2009 Photo by Lambert Wolterbeek Muller, flickr

Written by Sam Logan Friday, 17 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is absolutely no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins.

My first blog on this subject explored briefly the “no” answer and my second blog examined biblical evidence for the reality of just such a hierarchy.  The point of this blog will be to make a few very tentative suggestions about the specific nature of this hierarchy.

I emphasize “very tentative.”  My previous blog was based on general “deductions” from Scripture but those deductions seem to me to be good and necessary (to use the language of the Westminster Confession of Faith).  I believe that the deductions contained is this blog are, indeed, “good,” but I would hesitant to say that they are “necessary.”However, since this is precisely the area where “the rubber hits the road” in terms of the actions and attitudes of individual Christians and of the Church of Jesus Christ, I will nevertheless suggest some possible “good” deductions.

Before I do, however, I would like to be open and frank about one thing I will NOT be doing.  I will NOT be basing my deductions on the frequency with which a certain sin is mentioned in the Bible.  Rightly or wrongly, I interpret the frequency (or infrequency) with which some sins are mentioned as being one of those matters which are directly related to the specific cultures within which God gave His word to His people.   Many doctrines which the church (and I) regard as crucial (the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, etc.) are not mentioned frequently but this does not mean that they are less important because of their infrequency.  Similarly, some actions that can be taken today (for example, genetic and gender manipulation) were unknown to the cultures of the Bible but this does not mean that those actions are therefore biblically “neutral.”

1.  The consequence of Acts 5

I mentioned this passage in my previous blog.  It is both evidence of a hierarchy and a suggestion about what the “worst” sins may entail.  Here is the relevant section of that passage:

But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property,2 and with his wife's knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles' feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.

7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  [Emphases added.]

This passage makes no comment about the eternal destiny of Ananias and Sapphira but it does seem to indicate that lying to God and testing the Spirit of the Lord are, in at least some ways, especially heinous and, on that basis, warrant the specific temporal judgment of physical death. 

2.  The consequence of Joshua 7

The story of Acts 5 is foreshadowed in Joshua 7.  There, the Israelites are repulsed by the army of Ai and Joshua falls down before the Lord and asks why He was not with His people.  Here is the Lord’s response to Joshua:

10 The Lord said to Joshua, “Get up! Why have you fallen on your face?11 Israel has sinned; they have transgressed my covenant that I commanded them; they have taken some of the devoted things; they have stolen and lied and put them among their own belongings. 12 Therefore the people of Israel cannot stand before their enemies. They turn their backs before their enemies, because they have become devoted for destruction. I will be with you no more, unless you destroy the devoted things from among you.  [Emphasis added] 

Again, temporal punishment is directly related to “lying to God.”  Here, of course, the Lord offers a “way out” but that way is no more available to those who had been killed by the forces of Ai than way any “way out” available to Ananias and Sapphira.  So again, “lying to God” seems to be especially heinous and, on that basis, warrants a specific temporal judgment.

3.  The consequence of Isaiah 58

Finally, there is a very different emphasis throughout Scripture, one found in both the Old Testament and the New Testament. It finds especially clear expression in Isaiah 58, where, in the context of threatening temporal judgment on the Northern Kingdom, God says this to and through His prophet:

Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.
2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.

The Lord tells Isaiah that His people will protest like this:

‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’

And the Lord responds to this protest with these words:

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

Clearly (I think!), the Lord is basing His temporal judgment of the Northern Kingdom at least in part on how His people treated the weak, the oppressed, the hungry.

And the importance of this issue is reflected in the following words of Jesus from Matthew 25 which, though probably relating to eternal judgment rather than to temporal, makes it unmistakably clear how the Lord sees these matters:

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

In these passages and in many others as well, the kind of active obedience that Scripture requires focuses specifically on care for those who are weak . . . exactly as Jesus cared for us when we were mired in our own weakness and sin.

My conclusions from all of this?  There are two:

First, in terms of temporal realities, which is where we all live now, any affirmation regarding the things of the Lord that we know to be false is especially heinous and is grounds for severe temporal judgment, both by God Himself and by God’s people.  We are not talking about mistakes or errors of judgment or even faulty doctrine here.  We are talking about conscious lying in the specific context of the faith.  One example – consciously and intentionally exaggerating the effectiveness of one’s ministry.  Sharing encouraging facts is one thing; intentionally overstating ministry success is something else entirely.

 Second, in terms of temporal realities, which is where we all live now, ignoring or failing to minister adequately to the weak, the poor, the hungry, the sick – such delinquencies are especially heinous and are grounds for severe temporal judgment, both by God Himself and by God’s people.

Thank God (and I mean that literally) that the judgments mentioned in the previous two paragraphs are temporal, not eternal.  Thank Jesus that He has borne the eternal judgment for ALL the sins of ALL of His people (see my first blog in this series).  But temporal judgment is real and, even more important, temporal judgment reflects the fact that the behavior being judged is an offense, a “slap in the Face,” to the very God who has redeemed us by the blood of His only begotten Son.  And it just doesn’t get much worse than that!

As I said, these are truths that I deduce from Scripture.  I think they are good, though perhaps not necessary, deductions.  But I am really eager to hear back from readers of this blog.  What do YOU think Scripture teaches?  Are there “temporal” judgments in the post-New Testament era?  If there is enough interest in this topic, I may continue exploring such issues as the possibility that God has temporal judgment in store for the United States because of things that we, as a nation, have done or are doing.   


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

 

Written by Sam Logan Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins.

My previous blog explored briefly the “no” answer while this blog and the next one will explore the “yes” answer.

We must admit that there is no direct and specific Scriptural evidence in support of answering “yes” to this question.   But that, of course, is true of many doctrines which we regard as clear Scriptural teaching.  One example of this would be the doctrine of the Trinity.  That doctrine is, correctly in my judgment, deduced from numerous Scriptural passages such as Genesis 1:26  [“Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness”], where the “us” and the “our” are grounds for deducing, at the very least, plurality in God.

Further, many of the historic orthodox statements of faith specifically provide warrant for using deduction in the formation of doctrine.  The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture “ (emphasis added).  Of course, all churches, including (perhaps especially) those for which the Westminster Confession is regarded as authoritative, provide numerous examples of in-fighting over just what is and what is not “good and necessary consequence,” but my point is that all churches do, at some point, utilize deduction in reaching doctrinal conclusions. 

So we must “deduce” a “yes” answer from Scripture.  But can we?  If so, which specific Scripture passages?

1. The Book of Leviticus

The Book of Leviticus is full of God’s commandments to His people.  Chapter and chapter after chapter provides direct and infallible instruction with regard to what God’s people are to do, what they are not to do, and what happens if they disobey.  And over and over again, God Himself makes distinctions among the sins in terms of what is needed to “pay for” each of the sins.  Chapter Five is particularly specific in indicating that different sins warrant different sacrifices.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

2.  Acts 15

The entirety of this chapter seems to deal specifically with the question of what ceremonial laws are SO IMPORTANT that even the Gentiles must keep them.  And the conclusion is equally clear:  “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”  Whatever the reason for this particular distinction, there can be no question that a very specific distinction is being made.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

3. I Timothy 3

The same is true on the “positive” side.  As Paul outlines the qualifications of “overseers,” he mentions numerous spiritual characteristics that are required of such persons.  He could simply have told Timothy that overseers must conform to all the commands mentioned in Scripture; instead, he identifies certain qualities which must be present in those who would lead Christ’s church.  Of course, overseers should obey the whole law of Christ but they must have these specific qualities.  There seems to be a clear hierarchy here.

So there does seem to be Scriptural grounds on which to deduce that there is a hierarchy of sins. 

But one final point needs to be made before moving, as I will do in my next blog, to discuss what sins seem to be “worst.”

That final point picks up on my argument in the previous blog that ANY sin renders an individual personally disqualified for eternal life in the presence of the Triune God.  If that is the case, what difference does it make if some sins are more “serious” than others.  All three of the above-cited passages help us to answer this question.

Eternal punishment for sin is not the only punishment about which the Bible speaks.  Some sins, whether committed by the regenerate or by the unregenerate, bring temporal judgment on the sinner.  Take, for example, the story of Ananias and Sapphirain Acts 5 (which I will discuss more fully in my next blog).  They sinned by lying to God’s representative and, by inference, to God Himself.  And they received temporal punishment for that sin – they both were killed.  Scripture does not comment on their eternal destiny and we should not either.  But it is clear that this particular sin produced particular immediate temporal judgment.

Similarly, as in the I Timothy passage quoted above, certain forms of obedient behavior are regarded as essential for temporal offices and/or activities.  Paul is not telling Timothy in I Timothy 3 that only those possessing the qualities he names will go to heaven.  He is simply saying that those qualities are necessary for the office of an overseer.  Therefore, we should, I believe, regard those specific forms of obedience as related to temporal, not eternal, realities. 

So arguing that there is, in one sense, a hierarchy of sins does not involve us in any form of “salvation by works” theology.  It simply reflects accurately Scriptural teaching.

But what are the “worst” sins?  I will try to address this question in my next blog.


Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Written by Sam Logan Wednesday, 15 May 2013 00:00

Well, the answer to this question is like the answers to so many similar questions – no, there is absolutely no hierarchy of sins and yes, there certainly is a hierarchy of sins. 

This blog will explore briefly the “no” answer while my next two blogs will explore the “yes” answer.

So – in defense of answering “no,” to our question, here are a few points:

1.  The nature of God

Here is where all discussions of subjects such as these must begin, with the character of the Lord God.  He is not “largely good.”  He is not even “mostly good.”  He is, in His very nature, absolute perfection.  Part of that perfection is His holiness, His purity, His righteousness.  J. I. Packer’s Knowing God is the best book I know in terms of giving a clear picture both of who God is and what this means. 

Isaiah gives a clear picture:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke.5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

In light of who God is, even the slightest sin is an abomination.  Any sin is sufficient to separate us from God precisely because the Lord of hosts is holy, holy, holy.  No hierarchy here!

2.  The need for absolute and constant obedience

Jonathan Edwards, in his treatise on “Original Sin” provides two superb examples in response to theoretical claims that a “preponderance” of obedience is adequate.

Therefore how absurd must it be for Christians to object, against the depravity of man’s nature, a greater number of innocent and kind actions, than of crimes; and to talk of a prevailing innocence, good nature, industry, and cheerfulness of the greater part of mankind! Infinitely more absurd, than it would be to insist, that the domestic of a prince was not a bad servant, because though sometimes he contemned and affronted his master to a great degree, yet he did not spit in his master’s face so often as he performed acts of service. More absurd, than it would be to affirm, that his spouse was a good wife to him, because, although she committed adultery, and that with the slaves and scoundrels sometimes, yet she did not do this so often as she did the duties of a wife. These notions would be absurd, because the crimes are too heinous to be atoned for, by many honest actions of the servant or spouse of the prince; there being a vast disproportion between the merit of the one, and the ill desert of the other: but infinitely less, than that between the demerit of our offenses  against God, and the value of our acts of obedience.   

No hierarchy here!

3.  The need for active internal as well as external obedience

Because of who God is, it is required that His creatures not only avoid those behaviors which He proscribes; it is equally required that they perform every single one of the duties which He commands.  And even THAT is not all – it is further required that God’s creatures do all that He commands out of a heart’s disposition which “relishes” His glory most of all.

In his discussion of “Original Sin,” Jonathan Edwards makes this point:

The sum of our duty to God, required in his law, is LOVE; taking love in a large sense, for the true regard of our hearts to GOD, implying esteem, honor, benevolence, gratitude, complacence, etc. . . .  But it is manifest, that obedience is nothing, any otherwise than as a testimony of the respect of our hearts to God: without the heart, man’s external acts are no more than the motions of the limbs of a wooden image; have no more of the nature of either sin or righteousness. It must therefore needs be that love to God, the respect of the heart, must be the sum of the duty required in his law. It therefore appears from the premises, that whosoever withholds more of that love or respect of heart from God, which his law requires, than he affords, has more sin than righteousness.  [Emphasis added] 

Whoever, therefore, does not love God as much as God should be loved is a living offense in the sight of God.  The slightest “want” of love to God is, in itself, sin.  No hierarchy here!

4.  The necessity of Jesus

Because of items #1 and #2,

“None is righteous, no, not one;no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3: 10 – 12)

And Paul’s argument through the rest of Romans 3, 4, and 5, is that precisely because ANY sin condemns the sinner,  Jesus’s life and death and resurrection were all necessary if anyone was to be saved: 

Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men.  (Romans 5: 18) 

Just as the very character of God demands perfect obedience and just as that demand includes positive action and motivation, so the redemptive work of Jesus Christ makes it clear that the price He paid is both essential and adequate for every single sinner who turns to Him.  No hierarchy here!

Therefore, it seems completely clear that, in one sense, the answer to our question must be, “No, there is no hierarchy of sins.”

And yet, . . . 

Check back tomorrow to see if there might be another way in which this question should be answered.



Sam Logan is Special Counsel to the President and Professor of Church History at Biblical. He also serves as the International Director of the World Reformed Fellowship (www.wrfnet.org). He is an ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is President Emeritus of Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia)..  He is married to Susan and they have two sons and two grandsons. See also  http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/samuel-logan  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Monday, 13 May 2013 00:00

A few years ago, in a meeting of a few Christian prosecutors, I learned that these individuals (from 5 different states) had never remembered a pastor attending court with a victim of sexual abuse. However, these individuals remember numerous times when pastors attended hearings in support of the alleged offender. One of the prosecutors recalled one sad conversation while sitting in court with a young victim. This child said, “Does this mean that God is on his side?” (since her pastor was sitting with the offender).

You can understand how this kind of thing happens. The offender is in dire need of character witnesses to mitigate the evidence of their abuse. They need others to stand up for them and swear that such things could never be true of an upstanding person such as this offender. The victim usually makes no such demand/request and so, often fails to be supported.

Think this is just something that happened in the past? At a sentencing hearing for Rev. Jack Schaap, it was noted by the DA that the courts had received more than 100 letters asking for leniency and providing excuses (e.g., work, medical problems) for why he sexually abused a teen girl.  

Ways Pastors Can Support Victims

I want to commend this document for you to consider 12 ways a pastor/theologian can participate on a multidisciplinary team to care for victims. What are some of these ways?

  1. Clergy support to victims during criminal proceedings
  2. Supporting the work and purpose of abuse protection officials to the congregation
  3. Empowering victims to divulge; empowering offenders to confess
  4. Educating the larger world as to how offenders use distortions of faith to abuse
  5. Presiding over prevention strategies for churches and communities.

This paper does a great job illustrating many ways church leaders and theologians can be deeply involved in the healing and preventing of sexual abuse of children.

It is time for us to improve the image of the church in the protection and care of victims of abuse.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychologyand Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical and the Seminary’s newest initiative, Global Trauma Recovery Institute. He maintains a private practice at Diane Langberg & Associates. He blogs regularly at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

 

   

Written by Phil Monroe Friday, 10 May 2013 00:00

I’m an anxious person. It is a common trait, especially in grad school—professors as well as students. Anxious people tend to spend considerable time ruminating through “What if…” questions along with shoulda, coulda, woulda thinking. We worry about our past failures coming to light and whether we’ll be up to the challenge the future presents.

Sound pretty negative way to live? It is. The only way we differ from depressed people is that we still hope our worry will save us from disaster. As you can imagine, such worry robs us of joy. It keeps us from enjoying the present or seeing God’s gracious hand on our lives. And we compound our problems by then shaming ourselves for failing to follow God’s command, “Do not be afraid.”

The Five Minute Antidote

Part of the problem with anxiety is that we are trying to control/manage every possible outcome in order to avoid future disaster(s). Fearful people know that the answer to their anxiety will not include,

  • Just not caring anymore. We’ve tried that…it doesn’t work.
  • Making sure we get it RIGHT. Tried that too. Didn’t work.

So, what might work? Try this on for size,

What is God’s plan for me for the next five minutes?

Most of us have no clue what God is planning for us next year or even next week. But, I suspect most of us can discern what we need to do right now…for the next five minutes,

  • I need to make dinner
  • I need to read this assignment for school
  • I need to attend to my child’s homework
  • I can call a friend who is grieving

Do the one thing you can do for the next five minutes. Do that with as much focus as you can.

Here’s what you are likely to discover: your anxiety decreases, or at least does not increase. When we stop ruminating and the internal conversations, our anxieties decrease and our ability to be present increases. So, when you find yourself in an anxious stew, try to ask yourself, What is one thing I can do for the next five minutes or What does God want me to do for the next five minutes? Consider this your method of living out Psalm 131, where you are stilled and quieted like a weaned child, content with what He has for you for the next five minutes.

Oh, did you think this will solve all your anxiety problems? No, of course not. But where God does give you something to focus your attention, call that a success. Part of the Christian life is repetition–repeated worship, repeated repentance, repeated obedience, repeated trust. So, do pray for God to remove your “thorn” but look for five minute relief. Notice when it works and then ask God for another five minute focus on the thing he has for you RIGHT NOW.


Phil Monroe is Professor of Counseling & Psychology and Director of the Masters of Arts in Counseling Program at Biblical. He also directs Biblical’s new trauma recovery project. You can find his personal blog at www.wisecounsel.wordpress.com.

 

   

Written by Todd Mangum Wednesday, 08 May 2013 00:00

One exercise I’ve had students do in theology class is to read through Hebrews 11 and describe what characterizes the faith described. Try it — here are a couple of samples:

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. (v. 7)

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going.  By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (vv. 8-10)

By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful child; and they were not afraid of the king's edict.  By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter; choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin;  considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen. (vv. 23-27)

By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they had been encircled for seven days. (v. 30)

By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace. (v. 31)

If you were to list some of the qualities of faith from what Hebrews 11 describes, what would be on your list? 

I’m struck by the qualities implicitly and explicitly emphasized: qualities like risk; sacrifice and commitment — to what is not yet seen; courage; trusting and acting on that trust — sometimes against overwhelming odds of what seems empirically to make sense.

I’m also struck by what is not here, what is conspicuously not emphasized. There is precious little mention of anything having to do with “doctrinal correctness,” or “understanding of the atonement.” Now, I know, Romans’ explanations are still in the Bible and are important. But if “understanding the atonement” is so central to what faith is, then why is there nary a mention of such in the chapter in the Bible that gives more attention to what faith is than any other throughout the entire Bible?

The late-16th-century Puritan, Richard Hooker, wrote, “We are justified by Jesus through faith, not by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith.” It’s an important clarification; one that Hebrews 11 reinforces.

If the faith that Jesus and the Bible describes is fuller and richer than affirming Protestant nuances of atonement and justification doctrine, then how does our understanding of the gospel need to likewise be adjusted?  And how does our approach to spreading — and living — the gospel likewise need to be adjusted?


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

Written by Todd Mangum Monday, 06 May 2013 00:00

Hebrews 11 is the “hall of fame of faith” — and it just so happens that not only are we going through this chapter at Breakfast with Biblical, but also in Sunday School at my church. (I guess the Lord is really trying to teach me something from this chapter!) It’s worth the next blog or two, anyway, noting a couple of points from this chapter — the chapter that devotes more attention than any other in the Bible to what exactly faith is.  (Lots of passages talk about what faith does and why it’s important; but Hebrews 11 actually defines and illustrates what faith is.)

Noah is among those mentioned (v. 7).  We’re told in Genesis that Noah lived at a very wicked time, so wicked and evil that God is said to have regretted that He ever even made human beings (Gen 6:6), because “every intent of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord (Gen. 6:8); in fact, God told him, “you alone I have seen to be righteous before Me in this time” (Gen. 7:1).

We know the rest of the story; or at least we think we do.  Did you ever see any children’s Sunday School material portraying Noah and the ark? Noah beaming all smiles with all the happy animals getting on the ark like they’re going for a cruise.  The reality, I’m surmising, was very different.

It took 100 years to build the ark — the work crew consisting of Noah and his family. Through that 100 years, did the sons of Noah ever get to hear the voice of God?  Or did they have to just take their father’s word for it that this investment of all their lives was really a wise one?  And once the ark was built, there were the animals.

Did Noah even like animals? I’ve never had more than a dog and, though I did come to consider that stupid hound something like a member of the family, sometimes the walks and feedings and poop scooping would just get old. Imagine having so much of your life devoted to the rescue, feeding, and care of animals.

We’re never told that Noah was chosen for this job because he loved animals so much. He was rescued (and became the rescuer) in part because he loved God so much.

I was studying about Noah when Joni Eareckson Tada was here speaking at Biblical. Her testimony is truly remarkable; her spirit is both sweet and indomitable. She told the group gathered for the conference on ministering to the disabled that she is today thankful for her wheelchair, thankful that God has put her through over 40 years of living as a paraplegic because of the relationship that He has cultivated with her through the pain and suffering, aggravation and inconvenience. She is grateful, as well, she says, for what God has taught her by making her so dependent on the care and kindness of other people. (Click here for Joni's story, and her most recent book).

I was gripped by her testimony.  It occurred to me that God never came to Joni when she was seventeen years of age to tell her, “Hey, Joni — you like sitting, don’t you? I’ve got a plan for your life that I think you’re going to really like; it involves doing quite a bit of sitting and I know you like that so you’re really going to like this.” No . . . He never discussed it with Joni; and Joni didn’t get to pick.  And, had she been given the choice, she probably wouldn’t have chosen what God had for her as a young woman. Only in hindsight, now as a full grown woman approaching senior citizenship, does she see the benefits of God’s plan; only after a lifetime is she able to convey the preciousness of what God has taught her through the hard road God has brought her through.

And Noah didn’t get to pick either. We don’t know how he felt about animals. He did the whole building of the ark and rescue and care of the animals because that is what God chose for him, not what he chose for God. It is, in the end, God’s mission, not Noah’s. 

We don’t get to pick either. I have to say: none of my trials and travails come close to those of any of these people.  Yet sometimes I get frustrated.  Sometimes I wonder why my good plans, my good vision for how things should work and work out, don’t come to fruition like I’d hoped or thought.  It’s in those times I have to be reminded that it’s not because Noah was so fond of animals that his life calling was what it was. It wasn’t because Joni desired to be a paraplegic that God chose her to be the spokesperson for ministry to the disabled for our generation. It’s God’s mission, not ours.  We are minor players in the plotline of history, not the main character.

It’s God’s mission, not mine; I’m forwarding HIS story (not He mine).  I need to be reminded of that more often than I’d like to admit. How about you?     


Todd Mangum is the Academic Dean and Professor of Theology at Biblical.  He is ordained by the Southern Baptist Convention.  Todd is the author of The Dispensational-Covenantal Rift, and of several articles seeking to bridge divides among Bible-believing Christians. He is married to Linda and they have three sons.  See also http://www.biblical.edu/index.php/todd-mangum.

   

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