I have been using the phrase “post-Christian” in sermons for a while now to try to help my congregants navigate our society. But I have decided to retire it. I had been using the term because it does accurately capture the loss of a “center” in American culture. This center consisted of concepts such as the existence of God, the moral nature of the universe, and the need for personal virtue as expressed in classic Judeo-Christian ethics such as the 10 Commandments or the Sermon on the Mount. The younger generations have been robbed of these foundations, leaving the secular gods to battle it out for dominance. So “post-Christian” captured that. However:
“Post-Christian” is not accurate because nothing can be post-Christian.
Christianity will be the only religion standing because Christ will be the last one standing: everyone else will be kneeling. Like all generations we can only see backwards in time from our place in history, so we tend to view ourselves as indicative of how things are going to go: we have never learned the lesson of Ozymandias. But God is the God of the unexpected. The God who sees the end from the beginning. The God who humbles empires and exalts the humble. The God who directs the progress of His great salvation like a river through time. The eschaton towards which we are inexorably marching is an eternity of God pouring out His love on us through Christ Jesus, and there is no end to this marriage feast. There is nothing on the other side, so nothing is truly post-Christian.
“Post-Christian” is not accurate because the fundamental nature of the world has not changed and only Christianity can account for it with any sort of philosophical coherence.
The world is constantly trying to progress with no clue what it is they are progressing towards. Invariably, the world winds up producing philosophies that cannot account for the way the world actually is, and so they have to fall back on pretending the nature of the created world is different than what it is. This is why worldly philosophies are schizophrenic. Nietzche promotes the superman but he is a sickly little fellow. Cultural Marxists desperately acquire power while maintaining that the powerful are ruining the world. Post-modernists boast in the axiom that there are no axioms. Materialists claim there is nothing but matter and yet have invented gender. Only the unexpected contours of Christian doctrine trace the strange contours of the world in which we live. So the world God created will always be best described by the Book that God wrote.
Third, “post-Christian” wrongly implies that the best times are behind us.
It implies that Christianity had been tried and discarded as somehow unsuitable.
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
The thing about discarded religions and philosophies is that they become paragraphs or chapters in academic works, whereas Christianity is constantly being reborn from generation to generation. If you want to learn about Stoicism then you’ll have to pick up a book; if you want to learn about Christianity you go to a church. It would be more accurate to say that our current world is a Pre-Christian world. And because of this, we have hope that the younger generations (like the Millenials and the I-Gens) will turn to God in greater numbers and with greater passion than we expect.
If you have ever watched The Bachelor, you and I probably have nothing in common. Just kidding. But not really. It would not matter to me if this show got canceled, but it is instructive that the host got canceled. Which you can read about here, but the short version is that a contestant on the show attended an Antebellum themed party in 2018. Her social media history, as well as her dad’s voting record, were then gone through with a fine tooth comb. Chris Harrison, who has hosted the show since its debut almost 20 years ago, suggested that before the mob came for her with pitchforks they should show a little grace. This led to a Change.org petition to cancel him, which worked.
There is no way for people to be non-religious. Look at that most atheistic societies in our world, like North Korea, and you will find all the pageantry, worship, and formalism of the most advanced temple rituals. All religions seek after righteousness, which may come in the form of enlightenment or spiritual advancement or perhaps something as basic as the favor of the gods. But in all man-made religions, the effort of the worshiper to attain this righteousness is necessary. This plays out for us in the Bachelor cancellation case as the contestant failed to properly honor the code and by suggesting her sins were not worthy of immediate condemnation, Harrison associated himself with her sins. His way back to righteousness? To own his shame in an abject apology that is now well scripted by every PR firm in America: I deeply regret my insensitivity. I realize now that my words/behavior were harmful to the __________ community and I am going to spend some time reflecting on my own privilege.
All of which led me to think about how truly breathtaking the gospel of Jesus Christ really is, and how offensive is its grace! Sins – real ones, not the imagined ones of the current demos – that were unpardonable are wiped clean in a moment. The Samaritan woman who has had five husbands and is now shacked up with another man finds herself talking in public about Jesus with the very crowd she used to hide from in shame. The greedy tax collector who pads his pockets with the hard earned money of his own kinsman dines with the Master. The thief dying on the cross for crimes he committed will soon be in Paradise. The “sinner” woman who washes the feet of Jesus with her tears and dries them with her hair is sent on her way washed from her sins. The fisherman who denies knowing His own Savior becomes the first to preach the resurrection of that Savior. How momentously instant is the pardon of God! And yes, this grace is not “cheap grace”. The tax collector returns the money he stole. The fisherman goes to his own martyrdom. The repentance is genuine. But it is not effort on the part of the penitent but grace on the part of God that makes the difference.
But how offensive this gospel is to the self righteous. In what is perhaps the most explicit parable of God’s attitude toward His rebellious children, Jesus tells the story of the prodigal son. This story ends with the joy of a father at receiving back his lost son, but the bitter resentment of one brother towards his own Father for offering such undeserved pardon. This attitude of resentment, judgmentalism, and superiority were characterized by those in Israel who thought themselves to have no need of a physician, and thought little of those that did. Another parable of Jesus focuses on the forgiveness received by the penitent publican who smote his own breast while publicly acknowledging his unworthiness to even lift his eyes toward heaven, versus the self confidence of the Pharisee who was satisfied to be superior to the publican. Which one went on his way justified?
This kind of gospel is not just on the pages of Scripture, but actually plays out around us in every day life. But for brevity, let me choose a couple of rare jewels to illustrate the larger point. Corrie ten Boom’s family hid Jewish refugees from Nazi’s in their home in the Netherlands until they were betrayed by a fellow Dutchman in 1944. Corrie and her sister Betsy were sent to Ravensbruck, a brutal Nazi death camp, while her father died in a prison cell. At Ravensbruck they were beaten, starved, raped, and Betsy was killed. Throughout all of this, Corrie kept her faith in God and returned to Ravensbruck in 1947 to share the message of God’s forgiveness to the German people who had so cruelly treated her family. But she could not have known that one man who listened to her speak of the gospel that day was the very guard who has mostly cruelly abused and terrorized her. Following her evangelism, he reached out his hand to her. Because she believed that Christ had forgiven her sins, she took his hand. She did not cancel him.
Compare that to the “sins” of Woke-ism and you can see how petty are its gods and how shallow is its grace. Even the mention of grace makes it froth at the mouth, eager not for mercy but for blood. Man made religions find the gospel of Jesus Christ scandalous. This is why there is no salvation or reconciliation in the new secular order. But in the gospel of Jesus Christ, there is pardon for every sin, because Jesus has taken the sins of the world upon His shoulders. The blood debt has already been paid by Jesus Christ, and so there is room for forgiveness at His Table. Because the mob cried “Crucify him!” you are able to forgive others. Freely you have received pardon; freely offer pardon. If your brother – your own brother! – sins against you seven times in a day you are to turn and forgive him. This is why in the church there is no wall between Jew and Gentile, between black and white, between poor and rich, or between powerful and powerless. In the Church, we are all powerless before God who extends mercy to all. But this is an offense to those who feel more worthy of grace than others.
I leave you with one more story of the grace of God, this one closer to our day and age. Botham Jean was in his own apartment when he was shot and killed by Amber Guyger, who claimed that she had gotten confused and believed she was walking into her own apartment. After her conviction, Botham’s brother Brandt was allowed to give a victim-impact statement, and rather than pour out his own wrath and bitterness he offered a reckless, free, lavish offer of grace that ended in forgiveness. Brandt refused to cancel the one who deprived him of his own brother.
I am grateful to many of those in Christ who hold to the theological perspective known as Calvinism. I believe Calvinism, with its high view of God, provided a much needed correction to the man centered religion that was threatening to overwhelm the American Church in the 20th century. I have been blessed by the writings of men like JI Packer and John MacArthur (among others) and would recommend their books and commentaries to anyone. Additionally, I was in Bible College during the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement, so I have seen many of my contemporaries embrace Reformed Theology.
I did not grow up hearing the doctrines of Calvinism explicitly preached and I remember my first encounter with it in high school via a discussion with a teacher at the secular school that I attended. Most of the preaching that I heard in my Baptist circles was not Calvinistic in nature, and could sometimes be anti-Calvinistic. In Bible College, I threw away any misgivings that I had one way or the other and determined that I would be whatever I was convinced the Bible taught, whether that be “Arminian” or “Calvinist”. That is a position I maintain today: to be whatever the Scripture teaches me to be.
That introduction is to communicate that though I write today against the doctrine of Limited Atonement, I believe this to be an intramural discussion among genuine believers. While I don’t have an ax to grind (in the sense that I have some personal animosity towards Calvinism), the position I take is that Limited Atonement, which states that Christ died only for the elect, is incorrect. The most pungent defense of limited (or “definite atonement” or “particular atonement”) comes from the great theologian John Owen:
God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for, either  all the sins of all men, or  all the sins of some men, or  some sins of all men. If the last, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved…. If the second, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world. If the first, why, then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.” But this unbelief, is it a sin or not? If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins. Let them choose which part they will (173–74; cf. 234).
The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, John Owen
Being that modern theologians such as Piper and Packer have both acclaimed this theological work as unrivaled, it bears thinking through the nature of this work and this paragraph in particular. Notice that Owen does not engage with the text in this paragraph (although he does in other places) but rather uses a form of logic/argumentation. He presents us with 3 options for why Christ underwent the pains of hell and then dismisses 2 of them as being unsatisfactory, leaving us with the conclusion that Christ must have died only for the elect. For Owen, the central question is what was the purpose of Christ’s death on the cross, which leads to the limited number of choices he offers in the quotation above. This point of Calvinism frequently falls back on a similar chain of logical reasoning rather than an engagement with the texts, for the simple reason that it takes a massive amount of hermeneutical gymnastics to make the following texts say something that accords with Limited Atonement:
The Biblical Texts
1 John 2:2 And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.
2Peter 2:1 But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.
Besides these verses, there are a host of verses that describe Christ’s redemptive work impacting the world, such as John 3:16, Hebrews 2:9, and Isaiah 53:6. In each case, a serious exegetical assault has to be mounted on the plain reading of the text in order to accommodate the doctrine of Limited Atonement. Let’s just think about 1 John 2:2. Is there any basis for treating the phrase “sins of the whole world” to mean “sins of other believers not present here at this time”? It would be a unique use of “world”. Furthermore, if John wanted to communicate something other than an unlimited scope to Christ’s work, why did he construct the sentence to be so easily misunderstood? There is no textual variant, no strange Greek word, nor any grammatical rule that can rescue these texts from the hands of those who hold to an Atonement available for more than the Elect.
Because Calvin himself used many biblical phrases such as “our Lord Jesus suffered for all” there is still some controversy surrounding whether he actually held to Limited Atonement. Trevin Wax addresses this in his 2009 post on this topic. In that post he states “Saying that Christ has died for the sins of the world is not necessarily a denial of limited atonement. It is simply the way that the Bible speaks of redemption. Interpret those verses however you want, but don’t be afraid to speak the way the Bible speaks.” The problem is that in speaking that way, one is led to the conclusion that the atonement reaches farther than the Elect who will believe. Words have consequences, even if they are theological consequences.
The first issue I have with the logic espoused by Owen is that it puts us in the awkward position of judging God. Owens implies that if we adopt a view of an unlimited atonement then we must say that Christ has failed in achieving the purpose for which He died on the cross. But are we to say that because Adam and Eve sinned in the garden that God somehow failed? Or that Israel’s failure to keep the Covenant reflects a flaw in God’s plan? Or that the Church’s sometimes lackluster Witness means that the sanctifying work of Christ is not coming to pass? Even if we adjust our statement concerning the purpose of Christ’s death to be something like “to provide salvation for all of mankind” I still would not want to pursue this line of reasoning. “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” Let us not apply syllogisms beyond our pay grade.
Secondly, I have often wondered why those who are such sound Bible interpreters in other matters make such an obvious mistake when it comes to the texts I cite above. I believe the answer is that the 5 points are mutually affirming and the fear is that if one falls then the entire tapestry begins to unravel. Consider the following from Piper, “They (Arminians) deny, specifically, that the death of Christ was not only intended by God to obtain benefits for people after they believe (which is true), but even more, Christ’s death was intended by God to obtain the very willingness to believe.” This means that if Unlimited Atonement is adopted then a support for other points of Calvinism (Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Irresistible Grace) is lost. This feature of Calvinism – of being presented as a hermetically sealed system – often results in a “stage cage” (a phrase even Calvinists sometimes use!) wherein all narratives, truths, texts, and conversations wind up at the Sovereignty of God in Salvation.
And I think that they are right to be concerned (from their perspective) because I have experienced that myself. As I studied the “doctrines of grace” I could feel myself being pulled into their gravitational force. But once the alignment was broken (through my studies on the extent of the atonement), I felt as though I could think about each tenet more freely. Rather than the pull of a singular star, I felt as though as the heavens were littered with glorious truths, among which shined many of the doctrines contained in Calvinism. You might say that when the light of Limited Atonement was extinguished, a thousand constellations took its place.
The Actual Conclusion
I doubt anything I just wrote will convince a committed 5 pointer. I may get shot at from the other side for being overly generous. But, like Luther, my conscience is held captive to the Word of God, and that Word clearly and often teaches that in some way, shape, and form the death of Christ extends beyond the Elect. Perhaps we could see the glorious Truths of Scripture more clearly if we could extinguish the glare of this error.
For whatever reason, the mechanics I tend to use have been really busy lately and so it occurred to me that as I am a competent adult male I should start changing my own oil. This led to replacing a failed power steering pump, which led me to consider the whole concept of maintaining my own vehicles. I could write a blog on twenty reasons you should let a mechanic service your vehicle, but I have actually enjoyed the work and thought of 5 (theological) reasons you should change your own oil, because four reasons was too few and six was – let’s face it – too many.
To Reinforce the Ontological Realities of the Created World
God created the world and everything in it by wisdom. Things in His world have a nature and operate a certain way. But in our world there are some people who think that this is some kind of myth. That 2 plus 2 does not in fact equal 4. God help us if those people ever start building planes. If you change your own oil you will not be one of those people. You will recognize that a 13mm bolt head does require a 13mm socket, no matter how much you may wish it required a 14mm. And if you come to that conclusion, you may find yourself wondering along with Professor Kirk, “What do they teach at school these days!” The more theoretical schools become the more outlandish the theories become. Your shop teacher had his finger (one of the ones left) on reality more than your social studies teacher did.
2. To Steward the Possessions with which you have been entrusted
By this I do not mean that you will save money servicing your own vehicle because you may not. You may do such a poor job of it that your motor blows up and you go to bed every night wishing you had never read this blog. But there is value in knowing how things work, especially the things that you possess. A couple of decades ago a friend of mine who knew a thing or two about his car took his vehicle to a quick change oil place where he was told that his vehicle needed some thingy-ma-jigger replaced. But since he knew his vehicle and had been watching the technician through a window, he knew that they had never even looked at the thing-ma-jigger in question so he knew not to waste money replacing it, or to ever return to that business establishment. This is but one example of how it is beneficial to know stuff. If you own something, you should know something about it. When God put Adam into the garden he assigned him the task of naming the animals, which had something to do with figuring what exactly they were.
3. Because you’re a man.
We are still within the orbit of political correctness among evangelicals when we suggest that there is a difference between men and women. But God forbid you try to define that difference! Man (as opposed to female) was made to have dirt under his fingernails: he was a gardener. It’s manly to be able to work on cars. It’s manly to have bloody knuckles. It’s manly to fix stuff. It’s manly to smell sweaty and oily and look like you just crawled out from under a car. Your wife will think so and your home will be filled with babies.
4. To Sustain a Sense of the Miraculous
You may think that a mechanic is the most prosaic person on the face of the earth, but he is actually a sorcerer. In the land of make believe, some noble personage is held captive by the curse of a witch until by courage or by luck or by skill she is freed with some phrase or deed. So the mechanic frees the oil trapped in the motor by one twist of his wrist. It is no less magical because he has done it a thousand time before, just as the witches curse is no less magical because she has used it upon a thousand people. And the point is proved when some child is present to squeal with delight when a motor starts or a tiny kitchen volcano explodes or 7 quarts of oil cascades down into the pan. We do not bother to explain to them that these are just the rules of our world because it would make no difference. They are not excited that there are no rules, but that the rules themselves are quite magical. They have not grown tired of physics or gravity just as the sun has not grown tired of running his daily course.
5. To learn gratitude and respect
As I wrestled with two wrenches and a pulley puller (for my power steering fluid pump), the sun beating down on my back and my knuckles torn as my hands slipped on sweat and hydraulic fluid, I decided that I would stop complaining about my job. I was thankful for the patient O’Reilly employee (Austin in Ozark, BTW) who willing showed me the correct way to use the pulley puller and even lent me a wrench as the ones I had brought did not include the right size. I thought about the mechanics and the masons and the landscapers and the contractors of all shapes and sizes – round being a popular one as they age – that make our worlds run. And I was glad that engines are not designed by politicians and that plumbing is not installed by bureaucrats.
I may not always change my own oil, but at least once in your life – you should. And if you do so having never done so before, find a guy who keeps oil and tools in his garage and ask him to help you your first time so you don’t blow your car up.
A friend of mine recently bought a backyard play set for his kids off of Facebook Market. He has a little pickup truck and thought that they could find a way to make it fit, but as it turns out some dismantling was necessary. Actually, lots of dismantling was necessary. A UHaul was commandeered and something in the neighborhood of 60+ large lag bolts were removed in order to shove it into the box truck. Upon completion of the re-assembly in their own backyard, they were surprised to find a few lag bolts left-over with no idea where they might go.
“Dismantled” is how I feel on most Mondays. The efforts and personal investment of a day of ministry on Sunday is less devastating or exhausting than it is dismantling. All the parts and pieces of myself are accounted for, they just happen to be lying around in a heap in the back of a box truck. My thoughts are not firmly attached to my purposes. My emotions are disconnected from the actual events of the day. Everything is raw. The first few days of each weeks are spent getting re-assembled.
This process has become familiar to me and, when I am rightly ordering my life, is less stressful and takes less time. It occurred to me that this experience is a fractal of the Christian life. We are constantly being dismantled as we, with unveiled faces, behold the glory of the Lord and are changed from glory to glory. The prophet is undone when he sees the holiness of God. The first time you meet the Lord is incredibly disconcerting, because everything you thought about yourself turned out to be wrong and everything you thought about God turned out to be unworthy of Him. You discover that you have been living life with a broken compass, a nonsense dictionary, and life insurance brokered by Mickey Mouse. You thought you were one of the wise on the face of the earth but when your eyes see the Lord, you abhor yourself and repent in ashes.
As you mature, these epochal shifts become less frequent as daily growth becomes the norm. But then there is a cataclysmic event and you find yourself, once again, undone. And when the storm passes and you are left like a disassembled heap on the ground, the slow work of re-assembling your life begins to take place. After it is all back together, you look down and discover, to your dismay, there are some left-over parts and pieces. Be not dismayed, dear friend, those are the reason the storm came. Those are the parts that didn’t belong in the beautiful portrait of grace that God is painting. He dismantled you so that those bolts of self-confidence and those brackets of self-pity would never again attempt to bear the surpassing weight of glory for which He is preparing you.
Periodically I am asked questions in my pastoral capacity and over the years this one has come up several times, so I thought I would share the way I answer. If you read history you will know that infant mortality was incredibly high in the past, but with the advancement of better medical practice the current rate for the US is 5.9 deaths per 1000 healthy births (up to age 1). In a way this makes the loss of a baby even more poignant as the experience may not be shared by as many people and the loss seem so preventable.
When people ask me to speak to this tragedy, I know there are a lot of possibilities as to where they are coming from. They may have a holistic grasp of the Bible and know that death is the punishment for sin, so they may just be looking for comfort through the hope of the gospel. On the other hand, they may think that God just wants everyone to be happy and so they cannot reconcile their loss with their concept of God. I’m sure there are a variety of other thoughts and emotions that these dear people may be experiencing based on their own personalities, relationships, and circumstances. Based on this, I try to speak truth that is helpful across different spiritual maturity levels and even applies to those who are unbelievers. Here it is:
Most parents would do absolutely anything and give up absolutely anything to prevent the death of their child. But God gave His Son up freely to death. He knows what it is to lose a child, but He also knows that there is hope beyond that loss. His Son died so that our sons and daughters could have eternal life. God gave up His child so that we could have hope for our children. So I don’t know and can’t tell you exactly why this has happened to you, dear friends, and not happened to others. But I do know that your prayers of grief do not fall on deaf ears and a stony heart. The Father only has to glance over to see the nail scars of Calvary’s cross in the hands of His Son to remember what that terrible time of separation was like. But just as the eternal Father and Son have been re-united, so will every parent and child who put their trust in the Son.
Obviously, I don’t have that paragraph memorized and say it quite the same way every time. There are several reasons I choose this approach. First, it is the kind of truth that I imagine I would want to be reminded of if I were enduring such a loss. Systematic theologies and sentimental bromides would both seem out of touch for such a moment in life, but the reminder that God is a Person and not a force, the gospel is a story and not a formula, and loss is a prelude to a greater salvation all seem like sweet and tangible truths to the hurting.
Second, it defuses any anger towards God without calling grieving parents out on the carpet. Truth is always truth, but we can be wise and gracious in how we handle truth, especially with those going through terrible grief. Anger towards God is always unjustified, but a polemic attack on grieving parents lacks the seasoning of grace. By reminding these parents that we do not serve a God who stands aloof from our suffering but has Himself entered into our suffering, perhaps we can prevent any tares of bitterness from finding soil to root in their hearts. I imagine that if I were to have to endure the loss of a child, these would be the kind of thoughts that I would want to have about God’s nature and God’s love and God’s salvation.
Third, it is full of the hope of the gospel. It is hard for me to sit back and think about the fact that my children are destined to die. We brought life into the world, but the life we gave is not eternal in nature. Only God can bestow life eternal. Recognizing that God is not the culprit but the Redeemer is hugely hopeful in the midst of suffering like this. This may also offer an opportunity to share the hope of the gospel. I recently found out that my grandfather’s relationship with the Lord changed dramatically and for the better after the death of my Uncle John, who passed away as a child. I don’t know for sure what his spiritual condition was like before that, but I know that in that loss he recognized his need for the Lord. If we are wise and loving, we may find that during these times of sorrow there is an opportunity to share that same hope.
This is the first blog entry in a series on justice.
Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches. But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise lovingkindness, judgment (mishpat), and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.
God. Jeremiah 9:23-24
What does it mean to live in a just society? The ancient world knew little of justice in the sense that we think of justice. Justice was whatever the ruler, king, or local bully made of it. There was no legal recourse to correcting an “injustice” because there was no such thing as an injustice, intrinsic human rights, and such things that we take for granted.
When God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt, His purpose was to create an entire civilization that exhibited justice. They were to be the light to the nations and show the true way of God. Even a cursory reading of the Pentateuch would demonstrate this in the commands to care for the poor, to not oppress the foreigner, and to provide for orphans and widows. Centuries later, when God is expressing his grief and anger over Israel’s failure to live up to their calling, He sends prophets to condemn their failure to exhibit His justice. So how exactly do we define justice?
There are a couple of Hebrew words that are used throughout the Old Testament to describe justice, but even in the English we get a sense of what justice really is. To be “just” is to be “right”, or “righteous”. Justice is righteous behavior. It is impossible to think about justice without thinking about words such as virtue, sin, wickedness, mercy, and such. This is because justice is as much a personal attribute as it is a list of rules. Because God is fully righteous, He makes fully righteous laws. A morally virtuous people will enshrine their virtues into law while a wicked people will enshrine their greed, envy, and malice into law. The law simply reflects the heart of the law-giver.
All of this may seem somewhat nebulous and undefined, but that is chiefly because the concept is so large. We can bring the point home a little more clearly with a specific example from the Pentateuch: the law about loans and pledges. As in our day, oftentimes a lender would demand some sort of pledge to ensure that the loan was repaid. In ancient Israel that pledge might be something as simple as a man’s outer garment. In Deuteronomy 24:13, the lender is prohibited from keeping the outer garment overnight – even if it is the collateral – because that is what the man needs to stay warm at night. When a lender returns the pledge before nightfall, even if the loan has not been repaid, God counts that as righteousness (the same Hebrew word used for justice) . The legal terms of the loan are less important than the treatment of the actual person.
So in God’s eyes, justice is something like “treating others in a way that is consistent with the way God made the world.” In the case of the cloak, it would be wrong to allow another human being to sleep out in the cold without protection from the elements. Allowing him his cloak back is a superior form of justice over keeping the legal terms of a loan. Ultimately, the treatment of human beings in a “just” way comes down to the reality that man is made in the image of God. Outside of this there is little theological, philosophical, or sentimental rationale to treat others in a just way. When the Christ came, he championed this same rule of justice and His Church followed in His footsteps, infecting Western civilization with these previously foreign concepts. Thus, the Western world is founded on Judeo-Christian values.
Of course, the Church has not always succeeded (or succeeded immediately) in carrying out these forms of justice. One reason for this is that it has been difficult historically to always distinguish those who are the recipients of “the righteousness that comes by faith” from the recipients of a cultural tradition to which they only pay lip service. In other words, true believers are often hard to distinguish from those who only pay lip service as a cultural tradition. But as a whole, the marks of the Judeo-Christian tradition of justice have yielded the most humane, civilized, and just society known to mankind. For that we ought not make any apology. We should simply contrast it with those who rejected this tradition in order to form their own “just societies”, and the 20th century abounded with them. Standing out above all others would have to be the USSR and China, both of which thought some sort of functional society could be founded apart from individual righteousness, and both of which resulted in abominations.
This standard of justice also means that we must treat others as responsible moral agents, since they are the image of God. There is no injustice in refusing to feed a lazy man who refuses to work, or in holding a drunk driver responsible for causing an accident. True justice is more complicated than simply giving people what they want because what people want is often contrary to the intent for which they were created. If we are to treat people as the image of God, we must acknowledge that there is a transcendent truth governing the reality of man’s existence. Outside of that ideal there is no moral travesty that mankind will not perpetrate on each other, as evidenced by the secular societies of the 20th century.
Who knows why genius pops up like a rare specimen of flora from time to time, and who knows why it indwells such diverse characters as composers and politicians, mathematicians and military generals. Hannibal was such a military general whose creativity and cunning both on the battle-field and with men brought him to the brink of destroying Rome. But after his intrepid journey over the Alps he had to content himself with relatively small conquests in northern Italy until further help arrived from Carthage. That help never came, and so his impressive campaign of victory was turned into defeat. (https://www.ancient.eu/article/290/the-price-of-greed-hannibals-betrayal-by-carthage/)
Victories that are not pressed home and not revitalized sit on top of the ground like ripe fruit until they begin to rot. A battle may be won by a commander foolish enough to lose the war through a lack of follow through. The strange story of Elisha’s final prophecy (2 Kings 13) testifies that even 3 victories may be but the stepping stones to defeat.
This truth can instruct us and inspire us. The lesson is that we must pursue our advantages until the enemy is defeated. We need to shore up our victories with fresh supplies and new recruits. What has been gained can easily be lost. Or in the case of those on a weight loss plan, what was lost can be easily gained back!
It inspires us because it means that righteousness will always defeat evil in the end. Evil may win some battles here and there but their sum can never total up to a complete victory because evil does not have an endless supply of reinforcements.
Sin is not original in the sense that it always was and is and will be. Sin is a parasite that requires a host. It is a straight line that has been bent to become crooked. Lust only exists because desire exists. Violence only exists because passion exists. Sin was not the Alpha and so sin cannot be the Omega. Sin is derivative and not original.
Were it not for the anguish it causes we might almost pity evil, for it is weary at heart. It is ever growing tired and seeking some new malevolence to feed its dying fire. It is wearing itself out like a toddler desperately amassing all of its strength to try and topple his father while his father stands firm, laughing with the morning dew of manly strength. It is like an insane man dashing his head against a hillside in hopes that the hill will split. One day its insanity soared to unspeakable heights when it thought it really had split the hillside of Calvary, only to awaken three days later with a splitting headache of its own.
Goodness, righteousness, and holiness – on the other hand – are original. Before there was a beginning these things were in the world, personified by the eternal Godhead. And because the eternal Godhead is also the infinite God-head, there will always be fresh supplies of holiness, goodness, and righteousness. There are cataracts of joy to quench every fire of despair and a million suns to light every inch of darkness.
So fight with hope. Fight with all of your strength because reinforcements are on the way. Fight because God fights for you, and if God be for you who can stand against you? Fight as though the eternal dawn is breaking and night is fleeing from His face.
In light of the recent events in our country, it is good and appropriate to publicly declare the biblical teaching on those issues which regularly fall under the heading of justice and race. The ideals must be proclaimed though the reality may fall short, for without ideals we have no target, no goal, no direction. This is not hypocrisy, but the reality of sinners who are still in progress. It is clear that after decades of attempts at “racial reconciliation”, the world is in a giant mess and in need of a better way. It is our prayer that the Church can be an example of that better way.
One reason we are in the mess we are in today is because of cowardice. To say what is acceptable only requires a coward. To declare what is true requires courage, because truth cuts on two sides and often severs one from the popularity of the world. The same cowardice that prevented preachers from declaring truth in the 20th century is the same cowardice that preachers of the 21st century hide behind. Too many lies have been told, and too many lies are being told. If a man is only willing to say what will not offend the sensibilities of the world, he is not worthy to represent Christ. We must stop lying to each other.
But now ye also put off all these; anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth. Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds. And have put on the new man, which is renewed in knowledge after the image of him that created him.
The cowardice of the 20th century was the refusal to acknowledge that in Christ, there is no bond or free, no Scythian or Barbarian, no circumcised and uncircumcised, but Christ is all in all. The refusal to identify more closely with a brother in Christ with black skin than an infidel with white skin was a terrible failure to live out the gospel. The church’s failure to break with culture and receive – in the full glory and beauty of that word – black brothers and sisters is the reason why the church is not shining like a city on a hill today.
The cowardice of the 21st century is to go along with the politically correct narrative used by politicians, race baiters, and leftist idealogues that only serves to pit women against men, white against black, and rich against poor. The sociologists demand a statistic and the politicians demand a voting block, but we preach Christ crucified: to the sociologists a myth and to the politicians a mystery. Cowardice still runs deep in our churches as we hide behind our whiteness in our refusal to address every lost soul as a marred image of God in need of redemption when apart from the perfect, infallible Word of God, not one of us is fit to offer one bit of counsel in any circumstance of life. We are not peddlers of social conventions or traders of philosophical fads, but heralds of the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ and woe to the preacher who thinks that there is salvation in any other. Woe to the preacher who refuses to preach.
Cowardice got us into this mess and cowardice will not get us out of this mess. Refusing to speak truth because it was unpopular led us to this and refusing to speak the truth now because it is still unpopular will not lead us out. We do not apologize for the Truth. That means I cannot keep silent because I fear being insensitive, or tone deaf, or lacking in empathy. Perhaps if I have the courage to speak truth, someone might have the courage to speak it back to me.
Not A Skin Problem
Sin does not start in the skin, live in the skin, or grow in the skin. To attribute sin to the color of one’s skin is to deny the truth that there are only 2 races: those in Adam and those in Christ. We cannot repent of our skin, but we can repent of our sin. And repent we must, because we have all fallen short of the glory of God. That means that black sinners need to repent and white sinners need to repent, and the difference in the color of their skin matters not in comparison to their mutual need for holiness, without which no man will see God.
Justice is a real thing, and God is full of it. In recent days we have seen justice violated by those with badges and those with brands of fire. But no one has violated God’s sense of justice because of the color of their skin. You have to go much deeper than that to find the cause of sin, which is bound up in man’s rebellious and desperately wicked heart. The world separates by black and white, but all liars and murders are actually of their father, the devil, and Christ was manifested to destroy the works of the devil.
And since skin is not the problem, skin cannot be the solution. Which is why all secular attempts at reconciliation have failed, because secularists can’t seem to get beyond the color of skin and down to the heart. At the end of the day there is no way of putting to death the enmity between those who are “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). A greater justice requires a greater solution than skin can offer. It requires blood.
Wrath and Blood
The anger, hatred, and malice in the world today is a pittance compared to the wrath of a Holy God. We pick and choose the sins over which we will get worked up, but God is angry with the wicked every day. It is only the long-suffering of the Lord that restrains his judgment. But His judgment was not held back on the day He judged sin at the cross, where the blood of His Son flowed freely so that those who were slaves to sin could be freed by it. Only the blood of Jesus Christ covers sin, and the blood of Jesus Christ washes every sin. Racism is not exempt. The same blood that can cleanse the sin of Derek Chauvin is the same blood that can cleanse the violence of the mob.
There is no end to the hatred of the world. There is no satisfaction. The blood of Derek Chauvin will not quench it. Even if justice is meted to the full extent of the law, the recriminations continue in an endless cycle of bitterness. That’s why the world is failing at reconciliation. That’s why no matter how much legislation is passed and how many buildings are torched and how much blood is shed, there will never be an end to it. But what is impossible with man is possible with God. Who could have imagined the fellowship of the Jews with the Gentiles? And yet Christ knocked down that wall.
There is too much sin in our past, too much sin in our present, and too much sin our future for us to even comprehend, much less atone for. I don’t write those words flippantly, but in sorrow and grief that weighs on my heart as hot tears hit my keyboard. There is simply too much sin for me to handle. So atonement was provided and wrath was propitiated by another on our behalf, because we were insufficient for such a thing. And because we are now reconciled to God, we can be reconciled to each other. This is the only basis of reconciliation with eternal potential. Again, apart from the cross there will be no peace.
So there is one solution and only one solution to the sin that is in the world, and that is the gospel of Jesus Christ. But it’s not as though the gospel is this placard you hang in your church foyer. The gospel is a life altering message that actually does alter you. The gospel has feet and the gospel has hands and the gospel breathes joy and life into a world of death and darkness. How beautiful on the mountain are the feet of him who brings good news! Where will the gospel take you? Who will you reach out to? What light and joy will you carry into death and darkness? The gospel is the ministry of reconciliation and it has been given to us as ambassadors to carry forth. We are ambassadors, which means we have a side. We are for something. And we are not on the side of the whites or on the sides of the blacks, but on the side of the Lord Jesus Christ who is gave Himself for sinners of every tribe, nation and tongue.
I recognize that this does not address the messy specifics of any one situation. But it is the truth that keeps our compass steady as we live in a tumultuous world. Believing this equips us to handle that world. For too long the church has followed. We have baptized talking points with Christian jargon and pretended we were saying something real. We must stop following and start leading.
A little less than 2,000 years ago in Palestine, a new community was born from the mixed clay of Jew and Greek, bond and free, rich and poor. Against all odds, that community exists today in very similar form to what it looked like in Acts 2:42ff. Prematurely, philosophers of the 20th century declared the death of God, only to die themselves while He lives on. The demise of Christ’s community is also prophesied by many, and yet as our community of Christ gatherers met together yesterday I am pleased to announce that many flags of this world will fall in tatters to the ground before the cross of Christ ceases to be raised.
Soldiers form tight knit bonds based on survival. Clubs form friendships based on common interests or even social status. Political parties adhere based on a shared philosophy of government. But the Church has outlasted armies, clubs, and governments. Rather, the church has conquered them! For our soldiers go to war accompanied by chaplains and prayers. Our taxes are paid with bills stating In God We Trust. And our clubs meet together because it is the self-evident truth that God has made mankind in His image.
The Church has not walked through fire and flood because its members longed to survive, but because so many gave their lives willingly. The church has not grown under the benevolence of any single form of government, but under tyranny and totalitarianism as well as democracy and republic. The Church fits no single demographic but declares all men (and women) equally image bearers of their creator, and all the redeemed to be co-inheritors of the grace of God.
How has this happened? What binds a community together in such a way that it stays the same while the world around changes? In Acts 2:42, we see that the early believers “continued steadfastly in the apostle’s doctrine and fellowship…” The deeper a shared body of truth, the more fast the bonds will hold in any given community. Living in the divided States of America, we see that there is a huge battle over the narrative of our nation. What does it mean to be American? While a nation can tolerate a pretty large diversity of opinions and still manage to cohere, there must be some body of truth that everyone holds to be, as our founders put it, self evident. This is no longer the case in America (perhaps more about that another time) and so we live in a divided nation.
But the body of Truth held by the Church remains unchanged since the teaching of the apostles. No new teaching are needed except the old teachings, which only need to be recovered from the dust of neglect, as in the case of the Reformation, or from the abuse of a self-serving “priesthood”, as in the case of – again – the Reformation. But if an apostle of Jesus Christ showed up at your church today, he ought not hear anything new. The world is always chasing after the novel and thereby loses its identity. The Church delivers the same message it has received and thereby retains its identity.
The early church also devoted itself to fellowship, that word that has about it the scent of fried chicken in our fellowship halls. But the word goes deeper than that and points to a sort of partnership, as though the fortunes of one are tied to the fortunes of all. There is a mutuality in the church, and this mutuality defies the demographic units that the pollsters and the media and the politicians like to divide everyone up into. The Church weeps with those who weep, and rejoices with those who rejoice.
I believe that a hundred years from now the community of Christ will still be going strong – minus some of the weirdness we have added to it in my lifetime. That which cannot be shaken will remain and that which can be shaken will disappear. I hope in a 100 years the distorted emphasis on music is gone. That is, I hope we recover the reality that a church that does not sing well but loves the Lord is infinitely more pleasing to Him than a church that sings well (or has a few people on stage who sing well) but is filled with a crowd instead of disciples. I hope we look back at this era of Christianity and lament how we chopped families up into age groups when they got to church, especially considering that there are few places left in society where the family is allowed to be together. I hope we shake our heads at our foolishness in thinking that churches needed to be fun and exciting at the expense of being truthful and joyful. I hope the community of Christ in 100 years shakes their heads at our foolishness in thinking that some sort of formula could be more effective than the gospel of Jesus Christ in transforming lives. And I hope you see by these critiques (whether you agree with them or not) that to the love the Church is not to overlook her faults, but to desire Her purity and beauty.