Tag Archives: Faith

“I Want to Die in Three Years”

The introvert in me burns for solitude. The Christian in me burns for the lost.

A house on a hill. A room with a window. A desk near that window. A typewriter on the desk. Piles of books about the desk.

Look down from the window and you see a garden. Then a long lawn. And a road that winds through the hills. Miles before it reaches civilization.

Morning, noon and night spent reading, writing and wandering. In the evening a novelist pops in for a pint. On the weekend a photographer and a poet crash until Sunday afternoon.

That was my idea of utopia. Bliss fit for an Emily Dickinson, J. D. Salinger or Thomas Pynchon. Bliss fit for a self-absorbed intellectual snob.

Then Jesus wrecked that vision. Not all at once. But over time.

What Your Utopia Says about You

We all have our own versions of utopia. Some might be crawling with people. Others, like mine, might be devoid of people. But they all share a common theme: unfettered debauchery.

That debauchery could be mild–like endless days of reading and writing whatever I wanted. Or it could be extreme–like endless days of drinking and fornicating. But it is all damnable for one very simple reason: insertion of ourselves as the great I AM over the real I AM.

See, when it comes down to it, God doesn’t care about the brand of debauchery. He sees straight through it. He sees straight to the very root of the revolt: our rebellious hearts. Those very hearts that dream up our custom-tailored versions of utopia–the ones we carry with us into our Christian life.

The Truth Behind “Pick Up Your Cross”

It would be nice if we could cling to our utopian hopes when we become a Christian, wouldn’t it? To get Jesus plus [enter preferred pleasure]?

But do you know the verses that wreck it for us? That turns what the culture says we need [everything our heart desires] upside down to give us what God says we need [nothing but Him]?

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 

Jesus certainly didn’t save his life. He gave it all. In word, deed and even death. So he’s not asking something of us that he is unwilling to give.

In America we don’t understand what it means to lose our life for the gospel. We think “pick up our cross” and imagine a nagging mother or a failing Chevy truck. We don’t understand that to his disciples those words meant crucifixion.

They meant death.

As G. K. Chesterton said, “Jesus promised his disciples three things–that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy and in constant trouble.”

Jesus Would Die in Three Years

Yet we live in our homes on the outskirts of a city with low-crime rates, an abundance of fine restaurants and clean theaters.

And two or three times a year we travel to a beach on an island in the Atlantic Ocean, a mountain in Northern Europe or seafood pavilions in South-east Asia–rehearsal for when we retire.

We say to ourselves, “I want to save for a tour of the Great Wall of China. I want to dog sled across Alaska. I want to write the great American novel. I want to send my children to Princeton or Harvard. I want to build my retirement portfolio so I can retire at 60 and enjoy it for 20 years. I want to live forever.”

We want a lot of things, but rarely do we ever say, “I want to die in three years.”

Jesus may never have expressed those very words, but his life did. He knew that his earthly ministry would be short. And he knew that his earthly ministry would be capped off by his death. And he knew that if it was possible to avoid his death, God would’ve granted it.

But it wasn’t so.

Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour.

For it was God’s will that must be obeyed. Not His. Not ours. We do well to imitate John the Baptist and say, “He must increase, and I must decrease.”

Pity the Complacent

Not every Christian’s life will end in crucifixion. Some Christians will die by drowning. Others by stones. Still others will be beheaded, shot in the mouth or set on fire.

Of course, not every saint will die a martyr’s death. Revelation tells us there is a .

Others may only lose a limb or rot in a prison. In solitude. Or forgotten in the back country of a poor nation nursing lepers or passing out Bibles.

But one thing is for certain: we are not to pity these saints. Nor do we accuse these saints  of being complacent.

These are not Christians who . They are the ones who stood on the beam and charged through a risky routine.

It is the complacent who are to be pitied :

For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them. 

Resist the Culture

The paradox of our utopian dreams is that if we indulge them they will quickly decay into hell on earth as one after another self-centered desire is gratified.

In time we manifest our worst fears.

The recluse becomes hateful, anxious and suicidal. The gregarious becomes demanding, sensual and dependant on the approval of man. And in time we taste the misery of being our own god.

The Bible never promises a utopia on earth. The only time we see a utopia is before the Fall and after the redemption of heaven and earth. Everything in between is simply corrupted by sin.

Even our utopias.

This is not to say we can’t enjoy creation now–that we should neglect our duty to subdue the earth. I love an abusive hike through the Appalachian Mountains.

But it is to say that we should surrender our wishes for a life that conforms to culture. One that seeks security in an IRA, position of power or PhD. One that seeks definition in positive affirmations and significant achievements. Or one seeks solitude at the expense of the lost.

Instead, we should seek a life that does not love the things of this world except for this: God’s people. That is the closest thing in this world we have to gain Christ. And the closest we will ever get to utopia.

We get the real utopia (being in the presence of Christ) when we die, which very well may be an incentive to proclaim, “I want to die in three years.”

The Most Extraordinary Wisdom the World Has Ever Seen

Part of a new weekly series on the book of Matthew. This week: Matthew 12:42

There was no more spirit in her.

After seeing all his wisdom, the house he built, the food on his table, the seating of his servants, the attendance of his waiters and their clothes, his cup bearers and the stairway he used to go up to the house of the Lord…

She was breathless.

He’d answered all of her hard questions. He hid no wisdom from her. The very wisdom granted to him by God. The same wisdom, wealth and splendor that would lead him a stray.

She said that his fame fell short of the glory of the truth. And she was breathless.

Something Greater Than Solomon Is Here

A Gentile woman of royalty left her kingdom and travelled a great distance to listen to the wisdom of Solomon. In response she gave him 25 tons of gold, spices and stones.

And it will be this woman–a non-Jew–that would rise from the dead and of Jews who rejected him. They would not go out of their way to see him. They blasphemed his miracles. They despised his ministry.

And something greater than Solomon was before them.

Jesus was the greater wisdom–the very truth of God, the Messiah–wiser than Solomon in all things. Solomon spoke about the nature of this earth, society and morals. Jesus spoke about spiritual truth on the eternal welfare of souls.

And the irony is that Jesus as God was the one who . He was the one who created the nature Solomon studied. Who preserved and governed the society he explained. And was the foundation for the virtues Solomon taught.

Loving the Lie More Than the Truth

But they did not want this wisdom. Instead, they wanted worldly wisdom. In essence, “claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things” ().

In our own time, we are attempted to reject Jesus’ teachings in favor of intellectual giants and their intellectual achievements. Everyone has their favorite. Albert Einstein. Friedrich Neitsczche. Ayn Rand. Leo Tolstoy. Steve Jobs.

What they all share is their own brand of truth. A truth that in its essence rejects Jesus as God. That attempts self salvation without regeneration. That leads to depravity rather than morality. That leads to condemnation rather than hope.

We shall suffer the same fate as those Jews if we exchange the truth of God for a lie and worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator.

Something greater than Einstein, Nietzsche, Rand, Tolstoy and Jobs is here. Wisdom that will exceed our expectations. Splendour that will leave us breathless. And our proper response should be reckless adoration.

By the way, if you liked what you read please . Then share this post on Twitter and Facebook.

Feeling Sorry for That Poor Man in Sierra Leone? Don’t

Talk about flawed. Read the following verses from :

And the Lord spoke to Moses and to Aaron, saying, 27 “How long shall sthis wicked congregation grumble against me? tI have heard the grumblings of the people of Israel, which they grumble against me. 28 Say to them, u‘As I live, declares the Lord, vwhat you have said in my hearing I will do to you: 29 wyour dead bodies shall fall in this wilderness, and xof all your number, listed in the census yfrom twenty years old and upward, who have grumbled against me, 30 not one shall come into the land where I zswore that I would make you dwell, aexcept Caleb the son of Jephunneh and Joshua the son of Nun.

What was your reaction to reading that? Sorrow? Sorrow for the rebellion of a people toward their gracious God?

Want to know mine? I was sad. I was sad that that generation was forgotten. It was erased off the face of the earth. Erased out of collective memory.

I was sad that no one’s name–except for Caleb and Joshua–was preserved in history. And that that fate was more than likely my fate.


The Man in the Sierra Leone Village

I am obsessed with obscurity. I fear falling out of earshot with the literary elite–both living and dead.

I fear if my name is not embedded for AT LEAST four hundred years in our anthologies that I will have failed.

As you can imagine, this has created massive and unnecessary grief in the mornings spent agonizing over my future. Stupid attempts at attention.

Strangely enough, I used to feel sorry for the anonymous of the world. The man in the small village in the hills of Sierra Leone.

I used to feel guilty for my fortune of growing up in a country where opportunities are abundant. Where fame is at arms reach. While they were damned to obscurity.

Then it dawned on me: if not for the grace of God, those forces are at work on everyone.

Including me.

How I Have It Backwards

But that scheme is all wrong to begin with. I am elevating popularity in this life over popularity in the next life. On this note, the Bible is clear: popularity in this life equals .

However, obscurity–anonymity–in this life equals popularity in the next. Every advantage I have over that man in Sierra Leone in this life amounts to a disadvantage in the next life.

He will be honored beyond anything I could have ever imagined. And that is the more precious prize.

Creeds + Catechisms: Why You Don’t Have to Be Afraid


Creed and catechism. Two words that scare a lot of people.

Do they scare you? Turn you off? If so, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Maybe catechisms scare you because of your rigorous Catholic school upbringing.

Perhaps creeds appall you because of your experience in a church that split over “doctrine.”

Or maybe somebody simply told you from the pulpit that creeds and catechisms were of the devil.

Whatever the reason, you don’t have to fear creeds or catechisms. They’re your friend.

Why I’m Talking about Creeds and Catechisms Now

Over the last week I’ve been grooming the idea of what we believe as Christians.

I’ve done this through posts like How Do You Know Christ Is Real? and the Problem with Your Personal Testimony.

Today I want to close this short series by talking about creeds and catechisms and why they are important to a believer’s life.

Short History on Creeds in the Church

In , Paul lays down the backbone of what we believe as Christians–a message he preached as of first importance:

That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.  Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.

Gary Habermas in his book  argues this is an early creed–a simple statement of belief shared by the early church.

Other early creeds recorded in the New Testament are found in ,  and .

Why Creeds Are Important

Why this emphasis on standard creeds and doctrine by Paul and others in the New Testament?  gives us many reasons. Here are four:

1. To equip saints for the work of ministry.

2. To have a unified church.

3. To mature believers.

4. To avoid the seductive power of false doctrines.

The importance of creeds can’t be overstated: Maturity and growth hinge on a unified doctrine. But how do we make creeds part of our faith? Catechisms are one way.

Why You Should Care about Creeds and Catechisms

Catechisms–systematic summaries of doctrine usually recorded as a question-and-answer manual meant to be memorized–are an important  part of a believer’s life.

In fact, the purpose behind catechisms is the education of believers–both children and adults–into a full understanding of Christian life.

But if you don’t have a unified, universal creed, you can’t have a unified catechism. And if you don’t have either, you’re at risk of diluting the original message and ultimately retarding spiritual growth.

So, whether you know it or not, creeds and catechisms are very important to your spiritual growth.

Here’s My Point

Creeds frame what we believe. Catechisms help us learn what we believe, namely the good news of Jesus Christ.

But if we don’t have a unified understanding of what we believe, we have chaos. Personally and corporately.

Thus, don’t re-invent the wheel. Creeds, confessions and catechisms are timeless. Read and memorize a few creeds if you haven’t already.

A good place to start is the . Then the . Better yet, memorize . And other creedal portions of Scripture.

From there you can tackle larger creedal texts like the Canons of Dordt or the .

So tell me: What’s been your experience with creeds and catechisms? Good? Bad? Have you ever thought of using creeds or confessions in your own family devotion time?

Truth (A Quick and Dirty Guide)


In which we try not to argue over our differences about the truth on truth.

What is truth?

And does anybody have a lock on it?

The preacher? The scientist? The scholar? The engineer? The psychologist? The shaman?

Furthermore, can you trust them?

Not easy questions to answer.

There are so many competing claims and different approaches.

Can we REALLY know the truth? I think we can. And to help me answer that question, a while back I asked my friend Rob Powell to help.

He agreed and knocked out three posts on truth: Absolutism, Pluralism and Scientism. [See below.]

I then pulled together some more posts dealing with the question “what is truth?”

Perhaps you’ve seen them before. If so, skim through each for a little refresher course on truth.

If you haven’t seen these posts before, walk through them slowly and then let me know what  you think.

In the end, we might disagree. My hope is that I at least get you to think. And I promise to do the same for you.

Enjoy the list!

Absolutism (What You Need to Know–and Why)

Is truth absolute? Or is it relative and merely based on personal preferences? There has to be a right answer, right? There is.

Pluralism (What You Need to Know–and Why)

On the surface pluralism seems like a reasonable explanation for the diversity of faiths we see. Look below the surface and it’s not.

Scientism (When You Shouldn’t Trust a Scientist)

Science is awesome. It provides us with great party tricks and is the most predictable way to study the world. But what is it? And can it ever go wrong?

Pragmatism (Where It Breaks Down and Why You Should Care)

Pragmatist argue that it’s necessary to check our religious beliefs at the door when we debate issues. Unfortunately, that can’t work.

The Blind Men and a Queer Animal

In an ancient parable, dozens of hermits and scholars are making conflicting claims about reality. Who was right? D. None of the above.

The Blissfully Plastic Moral Base of Humanism

What does the meaningless, value-absent creed of humanism have to offer? It might surprise you.

How to Answer “That’s Just Your Interpretation

What are we to do when people say, “Well, that’s just your interpretation?” when we present them with moral or biblical truths? Here’s what you say.

How to Deal with Religious Conflict

What beliefs create peaceful behavior and deal with the discord of religion? Here’s the answer.

Hard Questions: How to Make Sense of the World

Answer these seven questions and you’ll discover what’s at the bottom of all your thoughts about God, yourself and the world.

What Camus and Frankl Can Teach You about the Meaning of Life

Is it possible to find meaning in life without God? Albert Camus and Victor Frankl think so.

Russel’s Tea Post, Snuggies and Talking Frogs

What’s the difference between God and an imaginary teapot–and where does this cute little analogy ultimately break down? Take a look.

What Happens to Our Faith When God Disappears?

Christian faith is often brittle. It’s often punctuated with moments of doubt. Persecution. Isolation. Fear.

We can sometimes spend entire nights staring at the ceiling or pacing the floor praying, “God, I cannot do this unless I know you are with me. Where are you? Don’t hide. Please. I need you.”

It’s as if God’s gone AWOL.

Michael Patton  when his sister died.

It was a devastating buzz kill to a man who was a seminary superstar on a spiritual high, always optimistic when everyone else was in the dumps…

Always seeing the good in the evil.

However, this tragedy caused enormous confusion.

And he couldn’t shake it.

Spiritual Loneliness and Our Circumstances

Since that time he’s had his ups and downs. Exhausted from ministry and struggling to provide for his family, you could easily say that when he wrote that post he’d spent an extended period in the downs.

But don’t count him out.

In the midst of his painful post he writes:

Those of you atheists and former Christians who suspect that they are about to have another Christian cross over to the dark side, put up your party hats, blowouts, and (ahem) cake. I am not close. One thing that I have learned, believe, and teach with great conviction is that my circumstances do not have a vote in truth. Nothing that I go through can alter or affect the cardinal issues of my faith. Jesus Christ either died and rose from the grave or he did not. It is upon this that the entirety of my faith rests.

Here’s the deal: Our faith will be assaulted…and then weakened. But true saving faith will always prevail because it’s not dependent upon our circumstances.

It’s dependent on something more concrete.

What Does Spiritual Growth REALLY Look Like?

The doctrine of the perseverance of the saints doesn’t mean our Christian life is one of steady upward growth without failure.

Yes, it’s upward. But it looks more like a saw-tooth than a gentle slope toward the sky.

Any Christian can relate: We can go from an acute sense of holiness and the presence of God to very bad sin and feelings of isolation all the way back to a so-called intimacy–within weeks…or even days.

 doesn’t mean we won’t sin or experience despair. Nor does it mean we won’t sin or despair GRIEVOUSLY. Truly regenerate Christians can commit murder, adultery and even publicly reject Christ.

They even can live in depression. But NEVER persistently. The Bible is clear: A Christian can fall. And fall hard. But not fully or finally.

Spiritual Growth Involves War

Our faith is weak. And we will naturally be bruised as we fight the good fight of faith. The Bible promises us a war.

Thing is, we’ll never be abandoned during that war. Even when it feels like God has gone AWOL.

Martin Luther stood alone at the Diet of Worms against the most powerful men of his time. He spent the prior night praying in agony. He knew he could not do what he was going to do unless God was behind him.

In his :

My persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

In the same letter Paul uncovers his own despondency when he declares: “No one came to stand by me. All deserted me…. But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me. …The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

We are in good company when we experience despair and pain. Furthermore, we also know that we will be victorious. God will rescue us because Jesus Christ is the author and finisher of our faith.

And what is our faith? , “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for.” Our hope in Christ is the anchor of our soul.

What Faith Is and Isn’t

This is not faith AGAINST the evidence. But a faith of substance. Nor is it a faith in skimpy evidence…and we’re told to believe anyway.

It is not ephemeral and wishful, but rooted in the historical life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s based upon the manifold evidence that Christ is God’s son.

And that he came to redeem the world.

Faith is a gift from God. He is the author of that faith. He’s also responsible through the Holy Spirit to nourish that faith. And we have God’s promise that he will not abandon that work–but finish it.

And that’s why in the midst of doubt or trials Michael Patton, Martin Luther, the Apostle Paul and even Demian Farnworth can say, “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom.”

The Simple, Bare-Bones Secret to Radical Faith

Simply fulfilling my promise to write about Radical all week.

A manly, near-reckless radical faith. Where does one get that? Does one want it? Great questions. The answer WILL surprise you.

Back in the early 19th century British Protestant missionary to China  said:

Too long have we been waiting for one another to begin! The time for waiting is past!…

Should such men as we fear?

Before the whole world, aye, before the sleepy, luke-warm, faithless, namby-pamby Christian world, we will dare to trust our God,..and we will do it with His joy unspeakable singing aloud in our hearts.

We will a thousand times sooner die trusting only in our God than live trusting in man.

And when we come to this position the battle is already won, and the end of the glorious campaign in sight.

We will have the real Holiness of God, not the sickly stuff of talk and dainty words and  pretty thoughts; we will have a Masculine Holiness, one of daring faith and works of Jesus Christ.

A manly, near-reckless faith.

Where does one get that? Great question. First, let me explain what I’m doing this week.

Here’s the deal: I want to devote the entire week to what I started yesterday as a review of David Platt’s book Radical.

That book is simply too rich to compress into one 1,000 word post. And simply too valuable to drop after just one day.

We need to expand. So let’s go.

Resisting Typical Expectations

Arguably the best chapter in Radical is the second to the last: “Living When Dying Is Gain.” That chapter can be summed up like this:

The stories we hear about believers who are hated, beat and killed in distant countries are stories about people who’ve found a desire deeper than the basic human will for self-preservation: the desire to serve Christ and be his witness.

This desire even trumps the fear of death.

In fact, death isn’t viewed as an enemy and a coffin as a rot box. They’re viewed as a reward and a launching pad. This is the essence of what Jesus taught in :

And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

Thus, when talented young men and women dismiss the expectations and promises of the world to live in filthy Palestinian refugee camps on the outskirts of Egypt…

Or in dilapidated section 8 housing in dangerous urban neighborhoods to share the gospel with the people who live there…

Only to die in obscurity a few months or years later…

Their lives are not a waste and neither are their deaths a tragedy. Rather, those lives are treasures and those deaths rewards.

Let me explain what I mean by that.

Death Is Dead to Me

The Bible teaches us that the instant we die we are ushered into the presence of Christ.

In that instant we glimpse God’s glory and unimaginable majesty. Remember, this is the great reward of the gospel: God himself.

But WAY too many Christian’s have lost that vision. A vision confiscated by the American Dream.

See, when we accept the reality that death is nothing more than a line we cross between life and God’s presence, something happens to us: We embrace a near-reckless devotion to spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is the way Paul puts it:

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:

“Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Death has been conquered. And victory secured. What do we have to fear?

Don’t Make This Mistake

Some people bristle at the notion of setting our minds on death and the afterlife because they believe it makes us worthless here on the earth.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

The person who sets his mind on heaven knows that his destiny is secure and glorious. He’s free to live the most radical life of love and sacrifice here on earth.

It was a radical faith.

Listen. The hope of safety in the afterlife cures us of timidity, fear and hopelessness. It releases a radical, risk-taking love that baffles skeptics and forces them to ask for the reason for the hope that is in us.

When you invest emotional and mental equity into the hope that death is reward and the doorway to our savior, you’ll be set free to live a fearless, near-reckless life of love and sacrifice.

That’s the kind of believer the modern church should be training and churning out. What can we do to make that happen in our own churches? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What Is True Saving Faith?

Simply believing in the gospel message doesn’t amount to saving faith. There’s something more.

When the Apostles proclaimed the gospel in the first century, it had a certain content.

People could reject that content. But they could also accept it as true.

They could even believe in it.

Yet, that still left them with out true saving faith.

Listen: Accurate content and sincere belief in that content doesn’t amount to saving faith…

Those are necessary elements–but not sufficient elements.

There’s one more element.

Let’s address the first two elements before we get to that last one.

Notitia–the First Element of True Saving Faith

One, we must make sure that content is accurate. No use believing in something that isn’t true or heretical.

As you probably know, there’s something dreadfully wrong with this statement: “It doesn’t matter what they believe–as long as they are sincere.”

 was sincere in his belief that he was called by God to abduct children, murder entire families and displace over a million Sudanese so he could establish a theocratic kingdom.

Sincerity can go awfully wrong.

The same is true for Christians: It’s meaningless to be sincere in our belief but not know whether our belief is accurate or not.

We risk heresy if we do otherwise. Thus, the first element of saving faith is accurate content–notitia. Let’s look at the second.

Assensus–the Second Element of True Saving Faith

Second, we must believe that content is true. We must assent to it. This is assensus.

But it’s still not enough to redeem us.

I believe that Augustine wrote the City of God. However, that doesn’t redeem me. There has to be something more.

Fiducia–the Third Element to Saving Faith

The third element to saving faith is fiducia–personal trust and commitment in the accurate content we believe.

This is when a Christian accepts, receives and RELIES on Christ alone.

Granted, the message of that content is important. I could put my trust and commitment in Augustine–but it wouldn’t do me any good.

He’s not offering salvation. Only Jesus Christ is.

What Saving Faith Does to Our Lives

We look to Jesus [not Augustine nor any man] for justification, sanctification and eternal life.

With saving faith, we tremble at the commands of God…yield in obedience to the mandates of Christ…and put our trust in the promises of God for now and for the future.

In essence, it radically rearranges our lives. Christ becomes our object of delight. Our obsession.

And we long to do nothing more than please him. [We don’t always succeed, but that’s another story.]

Here’s the core content we we confess as true, deserving of our belief and worthy of our submission:

That Christ was born, willingly and perfectly lived under the law of God and died as an atoning act. We believe he was dead, buried and rose again.

Only when we believe that information is accurate and trust it holds the power to save us can we safely say we are born again.

Anything less and Jesus is not saving us.

Pluralism (What You Need to Know–and Why)

Guest post by Rob Powell. Part of a series on truth.

In continuing our discussion about truth and absolutism let’s move to how that idea intersects with the wide diversity of faiths represented in our world, specifically in the concept called “pluralism.”

We’ve all heard the allegory of the blind men feeling different parts of an elephant.

Each man describes a completely different animal based on what part they are feeling.

The moral of the story is that each is relating just a small but true part of a larger truth.

This parable is a feel good way to reconcile the differences between the thousands of different religions in society.

In fact, somebody should make a song out of it so they can add a verse to It’s a Small World.

Pluralism: The Good and the Bad

On the surface pluralism seems like a reasonable explanation for the diversity of faiths we see.

Nobody gets their feelings hurt by being told they are wrong and everybody gets to do what they think is true.

A little deeper inspection though shows that just like relativism this view falls apart under it’s own weight.

To allow all these discordant faiths to agree the pluralist has to do a few things, but first let’s take a look where faiths disagree.

Do All Religions [Basically] Agree? Eh, No.

To make that less than a 2 year doctoral thesis we’ll limit our discussion to the most populous religions.

Not that numbers equals truth but even the most PC pluralist isn’t going to say that the Heaven’s Gate Cult or the Branch Davidians has a truth claim equally as valid as Buddhism or Islam.

Bottom line: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism all have a diagnosis for what is wrong with humanity and a cure to fix it.

It’s past the scope of this article to delve into all the differences but they are not insignificant. Here are a few:

The number of gods. Some religions believe there is no God while others believe in only one and still others embracing many.

The problem of sin. All religions describe a very different program to curing sin.

The body and mortality. Each religion seeks to explain the purpose behind our bodies and solve the riddle of death.

In all these examples, the cures range from faith in Christ, to an esoteric experience where we see we are immaterial self aware beings with all knowledge or to realizing that all we are is fleeting conscious states.

The pattern here is clear.

There are a diversity of perceived spiritual problems–and a myriad of just as diverse solutions.

What We Must Avoid

To try and boil all this down and just say that people are broken and need a cure would be as silly as saying a person has “sick” and needs “better”.

If your appendix has ruptured you will not find a doctor that recommends in vitro fertilization.

Each specific diagnosis needs a specific remedy.

Maybe the pluralist believes that God will save those not of a certain tradition based on how they responded to what knowledge they had accessible to them. For example, the Christian God might save Buddhists because they were sincere in their belief.

Unfortunately this is not what ANY of these individual faiths teach. Also, past just the general diagnosis, religions disagree on what makes up a human.

What the Pluralist Must Do to Make Religions “Agree”

Do we have an enduring soul or are we merely a collection of momentary states? Either people come in two (or more) distinct flavors or you have to believe these both of these self contradicting things to be true at the same time.

So how does the pluralist make all of this work for them?

For example, there is no mechanism in the Christian worldview where the Buddhist’s sin problem is resolved outside of faith in Christ. Nor is there is no mechanism in the Buddhist tradition whereby the Christian becomes enlightened.

So the pluralist must create their own system whereby the two are compatible and neither can hold the other as incorrect.

This involves either treating all religious exclusive claims as either being non-literal (mythical) or having limited importance.

This would include any claims to miracle which would seem to add credence to one faith over another. What really matters to the pluralist is harmony, love, justice and unity.

In other words, how you live your faith (orthopraxy) is more important than what how your faith says you should live (orthodoxy).

The Pluralist’s Sleight of Hand

But did you see what just happened there? The pluralist in attempting to negate all the exclusive claims of different religions created an exclusive claim of their own.

The pluralist denies the Muslim a chance to define his or her own religion with exclusive claims but is completely free to do so themselves.

Pluralism fails pluralistically. Which brings us back to the elephant.

A pluralist takes each person describing their religious truth and enlightenment and says “Yes but what you don’t know is that you are blind and only see in part.”

That’s perfectly laughable because the implication is that the pluralist can see just fine and in whole–and you can’t.

In the end, he’s more than happy to make a claim to exceptional knowledge that he won’t let any single faith make own their own.

The Pluralist Is Just as Blind

As you can see, pluralism isn’t an overarching view that combines all faiths in one big bubble bath of goodness. It’s just one more view claiming special enlightenment and truth–which isn’t very pluralistic, don’t you think?

So when someone says “What matters is that it makes sense to me and enables me to grow spiritually,” it’s easy to see the benefit to this claim even taken at face value and not applying it to itself.

It allows everyone to do what they want how they want to do it.

But if there is no objective truth to be found outside of one’s belief then you can never be wrong in what you believe.

In essence you’ve created a Stepford God that is made in your own image–he’s a robotic butler who will never contradict you but always please you.

Unfortunately this approach destroys the distinction between the terms “truth” and “belief” and implies that something is true because “I believe it.”

Where Pluralism Threatens the Christian Church

So where does pluralism affect the Christ follower and it’s church. Here’s a quote from JP Moreland’s book  that I think says it well:

[Such] a church . . . will become . . . impotent to stand against the powerful forces of secularism that threaten to bury Christian ideas under a veneer of soulless pluralism and misguided scientism. In such a context, the church will be tempted to measure her success largely in terms of numbers—numbers achieved by cultural accommodation to empty selves. In this way, . . . the church will become her own grave digger; her means of short-term “success” will turn out to be the very thing that marginalizes her in the long run.

The call is clear to preach the obnoxious and offensive gospel to a world and church that most of the time doesn’t want to hear it.

How Faith Is Created in Your Soul

Ever wonder how you got the faith necessary to believe Christ is the Son of God?

Some people would tell you that God’s grace assists a believer to exercise his faith…

A faith that’s native to his being.

That’s the so-called semi-Pelagian view.

And on this view, everything depends decisively on a person’s response.

But this was not the view of Augustine, Luther, Calvin or Edwards. Nor is it the teaching of the New Testament.

The New Testament tells us that we are spiritually dead and blind rebels and unless the Holy Spirit raises us from spiritual death, God’s offer of grace would be like giving water to a dead man.

Dead men don’t drink water.

Neither do dead men respond to offers of grace. At least not until they are raised from the dead.

This view is spelled out in Paul’s letters. For instance, , “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

What is NOT our doing? Paul is clear: the origination of our faith.

The Killer Blow to Semi-Pelagianism

Yes, it becomes our faith. We exercise that faith. Nobody else does it for us. But we can’t exercise what we don’t have, so God, through salvation, gives us faith to accept his grace.

Paul’s simple statement is a deathblow to all forms of semi-Pelagianism.  It affirms that the faith by which you are justified…by which you are united in Christ…and that is the instrumental cause of your justification…did not originate in some activity or decision of your will.

It did not come from unregenerate flesh. It came from God. Decisively.

God made a promise to save every person who responds to the gospel with faith:

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 

Fortunately for us that response doesn’t depend on our self-absorbed, wretched will.

No. It depends on God. That way our faith is eternally stable and secure. Our preservation is a promise that can’t be broken.

In all things–from creation to redemption to glorification–he remains the sovereign, provident and all-powerful God.

And that is a God worthy of our adoration.