don’t need to see to believe. I don’t need to see Ramsey being a complete psychopathic nutjob. Everyone’s talking about it, I’ll take their word for it.

A Question of Purpose

But as I took in all of this information over the years, I was brought back to that episode I tried to force myself to watch in order to get to the other side, and asking myself, “Is there a point to all of this?” I never finished the episode to get an answer to the question. I lost all interest in such a pursuit because the graphic nature outweighed the desire for an answer. It didn’t seem like the show was lessening its graphic nature as it went on, and hence what was the ultimate goal? What was it about this show that drew people so much to the senseless violence? It was like a soap opera, only far more adult in content.

There was simply something truly disturbing about this show that went beyond the simple graphic content. It honestly felt filthy to watch it. Returning to Ramsey one more time, and hearing about the sadistic things he did, I remember asking myself, okay, he’s obviously insane… What’s the point of all of this? It was almost as if the show made a monster and was enjoying the reality of that monster. It was glorifying his sadism.

I realize antagonists are necessary for conflict in a story, and I love a complex, more-than-one-dimensional bad guy. But there comes a point where the writers are indulging the antagonist to a point that one has to sit back and say, “Okay, I get it, he’s a loon. Do I need to see more of this?” It’s like someone who watches a documentary about Charles Manson, and after that looks for another one, and then another and begins to take an unsettling fascination with his character. At a certain point, it honestly gets very uncomfortable, and again one must ask, where is this all going to?

The show begins with one interesting character, and I say interesting because he is the only one of his kind throughout the entire show. That is, Ned Stark. He is king of the realm at the beginning of the season. One thing I have to give the show credit for is that it begins on a high note, with a seemingly functioning, peaceful kingdom. But as the Bible says, there are wars and rumors of wars. All is not well in King’s Landing, as it seems.

Ned was the one good guy of the whole show. He was what you wanted in a strong, lead protagonist. The show seems to set Ned up as the main hero of the whole story, and it does a good job of that. But there is a purpose in doing this. The purpose is to cut that hero’s head off. Literally. When Ned is betrayed and then executed, all hell, as it were, breaks loose. That begins what one might really say the Game of Thrones.

We might go a little farther and take this into a biblical perspective. When Ned is executed, God’s judgment on a wicked land began. When all virtue, salt and light is removed from a land, you can be sure as the Bible demonstrates that this is God judging a land. From that point on, there was nothing but evil, wicked, vile debauchery having its way. The only real good character was removed.

When I say good, I intentionally leave out some of the more noble ones (most of whom die because they won’t play the game). I even leave out Sansa, who later seems to harden up, but it might be too little too late at that point. But even during the middle of the show, what amount of leadership was Sansa showing? Not much. And what about Jon Snow? Who seemed to be the only character in the show incorruptible by evil? Likewise, Snow lacks the leadership trait.

When I say “leadership” I don’t mean a kind of humble and modest attitude he seems to demonstrate in the show. At a certain point, quite frankly, all that humility becomes cowardice, and I think that’s what his character shows ultimately. He was far more fit as a person to be king and he wouldn’t do it. When the Night King threatened the land, instead of seeking the throne, he knew what had to be done. That’s the quality of an admirable man; he was willing to toss aside the game of thrones for a more pressing evil to be stopped. No one showed more qualities for that throne than him, and yet he’s not asserting his leadership in the end. And why is this? Because it’s not convenient for the show. We can’t really be having good, admirable men as models of virtue for our story. It ended with Ned Stark all the way back in season one, and it was intended to stay that way.

The Tragedy of Daenerys

When I heard about how people hated the way this show ended, I had to somewhat chuckle at the irony of it. As I stated before, while not watching the show, I did see a few clips here and there on YouTube, and some of those clips involved one of the main characters, if not the main character, Daenerys. Commercials when the show was starting, made her to appear as very innocent. But that’s not who I saw in the clips. I saw a girl gain power and order the merciless and rather inhuman execution of certain people. I didn’t know the background of these sorry individuals, but whatever it was, it was hard to tell who was the good guy and the bad guy.

So when the end was approaching in season seven, when I saw the clip of Danny and Jon Snow meeting for the first time, I saw a spoiled little brat, not very different than Joffrey. I saw someone who was getting so obviously lost in power that it was pretty clear where this was going. You can’t let someone like that on the Iron Throne. So by the end, when Daenerys cooks the entirety of King’s Landing, I was honestly not very surprised. I do understand many of the criticisms of how it led to this, but to those so naively disliking the wicked tyranny of Daenerys showing its true form, how could you not have seen this coming at all? Debate on its execution all you want, it was inevitable nonetheless.

Of course, then I began to learn about some details here and there, particularly about Danny’s parents and her “Mad King” father. So what we have in traditional storytelling formula is a child who comes from a history of evil men who can, as it were, redeem that history by not being what her father was, or what her brother was turning out to be. While she seemed to start out well, history itself shows that even noble intentions don’t always end in noble victories. In fact, rarely ever they do.

In the end, the potential foreshadowing that Daenerys could “break the cycle” of a mad ruler went up in flames with King’s Landing as she destroyed it with her last remaining dragon, killing more people in one episode than any of the vile characters in the whole series put together, and Daenerys was not able to break the cycle. For many, following Danny through all her pain for the past decade or so, to see her blow it all away here at the end was too much. I again hearken back to the fact that the signs of this were seen a mile away.

In reality, the demise of Daenerys was really an ingenious move, whether the writers intended it or not. What does it show us? Absolute power corrupts, absolutely. What the end shows, right up to the point that her last dragon burns the Iron Throne, is that all this throne has brought was death and destruction. No one person is fit to rule it, because no one is beyond the corruption that exists within them. Every single one of us is corrupt to the core with our sinfulness, born of the seed of Adam, inheriting the sin nature he induced upon us all (Romans 5).

For this reason (that mankind is inherently corrupt with sin) the founders of the United States chose to go a different path than that of a monarchy, than that of one ruler over many. Instead we would be a constitutional republic, a federal government, where power was distributed to three different branches (two of which are themselves a plurality). No one branch can exist without the other. Since absolute power corrupts absolutely, then the one thing no man could ever, ever have, was absolute power. No one is able as mere men, to hold and maintain such authority without it driving them mad. Daenerys demonstrates this. A young girl who began innocent and noble, still showed that deep down, she was as corruptible as the rest. The lure of the Iron Throne, like that of the Ring of Power, was too great for a mere mortal, even of her hardship, to grasp and resist its temptation. In the end, what difference was there between Daenerys and the Night King? In the end, what was the show trying to prove, if not that fallen man cannot save himself?

The Vicious Cycle of Nihilism

Watching it end like this also reminds me of the Walking Dead. I was listening to Steve Deace talk about this on his show (which inspired this article, by the way) the other day and it was so absolutely true what he was talking about. He hit the nail right on the head about what Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead are all about. But going back to the Walking Dead for a moment, Steve said he realized the show was going nowhere when Neagan showed up and bashed in Abraham’s and the other dude’s head (forgot his name because I honestly didn’t care for his character at all).

I would disagree slightly with Steve and say that I caught the hint that the show was going nowhere at the end of season one (if I am recalling correctly) when the group of survivors found the laboratory with a doctor who was experimenting on his undead wife. It seemed then and there like the show was giving us a direction for the team to go in on how to redeem all of this, but the doctor blew up the whole lab, committing suicide, and taking all his research with it. At that point, it was clear to me that the show was closing the door and locking it shut, with no way out. Neagan’s introduction was simply the nail in the coffin for me, the catalyst for me giving up the ghost and leaving the show to become quite literally a walking, dead show.

The only difference between the Walking Dead and Game of Thrones is that at least Game of Thrones manages to end its existence by connecting the infinite, vicious cycle back to where it all starts to go round and round again. For the Walking Dead, it seems like they are going to carry this entire endeavor as far as they possibly can, which, as it seems now, it has finally run out of life.

The question here to ask at the very end is, what was the purpose of it all? What was the goal? What message were the creators trying to convey? I bring things back to that question I asked myself when I tried to watch that one episode in the opening of season three: Is there a point to all of this? After everything that happened, even with the Iron Throne being destroyed, one might think that this was a time where there had to be a better way to do things. Instead, all they do is convene in a counsel in the end, and make preparations to rebuild and to crown a new king.

It seemingly ends right back to the way it all began, minus an Iron Throne and a functioning King’s Landing. But you see the point of it all; it goes back full circle. The throne has a new ruler, Bran, and whether he will be good or bad, no one knows, but either way, it starts over again. The betrayals, the politics, the lust, violence, sex, wars and all that wicked mankind has to offer. The cycle is not broken. Even the mighty Daenerys falls to the lure of power upon the throne.

If there is anything to grasp out of the entire drama of Game of Thrones, its that humans have an inherent sinful problem, and it leads them to do the most vile things that you see in this show. On that, I can certainly agree. To me, the greatest irony of this entire show is that it depicts the wickedness of mankind without God and His grace, and what a godless society leads to; a vicious cycle of endless misery, and the most amazing thing is that secular people all across the world who love their sin hated the way this ended. It goes to show that even indulging in the sin they love, the imago dei shows forth amidst all that suppression of the truth, and they know that in the heart of hearts, they yearn for something more than what this world has to offer.

Because all this world has to offer you is death. I am reminded of the book of Ecclesiastes and what the great takeaway of it was. Over and over again the author’s great complaint is summarized as grasping for the wind. He is trying to find in this life something to satisfy the longing in his heart. He has all he could ever want. He has women, a great palace, riches and was a god among men. He was wiser than all, a library in and of himself. Yet he was not happy. He had no joy.

Fredrick Nietzsche is often known for his famous saying “God is dead” and it’s said as a chant and cheer. Most people don’t realize that Nietzsche uttered the words in great despair. As the father of nihilism himself, Nietzsche did not find the idea comforting. And towards the end of his life, he expressed a deep longing for eternity. He would die in insanity.

Of course, what can you expect from someone who sees the future only as more of what we have now? When your entire worldview has nothing to look forward to beyond this world, when you have no redemptive element, there is nothing else to do but repeat the cycle we all know in this world. How can a man who creates a world like Game of Thrones give you anything more than what the show started and proceeded with when he has no redemptive element, no doctrine of fallen man, no God, holy, righteous and awesome, to have the power to redeem?

A Desire for Eternity

All mankind, being made in the image of God, thus shares a common truth, and that truth is redemption. That truth is eternity. It’s why we contemplate the abstract, purpose, love and life. It’s why we write music, it’s why we love to travel, it’s why we desire in and from each other a deep love. But what we carry with that common desire is a corrupt sin nature. That sin nature, as the Bible teaches, clouds and distorts these natural desires. The desires are part of who and what we are. The sin twists it.

Hence, while we may desire purpose, redemption, and fulfillment, our clouded hearts and mind, not looking to the God who provides these things, will seek their fulfillment in something other than Him. It’s why progressives do what they do. They, like us, want a Utopian dream of peace, prosperity, and justice. But you need God to make this real, you need one to rule as the unifying truth to bring order to that. This the progressives will not tolerate, and hence someone has to fill that position of “God”. And so the government becomes the god. Twisted mankind must be the supreme, just ruler of twisted humans. And twisted man will be anything but just.

Game of Thrones gives us a picture of this vicious cycle. When the established order of fallen, sinful man proves itself unworthy of such power as the Iron Throne, what do they decide to do next? To repeat the cycle, because while Game of Thrones, intentionally or not, shows you the reality of fallen man, it doesn’t give you anything to fix it. Because as we have seen, when you don’t have a God who has a purpose in all things, who transcends all time and space, who holds the universe in His hands, who is righteous, glorious and true in all ways, who is sovereign and absolutely supreme, you can offer image bearers of that God nothing to satisfy the longing in their hearts.

[He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.] -Ecclesiastes 3:11 (ESV).

What was the great difference between Game of Thrones and the Lord of the Rings? There are many, many differences we can point to, but if we can sum it up in one, it would be as what I alluded to previously. It is the Iron Throne and the Ring of Power. Both are very much alike in many ways. They are the objects of absolute power in their respective worlds. The difference was that in the Game of Thrones, everyone wants it, and kills for it. In the Lord of the Rings, it’s clear that the great power is far too great for anyone to wield. The difference is that in the former, the power is being sought, in the ladder, they are trying to get rid of it. Because in the former, it operates on the will for power, without any warnings against it, and in the ladder, it operates on the recognition of what that power does to even good men. It is the difference between a man-centered story, and a God-centered story, in essence.

And so you see how the Lord of the Rings offers a very important message to its audience about absolute power in the hands of men. Game of Thrones may do this, but it never destroys it, because it cannot, because the worldview of its creators do not have anything else to offer. If man as we see him today is all that we have, then a warning about absolute power in his hands is a foolish endeavor. Of course, the alternative then is nihilism. No purpose, no redemption, only death.

“You have made us for Yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.” -Augustine of Hippo

A King Worthy to Rule

In Christianity, and in truth, there is indeed a great and wonderful future and answer to all of this. I said earlier that Daenerys proves that even someone who seemed to start so innocent, with such a noble cause, can turn to madness in the end with the lust for power. It proved that no man, no mortal, corrupted with sin, can truly hold a throne. And I criticized the fact that after this is so clearly proven in the show (whether intended or not) that perhaps it is best we have no monarchy at all. It seemed as though I was criticizing the entire idea of a kingdom.

But I did no such thing, of course. A mere man, mortal and corrupted with sin cannot bare the reality of a throne. What about one who was not a mortal, was more than a man, and was not tainted with the corruption of sin? Imagine a great king who had none of these fatal flaws. Ned Stark was the best we had in Game of Thrones, but he was just a man, and he was mortal. What about a king who could not be slain, could not be fooled, and ruled with a righteousness so pure, no shadow of turning was in him?

After God had secured a home for David and Israel in 2 Samuel 7, David, the chosen king of Israel, declares that he wishes to give the Lord a temple to dwell in. In response, God tells David through Nathan that He had asked for nothing in return, because David could not give God anything that was not already His.

Instead, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying:

[The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”] -Psalm 110:1 (ESV)

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh. Later in Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made:

[The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
    after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.] -Psalm 110:4-5 (ESV)

Verse 4 is the tetragrammaton once more, and so God is speaking to David’s Lord that he shall be a priest, but not only a priest, he shall be a priest forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

The Bible hence gives us a picture of what Israel was to look forward to as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David. But as you might see, who could possibly fit this description? It’s a tall order to fill, to say the least. Firstly, the king has to be a perfectly good and righteous ruler. That means he cannot have the taint of sin. The king has to be eternal, as well; his reign is forever.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

The book of Hebrews declares that in Jesus was the fulfillment of Psalm 2. Notice in Hebrews 1:3, Jesus is declared to have sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (or of God the Father). This is said right after Jesus “makes purification for sins”, something the High Priest does, and Jesus, in Hebrews 5:6, is the fulfillment of Psalm 110:4.

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

In Matthew 3:2-3, the prophecy of the one who prepares the way of the Lord from Isaiah 40:3 is fulfilled in John the Baptist. Consequentially, this fulfills the prophecy in Malachi 3-4. In those prophecies is a description of the coming Lord and a great judgment that then follows after the Lord comes to His people. The coming of Elijah in Malachi 4:5 is also fulfilled in John the Baptist, and therefore this prophecy was being fulfilled at the beginning of Jesus’s ministry.

It is the prophecy that would lead to the ultimate judgment on the nation of Israel, leading to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem in 70A.D. Before that time came, however, Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

Jesus is always speaking among the people in such a way that the kingdom of God was here and now (Matthew 4:23, Matthew 5:19). After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Salvation: A Story of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

The story of redemption in the Bible is the story of being able to enter Eden once more, where God dwells, in His paradise with Him. During the construction of the Ark of the Covenant, Bezalel made upon it two golden statues of cherubim (Exodus 37:7). This was the mercy seat. When the high priest offers the blood of the sacrifice, he splatters the blood on the mercy seat as an atonement. A life for a life, as it were.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. The high priest in the Old Testament was to atone for the sins of the people of Israel. He offered a sacrifice in their place for Yahweh on the mercy seat of the Ark of the Covenant. But as the Book of Hebrews tells us, the high priest himself was sinful, had to offer sacrifices for himself, and did not live forever to be a perpetual mediator for the people of God. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

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

Notice here that the Scriptures declare Jesus to be sinless. It was because he was a spotless lamb, his atonement was pure. When I trust in Christ, my sins have been forgiven in his blood, and now his righteousness becomes my own before God. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily. Only regenerate Christians, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will begin this process.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

The progressives, as we have said, desire a great Utopia. But their Utopia is built on this world, which is passing away. Like the story of Noah, it mattered little how big your house was in the world before the flood. It was going to be destroyed in the judgment. Only those who rest in the Ark will be saved. Only those who cling to the cross of Jesus Christ will be saved, and will exit the Ark of Christ into a new and restored world. Only, unlike Noah, this world will remain new every day. It never ends. It is an eternity of love, an eternity of music, an eternity of joy, an eternity of traveling, an eternity human relationships, an eternity of learning and grasping hold of an eternal, never-ending God.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.

Reformed Theology and Antisemitism

By now we’ve all heard about the California Synagogue shooting carried out, allegedly by a young 19-year-old white male which happened Saturday, April 27th, a week from today. I heard about the story while taking a break from social media, i.e., Facebook when my phone’s news alert rang it in. I didn’t spend too much time on it, to be honest, and normally if a reported shooting doesn’t get up to about three alerts, with multiple fatalities from three different sources, I tend to consider it an incident, while no less terrible, as thankfully not a horrific slaughter.

This left one dead and multiple others wounded. It appears that the shooter (his name will not be mentioned) had a weapon malfunction. I suppose I should also be thankful that the shallow brain matter of these individuals tends to also mean they don’t know much about firearms and that unlike the Hollywood movies, they can in fact jam or have various other malfunctions. Californians aren’t typically known for their stellar firearm knowledge. Thank God for that too.

An Attack on Reformed Theology

But with the dark humor aside, what I want to do here is to really address the problem of the blame game at play by media outlets and people who are using this terrible event to attack what is known in Christianity as Reformed Theology. I thought it particularly useful for myself to address it, being among that denomination myself. I am a Reformed Christian of the baptist persuasion and a full-blown, five-point Calvinist. A Washington Post article has gotten a lot of attention recently on its attempt to expose the gunman’s theological beliefs, and tie his actions to that belief.

It doesn’t really surprise me that people who don’t know anything meaningful about Christian theology would commit a genetic fallacy here, and to straw man a particular aspect of Reformed theology, which is covenant theology (I will get to this later). What surprises me is how much I am seeing Christians, yes, Christians promoting and affirming this kind of cheap shot at the reformed community. And for that, I felt particularly compelled to respond to the claims of this article from the Washington Post and address this error.

As I said before, I didn’t give a lot of attention to this shooting at first. That was until I learned that the alleged shooter belonged to an OPC (Orthodox Presbyterian Church). That is a reformed church community. When I learned this, I became interested in the shooting, and especially because it was being politicized to shine a light on the reformed community as a whole.

As always, the attempt is made, by the Washington Post article, not to directly point a finger at a worldview, but to make it possible to do so. It’s a subtle form of the genetic fallacy, which is to falsify a perspective based on bad examples, or inconsistent examples of that perspective. That’s just what this whole thing is. It is an attempt to paint reformed theology as an extremist version of Christianity, and that its fullest form can lead to what this alleged gunman arrived at: antisemitism and white supremacy. But of course, the fullest form of reformed theology recognizes no such sinful ideologies. This is an utterly deficient view of reformed theology. It’s an insult to even say this is a subset, deficient view; it is not recognizable as reformed theology at all.

This straw man is what I will expose in this article, and then I will deal with the need to stop with this blame game exercise and instead be consistent (I certainly will be consistent with reformed theology) in rightly putting the blame where it belongs. Unlike the progressive think tanks out there who try real hard not to make socialist Venezuela real socialism by slapping “democratic” on the front to put lipstick on the pig as a way to create the false narrative of addressing straw men against socialism, we in the reformed community know what we believe, and are so confident in it, that we can truly defend it against these kinds of false attacks on our theology.

Calvinism as Justified Murder?

Evidently, the shooter was Calvinistic in his theology and used that to justify his shooting. According to sources, in his manifesto, he sums up Calvinism and how it views the triune work of God. He says that he was chosen by the Father, saved by the Son and is kept by the Holy Spirit. That is, in a nutshell, what Calvinism is teaching. Calvinism is the soteriological doctrine that salvation is a work of God, predestined before the world began.

It has a strong emphasis on God’s absolute sovereignty over all time and space, which means that the future is not simply a thing God knows about, but that it’s entire reality is decreed by God. Consequentially, that means that the ultimate destiny of all human beings has already been divinely predestined. For a further explanation of Calvinism, see my article here.

It would appear, then, that the shooter used predestination as a scapegoat to the shooting, and presumes on his own eternal security that, no matter what he does, he will not die in his sins, because he is elect. This of course is a gross violation of not only Calvinism, but a crucial element of Reformed Theology–dare I even say plain Christian theology. But particularly in the realm of Calvinism, you are hard pressed, browsing through reformed teachers for a few minutes, not to find one of them criticizing strongly the idea that because you were born in a Christian home, and even an orthodox Presbyterian home, baptized as a baby into the covenant, that you’re saved.

I’m not Presbyterian, as I said (I am reformed baptist), but even I will defend my Presbyterian brothers here fervently that what it seems like is this young man used his baptism into the covenant as a means to presume he is saved. That is absolutely not what the paedobaptist position believes for a second. It is, as I said, a gross and serious misunderstanding of the position. The paedobaptist position is rather a means of grace, a sign of the covenant, and a faithful covenantal father fulfills his duties as the head of a house to initiate his children into the new covenant as they did with circumcision in the old covenant. It was not to declare the child saved, it was rather the duty of a father, faithful to the covenant to baptize his children.

The kicker, of course, is that we all know that Scripture teaches clearly that just because a boy was circumcised, did not mean he got his ticket to heaven punched. Just as the concept of the sign of the covenant continues into the new, so does the concept of reprobation (even being within the covenant community) carry over.

Election Unto Repentance: True Faith

Furthermore, if you read Calvin’s Institutes, Calvin spends laborious time on the doctrine of faith and repentance to explain what it does to a genuine, elect believer, and as an antithesis, what it does not do. Yes, salvation is a work of God, but the consequence of this is that God will begin to work in the heart of His elect to a degree that brings repentance, stronger faith, and servant-hood to God and to others. If the opposite is happening, that’s a sign of reprobation, not a sign of salvific election.

The elect of God are known by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). The good fruit we are speaking of is the growing in holiness, the obedience to God’s laws (Psalm 1, 19) and increasing faith and knowledge in Him. As Jesus says, if you love him, keep his commandments (John 14:15). One of those commandments is that you shall not commit murder (Exodus 20:13). If someone is not heeding to any of this, they can spout their election all they want, it’s a false profession.

Paul, in Ephesians 2, also says that we were “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before hand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). We are elected unto good works, righteous deeds, love, kindness, forgiveness and gentleness towards others. Not to murder others. Vengeance is absolutely forbidden for a Christian. Paul prohibits this idea strongly in Romans 12:19, declaring by the Holy Spirit that it is God who takes vengeance. So even if one makes the argument that the Jews of today are responsible for the death of Jesus, to kill them in response is vengeance, strictly forbidden by God.

Hence, the shooter evidently shows a massive deficiency in understanding what the doctrine of election means, and proves the contrary, that he is under the judgment of God, not under His grace. Using God’s predestination as a license to sin is also another symptom of reprobation. The author of the Hebrews warns his audience in a similar context:

[26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.] -Hebrews 10:26-31 (ESV).

If you are familiar with Hebrews, what is most striking about its totality is that contextually, the author is exhorting, rebuking and warning, not pagan idolaters, but professing covenanters of God. Yes, that is professing believers.

A true child of God, elected and regenerated by the Spirit (and the Spirit does not entice anyone to sin) desires to obey Him, to put off their own sin, and they do not use God’s sovereign provision of forgiveness, justification and eternal security in Christ as a means to sin, and sin so deliberately as to commit murder. This is a fundamental teaching of Calvinistic doctrine. Election is not based on our presumption, it’s based on the God-breathed testimony of Scripture as to what a true, regenerate sinner acts like.

Replacement Theology

I’ve dealt with this accusation already in another article here, where I write a more extensive and detailed argument for covenant theology. So I will not waste time here going through what anyone can find easily on my blog, and all over YouTube with a simple search. But, it’s worth while to make brief comments on this straw man against covenant theology.

The section in which the Washington Post article criticizes (and therefore tries to make a connection to antisemitism) begins by articulating a dispensational position:

“Evangelical leaders often point to the strong support of Israel by conservative Christians in the United States as evidence that evangelicals today embrace Jews. That support of Israel is based in part on Christian theology that claims Jewish people must be in their homeland of Israel to bring about the eventual second coming of Jesus.”

That is what dispensationalism believes. It believes that the land promises God made to Abraham have to be fulfilled. It goes on from there to say this:

“But the branch of Christianity that [the shooter] comes from does not share that belief, Messiah College historian John Fea pointed out. In Reformed denominations, including [the shooter’s] Presbyterian tradition, “replacement theology” teaches that the Christian church has replaced the Jewish people in God’s biblical promises to Israel.”

That there is the straw man. Reformed theology does not teach that the church has replaced Israel. Again, for a fuller explanation, either go look at covenant theology explained by reputable teachers, or read my article on the subject. Covenant theology argues that God has fulfilled His promise to Abraham when He brought Israel, led by Joshua, to the promised land (Joshua 1, 4). That promise to Abraham had already been fulfilled. But even the author of Hebrews says that the land promise was not the true promise of God that we were to look for (Hebrews 4:8).

Paul, in Romans 4, takes that very promise, looks forward to a greater fulfillment that is in Christ, and that promise is to inherit the world (Romans 4:13). The idea that God still has a land promise to fulfill to ethnic Israel is not taught in Scripture. Does this mean that ethnic Israel is cut off and now can be condemned by God? Not at all. The whole point of the nation of Israel was to be the catalyst for God’s greater and ultimate purpose for Jew and Gentile to be redeemed in Christ (Galatians 3:28) and hence, being such, we inherit the world–the world is the promised land, not Palestine.

Paying Penance to Society

The title to this section is, I know, somewhat out of place. But there’s a purpose to the dramatic nature of it. The other day, in a Facebook group, I stumbled across a post from someone who appeared to be trying to use the shooting as a means to justify criticism of Calvinism. This was not posted by a secularist, but by a Christian. That, I think, is very significant. In the Washington Post article, it cites a Reverend Duke Kwon who appears to have made the audacious claim that while many people rejected the idea that the shooter was espousing genuine Christian beliefs, he believed differently.

The person in that Facebook group I just mentioned had a history of using genetic fallacy argumentation to connect Calvinism to slavery in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. Now they are using this shooting to connect Calvinism to antisemitism and an evident desire for mass shootings. I think any Calvinist, and reasonable person outside Calvinism can and ought to see how absolutely offensive this is, not to mention absurd. This is the first time in modern history of a shooting done by a professed Calvinist, and now suddenly Calvinism is treated as if it is causing mass shootings? This was, at best, an anomaly.

I made sure this person knew how offensive that is, and what I get in response is the accusation that I, as a Calvinist, am trying to downplay this man’s sin. The Washington Post article pulls a similar move:

But while some said [the shooter’s] background in the church has nothing to do with his alleged crime, and the church shouldn’t have to answer for him, others called for a moment of reckoning.

That’s a huge problem right there. As I told this individual, I as a Calvinist am not responsible for the utter abuse of its theological system by another sinner, and I refuse to apologize for it. I have nothing to apologize for. That man is responsible for his own sin, and he will answer for it. The reformed worldview is not responsible for this twisted version that I have shown here to be a twisted, unbiblical view of reformed theology. The article attempts to expose a double standard (again, all of this ultimately is to attack biblical, conservative Christianity) on evangelicalism:

“When there’s an act of ‘radical Islamic terror’ — somebody claiming they’re motivated by their Islamic faith — if we’re going to call upon moderates in Muslim communities to condemn those things, we should do the same. I wholeheartedly, full stop, condemn white nationalism,” said Chad Woolf, an evangelical pastor in Fort Myers

I don’t know who pastor Chad Woolf is, but I can tell him that I too condemn white nationalism, or white supremacy, but I don’t do that as some form of penance that I owe to society for the actions of a man who happens to claim for himself, not simply the religious worldview I adhere to, but to a theology within that worldview that I also adhere to.

Additionally, I do not, nor have I ever, after an Islamic terrorist attack condemned the religion of Islam for it. I don’t ask or demand Muslims around the world to separate themselves from these radicals or be accused of aiding and abiding them. That’s virtue signalling and I refuse to engage in such mob-like tactics. Instead, I will do what all Christians ought to do, and hold the evil-doers accountable before God, and that they will answer for their actions.

The sinful depravity of fallen, corrupted man leads evil men to do evil things. Yes, that is a reformed doctrine. There is nothing reformed about holding a group of people accountable for the sins of their ancestors. Religion doesn’t lead men to commit vile acts of sin. Religion becomes a catalyst, a gateway to act upon what is already deep inside the very core of their being. Sinners sin. Hence, the removal or shaming of a religion doesn’t do anything to end the disease.

The Bible teaches that man is desperately wicked (Romans 3) and that he uses any means he can to suppress the truth (Romans 1), and that comes in the form of religion, even. So what is the solution? The solution is that men need a new heart, not a new lifestyle, nor a new religion. The doctrine of regeneration (a reformed doctrine, by the way) teaches that no man will ever truly change, repent and be restored unless he is given a new heart.

[ 25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.] -Ezekiel 36:25-26 (ESV).

The prophet Ezekiel declares on behalf of the LORD that God, in the new covenant, will cleanse His people, and give them a new heart. That’s what we need–a new heart. This Jesus taught consistently, and especially in the gospel of John, where Jesus talks about the very heart and core of a person, and that it was because of this that we did not need new life lessons, or moral reminders–we all knew about it clearly. What we needed was a rebirth in such a way, into such a new life that we would be able to obey that which God commands of us.

But until that happens, a person will always run off into sin and love the sin. They will never see the world in the way God does, and hence never seek to reconcile His creation to Him as He seeks to do. The reprobate never desire any of this. And since this man saw fit to murder image-bearers of God in such cold blood, how can it be said he is one of God’s children?

This idea that Christians and most especially Calvinists have a special penance to pay as a result of the wicked heart of this young man is truly offensive, and as I said, I won’t be doing any such thing. Instead, as a consistent Christian and Calvinist, I will point to the real, biblical problem of his heart. He is evil and wicked at the core, and needs a rebirth of the heart that would cause true Christian living. That goes for everyone. The answer is, and always will be the gospel.

It’s one thing for the secularists and the progressives to harp onto this idea of a group or sect paying penance for the sins of one who allegedly belongs to their group, it’s another for Christians to be calling for it from others. That is not a biblical idea by any stretch of the imagination. One might try and say that it is taught clearly in the fall and headship of Adam, but the argument demonstrates further a misunderstanding of this fundamental Christian doctrine.

We are not punished for Adam’s particular sin of eating the fruit. That is not accounted to me in Original Sin. What is mine to bear is the corruption that Adam passes down to me as being under his federal headship. That corrupt nature that affects every aspect of my being is what leads me to sin, and what brings me under the righteous judgment of God. That isn’t the same thing as the racial, or cultural concept of original sin. That is unbiblical. The truth of Scripture is that every single one of us, all on an equal level, stand condemned and in need of mercy before a holy God, and hence the gospel of peace, forgiveness and reconciliation is the answer, through and through for all sin and pain.

Antisemitism, Predestination and Reconciliation

I saved this section for last because what I wish to say here I think is a fitting end to this article I have written in response to the Washington Post article, and to those, particularly Christians, who wish to use this tragedy to score political points against reformed theology.

Here I will tackle the notion that the shooter believed he was justified in his targeting of Jews because it was the Jews who murdered Jesus. That’s actually not entirely true. It is true, particularly at Pentecost, Peter rebukes the Jews, charges them with murder against their own Messiah (Acts 2:23). But later, the Bible says it was also the Romans and the cowardly governor Pilate who were held accountable for the murder of Jesus too:

[27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.] -Acts 4:27-28 (ESV).

That is, Jews and Gentiles were responsible for the death of Jesus. So if the shooter were to really take his argument to its conclusion, he should be killing anyone on sight. Antisemitism based off of biblical language is absolute foolishness, evil, and utterly senseless. It has to take Scripture and twist it. As I said, it is a subset, sub-biblical concept. It takes bits and pieces here and there and ignores everything else. No one who is truly desiring to honor God, and thereby honor His word by basing their theology off a full understanding of all of Scripture would ever come to this debase, disgusting idea of antisemitism.

Notice again that this event was indeed predestined by God. Yes, it was God’s plan all along that the Messiah would be crucified. That is, God used the men involved in the crucifixion to fulfill His own purposes, which are always good.

“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.” -Genesis 50:20 (ESV).

This right here is crystallized in the gospel. What men mean for evil, God always, always means for good. The same is in the crucifixion, which is the apex of this verse. What the evil Jewish leaders meant for evil, what the Gentiles meant for evil, to murder their God, God always intended it to save many who yet live, who will live eternally, to inherit that promise. That day was evil and wicked, but God, as He always does, redeemed it in the person of Christ because He is able, He is God, He is unstoppable. He is that good.

That is what God does for all of us who believe in Christ. All our pain, all our suffering has a purpose. As Paul says, God works all things to the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). He knows more than anything your pain and suffering, because He predestined it. Why? Because He has a purpose in it. Ephesians 1 gives glory in our election to God and God alone because He is merciful (Ephesians 1:3-5).

Therefore I would like to submit here to all those who have suffered as a result of this terrible tragedy and the wicked sins of an individual who used God’s sovereign decree by which that man had no right to use for sin, and he will be judged for it, to all of those affected by this, as a Calvinist, I propose to you the God of the Bible, who holds your destiny in His hand. He knows you deeper than you ever could, because He formed you. I would submit to you that your suffering, being under His divine authority, and Him always having a good purpose in all that He decrees, has a good purpose for you in that suffering. He can redeem your pain if you trust in Him. I don’t know how He will, as I am today still seeing my own pain being reconciled.

But my great comfort in knowing all the pain I endure daily is that God has a purpose in all of it. I know that whatever happens to me is for my good, and God knows that better than anyone. I rest in that sovereignty and that God I propose to you. Be reconciled to Him in Jesus Christ. Jesus is that Messiah that the Jews were waiting for–the Scriptures declare it. And now you need a God who can reconcile the pain you feel. So be reconciled to Him, and repent and believe in Jesus Christ today.

Textual Criticism and Authority

I am a regular listener to Dr. James White’s The Dividing Line that he normally broadcasts on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons weekly. Lately, Dr. White has been dealing with the issue of what we call Textual Criticism. Textual criticism is a crucial area of study for Christian scholars (and should be done only by Christian scholars, frankly) to help unveil better clarity on the original nature of the original books of Scripture.

I personally find the subject very fascinating as a kind of outsider to it. I am not a scholar, nor trained in the Greek or Hebrew. I am simply one who loves history, and hence the history of the manuscripts of sacred Scripture. But more than this, the study of textual criticism is not simply geeking out on the history of biblical manuscripts. It’s an extremely important area that Christians should be aware of. Although I am not in any way a trained scholar on this subject, I can at least grasp the basic, fundamental issues as a layperson and use these important facts in apologetic contexts, in a time when it’s more needed than ever. Already in several evangelistic situations I have had to get into the subject (though mostly in brief) of the transmission of Scripture to demonstrate that Jesus’s words, “Heaven and earth may pass away, but my words will by no means pass away” in Matthew 24:35 are true.

We have a great and luscious wealth of manuscript evidence for the reliability of our sacred texts today, more than we have of anything in antiquity. One of the things I love to talk about most is how remarkably well-kept Scripture is today, and how Jesus’s words of Matthew 24:35 have, in fact, been kept true.

But there is a sect of Christians which we might call the TR-Only Advocates, or the Traditional Text Advocates who seem to be making the case against textual criticism and its wonderful discoveries. “TR” stands for Textus Receptus (Latin for “Received Text”). The TR is a text created by the sixteenth century Roman Catholic scholar Desiderius Erasmus and has become a basis, if not the basis, of translations of the Bible in the Reformation (including the King James Bible). It is often considered a very “Protestant Bible” (despite having its origin in a Roman Catholic). It served as the base Greek translation for the vast majority of Protestant translations in the sixteenth century and on until the nineteenth century.

It would make sense, therefore, to see the Textus Receptus as very crucial and important to post-Protestant/Reformation translations of Scripture, such as the Geneva Bible, the Bishop’s Bible, the Tyndale Bible, and of course, the King James Bible; translations made by men of the Reformation. It is upon this basis that many of the TR advocates argue against the overall textual critical method of translation.

This of course is not all those who see the Alexandrian findings as unprofitable. There are others who are not necessarily TR-only, but still insist that the word of God has been purely kept in the Byzantine, or majority text family. And that of course, makes sense. The majority contains much that the Alexandrian (the minority) do not contain. That issue can be discussed later, what I wish to point out here, because I know that some will seek to misrepresent me, is that not all who reject the Alexandrian findings are TR-only. Not all are King James Only. For that purpose, I will distinguish in this article between them. When I use the term “TR-only” if you are not TR-only, instead of quoting me and accusing me of lumping everyone into one group, recognize that I said this of TR-onlyists, not you.

Presuppositional Apologetics

What I would like to do here is to demonstrate a very serious error in a category confusion that the TR-only movement engages in, and Dr. White has pointed out numerous times on his program, and that is the misuse of Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics to defend the TR. Presuppositionalism generally relies on what is known as the Transcendental Argument for the existence of God (TAG), which in essence argues that it is impossible to reason in any human capacity without starting with the presupposition of the triune God’s existence.

Presuppositional apologetics is almost entirely a reformed apologetic, and arguably the only consistent form of apologetics. It’s power lies in its ability to push any meaningful discussion back to foundations and epistemology. What is the necessary epistemological starting position to understand reality? On its face it sounds circular, and it actually is, but it is circular in what I would say is a positive sense of circular argumentation. It is circular in the sense that it does not need, nor does it ever look outside its own foundations for validation, due to its very nature. That is extremely important to grasp. It, in and of itself, contains all necessary principles to understand the subject in debate, including the subject of its self-existence. It is, as it were, self-sustaining.

Who else fits this description but God Himself? When an atheist asks us the question “Prove to me that God exists. Where is the evidence?” he’s already asking the wrong question. The argument implies God’s existence depends on the universe to exist, and hence, any way the Christian attempts to answer the question is to commit intellectual suicide. God does not require a universe to validate His existence, the universe requires Him. And it is starting with God’s own preexistence, His absolute, self-sustaining and life-governing ontological nature as the I AM that is necessary for anything to exist in the first place. So the bottom line is that the atheist’s question proves God’s existence because in the question assumes purpose, existence, person hood, meaning, reason and logic, none of which he or she has outside of the triune God.

The essence of presuppositionalism is that God is the standard because there is nothing over and above Him. The prophet Isaiah rhetorically asks, “Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows Him His counsel?” (Isaiah 40:13 ESV). In other words, who does God consult? What authority exists over Him that He should submit to in order to do as He wishes? The obvious answer is no one. He Himself is the counsel and standard. He doesn’t depend on anything to exist. In this way we demonstrate that God is the necessary, self-sufficient presupposition for all predication on anything regarding existence.

TR-Onlyism as Presuppositionalism?

It is upon this basis, and the basis of God’s sovereignty over time and space (the reformed doctrine of predestination) that the TR-only movement attempts to stand to demonstrate the validity of their position. As I said, presuppositional apologetics is essentially a reformed apologetic, and most of the TR people are reformed, being heavily influenced by the Reformers themselves, which is natural if they advocate the Textus Receptus (again, despite it being of a Roman Catholic priest). Reformed apologetics also has at its core the presupposition that the Spirit is who convicts men of sin, carries His saints, and it is the word of God, the inerrant sufficiency of God-breathed Scripture that brings God’s elect unto salvation. Therefore, the Scriptures are a divine revelation.

All of this I agree with, but the issue lies in utilizing this presupposition in defense of the TR, or even the majority text. The TR-only advocates believe that the Textus Receptus is the standard for all translations of the Bible in the same way that God Himself is the standard for all existence. A conflation seems to be involved here in arguing that since God is ontologically over and above His creation, His breathed-out word is as well, and hence is not tainted with the mist of time and the errors of man.

There really is a kind of new revelation concept coming from this movement, whether they will admit that or not. The idea is that at least 1500 years after the apostles and their writings and the Septuagint translation, etc., God gave us something new in the Textus Receptus that makes it over and above these older, therefore incredibly valuable manuscript findings. The TR seals the deal, as it were, and shuts the inquiry up forever. It’s almost as if canon has closed… again. For real this time.

The argument is, let’s toss aside these new findings and just stick with the TR as our standard text. The reasons for doing so may vary, but the premise is the same: the Textus Receptus is our ultimate text and why? Because the Reformers used it. It is a Protestant principle. Because the confessions and creeds of the Reformation utilize translations based on the TR, that makes it the inspired text, and to be reformed, and hence, to hold to reformed apologetics, you have to hold this position.

The problem is that saying that God is the presupposition for any predication of knowledge and truth is very different than saying that one particular received text, which was made through textual criticism that these people mostly reject, are the same concept. The former is a valid form of circular argumentation, and why? Because as we have shown, He is Himself the standard, He is self-sustaining, self-attested and by Him and through Him all things exist. That cannot be said of the ladder. The ladder came into existence at one point, and its existence depends upon prior manuscripts to exist. It does not derive its existence from itself.

I anticipate an objection at this point, and that is, “Doesn’t that then mean that divine revelation depends on Paul to exist?” After all, if I am going to say that the Textus Receptus exists based upon prior, external forces, doesn’t that mean God’s breathed-out Scripture does as well? Doesn’t that subject God to His creation? Well, the problem here again is an issue with categories, and arguing from a presupposition that the Textus Receptus is itself divine revelation. It is not, and this claim demonstrates a very subtle, yet serious confusion between divine revelation and a translation of divine revelation.

What Paul wrote is theopneustos (God-breathed). What scribes and translators centuries down the road copied of what Paul wrote through the ages is not theopneustos, and that I think is the real problem. This is a real confusion between divine revelation and transmission of that revelation into different languages and into mass quantity.

Ecclesiastical Authority Over Scripture

My concern here is the abuse of presuppositionalism, and perhaps a misunderstanding of what it actually is. Not long ago, in a post in the Reformed Presuppositional Apologetics group, someone had asked the group what our response would be to the accusation of corruption making the Bible unreliable. I read through some of the responses and though there were some truths, a good majority of the arguments demonstrated that within the reformed community are people who want to assert presuppositional apologetics who are having trouble understanding what it is.

The majority of answers were to respond by asking the accusers “What’s your standard?” There is an important time and place for that question, but the fact is that the question was directed to you, not them. Can you answer the question? Among many Christians claiming to hold presuppositional apologetics, there seems to be the idea that this justifies irrational responses, dismissing of objections and just throwing out, “What’s your standard?” everywhere, and that evidence serves virtually no purpose in any apologetic context. Listening to some of the TR-onlyists Dr. White was in dialogue with, some of them made the claim that because God is sovereign over time, He therefore can preserve the TR, and use heretics like Erasmus to do it. The problem is that not only is that really a simplistic answer, but I can use that just as well to defend textual criticism. If God can preserve His word in the TR, despite sinful men and through sinful men, why can He not preserve His word in the history of textual criticism, despite and through sinful men?

The fact of the matter is that presuppositional apologetics is not the outright refusal to engage objections through evidence. No one suggests of course that evidence is how we know God exists. Evidence is what supports God’s existence, and Christians should therefore not be afraid of it. This again is how we find the balance so that we don’t go overboard on either side of the boat.

It is upon this misunderstanding of what presuppositional apolgetics is that I think people tend to flock towards using ecclesiastical means to further defend this perspective. People seem to have confused presuppositionalism with sola ecclesia, the idea that the church being the institution of God, is a divine revelation in and of itself. In some sense, perhaps that is true, but things get dangerous when we treat the church as a heavenly institution, and being led by the Spirit hence makes infallible claims of authority over, in this case, translations of sacred Scripture.

I don’t think such persons do this intentionally, and I want to emphasize that. I’m not going to stoop to the childish ad hominem tactics of accusing the other side of being a quasi-Romanist bunch. But what I am saying is that despite our wanting to say one thing, we might actually be pushing something else when we confuse different things together, such as the difference between God’s self-attesting, necessity of being for any and all existence, and transmissions by other humans of God’s revelation to mankind. That becomes very dangerous. This is the kind of thinking that has begun to elevate the confessions and creeds of the Reformation to the standard of Scripture.

The Danger of Tradition

Many reformed Christians seem to have a greater instinct to fall back on the confessions rather than Scripture. I myself have read the creeds and confessions as a reformed Christian. I think they are great, wonderful tools of clarity. But I would not consider myself strictly confessional. Although I think they’re great, I’m not all that fascinated with them. Reading the works of the great Reformers is also a wonderful, important element of learning. I love reading Calvin’s Institutes regularly. But my friends, we must be careful not to treat these men as modern-day apostles. I think we are more prone to this than we like to admit.

I had a friend who just recently converted from a reformed baptist to Roman Catholic and it shocked me. He is a smart young man, who I thought was solid in the reformed faith. I found myself one day contemplating how such a smart young man, a great thinker and defender of the faith of the apostles could end up crossing the Tiber River (converting to Roman Catholicism). I think the answer lies in becoming too immersed in the writings of the church fathers over and above the Scriptures that establish them.

Don’t misunderstand me, I am not saying that church history is not important. It’s my love of church history that makes me write this article, and to defend textual criticism over this kind of textual ecclesiasticism. What I am saying is that I think many if not most of the converts to Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy happen because men put far too much faith in the church than they do the Scriptures. They confuse the words of church fathers with sacred Scripture itself.

We cannot afford to do that, and we also cannot afford to think that because we are reformed, because we carry the gospel in its most crystallized essence from the Apostles, we are immune to falling for traditions over and above Scripture. It troubles me when I hear reformed Christians speak of Calvinism as being “the gospel”. It’s not an utterly untrue statement, but it can be taken as one. I’m uncomfortable with it, and avoid it myself.

I think of John the Baptist when he rebuked the Pharisees and Sadducees. He told them to repent, for the kingdom of God was at hand, and before they even opened their mouth in response, what did he tell them? Do not presume that because you are sons of Abraham that you are safe. The promise doesn’t come by privilege (Matthew 3:7-10). In the same way, we cannot presume to think that because we stand on reformed confessions, creeds, and synods that we are safe. That is the heart and sole of sola ecclesia, not Sola Scriptura. The two are not the same thing by any stretch of the imagination, and to confuse them is costly.

Conclusion

As I said in my opening, I am not a professional in this area. In fact, I have run this article by a friend of mine who is much more knowledgeable of this subject than I am so that I don’t get anything wrong. But while I can certainly, as an untrained layperson in this subject, get certain facts wrong, this doesn’t mean that I cannot grasp the basic issue of this subject.

Listening to the TR-only arguments against Dr. White as he goes through them on The Dividing Line are stunning. Much of my criticisms in this article are based on those responses that I could not believe I was hearing. The issue here is not complicated at all. Most of Dr. White’s criticisms go completely ignored, such as, if the TR is the basis of all proper translations (which again, exists based upon prior manuscripts that exist in the history of textual criticism), what in the world were the church fathers using in the forth and fifth century in Nicaea and Chalcedon?

But the response, so far as I can tell, has been nothing, because as Dr. White has said, tradition is being defended, not truth. Tradition is presumptuous, tradition is a pseudo-truth. It pretends to be a standard when it’s really just an empty shell that profits no one. The essence of the Reformation was to challenge the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church. But my friends, brothers and sisters, we cannot afford to presume on the Reformation itself. Like all good literature, Reformation writings and teachings point you to Christ, they don’t claim to be the door or gate themselves.

This of course doesn’t go for all the TR advocates. I wanted to be very careful to differentiate between TR-onlyists, and TR-preference. If you prefer the Textus Receptus, that’s fine. If you think it’s more reliable, that is fine too. But this becomes dangerous when it becomes a fundamental, it becomes a kind of dogma, because it has no basis in foundational truth, and when you are standing upon something that is not self-attested, founded and rooted in truth, the only thing left is traditionalism, and the only thing that can defend that is ecclesiasticism, which is what the Reformation was fighting.