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AUGUST 2008

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T H E N E W

AT H E I SM

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C O R A M

D E O

Living before the face of God

New Dog, Old Tr ic ks B Y

B U R K

P A R S O N S

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ince hearing about the supposedly “new” atheism I have been trying to figure out what’s so new about it. Its proponents are not saying anything different than their atheist ancestors have said throughout history. In truth, they are simply using the same old spin on a new generation of skeptics. Take, for instance, new atheism proponent Richard Dawkins’ assertions. In his article “On Debating Religion,” he writes, “The hypothesis of God offers no worthwhile explanation for anything” and “faith is the great cop-out, the great excuse to evade the need to think and evaluate evidence.” In his book The Selfish Gene, he writes, “Faith is powerful enough to immunize people against all The new breed of appeals to pity, to forgiveness, to decent human None of this seems all that different from atheists employ feelings.” the old atheism of Karl Marx, who in 1844 wrote in popular-level his introduction to A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: “Religion is the sigh arg uments to of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the give them the world, opium of the people.” The trouble with this new atheism is that it is broadest appeal. not new at all but is the same old humanistic sermon that has been proclaimed on the soap box of cynicism throughout the ages. Nevertheless, perhaps what’s most troubling is that these new atheists employ popular-level arguments in order to give them the broadest appeal. What is even more troubling is that many Christians have shut their mouths and closed their eyes, pretending that this humanistic, atheistic nonsense will all just go away without affecting our churches or our children. Make no mistake about it, the Lord God Almighty reigns, and because His kingdom shall overcome, we shall overcome by His grace and before His face, coram Deo. And although these new atheists might call us deluded Christians, they are most certainly not deluded in their mission to convert the undiscerning world to the god of atheism — they know full well for whom they’re working as they seek new ways to suppress the eternal truth of God in their unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Burk Parsons is editor of Tabletalk magazine and minister of congregational life at Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida.

P U B L I S H E R Ligonier Ministries E X E C U T I V E E D I T O R R.C. Sproul E D I T O R Burk Parsons S E N I O R A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R Chris Donato A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R S Keith A. Mathison, Robert Rothwell P R O D U C T I O N M A N A G E R Scott Devor C R E AT I V E D I R E C T O R Geoff Stevens A R T D I R E C T O R Monty Morgan CO M M U N I C AT I O N S D I R E C T O R Chris Larson M A R K E T I N G M A N A G E R John Cobb C I R C U L AT I O N Dawn Sanders Tabletalk (usps 009-013) is published monthly by Ligonier Ministries, Inc., 400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746. Annual subscription price (12 issues): $20.00. Periodicals postage paid at Lake Mary, FL, and additional mailing offices. The daily Bible studies are copyright 2008, Ligonier Ministries, Inc. Unless noted, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Ligonier Ministries, 400 Technology Park, Lake Mary, FL 32746-6229.

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ta b l e tal k

contents IN THIS ISSUE

{ THE

NEW ATHEISM }

F E A T U R E S

4 Faith and Reason RIGHT NOW COUNTS FOREVER

BY R.C. SPROUL

A U G U S T 2008 VO LU M E 32 | N U M BER 8

DA I LY S T U D I E S 23 Into the Word 25 United in Truth and Love By Robert Rothwell 34 For the Record By Joel R. Beeke 45 The Generous Landowner By Jerry Bridges 52 True Greatness By Tom Ascol 59 The Joy of the Lord By Greg Barolet

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God’s Dupes? BY RAVI K. ZACHARIAS

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64 Pastor’s Perspective By Philip G. Ryken 68 Pro Ecclesia: For the Church By Carl R. Trueman

Has Science Got Rid of God? BY JOHN BLANCHARD

70 Generation to Generation By Steven J. Lawson

18 The True Face of Evil BY DAVID A. ROBERTSON

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C O L U M N S

74 Tolle Lege: Take Up and Read By Keith A. Mathison 80 Seek Ye First By R.C. Sproul Jr. 82 Truth and Consequences By Gene Edward Veith

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&

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In this postmodern cult ure we have witnessed a fascinating rev iva l of a ncient Gnosticism. The Gnostics of a ntiquit y were ca lled by that na me because they asser ted that they had a superior t y pe of knowledge that surpassed the insights found even in

T RU E FA I T H I N VOLV E S T RUS T I NG I N T H E E V I DE NC E T H AT G OD H A S A M P LY P ROV I DE D I N A N D T H ROUGH H I S WOR D.

RIGHT NOW COUNTS FOREV ER BY R.C. SPROUL

the apostles of the New Testa ment. They ma inta ined that the insights of the apostles were limited by the nat ura l limitations suf fered by huma n beings tied to rationa lit y.

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RIGHT NOW COUNTS FOREVER FAITH AND REASON R.C. SPROUL

True knowledge, according to these heretics, was found not through reason or sense perception, but through a highly developed mystical intuition. In like manner, in this postmodern world we’ve seen a wide spread rejection of rationality. This rejection of rationality has infi ltrated the church with a vengeance. We see frequent attempts to remove the Christian faith from all considerations of rationality. It is being argued today that biblical revelation is only intelligible by intuition or by a particularly sensitive poetic imagination. This carries with it the

elation, arguing that revelation is unreasonable and the only truth that can be known is that which can be known by natural reason. The third and most complex form of rationalism is Hegelian rationalism, which defi nes reason with a capital R, and reality is the unfolding in space and time of ultimate reason. None of these philosophies represents historic Christianity. Christianity is not based on rationalism. However, the rejection of rationalism in the modern church often carries with it the rejection of rationality. This rejection is itself irrational. When

We must be on our g uard and vigilant at every moment against the intrusion of irrationality.

idea that biblical revelation is unintelligible through reason. For good cause, the church in recent centuries has had to reject rationalism in its many faceted forms. There is no monolithic philosophy of rationalism; rather, rationalism wears various faces. On the one hand, we think of rationalism as distinct from empiricism with respect to how we come to know what we know. Second, Enlightenment rationalism contrasts reason not with sense perception but with rev6

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we reject humanism, we don’t reject being human. If we reject existentialism, we don’t reject existence. So, if we reject an “ism” attached to reason, it does not mean that we are to reject reason itself. Any discussion of faith and reason has to ask the question, “What is faith?” The biblical answer, according to the author of Hebrews, is that faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (11:1). The author goes on to say that by faith we understand that the

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world was formed by the Word of God. The fi rst thing we notice in this assertion is that faith is something that is substantial, not ephemeral. Secondly, faith represents a type of evidence. It is the evidence of the unseen. At the heart of the concept of New Testament faith is the idea of trust, namely, that faith involves placing one’s trust in something. In this regard all human creatures are subject to depending at one point or another on faith. I am not an expert in medicine, so I must give a certain trust to the diagnoses offered to me by experts in the field. That trust may be provisional until I fi nd that it is not based in substance or evidence. But in the meantime, to trust what we do not see is not necessarily a matter of being irrational. Without reason, the content of biblical faith would be unintelligible and meaningless. So we say that biblical faith is not the same as reason, but that faith is rational and reasonable. The fi rst assertion that faith is rational means that faith is intelligible. It is not absurd or illogical. If biblical revelation were absurd and irrational, it would be utterly unintelligible and meaningless. The content of the Bible cannot pierce the soul of a sentient creature without fi rst going through the mind. It was Augustine who declared that faith without evidence is credulity. At this point we understand that though faith is rational, it is also reasonable. Biblical faith does not call people to crucify their intellect or take irrational leaps of faith into the darkness with the hope that Christ will catch us. Rather we are called to leap out of the darkness and into the light.

When the Scriptures say that faith is the evidence of things not seen, what are we to understand that to mean? The example given is that by faith we understand the world was formed by the Word of God. None of us was an eyewitness of the action of God in creation. Yet we trust that the universe has come into being by the act of God’s divine work of creation because we have come on reasonable grounds to believe that God’s Word is trustworthy. Because we are convinced that God’s Word is trustworthy and that that conviction is a reasonable conviction, we can trust God’s Word even for those things that we cannot see. John Calvin also argued the point that true faith is not believing against evidence. Rather, true faith involves trusting in the evidence that God has amply provided in and through His Word. That faith is not without what Calvin called evidences; rather, it is a faith that surrenders to or acquiesces to the evidences. We must be on our guard and vigilant at every moment against the intrusion of irrationality coming from existential philosophy, neo-orthodox theolog y, and the resurgence of mysticism set forth in neo-Gnosticism. What is at stake is the coherence and intelligibility of God’s divine work.

Dr. R.C. Sproul is founder and president of Ligonier Ministries, and he is author of the books Defending Your Faith and Reason to Believe.

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Lig onier M inistr ies R e ach es millions o p eo of e pl plee wo worl rlldw dwid i e ea id e ch yea earr th thro r ug ro ugh h raa di dio o an nd I te In t rn rnet et b bro road ro ad dca c st stss of Re Rene newi ne w ng You wi ourr Mi M nd n d w itt h Dr. R. Dr R C. S Spr prrou prou oull, re r sour so our urce ce m mat ater at eria er ials ia l , Ta ls Tabl blet bl etal et alk magg az alk al a in ineee,, inte in tern te r at rn atio iona io nall tr na tran an n sllat at io atio ion n ef effo fort fo rts, rt s, con onfe f re fe r nc nces e , an es nd ou ur w b si we site te.. We a re te re a lw way ayss se seek ekin ek k in ingg ne new w wa w ys to to touc ucch more mo oree p op pe ople le w wit ith it h th he me m ss ssag agee off G od ag o ’ss h hol o in ol ines esss an es nd the th he tr trut uh ut o H iss Wor of ord. d If yo you u ar aree givi g ivi gi ving n to us ng u f ina fi na nccia na nanc iall lllly,, pleas leeas asee know kn now w t ha h t no none n of ne th h iiss wou u ld l b bee po p ss ssib i le w itt h ib ho out u you ourr g ne ge nero rous ro u a nd f ai us aith thfu th fu u l su upp p or ort. t I f no t. ot, t w h we hop opee th op h att you u w ill l prray ayer yerr fu full l y co ll cons nssid derr jjoi oini oi n i ngg u ss.. ni A a ttok As oken ok en of ou u r ap ppr prec e iaatiio ec on n , paa rt rtne neers r reecceive eiivvee The h Mee ss M s ag agee off t he he Mon onth t h f ro th om R. R C. C Spr prou oul, ou l,, a s ub ubsc scri c ri r pt ptio io ion on t o Ta to Tabllet Tabl e allk m agg az a z in i e, a nd d exc xclu lusi lu siivee u upd pdat pd att es e on tth he mini mi nii st stry ry’s ry ’ss pro rogr gres gr e s. es s

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God’s Dupes?

B Y

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R A V I

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Z A C H A R I A S

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s the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Are Christians deluded? “If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom” (p. 48). In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music” (The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007). Ironically, Harris’ first book is entitled The End of Faith, but it should really be called “The End of Reason,” as it demonstrates again that the mind that is alienated from God in the name of reason can become totally irrational. O x f or d z o olo g i s t R ic h a r d Dawkins suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow, if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil (“Viruses of the Mind,” 1992). Along with Christopher Hitchens and a few others, these atheists are calling for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense!” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God.

I have news for them — news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins, are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data.

You ca nnot have a mora l law unless the mora l law itself is intrinsica lly woven into personhood…. A nd that person ca n only be God.

In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral lawgiver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying He exists. Now, one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral lawTABLETALK AUGUST 2008

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GOD’S DUPES? RAVI ZACHARIAS

giver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have

things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Similarly, the apostle James said, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law

The world do e s not u nder s t a nd mora l law is a l l about . Some get a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood. This means that an intrinsically worthy person must exist if the moral law itself is to be valued. And that person can only be God. Our inability to alter what is actual frustrates our grandiose delusions of being sovereign over everything. Yet the truth is that we cannot escape the existential rub by running from a moral law. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Is it all right, for example, to mutilate babies for entertainment? Every reasonable person will say “no.” We know that objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God must exist. Examining those premises and their validity presents a very strong argument. The prophet Jeremiah noted, “The heart is deceitful above all 12

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of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25). The world does not understand what the absoluteness of the moral law is all about. Some get caught, some don’t get caught. Yet who of us would like our heart exposed on the front page of the newspaper today? Have there not been days and hours when, like Paul, you’ve struggled within yourself and said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15, 24). Each of us knows this tension and conflict within if we are honest with ourselves. Therefore, as Christians, we ought to take time to reflect seri-

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ously upon the question: “Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God?” In the West we go through these seasons of new-fangled theologies. The whole question of “lordship” plagued our debates for some time as we asked if there was such a thing as a minimalist view of conversion? “We said the prayer and that’s it.” Yet how can there be a minimalist view of con-

ing to know Jesus Christ are the new hungers and new pursuits that are planted within the human will. I well recall that dramatic change in my own way of thinking. There were new longings, new hopes, new dreams, new fulfillments, but most noticeably, there was a new will to do what was God’s will. Thomas Chalmers characterized this change that Christ brings as “the expulsive power of a new affection.” This

wh at t he a b s olut ene s s of t he c au g ht , s ome don’t g e t c au g ht . version when conversion itself is a maximal work of God’s grace? “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). If you were proposing marriage to someone, what would the one receiving the proposal say if you said, “I want you to know this proposal changes nothing about my allegiances, my behavior, and my daily life; however, I do want you to know that should you accept my proposal, we shall theoretically be considered married. There will be no other changes in me on your behalf.” In a strange way we have minimized every sacred commitment and made it the lowest common denominator. What does my new birth mean to me? That is a question we seldom ask. Who was I before God’s work in me, and who am I now? The immediate results of com-

new affection of heart — the love of God wrought in us through the Holy Spirit — expels all other old seductions and attractions. The one who knows Christ begins to see that his or her own misguided heart is impoverished and in need of constant submission to the will of the Lord — spiritual surrender. Yes, we are all gifted with different personalities, but humility of spirit and the hallmark of conversion is to see one’s own spiritual poverty. Arrogance and conceit ought to be inimical to the life of the believer. A deep awareness of one’s own new hungers and longings is a convincing witness to God’s grace within. Dr. Ravi K. Zacharias is founder and president of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Norcross, Georgia, and he is author of The Real Face of Atheism.

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Has Sc ie nce Got R id of God? B Y

VEGETAL TISSUE (2005)

©

J O H N

ISMAEL MONTERO, MADRID, SPAIN / DREAMESTIME

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ichard Dawkins, based at Oxford Universit y, off icially operates under the title of Charles Simonyi Reader and Professor of the Public Understanding of Science. Unofficially, he may be the best-known atheist in the world, partly as the result of his best-selling book The God Delusion, published in 2006. With these credentials, we should expect Dawkins to answer the title of this article with a resounding yes, and he does not disappoint us. In a 1999 BBC Television programme Soul of 14

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Britain, he stepped up to the plate and let fly with his trademark panache: “I think science really has fulfilled the need that religion did in the past, of explaining things; why we are here, what is the origin of life, where did the world come from, what life is all about…science has the answers.” If Dawkins is right, religion is an outdated indulgence and God an irrelevant myth. But is he right? The simplest way to answer that question is to test each of his four claims to see whether they can be substantiated.

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Science explains why we are here.

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n context, the word why can have one of two meanings: either “How did we get here?” or “What is our purpose in being here?” As the final claim touches on the second of these, let us look at the first — and Dawkins has no doubt as to the answer: “It is absolutely safe to say that if you meet somebody who claims not to believe in evolution, that person is stupid, ignorant, or insane (or wicked, but I’d rather not consider that).” Having dispatched all opposition with a single sentence, he then endorses the idea that Homo sapiens is the state-of-the-art product of a vast sequence of tightly related species and kinds, beginning with the first living cell and moving on through invertebrates, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, furry quadrupeds, and ape-like mammals. All atheists are evolutionists, and this is the default setting for the model they promote. If they are right, we should expect to find our planet teeming with fossils of intermediate life forms — but they are simply not there. Writing about such evolutionary links, Colin Patterson, senior palaeontologist at the British Museum of Natural History says, “I will lay it on the line. There is not one such fossil for which one might make a watertight argument.” On the other hand, if God created fully formed and separate kinds, we should expect to find the remains of countless fully formed specimens, all without any apparent ancestors — and that is exactly what we do find. In the early chapters of Genesis the creation narrative comes to a climax with the words: “God created man in

his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:27), a statement that resonates with all we know about our unique and astonishing properties. If the full text of Encyclopædia Britannica

Dawkins claims that while so many things give an appearance of having been designed, the impression is a false one.

had arrived on earth from outer space it would be regarded as unchallenged proof of extra-terrestrial intelligence. As human DNA houses vastly more organized information than the Encyclopædia Britannica, it points powerfully to the truth of Nobel laureate Arthur Compton’s conviction that “a supreme intelligence brought the universe into being and created man.”

Science explains the orig in of life.

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n what he calls the central argument of The God Delusion, Dawkins claims that while so many things give an appearance of having been designed, the impression is a false one, because it raises an unanswerable question: Who designed the designer? TABLETALK AUGUST 2008

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HAS SCIENCE GOT RID OF GOD? JOHN BLANCHARD

Two things need to be said in response. First, where is the scientific proof that the appearance of design is deceiving us? There is none — and to deny design before discussing the issue is on a par with declaring that miracles are impossible before finding out whether any have taken place. This illogical approach might be expected from someone at grade school, but hardly from an Oxford don. Second, can science prove that the designer must have been designed, in other words, that the ultimate Creator must have been

they first begin thinking about the subject, and scientists have come up with an endless raft of theories. Yet science can never go any further back than the moment at which the laws on which it leans began to operate. As Edgar Andrews, emeritus professor of materials at the University of London, notes, “Science, even at its most speculative, must stop short of offering any explanation or even description of the actual event of origin.” This seems pretty obvious, yet there are atheists who try to evade the

Cla i m i ng t hat science r u les out t he bibl ica l accou nt of creat ion i s ig nora nce m a s querad i ng a s i nt el l ig ence. created? Is there any branch of science that can definitively rule out any possibility of there being a supernatural, uncreated person? As Ludwig Wittgenstein, the leading analytical philosopher of the twentieth century, said in his monumental Tractatus: “The solution of the riddle of life in space and time lies outside space and time.” This synchronizes precisely with the Bible’s teaching about God being “from everlasting to everlasting” (Ps. 106:48) and its unanimous testimony that this transcendent and eternal Creator “gives life to all things” (1 Tim. 6:13).

Science explains where the world came from.

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he origin of the universe has fascinated people ever since

issue with a flurry of phrases. Peter Atkins, an atheist professor of chemistry at Oxford, claims that the entire universe is “an elaborate and engaging rearrangement of nothing” in which “space-time generates its own dust in the process of its own self-assembly.” Those who hold to this idea, more formally known as the quantum fluctuation hypothesis, were neatly upended in New Scientist: “First there was nothing, then there is something...and before you know it they have pulled a hundred billion galaxies out of their quantum hats.” In A Brief History of Time, the renowned theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, with no religious axe to grind, has a much more reasonable approach. Commenting on the odds against the universe’s incredibly complex and perfectly balanced array of fundamental factors coming

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into existence stence by chance, he wrote: “It would bee very difficult to explain why the universe verse should have begun in just this wayy except as the act of a God who intended d to create beings like us.” Richard ard Dawkins not only dismisses the biblical blical account out of hand, but ranks it with the Hindu myth about the world ld being created in a cosmic butter-churn hurn and the West African notion that the world was created from thee excrement of ants ants, but this hardly qualifies as serious thinking. C.S. Lewis came to a very different conclusion: “No philosophical theory which I have yet come across is a radical improvement on the words of Genesis, that ‘In the beginning God made heaven and earth.’” Claiming that science rules this out is ignorance masquerading as intelligence.

Science explains what life is all about.

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t is curious that Dawkins should make such a claim, as he denies that human life has any purpose, describing such an idea as “a nearly universal delusion.” In a 1995 issue of London’s Observer newspaper, he dismissed a question about the purpose of life by saying, “Well there is no purpose, and to ask what it is is a silly question. It has the same status as, ‘What is the color of jealousy?’” Elsewhere he claims that life is “just bytes and bytes of digital information” and that human beings are “survival machines — robot vehicles blindly programmed to preserve the selfish molecules known as genes,” but this is hopelessly inadequate. It offers no explanation of the fact that as humans we are self-conscious,

thinking beings, with an insatiable desire to evaluate data, develop ideas, exercise imagination, and make decisions. Nor does it explain our unique sense of dignity, our aesthetic tastes, our ability to compose and enjoy art, music, and literature, our moral dimension, and our spiritual longings. As the distinguished modern thinker Francis Schaeffer pointed out: “No one has presented an idea, idea let alone demonstrated it to be feasible, to explain how the impersonal beginning, plus time, plus chance, can give personality.” Sir John Eccles, a Nobel Prizewinning pioneer in brain research, presses the point home: “Science cannot explain the existence of each of us as a unique self.” Even Steve Jones, a passionate atheist and professor of genetics at University College, London, frankly admits, “Science cannot answer the question: ‘Why are we here?’” The Bible can — and does so in the words of those who cry to God, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God…for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Science is the ongoing search for truth in the natural world, and we rightly rejoice at the countless benefits that science and technology have brought into our lives. To go beyond that and claim that science has got rid of God is to promote nineteenthcentury fantasy to the status of twenty-fi rst century fact. Dr. John Blanchard is an evangelist, apologist, author, and conference speaker in Surrey, England. He is author of Has Science Got Rid of God?

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THE TRUE FACE OF

EVIL

B Y

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R O B E R T S O N

D E TA I L O F WO M A N W I T H A M A SK BY LO RENZO L IPPI (16 0 6 −16 65), MUSEE D ES BE AUX-A RT S, A NGER S, FR A NCE / BRID GEM A N A RT L IBR A RY

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eligion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it, you’d have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, it takes religion.” So writes the Nobel Prize-winning American physicist Steven Weinberg. His observation has become a standard mantra of the new atheism. So how 18

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should a Christian respond? We will leave the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, and Jedi Knights to respond for themselves, although we note in passing that it is another fundamental belief of the atheist creed that all religions are essentially the same — hence the oft repeated statement or accusation that “atheists do not fly planes into skyscrapers.”

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It may have escaped the new atheists, but neither do Presbyterians, Catholics, or Southern Baptists! In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins repeats Weinberg’s claim that religion is a virus that infects the human race and causes otherwise “good” people to behave in a way which is dangerous and evil. Given Dawkins faith in empiricism, what is his evidence for this sweeping condemnation? His major evidence appears to be 9/11 and Fred Phelps of Godhatesfags.com infamy. The new atheists also declare that we are all implicated in the “extremist” forms of Christianity (and Islam) because we keep silent and because they are just being consistent with the Scriptures! Apart from the danger of taking our theology from atheists, let me point out unequivocally that Fred Phelps has nothing whatsoever to do with any form of biblical Christianity. His “gospel” is a self-serving rant from the pit of hell and is utterly repudiated by all biblical Christians. We could have endless fun ridiculing the inconsistencies and ad hominem attacks of Dawkins and his friends, but that would be like shooting ducks at a fairground, and some of our brethren do not think it is “nice.” (Although the methodology of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:27, “Cry aloud, for he is a god. Either he is musing, or he is relieving himself, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened,” does have a lot to commend it.) So, what other approach can we take? We could point out that Dawkins’ view is a simplistic and fundamentalist Hollywood fantasy view of the world that divides humanity into the good guys and the bad guys.

We could admit mea culpa, and agree that religion has done a great deal of harm. Furthermore, although we would not accept that all religions are the same, we must also acknowledge that many bad things have been done in the name of Christianity and that the name of God has often been blasphemed amongst the Gentiles because of those who have inconsistently professed the precious name of Christ. And then we could swap accusations, gently reminding our new atheists that when atheism has become the state philosophy, it has rarely lead to an outbreak of love and peace. Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, Hitler, and others who also shared the belief that religion is a virus that needs to be eradicated, are hardly shining examples of the good that atheism has brought to the world. At least they were consistent in following their prophet Nietzsche who declared, “I call Christianity the one great curse, the one great intrinsic depravity, the one great instinct for revenge for which no expedient is sufficiently poisonous, secret, subterranean, petty — I call it the one immortal blemish of mankind.” We could point out that Western civilization, including the science and morality that Dawkins and the new atheists profess to love, is rooted in Christian teaching. We could indicate the numerous examples of Christians who have built hospitals, set up schools, and provided multiple social work programs. Dawkins, of course, would argue that people would have done this anyway and that atheists are just as moral and virtuous as Christians. Thus we end up in a kind of spitting contest where TABLETALK AUGUST 2008

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THE TRUE FACE OF EVIL DAVID ROBERTSON

Christians could easily demonstrate that we build more schools, paint more pictures, and heal more people than members of American Atheists. But that would ultimately prove nothing. As Christopher Hitchens points out, one could just as easily argue that Hamas provides a great social welfare program in the West Bank. We need more than this. The proof that Christianity is a force for good rather than evil is found in the outworking of the great biblical doctrines — the teachings about Christ and humanity that provide us with the explanation as to why our world is in such a mess; the motivation for us to do something about it; and the means whereby we can.

Total Depravity

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n the words of George Thorogood, we are “bad to the bone.” We do not believe in “good empires” and “bad empires,” “good” people and “bad” people. We accept the biblical teaching that all humans and all areas of human life are infected by sin. Religion is not the virus. Sin is. As a result, religion becomes a tool for human sinfulness. Rather than the simplistic and foolish optimism of the new atheism, we know that human beings are inherently and deeply flawed. Christless religion only adds fuel to the fire, but take away all religion and we will still have the fire. As G.K. Chesterton so masterfully wrote in a letter to The Times: “Dear Sir, What’s wrong with the world? I am.” The loss of this basic doctrine thanks to an unjustified Enlightenment optimism was a major factor in the genocidal regimes of the twentieth century, the failed atheist 20

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century. The philosopher John Gray, no friend of Christianity, summarizes it neatly: “As we understand it today, utopianism began to develop along with the retreat of Christian belief” (Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia).

Idolatry

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uman beings have a sense of God. The law of God is written in our hearts. Even Dawkins admits that there is an inherent God consciousness in children, but he attempts to explain it away by regarding it as an “evolutionary misfiring.” The biblical explanation is much simpler. We are created in the image of God. We are created with a capacity for relationship with our Creator. We do have a “God-shaped hole.” The trouble is that we attempt to fill that hole with anything or anyone except God. We invent our own religions, we create our own idols, and we even deify ourselves. It is little wonder that the hole is not filled and that the result is discord, frustration, anger, and brokenness. Idolatry is false religion. It is an argument for, rather than against, true religion.

The Cross

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esus Christ and Him crucified is the divine surgery that fi xes the problem. We do not need to be patched up. We do need forgiveness, grace, mercy, a new heart, and a new birth. The cross deals with every aspect of human sinfulness, individually and communally. It is through the cross that the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts. The Beatles were right to sing, “All you

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need is love.” They just did not know what they were singing about. This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent His Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sin.

The Sovereignty of God

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esus is Lord a nd Sav ior. Everything comes under His

Christians are not utopians or religious moralists. We do not think that we can legislate to make people moral…

lordship. There is no area of life that is not His. Therefore those who belong to Him, go on to live for Him in every area of life — in education, family, work, sport, politics, healthcare, social work, and entertainment. Rooted in these great biblical doctrines we then go on to produce fruit. Christians are not utopians or religious moralists. We do not think that we can legislate to make people moral, or that there is some kind of religious band-aid that will soothe over the deep wounds in humanity. Neither are we pietists who retreat into our reli-

gious communes. We are salt and light in a world that is tasteless and dark. Because we have come to know the love of Christ, we cannot but reflect and share that love. The love of Christ constrains us. According to his secretary, Traudl Junge, Hitler despised the church because “only mankind and above all the church have made it their aims to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind.” Exactly. The history of the Christian church is full of people who, having been ransomed, healed, restored, and forgiven, are then set free to serve the living God and do so by going on to keep alive the weak, heal the sick, fight injustice, feed the hungry, visit the prisoners and demonstrate in their life, words, and deeds the mercy and compassion of God. It is ironic that in 2007 members of the British Parliament listed as their favorite summer reading two books: the fi rst being Dawkins’ The God Delusion, the second, William Hague’s wonderful William Wilberforce. Whilst the Dawkins rant exemplifies the irrational and deeply rooted hatred of humans for God, the life of the great anti–slavery campaigner Wilberforce demonstrates what a powerful force for good is a forgiven sinner in the hands of a gracious God. Wilberforce exemplifies the great argument of Jesus against the new atheist creed that all religion is de facto evil: Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Rev. David A. Robertson is minister of St. Peter’s Free Church in Dundee, Scotland. He is author of The Dawkins Letters: Answering Atheist Myths.

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R E C O M M E N D E D

R E S O U R C E S

If There’s a God, Why Are There Atheists? BY R . C . S P RO U L

Christians across the United States have found If There’s a God, Why Are There Atheists? a

helpful tool for explaining the true roots of unbelief. This book shows that men deny God because they do not want to be accountable to a transcendent judge of the universe and helps us defend the Lord’s existence through sound, logical argumentation. IFT01BP Z PAPERBACK, 150 PAGES Z (REG. $7) $5.60

The Real Face of Atheism B Y R AV I Z A C H A R I A S

One of the most respected Christian apologists today takes a look at what atheism really promises and concludes that only despair results from a worldview that denies the existence of God. This book explores the meaning of life, morality, death, and other issues, showing that Christianity alone provides answers that make sense of the world we live in. Available for a limited time. REA06BP Z PAPERBACK, 185 PAGES Z (REG. $16) $12.80

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A u g u s t 20 08 I N TO t h e WO R D d a i l y

B i b l e

s t u d i e s

“Fear not then, as though your honor was put down. Rather, be ready to abase yourself. For in this way your glory is exalted even more, and in this way it becomes greater. This is the door of the kingdom.” J O H N C H R Y S O S T O M , H O M I L I E S O N T HE G O S P E L O F S A I N T M AT T HE W , 65.4

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atthew’s gospel informs us that Jesus came to save His people from their sins (1:21). Essential to this work of salvation is Christ’s building of His church, against which even the gates of hell cannot prevail (16:18). Life in this believing community was an important theme of our study of chapter 18 last month, but we were not able to explore the nature and attributes of the church in much detail. Therefore, our studies in August will begin with a more comprehensive examination of the attributes of the church using Dr. R.C. Sproul’s teaching series The Bride of Christ. Following this study we will look at Matthew 19–20 and the important teachings on divorce, the need to exalt Jesus above all else, the grace of God, and humility. Christ’s call for us not to seek our own glory is a difficult one to fulfill; thus, it behooves us to pay close attention to His teaching on the subject. In a day and age when Christians more often look to be served than to serve, let us never forget the example of Jesus who did us the greatest service of all when He gave up His life for our sins (20:28).

Abiding in the

WOR D These verses parallel the themes of the studies each week. We encourage you to hide them in your heart so that you may not sin against the Lord: WEEK OF AUGUST 4 EPHESIANS 2:19 –20 W E E K O F A U G U S T 11 E XO DUS 20:14 WEEK OF AUGUST 18 M AT TH E W 19:14 WEEK OF AUGUST 25 PSALM 84:10

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Friday A U G U S T

The Church Is One JOHN 17 “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have

given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (v. 11b).

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ur study of Matthew 18 now complete, we have seen how the church is to exhibit pastoral concern, guard the church’s holiness, and readmit to communion all those who, though they have broken fellowship, turn from their sins and seek restoration. Before returning to Matthew’s gospel, however, we need to look at the nature of the church in order to understand why discipline and forgiveness are needed to preserve the purity of the church. Dr. R.C. Sproul will guide our study through this subject with his teaching series The Bride of Christ. John 17, which records the longest prayer in the New Testament, provides some of the most important teaching on the church. As we can see in this chapter, Jesus is concerned with the unity of His people, praying for His disciples and all those who come after them to be one in purpose and mission even as He and His Father are one (vv. 11b, 22–23). It is therefore regrettable that the church of Jesus Christ in our day evidences little visible unity. In the United States alone, there are hundreds of different Protestant denominations, including dozens of varieties each of Presbyterians, Baptists, Lutherans, and so on. Faced with this scandalous reality, there has been a tendency in the twentieth century and now, in the twenty-first century, to try and correct this problem. As a result of the ecumenical movement, many new denominations have formed through the mergers of old ones, and there has been a push for believers to affirm what unites them over and against what divides them. This is laudable when those professing unity agree on the fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, but such is not often the case. Many times those seeking “unity” are those who are most eager to jettison any real adherence to the confessional standards of the church. Such unity is merely visible, and cracks begin to show when Bible-believers in the church begin to rightly protest the excesses of the liberal wings of their denominations. If unity is to mean anything, Jesus also affirms in John 17, it must be a unity grounded in the truth (vv. 17–19). Unity is meaningless when church members do not confess the same Lord and Savior. COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

Consider today the importance of true Christian unity, one that is a unity of faith and not only an organizational unity. What type of unity is your particular church concerned to promote? What type of unity is your passion? Take time today to pray for your particular church and denomination that they would seek to be one with other Christians, but not at the expense of the faith once given to the saints. Do what you can to promote such unity with other believers. 24

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Amos 3:3 Ephesians 4:1–6 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 68–69 Romans 4

FOR THE WEEKEND :

Psalms 70–72 Romans 5

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United in Truth and Love B Y

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R O T H W E L L

Summers are traditionally a time for vacation, and that was certainly true of my youth. Besides journeys to visit grandparents and time spent on the beach, however, summers during my high school years usually involved one kind of church

retreat or another. These were not your ordinary, garden-variety retreats made up solely of people who were members of my local congregation. No, these retreats were a broader affair, involving people from all sorts of denominations in my hometown of Miami, Florida. Baptists, Pent e co s t a l s , P r e s by t er i a n s , Lutherans, Methodists, non-denominational evangelicals, and even Roman Catholics were all represented on these spiritual getaways, making them ecumenical in a very strong sense. I do look back on these retreats with a certain fondness, for I believe God did use them to instruct me about important topics like service and repentance. The need for personal faith in Christ was always stressed as well, along with a call for us to be actively involved in the churches we

represented — all invaluable truths if ever there were any. Yet hindsight is often twentytwenty, and I would not encourage anyone to attend them today, despite the good these retreats did for me. In order for these gatherings to take place and welcome Roman Catholics along with Protestants, there had to be a white-washing of the important differences that separate these bodies. Certainly, the church of Rome and the heirs of the Reformation hold many beliefs in common, but essential components of the biblical Gospel separate us. Until Rome abandons its understanding of justification, the role Mary supposedly plays in redemption, and other such distinctives, a committed, Bible-believing Christian cannot in good conscience affirm the Roman system as a valid pathway to Christ. To participate in a TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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spiritual retreat like this would be, in effect, to afďŹ rm the fallacies of Rome. That being said, I hope that my commitment to the visible unity of the church is as strong as my conviction of the truths of the Gospel. After all, we often think that we can have one without the other. Of course, the invisible unity all Christians share is important, but we too often act as if Jesus is really not all that interested in visible unity. But how will the world know we are Christians by our love (John 13:35) when we are lobbing insults at each other because we do not like anyone to disagree with us over baptism, the Sabbath, eschatology, and so on? Believe me, the pagan does not see us as one in the Spirit when we all confess the Nicene Creed and then tear down each other over the timing of the rapture. The unbeliever also has difďŹ culty understanding how Christians can possibly love one another when we are dispersed across many different denominations. So even though I would steer clear of the retreats from my past today, I still want to be someone who, without sacrificing truth, embraces the spirit of love and unity these retreats tried to promote, albeit at the expense of vital doctrines. To that end I have made several commitments: First, I will strive not to disrupt the unity of the individual church of which I am a member. This means that I will endeavor never to grumble to my leaders nor join with other members who might disparage them behind their backs (Heb. 13:17). I will submit to the elders in every decision until the day they deny the Gospel itself, which, Lord willing, shall 26

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never happen. In other words, I will not make my opinions the standard by which I evaluate my church. Second, I will maintain contact with my Christian friends who do not attend my church. Since I am a member of an independent, Reformed congregation, this necessarily means that the friendships I have with Christians outside of my local church body are friendships with those in different denominations. May I never be unconcerned with how God is moving in other parts of the body of Christ. Third, I will seek to understand the nonessential doctrines found in other traditions in order that I might respect them and not dismiss them outright. If all believers did this, our thoughts and discussions would be more civil. We might even learn from each other and ďŹ nd a new consensus on issues that might promote visible unity. My fourth commitment is to pray for the peace and purity of the church. My heart is not yet as broken as it should be over the disunity of the church, and only the Holy Spirit can make me long truly and deeply for Christians to be one again. Without such longing, I will not be motivated to work for the unity of the church. Of course, I share these promises not merely to tell you about myself, I share them in the hopes that you will make them with me. If they can help, even if in a small way, to help believers work for a unity based on the clear truths of the Bible, then I will consider all this talk of retreats and commitments a heavenly success. Robert Rothwell is an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine.

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Twisting the Truth

Monday A U G U S T

“Fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (vv. 29–30). ACTS 20:7–35

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istorically speaking, divergent viewpoints have existed within the church since the days of the apostles. Christians have always had to live in community with other believers who do not agree with them on every single point, and they have had to do so in a way that keeps “the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3). As an example of this, Paul in Romans 14 clearly intends to bring civility to Christians who are arguing over matters of diet and calendar. No matter the particular issue, all disagreements occur only because one or more parties in the disagreement are at least partially in error. Both you and I can be wrong when we differ over something, but we cannot both be totally right. Not every error is a legitimate cause for division, and differences must be tolerated whenever they do not undermine Christian faith. Paul in Romans 14 makes this point, telling certain Christians not to judge other Christians who abstain from meat (mostly Jews still concerned with purity laws) even though no food is unclean in itself (v. 14). As long as the consciences of “the weak” did not bind the consciences of “the strong,” their view of food was tolerable. Other errors deny those very beliefs that set Christians apart from all other people, that is, they deny those truths without which the Christian faith is impossible. Denials of the Trinity, the virgin birth, and other such matters are errors that we refer to as heresies. To preserve the purity of its testimony to the one, true God, the church has historically stood against heresy, calling councils and writing creeds to define the boundaries of orthodoxy. Traditionally, heretics have been unwilling to admit that they do not affirm Christianity as it has been handed down throughout the ages. This problem was compounded beginning in the nineteenth century when heretics were increasingly able to stay in their churches without being disciplined for their aberrant views. Many unbelievers today are leaders in some Protestant denominations, which have suffered a mass exodus of members. The complicity of many church bodies in looking the other way when soul-damning lies are taught has forced many to flee these churches lest they be devoured by the wolves. Living before the face of God

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Proverbs 16:6 Jeremiah 29:8–9 Mark 13:22–23 1 John 4:1 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 73–74 Romans 6

COR AM DEO

Paul in Romans 14 urged the toleration of those who in error felt it was wrong to eat what they thought was unclean. If this is so, should we not also tolerate those who disagree with us over issues such as the method of baptism or the millennial reign of Christ, especially when it is impossible to determine with absolute certainty which views are less faithful to Scripture than others? Are nonessential truths something over which you break fellowship? TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Tuesday A U G U S T

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Doctrine Divides JEREMIAH 6:1–15 “They have healed the wound of my people

lightly, saying,‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (v. 14).

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hroughout history men have appeared who would become famous for seeking peace at any price. Perhaps the greatest twentieth-century example of such a figure is the British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain who in 1938 proclaimed that he had achieved “peace in our time” with Adolf Hitler even as he was preparing to unleash his blitzkrieg on Europe. Chamberlain’s aversion to hostility was so great that Hitler played him for a fool. Conflict is something that most people, when given the opportunity, try to avoid. Peace is so desirable that significant differences between individuals and groups are often ignored, and unity is sought under the lowest common denominator. When peace is sought under these auspices, it can be easy to ignore the importance of truth altogether. The modern heirs of nineteenth-century Christian liberalism reveal such tendencies. In the drive to live peaceably with other professing believers and even other non-Christian religions, liberalism has tended to redefine Christianity as “the universal fatherhood of God and the universal brotherhood of man,” or some other innocuous definition. Ironically, liberals tend to tolerate any kind of belief system unless it happens to represent orthodox, biblical faith. We cannot, however, judge mainline Protestantism without recognizing that these problems are increasingly evident within evangelicalism. Even though many different denominations were born out of the Protestant Reformation, evangelicals have traditionally confessed the inerrancy of Scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith alone whether they were Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, and so on. Today, unfortunately, the desire for unity means that such essential doctrines are often diminished so that Protestants, Roman Catholics, and Eastern Orthodox can all get along. Professing evangelicals no longer necessarily believe that justification by faith alone is an essential doctrine — even though without it there is no Gospel (Gal. 1:6–9; 2:15–16). If Christian unity is to mean anything, it must be a unity of faith grounded in the truth. To sacrifice conviction for “peace” is to have no conviction at all.

COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

Christians have often divided over matters not essential to Christian orthodoxy and lobbed charges of heresy at one another. Such actions have created a distaste for theology in the minds of many people, and there is now a tendency to downplay any essential differences within the visible church because of all the vitriol shown over the less important points of doctrine. Let us be passionate for the truth, but let us not divide unless Christian orthodoxy is at stake. 28

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Job 34:12 Jeremiah 5:1–3 Romans 14 2 Timothy 2:8 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 75–76 Romans 7

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The Church Is Holy EPHESIANS 1:1

Wednesday A U G U S T

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful in Christ Jesus” (v. 1).

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he biblical doctrine of the church can be found summarized in the Nicene Creed, which confesses belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Our focus thus far in our study of the church has been on its oneness — its unity — and we have seen that the church cannot be truly one unless it is united in the truth. Though it is regrettable that the church as a visible body is currently far from unified, we do recognize that Christians share a profound, invisible unity in Christ when they hold to the faith once delivered to the saints (John 17; Gal. 3:28). All who believe the Gospel are one in Christ Jesus the Lord. Holiness is the second attribute of the church defined in the Nicene Creed. Of course, we must honestly admit that the church at various times in history has appeared far from holy. Too often we hear stories of church members acting no differently than the world around them, even indulging in the vilest of behaviors. To be sure, not every church member is actually a believer, and professed Christians who sin boldly without repentance are not Christians at all (James 2:26). Nevertheless, regenerate people sometimes commit heinous sins (Mark 14:66–72); thus, it is difficult to think of the corporate body as holy. Looking at the Greek word that we translate into the English as “church” will help us understand what the holiness of the church really means. This term, ekklesia, literally means “the called out ones.” The church’s holiness lies in its being separated from the world, called by God to be a unique people whose vocation is to serve Him (1 Peter 2:9–10). Our Creator has made the church uncommon, a body set apart to live differently than the world. That Christians often fail in this vocation does not make their calling any less real. Positionally speaking, in Christ the church is always set apart as holy (1 Cor. 1:2). But the reality of this holiness in practice is something after which the church is always striving. God has declared us holy in His Son (we are “saints,” Eph. 1:1), and now, by the power of His Spirit, He is making us holy so that one day we might be without spot or wrinkle (5:25–27). Those called by the Spirit pursue sanctity, endeavoring to live up to the high calling of holiness. Living before the face of God

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Leviticus 19:2 Psalm 4:3 2 Corinthians 7:1 Hebrews 12:14 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 77–79 Romans 8

COR AM DEO

The holiness of the church universal should make us take our membership in local congregations seriously. Were we to be convinced of the church’s holiness, we would not casually drift from one denomination to another. We would understand that to leave a church for reasons other than doctrine, distance, or to accept a call to service manifests a questioning of that church’s holiness, which is something we must not do lightly if God has said His church is holy. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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R E C O M M E N D E D

R E S O U R C E S

Objections Answered BY R . C . S P RO U L

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Has Science Got Rid of God? BY JOHN BLANCHARD

The claim by many naturalists that science disproves the existence of God is demonstrably false, as shown in this book by one of the most respected Christian apologists of our day. Available for a limited time. HAS01BP Z PAPERBACK, 160 PAGES Z (REG. $14) $11.20

Can Man Live Without God B Y R AV I Z A C H A R I A S

This work is a devastating critique of atheism that demonstrates how belief in God determines integrity, morality, one’s perception of the truth, and several other matters. It reveals how men deny the obvious when they attempt to live without the one, true creator God. CAN02BP Z PAPERBACK, 218 PAGES Z (REG. $14) $11.20

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The New Atheism

Defending Your Faith Defe BY R . C . S P RO U L

This ove overview series is a thorough presentation of classical apologetics that equips the believer to defend existence of God and defend the reliability of the exist Scripture and the deity of Christ. DEF04DC Z 11 DVDS Z (REG. $96) $76.80 DEF04CC Z 11 CDS Z (REG. $68) $54.40 DEF04BH Z HARDCOVER, 208 PAGES Z (REG. $20) $16 DEF04U Z STUDY GUIDE Z (REG. $10) $8

Silencing the Devil BY R . C . S P RO U L AND JOHN GERSTNER

Silencing the Devil uses a mock dialogue between an atheist and a Christian apologist to demonstrate how we might refute objections to the existence of God. SIL01DC Z 2 DVDS Z (REG. $20) $16 SIL01CC Z 3 CDS Z (REG. $24) $19.20 SIL01U Z STUDY GUIDE Z (REG. $5) $4

The Dawkins Letters B Y D AV I D R O B E R T S O N

This book collects several letters of response to the claims of Richard Dawkins, some of which appeared on Dawkins’ own website. In exposing the shallowness of Dawkins’ arguments, this book demonstrates that the new atheism is hollow indeed. Available for a limited time. DAW01BP Z PRBK, 143 PAGES Z (REG. $8) $6.40

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Thursday A U G U S T

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The Church Universal HEBREWS 12:18–24 “You have come to…the city of the living

God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn” (vv. 22–23).

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any Protestants wonder why they profess belief in the “holy catholic church” when they recite the Nicene Creed. Is this a confession of allegiance to the pope? If a church is not in communion with the Roman Catholic Church, why would it affirm this part of the creed? The answer, of course, is that the “holy catholic church” and the “Roman Catholic Church” are not identical. The term catholic simply means “universal,” and in the creeds of the church it refers to the reality that the one church of Jesus Christ is not limited to any particular geographical region, ethnicity, economic class, age group, historical era, or sex. When we say that we believe in the “catholic church,” we are simply affirming that the church is made up of people from all kinds of backgrounds. Anyone who turns from sin and trusts Jesus alone for salvation is a part of the church universal (Gal. 3:28). Practically speaking, this means that English-speaking Christians can find brothers and sisters in Chinese house churches. Indians, Arabs, and Europeans can all worship together freely. Africans who meet for worship in a chapel made with mud bricks have less in common with countrymen who do not know Christ than they do with Brazilians who praise God thousands of miles away. Even when verbal communication is impossible, two believers have intimate fellowship with one another because both are united to Jesus, who enables them to be in union with every other believer on earth and in heaven. Today’s passage is a good picture of catholicity as it applies to Christians from all times and places. When we come into worship we enter into the heavenly sanctuary and join with “the spirits of the righteous made perfect” (Heb. 12:22–24). Though this reality is not apparent to our eyes, our worship includes not only the members of our individual church but Moses, Esther, Augustine, Calvin, and every other believer from history are worshiping as well. Most importantly, when the body of Christ gathers for worship, Jesus is present in ways He is not present at other times. This is hard to understand, but it is true and should make us all the more eager never to miss corporate worship. COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

As important as it might be, the commitment we have to our country is superseded by our commitment to the church of Jesus Christ. Because the church is to embrace people from across the globe, it is incumbent upon us to support churches in other parts of the world, even if they are located in countries that are hostile to our own. Pray today for the church around the world and remember that the catholicity of the church enriches our study and worship. 32

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Genesis 12:1–3 Isaiah 56:1–8 Matthew 28:18–20 Revelation 7:9–12 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 80–84 Romans 9:1–10:4

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

4/18/08 10:57:36 AM

Founded on the Apostles

Friday A U G U S T

“You are…members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv. 19–20).

EPHESIANS 2:18–22

8

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postolicity, the fourth aspect of the church confessed in the Nicene Creed, is the subject of our study today. We affirm apostolicity when we say that we believe in the “apostolic church,” declaring that the church is founded on the apostles, a concept taught in Ephesians 2:18–22 and other passages. To say that the church’s foundation includes the apostles is not in any way to denigrate Jesus as the cornerstone upon which the church rests (v. 20). Actually, to affirm the apostolic nature of the church is to affirm strongly the headship of Christ over His church. The function of the apostle helps us understand how this can be the case. Apostolos is the Greek term for “apostle” and in the first-century Roman world was used of those delegated to speak for a person of authority. The caesar and other ruling officials could send apostles to speak for them in other places, and when these apostles spoke, their words carried the authority of the official who sent them. To reject these apostles was to reject the authority of the one who commissioned them for service; therefore, to deny the apostles of Jesus is to deny the authority of Jesus Himself. Paul mentions the prophets as part of the foundation of the covenant community (v. 20), a clear reference to Isaiah, Daniel, Amos and all the other well-known men who spoke for God under the old covenant, and whose words were recorded in the books that bear their names. But this grouping of prophets also includes all the authors of the Old Testament, such as Moses, David, and the other unnamed writers of books like Judges and Chronicles. All of these individuals are also prophets because they give us the Almighty’s very Word (2 Peter 1:16–20). If the prophetic foundation of the church is to be equated with their writings, so too is the apostolic foundation of the church found in the apostolic writings. The Gospels, Acts, Epistles, and Revelation carry equally the authority of Christ, for they were written by those our Lord called to speak for Him (Luke 10:1–16; John 14:26). It is a great error to elevate the words of Jesus in the Gospels above other parts of Scripture, for the words of Scripture, no matter where they are located, are breathed-out by God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Living before the face of God FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Deut. 4:1–2 2 Thess. 2:15 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 85–87 Romans 10:5–21 FOR THE WEEKEND : Psalms 88–93 Romans 11

COR AM DEO

Liberals tend to elevate the words of Jesus (except for the ones about hell), over the rest of Scripture. Evangelicals may not do this knowingly, but there is still a tendency to think the words of Jesus (in red letters) are somehow more binding than the rest of the canon. But God’s words are found in the letters of Paul, the law of Moses, and every other part of the Bible. Take care not to elevate one portion of Scripture over another. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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F O R

T H E

W E E K E N D

o f

A U G U S T

9 – 1 0

For the Record B Y

J O E L

R . B E E K E

People in the news are often asked to give their views on hot issues of the day. Matthew 19 presents such a scenario: Christ is at the height of His public ministry, when “great multitudes followed him” (v. 2 kjv) and pressed for His views. Christ speaks “for the record” on several issues that have surfaced many times in Christian history and on which Christians have often disagreed. Christ is traveling “the coasts of Judaea” (19:1) where another band of Pharisees decides to put Him to the test, asking Him to weigh in on the controversial practice of men divorcing (“putting away”) their wives “for every cause.” In an age of no-fault divorce, we can guess what the Pharisees had in mind (v. 3). Christ insists that the marriage bond is intended by God to be monogamous and permanent. “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (v. 6), He says firmly. The Pharisees respond with an objection they are sure cannot be overruled: “Why did Moses 34

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then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (v. 7). Christ answers that Moses never commanded anyone to put away his wife, he only “suffered” this practice. Backing the letter of Moses’ law, Christ insists that the only just cause for divorce is fornication or “uncleanness” (Deut. 24:1), that is, some form of sexual sin. Christ’s view of marriage and divorce shocks even the disciples. They respond, “If the case of a man be so with his wife, it is good not to marry” (Matt. 19:10). They were probably thinking Jesus’ restrictions on divorce would limit too severely a man’s freedom in marriage. Instead of refuting their words, Christ invites the disciples to consider the possibility of remaining unmarried so they can devote themselves to the service of God more

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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completely. He cites the example of eunuchs, some of whom were born with impaired sexual organs, while others were subjected to castration. Others, however, “made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” (v. 12). About the same time, some parents come to the Lord Jesus, asking Him to bless their little children with the laying on of hands and prayer. The disciples discourage these parents in the strongest terms; clearly, they regard the parents’ proposal as sentimental folly and a waste of Jesus’ valuable time. The Gospel is for grown-ups, not for children carried in their parents’ arms. Christ quickly sets the record straight. These parents are doing what every believing parent ought to do: take their children to Jesus. Children have a place in the kingdom of heaven. Christ’s words and deeds are a fulfi llment of Isaiah 40:11: “He shall gather the lambs with his arm.” The children of believers need Christ’s blessing upon being nurtured within the fellowship of Christ’s church as the community of the new covenant. On another occasion, an apparently earnest young man comes to Christ to pose a question: “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). As pious as the question sounds, it betrays an entirely erroneous understanding of Christ and His Gospel. Eternal life is offered not to those who do good things, but to sinners who believe on His name. Christ challenges this young man on two points: his view of Christ, and whether good works can be done to merit eternal life. On the first, Christ

asks, “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God” (v. 17). The young man is left to draw his own conclusion about the true identity of Christ. On the second, Christ initially seems to agree with salvation by good works. But then He reminds the young man that the standard of the Law is perfection: “If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor” (v. 21). In doing so, Christ puts His finger on the secret sin of this young man: his attachment to his great possessions. Not even the hope of eternal life is enough to break that attachment. Christ is not insisting that all Christians take a vow of poverty. His directives to the young man are related to the question he posed. Even so, the desire for riches is a trap into which many fall (1 Tim. 6:9–10) — not just the wealthy. Again, the disciples are “exceedingly amazed” to hear that wealth can be such an obstacle to faith and salvation. But Christ offers them a most consoling word: “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26). Chapter 19 concludes with Christ warning His disciples to expect more surprises in the future. God’s ways are not our ways, as Isaiah 55:8 says. As followers of Christ and citizens of a heavenly kingdom, let us measure things according to new standards, denying ourselves for Christ’s sake and letting God be God. Dr. Joel R. Beeke is pastor of Heritage Netherlands Reformed Congregation and president and professor of systematic theology and homiletics at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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Monday A U G U S T

Servants of the Lord PHILIPPIANS 1:1 “Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,

11

To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (v. 1).

T

here is much similarity between the English term for the assembly of God’s people and the terms for the same concept in other languages. Church in English, kirke in Dutch, and kirche in German all sound alike and are even, in some ways, spelled alike with the hard k or ch sound at the beginning and the r in the middle. The reason for this is that all of these words find their origin in kuriake, which is itself Greek in origin. Literally, kuriake means “belonging to the Lord” and is a derivation of the Greek word for “Lord,” kurios. It makes perfect sense that English would look to kuriake as the root for the word church because, after all, what is the church if it is not that group of people who belong to the Lord Jesus Christ? Kurios in the Greek language can also refer to the master of slaves or servants. This explains Paul’s emphasis in today’s passage and elsewhere that he is a “servant” of the Lord. If Christians, the kuriake, belong to a master, then we are the servants or slaves of that master. To be known as servants or slaves of Christ is not to imply that our master is cruel; by no means could Jesus ever mistreat us. Instead, we are the Lord’s possession because He has purchased us from slavery to sin and death and thus also from the righteous wrath of God (1 Cor. 7:23). As such, He is worthy of our total allegiance. Understanding that all followers of Christ are possessions of the Lord has important implications for how we treat other Christians. To do wrong to another believer is to do wrong to one of Jesus’ own beloved. Lest we miss the point, to mistreat another Christian is to mistreat Christ Himself. All believers are so closely united to Jesus that to treat people in the church poorly is to dishonor the Lord of the church (Acts 9:4). Therefore, we should be known as those who are kind to others in the body of Christ. We must exercise that love that overlooks a multitude of “minor” sins (1 Peter 4:8). As servants together in the kingdom of God we must be ever conscious that He takes our treatment of His people seriously; thus, we must do good to them just as we would do good to Him. COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

That we are all servants of the same Lord and master forbids us from ever thinking that certain people or deeds are beneath us. It also means that whatever we do, we must do it unto the Lord with our very best. Consider today what it means to serve the Lord in your life. Have you ceased to see your job as a vocation given to you by God? Do you esteem yourself above others? Strive always to serve the Lord in humility and with a true love for other believers. 36

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Exodus 21:1–6 Jeremiah 50:33–34 Mark 10:35–45 1 Timothy 2:5–6 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 94–95 Romans 12

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

4/17/08 3:36:28 PM

The Marks of the Church “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying,‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me’” (v. 25).

1 CORINTHIANS 11:17–34

Tuesday A U G U S T

12

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oday we conclude our study on the church by noting that there are many different bodies that call themselves churches, whether or not they are true manifestations of the church of Jesus Christ. How then can we tell when a church in name is also a church in reality? Faced with this same problem, the Reformers and Roman Catholics answered this question very differently. Rome has said that the bishop is the mark of the church, that is, the true church is present when you have a duly consecrated bishop who is part of a line of succession going back to the apostles. Ultimately, a bishop is a true bishop only if he submits to the pope; thus, in Roman Catholicism only Roman Catholic parishes constitute the true church. Protestants recognize the biblical failings of this view and, in studying Scripture, traditionally define a true church according to two criteria: 1. The Word — there is no true church without the right proclamation of the Word of God. In other words, a group that denies any of the essential truths of the Christian faith is not a church. The essential truths of Christianity are clearly taught in Scripture, and the Nicene Creed is one document that helpfully summarizes them. A truth like justification by faith alone is included in this list even though it is not specifically mentioned in the creed, because Paul lists it as a defining mark of the Gospel (Gal. 1:6–9; 2:15–16), and it is a necessary deduction from the creed’s emphasis on salvation through Christ alone. 2. The Sacraments — a true church rightly celebrates the Lord’s Supper and baptism. That is, the sacraments must be conducted in line with Scripture’s clear teaching, and we must allow for latitude where such things are not so plain. For example, the biblical instruction on the mode of baptism is not as clear as we might like; thus, we cannot anathematize those who disagree with us in this specific area. Celebrating the sacraments correctly also involves keeping unrepentant sinners from partaking in these means of grace (church discipline). Though inseparably linked to the sacraments, sometimes we make special mention of church discipline as the third mark of the church (1 Cor. 5). Living before the face of God FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Exodus 12:43–51 Micah 2:5–7 Acts 2:42 1 Timothy 1:18–20 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 96–98 Romans 13

COR AM DEO

First Corinthians 11:17–34 gives us the marks of the church specifically and through good and necessary deduction. The whole passage concerns the Lord’s Supper, a reference to the sacraments. Paul also gives the words of institution, a reference to the Word of God since these words were first spoken by Jesus. How highly do you value these means of grace and marks of the church? They are necessary for your spiritual growth and maturity. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Wednesday A U G U S T

13

Hard Hearts and Divorce MATTHEW 19:1–8 “He said to them,‘Because of your hardness

of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so’” (v. 8).

T

hough He has made a few excursions into Gentile areas (Matt. 8:28–34; 15:21–39), Jesus’ roughly three years of public ministry have thus far been confined mostly to the region of Galilee (4:12–25; 9:1–7; 10:5–42; 17:24–27). But we see now that He has left Galilee for Judea (19:1–2), the place where His time among His disciples will conclude with His death, resurrection, and ascension. Upon arriving in Judea, Jesus meets some Pharisees who, as we have come to expect (12:1–14; 15:1–20), seek to test Him once more. Now the issue is divorce, and the Pharisees’ question (19:3) is rooted in the controversy over marriage in their day. First-century Jews interpreted Deuteronomy 24:1–4, which allows for divorce on the grounds of “indecency,” in two major ways. Rabbi Hillel and his students understood “indecency” liberally, allowing a husband to divorce his wife for anything not up to snuff, even the quality of her cooking. More conservative were Rabbi Shammai and his disciples. They generally read the divorce-permitting ground of “indecency” as lewd sexual behavior. Even so, Shammai allowed those who divorced for other reasons to remarry. For reasons of their own, the Pharisees want to know whose view Jesus prefers. However, the starting point for a marriage discussion cannot be the argument as to what constitutes lawful grounds for divorce. As Christ teaches, we must look first to God’s original intent for marriage: a lifelong bond between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:4–6; see Gen. 2:24). The rabbinic debate was concerned primarily with how one may exit the marriage covenant. Both schools agreed that the old covenant law made a provision for divorce. Yet they differed as to what the provisions were. Divorce is permitted due to the fall, something the Father graciously allows in cases when sin has grievously shattered the union of husband and wife (v. 8). God permits divorce in select circumstances to help us endure some effects of sin and the broken relationships it produces. Had evil not entered the world, there would be no broken relationships, and hence, no divorce.

COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

John Calvin says that God “did not lay down a law about divorces, so as to give them the seal of his approbation, but as the wickedness of men could not be restrained in any other way, he applied what was the most admissible remedy.” Many of God’s laws are concessions to contain the effects of sin, and we should be grateful that in His grace the Lord seeks to mitigate the damaging power of evil. May our deeds be pure so that their effects never need to be contained. 38

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Ezra 9–10 Proverbs 18:22; 19:14 Malachi 2:10–16 Mark 10:1–9 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 99–101 Romans 14

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

4/18/08 10:55:27 AM

Divorce and Remarriage “I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (v. 9).

MATTHEW 19:9

Thursday A U G U S T

14

I

t would be an understatement to say that sin makes a mess of things. The earthly consequences of our selfishness can haunt us for the rest of our lives and bring untold ruin upon our friends and families. Innumerable people have been destroyed through their own evil choices or the wickedness of others. Because of the way sin complicates life, we are sometimes forced to make choices that we would not have to make in a perfect world. The decision to get a divorce is one such example. Divorce is a sad event, something that may be necessary when sinners reject God’s command for marriage to be a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman (Matt. 19:1–8). Our Creator allows divorce in certain circumstances, because in this fallen world gross sin often destroys the trust upon which the foundation of marriage is established. Today’s passage, which allows for divorce and remarriage in the case of “sexual immorality,” is one case in which God makes a concession to fallen human beings that acknowledges the difficulty and complexity of life in this present age. As our study of Matthew 5:32 noted, the Greek word for “sexual immorality” in 19:9 is porneia, which can include sexual sins in addition to intercourse between a married person and someone who is not his spouse. Knowing that porneia has this wider meaning is important because issues of sexual infidelity can be extremely complex and provide just grounds for divorce even if no extramarital affair has occurred. However, we must see that Jesus is not allowing divorce for just any occasion of sexual sin, regardless of its severity. His exception clause is more restrictive than the marriage legislation of His day. He recognizes how hard it is to live in this fallen world and gives those who have been heinously offended an out, but He also draws boundaries between what allows people to separate lawfully and what does not. Jesus does not mandate divorce in these situations. Acts of porneia grossly betray the one-flesh covenant (see Jer. 3:1) and permit the offended spouse to divorce and remarry, but reconciliation is better still. More often than not, the wisest action is to save the marriage, if the offended party is willing. Living before the face of God FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Exodus 20:14 Hosea 2:1–13 1 Cor. 7:10–16 Colossians 3:5–11 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 102–104 Romans 15:1–21

COR AM DEO

Our emotions can get in the way of biblical decision-making. We therefore need an outside perspective to help us discern how to deal with troubled relationships. Pastors and elders, who are called to look out for our spiritual well-being, must deal wisely with troubled couples, taking into account the situation in order to apply God’s Word correctly. Life-changing decisions cannot be made independently, they must be made within the church. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Friday A U G U S T

15

Eunuchs for the Kingdom MATTHEW 19:10–12 “There are eunuchs who have made themselves

eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it” (v. 12).

C

hrist’s appeal to creation and His restrictions on the lawful grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:1–9) rebuke any desire to find loopholes in the marriage laws in order to escape unions that sinners find unfulfilling. Marriage is to be cherished wholeheartedly, not to be dispensed with as we futilely attempt to find “happiness” outside of God’s gracious law. Husbands and wives are called to obey the Lord together and work tirelessly to become one flesh physically, emotionally, and spiritually by guarding and renewing their relationship (Gen. 2:24–25). As seen in today’s passage, the disciples misunderstand the inherent worthiness of holy matrimony, believing marriage to be appealing only if liberal provision is made for divorce and remarriage. When they say, “If such is the case…it is better not to marry” (Matt. 19:10), they really mean, “If these words are true, Jesus, we are better off unmarried than to find ourselves in a dissatisfying marriage that does not meet your criteria for a just divorce.” Christ does not deny the truth of this response entirely, confirming that singleness can be desirable (vv. 11–12). However, He disagrees with His followers that the potential for imperfect marriages makes singleness a better alternative. Instead, singleness is preferable only when those who have been given the gift of celibacy exercise this gift for the kingdom. Marriage, Jesus implies, is the norm for most of God’s people and is not in itself inferior to lifelong singleness. Singleness is better than marriage only for those to whom God has given the gift of celibacy (1 Cor. 7). Thus, as John Calvin wrote, “God gives [the gift of singleness and celibacy] to whom he chooses…it is folly in any man to choose to live unmarried, when he has not received this special gift.” All marriages in this fallen world have bad days, but we should not discourage marriage or seek divorce frivolously. Marriage offers kingdom opportunities, like the discipleship of children, that are generally unavailable to single people. At the same time, single people can more easily do kingdom work in foreign lands or other tasks that keep them away from home. Neither marriage nor singleness are inherently superior; both vocations can serve the Lord. COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

Single believers like Daniel and Paul as well as married believers such as Abraham and Peter have been used mightily of the Lord to advance His purposes. Knowing this to be true, our churches should be places where both singles and married couples are equally valued and given opportunities to serve in the congregation. If you serve as a leader in your church, do what you can to encourage both married couples and singles to take part in ministry. 40

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Jeremiah 16:1–4 1 Corinthians 9 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 105–106 Romans 15:22–33 FOR THE WEEKEND : Psalms 107–110 Romans 16–1 Cor. 1

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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The Generous Landowner B Y

J E R R Y

B R I D G E S

Chapter divisions in the Bible are usually helpful as they allow us to find our way around the Scriptures. Occasionally, however, they can hinder our understanding of a passage if they cause us to look at it apart from its context. This often is

the case with the parable of the laborers in the vineyard (Matt. 20:1–16). Because of the chapter division at the end of Matthew 19, we fail to understand the parable in its context of Jesus’ teaching in 19:16–30. Because that section of Matthew has already been treated in another article, we will not look at it now, except to observe that the occasion of the parable is Peter’s question in Matthew 19:27: “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Like many of us today, Peter thought he related to God on the basis of merit, and he was already adding up his merit points. The parable is part of Jesus’ reply to Peter, which begins in chapter 19, verse 28. The message of the parable can be summarized in this statement: The operative principle in the kingdom of heaven is not merit but grace.

We readily understand this principle in the context of our salvation. We know Paul’s words: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. …not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph. 2:8–9), but many believers assume that we earn God’s blessings by our works — apart from God’s grace. The parable of the laborers in the vineyard, however, teaches us that not only our salvation, but also our entire Christian lives are to be lived on the basis of God’s grace. Then the parable also teaches us about two amazing qualities of grace: the abundant generosity of His grace, and His sovereignty in dispensing it. Consider first the abundant generosity of His grace. The master hired laborers for his vineyard first at 6 a.m., then periodically throughout the day. Finally, he hired some at 5 p.m. to TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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work only one hour. This man, who obviously represents God, was both fair and generous. To the first group of laborers he was fair, as he readily agreed to pay a denarius, the ordinary wage for a day’s labor. Then he was progressively more generous to each group of laborers hired throughout the day. The master could have paid them what they earned, but he chose to pay them according to their need, not according to their work. He paid according to grace, not debt. The parable focuses particularly on those workers who were hired at the eleventh hour. They were treated extremely generously, each receiving twelve times what he had earned on an hourly basis. Why did the landowner hire these laborers at the eleventh hour? Was it because an extra push was needed to complete the work? More likely, since Jesus was not teaching about Jewish agriculture, but about the kingdom of heaven, those eleventh hour workers were hired because they needed to receive a day’s wages. Laborers of that day lived a dayto-day existence. That is why the Law required land owners to pay hired men at the end of each day (Deut. 24:15). This is the way God treats us. Over and over again, the Bible portrays God as gracious and generous, blessing us not according to what we have “earned” but according to our needs — and often beyond our needs. He has already blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus (Eph. 1:3), and He promises to supply every temporal need, again in Christ Jesus (Phil. 4:19). The truth is, we cannot “earn” anything from God apart from His grace. As Jesus said elsewhere, when we have done all that we are commanded, we should say, “We have 46

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only done what was our duty” (Luke 17:10). We have not obligated God or earned His blessings. Rather, all blessings come to us “in Christ,” that is, by His grace. God, however, is not only generous with His grace; He is sovereign in dispensing it. We often speak of “sovereign grace.” In one sense that is a redundant expression. Grace, by definition, must be sovereign. The master of the vineyard expressed it this way, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with my belongings?” Many are troubled by the apparent unfairness of the landowner. After all, it does seem unfair to pay one-hour workers the same as was paid to those who worked a full twelve hours, who had “borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.” But the one-hour laborers did not think the master was unfair; rather, they considered him very generous. If we are troubled by the apparent unfairness, it is because we tend to identify with the twelvehour workers. And the more committed we are to serious discipleship, the more apt we are to fall into the trap of envying those who enjoy the blessings of God more than we. The truth is, we are all eleventhhour laborers. None of us have even come close to loving God with all of our heart, soul, and mind. None of us have come close to loving our neighbor as ourselves (Matt. 22:37–39). So let us learn to be thankful for all God gives to us and not begrudge blessings He gives to others. Dr. Jerry Bridges is an author and speaker, as well as a part-time staff member with The Navigators in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and is author of the book Transforming Grace.

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Jesus and the Children “Jesus said,‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’ And he laid his hands on them and went away” (vv. 14–15). MATTHEW 19:13–15

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hildren should be seen and not heard” is a popular expression that can evidence any one of several different attitudes toward youngsters. Some would repeat this phrase because they believe children are too simple to offer any meaningful contribution to our society. Others say it because they expect children to be mini-adults — to stand still and quietly under any and all circumstances. Some adults believe that kids should be seen and not heard because, for whatever reason, they just cannot stand to be around children. None of these attitudes is appropriate for the Christian. This truth, however, was not always well-understood among God’s people. In today’s passage, when several people, presumably parents, try to bring their children to Jesus for a blessing, the disciples attempt to turn them away (Matt. 19:13). We do not know why the Twelve forbid the parents from coming forward; they may just feel that the Master has better things to do than to spend His time with these little ones. Even though Jewish culture prized children, the disciples’ attitude is not unusual since young people also had a fairly insignificant role in first-century society. Still, parents commonly sought out respected rabbis to bless their children, and the disciples, knowing the custom, should not have been so quick to cast them aside. Our Savior’s response indicates that children are anything but outsiders to the kingdom. Once again He uses them as an object lesson, telling His followers the kingdom of heaven belongs to them (v. 14) and that salvation belongs to those who become like children. Of course, Christ is not teaching anything significant about an “age of accountability”; rather, He means that only those who possess childlike qualities like absolute dependence and simple trust can turn from their sin and rest upon Him alone (18:1–6; John 15:5; Gal. 2:15–16). Jesus’ words also demand that Christians treat children well. If Christ will not turn them away, how can we? Unfortunately, if we are not careful, we can steer children away from Jesus either through programs that separate them from corporate worship and the preached Word of God, or by just assuming our children are believers and not taking the time to disciple them. Living before the face of God

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Genesis 27 Psalm 127 Luke 18:15–17 1 Peter 2:1–3 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 111–112 1 Corinthians 2

COR AM DEO

Dr. R.C. Sproul often notes the difference between childishness and childlikeness. Believers must be childlike in that they trust and believe God without hesitation, just like little kids trust their parents. However, Christians cannot be childish, never having anything more than an elementary knowledge of the faith. Young and old alike must be growing in their knowledge of God, trusting Him like a child while maturing in their doctrinal comprehension. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Tuesday A U G U S T

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A Man Who Loved Riches MATTHEW 19:16–22 “Jesus said to him,‘If you would be perfect,

go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me’” (v. 21).

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atthew 19:16–22 describes Jesus’ meeting with the man we call “the rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18 says he was a “ruler,” probably a synagogue official). This story is well-known, but it has not always been applied correctly. Before encountering Christ, the man has evidently done some soul-searching, since he wants to know what will give him eternal life (Matt. 19:16). Later on, the rich young ruler admits to following the commandments (v. 20), and so his question reveals that he is looking for assurance beyond God’s revealed will. Our Lord knows the man is looking for more, but He starts with the law of God, for the Law is where salvation begins. Jesus reminds the man that His Father defines goodness and that obeying Him is the way to eternal life (vv. 17–19). Jesus is not teaching that we are able to obey God perfectly and merit redemption. John Calvin writes that “the keeping of the law is righteousness, by which any man who kept the law perfectly — if there were such a man — would obtain life for himself. But as we are all destitute of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23), nothing but cursing will be found in the law; and nothing remains for us but to betake ourselves to the undeserved gift of righteousness.” Only in trying to keep the Law will we see our failure and need of Christ, who flawlessly kept God’s law in our place (Rom. 5:20–21; 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 5:2–5). The man cannot verbalize this truth, but he knows of his failure to obey the Almighty’s rule. After all, he asks Jesus what more is required of him (Matt. 19:20). Of course, Jesus’ reply agrees with what Paul explains, namely, that following Christ is the only way to be saved (Rom. 10:13–14). For the ruler, following Jesus requires him to give away all his belongings (Matt. 19:21). Wealth does not interfere with everyone’s discipleship (Gen. 13:2; Luke 8:1–3), and not everyone needs to sell all his possessions. Nor are the poor inevitably “better Christians” than the wealthy. Yet riches stood between this man and Christ; thus, he had to surrender his money. Likewise, we all must abandon idols (14:25–33; 1 John 5:21). Will we cling to that which keeps us from full commitment to Jesus, or will we surrender all that we have to the Lord? COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

Even though not every Christian is called to sell all his possessions, one commentator has helpfully noted that those who find comfort that this call is not universal are precisely those to whom Jesus would issue it! As citizens of the wealthiest culture to ever appear on the planet, we Westerners must be perpetually careful that our standard of living is not our idol. What comforts would Jesus have you surrender for the sake of His kingdom? 48

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Psalm 49 Proverbs 3:9–10 Ecclesiastes 5:10 Hebrews 11:24–26 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 113–115 1 Corinthians 3

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The Trouble with Riches “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (v. 24). MATTHEW 19:23–24

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eeing the difficulty with which the rich young ruler faced the choice Jesus gave him, our Lord’s observation that it is very difficult for rich people to enter God’s kingdom (Matt. 19:23) comes as no surprise. Christ underscores just how hard it is for the wealthy to be saved with a proverb that says it is easier for a camel to pass through a needle’s eye than it is for the rich to find salvation (v. 24). Our Savior’s proverb is similar to other Near Eastern sayings that vividly depict a near-impossible task. Other writings refer to “elephants,” but Jesus speaks of a “camel,” which, as the largest animal used in His culture, is naturally chosen for the illustration. Christ is also talking about the eye of a sewing needle, the tiniest opening known in ancient Palestine, and not, as some assert, a small gate through which a camel can indeed pass, albeit with great difficulty. Jesus often uses hyperbole (see also 23:24), and only a reference to a large animal having to pass through a sewing needle conveys the impossibility of salvation without God’s grace, which is one lesson of this proverb (19:25–26). Note that our Redeemer is not condemning wealth in itself, nor is it inherently sinful to be wealthy. Rich people like Joseph of Arimathea (27:57–61) have always been among the godly faithful. Scripture does not demonize rich people, nor does it endorse a class warfare that suggests poor people are always exploited by the rich or work harder than those with means. Money itself is indifferent; it can serve the kingdom or Satan. The problem is not wealth itself, but rather the love of money (Luke 12:13–21; 1 Tim. 6:6–10). John Calvin writes, “Riches do not, in their own nature, hinder us from following God; but, in consequence of the depravity of the human mind, it is scarcely possible for those who have so great abundance to avoid being intoxicated by them.” Rich people at times can be tempted to seek security in their wealth, and poor people, because they have nothing else to trust in, may be more receptive to the Gospel than the wealthy. Materialism is therefore a danger of which we must be constantly aware, for if we love money, we will trust in money and not recognize the spiritual poverty we all have before the Father. Living before the face of God

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

1 Kings 3:1–15 Psalm 52 Proverbs 11:4 1 Timothy 6:17–19 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 116–119:48 1 Corinthians 4

COR AM DEO

John Calvin writes that Jesus’ proverb “is highly useful to all; to the rich, that, being warned of their danger, they may be on their guard; to the poor, that, satisfied with their lot, they may not so eagerly desire what would bring more damage than gain.” Even if we do not hold vast riches, our culture tempts us to believe that the pursuit of wealth (otherwise known as “upward mobility”) is the be-all and end-all of life. May we never believe this soul-damning lie. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Thursday A U G U S T

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God’s Omnipotent Grace MATTHEW 19:25–26 “Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man

this is impossible, but with God all things are possible’” (v. 26).

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ecause in the Old Testament many of the old covenant saints are depicted as wealthy (Gen. 13:2; Job 42:10–17), and since it often links prosperity with God-pleasing behavior (Ps. 1; Prov. 22:4), first-century Jews commonly believed that riches were a sign of righteousness. To have wealth, they thought, is to be favored by God, signifying that a person has a share in the kingdom of heaven. To be sure, personal righteousness and wealth are sometimes directly linked. In a capitalistic society, honest businessmen often prosper because their trustworthiness encourages many others to do business with them. Knowing this to be generally true, the biblical wisdom literature links wealth and holiness. But Scripture does not say rich people are always righteous (James 5:1–6), and we can by no means link goodness with wealth in every case. Yet our Savior’s disciples have bought into the assumption that the wealthy deserve the kingdom. This is seen in their response to Jesus’ teaching on the stumbling block of riches in salvation (Matt. 19:23–24). In today’s passage, the disciples are astonished at Christ’s words, wondering aloud how anyone can be saved (v. 25). In essence they are saying this: “But Jesus, if rich people cannot find the salvation they obviously deserve, what possible hope is there for the rest of us, who show that we are undeserving by our lack of money?” Though He could do so, Christ does not question His followers’ unsubstantiated link between riches and salvation. Instead, He uses the opportunity to teach them about His Father’s grace. Some wealthy people never find salvation because, no matter how hard they try, they cannot stop worshiping their bank accounts. But though this is impossible with men, it is possible with God (v. 26). Some rich people like Abraham and David enter the kingdom, but only because the Lord, who can do all things, has intervened on their behalf, as He does for all the elect. Matthew 19:26 deals mainly with the ability of God’s grace to rescue those in bondage to their wealth. In the light of the entire canon of Scripture, however, we realize that were it not for this sovereign grace, no person would be saved from the sin that has enslaved his soul (Eph. 2:8–10).

COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

James Boice writes: “The only way anyone will ever be saved is if God operates entirely apart from us and for his own good pleasure” (The Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 2, p. 410). We are tempted to look at our own efforts for our salvation and to believe that all “good people” will be saved, no matter their religious affiliation. It is therefore vital to constantly remind ourselves that none of us would love and serve God apart from His grace. 50

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Exodus 33:19 Jeremiah 31 Romans 3:21–31 2 Thess. 2:16–17 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalm 119:49–104 1 Corinthians 5

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Rewards for Discipleship “Everyone who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (v. 29). MATTHEW 19:27–30

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ften we think we should only follow Jesus because of His inherent worth and that to seek a reward from Him is entirely wrong. Christ’s inherent goodness and beauty is, of course, enough to motivate discipleship; however, it is not altogether improper to look for other blessings as well. In fact, Hebrews 11:6 says God is pleased when we believe “he rewards those who seek him.” Today’s passage reinforces this understanding of serving Jesus in hopes of a reward. Jesus’ earlier promise of treasure in heaven to the rich young ruler (Matt. 19:21) probably moves Peter to ask what the disciples will gain from following Christ. The disciple is not rebuked for his question; on the contrary, Jesus says His followers will receive “a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life” (vv. 27–30), implicitly affirming that Peter’s question is not wholly wrongheaded. According to Mark’s account, the hundredfold reward Jesus promises is not limited to the future; it is also experienced in the present (10:29–31). We will enjoy our blessings fully only in the new heavens and earth, but we err if we expect them in the age to come alone. Still, benefits today will not be without hardship; Mark’s record says that good things come with persecutions (v. 30). This cautions us against thinking believers will be the most wealthy and successful of all peoples, according to earthly standards. Yet Christians are better off than unbelievers even when our standard of living seems comparatively less than theirs. John Calvin writes that “God gladdens his people, so that the small portion of good which they enjoy is more highly valued by them, and far sweeter, than if out of Christ they had enjoyed an unlimited abundance of good things.” Therefore Jesus also says that in the age to come, many who are first will be last and vice versa (Matt. 19:30). The exact sense of the proverb in this context is a bit unclear, but James M. Boice helpfully interprets it to mean that “those who have the most here will not necessarily have the most in heaven” (The Gospel According to Matthew, vol. 2, p. 411). All who for the Savior’s sake reject power, position, and possessions now, though they suffer much, will find in eternity that their sacrifice was worth the temporary shame of being last today. Living before the face of God FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Proverbs 22:4 2 John 8 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalm 119:105–176 1 Corinthians 6 FOR THE WEEKEND : Psalms 120–125 1 Corinthians 7

COR AM DEO

Any reward that God gives us is by His grace, for He is the one who prepares good works for us and enables us to do them (Eph. 2:8–10). Because it is all by His grace, we should never arrogantly demand that He bless us, but neither should we never expect a reward in this life. Take time today to think on the blessings of Christian friends, your church family, and other such things in this present age. Make sure to thank the Father for all of these rewards. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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True Greatness B Y

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As Jesus approached His final week leading up to His crucifixion, He spoke plainly to His disciples about the events that were about to unfold in Jerusalem. He wanted them to know that the horrific things

that would happen to Him were fully anticipated. So He spells it out for them (for the third time), that in Jerusalem He will be arrested, condemned, mocked, flogged, and crucified before being raised back to life on the third day (Matt. 20:18–19). It would be reasonable to expect that our Savior’s words would stir within His disciples deep concern or at least questions about His welfare. That is hardly, however, the response that is recorded. Instead of concern for Jesus, Matthew tells us that James and John, together with their mother, were preoccupied with concern for their future status. In their presence, their mother knelt before Jesus and made this outlandish request: “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom” (20:21). 52

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I wonder if it ever dawned on James and John — those “sons of thunder”— how incongruent their aspirations were with their mother’s intervention. James and John watched as their mother tried to coax Jesus into elevating them into positions of greatness. If you want to be seen as great, then it is probably best not to have your mama give your nomination speech. Despite the insensitivity that was displayed by this request at this time, Jesus does not scold His disciples (or their mom) for making it. Instead, He takes the opportunity to underscore the nature of true greatness, a lesson He had previously taught in Matthew 18:1–4, and to teach them how to achieve it. In the world, greatness is usually measured in terms of power, prestige, and popularity. The greatest

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person is the one who has the most people under his authority. Jesus contrasts this common understanding of greatness with true greatness. “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave” (20:25–27). The pathway to true greatness is humble-minded servanthood. This lesson is so counterintuitive that it is not easily learned or remembered. When we think of great people, servants and slaves are not the first images that come to mind. Yet Jesus says that we will pursue true greatness only to the degree that we regard ourselves in such terms. He doesn’t condemn the aspiration to be great. He directs it along the right path. The lesson is very simple, yet incredibly hard. If you want to be regarded as great in God’s kingdom, then make it your agenda to give yourself in service to others. If you want to attain the highest rank, then start thinking of yourself as a slave to your brothers and sisters in the Lord. Greatness in God’s kingdom will not be achieved by misusing your authority, nor by being content merely to care only for your own needs. Rather, it will be developed by intentionally meeting the needs of other people. Preparing a meal for a family with sickness, helping a widow with household repairs, helping an immigrant to learn English — the possibilities are endless. The point is this: If you want to be great in the kingdom of God, then you must serve others.

Servant-deeds must be accompanied by a servant-attitude. Actually, Jesus uses an even stronger word by saying that whoever desires to be fi rst in His kingdom must become a “slave.” How does a slave think of himself? He certainly does not go around expecting people to serve him. On the contrary, he recognizes that it is his lot to meet the needs of others. The attitude of a slave is described by Jesus in Luke 17:7–10. After performing their service, they do not expect praise or even expressions of gratitude in return. They see themselves as “unworthy servants” who have merely done their duty. You can gauge how far along you are in developing a servant’s heart by taking note of how you respond when someone treats you like a servant. When feelings of resentment, bitterness, or anger emerge when our acts of kindness seem unappreciated that is a good indicator that we still have a way to go in our pursuit of true greatness. Jesus caps off this lesson by reminding us that, as our Master, He Himself “came not to be served but to serve” (Matt. 20:28). And His service cost Him His very life in order to rescue us for God. No one is greater than Jesus Christ, and no one has humbly served others more sacrificially than He. If you want to be great in His kingdom, then take up your cross and follow Him in a life of joyful sacrifice that blesses and serves other people. Dr. Tom Ascol is pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral, Florida, and editor of the book Dear Timothy: Letters on Pastoral Ministry.

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Monday A U G U S T

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Divine Generosity MATTHEW 20:1–16 “‘Am I not allowed to do what I choose with

what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’ So the last will be first, and the first last” (vv. 15–16).

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fter promising Peter a great reward for leaving everything behind to follow Him (Matt. 19:27–30), Jesus tells the parable of the laborers in the vineyard 20:1–16). This lesson reminds Peter that even though kingdom servants will receive a great prize, all such gain is entirely due to God’s sovereign grace. Day laborers in the first-century Roman world typically gathered in the marketplace where they were hired first thing in the morning to assist in the harvest for the standard wage of one denarius per day. It makes sense for Jesus to draw upon these facts when He tells the story in today’s passage because parables are based upon everyday life and the disciples would be familiar with the plight of the day laborer. That the master hires workers right up to the end of the workday, however, is unusual. People typically worked from six a.m. to six p.m. and the eleventh-hour hire would be made at around five o’clock (vv. 1–5). That no one else has yet hired these workers implies that they are seen as unprofitable. Only a gracious and compassionate master would employ them (vv. 6–7). When the time comes to pay the workers (Lev. 19:13), those who served a short time receive the same as those who labored for hours (Matt. 20:8–10). This latter group of workers grumbles that they do not get more (vv. 11–12), but this is entirely inappropriate. As Matthew Henry comments, “God is a debtor to no man.” Our Lord has the sovereign right to do as He wills, says John Calvin, and “men have no right to complain of the bounty of God, when he honors unworthy persons by large rewards beyond what they deserve.” Though our Father’s favor may fall disproportionately on those who to us seem to be the least deserving, no one can accuse Him of giving less than what He has promised (Matt. 20:13–16). This passage does not exhaust all there is to say about rewards, as we see in Jesus’ teaching elsewhere (25:14–30). The point here is only that God, by grace alone, makes all believers citizens of the kingdom regardless of their service or fervor. None deserve His favor, and we must never think that He owes us a reward, nor should we be resentful when those who have flouted His will most visibly and heinously also find blessing “at the last minute” (Luke 15:11–32).

COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

All sins make us guilty before the Lord, but some sins are worse than others in their impact on people and in the way they violate God’s will. We might think it strange that our Father calls the most notoriously wicked people to be His children, but, as Calvin says, “God is not limited to any person, but calls freely whomsoever He pleases, and bestows on those who are called whatever rewards He thinks fit.” 54

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Proverbs 14:30 Matthew 8:5–13 Luke 14:12–24 Romans 8:16–17 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 126–129 1 Corinthians 8

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Up to Jerusalem “See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death” (v. 18).

MATTHEW 20:17–19

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ollowing the parable of the laborers in the vineyard, Jesus’ advance toward the cross progresses in earnest. He is drawing ever closer to Jerusalem and in today’s passage explicitly predicts His death and resurrection for the third time. Jesus has succeeded where His people failed, overcoming Satan’s temptations (Matt. 4:1–11), rightly understanding and teaching God’s law (chap. 5–7), and initiating the restoration of the cosmos (9:18–26; 12:9–14; 17:14–21). He has fully qualified Himself to be the true Israel and hence, the new Adam, whose perfect obedience will justify all those in Him (Isa. 53). All that remains for Christ to accomplish salvation is to endure the punishment David’s line deserved for leading God’s people astray (2 Sam. 7:1–17) and, in so doing, endure the curse Adam’s children deserve for violating the Father’s will (Gal. 3:10–14). Our Savior’s prediction in today’s passage adds several bits of information to the disciples’ growing knowledge of their Master’s fate (Matt. 20:17–19). For the first time they hear that the Gentiles will be involved in Jesus’ death, which adds to the shame of His crucifixion. They hardly could have imagined that pagans would execute the God-fearing Messiah before Jesus revealed it. Jesus has to pull His disciples aside (v. 17), probably because they are traveling with great throngs of Galileans on the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover. They are going “up” because Jerusalem is on Mount Zion and the only way anyone can get there is to ascend the mountain. Jesus’ words, “We are going up” (v. 18, emphasis added), likely hint that discipleship from here on out involves suffering. Though they will not yet die, the Twelve, in going to Jerusalem with the Christ, will take part in His travails, albeit in a lesser way. Considered in itself, the crucifixion would be bad news indeed. Yet Jesus also gives the good news of His resurrection (v. 19). This hopeful message is given, Matthew Henry comments, “to encourage his disciples, and comfort them, and to direct us, under all the sufferings of this present time to look at the things that are not seen, that are eternal, which will enable us to call the present afflictions light, and but for a moment.” Living before the face of God

FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Psalm 22 Micah 4:6–13 Romans 8:18 1 Peter 5:10–11 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 130–133 1 Corinthians 9

COR AM DEO

Following Christ in a world that hates Him is difficult and often earns for us derision and outright persecution from His enemies. This strain can be hard to bear and would be impossible to endure without the comforting promise of Jesus. Just as His suffering would result finally in His glory, so too do we know that our travails will one day give way to resurrected life in His presence. Think on these things when you encounter trouble for serving our Lord and Savior. TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Wednesday A U G U S T

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Jockeying for Position MATTHEW 20:20–23 “He said to them,‘You will drink my cup, but

to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father’” (v. 23).

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atthew’s gospel has thus far revealed the disciples’ failure to comprehend the full import of Jesus’ passion predictions. Peter protested vigorously our Savior’s need to die for His people (16:21–23). Soon after hearing of Christ’s death a second time, the disciples argued about who was the greatest among them, not who was most eager to suffer with the Messiah (17:22–18:6). By now the Twelve should know better, but they are dense and display their ignorance again immediately after Jesus predicts His death for the third time (20:17–19). This time, James and John, brothers who are uniquely close to Christ (17:1; 26:36–37), are the ones who grossly misunderstand what kingdom greatness really means. Their presumptuous request to sit on either side of Jesus in His kingdom — to have preeminent honor (Ps. 110:1) — is in keeping with their nature as “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), even though their mother speaks for them (Matt. 20:20–21). That they miss the point of what it means to be exalted before God is evident in our Lord’s reply when He tells them they do not know what they are asking (v. 22). Apparently, though it is futile to do so (10:38–39), James and John are seeking glory without suffering, a crown without the cross. John Calvin comments, “None will be a partaker of the life and the kingdom of Christ who has not previously shared in his sufferings and death.” James and John affirm their readiness to drink from the cup of Jesus (20:22), which is rooted in a biblical metaphor for suffering, especially the pain that comes from disobeying God (Jer. 25:15–29). To drink from Christ’s cup means to share in His suffering, though not in precisely the same way, for only the Godman can bear the Creator’s wrath against sin. Perhaps without knowing it at the time, the sons of Zebedee confess their willingness to die for their Master. At first this confession rings hollow (Matt. 26:47–56), but in time the brothers, by the Spirit’s power, will freely suffer for Christ — James as a martyr (Acts 12:1–3) and John as an exile (Rev. 1:9). They start out arrogant and ignorant but finally learn, Matthew Henry says, that “religion, if it is worth anything, is worth everything; but it is worth little, if it is not worth suffering for.” COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

One commentator notes that we are asking to suffer when we ask to be useful in the kingdom of heaven. We must therefore also ask for the ability to suffer with Jesus if we want to advance in His kingdom. Matthew Henry writes: “We do not know what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown and do not ask for grace to bear the cross in our way to it.” Are you asking for grace to withstand suffering as you ask for God’s kingdom to advance? 56

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Psalm 9:11–12 Isaiah 53 Luke 24:13–35 Acts 5:17–42 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 134–137 1 Cor. 10:1–22

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The Greatness of Service “Whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (vv. 27–28). MATTHEW 20:24–28

Thursday A U G U S T

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he other ten disciples cannot believe that James and John would ask to sit at the right hand and left hand of Jesus and become “indignant” toward the two brothers (Matt. 20:24). This feeling is not entirely unbecoming to a follower of Jesus, if the other members of the Twelve are upset because James and John fail to practice the humility Christ has commended in His followers (18:1–4). It does not seem, however, that their anger is provoked by the failure of James and John to obey Jesus; rather, they are perturbed because the two disciples have been trying to take glory for themselves without sharing it with the others. After all, Jesus gathers the entire group together in today’s passage to describe the greatness of service, something only James and John would need to hear if the other ten disciples had the proper motivation for their indignation. At this point, position is what all of Christ’s disciples are seeking. To seek one’s greatness and power, Jesus tells us, is at odds with kingdom values (20:25–28). Gentiles lord their authority over one another, a reference to the Roman system where humility was a vice and might was always right. On the other hand, God’s children serve one another. Greatness is found in putting others first and in seeking the welfare of others above one’s own (see Phil. 2:1–11). John Chrysostom comments, “Loving the first place is not fitting to us, even though it may be among the nations. Such a passion becomes a tyrant. It continually hinders even great men” (Homilies on the Gospel of Saint Matthew, 65.4). In the kingdom, the last are first and the first are last (Matt. 20:16). Christians are servant-leaders because that is how their Master operates. He came to serve and give His life “as a ransom for many” (v. 28). Certainly, we cannot give our lives for others precisely as Jesus did since we cannot atone for sin. Yet we can imitate Christ’s service by not clutching tightly to any “rights” we think are ours, letting them go for the sake of another’s good. Like Jesus, we are able to see others as friends, not worthless subjects (John 15:13–15). We are not to think ourselves above “menial” tasks (13:1–17). Whatever it may look like in our lives, the only way to be great is to put the needs of others above our own. Living before the face of God FOR FURTHER STUDY:

Psalm 84:10 Mark 10:35–45 John 12:20–26 1 Peter 4:7–11 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR :

Psalms 138–141 1 Cor. 10:23–11:1

COR AM DEO

Matthew Henry writes, “It is the duty of Christ’s disciples to serve one another, for mutual edification.” A true leader leads by example, never asking others to do something that the leader is unwilling to do himself. He does not seek leadership in order to have power and authority over others, he leads in order to do good for other people. Is the leadership function you perform, no matter how large or small it might be, characterized by such service? TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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Healing on the Way MATTHEW 20:29–34 “They said to him,‘Lord, let our eyes be

opened.’ And Jesus in pity touched their eyes, and immediately they recovered their sight and followed him” (vv. 33–34).

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hrist began His final trip to Jerusalem after Peter’s great confession (Matt. 16:13–23). In all likelihood, He traveled mostly along the eastern bank of the Jordan River as He and His disciples moved southward from Caesarea Philippi. This was a common route for Galilean pilgrims in His day, and the crowds that we have read about during this trip are those Jews who, while traveling to Jerusalem for the Passover, have seen the deeds of Jesus and are hoping that He is the Messiah (17:14–18; 19:1–2). These men and women are among those who will hail our Savior’s triumphal entry into the Holy City (21:1–11). Today’s passage indicates that Jesus will soon arrive in Jerusalem to complete His messianic work, for He has been in Jericho, located fifteen miles or so from the Holy City, about a day’s journey in first-century Judea. Leaving Jericho, Christ and His followers begin the ascent 3,000 feet up to Jerusalem, but they do not get very far before meeting two desperate men in need. These blind men, one of whom is named Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46), beg Jesus to heal them, confessing Him as the “Son of David” (Matt. 20:30), a title loaded with messianic assumptions. Knowing that the Messiah is present gives them hope that He will fulfill His call to work miracles and give them sight (see Isa. 35). Yet the crowd is displeased with these blind men, rebuking them as they cry out to Jesus (Matt. 20:31). They probably feel the beggars are unworthy of the Messiah’s attention since many first-century Jews thought blindness was God’s punishment for sin (John 9:1–3). It is also likely that they do not want Jesus to “waste His time” on these blind men. Those who believe Jesus might be the Christ would be looking for Him to enter Jerusalem immediately so that He might overthrow the Romans and set Israel over the world. For Jesus, however, it is not a waste of time to pause and heal the blind men, so moved is He by compassion (Matt. 20:32–34). This healing is against the people’s idea of what the Messiah should do, and it portends stronger opposition to come. The crowd that now does not want Him to help a fellow Israelite will later call for Jesus’ head when He does not live up to their expectations (27:15–23).

COR AM DEO

Living before the face of God

When we do the work of ministry it can be easy to get so caught up in the big plans and programs we have going that we miss the needs of certain individuals among us. As followers of Jesus, we must imitate His compassion and take the time to minister to hurting individuals even if it may sometimes get in the way of our own plans and purposes. What are you doing in your church to make sure people are shown compassion and not forgotten? 58

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FOR FURTHER STUDY:

2 Samuel 9 Acts 6:1–7 THE BIBLE IN A YEAR : Psalms 142–144 1 Cor. 11:2–16 FOR THE WEEKEND : Psalms 145–148 1 Cor. 11:17–12:11

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s I consider Matthew 20, I find that the laborers complained because they worked all day and received a certain wage. Then those who worked just part of the day received the same amount as the ones who gave it their all throughout the day. They grumbled because “they thought they would receive more” (v. 10). I can see them digging, wiping the sweat from their eyes, muscles aching with pain, saying to themselves or to those who worked the same amount of time: “I deserve a great deal more money today then those who worked just a few hours.” Can you see their faces when each worker received the same pay? I have been a Christian now for twenty-eight years, and I can attest to the fact that I and others act the same way as these laborers. Why? Because we forget to do all things to the glory of God, we forget to emulate Christ who said, “The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and give His life a ransom for many” (v. 28). He gave us His all, even His life. He was last, but God the Father made Him the first. “The last will be first and the first will be last” (v. 16). Jesus said that

B A R O L E T many times, to be sure. Jesus came to do the Father’s will, and we are to do the same without grumbling and complaining. How do we do that? By being in the Word. The Word of God is a transforming agent in our lives. If we have a desire to be first in notoriety, we will have our reward in full here, not in heaven. We may grumble because of hardships we might be enduring. But this only shows that our thinking is askew. We think we don’t deserve difficulties. Yet if we don’t put Jesus first, we will be bitter, not better, when the bumps in the road come our way. We are to do all things unto the Lord whether or not we get recognition, and the joy of the Lord is surely felt when we serve others. But how do we endure hardships and discipline from the Lord? We understand that it is for our good (James 1:2–4). God is transforming us into the image of Christ. We therefore glorify God by being last, even though the world will not understand this, because God’s ways are contrary to the ways of the world. Greg Barolet is a media resource specialist who has worked for Ligonier Ministries for fourteen years.

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The Expository Genius of John Calvin B Y S T E V E N J . L AW S O N

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ake no mistake: there is an aggressive new atheism in America. The new unbelievers are eager to win people to their cause. Not content simply to disbelieve in God for themselves, they want to persuade other people not to believe in Him either. Some of these evangelists for atheism are famous authors with a high public profile. Others are professors on college or university campuses. Still others are ordinary people we meet at work or in the neighborhood. They may even be the members of our own families. But in each case, their opposition to the God of the Bible poses a challenge to our faith. In fact, some Christians may find aggressive atheism more than a little intimidating. Any time our faith is under attack, we face the real temptation to keep quiet about our firm confidence in biblical truth or our personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The apostle Peter wrote his first epistle to believers who were facing similar challenges in the days of the early church. Their faith was under attack and there was real danger that standing firm for the Gospel would cause them to suffer for the cause of Christ. Thus Peter told them to be ready to witness with courage — an exhortation that still applies to us today: “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in 64

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your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience” (1 Peter 3:14–16). Peter’s words of comfort are reassuring: “Have no fear of them.” Even more reassuring is the reason why: Because Jesus is with us to help us. If we know Christ, then we regard Him as the Lord of our hearts. Now Jesus is with us — in all the power of His grace — in every difficult situation we face. This includes every opportunity we have to bear witness to His sufferings on the cross and His triumph over the tomb. There is no need for us to be intimidated by people who deny the Gospel, or who even deny the very existence of God. The true and living Lord is with us to help us speak the truth about His crucifixion and resurrection, giving people the hope of eternal life. We must be ready to witness, however. The helping presence of our Lord does not eliminate our own obligation to be well-prepared to tell people about His saving grace. Peter’s exhortation about how to do this is comprehensive. We should always be ready to explain the hope that is within us. We should be ready to do this in a logical way, giving reasons for our faith in Christ and answers to the legitimate questions

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people have about the Bible. We should be ready to do this for anyone and everyone who asks, regardless of their religious commitments. Are you ready to give people an answer when they ask about your hope in Christ, especially people who claim to be atheists? Reading this issue of Tabletalk is one practical way to get ready to give people an answer. Another good way to get better prepared to share our faith is to read good Christian books like R.C. Sproul’s Essential Truths of the Christian Faith. It is also important for us to develop growing friendships with people outside the church. The better we know people, the more they will share their spiritual questions, and the better we will understand all the ways they need the Gospel. Peter’s words remind us to do this with gentleness and respect, loving people who still need to know Christ. Yet the most important thing for us to do is point people to the Scriptures. The best reasons we can give people for our hope in Christ are biblical reasons; the clearest answers we can give to their question about God are biblical answers. The Holy Spirit will use the true words of God to do His spiritual work in people’s lives. God has not promised to use our personal testimonies to bring people to Christ. No matter how eloquently or persuasively we speak, our words in themselves do not have the power to give people spiritual life. What God has promised to use in a saving and sanctifying way are His own words — the words we read in the Bible and understand by the help of the Spirit. God’s Word always

does God’s work (see Isa. 55:10–11). The Word of God even has the power to save atheists, changing the minds and hearts of people who say they do not believe in God. The real truth, of course, is that even the most hardened atheist actually does believe in God, he just works very hard to deny it. In order to maintain a consistently atheistic point of view, unbelievers must actively suppress what they know to be true about the existence of God. Deep down, everyone knows there is a God (see Rom. 1:21). The inescapable reality of God’s power should give us tremendous confidence for personal evangelism. Although we may not have very much

Answer people’s spiritual questions with gentleness and respect, loving people who still need to know Christ. confidence in ourselves, or in our ability to respond to every objection an unbeliever may raise against the Gospel, we ought to have every confidence in the goodness of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit, the Bible confronts every person’s conscience, testifying that the God who is really there speaks to people today. Whether we are fully prepared to give an answer or not, God is always ready and able to save people by His mighty Word. Dr. Philip G. Ryken is senior minister of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He is author of What is the Christian Worldview?

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tough questions christians face 2008 West Coast Conference September 26–27, 2008 | Phoenix, Arizona

Duncan

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MacArthur

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About the Conference

Related Resources

Christ has redeemed us to be a light that directs others to Him.

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Fulfilling this call requires us to be able to deal with the most dif-

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pared for the darkness around us, it will be harder to counter it with the truth of God’s Word. On September 26–27, 2008, during Ligonier Ministries’ 2008 West Coast National Conference in Phoenix, Ariz., Ligon Duncan, John MacArthur, and R.C. Sproul

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will look at six of the toughest questions Christians face. They will focus on the biblical approach to issues including

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and the Gospel. Our goal is to help equip you to answer questions that all Christians and non-Christians find perplexing. Please join us this September as we look at how to live faithfully during these troubled times.

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any evangelical Christians are instinctively suspicious of the whole idea of creeds and confessions, those set forms of words that certain churches have used throughout the ages to give concise expression to the Christian faith. For such people, the very idea of such extra-scriptural authoritative statements of faith seems to strike at the very heart of their belief that the Bible is the unique revelation of God, the all-sufficient basis for our knowledge of Him, and the supreme authority in matters of religion. Certainly, creeds and confessions can be used in a way that undermines the orthodox Protestant view of scripture. Both Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches invest such authority in the declaration of the institutional church that the church creeds can seem to carry an authority that is derived from the church’s approval rather than conformity with the teaching of Scripture. Evangelicals are right to want to avoid anything that smacks of such an attitude. Yet I would like to argue that creeds and confessions should fulfill a useful function in the life of the church and in the lives of individual believers. First, Christians with no creed simply do not exist. To declare that one has “no creed but the Bible” is a creed, 68

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for the Bible nowhere expresses itself in such a fashion. It is an extra-biblical formulation. There are really only two types of Christian: those who are honest about the fact they have a creed and those who deny they have a creed yet possess one nonetheless. Ask any Christian what they believe, and, if they are at all thoughtful, they will not simply recite Bible texts to you; they will rather offer a summary account of what they see to be the Bible’s teaching in a form of words which are, to a greater or lesser extent, extra-biblical. All Christians have creeds — forms of words — that attempt to express in short compass great swathes of biblical teaching. And no one should ever see creeds and confessions as independent of Scripture; they were formulated in the context of elaborate biblical exegesis and were self-consciously dependent upon God’s unique revelation in and through Scripture. Given this fact, the second point is that some Christians have creeds that have been tried and tested by the church over the centuries, while others have those that their pastor made up, or that they put together themselves. Now, there is no necessary reason why the latter should be inferior to the former; but, on the basis that there is no need to reinvent the wheel, there is surely no virtue in turning our

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backs on those forms of sound words that have done a good job for hundreds of years in articulating aspects of the Christian faith and facilitating its transmission from place to place and generation to generation. If you want to, say, reject the Nicene Creed, you are of course free to do so; but you should at least try to replace it with a formula that will do the job just as effectively for so many people for the next 1,500 years. If you cannot do so, perhaps modesty and gratitude, rather than iconoclasm, are the appropriate responses to the ancient creed. Third, the creeds and confessions of the church offer us points of continuity with the church of the past. As I noted above, there is no need to reinvent Christianity every Sunday, and in an anti-historical, future-oriented age like ours, what more counter-cultural move can we as Christians make than to self-consciously identify with so many brothers and sisters who have gone before? Furthermore, while Protestants take justifiable pride in the fact that every believer has the right to read the Scriptures and has direct access to God in Christ, we should still acknowledge that Christianity is first and foremost a corporate religion. God’s means of working in history has been the church; the contributions of individual Christians have been great, but these all pale in comparison with God’s great work in and through the church as a whole. This holds good for theology as for any other area. The insights of individual teachers and theologians over the centuries have been profound, but nothing quite matches the corporate wisdom of the godly when gathered together in the

great councils and assemblies in the history of the church. This brings me to my fourth point: Creeds and confessions generally focus on what is significant. The early creeds, such as the Apostles’ and the Nicene are very brief and deal with the absolute essentials. Yet this is true even of the more elaborate statements of faith, such as the Lutheran Augsburg Confession or the Westminster Confession of Faith. Indeed, when you look at the points of doctrine that these various documents cover, it is difficult to see what could be left out without abandoning something central and significant. Far from being exhaustive state-

Creeds and confessions offer us points of continuity with the church of the past. ments of faith, they are summaries of the bare essentials. As such, they are singularly useful. Evangelicals should love the great creeds and confessions for all of the above reasons. Yet we should ultimately follow them only so far as they make sense of Scripture, but it is surely foolish and curmudgeonly to reject one of the primary ways in which the church has painstakingly transmitted her faith from age to age. Dr. Carl R. Trueman is associate professor of church history and historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and is author of The Wages of Spin.

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or the last four years, I have spoken at a conference on the West Coast called “Resolved.” The name is drawn from the Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards and is aimed at college students and “twentysomethings” in the next generation. As an eighteen and nineteen year old, young Edwards wrote seventy resolutions, which became his personal mission statement to guide his life. To launch the first conference, I spoke from Edward’s first resolution, what Edwards determined would be the single most important pursuit in his life — the glory of God. Edwards began his Resolutions with what he desired to be the driving force of his life — an all-absorbing passion to pursue the glory of God. “Resolved: that I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God’s glory and to my own good, profit, and pleasure, in the whole of my duration, without any consideration of the time, whether now or never so many myriads of ages hence. Resolved: to do whatever I think to be my duty, and most for the good and advantage of mankind in general. Resolved: to do this whatever difficulties I meet with, how ever so many and how ever so great.” With this before his eyes weekly, this first resolution set the tone for his entire life. In every arena, he resolved 70

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to honor God supremely. Everything else in his life would be subsidiary to this one driving pursuit. What is the glory of God? The Bible speaks of it in two ways. First, there is His intrinsic glory, the revelation of all that God is. It is the sum total of all His divine perfections and holy attributes. There is nothing that man can do to add to His intrinsic glory. Second, there is God’s ascribed glory, which is the praise and honor due His name. This is the glory that man must give to God. For Edwards, to be resolved to live for God’s glory means to exalt His most glorious name. It means to live consistently with His holy character. It means to proclaim and promote His supreme greatness. This is the highest purpose for which God created us. Why did Edwards place this resolution first? He understood that Scripture places the glory of God first in all things. Edwards was gripped with a transcendent, high view of God. As a result, in writing his “resolutions,” he knew he must live wholeheartedly for this awesome, sovereign God. Thus, Edwards intentionally chose to “do whatsoever I think is most to God’s glory.” Here is the interpretive principle for everything in life. You want to know what God’s will is? You

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want to know whom to marry? You want to know what job to take? You want to know what ministry to pursue? You want to know how to invest your resources? You want to know how to spend your time? There it is! Everything in life fits under this master theme. Anything out of alignment with this principle pursuit is in dangerous territory. Sometimes our decisions are not between right and wrong. Sometimes they are between good, better, and best. These are sometimes the hardest decisions. Edwards said that he would not live for what is merely good. Nor for what is better. He purposed to live only for what is best. Whatever is most to the glory of God — that is what is best! Edwards believed that God’s glory was inseparably connected with his “own good, profit, and pleasure.” Whenever he sought God’s glory, he was confident that it would inevitably yield God’s greatest good for his life. The glory of God produced his greatest “pleasure.” So it is with us. Would you know unspeakable joy? Abundant peace? True contentment? Then pursue God’s glory. With unwavering determination, young Edwards chose this first resolution to mark “the whole of my duration.” As long as he was alive, this was to be the driving thrust of his life. He must always live for God’s glory. He would never outgrow this central theme. He must never exchange it for a lesser glory. Also, Edwards’ believed that his commitment to God’s glory would bring the greatest “good of mankind.” By seeking God’s honor, the greatest advantage would accrue to oth-

ers. Thus, living for the glory of God would lead to the greatest influence of the Gospel upon the world. Souls would be converted. Saints would be edified. Needs would be met. Would you have maximum impact upon this world? Would you lead others to Christ? Would you live for eternity? There it is! Live for God’s glory. No matter what, Edwards resolved to live for God’s glory despite “whatever difficulties I meet with, how ever so many and ever so great.” Regardless the cost, despite the pain, he would pursue God’s honor. Even if it meant persecution or poverty, his mind was made up, his will resolved. He would pay any price to uphold the

Would you know unspeakable joy? Abundant peace? Then pursue God’s glory. glory of God, regardless of the hardship that awaited him. This is my challenge to the next generation: Would you seek the highest goal? Would you know the deepest joy? Would you realize the greatest good? Would you cast the widest influence? Would you overcome the greatest difficulties? Then make this first resolution of Jonathan Edwards your chief aim. Be resolved to live for God’s glory. Dr. Steven J. Lawson is senior minister of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Mobile, Alabama, and author of The Expository Genius of John Calvin.

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The Wages of Spin BY C A R L R . T RU E M A N

This collection of essays by a noted professor of church history illustrates the nature of effective Christian debate, calling upon believers to present a persuasive case for the truth of the Christian worldview and counter the spin our culture places on the Christian faith. WAG01BP Z PRBK, 190 PAGES Z (REG. $18) $14.40

Whatever attever Happened Hap H appe pene ned d to Hell? BY JOHN BLANCHARD

In a day d and age when professing Christians deny the reality of eternal, conscious punishment for unrepentant sinners, this book defends the existence of hell and deals with many of the pastoral issues raised by the doctrine. Available for a limited time.

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Loving God with All Your Mind B Y G E N E E D WA R D V E I T H

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This book looks at the problems of postmodern society such as the misuse of reason, the collapse of decency, and the denial of absolute truth in order to awaken us to return to the unchanging Word of God and stem the tide of evil in our culture. DEL01BP Z PRBK, 243 PAGES Z (REG. $14) $11.20

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From Moses to David to Jeremiah, Jesus, John, and Paul, every author of Scripture teaches that salvation is by grace alone to the glory of God alone. This book demonstrates how our Father’s electing grace is found on every page of Scripture. FOU04BH Z HDCVR, 584 PAGES Z (REG. $28) $22.40

Artt For Fo r God’ G God’s o d’ d s Sake S a ke BY P H I L I P G R A H A M RY K E N

Art for God’s Sake is a helpful application of

the Christian worldview to the arts, demonstrating that Christianity has a distinctive view of what constitutes the beautiful. This book is a helpful resource for those interested in what makes a quality piece of art and a useful tool for artists seeking to convey the truth and beauty of Scripture in their work. Available for a limited time. ART02BP Z PRBK, 64 PAGES Z (REG. $6) $4.80

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ne of the f irst Reformed aut hors I ever read wa s Sinclair Ferguson. I was a dispensationalist in transition at the time, and I ran across a little book titled The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction by Dr. Ferguson. I started reading it in the bookstore, and I fi nished it in my apartment the same evening. This wonderful little book was instrumental in my transition from dispensationalism to the Reformed tradition. Since that time, I have continued to read everything I can from the pen of Dr. Ferguson. Like the great theologians of old, he writes with the heart and experience of a pastor. No dry and dusty tomes from the ivory tower here. For these reasons, I was excited to hear of the release of his new book In Christ Alone (Reformation Trust, 2007). As with Ferguson’s previous books, readers will not be disappointed in this one. I would say that this book needs to be on the shelf of every Christian, but that cliché is sometimes taken a bit too literally. Far too many Christians buy great books, put them on their shelves, and then leave them there. This

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book does not need to be on the shelf of every Christian. It is a book that needs to be read by every Christian. The content is too important to remain on a shelf gathering dust. This is a book about living the life of faith in Christ. Its chapters were written over a period of years as articles for Tabletalk and Eternity magazines. They have been gathered together in this volume and arranged thematically. Their origin as magazine articles means that each of the fifty chapters is brief, accessible, and to the point. Each chapter can be read in only a few minutes time. Are there any drawbacks to such a format? One might think that having been written over a period of years that the chapters would lack a certain flow and unity. One would be mistaken. The chapters have been organized under six major headings. The first section of the book contains several chapters dealing with the person of Christ. Here Ferguson outlines the basic biblical teaching concerning our Savior, who is truly God and truly man. The primary focus of these chapters is on the mystery and miracle of the incarna-

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tion. The second major section of the book contains chapters dealing with the work of Christ. Here Ferguson discusses the atonement, the resurrection, and Jesus’ work as our prophet, priest, and king. The third section of the book, then, contains chapters on the Holy Spirit, the one sent by Christ as another comforter. The focus of these chapters is upon the Spirit’s transforming work in the lives of believers. In the fourth major section of the book, Ferguson begins to turn to the Christian life. This section, entitled “The Privileges of Grace,” covers subjects such as our union with Christ, regeneration, and assurance of salvation. Section five, “A Life of Wisdom,” deals with subjects such as discernment, the law of God, and Christian contentment. In the final section, Ferguson explores the biblical teaching on subjects such as spiritual warfare, temptation, apostasy, and the perseverance of the saints. The conclusion of the book contains Dr. Ferguson’s heartfelt dedication to his longtime friend and former colleague Al Groves, who recently went to be with Christ. One of the many things that is so refreshing about this book is its thoroughly Christ-centered message. From beginning to end, Christ is exalted. With so many authors writing about Jesus in a detached and abstract manner, it is a blessing to read a book in which the author’s love for Christ shines through on every page. This is theology for the

heart and the mind. The author’s love for Christ, however, does not result in a sentimental or watereddown theology. Ferguson is not hesitant to touch upon the deep truths of Scripture, marveling at the Lord’s amazing work of redemption for His people. Sections four through six of the book are deeply practical and reflect the wisdom of one who has shepherded Christ’s sheep for many years. There are numerous chapters here that will repay careful meditation and application. None of us have “arrived” yet. We all battle the world, the flesh, and the Devil every day, and we are foolish if we ignore the wisdom of our elders. Jesus Christ is faith-

In Christ Alone

by Sinclair Ferguson In his inimita able style, Sinclair Ferg Fe rgus rg uson us o loooks at the person on and an d wo work ork of Je Jesus Christ and its appli ap plicatio pl at on to our lives. Avaiila Av labl blee at www.ligonier.org w

ful. He knows those who are His sheep. Let us all take heed to hear the message of this book, to trust and obey our Lord, to live a Christcentered, Gospel-centered life, that we might not be ashamed at His coming. Let us fight the good fight and run the race to the finish, knowing that our only hope in life and in death is in Christ alone. Dr. Keith A. Mathison is an associate editor of Tabletalk magazine. For more reviews go to www.ligonier.org/bookreviews

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What’s So Great About the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard D. Phillips This book looks at the beauty and power of the doctrines of grace, otherwise known as the Five Points of Calvinism. As this work demonstrates, the doctrines of grace are not examples of idle theological reection; rather, they are profound truths that transform our lives and motivate us to live for the glory of God. WHA14BH Z HARDCOVER, 111 PAGES Z (REG. $15) $12

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New from Ligonier Ministries

The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism by Craig R. Brown The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism is a useful resource for helping to defend Reformed theology against its critics. Many people have found this tool helpful for clarifying certain misconceptions about Calvinism and for demonstrating how the Reformed tradition accurately summarizes the teaching of Scripture. FIV04BP Z PAPERBACK, 127 PAGES Z (REG. $9) $7.20

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Tabletalk ministering to those who minister

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abletalk magazine is issued faithfully every month in the hope that, among other things, it will encourage readers to ponder the truths of God when they lie down, when they rise up, and, yes, even when they fly. Missionary pilot Glenn Grubb recently wrote to share how he relies on Tabletalk magazine for renewal and encouragement.

study guide since our book bags never made it from the States. I decided to give Tabletalk to myself as an early Christmas present. Q: How do you use Tabletalk? Do you have a section you read most or first? A: I go through the daily devotional readings, but I really enjoy the longer articles. Dr. Derek Thomas’ article

THE PHRASE “DARK PROVIDENCE” HAS GIVEN ME A R A L LY P O I N T T O W H I C H I C A N C A R R Y D I F F I C U LT Q U E S T I O NS W H E N I T RY TO R ECO N C I LE W H AT I SE E H A PPE N I N G A RO U N D M E W I T H W H AT I K N OW IS T RU E I N SC R I P T U R E .

Q: When and how were you introduced to Tabletalk? A: I became aware of Tabletalk while trying to find a new Bible. While doing the research on the Reformation Study Bible, I came across the Tabletalk site. I was looking for something to use as a Real world training

“Everything Is Against Me!” really got my attention (Sept. 2007, pp. 27−28). He used the phrase “dark providences” to describe the things that occur that we don’t understand but must acknowledge to be truly from the hand of God. As an aircraft accident investigator for a missionary aviation organization, I have heard the questions that come up when bad things happen to good people who try to live lives that glorify God. The phrase “dark providence” has given me a rally point to which I can carry difficult questions when I try to reconcile what I see happening around me with what I know is true in Scripture. Q: Why do you think it is important for Christians to use a devotional, specifically one that is theologically and doctrinally sound?

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A: In our flight department, we train for real-life scenarios. We practice what we will do when emergencies arise. We practice low-level engine failures, engine failures at cruise, fires, instrument failures, and so on, so that when the real thing happens, our response is second nature. Our discipline and practice helps us get over the initial shock of a problem and get on with what it will take to remedy it. I view my devotions the same way. I don’t read or study just to check off a box. I study towards a real-world standard. What will I do when confronted with this scenario? How can I become practiced in the discipline of responding to what God places in my life in a way that is glorifying to Him? The theme of Hebrews 5 has become especially meaningful to me these last six months. How can I become skilled in the Word of righteousness? What solid food can I take that will mature me? I want my powers of discernment trained by constant practice too so that I can distinguish good from evil. In looking at this, I recognized that a guide would help me achieve these goals. I also knew that the devotional had to be based on the Word of God and not on fads or sentimentality. These requirements narrowed my search down to Tabletalk. I downloaded a trial copy from your website and saw that there was a mix of daily devotions and larger ar ticles surrounding a monthly theme. That, coupled with it coming from a known source whose basis of ministry is grounded on sound Reformed principles, made the decision easy.

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Note: Recently the Grubb family experienced a dark providence. While visiting with friends who work in the jungle, they received a satellite phone call with the news that their house had been burglarized and burned to the ground. When asked about it, Mr. Grubb’s response was, “I knew that we were experiencing dark providence. To say that this wasn’t from the hand of God for our good would be to deny God His own person-

Glenn Grubb and family

ality. He is sovereign! I won’t lie to you and say that we have been stoic during this experience. There have been the emotions that loss and grief bring, but God has guided our spirits through it all with a strong and gentle hand. I know that my spirit had been stilled by the Holy Spirit’s use of Dr. Thomas’ article in the weeks leading up to the fire. “Thank you for God-honoring articles that stick to the meat of Scripture. It is this and not faddish sentimentality that will help sustain a believer during the difficult times that will come. It is this type of devotional that will help us say with Joseph, ‘You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.’”

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e live in an age of spin and propaganda. We no longer weigh careful arguments and reach our conclusions judiciously. Instead, we inhabit what one cultural critic called a “sensate culture.” We do not think, we feel. We do not decide, we choose. We do not deliberate, we do. Our choices are made for us by the master manipulators. They tell us through images, through associations, but never through logic, what toothpaste we will use, what shoes we will wear, and what party we will vote for. Consider, for a moment, our own self-image. Christians, in the West at least, tend to see themselves in terms of cultural trade-offs. We may not, we reason, be as smart as the unbelievers, but we are nicer. We may not be quite as sophisticated as the unbelieving intellectual crowd, but we are cleaner. We may not read their highbrow authors, attend their ponderous films, or frequent their trendy galleries. But we read nice, clean historical romance novels, watch rapture-fever movies, and have paintings of nice, warm cottages hanging over our mantels. There is some truth to this selfimage. After all, has not the apostle Paul told us, “For you see your calling, brethren, that not many wise 80

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according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things that are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence” (1 Cor. 1:26–29 nkjv). For those of you keeping score, that’s us — we are the foolish, the weak, the ignoble, the despised. Fools that we are, we sometimes seek to undo this arrangement. We look across the battlefield at the seed of the serpent. We see their sophistication, their wisdom, their nobility, their strength, and we seek to imitate them. We think that in order to win the debate, we need fi rst to win their approval, to demonstrate to those outside the promises of God that we are just as together, just as hip as they are. We take our gnawing hunger for approval and baptize it, turning it into being “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22). We have need of two things. First, we must jettison this approach to winning the lost. We will never “cool” anyone into the kingdom. The

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more we pander to them, the more we persuade them that they are what really matters. The more we mimic them, the more they delight to see themselves in our mirror. The more we become like them, well, the more we become like them. We end up, as we seek to shine our own lights, under a bushel. We become savorless salt, good for nothing but being trodden underfoot. Second, we need to have a better, more biblical understanding of those with whom we are dealing. The image shows us learned men and women, sitting in endowed chairs at prestigious universities. They have letters after their names. We pay tens of thousands of dollars a year to have our children listen to them. They appear on C-Span and PBS. They write for The New York Times Book Review, as well as writing books reviewed therein. They are graduates of elite universities, and now teach at elite universities. And God says that they are fools. The new atheists are, in the end, not appreciably different from the old ones, of whom God said, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’” (Ps. 14:1). Their image is power and glamour. The reality is that they are mouth-breathing, knuckle-dragging rubes. We, when we enter into the arena of truth, are not facing Goliath. We are not coming face to face with the chariots of Pharaoh. Instead we do battle with frightened and foolish little children who already know what we are seeking to prove. As Christians called to seek fi rst the kingdom of God — to make known the glory, the power, and the beauty of the reign of Jesus Christ

over all things — we must do far less than trying to fit their image of what it means to be urbane, but we must do far more than merely believing in God. Instead, we are called to believe God. He is the one who says they are fools. He is the one who says that in Christ we are more than conquerors (Rom. 8:37). Our calling is to be as unmoved by their image as we are by their “arguments.” Both are mere folly. Jesus told us to set our worries aside. Wherever we fi nd ourselves, whether we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death or engaged in the battle of ideas on

We need to have a better, more biblical understanding of those with whom we are dealing. Mars Hill, we ought have no fear. He, after all, is with us, even unto the end of the age. Our calling is not to seek grand victories. He will not, after all, share His glory with another. Our calling is fundamentally simple — to seek fi rst the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Then, and only then, will all these things be added unto us. May God grant wisdom to His fools, that by them more fools might be brought into His kingdom. Dr. R.C. Sproul Jr. is founder of the Highlands Study Center in Mendota, Virginia.

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he old atheists maintained that belief in God is not true. The new atheists maintain that belief in God is not good. The atheists’ problem, though, is that however much they attack belief in God, their own worldview lacks all appeal. They get hung up on the last remaining absolute: Atheism is not beautiful. It is so depressing. If there is no God and this physical realm is all there is, life is pretty much pointless. A person might believe such a bleak worldview, but no one is going to like it. The old atheists, to their great credit, usually faced up to the implications of their disbelief. Walter Berns, writing in The Weekly Standard (February 4, 2008), sums up the worldview of Albert Camus, as expressed in his novel The Stranger: Meursault, its hero (actually, its antihero), is a murderer, but a different kind of murderer. What is different about him is that he murdered for no reason — he did it because the sun got in his eyes, à cause du solei — and because he neither loves nor hates, and unlike the other people who inhabit his world, does not pretend to love or hate. …As he said, the universe “is benignly indifferent” to how he lives. It is a bleak picture, and Camus was 82

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criticized for painting it, but as he wrote in reply, “there is no other life possible for a man deprived of God, and all men are [now] in that position. But although Camus may have aniticipated the mindless, nonreflective godlessness of our culture, his world-view has little to commend it. By his own admission, throwing out God also throws out meaning, joy, and everything that makes life worth living. Enter Philip Pullman, the British author of children’s stories. Out of his hatred for C. S. Lewis’ “Chronicles of Narnia,” Pullman resolved to write a fantasy series that would do for atheism what Lewis’ fantasy series did for Christianity. Thus was born the trilogy “His Dark Materials.” The first volume, The Golden Compass, was recently made into a movie, which, despite its elaborate and expensive special effects, bombed at the box office, illustrating what he is up against. But the trilogy is enormously popular, especially among teenagers and young adults, having sold some fifteen million copies. The story has to do with multiple worlds, marvelous adventures, and an epic conflict between good and evil. Except that, in line with the new

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atheism, God is the evil one and Satan is the good guy. Pullman, as in the old Gnostic texts, portrays God the creator as a cruel, tyrannical “Authority”; Satan is the liberator; and Adam and Eve were right to eat the forbidden fruit. In Pullman’s fantasy, the church, headed by Pope John Calvin, is all about black-robed clerics sneaking around establishing inquisitions and spoiling everyone’s fun. The books, though, are imaginatively stimulating. The fantasy is exciting, well-written, and pleasurable. And, as with other fantasies, the story is idealistic and even inspiring. Here, in a quote from the second volume of the trilogy, The Subtle Knife, is how Pullman portrays the virtue of Satan’s rebellion and of the cosmic struggle against the Authority: There are two great powers… and they’ve been fighting since time began. Every advance in human life, every scrap of knowledge and wisdom and decency we have has been torn by one side from the teeth of the other. Every little increase in human freedom has been fought over ferociously between those who want us to know more and be wiser and stronger, and those who want us to obey and be humble and submit. The prose evokes a stirring heroism — again, like traditional fantasies — but the enemy of knowledge, wisdom, and decency in this anti-Narnia is God and His evil minions in the church! The central image of the Pullman books is the “dark materials,” a term taken from Milton, whose Paradise Lost the author turns upside down. This “dust” is the stuff of love and

consciousness. In fact, it turns out that everything is made out of this dust, which is the essence of both spiritual and physical existence. This is true even of the Authority, who turns out to be just another physical being, an old, senile relic who dissolves back into dust once he is dragged into the light. This is nothing more than classic materialism, of course, which insists that matter is all there is, so that everything that exists is made out of particular tiny bits of matter called atoms. Pullman glorifies and mystifies this “dust.” How wonderful it is to have evolved into so many wonderful things! And when we die, we go back to dust. As Pullman

Atheism is not beautiful. It is so depressing. puts it in the last volume, The Amber Spyglass, when people die “all the atoms that were them, they’ve gone into the air and the wind and the trees and the earth and all the living things. They’ll never vanish. They’re just part of everything. And that’s exactly what’ll happen to you.” Pullman mystifies materialism and turns atheism into an actual religion. In doing so, however, he does what the old atheists have always falsely accused believers of doing: indulging in irrational wishfulfillment and constructing an escapist fantasy. Dr. Gene Edward Veith is academic dean of Patrick Henry College in Purcellville, Virginia, and author of Loving God with All Your Mind.

TABLE TALK AUGUST 2008

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2008 West Coast Conference September 26–27, 2008 | Phoenix, Arizona

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MacArthur

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Sproul

from Ligonier Ministries and Dr. R.C. Sproul

Duncan

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tough questions christians face

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2008 Pastors Conference K e e p i n g G o d a t the Center of Ministr y

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Oc tober 2 0 -23 L ake Mar y, Florida S proul + L aw son + Ferg u son

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Tabletalk Magazine, August 2008