Sunday, August 31, 2014

A (Poor) Mary Apologetic

As an ex-Catholic, I often bristle at the way in which our Catholic brethren are looked down on by Protestants. Obviously I agree with our theology or I wouldn't have left the Catholic church; but I feel in general that Catholics--even those who are very sincere believers and accept everything Biblically required for salvation--are treated as cultists.

But then I read something like this. And I remember, "Oh yeah - the Mary thing. The worst part of Catholicism." And then I remember the nine-part series I started, of which I completed three parts before feeling like I was picking on them and getting distracted by a shiny object or a squirrel or something.

Maybe one day I will finish that series. Until then, let me take apart this argument in the meantime.

The link above is to a Catholic site, offering a supposedly airtight argument to prove that adoration of Mary as the Queen of Heaven is Biblical.

The priest in question sets up an imaginary dialog between a Catholic Christian (CC) and a Non-Catholic Christian (NCC).

The problem is that this is the mother of all straw-man arguments:  our poor NCC is apparently a moron incapable of properly defending his faith or having a rational argument, and that is not exactly a fair representation.

So I thought I'd add in a bit to this conversation, as "RC"--Rebooted Christian. Let's investigate the argument at that point. My part will be in red.

NCC (non Catholic Christian) – Why do y’all say that Mary is Queen of Heaven? Don’t you know that’s a pagan title? That’s the name the pagan people in the Old Testament times gave to their goddess. Just look it up in Jeremiah 44.17-25. That’s the term they used for the goddess Astarte, and you Catholics worship Astarte you just call her Mary!

CC (Catholic Christian) – Whoa! Hold on there a minute. First of all we don’t worship Astarte. For that matter we don’t worship Mary either. We worship God alone. We honor Mary, and we sure do honor her above every other creature–including the angels. We have three words to describe the different types of religious honor. Latria  is the worship given to God alone. Dulia is the honor we pay to saints and angels. Hyperdulia  or “super dulia” is the honor we give to Mary.

RC (Rebooted Christian) -- The question though is whether this is a distinction without a difference. It is fine to give a different name to it, but if it still amounts to actual worship in the end, then calling it "honor" is no different. The simple fact is that in orthodox Judaism, you do not see anything like this. You do not see honor or prayers given to the angels or to kings or to prophets; quite the opposite, in fact. During every encounter in Scripture between a man and an angel, the man falls to his face and the angel quickly tells him to arise, for the angel is not to be worshipped.

In the end, we must see if there is a practical difference versus just a naming difference. The Catholic devotions to the Trinity include: feast days of honor, prayers, communion, and the like. And they believe that God did and does continue to perform miracles. The Catholic devotions to Mary and the Saints include:  feast days of honor, prayers, statues, and the like. And they believe that Mary did and does continue to perform miracles. Indeed, the Rosary includes 10 times more prayers to Mary than to Jesus or the Triune God.

So while it is nice that the CC has such nice fancy terms, in practice there is no distinguishable difference between what they call 'worship' and what they call 'veneration'...which is why Orthodox Jews and all Protestants have always called it idolatry.

NCC – Yes, but where do you find that in the Bible?
CC – Jesus points to Mary and says, “Here is your mother” and he tells us to keep the commandments and the fourth commandment is “Honor Your Father and Your Mother.”
NCC – You’re just being tricky.
CC – So you asked for Biblical support for the honor of Mary, and when I give it you’re not happy?

RC (Rebooted Christian) -- Not if that is the best you've got, no. You cannot POSSIBLY really believe what you're selling here, right?

First of all, you can't possibly believe that the fourth commandment really was a reference to Mary. Not if you want to treat the Scriptures with absolutely any seriousness.

Secondly, you cannot say that because Jesus pointed to Mary and called her His mother, that this makes her our spiritual mother as well. Let's look at Matthew 12:46-50, shall we?:  "While Jesus was talking to the crowd, His mother and brothers stood outside, wanting to speak to Him. Someone told Him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.' He replied, 'Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?' Pointing to His disciples He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.' "

Do you see that your logic actually defeats itself? Here Jesus points to all of us followers as His mother. If then His mother deserves spiritual honor due to the fourth commandment, THEN SO DO WE ALL, for in Matthew He calls us all His mother if we follow Him! So therefore, then, Mary deserves the same honor as any other follower.

Your logic literally defeats itself. If Jesus pointing to Mary and calling her Mother makes her specially deserving of veneration, then Matthew 12 makes us all deserving of exactly the same; which means veneration is equal for Mary and for the Christian down the road.

NCC – Let’s go back to Mary Queen of Heaven. I never heard of anything so crazy. Why do you imagine that this simple girl is the Queen of Heaven?
CC: Do you believe that Jesus is the King of Heaven? You sing that hymn “Crown Him with Many Crowns” don’t you? The “Lamb Upon the Throne”?
NCC – We’re not too big on those old fashioned hymns, but sure, Jesus is the King of Heaven.
CC – And Jesus talks about “his Kingdom” and “the Kingdom of God” all the time right?
NCC – I guess.
CC – And he’s the Son of David. You’re still with me?
NCC – Sure.
CC – And according to Luke 1: 32-33 Jesus inherits the throne of his father David correct?
NCC – OK. So?
CC – Well, if Jesus has inherited the throne of his Father David, and he is now the King of Heaven, you have to remember that in King David’s time, and in the understanding of the Jews the Queen of a Kingdom was not the wife of the King, but the Mother of the King. In David’s kingdom the Queen is the Queen Mother. You can find this in the Old Testament if you like. Check out I Kings 1. Bathsheba was Solomon’s mother and she reigns as the queen–not one of Solomon’s many wives.
NCC – How does that connect with Mary?
CC – It’s not that hard is it? If Jesus inherits the throne of David and is the King of Heaven, and Mary is his mother, then Mary is the Queen Mother of the restored Kingdom of David, and not that Jesus is King of Heaven that makes Mary the Queen Mother of the Heavenly kingdom.

RC - Need I point out the absurd logic of this one as well? If you are going to say that Jesus' earthly physical blood relationships equate to global, spiritual relationships and kingships, then you must take that fully to its logical end. Therefore Joseph is also the King of Heaven, as Jesus' father. Therefore James and Jude and His brothers and sisters are Princes and Princesses of Heaven. Therefore John the Baptist is a Duke or something, as His cousin.

Who knew? When we get to Heaven, apparently the peerage system comes into play.

But even if that were the case, above we have the classic bait-and-switch. The CC uses the terms for David's earthly kingdom and Heaven--the spiritual fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant--as interchangeable. So he assumes that just because David's earthly kingdom becomes Jesus' spiritual kingdom, that the traditions common to David's earthly kingdom will somehow transfer up to Jesus' spiritual kingdom. It is like he is arguing that the picture is more real than the item being painted:  David's kingdom was a type of Jesus' kingdom, not the other way around. Jesus' kingdom will not have to name His earthly mother the queen just because in David's time a king's mother would be named queen.

NCC – That’s far out! How can you spin all of that out of one little verse in Scripture?
CC – Let’s not go there shall we? If we start talking about spinning stuff out from one verse of Scripture you may have some explaining to do don’t you think?
NCC – OK. Point taken.

RC - Umm, no. Great straw man argument here. Look Catholics love to say this one about Protestants, that we take too much from one Scripture. But the fact is that most every Protestant doctrine can be found wholesale throughout the Bible (which is not surprising, given sola scriptura). Catholicism, on the other hand, generally gets its theology from the Catechism and goes searching for verses as proof-texts, like the one above. Hence, no context whatsoever.

I too think often NCC's misunderstand Scripture or miss context. But nowhere near as much as the CC has done in this very article. This is the perfect example of the pot calling the kettle black.

CC – Besides. The idea that Mary is the Queen of Heaven is in Scripture.
NCC – Now what kind of trick are you going to pull?
CC – Let’s open our Bibles brothers and sisters to the Book of Revelation chapter 12 and verse 1. Here we see the Mother of the Redeemer who is a sign in heaven and hey look! She’s crowned with twelve stars. The mother of Jesus in heaven with a crown? Sounds like a Queen of Heaven to me.

RC - I knew eventually we would get here because this is the only thing remotely close to an actual relevant Scripture on the topic.

But it's so convenient how Catholics forget portions of their own history when it does not suit them, isn't it? Most ancient commentators--Catholic and otherwise--interpreted the woman of Revelation 12 as the Church; indeed, Haydock's Catholic Bible Commentary of the 19th century still says that if this refers to Mary it is only secondary to its main purpose of depicting the Church.

Other ancient commentators (with whom I agree, by the way) identified this as ancient Israel, due to the twelve stars around her head (the twelve tribes of Israel). This is, by the way, what the commentary of the official Catholic Bible, the New American, says.

In the Middle Ages, when Marian doctrines began to form, people began changing this to be a reference to Mary. Others saw it as a reference to Eve. But these have been very minor interpretations historically, certainly not enough to justify worshipping Mariam of Nazareth.

NCC – That’s very interesting.
CC – Do you want to become a Catholic now?

RC - Actually, reading this I remember precisely why I stopped being one.

Read more:

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Tearing apart a ridiculous argument

A friend of a friend on Facebook the other day posted an article titled, "I Waited Until My Wedding Night to Lose My Virginity, and I Wish I Hadn't."

It is one of the most absurd and poorly-argued stances I've heard. One part of my just wanted to roll my eyes and say, "THIS is what happens when someone with no education writes an article," but then I realized that people were actually taking it seriously. So I thought I would just take it apart, bit by bit.

The article starts with a girl talking about taking a purity pledge at the age of 10, an age where she loves Barbies and tea parties and hated boys and didn't even have her period--an age where she was incapable of making such a commitment. I would agree with her here, and I think such church strong-arm tactics are a poor substitute for actual Biblical education. So at this point, I was okay with her article.

That's when things came off the rails a bit.

The church taught me that sex was for married people. Extramarital sex was sinful and dirty and I would go to Hell if I did it.

Nope. I call BS #1 here. No Baptist church in the world tells people that they will go to Hell for having sex; it is not a works-based theology. I find that impossible to believe. It's more likely that she assumed that but there is not a church in all of Christianity which teaches that sexual activity is an unforgivable sin.

More likely, she was told "sin leads to Hell" (which, apart from Jesus' work on the Cross, it does). And then she heard that extramarital sex was a sin (which it is), and therefore turned that in her mind to, "The church teaches sex leads to Hell."  But by that logic, the church equally teaches that cursing leads to Hell or a single lie leads to Hell.

I learned that as a girl, I had a responsibility to my future husband to remain pure for him. It was entirely possible that my future husband wouldn't remain pure for me, because he didn't have that same responsibility, according to the Bible.

Nope, BS #2. No church said that. There is not a single church doctrinal statement in the world which says that, nor a single quote of Scripture which can be used to back it up. The same standard--abstinence until marriage, fidelity until death--has always been the Christian standard for both males and females. (Though it IS true that males have, historically, broken this law more than women!)

I lost my virginity on my wedding night, with my husband...Sex hurt. I knew it would. Everyone told me it would be uncomfortable the first time. What they didn't tell me is that I would be back in the bathroom afterward, crying quietly for reasons I did not yet comprehend.

Because that certainly only occurred because you waited until marriage, right? No one has EVER felt shame upon losing their virginity before marriage, right?

I hated sex. Sometimes I cried myself to sleep because I wanted to like it, because it wasn't fair. I had done everything right. I took the pledge and stayed true to it. Where was the blessed marriage I was promised?

1. No where in the Bible does it promise that if you follow God's laws you will have a great sex life.

2. By this logic ("do everything right = great sex life"), you inherently imply that those who can't have a great sex life (due to injury or disability or erectile dysfunction or sexual abuse) have somehow done something wrong.

3. Again, waiting until marriage did not cause this. There is no reason to believe that she wouldn't have had the same reaction had she slept around at 16.

Waiting didn't give me a happily ever after. Instead, it controlled my identity for over a decade, landed me in therapy, and left me a stranger in my own skin. I was so completely ashamed of my body and my sexuality that it made having sex a demoralizing experience.

1.  Again, waiting until marriage doesn't cause this. I know lots of people who waited until marriage. I'm one. My wife is one.  Nothing about waiting until marriage requires this kind of neurosis.

2.  No Christian theology would ever say that "avoiding sin X" should control your identity or shape your worldview. We are a people who believe most of what we do is sin, and we are forgiven only by Him. We remain virgins not because this is our identity, but because HE is our identity. Our identity is shaped by Jesus and what He did for us; things like virginity are natural outpourings.

3. Obviously there is a serious amount of self-shame going on here, which again has nothing to do with choosing to abstain from doing something.

This is essentially the author saying, "I am anorexic because someone told me dieting was good." There is a deeper problem here which is either totally unrelated to virginity, or was made worse by her pursuit of virginity. But the underlying issues were there, regardless.

I don't go to church anymore, nor am I religious. As I started to heal, I realized that I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time. I chose sex.

Obviously she's never read Song of Solomon. Songs 5:14 has Solomon's wife refer to him by saying, "His body is like polished ivory decorated with lapis lazuli." OK, that sounds nice, right? Nothing sexual there, she religiously loves her husband's body like a set of jewels.

But what does it say in the Hebrew? Well the word used for "body" here actually refers to the "belly" or "womb" of a person; the word for "polished ivory" actually means an elephant's tusk. The words lapis lazuli are usually used to refer to sapphires and their beauty.

In other words, the Bible has Solomon's wife saying that his "womb area" is "like an elephant's tusk" and is beautiful. There is no other way to say it: the Bible records a woman enjoying her husband's endowment. And encourages this.

You cannot read the Scriptures honestly and not conclude that (a) God created sex, (b) sex is meant to be enjoyable, and (c) there is no need for shame in it.

HOWEVER, that does not mean that sex should be had at the drop of a hat. Like anything, it is enjoyable only within its appropriately designed boundaries. We love to swim, but if we tried to live by swimming like the fish, we would die: it is a good feeling and nothing wrong, but only if done in the appropriate way. The same is true of sex, food, entertainment--anything. Things must be done properly if they are to be enjoyed fully.

But it is ridiculous to say "I couldn't figure out how to be both religious and sexual at the same time." If that is true, the problem is with the individual, not religion.

And IF that were true...then she is saying here essentially:  "Christianity may be true, but for me its Christianity or sex. I choose sex."  If Christianity is true, then you just made the craziest decision ever.

You would think at this point, any reader would say to themselves, "Wait a minute, though. Nearly everyone I know who IS religious has sex! In fact, studies show that they have on average the happiest sex lives. So maybe this is a problem with an individual and not with religion."

But more than anything, this clearly shows the real reason:  she is not religious. She is a "none", who was raised in the church but never actually embraced what it taught. Her faith was not hers, but her parents'. As a result, she bowed to her parent's demands regarding virginity not because of her belief, but because of her desire for their love.

I'm now thoroughly convinced that the entire concept of virginity is used to control female sexuality.

If my eyes rolled any harder, I'd get a headache.

First, I love when someone makes some outrageously bold worldview claim with not a single argument behind it. She just says, "I believe X" and then moves on, with no feeling of a desire to demonstrate it.

Second, virginity in the Christian sense is about learning to control your own desires, protecting yourself from unwanted pregnancy and disease, and--most of all--to grow into One with your partner because you two learn everything together as you age, from sex to parenting to old age.

Third, this statement actually makes no logical sense. You are BORN a virgin...does that mean that nature wants to control female sexuality? Virginity is not a CONCEPT which can be used to control something; it is a binary state. This is like saying, "The sky being blue is a concept to keep the color red down!" It is nonsense, in the trueist meaning of the word.

In short - this article is absurd. I wish I could get my time back reading it and then writing about it. But the sad truth is that I hear similar arguments in youth groups from time to time.

I blame the education system--we no longer teach people how to THINK. There are no philosophy classes any more. We teach them how to memorize and regurgitate facts. And they never learn to actually think through anything.

And thus, you get drivel like this:  a woman who (sadly) got sex really mixed up in her mind; tied to wrongly to theology as she understood it (rather than as it was written); and then when something went wrong used it to justify abandoning her parents' faith. It is an argument from emotion, not from logic.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Legislating morality

The other day, I skimmed an absolutely absurd article in an Arkansas magazine. (I was REALLY bored at the doctor or wherever we were.) This article was arguing whether we should allow clubs to stay open until 5 am, or close at 2 am. Really it was a masterful work of logical fallacies, but was such a boring topic I can't recall almost any of it, and it's not relevant to us here.

One thing did stick with me, though. One of their reasons to not close the clubs early was, "You shouldn't legislate morality."

This is of course a typical libertarian drumbeat. Liberals will say it whenever someone wants to outlaw gay marriage or drug use; conservatives will say it whenever someone wants to use taxes to redistribute wealth or ban smoking or force people to eat healthier. In all cases, the argument basically goes like this:  "Laws should be secular in nature and not influenced by a person's internal morality. That is for their personal lives, but the laws should completely avoid morality statements."

And that sounds really good--until you think about it for five or six seconds.

Because by definition, the Law is a set of nationally-agreed upon moral standards which we all agree to live by in return for being citizens of the land. EVERY law is legalized morality.

Murder. Theft. Rape. Perjury. Discrimination in hiring or firing. Fraud. Embezzlement. Littering.

Every law you can think of is our nation, collectively, deciding what is morally wrong and legislating against it.

Morality is simply defined as a body of beliefs that some group (culture, religion, whatever) uses to define "good" from "bad" behavior.

Law is defined as a set of rules for a governing body to define how its members will behave--in other words, what is "legal" from "illegal" behavior.

There is no difference between these two definitions on a practical level, and ultimately every law ends up being justified by someone saying, "It's wrong because _____, and therefore we made it illegal."

Let's say that you stripped out of our legal code everything put in there due to morality. You know what you'd have left? A list of duties of the governing officials and (some of) the tax code. That's it. It would be basically anarchy.

So if you want to argue against someone's proposed legislation, do it based on that law's merits: not based on some tired and silly argument.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Different Take on the Ferguson, MO Shooting

I don't need to tell anyone about Ferguson, Missouri and the unfortunate situation going on there--the shooting of 18-year old Michael Brown, the protests, and the backlash all across the Interwebs on both sides of the aisle.

There has been some very thoughtful commentary written, by those who support both sides. And there has been A LOT of hateful, un-thoughtful commentary written, again by those on both sides.

I have a different take.

My take:  we all agree.

No, seriously. All sides agree.

I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone disagree with any of the following statements:
  1. A person should never be attacked, harassed, or killed simply because of the color of their skin.
  2. Police brutality and use of excessive force is never acceptable.
  3. An officer attacked by a criminal may unfortunately have to defend himself, and when it is justifiable, that is acceptable.

We all agree on all three of those statements.

The problem isn't that we disagree philosophically or morally on any of the situations:  the problem in the Ferguson case--as in so many others--is that none of us actually know enough details to know which of the three scenarios above is true.

Police shootings of minorities are like the following Venn diagram:

You see, there are actually seven zones in this Venn diagram:

  1. Police are brutal to innocent people, regardless of race.  We all agree - this is wrong and should be punished.
  2. Police are brutal to criminals, regardless of race. We all agree - police brutality is wrong, regardless of whether the other person is a criminal. Both the criminal and the policeman should be punished.
  3. Criminal activity is wrong, and should be punished regardless of race.
  4. Police brutality toward a criminal because of their race is wrong. The criminal should be punished for their crimes, and the policeman for the brutality and racism.
  5. Police brutality of innocent people due to racism is wrong. Only the policeman should be punished.
  6. Arresting criminals due to racism is wrong, even if they are arrested without brutality. However, the criminal still should pay for his crimes.
  7. Arresting innocents due to their race is wrong, even if done without brutality. The person should be freed, and the policeman punished.

Everyone I know actually agrees with every one of those statements.

So why do we have the issues with the Trayvon Martin case, and the Michael Brown case?

Because the issue is that we despite all knowing that we have incomplete information, love to choose which zone we think applies. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed that this is a situation of zone 3, and the policeman did nothing wrong. Some people who have NO CLUE what is really going on, have assumed the opposite--that this is either zone 4 or 5, and that the policeman should be punished.

But the reality is that virtually nobody involved knows which was the situation. The policeman knows. Michael Brown's friend might know. That's it. Everyone else is speculating, to a greater or lesser degree.

That is the real issue which is causing the divisions: people based on whatever source/logic/prejudice they have, are deciding which zone they thought applied. I did. You are. Your neighbor is.

Then in kicks confirmation bias, and you all of a sudden find it OBVIOUS that your choice was correct. If only other people would be objective and look at the evidence you are seeing, they would agree!

The Christian Response

Let's all agree that this is a horrible situation. One of seven scenarios occurred on that Venn Diagram. And no one reading this article has any clue which one is correct. So as Christians, let us follow our Lord's command and not judge (Matt 7:1). Don't judge the cop for reacting to a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. And alternately, don't judge Michael Brown for a scenario that you didn't see--you might be judging him wrongly. Jesus says that the way you judge others is how you will be judged: do any of you really feel you have enough information to play God, and judge this situation with complete objectivity? I know I don't. (And if you say, "Yes, I do," then you are really wrong and need a dose of humility!)

So let me propose a Christian response.

  • Let's pray to the Lord that justice will be done in Ferguson.
  • Let's pray to the Lord for peace to reign in the city and the nation.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that anyone who has acted wrongly will be repentant, and forgiven.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that those who mourn will be comforted.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that those who live in fear will be protected.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that the Church will band together to heal a hurting community.
  • Let's pray to the Lord that, above all, His will be done.

What if--just what if??--THIS was the Christian response. What if both publicly and privately we prayed for the above, instead of judgmentalism and jumping to conclusions on one side or the other?

What if we stopped expecting a secular society run by sinful men to act saintly, and instead gathered around all of those who are hurt--both the officer and the family of Michael Brown--and offered a shoulder to cry on?

What if we earnestly sought peace more than evidence that our initial opinion was right?

What if we as a Church decided to try to actively work together in our communities to break down barriers between the races, so that future situations do not dissolve into this?

What if--like Jesus--we were able to actually love ALL people through this very difficult time, instead of choosing which ones we will love?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Come Quickly, Lord Jesus

Even a few months later, I don't know what to say about this article:

In March, journalists in Britain used the Freedom of Information Act to find out what British hospitals were doing to dispose of the bodies of aborted and miscarried babies. The answer they found is horrifying:  15,000 such baby fetuses were burned by the hospitals, being used as waste-to-energy incinerators to power the hospitals.

Yes, that's right: the very same thing that shows up in Orwellian type novels of what a horrifying future could be is exactly what is happening in the allegedly-civilized West right now.

If you have any doubt that we live in a horrid world, imagine that: babies conceived but not born, chosen for death by the parents who were supposed to love them, murdered by doctors who took oaths to protect them, and the bodies callously burned to provide the electricity for people to have their coffee nice and hot in the morning.


God, please forgive us for our terrible sinfulness. Please save us. Come quickly, Lord Jesus: we need a new beginning.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

What Would Jesus Do?

I heard someone say one time that Jesus spent His time, "Comforting the disturbed and disturbing the comfortable."

I think that is an absolutely perfect description of what ministry should be like. A preacher's job is to do precisely what the Lord did: those who are suffering should find comfort, and those who think life is great need to be shaken awake.

We in American Christianity are the perfect examples of comfortable.

We are the wealthiest people in the world. We live in decadence at a time where the global gap between rich and poor is greater than any time since ancient Rome. And we are the Romans.

We are completely comfortable with our philosophies and our politics and our lifestyles. We like our houses and our Starbucks and arguing over trivialities like which four people belong on the Mount Rushmore of basketball. (FYI, it is obvious:  Jordan, Magic, Russell, LeBron).

We are comfortable and we need to be disturbed. That is one thing I try to do here on this blog. Some areas which I hope you get disturbed by me:
  • You should not be okay with the prevalence of guns in our society
  • You should not be okay with the fact that people claiming to be Christians support violent force and war
  • You should not be okay with the frequency of abortions
  • You should not be okay with our treatment of immigrants
  • You should not be okay with the gap between our wealth and the worldwide poverty
  • You should not be okay with how people idolize the government and Constitution and flag as though they were God-ordained
  • You should not be okay with the high amount of orphans in our country
  • You should not be okay with the way we are undermining the nuclear family

We are far too comfortable.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sunday Sermon: God Speaks (Doctrines Series)

Below is the text of a sermon I preached in July. If you'd like to listen to it instead, click here for the sermon audio.


Good morning, Grace Church.

 Today I have some good news I want to share with you. I have a friend I want to introduce you to. He is amazing. He is a hero. He has changed my life.

[Hold up comic book]

It’s my well-worn copy because I study it so much.

His name is Tony Stark. He’s also called “Iron Man”. Now a lot of people have this ridiculous belief that he’s not real, but let me tell you something: THEY’RE WRONG. He is so real. I know it in my heart, and I can prove it to you.

Look right here. On page 20 of this book, Tony Stark is talking to an agent from the FBI.  And look here. On page 30, he says, “I am Iron Man!” He says he’s real RIGHT THERE. He is a brilliant thinker and a great person. You should model your life after him—he protects the innocent and saves those in danger and is an absolute role model for living.

He can absolutely change your life forever. He is greater than just a man. He is capable of saving you and others. He is the kind of person we want to be.

I have dedicated my life to following him and his teachings, and I hope you will do the same.


If you’ve been a Christian for very long, and tried to evangelize someone, you’ve had a conversation like this. You’ve tried to convince them of the reality of Jesus but you realized partway through the discussion that they didn’t believe in the Bible. You’ve been using the Bible as your proof, but they don’t see it as any different than this comic book. They don’t see Jesus as any more real than Iron Man.

If you are visiting with us today, we are in a series on the Doctrines of Grace Church. And today we are studying how God Speaks. How does God reveal Himself to us? And why should someone who doesn’t believe the Bible listen to what the Bible has to say?


Today’s that’s what we’re going to talk about. You see, Christian theology teaches that God reveals Himself in two different ways. We call one of these, “General Revelation” and the other, “Special Revelation.”

General Revelation is how God reveals Himself through nature. In other words, what can we learn about God from everything we see around us?

Special Revelation is how God reveals Himself through Scripture. In other words, what do we believe about Scripture and what can we learn about God from it?

So today let’s talk about each of these two topics. We’ll talk about how God reveals Himself through nature, and then how God reveals Himself through Scripture.


In Romans 1:20, Paul makes an incredibly bold statement. Listen to this, really listen: “Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Paul says God’s invisible qualities, including His power and divine nature, are CLEARLY seen. They are understood simply from WHAT HAS BEEN MADE—that is, by studying nature. And it’s SO clear that people are without excuse if they do not believe in God.

Whoa…that is bold. That is saying that anyone who seeks truth and studies nature will come to a conclusion that God is real and the basic theology about who He is. That really seems kind of crazy right?

But the rest of the Bible says that same. David says in Psalm 19 that the heavens declare God’s glory, and that the skies show everyone that God created things.

In Acts 14:16-17 Paul and Barnabas teach the crowds that God lets the nations choose their own way of life, but has shown through nature that He loves them and cares for them.

Remember in our Iron Man example, people didn’t really want to listen to what the comic had to say because they didn’t believe the comic had legitimacy. A lot of skeptics are this way as well. If you cannot demonstrate that the Bible has legitimacy independent of the Bible, then you will lose these people. They won’t hear what you are saying.

And that is, I think, one of the reasons that God has given us General Revelation. He reveals Himself through nature, so that—as Paul says—everyone is without excuse.

But this means that when a skeptic says, “If God is real, why doesn’t he reveal himself?”, you should be able to say, “He did! Look around you!” and be able to SHOW the skeptic how God exists just by looking at nature.

That’s a big task.

So let’s do it today, shall we? In the next few minutes, I am going to build the theology of God using nothing but General Revelation. In other words, using nothing but what we know about nature, I’m going to show why we are without excuse and why everyone should be able to tell that God does, in fact, exist. This should be fun. J

OK, so what have we learned by looking at nature around us?

[SLIDE] We know that the universe is expanding like a balloon, growing ever bigger over time. So if you ran time backwards, there was a moment where there was nothing—no time, no universe. There was nothing, and then—BANG—everything. So we know there was a BEGINNING.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] In our entire history of scientific experiment, we have never seen anything created or begun without a cause. And a cause necessitates a “cause-er”. But that’s a problem for me, because “cause-er” is not a word. So I’m going to use the word CREATOR for ease of this conversation. For those who have more questions about that we can talk afterward.

Therefore if there was a beginning, there must have been a CREATOR.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] We know that this creator must be a creator of order. Because if He had just made a universe at random it would have been chaotic but instead ours is orderly. It is predictable and accurate. We can tell you where your great great grandchildren need to stand if they want to be able to see Halley’s Comet because it is so predictable. So this creator must be a creator of order.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] If we look inside ourselves at our DNA, we see an incredibly complex set of programming code. If you took a single gram of DNA—just one itty-bitty drop on your fingertip, you can store 700 TERAbytes of information on it. So if we got every iPAD in the ENTIRE WORLD, and then made 1,000 more iPads for every iPad we collected….all 1.5 BILLION Ipads could not store as much information as just the DNA of the people who are sitting here in this room today.

Your DNA is an engineering achievement far greater than anything we can ever hope to duplicate.

So we know this creator must be infinitely intelligent.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] The universe is also immensely powerful. Our sun, for example, is a medium sized star but every second it explodes with an energy equal to six million millions of nuclear bombs. There are bends in the universe so extreme that not even light can escape them. A single photon of light can shoot across the universe at a speed of nearly 700 MILLION MILES every hour.

So we know that this creator must be infinitely powerful.

But … we know more than that.

The universe is hostile to us as humans. Every single place in the universe we have ever seen will kill us nearly instantly…except one. Our home in this solar system is surrounded by heavenly guardians.

[SLIDE] The moon rotates around us and its gravity sucks up countless meteors and asteroids to keep them away from Earth.  And further around are giant gas planets and moons which create an almost impenetrable obstacle course to protect us. For a comet to hit Earth, it must get past Neptune, Uranus, Saturn, and giant Jupiter and their dozens of moons, running a slalom that avoids all of their gravity. Then it must go through the asteroid belt without hitting anything. Then it must get past Mars and its moons. Then as it approaches it must get past our moon. Then it must enter our atmosphere at exactly the right angle and speed to land. 

So we know that this creator must want to protect us.

But … we know more than that.

[SLIDE] Our earth is full of beauty.
[SLIDE] A beauty so powerful that from the very beginning of time, people have tried to mimic it.
[SLIDE] Art and music are signs that the one who created us not only made a world of beauty but put in us a desire to love it as well.

So we know that this creator must love beauty and peace, and has put in the desire of all people throughout history to want it as well.

But … we know more than that.

Even though every culture in history has the same basic virtues of beauty, peace, kindness, and honesty…none of us lives up to it. I would be willing to bet that even today, you have already done something which you would say is not up to moral standards.

[SLIDE] The reality is that we have a desire in our hearts for peace, but we war. We have a desire for love, but instead we hate. We value sacrifice in others, and yet we are greedy and selfish and power-hungry.

We know that we had a beginning. We know there is no evidence of a beginning without a beginner. We know he prefers order to chaos. We know he is infinitely intelligent. We know he is infinitely powerful. We know he protects us from danger. And we know he loves beauty and peace. And yet we know that we have failed to seek out these things.

Notice that I haven’t quoted a single Scripture. Haven’t made a single philosophical argument. These are just facts of nature followed by conclusions of logic.

“Since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

Yes, I think we can say that with certainty, don’t you?

THIS is General Revelation.

Just by looking at the world around us, we can build a basic theology of God.

[SLIDE] And if for some reason you think that I am manipulating you, let me point out another fact—this one from history. Think about how vastly different our cultures are. How different our languages are. But no matter the culture, no matter than language…every single culture in history has come to the same basic conclusion I just gave you. Whether you are talking about the Chinese or the Greeks or the Egyptians or the Mayans or whoever:  everyone comes to the conclusion that the universe is not natural, that it was made by a God or gods, that these beings are infinitely intelligent and powerful, that we should be seeking beauty and love and peace, and that men routinely fail that and need to seek forgiveness from these gods.

All these cultures developed different languages, different architecture, different philosophies of life….and yet remarkably similar religious philosophy and virtue systems. Not one ancient culture was full of atheists. Not one was full of materialists. Not one was full of humanists. Not one was agnostic. Not one valued rape or murder or stealing or lying as virtues.

You can’t explain that through randomness.

You see, Human Nature is a part of the General Revelation as well. From the nature outside of us and the nature within us, we can all understand these basic, invisible qualities of God.

That is the first step to becoming a believer. That is the step that you must get to with a lot of people because if you skip that and go straight to the next step then you might as well try and convince them that Iron Man is real. It is General Revelation which sets the foundation for belief.

But General Revelation isn’t enough, is it? That just shows us the PROBLEM…it doesn’t give us a solution. For that, we need Special Revelation.


By Special Revelation, I mean of course our Scriptures. Just as God revealed His glory in the world around us, He also told us something specific in His Scripture.

But if you are going to understand Scripture, you need to understand what it is, why it was written.

The Bible is a first and foremost, a story. It is a story about a King whose people betrayed Him. But He loved them so much that He was willing to send His son, the prince, on a suicide mission to redeem His people. It is a Rescue Story.

First the Holy Spirit spoke to Moses, nearly 4,000 years ago and Moses used his own language and culture to record the inspiration. Then He spoke to Joshua. And later men like David and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Luke and Paul and Peter and John. Over the course of several thousand years, God inspired dozens of prophets with visions and revelations which they wrote down and passed along to us so that we could hear His Story.

We know this as the Bible. And it is not our story, it is the story of Jesus. It is the story of how God sees this broken world and His broken people and has compassion on them. And how He prepares the world over centuries to receive the King Himself in the flesh, and how this King died on a cross and rose again a conquering hero. And how one day He will make it all right.

Not your story. Not mine. His story. Thankfully, our salvations are one tiny piece of this puzzle, and we will teach about that a few weeks from now. But the Scripture is His story.

God revealed Himself through nature to all of us, but that only goes so far:  the Scriptures tell us WHY He did so, and what we should do about it.

But sometimes, people run into a problem. They see God revealed in nature. They begin to study His Special Revelation in Scripture…but they get confused. Because they think they see errors in it. And since we Christians believe that Scripture is without error, this causes doubt. It’s not just skeptics who struggle with this…Christians do, as well.

But in all my years of study, I haven’t seen a single contradiction that was actually true. Usually when people talk about contradictions, what they really are doing is misunderstanding inerrancy.

To talk about inerrancy and what it means, let me start by talking a little bit about a subject I know nothing about—music.

I always like to give encouragement to you guys when the music is good, but you probably shouldn’t pay much attention because I have no idea what I’m talking about. I’m so musically clueless that my wife has asked me to stop singing the boys to sleep because I am destroying their ability to actually hear notes properly.

But we do have a lot of very talented musicians at our church. Guitar players, singers, really impressive. Mary Smith, wave at everyone. Mary here plays the flute. She’s a flutist or floutist or flute-blower or whatever they’re called.

Now let’s pretend like Mary plays a note for you guys on her really high-end, flute. And it just sounds beautiful. And then later, Mary plays the exact same note—on this. [HOLD UP RECORDER]

My son’s toy recorder.

Now these two notes are going to sound very different. They’re the same note. Same octave. Same breath. Same musician.  …. Different sound. Why?

Because they were different instruments.

The same principle is true of Scripture.

God breathes every word of Scripture, we see that in the testimony of the early Christian leaders. 2 Timothy 3:16, Paul says that all Scripture is God-breathed and inspired to teach us. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us that “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Spirit.”

So the breath and voice behind the Scripture is that of God…but the instruments are men.

Now God does not lie. And God does not make mistakes. So His word is inerrant. The Bible is inerrant, hear me clearly.

BUT there are some very practical things you need to understand. Because God used instruments to record his message, there are a couple of things you need to know.

[SLIDE] First, God’s word is inerrant but may sound different in different human voices. Just like a flute sounds different than a recorder even though it is the same breath, James is going to sound different than Paul. James an uneducated Jew, writing to Jewish Christians while Paul is a highly educated philosopher writing to Gentiles who wonder if they need to convert to Judaism in order to be Christians. Obviously they are going to sound different. 

The Old Testament is written by Jews to Jews who are bound by the law of Moses and looks forward to a Messiah; the New Testament is written by Christians to people of every race, looking backward at the Messiah. Obviously the same breath is going to sound different in these different instruments; it doesn’t mean that they contradict.

When James focuses on living out your faith to his Jewish readers, and Paul focuses on gaining faith to his readers, the two obviously are inspired to focus on different things. This doesn’t mean that they contradict:  it just means that they are different instruments sharing the same breath. Both are sharing God’s inerrant truth—but through one it sounds like a flute, and through the other it sounds like a recorder.

[SLIDE] Second, understand that God’s word is inerrant but must fit within the original language’s limitations. A recorder can only do so many octaves; a flute can only make certain sounds. In the same way, God inspired infinite truth through humans with a limited language. Moses uses the word “bird” for bats because his language didn’t have a word that distinguished flying mammals, so they had to use the word “bird” for anything that flew. The Japanese language uses the same word for “blue” and “green”—so if God were to inspire the phrase, “The sky is blue and the grass is green” to a Japanese prophet, this would be very limited if he tried to write it down!

We can’t in our human language capture all the mysteries of the universe, and sometimes our language and culture has to be taken into consideration as we understand a passage. God’s word for “bat” contains more information than all human languages together, so obviously we have to expect that our man-made languages are not going to be able to capture everything perfectly. This is why so many of the visions of heaven include phrases like, “Um…the streets are like gold and the pillars are like jasmine and um, the sea is like crystal kind of…and the angels are like wheels inside of wheels with extra eyes…” Our words aren’t sufficient to capture everything.
Think about this:  God's word for "bat" contains enough information to MAKE A BAT COME INTO EXISTENCE.  Obviously, our words will be inadequate!

[SLIDE] Third, God’s word is inerrant but this doesn’t mean every translator is inerrant. If Mary plays her note and the sound guys make a mistake recording Mary’s work, it may give a weird sound on the podcast. That doesn’t mean she played the note wrong! In the same way, translators can make mistakes, or copyists can make mistakes. That doesn’t mean that the Bible was flawed.

If the sound guys mix the audio differently, Mary’s note is still pure and perfect…but the focus of the recording is different. In the same way one translation like the ESV may be focused more on God’s sovereignty, while another translation like The Voice may be focused on showing the Bible as a Story. God’s word is still inerrant, but the personalities of the translators does come through as well and should be taken into account. When Thomas Jefferson took a razor blade and cut out the parts of the Bible he didn’t like and published it, that doesn’t mean that his work was inerrant. The original Bible was inerrant, but someone else can mess it up if they choose to do so.

[SLIDE] And finally, God’s word is inerrant when interpreted as it was intended to be. If people rip a Bible verse out of its context and read it like a fortune cookie, you can’t expect it to be inerrant in a situation that it wasn’t mean to apply to.

God chose to inspire Paul at a certain time to write to a certain people. We have to respect that and interpret the Bible for what it meant to its original audience. Here at Grace Church, we believe in interpreting the Scripture as intended. Your elders are very cautious against adding to what God actually said. Joshua, myself, and Jud—we all follow the same basic process when we preach:   we tell you what the passage meant to its listeners, and we very carefully and prayerfully tell you what we think the universal application of those passages are today.


I have a good example that is going to irritate many of you. J  You guys want to hear it?

Twenty years ago, Jeremiah 29:11 didn’t even crack the top 20 of most popular Bible verses. Today, it is the most quoted Scripture there is. You know the verse:  “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.”  This is a popular thing to share with people when they graduate college, and “name it and claim it” preachers use it all the time. Any time something bad is happening, this will get quoted. And generally it is used to tell people, don’t worry how tough your life is, God will make you prosperous and give you a white picket fence house on the other side of the suffering.

But that’s not inerrant. Because that’s not what God’s word actually said.

This passage was written to the Jews who were put in captivity in Babylon. They had run from God and He was going to punish them. He let their nation fall, and their city burn. He let them be taken back to Babylon as slaves. And there, He told them that they would stay for decades. But He explains that even though they violated their covenant with Him, He was still going to honor it and help the nation of Israel prosper one day.

Want to know the application of Jeremiah 29:11?   It’s basically what I tell my kids before spanking them—I love you, I care about you. What you did was wrong, but I still am your daddy and I will be here forever. But this is going to hurt for a while.

You see, if you rip things out of their context and apply them wrongly, then remember that you are no longer basing your decisions on God’s holy, perfect, inerrant word. You have to interpret it as it was intended to be heard to the original audience.



So what are the Big Ideas that we can take from our study on how God Speaks to us?

First, we must begin by understanding that God speaks to us through nature. He speaks to all mankind and tells them what kind of God He is, so that they will later be open to receiving the knowledge of Him given in Scripture. It doesn’t do any good to start with Scripture if the person doesn’t first believe in the basics of God that are evident from nature around him.

Second, once someone gets to that point, God has given us Scripture. We believe that Scripture is HIS story, not ours. We believe that Scripture is without error in its original language and copies. And we believe that when we interpret His Scripture, we must give highest priority to interpreting it how it was understood by its original audience.

So now that we all understand what Christians believe about Revelation, how can we apply these doctrines to our lives to help us grow closer to God?


As we talk about how to mature, one thing has kept running through my mind as I wrote this sermon. And it was about the nature part of how God speaks to us.

I think one thing which is so difficult for Christians in our culture is the Science vs The Bible war. In the past two hundred years or so, skeptics have convinced society that General Revelation AGAINST Special Revelation, as though one contradicts the other.

Nothing could be further from the truth! The same Spirit who inspired the writers of Scripture was hovering over the waters of creation in Genesis 1. General Revelation cannot contradict Special Revelation.

BUT our interpretations of either could be wrong.

If you see a contradiction between science and the Bible, please have the maturity and humility to step back. Maybe the new scientific discovery is wrong—that’s okay. That has happened a lot of times. Or maybe we misunderstand the Bible—that’s okay. That has happened a lot of times. Be mature enough to know that the same Spirit is behind both, and that Spirit doesn’t lie to us.

You are wrong if you write off everything science says just because it doesn’t fit your interpretation of Scripture. Remember that SCRIPTURE is inerrant…not YOUR CURRENT INTERPRETATION of Scripture. When a Christian priest named Copernicus told us that the sun was the center of the solar system instead of the Earth, some Christians disagreed. The Scripture didn’t disagree, but THEIR INTERPRETATION of Scripture disagreed. When a Christian monk named Mendel discovered genetics, some Christians disagreed. Not the Scripture, but THEIR INTERPRETATION.

It is important that you don’t elevate YOUR INTERPRETATION to the level of inerrancy. There will be times, probably every generation, where some new finding of science in General Revelation helps us better understand the Special Revelation in Scripture. And that should not be scary to you. Because the Spirit doesn’t lie—what He says in nature and what He says in Scripture are the same word.


But some of you do the opposite mistake.

Because it is even more wrong if you just accept whatever the current theory of science is and throw away Scripture. Remember that science changes all the time. 100 years ago scientists thought the universe was eternal and had no beginning; until a Christian astronomer came up with the Big Bang theory, and now you’d be laughed at for thinking the universe had no beginning. 500 years ago scientists thought the earth was the center of the universe, which no one now believes.

Don’t sacrifice Scripture at the altar of nature. Because make no mistake about it: a good portion of modern scientific belief is wrong today. And never forget that the story of the Cross is a greater miracle, than the glory of the universe:  when God created the universe He created something which will one day end; but when He saves a sinner, He creates something immortal.

So don’t foolishly elevate science above Scripture…just be sure that it is ACTUALLY Scripture that you are choosing over science, and not your INTERPRETATION of it.

But in general, please remember that the Spirit doesn’t lie. He didn’t lie in General Revelation, and He doesn’t lie in Special Revelation. Maturity will come to you when you learn from BOTH—by understanding the world around you, and by pouring yourself into His Scripture.


But also remember that General Revelation isn’t enough. All that does is reveal God and His qualities. All that does is show us that we and the world are broken. General Revelation isn’t enough to save you from yourself.

For that, we must have Special Revelation—the Gospel. The Good News that God has a rescue plan for us, and it is available to everyone.

You see, guys, that is what mission work is all about. That’s what the Great commission is all about.

That is why Grace Church focuses on missions so much, why those flags are hanging above your head. Why we will talk about Romania here in a little while.

Everyone in the world can tell the reality of God and need for a savior just by examining themselves and the world around them…but unless they hear the Story, they can’t follow it and join it. Unless they hear about how God Himself died for us, they can’t sacrifice their will and let Him be their king. God has chosen us—YOU AND I, stupid, sinful vessels though we may be—to be the heralds of His Perfect Word.

And that is why we invite. That’s why we invite people at work and in our families to learn about Jesus. And that’s why we go halfway around the world to share the Gospel.

Because God has told everyone who He is through General Revelation. And He has given us the job to spread the Rescue Story throughout the world.