Evolution = Hopelessness to the Sufferer

On suffering and the “why” question, the 6.9 out of 7.0 agnostic Richard Dawkins essentially says don’t bother asking.  In his final chapter of The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution, Dawkins expands on each line in Darwin’s last paragraph of On the Origin of Species.  As Dawkins develops the line “From the war of nature, from famine and death,” he argues that nature has a “serene indifference” to suffering.

Yes there is grandeur in the view of this life, and even a kind of grandeur in nature’s serene indifference to the suffering that inexorably follows in the wake of its guiding principle, survival of the fittest (Richard Dawkins, The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution [New York: Free Press, 2009], 401).

This is the best evolution has to offer to the suffering human race; this is best bedside comfort Darwinism offers a dying person.  Give him credit for consistency.  Nevertheless, indifference to suffering is part of the DNA of natural selection.   What an arid, inhumane worldview.

Contrast this to the Christian worldview in which there is a Creator, who is neither detached nor indifferent to human suffering.  In fact, He entered into it by sending His son, Jesus Christ to live and die among us.  His Son suffered on the cross and rose again on the third day so that suffering brought on by sin would one day be entirely eradicated.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:3-4).

Ideas have consequences, don’t they?  One may argue that on its face evolution is scientifically sophisticated (though this premise is not at all firmly or finally established).  Even if it were, it is absolutely useless for offering hope to a suffering human race.


Christopher Hitchens and Lessons for Evangelicals

Al Mohler had a thought-provoking post yesterday, “Learning from Christopher Hitchens: Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.”  The entire post was good.  The specific part of the article that captured my attention was lesson five:

5. Hitchens revealed the danger of cultural Christianity and exposure to tepid, lifeless, superficial Christian teaching.

In his childhood, Hitchens was exposed to the mild Christianity of his father and the Hitchens home. (Later in life, he discovered that his mother was, in fact, partly Jewish.) As a schoolboy, Hitchens received the customary dose of tame religious instruction. In God is Not Great, he wrote of Mrs. Jean Watts, “a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith,” who taught him religion at his school near Dartmoor. Even as a boy, Hitchens was not impressed by her emotivist expressions of doctrine and her answers to his questions. He wrote also of a school headmaster, who seemed, among other failings, to believe that belief in God served a mainly therapeutic function. Hitchens described himself then as “quite the insufferable little intellectual,” but the damage was done. Unlike others who, as he wrote, might have rejected belief in God because of abuse or “brutish indoctrination,” Hitchens simply developed indignant contempt for a belief system that seemed so superficial and fraudulent. An exposure to tepid, lifeless, thoughtless, and intellectually formless Christianity can be deadly (emphasis added).

This is a particularly important point for Christian parents, pastors, and church members to note well and never forget.  We have to own and be serious about our faith if we intend to pass it down to the next generation.  We can blame the world, the public schools, evolution, atheists, etc., etc., etc.–all the “culprits” we can think of–but the reality is that the greatest enemy to Christianity is a professing Christian who shows little to no interest in living like a follower of Jesus.  In this sense, the biggest enemy of Christianity may be inside the walls of the church not outside of them.  Of course, the best thing believers can do is to own their faith and live it, love and serve Jesus in a way that is so inter-woven with their daily lives that it is impossible to separate the so-called sacred from the secular.  Our aim should be the sincere kind of Christianity Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV):

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? [17] For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

Respectable Accomodation?

Douglas Wilson wrote a good word in an article reflecting on the death of Christopher Hitchens, “Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects“.  As I read and interacted with Hitchens’ writings, I found that Hitchens’ was likeable.  I haven’t found the same to be true about the others who are of the same philosophical ilk as Hitchens, such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  Consequently, the news of Hitchens’ death saddened me.  What is even more sad is that Hitchens’ views led him down a path that now is unalterable.  The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19).  If Hitchens repented of his sins and placed his faith in Christ, the Lord knows it and has welcomed Hitchens into heaven on the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If he didn’t, the Lord knows this too and Hitchens will spend an eternity in hell away from the presence of the Lord he rejected (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

One part of Wilson’s article caught my attention because I’m teaching a class at church on the gospel and evangelism.  This Sunday we will talk about the importance of knowing, believing, and defending our faith.  Wilson mentioned this in his article.  You cannot approach a person like Hitchens and be tentative about your faith.  You cannot strive for respectability and accommodation at the same time.  You either believe it with conviction or why bother.  I hope this citation spurs you on to be a Christian who holds your faith with conviction instead of seeking to accommodate for the sake of respectability.  It won’t work.  Here’s what Wilson said,

So we [Hitchens and Wilson] got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10). Ironically, the branch of the faith most interested in getting the “cultured despisers” to pay us some respect is really not that effective, and this is a strategy that can frequently be found on the pointed end of its own petard. Respectability depends on not caring too much about respectability. Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”

Christ as Example, Yes, but Savior First and Foremost

A good word from Martin Luther on the importance of preaching the gospel in Christ’s person and work before moving to preaching Christ as an example.  As a preacher, we might unwittingly miss the gospel in our pursuit of making application.

Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws.  Therefore, you should grasp Christ, his words, works, sufferings, in a two-fold manner.  First as an example that is presented to you, which you should follow and imitate.  As St. Peter says in I Peter 4, ‘Christ suffered for us, thereby leaving us an example.’  Thus when you see how he prays, fasts, helps people, and shows them love, so also you should do, both for yourself and for your neighbor. However this is the smallest part of the gospel.  For on this level Christ is of no more help to you than some other saint.  His life remains his own and does not yet contribute anything to you.  In short this mode [of understand Christ as simply an example] does not make Christians but only hypocrites.  You must grasp Christ at a much higher level.  Even though this higher level has for a long time been the very best, the preaching of it has been something rare.  The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that it is your own (Martin Luther, “Proclamation Verses Moralism” in Richard Lischer, ed., Theories of Preaching [Durham, NC: Labyrinth, 1987], 97).

Otsego Festival Question Series: Is There Truly An Afterlife?

The Bible is absolutely clear on the answer to this question.  However, before I tell you how the Bible answers this question, I want to provide the following observations:

  • Ancient Egyptians believed there was an afterlife.  Excavations reveal that Pharaohs were buried with mind-boggling wealth, supplies, food, slaves, and even children to take with them to the next life (think King Tut).  Ancient Egyptian papyri also depict the journey to the afterlife.
  • Two prominent cults, Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witnesses, teach that there is an afterlife.
  • Islam teaches about heaven in Sura 55:54-60 and Sura 56:15-25.  It is interesting to note that the Quran fashions heaven from the view-point of a desert-dwelling male.
  • Hinduism affirms a “revolving door” approach called reincarnation.  It is always upward, not downward.  The ultimate state is Nirvana which means one has been absorbed into the great unconsciousness of the universe.  It takes multiple times of living well and dying well to achieve Nirvana.  Hindu scholars say it can take up to 600,000 times.
  • Buddhism came out of Hinduism.  Nirvana is achieved by enlightenment.  This can be achieved as a human (as opposed to a non-human reincarnation)
  • Greek philosophers expected a life beyond this one.  In Plato’s Phaedo, the author recounts the final days of Socrates, including the death scene when he drinks the hemlock and dies.  Just before Socrates drinks the hemlock he declares, “ . . . yet I may and must pray to the gods to prosper my journey from this to that other world . . .”

I offer these observations to prove a single point: historically, people of all colors and cultures have believed that there is an afterlife.  In recent decades the phenomenon of so-called “near-death experiences” has heightened our interest in what happens after we die.    

Now to return to the core of your question, the Bible answers your question unequivocally: Yes, there is truly an afterlife.  Let me give you a sampling of Bible verses that teach this:

  • In what many Biblical scholars understand to be the earliest book of the Bible written, Job confidently exclaims, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. [26] And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, [27] whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me” (Job 19:25-27)!
  • Ecclesiastes 12:7 states, “and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”
  • In the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 there is an account of a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus.  After they die they find themselves in the next life, Lazarus in Paradise and the rich man in hell.  
  • Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”
  • 1 Timothy 4:8 teaches, “for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

So very clearly the Bible teaches that there is truly an afterlife.  We must make one more important observation about the afterlife.  The Bible makes it plain that there are only two destinies after this life: heaven and hell, both are real and eternal.    

  • Daniel 12:2 “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  • Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus spoke about final destinies this way, “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. [14] For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14).  How do we enter the way that leads to life?  Through Jesus Christ.  John 14:6 says, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’”  

In conclusion, historically, the existence of an afterlife has been universally embraced.  The Bible is crystal clear that there is truly an afterlife.   Finally, the Bible teaches that there are only two destinies after this life: heaven and hell, both are real and eternal.  The only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ.  If you want to know more about going to heaven I invite you to watch this video: “Bad News/Good News.”  The most important thing any person can do is to prepare for the life to come.

“Militant Mysticism”: Rob Bell and the Word of Truth

I’ve just finished preaching through Ephesians 1:3-14.  I concluded the series on this portion of Ephesians yesterday with vv. 13-14,

In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [14] who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. 

There is enough content here to preach at least two or three messages.  Incidentally, Martin Lloyd-Jones preached seven sermons from Ephesians 1:13-14 (Lloyd-Jones’ exposition of Ephesians is found in an eight volume set.  Volume one, God’s Ultimate Purpose, contains his sermons from Ephesians 1, including the ones on vv. 13-14).  Two phrases are found in v. 13 that describe the Scripture, “the word of truth” and “the gospel of your salvation.”  Together they offer a comprehensive picture of the Bible. 

The Bible is the word of truth.  In the ESV, the phrase “word of truth” is found four times (Psalm 119:43; Ephesians 1:13; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18). The phrase in the original, ton logon tes aletheias, is found five times in the NT (2 Corinthians 6:7; Ephesians 1:13; Colossians 1:5; 2 Timothy 2:15; James 1:18).

The Bible contains the gospel of your salvation.  The Bible expresses the message of the gospel, Christ’s death for our sin and resurrection from the dead, which is relevant to all generations because it redeems the sin-captive heart (Romans 1:16).   

John Calvin comments on these phrases,

Two epithets are here applied to the gospel,—the  word of truth and the gospel of your salvation.  Both deserve our careful attention.  Nothing is more earnestly attempted by Satan than to lead us either to doubt or to despise the gospel. Paul therefore furnishes us with two shields, by which we may repel both temptations. In opposition to every doubt, let us learn to bring forward this testimony, that the gospel is not only certain truth, which cannot deceive, but is, by way of eminence, (kat’ exoken) the word of truth, as if strictly speaking, there were no truth but truth itself.  If the temptation be to contempt or dislike of the gospel, let us remember that its power and efficacy have been manifested in bringing to us salvation (Calvin, Commentaries, 21:207).  

As I was thinking on the description Paul uses for Scripture in Ephesians 1:13, “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation,” I recalled an interview with Rob Bell.  Rob Bell is the featured speaker in a popular series of short films entitled NOOMA.  According to the NOOMA website, these films are “a series of short films that explore our world from a perspective of Jesus. NOOMA is an invitation to search, question, and join the discussion.”  I’ve watched a couple of them.  Rob Bell is also an author, speaker, and founding pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand, Rapids, MI.  As of 2005, the church attracts over 10,000 people to its two Sunday services each week.  

Mark Galli, Christianity Today’s senior managing editor, interviewed Rob Bell last Spring.  The interview appeared in the April 2009 edition of CT.  We find some very telling statements about Bell’s view of truth and the gospel.   



Rob Bell and “the word of truth”

Mark Galli: You’re essentially reframing the gospel—at least the gospel you inherited, the gospel we have known as the gospel in North America for the last couple hundred years.

Rob Bell: I am leery of people who have very clear ideas of what they’re doing from outside of themselves: “You have to understand that I’m doing this and doing this.” I would say that for 10 years, I have tried to invite people to trust Jesus. You can trust this Jesus. You can trust him past, present, future; sins, mistakes, money, sexuality. I think this Jesus can be trusted.

I often put it this way: If there is a God, some sort of Divine Being, Mind, Spirit, and all of this is not just some random chance thing, and history has some sort of movement to it, and you have a connection with Whatever—that is awesome. Hard and awesome and creative and challenging and provoking.

And there is this group of people who say that whoever that being is came up among us and took on flesh and blood—Andrew Sullivan talks about this immense occasion the world could not bear. So a church would be this odd blend of swagger—an open tomb, come on—and humility and mystery. The Resurrection accounts are jumbled and don’t really line up with each other—I really relate to that. Yet something momentous has burst forth in the middle of history. You just have to have faith, and you get caught up in something.

I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I’m really absolutely sure of some things that I don’t quite know.

Rob Bell and “the gospel of your salvation”

Mark Galli: How would you present this gospel on Twitter?

Rob Bell: I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

Well, his lack of specificity led to justified criticism on his understanding of the gospel.  Indeed, Bell got the gospel woefully wrong.  Then, to reinforce his erroneous view of the gospel, he said this in an interview with the Boston Globe on September 27, 2009,

Q. What does it mean to you to be an evangelical?

A. I take issue with the word to a certain degree, so I make a distinction between a capital E and a small e. I was in the Caribbean in 2004, watching the election returns with a group of friends, and when Fox News, in a state of delirious joy, announced that evangelicals had helped sway the election, I realized this word has really been hijacked. I find the word troubling, because it has come in America to mean politically to the right, almost, at times, anti-intellectual. For many, the word has nothing to do with a spiritual context.

Q. OK, how would you describe what it is that you believe?

A. I embrace the term evangelical, if by that we mean a belief that we together can actually work for change in the world, caring for the environment, extending to the poor generosity and kindness, a hopeful outlook. That’s a beautiful sort of thing.

Then again, in the October 2009 edition of Christianity Today a short piece entitled “Tweeting the Gospel: Rob Bell Tries Again,” they quote his tweet on October 5, 2009 which offers a definition of the gospel,

The gospel is the counterintuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us. 

Some analysis is on order.  It is important to note once again that Rob Bell is the pastor of a mega-church not some armchair theologian.  This is a pastor-teacher, an author who is teaching people about the gospel.  It profoundly concerns me when pastors like Rob Bell sound so unconvinced about the gospel.  I’m also troubled by his definition of the word “evangelical.”  Where is the evangel in his definition of evangelical?  The Bible is “the word of truth” which should be proclaimed by men absolutely convinced of its message.  Charles Spurgeon said,

the true minister of Christ knows the true value of a sermon must lie, not in its fashion and manner, but in the truth which it contains” (Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students, 72).

I will offer two observations on the debacle of Rob Bell’s attempt to define the gospel.  First, concerning “the word of truth” what truth is there in what he said: “I like to say that I practice militant mysticism. I’m really absolutely sure of some things that I don’t quite know.”  This is non-sense.  His odd statement seems to grow out of, in part, his “narrative theology.”  It is statements like Bell’s that lead to humorous and justified caricatures like these:

(You can find the entire, hilarious collection here)

We can and should proclaim our faith with conviction!  Imagine if Luke wrote to Theophilus in Luke 1:4, “that you may be absolutely sure of the things we don’t quite know.”  Thankfully this was not the case.   Instead, Luke shares the unshakable conviction that the Christian faith is convincing and knowable.

Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, [2] just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, [3] it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, [4] that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught (Luke 1:1-4).

The Bible is indeed “the word of truth.”  It is inerrant!  It is trustworthy!  It is the word of knowable, unchanging, life-transforming, mind-stabilizing truth!  Instead of expressing the conviction that the Bible is “the word of truth” Bell is grooming a generation who will not live with the conviction that the Bible is “the word of truth” but rather who will live by the motto, “what is truth?” (Pilate’s response to Jesus in John 18:38).    

Second, concerning “the gospel of your salvation.”  What gospel are people supposed to hear and believe when they listen to Rob Bell?  What one hears from Rob Bell is an incomplete picture of the gospel, at best.  Frankly, Bell has blown it when it comes to defining the gospel.  When you read his definition of an evangelical it contains more proposed legislation from a socially liberal lawmaker than divine truth.  According to Bell, being evangelical means “caring for the environment”?!  Gimme a break.  Is there even a modicum of kerygma in his definition of “evangelical?”  Answer: no!   In fact, D.A. Carson states that the genius of the NOOMA films is that they are “gospel free” to a biblically illiterate person.  Conversely, a person with Biblical knowledge will fill in gospel truth when they watch the videos (listen to the four-minute audio clip of D.A. Carson on Rob Bell here).  In other words these videos teach moralism to an unregenerate person and they illustrate Biblical truth to a biblically literate person. 

How timely are the words of the prophet Isaiah,

Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the public squares, and uprightness cannot enter. Truth is lacking (Isaiah 59:14-15a). 

Sadly, truth and the gospel are strangely lacking from the most unexpected people: pastors, like Rob Bell, who are to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).  They are also conspicuously absent from the most unexpected places: churches which are to be the pillar and buttress of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15). 

We can rest our hope fully on “the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation.”  I encourage you to faithfully read and meditate on the Bible in 2010.

A Historian on Christianity

Will Durant was a prominent historian and philosopher.  He and his wife Ariel were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for literature in 1967 and the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.  His life’s work is the eleven volume The Story of Civilization published between 1935 and 1975.  In it he writes

All in all, no more attractive religion has ever been presented to mankind.  It offered itself without restriction to all individuals, classes, and nations; it was not limited to one people, like Judaism, nor to the freemen of one state, like the official cults of Greece and Rome.  By making all men heirs of Christ’s victory over death, Christianity announced the basic equality of men, and made transiently trivial all differences of earthly degree.  To the miserable, maimed, bereaved, disheartened, and humiliated it brought the new virtue of compassion, and an ennobling dignity; it gave them the inspiring figure, story, and ethic of Christ; it brightened their lives with the hope of the coming Kingdom, and of endless happiness beyond the grave.  To even the greatest sinners it promised forgiveness, and their full acceptance into the community of the saved.  To minds harassed with the insoluble problems of origin and destiny, evil and suffering, it brought a system divinely revealed doctrine in which the simplest soul could find mental rest . . . Into the moral vacuum of dying paganism, into the coldness of Stoicism and the corruption of Epicureanism, into a world sick of brutality, cruelty, oppression, and sexual chaos, into a pacified empire that seemed no longer to need the masculine virtues or the gods of war, it brought new morality of brotherhood, kindliness, decency, and peace.

So molded to men’s wants, the new faith spread with fluid readiness.  Nearly every convert, with the ardor of a revolutionary, made himself an office of propaganda (Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, 602).