Pelagianism: Has KIM JONG UN of North Korea Had a Change of Heart?

COULD IT BE THAT KIM JONG UN of North Korea is playing the West? He has been all smiles and grins lately, promising the West that he will be a good boy and not test nukes. Meanwhile he meets with South Korean president, China’s leader, and other leaders. Could it be that he is building leverage with them against the West? Then when the moment is right, he’ll pull out of the talks, blame Trump, giving the Democrats leverage against the Republicans in the upcoming election, and then we’ll have a democratic Congress again? I for one do not believe that he has had a change of heart. How pelagian can we get to think that a leopard can change his spots (Jeremiah 13:23)?

The fact of the matter is that for 70+ years N. Korea has always played us for stupid. What has changed? Has Trump’s pressure and threats changed Un? Has he suddenly seen the light? We’re in a very dangerous position because the West WANTS to believe Kim Jong Un, which means we’re engaging in self-deception. We’re interpreting his actions the way we WANT to believe. Maybe the Lord of Glory is setting us up. I don’t know, and neither does anyone else. But one thing I’m certain of: Jesus said: “unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). At bottom, repentance is bowing before His sovereign majesty, the King of kings, confessing Him as Lord, not only with our lips but also with our lives, which in turn means confessing our sins (such as the Ten Commandments), and seeking renewed obedience.

Could I be wrong about Un? I’m not wrong about pelagianism, which was condemned at the Council of Ephesus in 431 after St. Augustine had written many pages against those self-saviors (autosoterism) in the Church who would think that the will of man is sovereign over his nature. (Augustine died in A.D. 430.) Rather, our choices are a revelation of our natures, not that which determines them. Christianity in the 21st century is in love with pelagianism. I may be wrong about Un, for now, but unless he has been converted, all is NOT well with him—nor with us. All Christians in the West should look in the mirror of God’s word and say, “Stupid; you’re just plain stupid.” And then go to church every Sunday, learn His commandments, believe in the Triune God, bow to Him, and tell others of the good news of forgiveness of sins. AMEN.(Pass this on to others.)

 

God’s Persevering Grace (Philippians 1:6)

4 May 2018
(c) Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw 2018

Some time ago I had a discussion with someone who was ready to give up on the Christian life, saying it was too difficult, that it seemed that the Triune God did not care.  In our hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes forget that God is persevering with us more than we are with Him.  God finishes what He begins, unlike us.  If He did not, we would never make it to heaven.  As humans, you and I are always beginning things that we never seem to find time to finish.  But consider God’s matchless grace in Philippians 1:6, that what He begins He finishes: “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it at the day of Jesus Christ.” “At the day of Jesus Christ” would seem to be the Last Day, the Day when all things are completed. We must recall that justification, as single work, was completed on the Cross, but sanctification, that which Paul speaks about here, is an ongoing process that begins at justification and is completed at the Last Day. Justification is an act; sanctification is a process.

Look at the butterfly wing—was it begun and not finished?  Look at the woodpecker—was its specialized bill not finished?  Look at the atom—was it a partial work?  Look at the moon—is it a work abandoned?  Look at yourself, the apex of God’s creation, the only creature made in God’s image—will you be thrown away after the work was begun?  God works by a plan.  He begins a work of grace in us, not as an experiment to see if we and He can make it together, but that He may complete His design in and for us.  Can you imagine an architect who begins a project without plans, just going along to see how things work out?

If the Triune God began a work in us but did not finish it, who would lose more, God or us?  It would definitely be God, for then He would be known as a failure.  Others could say that God just could not handle it, that He gave it His best effort but finally gave up on us, that we were just too much for Him.

Moreover, according to Paul here in Philippians 1:6, who initiated the work in you, you or God?  God!  And if God did initiate the work of sanctification, will He decide against it later?  As one man expressed it in a hymn:

I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;

It was not I that found [Thee], O Savior true;

No, I was found [by] Thee.

And is it not true that we love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19)?  His love and grace are initial and ours responsive, for it was He who began the work in us, not we in Him!

And how do we know that God has begun a work in us?  We can tell by our obedience, by the love we have for God, for mankind, for how much we love God’s Bible, by our faithful attendance at worship on the Lord’s Day,  praying, and so on.  Faith, hope, and love will be the hallmarks of our lives.

Let me give you a good example.  Years ago I led a man to Christ who was only 18 years old.  He mouthed some words, good words, but I wondered how committed he was to them.  He was very much in love with a young lady, but she was not a Christian.  When I told him and showed him from the Bible that God did not allow a believer to marry an unbeliever, he paused for a long time and said with tears in his eyes: “If that’s what God says, that’s what I’ll do.”  His life has revealed the same commitment all these 49 years.  More than anything else, one’s obedience to God reveals whether there has been true conversion or not, but our obedience does not merit our acceptance with God.

3 Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 John 2:3-4).

And do you know why it is God who first seeks us, and why we are responsive to Him, why it is that He saves us in this way?  It is so that we cannot boast (see Eph 2:8-10).  We’ll never be able to say that God did 99%, but if it were not for the 1% I did, I would never have made it to heaven.

Let us rejoice that for all those who trust in the death and righteousness of Christ for forgiveness of sins, our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has taken charge of our salvation, that our sins are forgiven, that His Name and reputation are on the line, and that by His persevering grace, we shall make it home!  AMEN. Ω

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AUTHOR: ((c) Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.)

The Truth of Self-Deception

13 April 2018
(© 2018 Curtis I. Crenshaw)

What is self-deception? For this article, let us say that it is allowing ourselves to be persuaded against the evidence for some point of view. In other words, we don’t want to believe the truth; thus, we manufacture “reasons” against it. We are all guilty of this to some extent.

When we say something negative about some of the pet sins of our culture, we often get screaming back, and screaming without an ounce of logic or evidence of their position on some moral point.

But how does their response demonstrate that they are suppressing the truth and self-deceived? One can recognize this kind of self-deception by its immediate response to the light, for without even considering what the truth is, he rejects it. When someone opposes him, there is immediate suppression of the truth.

When the emotion kicks in, the brain kicks out. The interesting thing is that they do precisely what God said they would do: Hate the light, hate the gospel, hate Christians, and because they cannot harm the Triune God, they seek to harm Christians who represent Him.

Consider several passages on self-deception:

From Romans chapter 1:

  • 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. (Romans 1:18 ESV)
  • 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. They are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:20-21 ESV)

From the Gospel of John chapter 3:

  • 19 And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. (John 3:19-20)

Again from 1 John chapter 1:

  • If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. (1 John 1:6)
  • If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
  • If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:10)

Notice the progression downward in these three verses from 1 John chapter 1: v. 6 is deceiving others; v. 8 is deceiving ourselves; and v. 10 is deceiving God, or attempting to do so. God, of course, cannot be deceived. Moreover, notice that they use unrighteousness to push the truth out of their minds. In other words, they immediately hold back righteous thoughts by identification with sin, and then they dare anyone to say anything under penalty of screaming and bearing false witness. It seems to me that what we have in Romans one, John three, and 1 John 1 is self-deception in this form:

  • What the heart desires, the will embraces, and the mind justifies

To put this another way, it is not lack of reason that keeps non-Christians from faith—though they claim that—but that their faith (or better, unbelief) leads them to adopt whatever reason works at the moment to promote their agenda. To restate it, their commitment to their sin in the heart means their will has a commitment to that sin, and then they use their minds to justify a position already embraced. It is never the reverse; that is, that the mind leads them to embrace something in the will, and then the will forces the heart to embrace the sin. No, what we see in Romans 1, John 3, and 1 John 1 is that self-deception begins with the sinful heart, with the person’s desires for some sin that God forbids. Then they embrace that sin with a vengeance, they commit to it with their sinful wills, and then, and only then, they seek to justify the sin with the mind, with evidences.

It is not an intellectual problem with unbelievers; it is a moral problem. They embrace some sin and then use the mind to justify the sin. Thus, the nature of their deception is embracing sin with their hearts or sinful natures. Then their will embraces what they desire, and the finally the mind seeks to justify it. We Christians have an enormous responsibility to help them see the wonderful light of Jesus Christ less they perish.

No one fails to become a Christian because he demands more intellectual proof but because he hates the Triune God, hates His righteousness as revealed in His commandments, and wants to practice some sin that the Triune God forbids. Unbelief is never an intellectual problem but a moral problem. The unbeliever uses his intellect as a cover for self-deception; he WANTS sin and HATES righteousness. That is the problem and nothing else. AMEN. Ω

 

The Church Is for Sinners

((c) The Rev. Dr. Curtis Crenshaw, Th.D., January 2006)

In my first pastorate, a man said to me that he would not go to church because there were too many hypocrites there.  I had enough rapport with the man to say: “You’re right so join us—we need another one.”  Sometimes we have the idea that Church is just for those who have no problems, for those whose life is always rosy, who never have rebellious children, whose spouses are models of virtue, whose bosses love how they do things, such as never late, who never have an impure thought.  If that is who you think you are, you don’t need the Church; but then, you don’t need the Triune God, either, or so you think.

And we Christians should be willing to admit that we have a long way to go in our growth in holiness.  Pretending to be something we’re not is hypocrisy, though we should not tell everyone all our problems, for that is destruction.  Yes, we have been forgiven by God through the merits of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, but we are still growing.  We have been adopted into God’s family, but like legal adoption today, that does not automatically make the child instantly and perfectly holy.  It does make the child an heir to our estate, and if we are rich so is the child.  But it takes a lifetime to train a child and for the child to grow into the kind of person we as parents desire him/her to be.  Likewise, God the Father adopts us into His family based on the legal attorney Jesus Christ, who puts up the bond, the surety, who is Himself our pledge, our guarantee of the adoption.  This gives us a change of legal status, but inwardly we are the same as before the adoption.  But the Father and the Son gave us the Holy Spirit to make us different over time—but that is the key word, TIME.

Consider that our heavenly Father is seeking to “rear” us in the faith our whole  lives, that He brings about problems so that we can learn to be mature, to respond in faith and love to one another and to His providence, that His priorities are not money, farms, cars, bank accounts, though there is nothing wrong with these in themselves.

And this heavenly Father has adopted us into His family, in His Church, the bride of His Son, so that we can care for one another.  And consider further that our sibling Jesus has already been through all the trials we have and knows what they are like, but also as God He gives us the grace we need to grow.  We are in a family that is supposed to love its own as the badge of our relationship with God: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).  What do you do when loved ones are sick?  You care for them.

We are called to live by a different set of priorities from the world, to consider the Triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) to be the highest priority and church and family second.  (Church and family actually go together.)  Have you seen the bumper sticker that reads: “He who dies with the most toys wins”?  That is the philosophy of the world, but our riches belong to another family—the Church.  Our estate and inheritance are from Christ, not in pursuing more and more schemes to make money.  Our security is in the Lord, not in our bank accounts that can quickly evaporate.

The world does not expect Christians to be perfect, but it does expect us to be genuine, which means we must be willing to confess mistakes when we make them and then seek to make things right.  Remember the case of the televangelist caught with a prostitute?  At first he was contrite, submitted to the discipline of his brethren, and agreed to the time suspension from the ministry that they placed on him.  This was a good start, but then he rebelled, rejecting their authority, and put himself back in the ministry under a new church.  It was a great testimony to the world to see the Christian Church at work, helping a fellow brother to grow in grace, exercising the authority of Christ, saying to everyone: “Yes, we are sinners, but we are willing to forgive when a brother repents.”  Who could have faulted that?  But the preacher rebelled and neutralized the great testimony.

In the early 1970s, Ruth and I were living in Dallas while I attended seminary.  W. A. Criswell was a great Baptist preacher in Dallas, TX, who loved the Lord, preached great Gospel sermons, and had a large congregation in downtown Dallas.  He was highly respected in the community.  Dr Criswell was interviewed on a local TV station on one occasion when I was watching.  The interviewer was very caustic, and assuming all the self-righteousness she could muster, she forcefully demanded to know why it had only been in the recent past that his church had opened their doors to African American Christians.  I’ll never forget Criswell’s answer, for it stopped her cold, and she stuttered for a come back.  His answer was something like this: “We sinned, and we’ve asked the Lord to forgive us.  Now we are glad to have our black brothers and sisters worship with us.”  That was genuineness!  The interviewer changed the subject!  We are not perfect but sinners, so let us recognize that!  But let us be confessing sinners, not arrogant or rebellious ones.  Pride will destroy us, but humility will lift us up in great favor with God and man.  AMEN.

Self-Deception and Apathy

(© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D. September 2017)

From my book titled NOT Ten Suggestions, Chapter One:

“John Dryden, the seventeenth century English poet, said:

For those whom God to ruin has design’d,

He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind.

 

Today we might say it this way: “Those whom God would destroy, He first makes mad.”

 

SELF-DECEPTION

Many liberals today promote their kingdom through deception, by making a career of bearing false witness. They lie like rugs. They think that they can build a kingdom that will last 1,000 years by basing it on deception. Logic: Lying produces a thriving nation while telling the truth is destructive.

They think they can build a strong society by the destruction of its most innocent citizens, babies, murdered in their “safe” wombs of their “caring” mothers. Logic: Killing babies will give us more and better citizens than loving them and caring for them.

They think they can have a thriving economy by stealing from the productive to give to the unproductive. Logic: Stealing is productive while producing is stealing. Of course, we all want to help the poor; that is not the issue. Rather, the issue is what is the best way to help them? Is it by decapitalizing the productive? Is it by destroying those nasty rich people who dare to supply jobs to those who need them?

Many liberals engage in self-deception by thinking that more and more free money will help everyone. Logic: printing unbacked “money” will make us all rich. Answer: You can’t lift yourself up by your bootstraps, your back will break.

Self-destruction is what these people produce. They are blinded to their sins and “open minded” to destruction. Consider these two passages about self-deception:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.

6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10 NKJ)

Notice the progression down: We lie to others (v. 6); we lie to ourselves (v. 8); we lie to God (v. 10). Those who hate God self-destruct. The way out of the spiral down is given in the odd number verses: we look to the blood of Jesus Christ, and we confess our sins to God Almighty, claiming the blood. That is the ONLY way to avoid self-destruction.

Second passage:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. (Romans 1:18 ESV).

The context of Romans 1:18 is that those who give themselves over to same gender relationships think it is ok and that nothing will go wrong in their lives. Self-deception may be noted when someone refuses to consider opposing arguments. Self-deception may be noted when someone thinks he can oppose God’s morality with impunity. Self-deception may be noted when someone reacts violently to truth without thinking. They believe the lie to Eve that she could violate God’s word without consequences; indeed, she would be better off.

 

APATHY

Christians must minister to those who are caught in the bans of sin, whether sexual sin, illegal drugs, arguing against God and His written word, being mean spirited to others, worshipping their own self-made gods, squandering their time, disobedience to parents, murdering, stealing, bearing false witness, coveting, etc. We too are sinful, and we struggle with various sins, including the ones just mentioned. One difference is that we seek repentance by His grace.

We Christians are told that we need more money. We should not pray, “Our Father who art in heaven, give us this day our daily bread,” but “Our faith who art in control, give us this year, our yearly bread.” With that prayer, we only have to worry about money once a year. We must think bigger than one day. How much faith do you have, anyway?

 

[Parody]

If we Christians would only pray with faith, we could prey on those who take our money from us. Pray then prey is our motto.

When some ignorant people quote St. Paul as saying, “The love of money is the root of all evil,” they did not look at the original gibberish, for it really says “The lack of money is the root of all evil.” Therefore, we must confess verbally, audibly, the true understanding of St. Paul. Moreover, our attitude is seen in the Boomer Bible. Consider this Psong:

Psong 23: Money Matters

  1. Money is my thing:

It’s all I want.

  1. It makes the grass look greener;

it stills the deepest waters.

  1. It restores my self-esteem;

It takes me wherever I want to go,

For my own sake.

  1. And even though I have a life-threatening disease,

I won’t be afraid, because I’ll have Money with me;

and the doctor and his staff will do everything possible to comfort me, [for Money, of course].

  1. Money keeps bread on the table,

Even though I have enemies;

Money makes me look good, too;

My jar is just overflowing with Money.

 

  1. And surely now I’ve figured it out:

Money will follow me all the days of my life;

And no matter what happens,

I’ll be in the Money forever. [So there.]

 

Some silly Christians quote St. James as reportedly saying that “faith without works is dead,” but if they would only consult the Swahili-Antepenult behind the original gibberish, they would see that what James really said was “faith without cash is dead.”

 

[On the serious side]

Now Money is what Christians seek for their security. We do not take seriously Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33 NKJ)

We want security through money rather than through the Lord. We think we can advance God’s kingdom by hordes of money rather than by holiness. We attend worship when there is nothing else to do. We watch sports rather than read our Bibles. When we occasionally go to church, we want to feel good, not be challenged to fight the world, our flesh, and the devil. The Bible has become a popular self-improvement manual to help us feel good.

We are pathetic because we are apathetic.

One wonders who will be destroyed first, the God-haters or Christians by their “successful” worship, positive books, and creation of their own providence by speaking into the air?

And make no mistake that God Almighty, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is not one to challenge or to ignore. Those self-deceived challenge Him while we Christians ignore Him. Pick your poison. AMEN. Ω

 

Rescuing Verses in the Bible: Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8)

© Rev. Dr. Curtis I. Crenshaw (24 August 2017)

After 36 years of ministry in various churches, I have often heard that Jesus changed the law regarding the penalty for adultery. Here is the passage:

3 The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst 4 they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. 5 Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” 6 This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. 7 And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. 9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11 ESV)

Notice these points:

  1. The passage is not in the earliest manuscripts, but that is beyond our purview in this short article. There are over 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, though most of them are short and do not include the whole New Testament, and 900 of those manuscripts include these verses.
  2. If the woman was caught in the act, so was the man. How could the woman be judged and not the man also? Of course, that did not mean the woman was innocent. We hear constantly on the news that Hazel Woman or Jack Man was caught doing something but only one was charged. The conclusion often is that if both are not changed then both go free. But that is illogical to the core. If three men murder someone, but only two have sufficient evidence to be charged, does that mean the two should go free also? Should we let the two go free because we cannot find enough evidence to convict the third one? If we cannot convict all, does that mean we must not convict any? That is ridiculous on the face of it.
  3. Others say that Jesus relaxed His Old Testament law. The Old Testament required execution for adultery: “The man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10 NKJ).
  4. Moreover, the Old Testament law is a revelation of the character of God and cannot change: “You shall be holy; for I am holy” (Lev. 11:44-45; 1 Peter 1:16; NKJ). It is clear, therefore, that if God is unchangeable, and the law is a revelation of His holy character, then His law cannot change.
  5. Notice that Jesus did not challenge Moses’ law, its holiness, or the penalty for adultery; rather, He supported it. He instituted formal procedure against her when He said, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.” Here is one passage He had in mind: “The hands of the witnesses shall be the first against him to put him to death, and afterward the hands of all the people. So you shall put away the evil from among you” (Deut. 17:7 NKJ; see also Lev. 24:24; Deut. 19:18-19; 22:22). We see that Jesus, in keeping with the law given above, required the witnesses to cast the first stone. This would make them back up their testimonies to death. Being a witness was a very serious matter.
  6. Again, the witnesses were required to be innocent of the sin they were accusing someone else of committing. It was not any sin that someone must be guilty of but the sin in question, in this case, adultery. If being sinful of any sin whatsoever disqualified anyone from being a witness, no one would ever be such, for all humans are sinful.
  7. When Jesus carefully applied the law, He saw that all the accusers had gone. Since there were no witnesses innocent of the same crime, the formal procedure had to stop. Jesus said,

 

9 But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. 10 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:9-11 ESV)

There could be no formal accusation and no conviction if the witnesses were gone! The sin she was not to commit anymore was adultery.

Conclusion

Assuming John 7:53-8:11 is genuine (and I do), we see that Jesus followed the law. He could not compromise His own holy character by saying, in effect, stoning for adultery was too harsh in My law; therefore, I’ll lower the standard. There shall be no stoning for adultery. He required the witnesses to be innocent of the same crime, and to demonstrate their innocence by throwing the first stones. Let us NEVER put a division between the Old Testament and the New Testament as if there were two gods: an Old Testament one who was harsh and a New Testament one who was loving and kind. That would be idolatry. AMEN.

Timothy Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an age of Skepticism (2008)

© Curtis I. Crenshaw, Th.D.

August 2017, book review

My wife and I were on a short vacation this past summer when I came across the above book at Books A Million: Timothy Keller, The Reason for God. It was discounted considerably, and I had heard of him but did not know much about him. I bought it and read it.

In the front of the book, it said that he had started several thousand churches (not all directly but Keller began many church through those he trained). He was told not to go to Manhattan because it was a very hard culture and just being there would put his small children and wife in danger. His church there now has 6,000 members, and many, if not the majority, had been prostitutes, drug users and drug sellers, and so forth. It is an unusual ministry. Often after the church service, he would take questions from skeptics, atheists, and just those interested or not interested. His niche is to plant churches in large cities throughout the world, a huge need, for sure.

He is reformed Presbyterian, well read in both Christian and secular works, and studied at such seminal evangelical seminaries as Gordon-Conwell and Westminster. Like Keller, I’ve made it a habit not to limit my reading to Christians authors, reading such men as atheist Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion, a silly hoot of a book without any logic), atheist Susan Neiman, Evil in Modern Thought (good survey of positions), Anders Nygren, Meaning and Method (his chapter Logical Analysis of Presuppositions is a gem), yada, yada. I read Arminians, Calvinists, dispensationalists, amils, postmills, Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholics, John MacArthur, Sproul, Gerald Bray (my favorite modern Anglican), Baptists, Presbyterians, N. T. Wright, who frustrates me because he is often ambiguous, arrogant (whole church is wrong), and wants to redefine Christianity from the beginning; yet he is often insightful and always thorough. He seems to have the motto, “Why say something in 500 words when you say it in 5,000 words.” I still read some Puritans, though rare these days since I became Anglican in 1991. I’ve read heretics like John Spong, the Anglican bishop who delights in denying virtually everything in the three creeds. May he never rest in peace. I say all that to make a point: I’m not afraid to read anything, and it helps my ministry to know what others think, even those who hate the Lord Jesus.

Thus, when I was invited to a friend’s house for dinner, and someone asked me what I was reading these days, I mentioned Tim Keller’s The Reason for God. You would have thought that I had blasphemed the Holy Trinity. There was yelling, saying the man was a blasphemer, a heretic, and most likely an unbeliever. When I asked for documentation, there was none, only more arrogant opinions and increasing of decibels. As I finished the book later, I was sensitized to look for heresies. I found none, though I did find areas of disagreement, which is normal. I disagree with myself.

Then recently one of the men at the dinner sent me an Internet link to a “liturgical” dance at Keller’s church, saying or implying that it was heretical. I grant you it was weird, three men in tight dance suits with bulging between the legs dancing some kind of ballet is not conducive to worship. I don’t understand such artsy stuff, and I would not allow that at my Anglican church. Or, was it actually a worship service? I could not tell, but there were many statements that such was heretical. But the first question I had was whether it was actually a worship service or some other entertainment service. At a Puritan type church in the town where I live, once a large Presbyterian type church had a ballet where a Christian lady danced beautifully. It was not a worship service. Unlike David who danced before the Lord with only a linen ephod (2 Sam. 6:14), she was very tastefully dressed, elegant, and expressive. No one accused her or the church of heresy. But if the dance were part of the main service of worship, and if I were Presbyterian again, and if Keller were in my presbytery doing that, I would oppose him.

But Heretical? First, an individual should not assume the authority to say something or someone is heretical, which, it seems to me, is a statement that someone is going to hell. Second, heresy has been defined by the three creeds, Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian, especially the Nicene. If the church has spoken, such as in the creeds, then one can say what is heretical. Once a young man and his family were attending Anglican church where I was rector, and after a few Sundays I invited them to lunch. He asked me if he and his family could join the church if he was preterist. I said, “Define pretereist. Do you mean that many of the things in the Gospels were fulfilled in AD 70 but there is still a Second Coming, or that all things were fulfilled in AD 70 so there is no Second Coming.” He said no Second Coming. I said you cannot join, and he objected that he could prove his position from the New Testament. I responded, “No you can’t. The Church over the centuries in her creeds has rejected your position and has said there is a Second Coming with the Last Day.” He said, “What happened to sola scriptura?” I explained that the Reformation did not mean just the Bible and me, and that Holy Scripture was the final and only infallible authority, but the Church was an authority also. Church councils have erred, but the Creeds have stood the test of time, and that virtually all bodies hold to them formally (Eastern Orthodoxy, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even Pentecostals base their doctrinal statements on the Apostles’ Creed, either formally or informally). He re-studied the issue, and about a month to six weeks later returned, apologized, joined my parish, and was a faithful member.

Yet, I’m not endorsing Tim Keller across the board or this book I’m reviewing without some reservations.

Here are some interesting points in Keller’s book:

  1. He understands we are a divided culture, and encourages us to learn from our culture (pp. xv, xix). Part of the division is between agnostics, atheists, and Christians of all brands.
  2. As much as we in the West hate to admit it, there has been explosive Christian growth in other parts of the world. One hundred years ago, 70 of 100 Christians were in the West. Now the number has reversed: 70 of 100 Christians are outside the West. Not only does Keller cite similar stats, but also works by Mark Noll and Philip Jenkins, both modern day conservative church historians, say the same. I love reading current church history, for it is not only very challenging, it broadens one’s perspective on what the Lord is doing with His Church throughout the world.
  3. There has been explosive growth in Africa, spearheaded by Anglicans and Pentecostals. Likewise, in the USA Pentecostalism (read charismatic movement), got its beginning on Azusa Street among black ministers around 1907 in California. It has moved south of the border with huge growth. It has moved into Brazil very strongly. In the past I’ve discounted the Christianity of charismatics, but when they are embracing the Holy Trinity, and basically the theology of the Apostles’ Creed, I must take notice. This is what Keller is telling us to do. Jenkins and Noll say that Pentecostals (read charismatics) now compose about one fourth of the Church world-wide, which is substantively changing Christianity throughout the world; and if Christianity keeps growing at the present rate in China, it may be the next Christian nation. Already Presbyterians dominate and have changed the culture of South Korea.
  4. There is one flaw that bothered me greatly as I read this book. Though he presented many interesting arguments for the existence of God, he left it open, actually he denied, that we can present compelling arguments for His existence. Here are some quotes with page numbers:

. . . all arguments [for the existence of God] are rationally avoidable in the end. That is, you can always find reason to except it that is not sheer bias or stubbornness. [In other words, contra Romans 1:18, we have moral neutrality. He continues] Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that we can’t evaluate beliefs, only that we should not expect conclusive proof, and to demand it is unfair. Not even scientists proceed that way. (p. 125) [And that is why scientists are often wrong and cannot evaluate evidence and arguments well; their assumptions are built on sand. They show that we cannot infer an infinite being from a finite creation. They are right, but the Bible does not reason that way; rather, it reasons from the stated existence of God to the fallen creation. That, it seems to me, is a deductive argument with a certain conclusion, rather than an inductive argument from a finite creation to the infinite God.]

No view of God can be proven, but that does not mean that we cannot sift and weigh the grounds for various religious beliefs and find that some or even one is the most reasonable. (p. 126) [Now I shall remove the contradiction: “No view of God can be proved, but we can find a view that approximates Him.” That is just plain silly. Give with one hand and take back with the other. Recall Hebrews 11:6: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (Heb. 11:6 NKJ)]

Though there cannot be irrefutable proof for the existence of God, many people have found strong clues for his reality. . . . (p. 131) [Our Clue who may be in heaven, hallowed be some name, somewhere. . . .”]

I find these quotes remarkably destructive of much of what he is saying. They destroy one of the main points of the book. Take this last quote. Can you imagine going to the Triune God in prayer and saying, “O Lord, somewhere you may exist, and I hope you get this message, if you are really there.” Scripture begins with the assumption of God’s existence (“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .” Gen. 1:1). I had a seminary professor who said, “If you can get past the first verse of the Bible, the rest is all downhill.” Indeed, sir. We cannot cover presuppositional apologetics in a book review, but if he had used that along with his evidence, it would have been, in my humble opinion, a much better and tighter argument. But it is always easy to sit on the sidelines and criticize. Let me qualify myself. The Bible presents the absolute sovereignty of God, and He saves whom He has chosen. Thus, he may use any approach He chooses. The book by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, is a book arguing for the existence of the Triune God. The overall argument is fallacious, reasoning from the finite to the infinite, but there are many facts he presents that might weaken an unbeliever’s armor, Keller reasons. But God the Holy Spirit can blast through an unbeliever’s defenses any way and any time He so chooses. To be fair, I think that is what Keller means, using weak arguments to bring one to confrontation with God. Sounds weird.

An example of such is the true story of a young lady taking a course in college in which biological evolution was presented as fact. She went to the professor after class to ask questions.  (See this link: Atheist professor becomes Christian.)

Back in 1979 -81 in Memphis I managed a Christian bookstore. About every two weeks this young man would come in and purchase theologies and other heavy reading, like Francis Schaeffer and Cornelius Van Til. So I asked him what he did, and he said that he was a traveling salesman. I asked if he attended seminary because he always chose heavy topics. He said that he had been a philosophy major in a secular university where the professors were atheists to a man (or woman), and that he had earned a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy. He was going to enter the PhD program but had changed his mind. When I asked what changed his mind, he said, “You better hold on to your seat. About two years ago I was on a drug trip, and I heard the gospel on the radio for the first time ever. I heard and I believed, and I’ve never looked back.” Talk about a conversion!

Another high point of the book was that we must not be quick to condemn other Christians who are different from us. That is why I fall back on the objective Three Creeds. For example, I keep reading modern church historians who say that there are many conversions of Muslims who are seeing visions of Jesus who tells them Islam is wrong, and often directs them to someone who can tell them about Jesus. I hope that it is true, but I hear from those who are knowledgeable of such things that Syria is having revival. I surely hope so: “Thy kingdom come.” In the past, I would immediately discount that, and I still wonder about visions. I don’t want to do anything to distract from the centrality of the written Word. BUT, when these converts are coming into the Trinitarian faith, what can you say? How difficult would it be to teach them that the means for their conversion was wrong but their conversion was real?

BOTTOM LINE: This is a very helpful book. It is sound theologically, challenging in ministry, but this is the only Keller book that I’ve read. He does not say much about his style of ministry. My reading schedule does not include any more of his works for the foreseeable future. At least look it up on Amazon and read the Table of Contents. Recommended. Amen. Ω.