Friday, September 25, 2009

The New New Blog!

Well, totally disregard that last post. "Chasing the Wind" came and is now gone with the wind. Now there is a new "Wanderlust" over at This time, I plan to post reflections each day from my morning devotions.

The new Wanderlust is actually only a part of a larger effort called There myself and several others hope to create a collaborative community devoted to exploring Baptist doctrine and identity. Come join us!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Blog Site

Hello all. In the tradition of so many other bloggers, I am leaving this site behind in search of greener pastures. A couple of weeks ago, I purchased my own webspace and I've been enjoying playing with it. It didn't take long for me to realize that I would rather have my blog on my own server rather than a public one like blogspot.

The new blog is called Chasing the Wind.

I will warn you that the new blog won't always be ablout theological topics. I'd also like to journal some of my other interests. You should know that I am a geek bar none and some of my geeky hobbies and interests may be featured from time to time at the new blog.

So, with that I will say thank you to blogspot for the great introduction to blogging, and thank you to all of those who have looked in on Wanderlust in the Word from time to time and commented on some of the posts. I've had fun here, but I'm ready to have more fun somewhere else.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Review of "The Shack"

“The Shack will change the way you think about God forever.”
– Kathie Lee Gifford

That is one of the most frightening endorsements that I have ever seen for a book. It’s the kind of statement that should only be made about a book like Romans or Deuteronomy or one of the Major Prophets, but certainly not a work of contemporary fiction! But what is it about The Shack that has the dubious quality of changing our conceptions about God?

The Shack seeks to alter the way we think about God in two main ways: by presenting a depiction of the Trinity that greatly differs from orthodox Christianity and by removing the unpopular concepts of wrath and condemnation (and therefore righteousness and holiness) from the character of God. To do this, it must completely ignore the clear biblical revelation of God’s nature. In fact, there is an utter disdain for the authority of the Scriptures throughout this book. What we are left with then, in the end, is a writer who has crafted a god in his own image – a god that thrills him with rainbow magic colors, hugs, and a laugh and a wink for every conceivable situation. This is one man’s record of what he wishes God were like, and therefore the Bible (our only authoritative source of information on what God is really like) must be completely set aside.

Nowhere is this departure from Scripture more clearly seen than in the depiction of the four persons of the Trinity (yes, there are four in The Shack). What ought to be immediately troubling is that two of the persons in the Godhead are visible at all. Jesus himself said very clearly that no one has seen the Father (John 6:46), and the Holy Spirit is never depicted in Scripture as anything other than a wind (John 3:8) or a dove (Mark 1:10). But in The Shack, these two are not only depicted as human beings, but are actually personified as women! Though Jesus retains his maleness (if not his masculinity), God the Father is ridiculously portrayed as an elderly, spunky black woman named ‘Papa’ or Elousia and the Holy Spirit is presented as a shimmery Asian woman named Sarayu. In addition, a fourth person is introduced as Sophia – supposedly the wisdom of God given personhood.

Can such a thing be done, however? Can we just simply imagine God to be whatever we wish Him to be? The answer to these questions must be a resounding ‘no’ for all biblically minded Christians. God has intentionally given us a revelation of his character and his nature and threatens great wrath upon all who would remake his image according to their tastes (Exodus 20:4-6). No member of the Trinity is ever referred to in Scripture by female pronouns, and yet here in The Shack femininity is the most prominent characteristic. This is a part of the great desire on the part of the author to emasculate God and make him/her more palatable to modern sensibilities, removing the sternness and high expectations that we see in the Bible and replacing them with a grandmotherly therapist.

Aside from the gender mismatching and renaming of God, though, there is also deeper damage done to the understanding of God’s nature. For one, early on, the main character, Mack, equates the Father of Jesus with the Great Spirit of Native American pagan religion – a serious heresy that is never corrected throughout the rest of the book (p. 33). In fact, later in the book, the Jesus character disapproves of the term ‘Christian’ and makes it clear that people from all faiths have a connection to him (p. 184).

A second destructive heresy in the book related to the Trinitarian nature of God comes when we see that the woman who is supposed to represent God the Father has crucifixion marks in her hands. She makes it clear that she suffered on the cross as well. She even goes so far as to say that “When we three spoke ourselves into human existence as the Son of God, we became fully human.” This false teaching terribly mangles the theology of the cross wherein the Father was pleased to crush the Son in order to propitiate His wrath toward sinners (Isaiah 53:10). The Father and the Holy Spirit did not suffer the wrath of the Father against humanity. The Son, whose person was joined to the nature of humanity, alone suffered the wrath of His Father on behalf of sinful man, receiving that condemnation as a man. Young gets this whole picture wrong because he doesn’t believe that sin deserves condemnation (pp. 166, 225). In his view, the cross is really just a statement of love, not an atonement for sin (p. 194).

And why should there be an atonement for sin? The goddess of The Shack doesn’t really require one, because she doesn’t really think of anything as sinful. Even the serial killer who murdered the six-year-old daughter of the main character (among many others) is just a frightened little child of goddess who is acting out because of all of the pain he has been put through in his life (pp. 226-227). Everyone is a victim, their bad behaviors are just cute wrinkles in their child-like faces, and no one’s sins offend the character of the false god of this book, because – frankly – there isn’t much there to offend. This is not the holy God of the Bible, the merest sight of who causes all who see Him to fall on their faces in deep repentance (Isaiah 6:1-5). This is a goddess who swings her hips while she listens to funk music, who laughs like a clown at sin, and who can’t bring herself to punish any of her precious little ones. This false goddess is a joke – a joke that is pointed at my awesome and Almighty God.

If all of the previous isn’t enough to convince someone that biblical revelation is heavily downplayed in this book, the author wants to make it clear that he despises the Scriptural record. On page 95, ‘Papa’ declares that she is appearing as a woman to overcome Mack’s ‘religious conditioning’ from having read the Bible. On pages 124-125, the Jesus character shows utter contempt for the Law – a very different attitude than the biblical Jesus shows (Matthew 5:17-20). On page 136, Sarayu (the Holy Spirit character) tells Mack that it doesn’t really matter if people disbelieve the Bible’s truthfulness, and on page 199, the same character shows utter disdain for the will of God as laid down in the Scriptures.

It should seem obvious that we are not dealing with a ‘Christian’ book here. The Shack is an assault on the God of the Bible and a deliberate attempt to teach false doctrine. A quick look on the inside cover will show you many ‘Christian celebrities’ that endorse the book, however, and no doubt some of our friends have read and enjoyed the book. How did they get past all of this heretical theology? I, for one, cannot offer much help in answering that question. This book disgusted me to the very core. Someone asked me if I could say that there was anything beneficial about the book. My response is that if I had a friend that lost a child, I would not recommend to him a book about how the Baal of the Old Testament could make him feel better. It’s a false god! And it is no less false of a god than the chuckling quartet of Papa, Jesse, Sarayu, and Sophia.

Friday, February 13, 2009

I Know the Way to the Tree of Life

The following is an article that I wrote for the inaugural issue of the Olney Baptist Association Quarterly. We hope to release this new journal later this month to the churches in our local association.

I know the way to the Tree of Life.

Once there was an immaculate Garden, planted by the Creator and kept by the creature. In this place there was no fear between man and beast. There was no sadness, no pain, and no shame. The Creator had provided exceedingly well for his creatures. Every green thing was given to man and the lesser creatures to eat. They had all they could ever need or want in this perfect Garden.

Amid the myriad of plants that produced fruit good to eat, there stood two unique trees. Each of these trees was special in its own way. The fruit of one had the property of granting wisdom. The other could bestow eternal life.

What should perhaps intrigue us is that a command was given by the Creator regarding only one of these special trees. He said to the man, "You shall surely eat of every tree of the Garden, but of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die." But what about the other tree? Implicit in God's command not to eat of the one tree was a direct command to joyfully partake of the other, for he had said, "You shall surely eat of every tree of the Garden."

What was set before Adam and his bride was a choice between life and good, death and evil.

But man was not stupid before he made his choice. The fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil did not hold for the man the promise of knowing the will of God, because God had already made his will known to man. The fruit would not provide the man with the knowledge of how to work the ground or care for the animals, because God had already given him those abilities. The fruit would not give him a greater knowledge of his Creator, because before he took it and ate, he walked daily with his God. In short, without the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, man lived by every word that came from the mouth of God.

What the man chose, then, by taking the Forbidden Fruit, was to gain understanding apart from the word of his Creator. The Serpent questioned the truthfulness and authority of what God spoke, and he encouraged the woman to seek knowledge on her own terms. Man and wife then made the choice to cease eating from the Tree that would cause them to live forever under the authority of their God and to turn instead to the Tree whose fruit promised separation from the Creator's life and authority. The rest, as they say, is history.

Our first parents were removed from their Paradise and forced to work the hard ground. A terribly fearsome creature with a flaming sword was placed at the gate of their former home to guard the way back to the Tree of Life. They had made their choice to live according to their own will rather than the will of God, and so the Tree that that the Creator had once commanded them to eat of was now beyond their grasp. Life would end.

Over a thousand years passed. A flood came upon the earth because of man's evil. Only eight were left. The Garden was buried beneath the water and sediment. No one knew where it had been any longer. The Tree that could grant Life was lost.

Another millennium passed over the world. Then one day, an eighty year old shepherd caught sight of a bush that burned but was not consumed. The Tree was still alive. The Creator once again began to walk with man and expected him once again to live only by his word. The choice again was laid before his people of life and death, good and evil.

These descendants of the first man had inherited his nature, though, and were incapable of living by God's word. Since death was what they chose, God gave them death. They were slaughtered by their enemies, carried into captivity, and dispossessed of their inheritance.

Generations passed. Whispers began to be heard of a Shoot from the stump of Jesse. A Righteous Branch would spring up from David. The Tree would once again grow from the wasted earth.

This time, it was a surprise, however. When the Tree of Life once again appeared in the world of men, it looked like nothing other than a Tree of Death. Nonliving boards tied or nailed together in a twisted mockery of the Living Tree that they resembled held impaled the dying body of the Righteous Branch. The blood of the Creator-made-flesh ran down the rough-hewn trunk of this Tree. The fruit that could grant eternal life was now flesh and blood, and those who wanted to live forever had to feast on this macabre food and drink.

What had happened to the Tree? Why this bloody spectacle? The Fountain of Eternal Life was filled with the slime of our wickedness. The Sinless One became sin for us. The Blessed One became cursed for us, and all of our evil was placed upon him who knew no evil that he might suffer the wrath that was due us because of our sinful choice. For we have all followed in the footsteps of our first parents and have chosen to pursue our own wisdom apart from God's word. The death we see in the Tree of Life is our death, the consequence of our choice.

When we then eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood, we show that the penalty of our sin was placed upon him. When we eat the Bread of Life and drink the Living Water, we partake of the reward that is His by rights. The fruit of the Tree of Life still has the effect of causing those who eat of it to live forever, but its appearance forces us to come to repentance for our sins. The natural man does not want to eat from this Tree. It is disgusting in his eyes. The beauty of Christ on the cross is spiritually discerned. We see our death there, but we see that our death was placed on the shoulders of another. To desire the fruit of this Tree is to see our sin for what it really is. We must hate our evil and turn from our wickedness and cling only to this One who has set us free from the power of sin and the wrath of God.

I know the way to the Tree of Life. It leads me to renounce the wisdom of man that my ancestors sought to obtain through the fruit of the other Tree. It leads me back to every word that comes from the mouth of God as the source of all of my knowledge. It leads me to see my wickedness as God sees it and to hate it as He hates it. It leads me to Jesus Christ as the only One who can deliver me from God's wrath, which I so richly deserve. It leads me to my knees in love, adoration, and worship of the one who took my shame, my curse, my death. It leads me to offer my life as a living sacrifice, taking up my own cross and dying to the desires of my flesh in order to bring glory to the one who has given me eternal life.

We have the directions to Life. May we never forget how to get there, and may we never neglect to point others along the Way.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Thought about Weather

At various times throughout my theological education, I have heard it taught that Satan controls the weather. Preachers and teachers get this idea from Ephesians 2:2, where Satan is referred to as "the prince of the power of the air." Since Satan is the prince of the power of the air, so the argument goes, then he is in direct control of all movement of the air, or, in other words, the weather. (See, for example, the entry on Ephesians 2:2 in the Bible Knowledge Commentary, edited by Walvoord and Zuck.)

One of the reasons why, I believe, that certain teachers want to see Satan as being in control of such things is that it is hard to justify God as being one who would send a tornado or hurricane to destroy lives and property. They would rather shift the 'blame' or the responsibility of such actions to Satan. Of course, that does not really remove God from the responsibility for these events, since in the book of Job we indeed see Satan causing such ruckus, but we also see God squarely as the authorizer of such destruction (Job 1:8, 12).

I had an interesting thought about this idea today, though, when I considered that last Sunday, as I was laying out the planned activities of the week to the congregation, I neglected to say, "If the Lord wills" (James 4:15). And, sure enough, on Wednesday of this week, we did not have our planned prayer service. That's when I got to thinking about the difference between saying "if the Lord wills" and "weather permitting." They are essentially saying the same thing, if we understand God as controlling the weather. But what if we believe that Satan controls the weather? Wouldn't then the phrases "weather permitting" and "if Satan wills" be identical?

Well, we certainly don't want to go around saying "if Satan wills", so we better get a more accurate handle on what Ephesians 2:2 is saying!

In the ancient world, the air was thought of as the home of evil spirits. In fact, the word for spirit could also mean wind or breath, so there is clearly a connection. When Paul refers to Satan as the "prince of the power of the air", he is referring to Satan's chief status among the evil spirits. He is the prince of the hosts of the demons, but he is certainly not the lord of weather.

The Bible declares that it is Yahweh who raises the stormy winds (Psalm 107:25). All types of weather obey his commands (Psalm 148:8, cf. the plagues of the Exodus). Jesus himself had power over winds and waves. Even in the one place where we might say that Satan commanded the weather (Job 1), the fire that fell from heaven was reported by the servant to be the "fire of God" (verse 16), which is reminiscent of the fire that fell on Sodom - clearly from God's hand.

No, we cannot declare that Satan is the master of the weather because of Ephesians 2:2. The unanimous declaration of God's word is that God alone controls the storms and winds of heaven. We must never make our plans contingent upon "if Satan wills", but rather upon "if the Lord wills", and "weather permitting" ought to always have that connotation in our minds.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Analogies of Evangelism

When most people think about the taint of sin and guilt that man inherits from Adam, they think of a sickness that makes it hard for them to come to God - a sickness that infects their moral nature and makes them more apt to do bad things. In this way of thinking, what man needs is a remedy. He needs the medicine of a better understanding of the truth or the therapy of some good Christian friends to gently steer him in the right direction.

To change the analogy slightly, this sin-sick man is like a traveler on a ship that has been cast overboard and is struggling to stay afloat in the water. His sin is pulling him downward. He needs rescue. In this picture, those who have the saving gospel of Jesus Christ need to throw it to their drowning friends like life-preservers to save them from immanent death. For every drowning man we see, we need to toss a life-preserver. At that point, if only the man would take a hold of it, he could be saved. The offer of salvation is on the table, but he has to stretch out and grab it.

I wonder what effect this analogy has on the mind of the evangelist? He pities those who are drowning. He tries to get the life-preserver that he throws close to the target so that grasping it is not too much of a trouble. He waits in fearful anticipation to see whether the sinner will grasp the promise of life. His hope at this point is a hope in the activity of man.

The Bible doesn't like this analogy of evangelism. The Bible likes to call the lost "dead in their trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1). Our corrupt human nature is not 'sick', it is 'dead'. The man who does not belong to Christ is not drowning, he is in the latter stages of complete decomposition on the sea floor. He cannot grasp your life-ring. It is many, many fathoms above him. In fact, the whole activity of sailing around the sea casting life rings for drowned sinners starts to look really stupid.

This is the point where people start to sneer at the Calvinists and say, "See! I told you they don't believe in evangelism!" Such a statement is shamefully false, though, because those who base their theology on the Scriptures have a much better picture of how a Christian is to evangelize.

While the Bible never presents evangelism as rescuing the sick or drowning, it does have a great picture of evangelism as raising the dead. In Ezekiel 37, the prophet is led to a valley of dry bones. Now these bones are really dry, pointing to the fact that the people the bones came from are REALLY dead! Ezekiel does not walk around this valley (maybe it used to be a sea floor - actually it was! (Genesis 7)) putting life-preservers near the hands of the dead, hoping that they will reach out a grab a hold. No, instead he is told by God to "Prophesy over these bones...Behold, I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live!"

Now, what is in the mind of the evangelist who thinks of his work as telling dead things to come to life? He knows the true nature of the men he speaks to. He knows the absolute inability of his own power to make them live. He knows the abundant power of the word that he proclaims that can even raise the dead, because it is the word of the Almighty and ever-living God. And finally, his hope is not in the dead bones to comprehend what he says, but his hope is in the infinitely powerful, sovereign, and gracious God who gave him this task. His joy at seeing the bones live is a joy in God, not a celebration of a man's decision.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Great Love Triangle

I am preparing a Sunday evening sermon series of the same title of this post that will eventually culminate in a study of the book of Revelation. It has been my discovery throughout this process that the entire Bible is really the story of a love triangle. It is a story very similar, in fact, to the story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah, and especially Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar. This love story is one of a husband and one wife whom he loves, and one whom he does not.

Of course, when we are speaking about the Bible as a whole, the characters materialize into God, as revealed in the Lord Jesus Christ: the husband, and the church as his favored bride. The unwanted or unloved or unintended wife is unbelieving, covenant-breaking Israel - who is really no Israel at all (Romans 9:6). Revelation is the glorious end to this story, with the destruction of the whore (unbelieving Israel) and the final beatific and fruitful marriage of the lover (the church).

One unexpected outcome of this study has been a heightened awareness of the importance of covenants in the Bible, since marriage is in essence a covenant, and the covenants in Scripture are in essence the 'marrying' of God and his people. I have been warned by some, however, that a passion for seeing the Bible as a developing covenant can lead to an acceptance of infant baptism, since many traditional 'covenant' theologians hold that the circumcision of the Old Covenant is directly analogous to the baptism of the New Covenant.

I find, though, that given the context, this is actually far from the truth. Understanding baptism to be a covenant sign administered only to those who have become members of the promise by faith rather than by flesh (physical birth) actually makes the most sense in the great story of the Bible. It is not the children of the flesh who inherit the blessings of the covenant, but the children of the promise (Galatians 4). There are many who are descended from Israel who are not Israel (Romans 9:6). These children of the slave woman according to the flesh were also marked according to the flesh at their physical birth. But children of the free woman ("Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother" - Galatians 4:26) are born according to the Spirit, and are marked according to the Spirit at their spiritual birth.

Baptism of disciples alone is not contrary to the proper understanding of the blossoming covenant of grace throughout Scripture. It is perfectly consistent with it. Also, the spiritual aspect of it beautifully matches the overall story of the great love triangle that we find in the pages of Scripture.