Thursday, December 18, 2008

Tim Keller - "Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age"

Brimstone for the broad-minded.
by Tim Keller

The young man in my office was impeccably dressed and articulate. He was an Ivy League MBA, successful in the financial world, and had lived in three countries before age 30. Raised in a family with only the loosest connections to a mainline church, he had little understanding of Christianity.
I was therefore gratified to learn of his intense spiritual interest, recently piqued as he attended our church. He said he was ready to embrace the gospel. But there was a final obstacle.
"You've said that if we do not believe in Christ," he said, "we are lost and condemned. I'm sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish, or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don't believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God—even if he is holy too."
This young man expressed what may be the main objection contemporary secular people make to the Christian message. (A close second, in my experience, is the problem of suffering and evil.) Moderns reject the idea of final judgment and hell.
Thus, it's tempting to avoid such topics in our preaching. But neglecting the unpleasant doctrines of the historic faith will bring about counter-intuitive consequences. There is an ecological balance to scriptural truth that must not be disturbed.
If an area is rid of its predatory or undesirable animals, the balance of that environment may be so upset that the desirable plants and animals are lost—through overbreeding with a limited food supply. The nasty predator that was eliminated actually kept in balance the number of other animals and plants necessary to that particular ecosystem. In the same way, if we play down "bad" or harsh doctrines within the historic Christian faith, we will find, to our shock, that we have gutted all our pleasant and comfortable beliefs, too.
The loss of the doctrine of hell and judgment and the holiness of God does irreparable damage to our deepest comforts—our understanding of God's grace and love and of our human dignity and value to him. To preach the good news, we must preach the bad.
But in this age of tolerance, how?

How to preach hell to traditionalists
Before preaching on the subject of hell, I must recognize that today, a congregation is made up of two groups: traditionalists and postmoderns. The two hear the message of hell completely differently.
People from traditional cultures and mindsets tend to have (a) a belief in God, and (b) a strong sense of moral absolutes and the obligation to be good. These people tend to be older, from strong Catholic or religious Jewish backgrounds, from conservative evangelical/Pentecostal Protestant backgrounds, from the southern U. S., and first-generation immigrants from non-European countries.
The way to show traditional persons their need for the gospel is by saying, "Your sin separates you from God! You can't be righteous enough for him." Imperfection is the duty-worshiper's horror. Traditionalists are motivated toward God by the idea of punishment in hell. They sense the seriousness of sin.
But traditionalists may respond to the gospel only out of fear of hell, unless I show them Jesus experienced not only pain in general on the cross but hell in particular. This must be held up until they are attracted to Christ for the beauty of the costly love of what he did. To the traditional person, hell must be preached as the only way to know how much Christ loved you.

If we play down harsh doctrines,
we will gut our pleasant and
comfortable beliefs too.

Here is one way I have preached this:
"Unless we come to grips with this terrible doctrine, we will never even begin to understand the depths of what Jesus did for us on the cross. His body was being destroyed in the worst possible way, but that was a flea bite compared to what was happening to his soul. When he cried out that his God had forsaken him, he was experiencing hell itself.
"If a mild acquaintance denounces you and rejects you—that hurts. If a good friend does the same—the hurt's far worse. However, if your spouse walks out on you, saying, 'I never want to see you again,' that is far more devastating still. The longer, deeper, and more intimate the relationship, the more torturous is any separation.
"But the Son's relationship with the Father was beginning-less and infinitely greater than the most intimate and passionate human relationship. When Jesus was cut off from God, he went into the deepest pit and most powerful furnace, beyond all imagining. And he did it voluntarily, for us."

How to preach hell to postmoderns
In contrast to the traditionalist, the postmodern person is hostile to the very idea of hell. People with more secular and postmodern mindsets tend to have (a) only a vague belief in the divine, if at all, and (b) little sense of moral absolutes, but rather a sense they need to be true to their dreams. They tend to be younger, from nominal Catholic or non-religious Jewish backgrounds, from liberal mainline Protestant backgrounds, from the western and northeastern U. S., and Europeans.
When preaching hell to people of this mindset, I've found I must make four arguments.

1. Sin is slavery. I do not define sin as just breaking the rules, but also as "making something besides God our ultimate value and worth." These good things, which become gods, will drive us relentlessly, enslaving us mentally and spiritually, even to hell forever if we let them.
I say, "You are actually being religious, though you don't know it—you are trying to find salvation through worshiping things that end up controlling you in a destructive way." Slavery is the choice-worshiper's horror.
C. S. Lewis's depictions of hell are important for postmodern people. In The Great Divorce, Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. There they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. The descriptions Lewis makes of people in hell are so striking because we recognize the denial and self-delusion of substance addictions. When addicted to alcohol, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior nor see the roots of our problem.
Lewis writes, "Hell … begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it…. You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine."
Modern people struggle with the idea of God thinking up punishments to inflict on disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell as the freely chosen, eternal skid row of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible.
Here is an example from a recent sermon of how I try to explain this:
"First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isa. 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Ps. 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17)….
"Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something—idols, pseudo-saviors—to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, and fear are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus—and the wages of sin is slavery."
Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis's bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their relentless delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Gen. 3:4-5), but their choice has really ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, "the greatest monument to human freedom."

2. Hell is less exclusive than so-called tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the modern mindset than the statement: "I think Christ is fine, but I believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God." A slightly different version is: "I don't think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief." This approach is seen as more inclusive.
In preaching about hell, then, I need to counter this argument:
"The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then he owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, then we owe him (Rom. 1:17). In short, to say a good person, not just Christians, can find God is to say good works are enough to find God.
"You can believe that faith in Christ is not necessary or you can believe that we are saved by grace, but you cannot believe in both at once.
"So the apparently inclusive approach is really quite exclusive. It says, 'The good people can find God, and the bad people do not.'
"But what about us moral failures? We are excluded.
"The gospel says, 'The people who know they aren't good can find God, and the people who think they are good do not.'
"Then what about non-Christians, all of whom must, by definition, believe their moral efforts help them reach God? They are excluded.
"So both approaches are exclusive, but the gospel's is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, 'It doesn't matter who you are or what you've done. It doesn't matter if you've been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.' "

3. Christianity's view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often, I meet people who say, "I have a personal relationship with a loving God, and yet I don't believe in Jesus Christ at all."
"Why?" I ask.
They reply, "My God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin."
But then a question remains: "What did it cost this kind of God to love us and embrace us? What did he endure in order to receive us? Where did this God agonize, cry out? Where were his nails and thorns?"
The only answer is: "I don't think that was necessary."
How ironic. In our effort to make God more loving, we have made God less loving. His love, in the end, needed to take no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God like this will be impersonal, cognitive, ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder. We would not sing to such a being, "Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all."
The postmodern "sensitive" approach to the subject of hell is actually quite impersonal. It says, "It doesn't matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow his example."
But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. If any good person can find God, then the essential core of religion is understanding and following the rules.
When preaching about hell, I try to show how impersonal this view is:
"To say that any good person can find God is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.

Hell is the freely
chosen, eternal skid
row of the universe.

"The gospel certainly is not less than the understanding of truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and calls that 'the core of true salvation.' "
4. There is no love without wrath. What rankles people is the idea of judgment and the wrath of God: "I can't believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?"
So in preaching about hell, we must explain that a wrathless God cannot be a loving God. Here's how I tried to do that in one sermon:
"People ask, 'What kind of loving God is filled with wrath?' But any loving person is often filled with wrath. InHope Has Its Reasons, Becky Pippert writes, 'Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it…. Anger isn't the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.'
"Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, 'Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.'
"She concludes: 'If I, a flawed narcissistic sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone's condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God's wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.' "

A God like this
Following a recent sermon on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, the post-service question-and-answer session was packed with more than the usual number of attenders. The questions and comments focused on the subject of eternal judgment.
My heart sank when a young college student said, "I've gone to church all my life, but I don't think I can believe in a God like this." Her tone was more sad than defiant, but her willingness to stay and talk showed that her mind was open.
Usually all the questions are pitched to me, and I respond as best I can. But on this occasion people began answering one another.
An older businesswoman said, "Well, I'm not much of a churchgoer, and I'm in some shock now. I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me."
Then a mature Christian made a connection with a sermon a month ago on Jesus at Lazarus' tomb in John 11. "The text tells us that Jesus wept," he said, "yet he was also extremely angry at evil. That's helped me. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God—he's both. He doesn't only judge evil, but he also takes the hell and judgment himself for us on the cross."
The second woman nodded, "Yes. I always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn't know it also told me about how much he was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus' love. It's very moving."
It is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus' proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

Tim Keller is pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

40 Days of Purpose: Blueprint for Revival or Recipe for Apostacy?

At first, the large congregations of churches such as Lakewood Church under Joel Osteen, Willow Creek under Bill Hybels and Saddleback under Rick Warren seem visually impressive; landmarks that testify to the fulfilment of the great commission. As such, other pastors naturally look to their methods, ideals and teachings in the hopes that the same can be achieved for their own fellowships. But when we actually take the time to weigh such strategies against scripture, such practices become highly questionable.

Ecclesiology and outreach
   Not surprisingly, the faith statements of seeker-friendly churches tend to be quite orthodox in their gospel presentation. In practice however, this is not so.
As the name of the movement suggests, the underlying assumption of seeker-friendly churches is that unbelievers are seeking the truth. In an age of consumerism, seekers have been offered numerous religious and ideological products— they are shoppers looking for the religious system with which they feel most compatible. Because the “unchurched” are seeking answers, Christians must pitch Christianity in a way that will appeal to them— helping them to understand that Christianity is superior to any of the other products available.
In contrast, the doctrine of Total Depravity argues exactly the opposite— that no one is truly seeking after God or is let alone capable of doing so on their own. In Scripture, unbelievers are portrayed,not as those who earnestly seek God, but rather as the spiritually dead (Col. 2:13), the spiritually rebellious (Eph. 2:1-3), and the spiritually hardhearted (Eph. 4:18). Even though God's self-disclosure through nature and the conscience should cause men to seek Him (Acts 17:27-29), unbelievers have rejected the truth that they know, becoming "futile in their thoughts [so that] their foolish hearts were darkened" (Rom. 1:21).

   A second tenet of seeker-sensitive methodology is that believers need to think like unbelievers in order to reach the lost. To be effective, evangelists must begin by putting themselves in the shoes of the unchurched— purposefully making their messages relevant to the felt needs of the audience.
   In other words, believers need to understand the felt needs – material, emotional, physical etc. - of seekers if those seekers are to be effectively reached.
Warren echoes this strategy, telling his readers:

The ground we have in common with unbelievers is not the Bible, but our common
needs, hurts, and interests as human beings. You cannot start with a text, expecting the unchurched to be fascinated by it. You must first capture their attention, and then move them to the truth of God's Word. By starting with a topic that interests the unchurched and then showing what the Bible says about it, you can grab their attention, disarm prejudices, and create an interest in the Bible that wasn't there before.xxviii

By understanding the specific demographic and psychographic backgrounds of those in the audience, preachers can better appeal to their felt needs— showing the lost that the gospel is relevant to their current life situation. Warren, in fact, is so confident in this strategy that he says:

"It is my deep conviction that anybody can be won to Christ if you discover the key to his or her heart. That key to each person's heart is unique so it is sometimes difficult to discover. It may take some time to identify it. But the most likely place to start is with that person's felt needs."xxix

Are demographic, psychographic, and geographic considerations the keys to evangelism? Is thinking like an unbeliever the way to effectively reach him or her? Is knowing what the unsaved audience wants to hear the biblical method for preaching the gospel? Even a brief survey of the biblical evidence quickly reveals cracks in this seeker-sensitive argument.

   The early church, for example, clearly defied the "target audience" approach of the contemporary seeker church— having been built by the Spirit rather than statistics.
   Moreover, Scripture never commands Christians to think like the unsaved, but rather commands exactly the opposite. Paul simply says

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardening of their heart"
Ephesians 4:17-18

In other words, Christians are to stop thinking like unbelievers. In Romans 8:6-7, he puts it even more clearly,

"The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so."

In light of this, believers are to avoid conformity with the world, allowing their minds to be transformed by God's truth (Rom. 12:2), preparing their minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13)— putting off the deeds and thoughts of the flesh (Eph. 4:22-24).
   Finally, the idea that anyone can lead anyone else to Christ, simply by unlocking the felt needs of the heart, is pure humanism at best. Only God has the ability to even know the heart (Jer. 17:9-10; Rev. 2:23), let alone change it. It is His Spirit who cleanses the heart (Titus 3:5); it is His Word that penetrates through layers of doubt and unbelief (Heb. 4:12); He is the one who calls sinners to Himself (Rom. 8:29-30)— having specifically chosen them before time began (Eph. 1:3-6). And while men are certainly His agents for preaching the gospel (Rom. 10:14-15), God is nonetheless sovereign in the entire process (Rom. 9:18).
   By asking the church to think like the world, seeker churches are filling their membership rosters with worldly Christians. In reaching out to the world, Hybels and Warren run the risk of becoming like those they are trying to reach.

   According to Gary Gilley:

   The leaders of the Market-driven church believe that “the most effective messages for
seekers are those that address their felt needs”. However, this approach is not drawn from the Bible; it is drawn from market research and the latest in psychology. No one denies that there are many benefits to the Christian life, but these benefits must not be confused with the gospel. The gospel is not about helping Harry feel better about himself and his circumstances; it is about his rebelliousness against a holy God who will ultimately condemn him to hell if he does not repent and trust in God for the forgiveness of

   The seeker-friendly approach in it’s assumption that man is not fully corrupted and as such is capable of seeking the truth of God by his own initiative rejects the biblical doctrine of Total Depravity and in effect, leans more towards the doctrines of Pelagianism that were declared anathema almost 1500 years ago.

   In Day Seven of the 40 Days of Purpose campaign, Rick Warren says to non-believers reading The Purpose Driven Life:

Wherever you are reading this, I invite you to bow your head and quietly whisper the prayer that will change your eternity: “Jesus, I believe in you and I receive you.” Go ahead.
If you sincerely meant that prayer, congratulations! Welcome to the family of God!xxxi

No mention of sin. No mention of repentance. No mention of judgement, the wrath to come, lordship, faith, grace. No mention at all of what Christ did on the cross.

During the 17th century, Jonathan Edwards personally led two hundred people to Christ through his preaching as exemplified in sermons such as “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and “The Justification of God in the Damnation of Sinners”, which, coupled with the open-air evangelism of George Whitefield when he came to bring Methodism to America at the same time brought about the Great Awakening which forever changed the landscape the young nation:

How many sorts of wickedness have you not been guilty of! How manifold have been the abominations of your life! What profaneness and contempt of God has been exercised by you! How little regard have you had to the Scriptures, to the word preached, to sabbaths, and sacraments!
How profanely have you talked, many of you, about those things that are holy! After what manner have many of you kept God's holy day, not regarding the holiness of the time, not caring what you thought of in it! Yea, you have not only spent the time in worldly, vain, and unprofitable thoughts, but in immoral thoughts; pleasing yourself with the reflection on past acts of wickedness, and in contriving new acts. Have not you spent much holy time in gratifying your lusts in your imaginations; yea, not only holy time, but the very time of God's public worship, when you have appeared in God's more immediate presence? How have you not only attended to the worship, but have in the mean time been feasting your lusts, and wallowing yourself in abominable uncleanness! How many sabbaths have you spent, one after another, in a most wretched manner! Some of you not only in worldly and wicked thoughts, but also a very wicked outward behavior! When you on sabbath-days have got along with your wicked companions, how has holy time been treated among you! What kind of conversation has there been!
Yea, how have some of you, by a very indecent carriage, openly dishonored and cast contempt on the sacred services of God's house, and holy day! And what you have done some of you alone, what wicked practices there have been in secret, even in holy time, God and your own consciences know.

If a book such as The Purpose Driven Life which has sold 25 million copies and has been on the New York Times bestseller lists for several months truly contains the biblical gospel message and as such has been placed into the hands of one quarter of the United States’ population, then where’s the revival and the fruits associated?
To quote Marvin the Martian: “Where’s the ‘kaboom!’? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering ‘kaboom!’”

For those that still want to endorse such an approach to ecclesiology, they must in turn respond to the burden of proof regarding how exactly do they intend to structure a fellowship gathering that is specifically tailored to a group of people which scripture makes abundantly clear as not existing in the sight of God.

Liberal view and use of scripture

Furthermore, while many within the Seeker-friendly movement will say that they believe in the inspiration, inerrancy and suffieciency of scripture, in practice this is not the case.

The Heading of Chapter 7 of the Purpose Driven Life quotes Proverbs 16:4 from the New Living Translation (NLT):

The Lord has made everything for his own purposes.

But this is not whole verse!

"The LORD has made everything for its own purpose, even the wicked for punishment."

Chapter 2 begins with what is supposed to be Isaiah 44:2 from the
Contemporary English Version (CEV) as an exhortation to the reader:

"I am your Creator. You were in my care even before you were born."

But when we look at the actual verse:

I am your Creator.
You were in my care
even before you were born.
Israel, don't be terrified!
You are my chosen servant, my very favorite.

Here is the passage in context (v1-2):

1People of Israel,
I have chosen you as my servant.
2I am your Creator.
You were in my care even before you were born.
Israel, don't be terrified!
You are my chosen servant, my very favorite.

And now from a literal translation (English Standard Version):

1"But now hear, O Jacob my servant,
Israel whom I have chosen!
2Thus says the LORD who made you,
who formed you from the womb and will help you:
Fear not, O Jacob my servant,
Jeshurun whom I have chosen.

The actual passage is not an exhortation to the reader, as Warren states, but a description of the relationship between God and the nation of Israel.
It is also interesting to note that Warren avoids putting Scripture references into his chapters, choosing instead to make them all endnotes in the back. While some readers may actually double-check Warren’s biblical proof-texts, the book’s format (whether intentionally or unintentionally) makes doing so inconvenient. The result is that those who read The Purpose Driven spend just under six weeks doing daily devotions wherein God’s word is temporarily detached while simultaneously being given a great deal of spiritual input.

   Perhaps the tell-tale sign of faulty hermeneutics is the very concept of “40 Days)” as explained in the overview video

You may be wondering, "Why 40 days? What's so special about that time frame?" The Bible is clear that God considers 40 days to be a spiritually significant time period. Whenever God wanted to prepare someone for his purposes, he took 40 days:
                Noah's life was transformed by 40 days of rain.
                Moses was transformed by 40 days on Mount Sinai.
                The spies were transformed by 40 days in the Promised Land.
                David was transformed by Goliath's 40-day challenge.
                Elijah was transformed when God gave him 40 days of strength from a single meal.
                The entire city of Nineveh was transformed when God gave them 40 days to change.
                The disciples were transformed by 40 days with Jesus after his resurrection.

By comparison, the Bible describes:
- Long before the rains that brought the flood, “Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Genesis 6:8) 
- Moses’ life was transformed not at Mt Sinai, but rather the Burning Bush
- Of the 12 Spies, only two returned having been changed.
- David only appeared on the scene to confront Goliath after the forty Days of the Philistine’s taunts. Prior to that, he had never even heard of Goliath.   

 Warren attempts to justify his liberal use of scripture by telling the readers of Purpose Driven Life:

We think we know what a verse says because we have read it or heard it so many times. Then when we find it quoted in a book, we skim over it and miss the full meaning. Therefore I have deliberately used paraphrases in order to help you see God's truth in new, fresh ways. English-speaking people should thank God that we have so many different versions to use for devotional reading.
Also, since the verse divisions and number were not included in the Bible until 1560 A.D., I haven't always quoted the entire verse, but rather focused on the phrase that was appropriate. My model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point.xxxiv

In response, Christian Radio host Todd Friel countered by stating in a review of Rick Warren’s teachings:

With no less than 15 different Bible translations and paraphrases, Warren offers proof- texts for much of his discussion, usually without any exegetical or contextual support. The author explains his reasons for this on page 325, contending that his “model for this is Jesus and how he and the apostles quoted the Old Testament. They often just quoted a phrase to make a point.” Unfortunately, this thinking allows Warren to pull passages completely out of context and apply them however he sees fit (using whatever loose paraphrase best fits his argument). But, unlike Jesus and the apostles, Warren is not inspired by the Holy Spirit—meaning he does not possess the authority to use God’s Word however he pleases.xxxv

A pelagian view of salvation, a liberal view of scripture; the Seeker- Friendly movement stands against the general precepts of Protestantism in general, that is, the inspiration and sufficiency of scripture alone as the revelation by which scripture derives it’s doctrine and practice and above all, salvation by faith through grace alone.
Now, many will still object to these concerns by saying "God can use anything for his kingdom! '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 which are mighty' 1 Corinthians 1:27!"
A lot of people use 1 Corinthians 1:27 to justify the use of false doctrine on the basis that God created everything, thus he can therefore use anything. But look at the verse in context: When laying the foundations of his church, God did not choose the highly educated, the great speakers, nor politicians, nor men of wealth, and power, and interest in the world, to preach the Word. He best judges what men and what measures serve the purposes of his glory. God would never do something that went against his own word. At the end of the day, he never sits back in his throne, smugly grinning that the ends justify the means. And neither should we. Jesus did not die for our sins so that we can enter a personal relationship with a divine pragmatist.



xxviii Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Church. Zondervan, 1995. 

xxix Ibid.

xxx Gilley, Gary. This little church went to Market. Evangelical Press, 2005.

xxxi Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, 2002. 

xxxii Edwards, Jonathan. “The Justification of God in the Damnation of


xxxiv Warren, Rick. The Purpose Driven Life. Zondervan, 2002.

xxxv Friel, Todd. Talk The Walk Ministries (now Way of the Master Radio). “Purpose”.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

“I believe that Jesus was a great teacher, but I don't believe that he's the Son of God"

How many times have you tried to talk to someone about Christianity and you hear a statement such as the above? That is, you meet someone who will affirm Jesus' teachings, yet merely puts Him on a level equal with that as any other moral teacher such as Buddha, Ghandi, et al? Can a person legitimately claim to be a Christian purely on the basis of Jesus' moral and social teachings while leaving out his theology and claims of personal divinity?
In todays pluralistic age, we find that there are indeed several conflicting views about who and what Jesus exactly was:
* Liberal “Christians” will affirm that he was the Son of God, yet will the validity crucial attributes and events such as the virgin birth and the resurrection
* Jehovah's Witnesses will deny that Jesus shares any relation to God, but is merely a created being supreme in heirarchy over angels
* Unitarianism teaches that Jesus was not God but rather a great man teaching love, justice and healing
* Bahai' will say that Jesus was one of several manifestations of God in the form of a prophet
* Buddhism teaches that there is no God, and hence Jesus was merely an enlightened teacher in the same way as Siddharta Gautama
* Islam teaches that while Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, he was not the son of God but rather a prophet of lower standing compared to Muhammed in terms of revelation.
But what did Jesus actually say about himself?
1. Jesus claimed to have originated in Heaven, not Earth:
Joh 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.
Joh 6:39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day.
Joh 6:40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
Joh 6:41 So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."
Joh 6:42 They said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?"
Joh 6:43 Jesus answered them, "Do not grumble among yourselves.

Joh 6:44 No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day.
2. Jesus questioned those who said he was merely “good.”
Mar 10:17 And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Mar 10:18 And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.

3. Jesus claimed to be the Son of Man
Dan 7:13 "I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him.
Dan 7:14 And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed. 

Mar 13:24 "But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
Mar 13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Mar 13:26 And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.
Mar 13:27 And then he will send out the angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.
Mar 13:28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts out its leaves, you know that summer is near.
Mar 13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

4. Jesus performed miracles of divine – not human - origin
Joh 10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly."
Joh 10:25 Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me,
Joh 10:26 but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.
Joh 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.
Joh 10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.
Joh 10:29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand.
Joh 10:30 I and the Father are one."
Joh 10:31 The Jews picked up stones again to stone him.
Joh 10:32 Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?"
Joh 10:33 The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God."
Joh 10:34 Jesus answered them, "Is it not written in your Law, 'I said, you are gods'?
Joh 10:35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came--and Scripture cannot be broken--
Joh 10:36 do you say of him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world, 'You are blaspheming,' because I said, 'I am the Son of God'?
Joh 10:37 If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me;
Joh 10:38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
5. Jesus claimed he was Sinless
Joh 8:42 Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me.
Joh 8:43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word.
Joh 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
Joh 8:45 But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
Joh 8:46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me?

Joh 8:47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God." 

6. Jesus forgave Sin
Mar 2:4 And when they could not get near him because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him, and when they had made an opening, they let down the bed on which the paralytic lay.
Mar 2:5 And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Mar 2:6 Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts,
Mar 2:7 "Why does this man speak like that? He is blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"
Mar 2:8 And immediately Jesus, perceiving in his spirit that they thus questioned within themselves, said to them, "Why do you question these things in your hearts?
Mar 2:9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise, take up your bed and walk'?
Mar 2:10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he said to the paralytic--
Mar 2:11 "I say to you, rise, pick up your bed, and go home."

Mar 2:12 And he rose and immediately picked up his bed and went out before them all, so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, "We never saw anything like this!" 

7. Jesus actually DID say He was God!
Joh 8:53 Are you greater than our father Abraham, who died? And the prophets died! Who do you make yourself out to be?"
Joh 8:54 Jesus answered, "If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, 'He is our God.'
Joh 8:55 But you have not known him. I know him. If I were to say that I do not know him, I would be a liar like you, but I do know him and I keep his word.
Joh 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad."
Joh 8:57 So the Jews said to him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?"

Joh 8:58 Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, 
I am." 
8. Jesus taught people to pray to Him
Joh 14:13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.
Joh 14:14 If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.
Joh 14:15 "If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,
Joh 14:17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
Joh 14:18 "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.
Joh 14:19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.
Joh 14:20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

Joh 14:21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." 

9. Jesus claimed Lordship over all authorities, all powers, all dominions, all religions, all cultures, all races and all peoples
Mat 28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.
Mat 28:17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.
Mat 28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

10. Jesus will Judge people's sins with the authority of God

Joh 5:19 So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.
Joh 5:20 For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.
Joh 5:21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.
Joh 5:22 The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son,
Joh 5:23 that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.
Joh 5:24 Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
Joh 5:25 "Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.
Joh 5:26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.
Joh 5:27 And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.
Joh 5:28 Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice
Joh 5:29 and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.
Joh 5:30 "I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.

11. Jesus said he was the only way to Heaven
Joh 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

The Apostle John wrote:

1Jn 4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1Jn 4:2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God,
1Jn 4:3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already.
1Jn 4:4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
1Jn 4:5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them.
1Jn 4:6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
1Jn 4:7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.
1Jn 4:8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
1Jn 4:9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
1Jn 4:10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
1Jn 4:11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.
1Jn 4:12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us.
1Jn 4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1Jn 4:14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
1Jn 4:15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.
1Jn 4:16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.
1Jn 4:17 By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world.
1Jn 4:18 There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
1Jn 4:19 We love because he first loved us.
1Jn 4:20 If anyone says, "I love God," and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.

1Jn 4:21 And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.

The first letter of John is estimated to have been written towards the end of the 1st Centrury C.E.,
that is 90-100 A.D. Six decades after Jesus' crucigixtion, John has seen the church spread; he has
seen false teachers come and go in waves. He tells his readers in this fourth chapter of his first
letter not to be casual towards the Spirits – now understand that when John says “test the Spirits”,
he's not saying that we just walk up to a spirit and say “Hey little fella! What's your name?” He's
saying test the teachings, the beliefs, the doctrines and philosophies of the world that you will
encounter. The criteria for testing? 
Who does it say Jesus is?

In this regard, the Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims, Buddhists, Unitarians, Bahai and others who will gladly affirm Jesus as a teacher yet will deny him as divine simply cannot stand together as peers to the Christians that do. Furthermore, John makes it clear in black and white terms that those who truly abide in Christ on the basis that they worship him for who he really is shall demonstrate such by the love they shall show towards each other: genuine, without hatred and united by a common surrender to the Lordship of God. When someone who doesn't affirm the true identity of Christ is around those that genuinely do, they can only be expected to stand out and clash relationsionally. Ergo, when someone tries to say 
“I don't believe that Jesus is the son of God, but I consider myself a christian in that I see Jesus as a great teacher-”
“NO YOU'RE NOT!” John replies from his letter with six decades of apostleship guiding his pen, “IT'S OBVIOUS FROM BOTH WHAT YOU THINK AND HOW YOU ACT THAT YOU'RE DENINATELY NOT NOR HAVE YOU EVER BEEN ONE OF US!”

C.S. Lewis said: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said
would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man
who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make
your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God; or else a madman or something
worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you
can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing
nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did
not intend to.”