Update: To her credit, Rachel Held Evans has come out and apologized for jumping the gun and assuming the worst about John Piper’s motives. I still maintain this brand of evangelicalism is on the Downgrade, but it’s good to see her admit a wrong committed and seek reconciliation (based on a number of tweets to that effect). http://rachelheldevans.com/blog/forgive-me
I fail to see how Rachel Held Evans theology (and others like her) escapes this assessment of liberal theology in the 19th and 20th centuries by H. Richard Niebuhr:
“A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” – H. Richard Niebuhr, The Kingdom of God in America.
The “universal acid” (Mohler) of skepticism and doubt eventually swallows up every doctrine of Scripture. Just ask Shelby Spong or Marcus Borg, they’ll tell you what they think. “Did God actually say ______?” (Gen. 3:1). This is the fundamental root of all sin, a doubting that God would actually speak clear truth in love toward us. What could be more loving than God giving us His words, preserved through centuries for our salvation? Maybe giving His own Son to suffer in our stead? Then again, penal substitutionary atonement is probably interpreted as “divine child abuse” (Chalke) to her. (Mohler)
For the postmodern, everything having to do with Scripture is vague or unclear and left to interpretation and therefore any interpretation is a go, or at the least entertainable, even though multiple ecumenical church councils over many centuries may have denied it, since that was merely their interpretation. But don’t worry, Rachel Held Evans and crew are here in their vast knowledge and research to rescue you from… Christianity, with its archaic, repressive doctrines and symbols that need a liberal, feminist, egalitarian, postmodern, 21st century makeover. James White is right to say that every generation must fight its own version of the Downgrade Controversy. This is ours and it’s here.
Interesting how the explanation of why Piper tweeted what he did and his response to what can only be described as cynical, hyper-emotional, unthinking criticism didn’t seem to make the presses though. But so goes Rachel Held Evans. Whatever fits the meme that Reformed people or conservative evangelicals in general are bad people, I guess. Smear the character, don’t actually engage the argument or the position. Sounds like far-leftist politics is invading the theological world. Eh, whatever gets blog hits right? Celebrity leftist evangelicalism at it’s finest, letting the Xian PR machine take over. Boy did this get her some traffic.
Also interesting to note is that Evans cites a sermon by open theist Greg Boyd after updating her blog post. Explains much. “Escaping the Twilight Zone God”
Evans represents a brand of evangelicalism that sits atop shaky ground; building a house on the sand. It’s been a long time coming and looks to be giving way. In my absolute frustration at what I read from her and other likeminded individuals is utter sadness. Once emergent theology started blending more with average evangelical churches, it was only a matter of time and tilt of the slope. Unfortunately it won’t end well.
Douglas Wilson gives Rachel Held Evans a well-deserved response for such sloppiness and avoiding the glaring problem that remains: http://dougwils.com/s16-theology/rachel-held-evans-denies-the-cat.html. Don’t miss it.
The babies “born alive” that were murdered by Kermit Gosnell are the same babies alive in the womb, everyday, who silently scream and fight for their lives when viewed on ultrasound. Out of sight, out of mind. Don’t stick your head in the sand about what happens during an abortion. Know what you’re supporting.
If your overarching (or inadvertent) goal is to be liked by the world as a believer, you will inevitably have to pare off the rough edges of truth, as Spurgeon called it, and do massive editing to make the message more acceptable.
The gospel is an offense, in particular, that blood would be required by God for the forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22) and at that, His own Sons’ blood. This doctrine, penal substitutionary atonement, has been called “divine child abuse” from some within evangelicalism (Steve Chalke in particular, though many seem to agree with his assessment). This heart-truth of the gospel is absolute sacrilege to the secular mind.
There’s no way around it: what we believe about the truth of God’s Word, and actually, the fact we believe it speaks truth at all into the world, is itself an offense, let alone the doctrines contained within that it speaks to.
“‘You can’t market a book like that. It won’t sell. Nobody wants to read a book on being ordinary.’ They are probably right. Nobody wants to read a book on ordinary living because nobody aspires to be ordinary. It is not likely to sell as a book or a theme. Crazy, wild, radical, more, greater, higher, this-er, that-er, the comparatives and superlatives, these are the themes that fly off the shelves. But once we’ve been crazy and radical and wild and all the rest, why do we still feel, well, so ordinary? Why do we still feel like we’re missing out?” – Tim Challies
I don’t believe this is an argument against excellence or being proactive in things that we should be more proactive in, but rather an argument that amongst all the talk in modern Christian literature of being “awesome” and “extraordinary” and “doing big things for God” (summed up, “radical”), most of us are, well, ordinary. I’d count myself in that category. I’m an average IT guy, working at a financial company, providing for my family, ministering to a group of high school guys, who loves Christ. And it’s freeing to know that that’s okay, because the Gospel frees us to be ordinary. Are there things I could improve? Sure, no doubt. But the pressure to do something or be something big is huge it seems. And most of us are ordinary people who don’t live an extravagant, radical life and feel grossly inadequate and out of place.
This doesn’t mean some of of us won’t be extraordinary though, or that in our ordinary living extraordinary things won’t happen. And it doesn’t even mean that we shouldn’t, should the opportunity arise, pursue extraordinary things in our lives. But not everyone can or should be pursuing that (a concept handed to us by celebrity culture I believe, that we must aspire to “be awesome,” “dream huge so you can do what I’ve done” and so on; think in terms of an Academy Award acceptance speech). If everyone is extraordinary, doing extraordinary things, no one is extraordinary; the word loses its meaning. In fact, I would argue that God mostly uses ordinary people in the church to accomplish His ends throughout the world. We only see the big, headlined, mega-marketed things that are broadcasted, not the ordinary pastor in a small town, consistently shepherding a small group of people under the teaching of the gospel for 40 years.
Now if they do extraordinary things it’s because of His work and it can and does happen from time to time. Most people who accomplish incredible things for God do so because of His multiplying effect though (like Jesus with the fish and loaves), not because they were trying to “be awesome.” Rather it was precisely because they minimized themselves and got out of His way that He then did big things. In other words, extraordinary things happen because of God, not us necessarily, though certainly He uses us.
I believe the antidote to a lot of this thinking that we have to do “big things” or “be big things” (as we millennials have defined it; I guess I’m a millennial?) is a re-recovery of the Reformed view of vocation.
For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2 ESV)
Going through this verse recently with my high school Bible study, I remarked on how this verse, along with probably Matthew 7: 21-23, are some of the scariest verses personally. Why? They reveal it is possible to know of the things of God, be zealous for them even, and miss the mark in salvation, meaning you lack saving faith. As in the case of the verses in Matthew, people claiming to know Christ perform all kinds of works in his name and on the last day Jesus declares, “I never knew you.” As in the case of the Jews who, in the majority, had rejected the Messiah, they were zealous for the law, the prophets, the Shekinah glory, and all the privileges God had given them as His people. And yet Paul says they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge, and I take that to mean knowledge of the Gospel, namely, that Christ and His work is the fulfillment of all of the aforementioned. They missed the mark. A sad state of affairs for both groups as the end is the same. One group says, look at the works of our hands, is that not enough? Another group says, how zealous we are for the law and the prophets! How committed we are to the teachings! Yet they both miss the Gospel. Frightening. May this drive us to the foot of the cross and relinquish our works in favor of Another’s done for us.
In response to the worldly “wisdom” going around these days that says entertaining doubt and questioning the Lord’s righteousness in trial and His infinitely sovereign wisdom and control of all things, something that is beyond comprehension in how and why He carries out or permits what He does, as something that should be encouraged, I present to you, Job.
Up to this point, Elihu has just finished rebuking Job and his friends. He then exhorts Job to glorify the Lord. Previous to Elihu’s response, Job had just finished taking up his own defense and questioning God in light of the very weighty trials permitted in his life, by essentially asking, “Why God? What is it I’ve done to deserve this?” (Indicated by the fact he tries to draw conclusions from his own works that he lists) This is just a portion of God’s response in Job 38-40:1-2 (I’ll just quote portions):
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38:2-7)
“Have you commanded the morning since your days began, and caused the dawn to know its place,that it might take hold of the skirts of the earth, and the wicked be shaken out of it? It is changed like clay under the seal, and its features stand out like a garment. From the wicked their light is withheld, and their uplifted arm is broken.” (Job 38:12-15)
“Who can number the clouds by wisdom? Or who can tilt the waterskins of the heavens, when the dust runs into a mass and the clods stick fast together?” (Job 38:37-38)
“Do you give the horse his might? Do you clothe his neck with a mane? Do you make him leap like the locust? His majestic snorting is terrifying. He paws in the valley and exults in his strength; he goes out to meet the weapons. He laughs at fear and is not dismayed; he does not turn back from the sword. Upon him rattle the quiver, the flashing spear, and the javelin. With fierceness and rage he swallows the ground; he cannot stand still at the sound of the trumpet. When the trumpet sounds, he says ‘Aha!’ He smells the battle from afar, the thunder of the captains, and the shouting.” (Job 39:19-25)
Finally the Lord says:
“Shall a faultfinder contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God, let him answer it. (Job 40:1-2)”
“Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.” (Job 40:4-5)
God then responds again:
“Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Will you even put me in the wrong? Will you condemn me that you may be in the right? Have you an arm like God, and can you thunder with a voice like his? “Adorn yourself with majesty and dignity; clothe yourself with glory and splendor. Pour out the overflowings of your anger, and look on everyone who is proud and abase him. Look on everyone who is proud and bring him low and tread down the wicked where they stand. Hide them all in the dust together; bind their faces in the world below. Then will I also acknowledge to you that your own right hand can save you. (Job 40:7-14)
Job finally responds with a final expression of his complete submission to the fact that “all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35)
Job’s response that submits and rests in the fact that God’s wisdom is enough, though it may not be comprehensible:
“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:1-6)
Humility. One of the points for trials in our lives is for the formation of humility. Job exhibits it here as a result of wrestling with God. There are tons of unanswered questions about why things happened the way they did for him. But it all comes down to resting in the truth that it is enough for God to be God, for His choices to be in the right and know that in spite of the pain, He is for you and knows what’s best to make you into His image as His child. Questioning God, shaking your fist at Him is easy. Trusting that He’s for you in spite of what you see and feel that’s faith, and opposed to all doubting.
Interestingly enough, as it relates to the aspect of God’s sovereignty (particularly as it relates to election and predestination), Paul follows a similar pattern of God’s response to Job in Romans 9:19-24. Paul has just laid out the truth that God chooses some to become children of God and not others, not based on works but on His own purpose and will, and that He’s perfectly righteous in doing so. So Paul begins verse 19 by preemptively asking a seemingly logical question from a fictional human questioner:
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:19-24)
In both of these contexts, both with Job and the readers of Romans, the response should be the same: put your hand over your mouth. Stop questioning (in the rebellious sense). Submit to His sovereign rule and grace. It is counterintuitively comforting (from the world’s standpoint). The world’s answer these days, especially in our liberal democracies (or what’s left of them) is to “question everything.” Faith doesn’t question, it submits in humility. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t probe to understand, but the type of questioning I’m referring to is asking God to give an account of Himself, putting him in the dock of human courts and thinking. As you can see, He doesn’t take too kindly to our sinful human questioning.
Now in dealing with people in trials, patience needs to be exhibited in their wrestling. People aren’t going to automatically come to this view. If they do, praise God, but most people have wrestling to do, even as believers. That doesn’t negate any of the aforementioned, but it is to say we need to be patient and understanding, sometimes not saying anything, especially if a trial or traumatic event is very fresh.
“I would say, as a Christian and as a historian: the stories of Easter are really true, even though I’m skeptical myself that the tomb was empty, even though I’m skeptical myself that anything happened to the corpse of Jesus. I would say the stories of Easter are really true even though they may not be literally true.” – Marcus Borg
This jello is laced with poison and can’t be nailed to the wall. Go ahead, try.
To counter, Albert Mohler:
Stricken, smitten, and afflicted,
See Him dying on the tree!
’Tis the Christ by man rejected;
Yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He!
’Tis the long expected prophet,
David’s Son, yet David’s Lord;
Proofs I see sufficient of it:
’Tis a true and faithful Word.
Tell me, ye who hear Him groaning,
Was there ever grief like His?
Friends through fear His cause disowning,
Foes insulting his distress:
Many hands were raised to wound Him,
None would interpose to save;
But the deepest stroke that pierced Him
Was the stroke that Justice gave.
Ye who think of sin but lightly,
Nor suppose the evil great,
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Mark the Sacrifice appointed!
See Who bears the awful load!
’Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man, and Son of God.
Here we have a firm foundation,
Here the refuge of the lost.
Christ the Rock of our salvation,
Christ the Name of which we boast.
Lamb of God for sinners wounded!
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hope have built.
Words: Thomas Kelly, Hymns on Various Passages of Scripture, 1804
Music: Wo Ist Jesus, Mein Verlangen, Geistliches Volkslied, 1850
“If the heart be chiefly and directly fixed on God, and the soul engaged to glorify him, some degree of religious affection will be the effect and attendant of it. But to seek after affection directly and chiefly; to have the heart principally set upon that; is to place it in the room of God and his glory. If it be sought, that others may take notice of it, and admire us for our spirituality and forwardness in religion, it is then damnable pride; if for the sake of feeling the pleasure of being affected, it is then idolatry and self-gratification.” - Jonathan Edwards