Posted in dialogue

A Response to a Loved One Concerning Systemic Racism

“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man is he who listens to counsel” (Prov 12.15; NASB).

Dear “D”,

I don’t have Facebook, a decision I made a few years back and, in many ways, I think a wise one. I do however, from time-to-time, see how things progress in this social media giant’s haven. It is unfortunate that the free exchange of ideas has been censored by a Left-leaning ideology, but with the current way of things…to be expected.

I must admit that of all my family members (extended or otherwise) you have been one of my favorites. You have a loveable, sensitive disposition that draws many people. That and in some ways our shared sense of humor was always a delight to my own heart.

I say these things beforehand in the hope that you will see my critique not as mean spirited but as one guided by wisdom afforded to me through the Word of God. Surely, knowledge and wisdom in times like this ought to be coveted things. But this raises the question of being properly sourced. From where do we draw our knowledge and wisdom. From what fountainhead do we longingly drink deeply to help form our ideals?

I am reminded of a passage of Scripture that provides an astute warning to listening ears:

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company ruins good morals’” (1Cor 15.33; ESV).

In other words, we must be careful what influences we allow to shape our outlook on life. For it is in our nature to replicate what we surround ourselves with. With this in mind, I would like to address a dialogue you have had with another individual of whom we both care for. He has graciously allowed me a venue in which I might respond to some of the claims that you have offered in light of the current debate being held nationally since the tragic death of George Floyd.

I will offer a point-by-point critique of what you have stated. You may respond or be silent on the matter, the decision I will leave to you.

It seems very clear to me that you believe systemic racism is a genuine problem here in the United States. A belief that is unsupported by actual facts and evidences, although often referred to in anecdotal settings.

You noted that a possible solution to what you believe is a real problem institutionally is:

“…we can support communities by ‘spreading educational funds…[provide] a healthcare system that will actually take care of poorer families…demand that our government do something to help the homeless population…[provide] access to mental health care”

Response:

It would appear that you assume the civil government is responsible for doing these things. They are the “we” that you expect to support the down trodden? I only note this now since you seem to believe that religion (specifically the Christian faith) should not be viewed as a viable solution. Interesting…we’ll return to this in just a bit.

Later you admit when pressed with evidence contrary to your claims (that which “J” cites in his dialogue with you) the following points:

There is no written law that promotes systemic racism, but instead is “captured in intent and execution…”

 Response:

That is to say you appear to be admitting that there are no laws on the books (“in word” as you put it) that disadvantage one group by raising another up. For example, in the past we could point to Jim Crow laws, laws enacted and upheld by members of the Democratic Party, but no such laws exist on the books today. This is unfortunate for your position, for if such laws existed then the debate over whether or not systemic racism was a real thing would be over. You would have positive evidence to support your claims.

Instead, you appeal to the motives of individuals or groups of individuals who perpetrate evil actions. Something that is extremely impossible to prove—for we cannot read people’s hearts—unless that individual or group confess that their actions (“execution,” as you put it) are indeed racially motivated.

Next you say:

“Not all peoples morals come from God and not all moral people are Christian.”

Response:

So then, “morals” come from where? Are morals the byproduct of societal consensus? Then, they are subjective, fluid and not static. If this is true, then relativism rules the day—Different strokes for different folks.

So then, why complain? If my morals, which according to you are not necessarily derived from our Maker—the God of the Bible, but myself, my community and culture, then why, or better yet, on what grounds, can you argue that my morals which may uphold “racism” and “white privilege”  (tongue in cheek here) are wrong and should be changed? Are you then guilty of forcing your ideals on others?

However, if morals are absolute (e.g., wrong to murder, wrong to oppress, wrong to rob, etc.) as a reflection of the Triune God of Scripture (revealed as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit; one co-eternal, co-equal Being), then they must be pressed upon the society in which we live. Starting with myself, my community and culture. I have no doubt that you believe “Love your neighbor as yourself” is a command that ought to be pressed on all people, or else why argue at all that one moral behavior is right and another wrong?

You add:

“In fact many people in the past and today use Christianity as a reason for their continued issues.”

Response:

You do not identify what those “issues” are, but I will assume that you are attempting to highlight how professing Christians use the Bible erringly (past and present) in an effort to support immoral activity.

There is no question this has been done and will continue to be the case. This is true for a variety of reasons. Either the “Christian” is one in name only. Or, the “Christian” is ignorant of what the Bible actually teaches on an issue. Or, the “Christian” has faulty presuppositions that prevent him/her from properly interpreting the biblical text(s).

Since you did not come out and say what “issue” you were referring to where Christians have evidently got it wrong in the past, then I will assume that one issue is how there were some Christians in the past who used the Bible to validate slavery in the Antebellum South. However, all three reasons I cited above provide the answer to the problem issue in question:

  1. Not all slave owners that identified as Christian were really Christians (cf. Matt 7.21-24).
  2. Not all slave owners that identified as Christian knew all of what the Bible taught on the issue of slavery.
  3. Not all slave owners that identified as Christian properly interpreted what they read in the Bible because they possessed underlying biases, assumptions, traditions that filtered the truth of God preventing them from doing so.

But there were those who identified as Christians that did what was right in light of biblical precepts. For in having knowledge and wisdom dispensed to them from God in His Word, they sought to make right the societal wrongs being perpetrated in their day. (We will return to this in a bit).

However, while this has been the case (there have been those that have tarnished the Christian name and maligned the teaching of the Bible) you seem to suppose that this somehow gives you the moral high ground? Again, the question that needs to be asked and answered is “whose morals are right?” Is there one standard universally true, or are there many? Only by borrowing from the Christian faith can one legitimately bring a charge against such evils of the past. For if truth is not absolute, if morals are not derived from one standard, but many, then morals in and of themselves are regulated to the personal whims of the individual or group that purports them.

You continue:

“Also you can’t use God as a tool in order to change overall culture. Not in the short term or as things are trending in the long term either”

Response:

Who says? You? Others? That’s not what the Bible teaches at all. As Jesus said,

“You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matt 22.29; NASB).

It is written that all of creation, including humanity, is the creation of God.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1.1). It was God who decreed, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness; and let them rule…over the earth…God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it’” (Gen 1.26, 27-28a; NASB).

There are not many races, there is one race. Humanity is the creation of God and all have value as His creatures. For… 

“from one man [one blood] God made every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitation (Acts 17.26; NASB).

In short, God made human beings to represent Him in all the earth. The dominion God gave mankind was in light of bearing the image of God into all creation. God delegated authority to humanity to rule according to His holiness and righteousness (from which all morals come). This Jesus repeated to those who bear His name (i.e., Christians). He commanded His people to

“…make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in[to] the name of the Father, the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matt 28.19-20a; ESV).

You say, that we cannot use the Christian faith to alter the course of culture either in the short or the long term, but this is inaccurate. History tells us otherwise. How was slavery abolished in England? Who helped lead the charge in its removal from our kindred across the pond? William Wilberforce, a white Christian who knew, believed and understood that the Bible taught that enslaving one ethnic group was morally wrong and spent his whole life fighting against it. This is true of many from the past here in the United States that fought to free other members of the human race from tyranny.

All of life is ethical. Everything is weighed in terms of right or wrong. Therefore, all of life is religious. Culture is a reflection of a person or groups religious faith-system. This “faith” will determine culturally what is viewed as right vs. wrong behavior (i.e., moral).

The only solution to the hate we seeing spewed in our world today is the gospel. Bigotry is sin, and sin is color-blind. If we refuse to repent of our sins before Christ, adopting His way of thinking and living, then we are destined to treat others, not like ourselves, but less than ourselves. The government is not God, only God is God. The government solutions you present would do nothing to stem hate, but only shift where the hate is being perpetrated.

I love you man and hope that you see my words in light of this love for you and yours. May Christ give you ears to hear and eyes to see.

In Christ,

Kristafal

Posted in Communication

Metaphobia

Recently, I have been reading and watching video lectures and debates over the concept of eternal punishment. I am still waiting on a few books that I’ve ordered to come in to read on the subject of Conditionalism/Annihilationism, so I will refrain from specifically dealing with that topic in detail until a future date. That being said, I am fairly confident that there are a few peripheral issues that I can delve into until that time.

I should add that this topic will be something that I will return to at various points in the future. What I mean is that this process will probably months in the making. There are other things that I have an interest in besides this topic, but I do think this subject is important enough to wrestle through from a possible research standpoint.

Coming to See the Communication Barrier

As I have mentioned in the past one of the common focal points in arguments and debates is in regards to language. There is a communication barrier that exists when people do not share the same foundation. We see this specifically in the use of words or phrases.

Dr. James R. White has called this “baggage”[1] that we lug around with us that infers our understanding on how key terms are to be interpreted. Walter Martin, the author of the gold standard volume on various religions entitled, the Kingdom of the Cults, wrote that the Christian

“…must be prepared to scale the language barrier of terminology. First, he must recognize that it does exist, and second, he must acknowledge the very real fact that unless terms are defined when one is either speaking or reading…the semantic jungle that…[has been] created will envelope him, making it difficult, if not impossible, [to offer] a contrast between the teachings…” of the two opposing sides.[2]

When Unaware…

This can be extremely frustrating to people in dialogue. The use of the same words, but opposing definitions, leads to gross misunderstandings. This causes people who may speak the same language (say English) to talk right past another.

Knowing the Cause…

The reasons for this can be many. For example, “words change their meaning over time.”[3] Or it could be our traditional understanding that hinders us from seeing what is truly being said.[4] What needs to be remembered is that words in and of themselves are merely symbols, linguistically speaking, used to convey meaning to concepts in our world.[5]

Language is Symbolic…

That final point is an important one. Think of language as a whole. What are letters? In the English alphabet there are 26 (A-Z).[6] Have you ever considered that letters, which make up our words, are symbolic representations of abstract concepts applied to the world in which we live?

Take for example the word “day.” What is a day? Ah, here is where the semantical range of a word is helpful. There are varying ways in which the term “day” can be described (defined). To illustrate this, I’ll borrow a sentence that I’ve heard from Ken Ham on various occasions.

“In my grandfather’s day, it took three days to travel to that city during the day.”

Understanding Semantic Range…

The word day is used three different ways in that sentence. That is an example of its semantic range. First, “In my grandfather’s day…,” the term day means an age of time (i.e., a generation). Second, “…it took three days to travel to that city…,” day means an approximate 24-hour period of time. Third, “…during the day” we see that day is being used in the sense of a period of daylight (approx. 12 hrs). But the word “day” made up of the letters “d,” “a,” and “y” is a symbolic representation of what we experience in reality. We assign meaning to the symbols, and the manner in which they are used together (a word), and the context in which that word is spoken. Boring I know, but nonetheless important.

By the way this is why it is incumbent upon us to carefully define our words when speaking to other individuals. Even if we share the same language, and embrace a similar worldview, this doesn’t necessarily mean that we have the same intention with similar words or phrases. We need to be aware of potential communication barriers in conversation.

Why Meta-phobia?

I say all of that to caution those who like to use the argument against metaphoric language. There is no question that the Bible is full of imagery. Its pages are littered with various symbolic representations. There are two key responses that I have witnessed to this truth.

Two Sides of the Same Coin…

There will be those who fear the use of metaphors (now you know why I called this section meta-phobia) in the sense that they will be taken seriously. The argument presented will be something akin to “those are just symbols, not be taken literally.” What I’ll call now the belittling fallacy. Trying to make light of what is written by saying “it’s just symbolic.”

Now this makes those on the other side, who take a “literal understanding” of the text, reactively kick back. A fear that the teachings of the Bible will not be taken seriously or accurately (a converse of the meta-phobia above) begins to ensue when this kind of talk is used. Banners are raised and a call to arms is sounded!

Often you can identify this concern when you hear the phrase about “spiritualizing the text.” Which in and of itself I find a bit amusing since we are told in Scripture that it is “God-Breathed” (2Tim 3.16) and men wrote as they were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2Pet 1.21). The whole text is spiritual, since it claims to come from God who is Spirit (John 4.24), and yet its language pertains to all of life.

The real issue…

The issue is not whether or not we spiritualize the text, but whether or not we draw from it the correct meaning. Which means what? That we derive the author’s original intention at the time of its writing. Deconstructionists claims that this is impossible, since from their point of view there is no way to derive an author’s original intention from the words written on a page. Which, if that were true, then you should automatically dismiss the conviction(s) of the Deconstructionist since we can’t really know what their intention is.

Literal Should Mean Exegetical…

Confusion over what “literal” means is the problem. The best and easiest way to understand the meaning of “literal” is according to the literature. Which harkens back to reading the author in context (historically, culturally, linguistically) and then pulling out the meaning intended at the time of its writing (a.k.a., process of exegesis). Only then will you be able to properly interpret and apply the text in your current context.

Sounds easy enough, but commitments to the contrary hinder this process. For example, in regards to eternal punishment I have noticed a trend by advocates from one side attempt to dissuade a likely conclusion being drawn from the text by stating that the language is symbolic or metaphoric. To some, I suppose this is impressive. However, I disagree. Actually, I think it is a bit disingenuous. Perhaps, it is just blatant ignorance on their part, but I’m not so sure.

The Use of Parables

Take the literary teaching method Jesus employs quite often in the gospels. Time and time again we see him speaking in terms of parable. He uses illustrations from every day life to discuss deeper, even hidden, spiritual truths. Are we to look at those stories and walk away saying, well His language was metaphoric, it was laden with symbols, therefore, I can’t take him literally?

An Example Given…

Let’s briefly look at one to help what I’m saying sink in.

“The kingdom of heaven is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened” (Matt 13.33).

What is being taught in this parable? In short, that the kingdom of heaven starts out small, almost imperceptibly so, but grows until it is quite large. Of course, “kingdom of heaven” is a symbolic reference to the rule and/or dominion of God, specifically Christ who is King. “Leaven” and “flour” are symbolic references to the Spirit’s work being sown in men’s hearts. Obviously, though spoken in terms of symbolic imagery (metaphoric), the language has a literal meaning.

Farce-fully Stated

To somehow argue that symbols are to be taken lightly because they are not to be taken literally is an absolute farce. Wooden-ism, which is often meant when a person says something shouldn’t be taken “literally,” would be to say that the kingdom of heaven is leaven, it is something a woman took and hid in flour, and then it grew. Symbols represent literal truths, but they are not literal truths.

But a genuine connoisseur of the biblical text does not dismiss a teaching because its symbolic (use of metaphor), nor do they try to make a wooden chair out of spiritual truths. There is a necessary balance that guides the reader, student, preacher/teacher of the Scripture, and this is drawn from exegeting the text not hem-hawing on either side of the meta-phobia fence.

As Pastor Douglas Wilson explains, “the symbol is always less than reality. What is greater—the nation or the flag that represents that nation? …What is greater—the marriage or the ring on the finger that represents the marriage?”[7] Or to apply what I did earlier in this post: Which is greater—the yeast hidden in the dough that grew, or the kingdom of Christ that the gates of Hades cannot overpower? The answer as to the greatest in all three examples is what? Is it the symbol that is greater or the thing that the symbol represents? Obviously, Wilson is right, it is that which is represented by the symbol that is the greater of the two.

No difficulty here…

There is little difficulty in understanding what is beyond the symbolism of teenagers/adults who draw an eyeball, a heart, and the letter U. When the symbols are understood the concept, they point to are clearly comprehended. The symbols put together mean “I love you.” And in the case of the symbology used, it is the statement behind the symbol’s being made that is far greater in meaning and impact.

We will draw this out further in future posts, but for now I’ll let this little lesson settle in your minds.


ENDNOTES:

[1] James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2012), 25, Kindle, loc 254.

[2] Walter A. Martin, the Kingdom of the Cults: The Definitive Work on the Subject, Rev. ed., Ravi Zacharias, ed. (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2003), 28.

This teaching by Dr. Martin has been adapted and applied to the current material, as language barriers exist not only when one has two opposing religions meeting head-to-head, but also when one apparently shares much of the same common ground within a similar worldview—i.e., Christian faith.

[3] D. A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, [1996] 2004), 36.

[4] Ibid., 17.

[5] Ibid., 32. See Eugene A. Nida, Exploring Semantic Structures (Munich: Fink, 1975), 14.

[6] The same thing could be said of numbers. Take for example the number “1” the Arabic symbol we use to identify one is not actually the number, but the symbol that give meaning to our understanding of the concept of “1.”

[7] Douglas Wilson, “Mere Hellfire,” Blog & Mablog: Theology that Bites Back, December 3, 2018, https://dougwils.com/the-church/s16-theology/mere-hellfire%ef%bb%bf.html.  Wilson is a wonderful teacher that is ironically disliked by a great number of his household (i.e., the Christian community). We shall return to some of his teaching on the matter at hand in future posts. Until then, I would recommend you check him out if you’ve never had the pleasure before.

<a href=”http://Image by Garik Barseghyan from Pixabay“>Image by Garik Barseghyan

Posted in Communication

A Letter to Fellow Believers

We are not our own; therefore, neither is our own reason or will to rule our acts and counsels. We are not our own; therefore, let us not make it our end to seek what may be agreeable to our carnal nature. We are not our own; therefore, as far as possible, let us forget ourselves and the things that are ours. On the other hand, we are God’s; let us, therefore, live and die to him (Rom 14: 8). We are God’s; therefore, let his wisdom and will preside over all our actions. We are God’s; to him, then, as the only legitimate end, let every part of our life be directed.[i]

Dear Christian,

If only we would meditate on these truths today, we would find our lives would be tossed less to and fro upon the waves. Every wind of doctrine which blows in from the worldly coast would be easily buffeted[ii] by our steadfastness to Him and cause much less turmoil in our daily lives.

It is only through an acknowledgement of our indebtedness to the Triune God of Scripture, revealed in the perfect image of the Son—Christ Jesus, that we experience true empowerment by the Holy Spirit’s workings in our inner heart.

John Calvin often gets a bad rap for being a legalist, for teaching doctrines that sensitive Christians should stay away from. However, what I have found is that the majority of those who show great disdain for the man and his teaching which is thoroughly saturated in biblical truth, is that they have not read his works. Or if they have read them they have not spent much time mulling over the truths presented in them to test whether or not they are of God or of man.

I am not claiming that Calvin is God, MAY IT NEVER BE! He is a servant of the Lord, like we who profess Jesus are servants of the Lord. But what he has said bears our attention. Go back and reread his words above. Do they not ring true? Do you not see the legitimacy of his claims? Does your inner heart not say to you—if you truly love God—“yes, he is right.” Can you not throw down your allegiances that are built upon biased opinions and test the spirit of the teaching and see whether or not it has some merit?

When I first began in the ministry, I was warned “you dare not read such things from such men.” Why? Oddly enough, I now wonder if such warnings were given to me out of blatant ignorance or willful blindness?

Calvin bases the statement above on the following truth given to us by the apostle Paul:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.1-2).

Note, what Calvin has already said from Paul’s words—our lives are NOT our own. Neither were they ours when we were unbelievers (for God created us); neither are they ours as believers (for Christ recreated us). “To live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Php 1.21), but only insofar as we treat our lives as His to be treated and dealt with as He sees fit!

How are we to give true spiritual worship? What does that look like? Is it 45 minutes of singing? Is it mere emotional outbursts, what some call “moving’s of the Spirit?” I dare not say that in Christ we experience no such enjoyment. Our hearts are elated in the Spirit’s presence to be sure, but the point of true worship, of true sacrifice, of true love is through obedience to God’s Word. He has revealed to us what is “holy and acceptable,” what is “good…and perfect.” We do not have to guess, for He has equipped us, if only we would stop turning inward towards ourselves, but outwards to our God.

When we are transformed by His Word, we grow in dependency upon Him, and we refuse the confirmation that this world with all its false lies tries to impose upon us. Light shines brightest, when it encroaches upon the darkness not the other way around. Let us then learn to let the light of Scripture infiltrate our minds, bringing into submission our reason and our will for they were given as gifts not to be used in any fashion that we choose, but in the fashion for which God formed them—to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever.

We, who know the Lord our Savior, have been given the mind of Christ by the Holy Spirit (see 1Cor 2), so that we can discern life truly, but the caveat is this. It is possible only insofar as we are dependent up His Word. When we fail to do this, we sin. Sin is not just an outward act, but an inward motivation to do that which is contrary to our Creator. Sin is found in our thoughts, our words, and in our deeds. Let us learn then to cast such things aside, so that Christ might be glorified, and we be found faithful in our service.

Cordially yours in Christ…


ENDNOTES:

[i] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, trans. Henry Beveridge, Reprint (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1993), 3.7.1

[ii] That is to say, rather than being struck by the wind we strike it. We withstand it. We reject it. We are an encroaching wall that breaks the wind apart, rather than being broken by it.  That being said if we are found in error, if we have been seduced by that which is false and have fallen headlong into sin (of any sort), then be thankful my dear friend that we have an advocate beside the Father who, if we are faithful in our repentance, is just as faithful in His forgiveness (cf. 1John 1.9).

Image by Devanath

Posted in Attributes of God, Beliefs, Christian Perspective, Communication, dialogue, Knowing God, love, Personal Testimony, Theology, Witnessing

False Ideas and the Idols we make: Witnessing to a Witness

Opening Thoughts…

Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.

When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?

Witnessing to a Witness?

Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.

He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”

Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.

He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?

At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.

I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.

I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”

With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”

Closing Thoughts…

About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.

This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.

God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”

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ENDNOTES:

1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).

Posted in Biblical Questions, Communication, critique, Depravity, Freewill, philosophy, Theology

Back in the Saddle with Original Sin: A Review of “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty”

Do you like cake? Do you enjoy eating it? So do I, and I think I shall have a slice.1

Recently, I had responded to a fellow blogger (Haden Clark) in light of his denial of the doctrine of Original Sin. Wherever you may fall on this particular issue, this is an important biblical doctrine. We are told in Scripture that God made man upright, but in response to how God made us we have sought out many sinful schemes (Eccl 7.29). If I accurately understand Clark (and I believe I do, but he is free to correct me if I am wrong), he would merely respond to this verse that yes God made man without sin (upright), but using his freedom to will whatsoever he desires man chose to rebel. What Adam did in the garden we all do. Not by necessity. Not because Adam’s trespass is somehow consequentially afforded to us perverting who we are as human beings. Such things as these (that our sin is tied to a twisted fallen nature) Clark seemingly denies.

  • He writes: “Human nature entails imperfection (we are not God) and freewill (we are free to make our own choices). This equation (imperfection + freewill + temptation) is all I see to be the necessary for the conclusion that we will all inevitably sin of our own choosing. It is by this freewill decision to rebel against our Creator that lands us all justifiably under God’s wrath. But no, not for a second do I believe that we are born guilty, or guilty by our nature, and I have shown why I don’t believe this in the article already cited” (opening par).

I don’t want to be redundant, so I will attempt to refrain from stating what I have already said in response to the article which Clark refers. However, I do want to add that the syllogism that he offers while valid in form (modus ponens; affirming the antecedent) has a faulty premise in line 2. Namely that he seemingly equates Jesus the Son of God on equal footing with the race of Adam, denying that the “virgin birth brought on by the Holy Spirit” does anything to differentiate us (humanly speaking) from our Lord.

Clark in his new article entitled, “Why Romans 5:12-21 Does NOT say We Are Born Guilty” (https://helpmebelieveblog.com/why-romans-512-21-does-not-say-we-are-born-guilty/) hones in on three key verses (Rom 5.12, 18-19) in order to deny a doctrine that he does not want to “be stuck with” because of “the ugly conclusions” this doctrine naturally brings (par 11). I think that it is fair to say that the one possible conclusion that Clark desires to deny and thus goes to great lengths attempting to avoid is what the doctrine of Original Sin draws out…we are not FREE.

If the doctrine is true, and if this is what Paul is saying here in Romans 5, then our natures are corrupted by sin. Which opens up the logical conclusion that we are not truly free in an autonomous sense. That is to say, free to will good or evil without any internal mechanism that pushes in a direction that we do not want to go. Clark has already denied this conclusion “wholesale” (par 1) before looking at these verses in Romans.

To be fair Clark does seem to suggest that “we are prone to sin,” but he is speaking externally since there is no necessary internal pressure being applied to the individual in question who does sin. If the choice of good or bad is presented before us, we can deem what we desire—good or bad. In effect, according to Clark’s worldview we are neutral towards righteousness or unrighteousness, since our “human nature” is essentially free. Not even Erasmus would dare step into those murky waters.

Philosophically and experientially I can see why Clark would draw such conclusions. I can honestly sympathize, as there was a time in my past when I believed such things, but let’s be honest here the Bible does not paint humanity in such flowery overtones. (But…I get ahead of myself.)

What I want to do is look at Romans 5:12 and then vv. 18-19 as Clark has done in an “honest exegetical way” (par 4). What we want to avoid when studying biblical texts is doing “snapshot exegesis.” That is taking a few verses and treating them as if they stand alone, without bearing in mind the overall context/flow-of-thought. Just for clarity, I am not accusing Clark of necessarily doing this, but I want to be clear it is something I want to avoid.

Romans 5:12 “Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.”2

What is this verse saying? Clark says, “The verse is clear that the curse of Adam was death. Death entered the world through Adam” (par 4). A little later he says the same thing, “Whereas, in verse 12 “death” entered through Adam and spread to all…” (par 5).

Please reread Rom 5:12 and notice that Paul says that it is “sin” that entered through Adam. To be sure “death” does find its entrance in the garden, but “death” is the consequence of sin; sin on the other hand is the antecedent (the cause). Whatever v. 12 says, it most assuredly says Adam ushered in sin, and as Paul points out just a couple verses later “by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19).

Now I agree with Clark when he writes, “…I think Adam’s sin clearly had an effect on not only us, but all of creation” (final par). I would imagine that Clark draws this conclusion from what God decreed in Gen 3:14-19 and Rom 8:19-23, and if so I congratulate him but there are others places in Scripture that likewise reveal the fallen condition creation in a whole has been left in since Adam’s rebellion. I fail to see the logical consistency in this, how he can accept the one and deny the other, but I will leave him to muddle over such issues.

One of the things that I teach my students in studying their Bible’s is to pay attention to the grammar of the text. You do not have to know Greek (although it is admittedly better if you do) in order to notice transitional words or phrases, emphasis placed here or there.

Verse 12 starts with “Therefore”3 and so the reader is immediately keyed off to the fact that this looks back to what was written earlier. The “therefore” is there “because of” something else. Well, what is it?

What conclusion is Paul driving at from what he has said before?

Verses 1-3 speak of our rejoicing “in the hope of the glory of God” (v.2), “since we have been justified by faith” (v. 1a) and we have by this act of justification gained “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (v.1b). Which, in turns enables us to “rejoice in our sufferings” (v. 3a) that come in this life as a disciple of Jesus. Furthermore, Paul explains that as Christians our “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom 5.5).

When did this transaction take place? What is the root cause of our rejoicing and hope, and what was our condition beforehand? Paul tells us that “while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5.6; italics added). In fact, Paul says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5.8; italics added). And, not just sinners but when “we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son” (Rom 5.10a; italics added).

So, let’s get this straight. Paul says we were weak and ungodly, sinners and enemies of God before being justified in Christ receiving the Holy Spirit. For this reason, “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation” (Rom 5.11). That is to say, we were estranged from God—far from Him—before being justified by faith in Jesus Christ.

And you say, “So what, what’s the point?” That starting in verse 12 Paul begins to do a compare and contrast between the work of Christ (a work of God), and the work of Adam (a work of man). In identifying this work, he says the one is not like the other (vv. 15, 16, 17). The consequences are markedly different, although the similarities are found in two representative heads: Adam or Jesus. Up until the 5th chapter of Romans Paul has been making a careful category distinction between two different people groups (and no I’m not speaking about Jew and Gentile) those who are in Christ and those who are in Adam.

Starting in chapter 1 Paul thanks God and praises the Romans for their faith, desiring to share blessing with them if only he could get to them. He rests secured in and offers praise for the gospel of Jesus Christ which he identifies as the power of God (Rom 1.16). And then, for the remainder of chapter 1 all the way through the majority of chapter 3 he offers scathing remarks against those who are in Adam. It makes no difference if they are Jew or Gentile, if they have the Law-Word of God or not, the conclusion is the same: “None [are] righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom 3.10-12). Like I said earlier no flowery overtones.

The only difference, the only hope is found in “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Rom 3.22). Man, in his natural state possess nothing to boast about or in. The fourth chapter keeps up this necessary distinction between to people groups—the justified and unjustified—where Abraham is separated as markedly different than fallen man for he took God at His word, when all he was receiving were promises that had not yet been answered (cf. Rom 4.18-22).

Paul explains that “the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for [Abraham’s] sake alone, but for our also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Rom 4.24-25). Not everyone is a true child of Abraham, but only those who have the faith of Abraham (Rom 4.16).

What Paul has been arguing for is a category of two different types of people. This is the key to understanding the discussion to Romans 5:12-21, for Paul is comparing and contrasting two different categories of people under to different representative heads: Adam or Christ. As you will see in a moment this is important to finding your way through the weeds that Clark is unfortunately lost in.

Romans 5:18-19 “Therefore, as one trespass led to the condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.”

In looking at these verses (Rom 5.18-19) Clark readily admits that “on the surface these verses seem to buttress” the claim that we are “by nature guilty” (par 8). Now he denies this conclusion, and we shall see why here in a moment, but I do want the reader to understand the phrase “the many” does mean all. So “all men” were rightly condemned by Adam’s sin, just as “all men” are rightly justified by Jesus obedience; “all men” were made sinners because of Adam, just as “all men” are made righteous because of Jesus.

I think what Clark states regarding these verses is actually very helpful. He writes, “The important thing to note (and this really is the main point!) is that the relationship between part a and part b of both verses are univocal, symmetric…what’s true of part a must be true of part b in both verses” (par 12; italics in original). He is right. However, his conclusion is wrong because he fails to follow Paul’s line of thought throughout the Roman document separating the two distinct categories of people.

Adam represents all of mankind. We are all in Adam, we are all descended from him. I think on this Bible-believing Christians can agree.

Paul says that Adam “was a type of the one who was to come” (Rom 5.14). That is to say Adam resembled (Gr. tupos) the one who came after him. We know that this individual is the “seed of the woman” (Gen 3.15) promised in the beginning, and the “seed of Abraham” (Gen 12.7; 13.15-16; 15.5, etc.; cf. Gal 3.16). In light of the “type to come” who Paul calls in another place “the last Adam” (1Cor 15.45), his “free gift is not like the trespass” (Rom 5.15a; emphasis added) “and the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin” (Rom 5.16; emphasis added).

In other words, what Adam’s action brought in, Jesus’ action brought with it something else entirely. Because of Adam’s sin “death reigned through that one man” (Rom 5.17a); but, “through the one man Jesus Christ…the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life” (Rom 18b; reordered for clarity).

Knowing these things to be true, how then should we read vv.18-19?

Through or “in Adam” all men receive condemnation, but through or “in Jesus Christ” all men receive justification (v. 18). In Adam “the many were made sinners” (Rom 5.19a), but in Christ “the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5.19b). Clark assumes that the only way to understand this is to believe in universal justification for all people, which he says “the Gospels, and New Testament in total” (par 12) deny. I agree, and would only add that the entire teaching of Scripture (Old and New) flatly deny any form of universal justification, but that is not what Paul is arguing for. He is effectively arguing and the remainder of his Roman epistle continues this line of thought there is a category distinction between the two types of people: those in Adam and those in Christ. All those in Adam are rightly condemned (v.18) as sinners, just as all of those in Christ are rightly justified.

Clark writes, “Trying to say that Jesus’ atoning death is not universal, but Adam’s guilt is, is a fallacy” (par 12). Again, depends on whether or not you are properly defining your categories making distinctions where necessary. Words have various semantic ranges, and their meaning is definable by context only.

On the one hand Jesus’ atoning death is not universal in that all people are not saved, but on the other hand Jesus’ atoning death is universal in application to those who believe in Him. All of those individuals (universal in application, not content of the entire human race) who come to Jesus, he promises to never drive away (John 6.37). We are all born in Adam, but we are not all born in Jesus. In order to be born in the first we come by way of the flesh, but in order to be born in the second we come by way of the Spirit (John 3).

This is important. Both works of Adam and Jesus were completed in the natural world, but both men’s actions had spiritual ramifications (results) tied directly to them. We should note that Paul has no problems tying the natural implication of Adam’s sin (i.e. we all die) with the spiritual fruition garnered by it (i.e. we are all sinners). In Adam, we receive condemnation, but in Christ we receive justification—both are spiritual judgments by God.

Closing Remarks:

Clark you write, “I’m committed to letting my theology be informed by the text and not the other way around” (par 13), and yet you are adamant that “we possess a human nature which is imperfect and free to chose as we wish” (final par). You also seem to deny the concept of being “spiritually dead” (you use the phrase “spiritual death”), because you do not see it “described in the Fall narrative whatsoever…nor does any other Old Testament prophet describe the curse of the Fall as a spiritual death” (par 5).

May I suggest to you that the reason you fail to see anything to the contrary of your position is because you are so entrenched in the idea that we must be “free to choose” whatsoever we wish? To be fair the term “freewill” is nowhere plainly laid out in Scripture either, but you most assuredly believe it. Now I figure you are smart enough to realize that this does not actually prove anything, since it is an argument of silence, and such reasoning could be used against any number of orthodox Christian teachings.

My point, however, is that your theological/philosophical commitments do have a direct bearing on what you see or do not see in Scripture. The Bible does not paint us in the optimistic light that you seem to assume.

Paul is quite clear that before we are redeemed by Christ we are enslaved to sin (cf. Rom 6.6). Slaves are by nature not free, are they? David, who was a prophet of God did say that he “was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psa 51.5; cf. Job 14.4; 15.14-16). Obviously, Paul agreed for he says that we are “dead in the trespasses and sins” (Eph 2.1) because we “were by nature children of wrath” (Eph 2.3). Jeremiah, another prophet states categorically that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jer 17.9), no doubt this is what the Lord alluded to when he said that from our hearts comes “evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person…” (Matt 5.19-20a).

Why are all men sinners? Why does the Bible speak with such pejoratives describing the human condition, if what you say is true that we are essentially good? You admit that Adam’s ushering in sin did something, but when the language is before you describing what that something is, you categorically deny it? Could you please turn me to where you learned from Scripture that man is this angelic like creature (able to will the good or the bad) that you presuppose so that I might learn these things for myself?

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ENDNOTES:

1 By the way Clark, I loved the sarcasm in your statement regarding having your cake and eating it to. I had a few good-natured laughs in light of it. Of course, it was that biting mockery that led me to want to respond yet again.

2 All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).

3 Various English versions translate the phrase (dia houtos) “So then” (NET), “Because of this” (LEB), “Wherefore” (Webster), “Just as” (ISV) with the idea of comparing what came before. It should be noted that much of what Paul discusses in Romans 5:12-21 also has a direct bearing on what follows after in the subsequent chapters of the letter. In particular a compare and contrast between being a slave to sin or to righteousness (the one by natural means, the other spiritual); as well as, the internal struggle with a dual nature dueling within the heart of the redeemed (cf. Rom 7), etc.