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An Apologetic for Biblical Counseling: The Sola Scriptura Method!

In Cornelius Van Till’s A Christian Theory of Knowledge, he asks this question: is there a difference between “…a Protestant and a Romanist doctrine of God?” Van Till says that the former stresses “God’s self-sufficiency,” while the latter stresses or “ascribes a measure of self-sufficiency or ultimacy to man.”1 Based on these divergent notions of God, an apologetic defense of the Christian Faith will also diverge upon these lines of demarcation, i.e. a Protestant apologetic will deviate from a Romanist apologetic, especially acute at the point of epistemology. Van Till says:

The Protestant doctrine of God requires that it be made foundational to everything else as a principle of explanation. If God is self-sufficient, he alone is self-explanatory. And if he alone is self-explanatory, then he must be the final referent point in all human predication.

In contrast to the Protestant principle of explanation, there is what he calls the Romanist principle of explanation. For the Romanist principle the final referent point in all human predication is not singular, but complex i.e., an integration of both God and man, divine and human counsel in tandem vs. divine counsel alone. Van Till says that this makes both God and man partners. He says,

….God and man become partners in an effort to explain a common environment….The human mind, then, need not subject itself to the revelation of God as absolutely authoritative for him. Man may then defer to God as to an expert who has had greater experience than himself, but he need not make all thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ.

Van Till says that both the Protestant and Romanist approaches toward human predication seek to “…indicate to the non-Christian that the non-Christian position is destructive of experience,” i.e., destructive of human predication and the environment of man. In short the reason why the non-Christian approach is not cable of making sense of man’s moral and ontological condition, as well as his moral and social and natural environment—what Van Till describes as “destructive,”— is because “Man is thought of as the final referent point in predication. The facts of his environment are ‘just there’; they are just assumed to have come into being by change.”2

Van Till then asks a question, one that will serve to frame his argument throughout, “How then we ask is the Christian to challenge this non-Christian approach to the interpretation of human experience?” Van Till goes on to argue that the Protestant approach vis-à-vis the Romanist approach is adequate to the challenge, while the Romanist is not because only the former can demonstrate that God is the “final reference point in predication.”3

The purpose of this essay is to offer an apologetic in favor of Biblical counseling vis-à-vis an Integrationist approach to counseling which I’ll simply call Christian psychology and/or counseling and/or therapy. Just as with the Protestant and the Romanist approach to challenging a non-Christian interpretation of human experience, both the Biblical and Integrationist approaches seek to challenge the non-Christian approach to the interpretation of the human experience, the non-Christian approach being secular psychology/psychiatry. In part, the reason why I favor the Biblical over the Integrationist is the same reason Van Till favors the Protestant over the Romanist: the Biblical approach is more than adequate (I would also say sufficient) to the challenge, while the Integrationist is not; the former demonstrates a method congruent with the notion that God is the final referent point in predication, i.e. divine counsel alone; the latter cannot, because it makes God and man partners,i.e., divine and human counsel function in tandem. The former is based on the wisdom of God; the latter the wisdom of man, a wisdom which is the antithesis of the wisdom of God.

First of all, let me begin with some definition of terms: i.e., the concepts of general/special revelation and common/special grace. The skeptical, yet well meaning Christian psychologist/counselor may ask: “if all truth comes from God isn’t the truth gleaned from the social sciences—viz. science of psychology and psychiatry— God’s truth? Hasn’t God revealed himself through both creation and Scripture?” With this line of questioning, the Christian psychologist reckons that the integration of the social science of psychology along with Scripture is a full-orbed method, that an either/or approach to the problems of man (sin) is woefully one-sided and insufficient to the task. In Dr. Scipione’s Introduction to Biblical Counseling Class Notes Appendix 7, he quotes Dr. John H. Coe who captures this sentiment well. He say:

In their unguarded zeal to defend the Bible and its view of a God who reveals Himself in word and person, they have adopted a bibliocentric reductionism of the Christian faith which focuses upon the sufficiency of Scripture at the expense of attending to the fullness of revelation. Thus, out of a defensive and reactive posture, they have retreated, particularly from the light of reason and natural revelation, to the island of faith, clinging desperately and unfortunately to the illusion of a Bible-alone approach to wisdom which is solely ‘from above’ (Pg. 109).

Dr. Coe ends his essay by affirming that what we need is a “wisdom of God from above and below the Sun.” Is he correct? Is special revelation insufficient? Must we also have a wisdom from below the Sun, i.e. the wisdom of general revelation?

Let’s first define our terms. What is general revelation? To begin, let us look first to a biblical notion of general revelation:

For the wrath of God bis revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 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. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18-20 ESV)

What Paul is teaching here under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is a General Revelation/Natural Theology. Natural Theology is a philosophical/theological approach that argues from nature (cosmological argument) and from design in nature (teleological argument) and from the human conscience (moral argument), that God exists as Creator and Sustainer and moral Judge of our lives and the cosmos in general. General Revelation is an objective fact, that the facts of nature, design, morality all evince that God has spoken, that God has not hidden Himself, but has openly revealed Himself. In contradistinction to General Revelation there is Natural Theology. Natural Theology is distinct in that it’s the recipient dimension of knowing. If God is the agent of revelation (general revelation), humanity is the recipient of revelation. Simply put, mankind knows empirically through the visible things that God has created that there is a God who himself is invisible. This is what Paul means by “eternal power.” But Paul also adds that not only do all people know that God exists, but they also know something of the nature of His divine being. The natural order does not reveal to man a variety truths we find in Scripture—e.g., the Trinity, or Grace through faith in Christ, etc.,—but we do know something about God through nature. At a bare minimum, what do we know from nature?—we know that the God that exists is an eternally powerful Creator and Sustainer, whose nature is Holy! Why? What is the relation? The essence of the Holiness of God is that God is wholly separate (totalitar aliter) from everything and everyone else. Holiness means separate. How is God separate?—He is separate in His eternal power; that is to say, who else other than God is Creator and Sustainer and Sovereign over the entire universe? Paul is simply saying that sinful humanity has no excuse for not acknowledging and worshiping God. God has overwhelmingly given sufficient evidence of His Holy existence as Creator and Sustainer. The natural order/law (outside ourselves) and the natural law within are a loud, defending bullhorn, a megaphone which God uses to yell out to all of mankind (Jew and Gentile; believers and unbelievers); no matter how hard you may try to oppose the truth of God’s eternal power and divine nature, no matter how hard you press down, or suppress this truth— God thunders down and says “Oh man you are without excuse!!” This is the distinction between general and natural theology: i.e., man takes his general knowledge of God and suppresses it; as a moral agent man rejects said knowledge, leaving man in the final analysis accused and condemned. The most important point in all this is that such knowledge is not salvific. As the Westminster Divines: “Although the light of nature, and the works of creation and providence do so far manifest the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, as to leave men unexcusable; yet they are not sufficient to give that knowledge of God, and of his will, which is necessary unto salvation” (WCF 1:1). Herman Bavinck says,

On the insufficiency of general revelation, however, there can scarcely be any doubt”

1. “…it leaves us absolutely unfamiliar with the person of Christ, who alone is the way to the Father (Matt. 11:27; John 14:6; 17:3; Acts 4:12).”

2. “… the knowledge that general revelation can supply is not only meager and inadequate but also uncertain, consistently mingled with error, and for far and away the majority of people unattainable.”

3. “… not a single people has been content with so-called natural religion.” (RD1, 313ff.)

We can conclude from the evidence of both Scripture and the Reformed tradition that General Revelation/Natural Theology is insufficient. But insufficient for what?–salvation! We see that General Revelation and the doctrine of salvation aka Special Grace are mutually exclusive, that special grace closely follows special revelation; special grace qua both saving (regeneration) and enabling grace (sanctification) follow special revelation qua Scripture. Scripture says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17 KJV). The Word of God is Christ speaking through Scripture qua the Word of God preached. Special grace follows special revelation, revelation as a necessary precondition. (Saving faith is efficacious only by the internal call of the Holy Spirit.) Scripture, along with saving/sanctifying faith, does three things: redeems the elect; progresses the Kingdom of God qua the Church, both individually and corporately; and Scriptures’ truth and wisdom are also salt/light to a dying world (Counseling The Flock Course Notes Pg. 15 from Dr. Scipione). Concerning the last purpose of saving grace—i.e. preserving a dying world—this has more to do with the effects of saving grace: viz. covenant grace (in contradistinction from the Covenant of Grace). Covenant grace is the temporal blessing(s) that comes from the domain of special/saving grace. Dr. Scipione is correct to point out that covenant grace not only blesses the church generally, but blesses the world by being salt/light or truth/wisdom. Whereas common grace restrains evil, covenant grace is a positive good which preserves the good in the midst of evil. Case in point, look to the life of Joseph. God blessed (positive good) Potiphar and his household because of Joseph. Though Potiphar did not experience special saving blessings like Joseph, he did experience special covenant grace above-and-beyond the common grace he had experienced before Joseph (along with his compatriots when Joseph became Prime Minister of Egypt).

Now that we have defined our terms, let’s give the Integrationist the benefit of the doubt; let’s assume for now that psychology/psychiatry is a “wisdom from below,” a wisdom gleaned from general revelation, a natural theology instantiated in clinical therapy. Is Dr. Coe’s Integrationist assumption correct, that psychology/psychiatry is a wisdom from below concerning things above: i.e. the salvation and sanctification of man? One of the problematic issues I see with the Integrationist, i.e., the Christian psychologist, is that he mixes general revelation and common grace. The problem is this: common grace does not intersect with the salvation and the sanctification of the inner and outer man; that is to say, that the salvation and sanctification of man in thought, word, and deed do not follow from common grace, but special grace. The Christian Faith understands that man is an immortal soul that has a body, a mind that has a brain; ergo, man’s dire condition isn’t physical or social, but spiritual and moral. Man’s trouble is a sin problem. Man’s sin problem creates a disturbance, not only a disturbance within himself (self-alienation), and not only a disturbance with others (social alienation), but at man’s core, first and foremost, a disturbance with God (alienation from God). Man’s problem is the wrath of God. Only special revelation (and concomitant special grace) can address man’s trouble. General revelation/common grace is general, non-soteriological. If psychology is the gleaning of general revelation, and if clinical counseling is the method of applying common grace, then at most all we can say—i,e., about the object of psychology/clinical counseling and its supervening effects— is that secular therapy is at best tangential, merely touching the outer-man. If psychology/counseling is applicable, then the application is merely organic. The Biblical Counseling Movement does not deny the psychosomatic interpenetration between soul and body: the body affects the soul; and the soul affects the body. Regarding the former, this is why biblical counselors will advise a counselee to having a physical exam to rule out anything organic that might be the cause of odd behavior/emotions. Regarding the latter, one is still not off the hook. As Jay Adams notes there might be (what he calls) a “harmartiagenetic” dynamic. Jay Adams in “The Christian Approach to Schizophrenia” in The Construction Of Madness says:

The Christian has always been aware of the psychosomatic (or, as he might prefer to call it, harmartiagenetic) nature of much illness because the fact is taught throughout the Bible. Studies in biofeedback have extended our awareness of the great extent to which man controls his physical condition. They appear to show: (1) that we have much more control over our bodily functions (blood pressure, heartbeat, muscle tone, galvanic responses, etc.) than heretofore was realized; (2) that we are, therefore, more responsible for our organic condition than we had suspected that we can control; (3) That we can control and are responsible for (if not all) of the glandular and neurological responses that occur in some forms of bizarre behavior. It is altogether possible that the chemical/electrical processes that govern perception may be controlled by attitude, etc., in a manner that makes man more responsible for these functions than most have thought. That is to say, beliefs and attitudes (in addition to other factors) may also be at the root of perceptual dysfunctioning (misreading reality) (Pg. 139).

In short, as long as psychology is delimited and relegated to the organic, then the Integrationist and Biblical Counseling methods are congruent with the exception that with the latter the locus of epistemic primacy is Scripture when Scripture addresses organic matters (even though Scripture will remain mostly silent in such matters compared to organic applications of psychology/psychiatry.)

However, this is not where the battle rages. The tip of the spear of psychology and clinical counseling penetrates the human domain of the inorganic, the inner-man: the heart, soul, mind, spirit of man. The origin, tradition, and current theories and practices of psychology/psychology/clinical counseling have been hostile to the Christian Faith, especially regarding the nature of man. Van Til, quoting Abraham Kuyper, notes that natural theology is congruous with redemptive theology. In fact Kuyper says, “…without the substratum of natural theology there would be no redemptive theology” (Pg.230). Van Til shows in fact that it is at this point that both B.B. Warfield and Kuyper agree; yet, they unfortunately go their separate ways regarding apologetics: viz. the former espousing classical, evidence based apologetics; the latter presuppositional apologetics. But the fact remains that in Christian Theology (including in particular Reformed tradition), there is no element of hostility between the Christian Faith, on the one hand, and natural theology, on the other. Where then does this hostility come from?

Van Til notes that Kuyper’s notion of the “autonomous man” is one of the great contributions to theological discourse (Pg. 254). The problem, as he sees it, isn’t with natural theology or general revelation. Hostility bubbles up and boils over from the human heart in rebellion against God. “Autonomous man” “… has usurped the authority of judging the work of redemption that God has wrought for man…” in the gospel. This he calls the principium naturale or the natural principle over-and-against the special principle by which God saves according to the gospel. Regarding the former principle, man is the judge; regarding the latter, God is the judge. Kuyper argues that these two principles are mutually exclusive, and are in hostile opposition to one another (231).

This principium naturale is the hostile tip of the spear of psychology and clinical counseling, penetrating the human domain of the inorganic, judging what it ought not to judge, seeking to divide what it cannot and ought not to divide. Psychology and clinical counseling seek to pierce into the soul of man, seeking to discern the heart of man. This is autonomous man’s principium naturale, seeking to judge what only God can judge, even seeking via scientific, naturalistic reductionism to redefine reality. This principium naturale of secular psychology is none other than the biblical merism of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil transposed in the modern register of secular therapy. In contrast, the Scriptures set forth the special principle where the Word of God, not the word of man, judges the heart of man. The author of Hebrews says, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12 ESV).

The history of psychology is not objective and disinterested. Philosophically speaking, the origin of psychology is from both the Enlightenment and early post-Enlightenment thought, an intellectual milieu that was many things, but not disinterested. Case in point, within the intellectual tradition of Empiricism—of a Locke, Berkley, and Hume— there is the triumph of experience which is the arbiter of truth, excluding Reason qua a priori knowledge. Within Rationalism— a la Descartes, Leibniz, Kant, etc.— there is the triumph of pure Reason. Both, in the final analysis, these philosophical traditions preclude the authority of divine revelation. We see here the natural principle and it’s innate hostility to God. In Jay Adams,’ Competent To Counsel, he nicely summarizes Freudian Psychology. He says,

Man…has basic primitives wants, impulses or drives which seek expression, These Freud called the Id (sex and aggression). But in man, there is also the Superego (roughly equivalent to what more often has been called the conscience). The Superego is socialized into the individual by his parents, the church, teachers,etc….According to Freud, the problem with the mentally ill is an over-socialization of the Superego. An over socialized conscience is overly severe and overly strict (g.10).

From this summary, we see the hostile tip of the sphere of the natural principle. Man judges, and man can rise above his Superego, and man can rightly declare his independence against the authority of parents, teachers, the church, etc. Autonomous man must jettison authority, especially the authority of religion, viz, God.

Psychology, in all its variegated methods and theories , is more akin to philosophy. John MacArthur is correct when we says,

Psychology is not a uniform body of scientific knowledge like thermodynamics or organic chemistry. When we speak of psychology, we refer to a complex menagerie of ideas and theories, many of which are contradictory. Psychology has not even proved capable of dealing effectively with the human mind and with mental and emotional processes. Thus it can hardly be regarded as a science. Karl Krause, a Viennese journalist, made this perceptive comment: “Despite its deceptive terminology, psychoanalysis is not a science but a religion—the faith of a generation incapable of any other.”

Simply put, psychology seeks to displace the supernatural with a natural religion. As Philip Rieff warned, in his Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith after Freud, that psychology is the psychological man replacing the religious man, the secular priesthood of the psychologist/psychiatrist replacing the sacred ministry of the pastor. In short, not only is it not possible for the Integrationist to employ psychology under the rubric of the doctrine of general revelation— due to the admixture of the non-soteriological and the soteriological— but it’s not morally permissible to integrate autonomous man’s natural principle with the special principle, i.e. the religion of psychology and the religion of the Christian Faith.

So far, (in the first major section of my essay), I have argued against the skeptical christian psychologist/counselor, who is skeptical of biblical counseling due to it’s exclusion of psychology, but the same skeptic might ask this: so far you have been giving me reasons why a Christian counselor should not employ the social science/philosophy of psychology/counseling; but is biblical counseling sufficient for the task? This second section of my essay argues in favor of biblical counseling. Let’s begin with a definition of biblical counseling. What is biblical counseling? Biblical counseling has also been defined as nouthetic counseling. Nouthetic is the transliteration of the Greek meaning to instruct or to admonish. The idea behind it is that nouthetic counseling is biblically confrontational. This is the exact opposite of Rogerian psychology. Jay Adams’ Competent To Counsel, notes that nouthetic counseling is about both the counselor, who confronts, and the counselee, who is being confronted. Also, the confrontation is verbal. Just as preaching the Word is essentially verbal, likewise counseling is also verbal. Last, but not least, nouthetic counseling is to benefit the counselee (Pg.44-45). But what kind of benefit? Dr. Scipione in his Introduction To Biblical Counseling Course Notes, defines counseling as “…giv[ing] someone advice in the form of a plan so he can accomplish a goal(s). It isn’t just listening or doing it for someone” (Pg. 10) This simple definition would have gone without much notice before my seminary education. One would have assumed that was what counseling was mainly about: giving advise. But mind you this definition isn’t mere common sense or convention. During my seminary training at a liberal seminary “advice” was exactly what I was admonished by my professors not to give. We were taught the Rogerian method of listening; having a presence was all the counselee needed. Merely being present benefited a counselee. This was based upon the faulty notion that the counselee doesn’t need advice, but merely need reassurance. Give it time. The counselee will figure out the right way, behavior, attitude, path to take. The answers/advice needed is already available within them. The benefits are already in the counselee’s possession.

So how do we define counseling? Biblical counseling is about radical change, a change of the counselee from within, but the cause of change is from outside the counselee. Biblically speaking, all counseling is not internal, but external. That is to say, the advice of counseling is extra nos, i.e. God’s counsel. The reason for this is that man is not an autonomous being. This means in part that man’s knowledge is derived, in need of revelation. The contingent, derivative nature of man’s knowledge means that man by nature needs counsel, both prelapsarian and postlapsarian man (as argued by Van Till). Said counsel/advice comes in two mutually exclusive sources: divine or human, the former is exclusively biblical and the latter from the wisdom of this fallen world, i.e., the “counsel of the ungodly.” All counseling theories and methods that are not biblically formed and informed—e.g. psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, operant conditioning, etc.—are in the final analysis humanistic counsel. Therefore, all biblical counsel is divine counsel. In part, this is what the apostle Paul meant when he said: “for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Act 20:27 ESV). Paul equates Scripture (including the Old Testament and apostolic teachings) with divine counsel. What this means is that all counseling must be biblical counsel if it’s going to be divine counsel at all. In short, God’s mind is what ought to form and inform counseling. This is the singular conviction of the biblical counselor. Just as it’s the conviction of the biblical, expository preacher to preach Scripture, and Scripture alone to his congregation —which is exactly Paul’s main point in Acts 20:27—likewise it’s the conviction of the biblical counselor to expound Scripture (as the preacher) and apply said exposition to the life of the counselee. The bible believing integrationist would agree that when the pastor stands in the pulpit and proclaims the Word of God that he must never expound anything but the Word of God. The bible believing integrationist would never countenance a preacher expounding philosophy, or economics, or politics, or social justice, or even psychology along with the bible from the pulpit. The bible believing integrationist agrees that such a man is unfit to be a Teaching Elder/Minister of the Word! The bible believing integrationist who is rightfully disdainful of integrating divine and human counsel from the pulpit, should be just as disdainful of integrating divine and human counsel from the pastoral counselor’s couch or study. As I see it, the only difference between biblical preaching and biblical counseling is that the former is public, while the latter is private. (I would add also what Dr. Scipione noted during class lectures that the former is applying one text to many, while the latter is applying many texts to a few.) However, the purpose is the same: just as biblical preaching is used to affect change, likewise biblical counseling is used to affect change.

If biblical counseling (from without) changes the counselee (from within) what is the nature of this change within man? It’s not a surface change, i.e., exchanging one socially unacceptable bad habit with a socially acceptable bad habit—e.g., alcoholic to workaholic— but it’s a deep, permanent change. David Powlison in his Speaking Truth In Love: Counsel in Community, aptly captures the depth of change that biblical counseling strives toward. He says,

What is the alternative to obedience and holiness of life? It is no treat to be forgiven adultery, and yet remain adulterous. It is no glory t God to forgive anger, and yet leave a person irritable, explosive, and self-righteous. It is no honor to the gospel if anxiety can be forgiven, yet someone remains a nervous wreck. It is no advance for God’s kingdom to forgive self-centered people, if they do not learn how to consider the interests of others. It does no good to the world or the church if a forgiven war-maker does not learn how to become a practical peacemaker. Grace takes a lazy, selfish, thieving person, and pushes him in the direction of becoming hard-working and generous. God will remake a liar into an honest man and a shrewish complainer into a kind, constructive woman. These are long journeys, but the direction of grace is towards obedience to God’s law of love. None of these changes mean perfection until Jesus returns. You will always need mercies to be renewed every morning. But there is substantial healing amid the ongoing struggle. It isn’t always dramatic. Small choices count. But the Spirit will produce his fruit in us, and biblical counseling serves such practical changes (Pg.45).

The changed described by Powlison is the change that is expected to take place in Christians discipleship. Biblical counseling is a form or method of discipleship. Peter says, His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to1 his own glory and excellence, (2Pe 1:3 ESV). The bible is sufficient for all of life. The bible is a textbook for counseling , i.e., a textbook for living and for a change of life. Not only does the bible offer change, the bible demands change—e.g., “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct….” (1Pe 1:15 ESV) “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. bTo him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen” (2Pe 3:18 ESV) “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.” (Eph. 4:17 ESV).

From these handful of Scriptures we notice change is peremptory, but is change inevitable? Before I speak further about change, let’s me say a bit about the constitutive nature of biblical counseling. Biblical counseling doesn’t espouse the bear letter of the Word. Both Spirit and Word go together just as with preaching, mutatis mutandis. The Word advises the counselee; the Spirit enables the counselee; both are sufficient. And not only Spirit and Word, but the “man of God” is the one called, ordained, and equipped by God to not only disciple via preaching/teaching, but also to engage in the good work of discipleship via counseling (1Timothy 3:16-17). The man of God in the pastoral letters is a term picked up by the New Testament apostles from the Old Testament, a term used to refer to the spiritual leaders of Israel. In Deuteronomy 33:1, the Scripture says, “This is the blessing with which Moses athe man of God blessed the people of Israel before his death.This is not to say that every christian should not be engaged in counseling, but counseling as a life-work, as a unique calling and responsibility is unique to the pastor/teacher. This means, in part, that biblical counseling is under the auspices or authority of the Church and her ordained officers, under God ordained authority. God has not ordained pagan, secular psychologist to counsel (this the skeptical conservative, bible based integrationist I hope will agree); however, this also should mean that both para-church organizations and counselors are not to go it alone, that going outside the church (i.e., the local or larger church, e.g. Presbytery, GA, etc.), is going rogue, beyond jurisdiction. Biblical counseling is not only an issue about sources and methods, but also about institutional authority. Jesus said, I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (Mat 16:19 ESV).Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed1 in heaven” (Mat 18:18 ESV). Jesus gave the “keys of the kingdom” (i.e., both authoritative teaching and discipline) to His church alone, which includes the authority of biblical counsel and counseling. Therefore, not only is the source/method of biblical counseling formed and informed exclusively via Scripture, but the authoritative, institutionalized, routinized structure of biblical counseling is formed and informed by Scripture. The biblical counseling model is not a bear model of mere Scripture, but a model along with and constitutive of Spirit, ordained officers, within the God ordained institution of Christ’s Church, with Christ being the “Wonderful Counselor” who is the very foundation of the biblical model of counseling (Cf. Isaiah 9:6).

Now back to the issue of change. I noted above that change, though it’s peremptory, isn’t inevitable. It requires obedience. Paul says, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:2 ESV) In The first twelve chapters of Romans, Paul presents (in logical, systematic form), the gospel; much like he does in the first three chapters of Ephesians, Paul displays the reality of the gospel (the indicative mood). Yet, Paul is not content with the mere doctrines of grace, but practical implications and applications of the doctrines of grace (the imperative mood). Paul, beginning with chapter 12:2 presents two practical commands of action: μὴ συσχηματίζεσθε and ἀλλὰ μεταμορφοῦσθε. The former is a negative command, i.e., what we are no longer to do/live in light of God’s grace of salvation; the latter is a positive command, i.e. how we are to live or the nature of a changed life. Both verbs are passive. We are no longer to submit to the ways of the world—including the flesh and devil ( Cf.1 John 2:16). In contradistinction (ἀλλὰ)– i.e. in contrast to the conformation to the world— the redeemed are being transformed, i.e. a transformation of the inner man, the mind of man, a mind that is conformed (and conforming) to the mind and will of God.

Concerning the latter, James says, But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (Jam 4:6-7 ESV) James is describing the process of non-conformity. God gives the redeemed enabling grace to not conform. God gives said enabling grace to resist conforming to those whom submit themselves to God’s will. In short, when christians obey God’s will, that is God’s counsel revealed in Scripture, God gives the ability to resist Satan—including our flesh and the world. Elsewhere Paul describes this dynamic as “mortification,” dying to self. Paul says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:1sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5 ESV). In order to mortify the flesh, Paul teaches that one must refuse, reject, and starve the flesh. In short, the way to resist the devil and the world is to starve, reject, refuse the flesh. The flesh is our bodily habituation: sinful habits of the inner man (i.e., mind) that affect in turn sinful habits of the outer man. This is what Paul means when he says to no longer conform to this world: sinful patterns of the flesh in conformity to the world (sinful world systems and ideologies) and the god of this sinful world. Also, mortifying the flesh requires calling sin, for what it is, sin: 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.1 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: banger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices (Col 3:5-9 ESV). Clinical counseling/psychology tends to blunt the gravity of sin and soften the contours of the human condition. As Dr. Scipione noted, in his class notes, co-idolatry isn’t the same as co-dependence. The latter is a less offensive, morally neutral, clinically sterile compared to idolatry. The tendency of Christian counseling is to employ these unbiblical, clinically sterile, morally neutral categories of human behavior rather than the biblical assessment of the unsterile, spiritually pathogenic nature of sin and man’s responsibility. Man is sinful, not sick. The gospel is the cure, not therapy. When integrationists opt for clinical terms, over biblical terms of description, the shift isn’t slight, but paradigmatic. Biblical counseling seeks not to remain faithful to the language for antiquarian reasons, but because the language points and brings attention to a stark reality: the reality is that man’s trouble is neither with himself, nor others, but with God— ultimately with the wrath of God. Clinical terms are used to blunt this reality whether intentionally or unintentionally.

But negative change isn’t enough. This type of change, deep change, must also be positive change, positive obedience. This is what Paul means by being “transformed.” Transformation of the flesh—i.e., habituations of the body— begins with a change of mind, viz “transformed by the renewing of [the] mind.” Corrupt patterns of thought are replaced with wholesome and holy patterns of thought. The reason why this is even possible is because through the miracle of regeneration the “old man” is replaced with the “new man.” Paul says, Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.The old has passed away; behold, the new has come (2Co 5:17 ESV). The new man is a new creation. In fact, Paul notes that not only are individuals transformed into the new, but (corporately speaking), the Church is a new humanity: a third humanity redeemed out of the Old Age and saved and sanctified for the New Age to come (Cf. Ephesians 2:14). The individual transformation is one of “put[ing] on” as one would put on garments. Paul says, to put off your old self,1 which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph 4:22-24 ESV). It’s not sufficient to put off (dehabituate) the flesh of unrighteous and unholy habituations, but one must also replace (rehabituate) vice with the virtues of righteousness and holiness. Paul expands on what he means by rehabituation. He says,

10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony (Col 3:10, 11-14 ESV).

You put off indifference and cruelty, and put on acts of compassion and mercy; you put off harshness, hubris, and an overweening manner, and put on kindness, humility, and meekness. This creation of the new self is a divine creation of grace: i.e., God creates the new person we are putting on. We are being transformed by God (passive) as we put off and put on (active).

Biblical counseling is neither a form of legalism or neonomism where human effort creates the new man, nor is it a method of self-help, nor Moral Therapeutic Deism a la Smith and Denton’s Soul Searching critique of the juvenilization of American religiosity where God is uses to solve personal problems. Biblical counseling is a God ordained means of enabling grace, an enabling grace to change men.

Biblical counseling affirms that God provides the means of change (Word, Spirit, ordained officers, and institutional authorization), but what is the objective? What is the end result? If one’s objective is A and the end result is A, then the means to that end result must be commensurable. The means must match the end result. Different means bring different ends. If the objective is to have apples and you plant an orange tree, then the end result is not apples but oranges. The same for apples and oranges applies mutatis mutandis to the old man and the new man. The objective and end result of the psychologist is radically different from the christian psychologist (integrationist) and biblical counselor. There are multiple methods with commensurate objectives and intended end results within the broad social/therapeutic science of psychology/psychiatry/clinical counseling. As noted above, secular therapy is not uniform; there are variegated objectives, means, and end results. But one aspect of secular therapy that is uniform are the objectives of secular psychological: they are all humanistic; the end results are humanistic; the means/methods are humanistic. In short, the warp-and-woof of the objectives, end results, and means are thoroughly based upon the principium naturale. The objectives and means and end results are commensurable— i.e. in proportion to a humanistic objective, means, and end result for the non-Christian. The end result is autonomous man. In contrast, biblical counseling is one method with a commensurate objective and intended end result. Unlike secular therapy, biblical counseling is uniform: one objective; one uniform means (irreducible complex of Word, Spirit, God ordained counselor, and authorized institution); and one end result. The warp-and-woof of the objective, means, and end result are thoroughly based upon the special principle. The objective, means, and end result are also commensurable—i.e., in proportion to a divine objective, divine means of grace, and end result for Christian; it’s to change men so that they become like Christ. Conforming to the image of Christ is the only objective and the only intended end result. And only the means of grace can accomplish this deep change—change from autonomous man to Christ like man—because said means are commensurable. Just like the apple seed of the principium naturale will produce an apple tree of autonomous man, likewise the orange seed of the special principal will produce an orange tree of Christlike man. The only thing these approaches have in common is this: though these systems—secular psychology and biblical counseling—are antinomies, they possess an inherent rationality, a rationality in the sense that they are intra-systematically coherent.

In conclusion, I will ask the Integrationist who is skeptical of the approach of biblical counseling to at least acknowledge the internal coherency within each system, systems which are mutually exclusive: autonomous man vs. Christlike man. Special revelation and general revelation are different categories. As noted, the former entails saving/sanctifying truth; the latter non-salvific/non-sanctifying truth. To confuse these would be a categorical error, like applying the regulations of football to tennis (a la George Lindbeck ‘s Post-Liberalism) or making an apple pie out of oranges (nonsensical). But as argued, secular psychology/counseling isn’t a categorical disconnect, but a hostile disconnect, a moral disconnect, a theological, anthropological antinomy, a clash between the natural principle vs the special principle, autonomous man vs the new man in the likeness of Christ. The integrationist approach is like the Romanist approach: God and man become partners in the spiritual dynamics of change. But like the Romanist approach to human predication, man trumps God in rebellion. This is extremely problematic for the integrationist. This is why, in large part, those who espouse biblical counseling are more than skeptical regarding christian psychology. But another more acute problem is the incommensurate nature between the non-christian approach and the biblical approach. If the objectives and end results of secular psychology are radically at odds, how can the integrationist expect the means of secular psychology to produce, in tandem with the means of grace, the same end result ( The Christlike man)? How can the seeds of an apple tree (secular means) produce an orange tree (sacred end result, i.e. Christlike man)? And would not mixing means—i.e., biblical means and secular therapeutic means—be like mixing apple and orange seeds and expecting a harvest of nothing but oranges or nothing but apples? It seems to stand to reason that the only method a bible believer ought to employ is the biblical counseling model alone: Sola Scriptura indeed!

1 Cornelius Van Till, A Christian Theory of Knowledge, (Phillipsburg , N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publication Co.) 12.

2Ibid., 13.

3Ibid.

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Sola Scriptura

aAll Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2Ti 3:16 ESV)

In our last Newsletter, I briefly shared with you the Five-Solas. If you recall, the Five-Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Medieval Church of Rome during that time. Sola is Latin meaning “alone” or “only.” The phrases are:

  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Sola Fide, through faith alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God lone.

In preparation for Reformation Sunday this October 29th (in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation), we are going to take a quick look at the Solas. The first we will look at is Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptural simply means “by Scripture alone.” This means that Scripture is the only authority over the life of both an individual Christian and the Church. Scripture alone means the Bible is completely and authoritatively true. Scripture alone means that the Bible is the only source of special revelation, that the Bible alone speaks to man as the very voice of God. This is because only “Scripture is breathed out by God.”

This means for us that we must never add to the Bible, that nothing should ever compete with the Bible. This also means that the Bible stands in judgment over us. We do not stand in judgment over the Bible. During the Reformation, religious tradition and opinions of religious men sought to stand in judgment over the Bible. The 16th century Reformers correctly taught that the Bible stands over religious tradition and the opinions of religious men. In our day, many people believe and teach that science is the final arbiter of truth. But all Bible believing Christians believe that God’s Word is the final arbiter of truth. Science does not stand in judgment over the Bible; the Bible stands in judgement over science. This does not mean that the Bible is a science book, nor should it ever be taken as such. But the Bible does teach truth that has an impact on science. Case in point, Scripture teaches that the entire universe is a creation of God, that God stands above creation as Creator. This means that any theory of science that seeks to undermine this truth must be rejected. Why? Where Scripture speaks, it alone is the final arbiter of truth!

Thanks to God for the hope of the light of His Word!!

In Christ

Pastor Carl

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Post Tenebras Lux

They amake night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’

(Job 17:12 ESV)

Darkness comes in many figurative forms. One symbol of darkness in Scripture is that of suffering, or sickness of the soul and/or body. In the Old Testament Scriptures, Job is an exemplar of such suffering. Job describes his suffering in terms of the darkness of night. Amidst his suffering, Job prays to God for relief, hoping that God will soon dispel his misery with a cheer of liberation, cheer in terms of hope, hope symbolized by the light of day.

Another prominent symbol of darkness in Scripture is spiritual blindness. Scripture tells us that both the world is in darkness and that all people in the world (that is unconverted, unregenerate people), are blinded by the spiritual darkness of night, a night ruled by “the god of this world,” the Prince of Darkness. Paul says:

And even aif our gospel is veiled, bit is veiled only to cthose who are perishing. 4 In their case athe god of this world xhas blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing ethe light of bthe gospel of the glory of Christ, cwho is the image of God (2Co 4:3-4 ESV).

But what about the Church, the visible gathering of God’s people in history? Can the Church experience spiritual darkness? The Old Testament Church (the Church of Israel) sure did. A cursory study of the history of Israel is replete with copious examples of spiritual darkness. Case in point is the Nation of Judah during the reign of King Josiah (Southern Israel comprised of the two tribes of Benjamin and Judah). Josiah was a godly King during a time of spiritual darkness. The reason for the spiritual darkness was because the light of God’s Word had been lost, quite literally. We read: “And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found athe Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it” (2Ki 22:8 ESV). The Bible (Hebrew Bible) had been missing along with a thorough knowledge of its contents. Hilkiah, the Hight Priest, was cleaning the treasure room in the Temple, and he found their missing bible, the “Book of the Law.” Hilkiah informed Josiah the King that the Word of God had been found; the King immediately enacted reform. Josiah’s “Reformation” ushered in a spiritual awakening, an awakening from pagan darkness to the light of God’s Word to guide the people of God away from darkness and into the light.

Something very similar happened in the Church almost 500 years ago. For nearly a thousand years or more both the unadulterated Word of God and the gospel had been eclipsed by spiritual darkness: the spiritual darkness of man-made tradition vs. the Scripture, the spiritual darkness of man earning his way to heaven by mixing good works with faith vs. the gospel way of man not earning, but receiving salvation as a gift by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus’ work of earning salvation for us as our one-and-only Mediator between man and God. For over a thousand years there was spiritual darkness, darkness that gave way to light. Protestant historians all agree that the date for when this happened was on October 31, 1517. This was when an obscure German, Augustinian monk, Martin Luther, nailed his 95 Thesis on the doors of All Saint’s church in Wittenberg; this event was the beginning of a reformation in the church, a reformation that still goes on today. The motto which the first and second generation of Reformers used to capture the spirit of the 16th-century Reformation was Post tenebras lux (After the Darkness Light), inspired by the Vulgate (Latin Bible) translation of Job 17:12.

Over the summer leading up to Reformation Sunday, I will be sharing with you the light that came out of the darkness known as the Five-Solas. The Five-Solas are five Latin phrases (or slogans) that emerged from the Protestant Reformation intended to summarize the Reformers’ basic theological principles in contrast to certain teachings of the Medieval Church of Rome during that time. Sola is Latin meaning “alone” or “only.” The phrases are:

Sola Fide, by faith alone.

  • Sola Scriptura, by Scripture alone.
  • Sola Fide, through faith alone.
  • Sola Gratia, by grace alone.
  • Solus Christus, through Christ alone
  • Soli Deo Gloria, to the glory of God lone.

 

Praise God for the hope of both the light of His Word and the liberating truth of His gospel!!

In Christ

Rev. G. Carl Moore

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More Wonderful Beyond!–Easter Reflection

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith.

I Corinthians 15: 12-14

 

Alister McGrath, a former atheist who has become a believer in Christ, a theologian and a scientist, tells the following story about the first time he awakened to the hope of Christ’s resurrection:

[As a young man], I was a grumpy and frankly rather arrogant atheist. I was totally convinced that there was no God, and that anyone who thought there was needed to be locked up for her own good. I was majoring in the sciences at high school and had won a scholarship to study chemistry at Oxford University, beginning in October 1971. I had every reason to believe that studying the sciences further would confirm my rampant godlessness. While waiting to go up to Oxford, I decided to work my way through a pile of “improving books.” Needless to say, none of them were religious.

Eventually, I came to a classic work of philosophy—Plato’s Republic. I couldn’t make sense of everything I read. But one image etched itself into my imagination. Plato asks us to imagine a group of men, trapped in a cave, knowing only a world of flickering shadows cast by a fire. Having experienced no other world, they assume that the shadows are the only reality. Yet the reader knows—and is meant to know—that there is another world beyond the cave, awaiting discovery.

As I read this passage, the hard-nosed rationalist within me smiled condescendingly. Typical escapist superstition! What you see is what you get, and that’s the end of the matter. Yet a still, small voice within me whispered words of doubt. What if this world is only part of the story? What if this world is only a shadowland? What if there is something more wonderful beyond it?

 

McGrath’s struggle with the truth(s) of the Christian faith is not unique. The Apostle Paul had his own barriers, one being (from a Jewish perspective) the barrier of a religious tradition that assumed that the Messiah would conquer via the glory and honor of war, not the ignominious cross of dishonor.

Barriers to belief many times come in the form of intellectual pride as with McGrath, but McGrath knew by virtue of the moral law within and the starry sky above that “there is something more wonderful beyond” this life. Our neo-pagan culture lies to itself by saying that this is all that there is. It reduces reality to matter, a contiguous concourse of mere molecules in motion. We are like the ancients in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; we believe the shadows of this dark fallen world are all that there is. Yet, some of us are like St. Paul prior to his conversion; because of religious pride we assume “man-made” traditions are all that there is. Religious tradition can too cast a long, dark shadow upon us. Even regenerate (born again) Christians will allow the need to belong to muddy our thinking in the morass of misconceptions. This was the case for Paul as he addressed the First Church of Corinth. Their intellectual pride of wanting to be accepted by their surrounding pagan culture (sounds familiar?) had them buying into pagan concepts (like the pagan idea that there is no bodily resurrection of believers), concepts contrary to the essentials of the faith (like the Christian idea of the physical, bodily resurrection of Christ).

These are just some barriers to belief. Others barriers can be suffering, evil, and pain. However, when we are confronted with the resurrected Lord, when we have an encounter with the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, when we encounter the ultimate reality of the Word of God made flesh then all the idols of our minds retreat while our hearts surrender to Christ. This is what happened to Paul. It was Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus which eroded his doubt; his pang of a guilty conscience receded into the shadows in the face of the overwhelming effulgence of the resurrected Lord.

During this season of Lent and Easter if you are struggling with doubt—e.g. doubt from pride, or doubt from pain and loss, etc.–turn your gaze again to the reality of our Lord who conquered death not for Himself, but for us. Because of Christ’s death on the cross, death for us is but a shadow; and because of Christ’s life and resurrection there is something more wonderful here and now for us and beyond!

Soli Deo Gloria

Rev. G Carl Moore

 

 

 

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Sanctity of Human Life Sermon

“You shall not murder. (Exo 20:13 NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Mat 5:21-22a NIV)

 

In one of his books, the great preacher and teacher Leslie Weatherhead tells about visiting some friends who had an old dog named Pete. Pete was in sad shape. He tottered about, had a raw spot on his back, and arthritis in his joints. Weatherhead asked his friends, “Why don’t you have Pete put to sleep?” “Oh no,” they said, “Pete is Mike’s dog.” Mike was their son who was away at the university. “If we put old Pete to sleep, what would we say when Mike came home and looked for his beloved dog? We couldn’t bear to say to him, ‘oh, we put him to sleep because he was such a bother and he wasn’t worth saving.”‘

“Not worth saving.” That was the label that Weatherhead could hang on old Pete, but not the parents because of their love for Mike and Mike’s love for old Pete. Love is a heavily value laden term, especially objects of sentimental value. The old dog Pete may not be loved by us but he’s definitely loved and valued by Mike. Can you imagine some cynical angel, like Weatherhead, looking down on the world and saying, “I don’t see why God keeps those mangy humans around? Look how they disobey. Look how wretched most of them are. Why don’t you just wipe them out? They aren’t worth saving!”  Morally speaking, we deserve the moral description of being mangy, but the reason why God doesn’t put us down, so to speak, is because our value is based on God’s benevolent love for us. We are God’s creation, made in His image and by virtue of this– HUMAN LIFE is sacred; human life is priceless.

So why does God give us a commandment that all cultures to one degree or another agree that murder (the unlawful taking of a human life) is wrong. Is God being superfluous? No!! God (in what some consider stating the obvious) is reinforcing the idea that human life is sacred. If there is no God, all things are permissible… even murder! Apart from God, there is nothing left but (as the late John Paul stated) a culture of death.

A culture of death surrounded ancient Israel. Not only was animal sacrifices acceptable, but also human sacrifice. (God Moloch). These pagan gods reflected the blood thirsty culture of death. It was in the midst of this culture of death that God commands Israel to value life. The term used in the Hebrew is RATZACH; this Hebrew word is never used in connection to the lawful execution of a death penalty or the kind of killing that takes place when a soldier is in a life and death situation that demands killing, nor is this word ever used in connection with hunting or killing animals for cultic reasons. What the bible forbids is not killing, but the unlawful killing of a human being: “You shall not murder.” This ranges from premeditated, cold blooded murder, from voluntary manslaughter (crimes of passion) to involuntary manslaughter (unintentional deaths). The sixth commandment is a prohibition against the unjust taking of a legally innocent life. This is why God does not exclude one participating in a just war or capital punishment. This is why I am not a pacifist when it comes to war or capital punishment, because to sanctify life is to sanctify INNOCENT life.

(All preaching is about afflicting the comfortable and bringing comfort to the afflicted!) When we look out upon our moral landscape how has innocent life been compromised?  Abortion! Now I know that there may be some rare cases for abortion (like if the life of the mother is compromised) but we all know that abortion policies are basically a license to kill. The task of the faith community is to urge pregnant women to give their unborn children the right to life. An abortion happens in America every three minutes. 27 percent of all the pregnancies in America, over one/fourth, end in abortion. During this service of worship, 180 abortions will occur. 94 percent of them happen because the mother (with or without husband) says that she can’t afford the child or that the child would interfere with the parents’ life style. To abort an unborn child for those reasons is a violation of the sixth commandment.

 

More and more we are living in a culture of death. In our secular and pragmatic society, innocent life is no longer sacred, but useful. If one’s life is no longer useful, but in fact becomes a burden on society or if one’s life is defective (of no use) then it’s time to abort.

A university professor, Dr. Christ Gabbard, valorized human intellect, while detesting poor mental function. This led him to adopt the ethics of Peter Singer who argues that society has a right to exclude people who are not “persons.” For instance, Singer and Gabbard believed that severely disabled people should either be killed or allowed to die. But the birth of Gabbard’s son who was born with permanent brain damage and is today a blind quadriplegic with cerebral palsy changed his mind. Gabbard writes:

 “After his birth … I was deeply ambivalent, having been persuaded by [Peter Singer’s] advocacy of … infanticide. But there was my son, asleep or unconscious, on a ventilator, motionless under a heat lamp, tubes and wires everywhere, monitors alongside his still and transparent-plastic crib. What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant….Many such well-meaning people would like to end my son’s suffering, but they do not stop to consider whether he is actually suffering. At times he is uncomfortable, yes, but the only real pain here seems to be the pain of those who cannot bear the thought that people like [my son] exist.”[1]

Notice what Dr. Gabbard says: “What most stirred me was the way he resembled me. Nothing had prepared me for this shock of recognition, for he was the boy in my own baby pictures, the image of me when I was an infant.” You see, Dr. Gabbard realized that his son’s value wasn’t in his function, but in his humanity. He noticed that his son was a human as he was human. But how did Dr. Gabbard come to the asinine conclusion that functionality defined humanity as humanity?

Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University’s Center for Human Values Peter Singer has said; “Killing a defective infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person.” Singer, who is considered the father of the international animal rights movement, has said that children less than one month old have no human consciousness and do not have the same rights as others. (Religion Today, 4/19/99). What is evil about Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house.

Even recently in the news we have seen the obscene and callous nature of Planned Parenthood, relegating the value of little aborted babies to the usefulness of their body parts. What is evil about both Planned Parenthood and Dr. Singer and his wicked statement is that personhood is connected to function. If our usefulness is radically compromised then our humanity is dehumanized beneath that of a common beast: ready for the slaughter house, while body parts are auctioned to the highest bidder!

 

To press this point for why this is morally evil and intellectually obtuse let me share a very important distinction between God’s love and human love. G K Chesterton notes the difference between human beings loving what we create versus God loving what he creates! He notes that we can only truly love what we create after it comes into being. We can tear down a house halfway and no big deal. But it’s not until a house becomes a home that we have a strong emotional connection. Not so with God. God loves what he creates before it comes into being. Question—is a baby a human product, something humans construct, not worthy of love until it comes into full being, like a house that can be torn down half way through construction? Or is a baby a divine creation deserving love before he or she is born? Which is it?

A professor at the UCLA Medical School asked his students this question: “Here is the family history: The father has syphilis. The mother has TB. They already have had four children. The first is blind. The second had died. The third is deaf. The fourth has TB. The mother is pregnant. The parents are willing to have an abortion if you decide they should. What do you think?” Most of the students decided on abortion. “Congratulations,” said the professor. “You have just murdered Beethoven!” Nothing is so final as murder, even when it is done very early in a life. The collaboration of the medical community in collaboration with an increasingly secular state is a dangerous combination without the strictures and moral guidance of religion. The church must be the moral conscious of a nation to uphold the sanctity of innocent life when human life is obviously profaned; this is obvious!

However, what about when it’s not so obvious. Abortion is an obvious violation of the sixth commandment, but what about no so obvious violation? In our text this morning Jesus talked about a not so obvious way that the sanctity of innocent life is compromised: viz. resentment, hatred. 21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.

Leonard Holt was a paragon of respectability. He was a middle-aged, hard-working lab technician who had worked at the same Pennsylvania paper mill for nineteen years. Having been a Boy Scout leader, an affectionate father, a member of the local fire brigade, and a regular church attender, he was admired as a model in his community – until that image exploded in a well-planned hour of bloodshed one brisk October morning. A proficient marksman, Leonard Holt stuffed two pistols in his coat pockets and drove to the mill. He stalked slowly into his shop and began shooting with calculated frenzy. He filled several co-workers with two or three bullets apiece, firing more than thirty shots, killing some men he had known for more than fifteen years. When the police found him standing defiantly in his doorway, he snarled, “Come and get me, you ________. I’m not taking any more of your _______!”

Bewilderment swept the community. Puzzled policemen and friends finally found a train of logic behind his brief reign of terror. Down deep within the heart of Leonard Holt rumbled the giant of resentment. His monk-like exterior concealed the seething hatred within. The investigation yielded the following facts: Several victims had been promoted over him while he remained in the same position. More than one in Holt’s carpool had quit riding with him due to his reckless driving. The man was brimming with resentment – rage that could be held no longer. Beneath his picture in Time, the caption told the story: “Responsible, Respectable, and Resentful.” (God Is For Life, 5/16/99, J. David Hoke). Let us not forget that when we hate our brothers or sisters, let us not forget when we personally hate our neighbor and our enemies we violate the sixth commandment. May we uphold the dignity and sanctity of life.

In conclusion, during the 1840’s in the Fiji Islands of the Pacific, a man was worth $7. You could buy a man for a musket. After you bought him you could starve him, work him, whip him or eat him. Cannibalism was very popular in those regions. But if you went to the Fiji Islands forty years later you could not buy a man for $7 million. What had made the difference?

Heroic missionaries like John G. Paton had brought the Gospel. Twelve hundred Christian chapels were scattered over the islands. The people had learned to read a book which says, “You shall not murder.” They had learned to see persons through the eyes of Christ. As we put on Christian lenses and focus on them as persons, murder will stop and God will be feared and our fellow man honored. What is a mangy human life worth? Priceless!! Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] Chris Gabbard, Papa Ph.D: Essays on Fatherhood by Men in the Academy, ed. Paige Martin Reynolds, Mary Ruth Marotte, and Ralph James Savarese (New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 217-223.

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The Cross and The Scimitar

Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ. 21 abFrom that time Jesus began to show his disciples that bhe must go to Jerusalem and csuffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on dthe third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord!1 This shall never happen to you.” 23 But he turned and said to Peter, a“Get behind me, Satan! You are ba hindrance1 to me. For you care not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” 24 Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him adeny himself and btake up his cross and follow me. 25 For awhoever would save his life1 will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

(Mat 16:2–25 ESV)

We live in a fallen world. Evidence to this fact abounds. Case in point, is the recent mass murder in Florida. What motivated Omar Mir Seddique Mateen to kill 49 innocent people at the Pulse, Orlando’s premier gay night club? There are probably many tangential reasons why: cultural, social, psychological. But behind all of these possible reasons there is at the core a theological reason. What do I mean? Unlike the Christian faith, the institutions of church and state (mosque) in the faith of Islam are conflated where the moral line between the power of persuasion and the persuasion of power is erased. It is no accident that the primary symbol of the Islamic faith is the scimitar. This does not mean all Muslims are violent. In fact it’s the contrary; a majority of Muslims are peaceful people. However, if one goes to the “root” of the Islamic faith one will find at its historical and theological core justification for violence in the name of Allah.  The term radical means root. “Radical” Islam is nothing more than going to the “root” of Islam. The root is the symbol of the scimitar or sword, a symbol of killing in the name of Allah. This was the core motivation of Mr. Mateen.

This is in contradiction to the Christian faith. The primary symbol of the Christian faith is the cross. Like the scimitar it too is a symbol of death. But unlike the scimitar it’s a symbol of death to self. Jesus died on the cross to save sinners. And in turn a Christian is called to (as Jesus says) “take up his cross and follow [Jesus].”

How do we take up our crosses? One way we take up our crosses is to love people, not condemn people; we are to relate to people, not discount them. As Christians how should we relate to homosexuals? Listen to how philosopher/theologian Dr. John Frame says we should love homosexuals:

In general, my view is that Christians should relate to homosexuals as people like themselves, in the image of God and therefore precious, but also fallen and therefore under God’s judgment apart from the grace of Christ. We should lovingly present Christ in such a way that brings repentance from sexual and other sins, and that brings change to a godly lifestyle.

 

We live in a fallen world, but the cross (not the scimitar) is this world’s only hope of redemption.

May we lovingly present Christ that brings repentance to not only homosexuals but all sinners. For we are all sinners saved by grace, denying ourselves and taking up our crosses daily.

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

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More Loved Than We Dare To Dream

But when athe goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us, anot because of works done by us in righteousness, but baccording to his own mercy, by cthe washing of regeneration and drenewal of the Holy Spirit, 6 whom he apoured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7 so that abeing justified by his grace we might become bheirs caccording to the hope of eternal life.

(Tit 3:4-7 ESV)

 

C.S. Lewis famously said: “The highest doesn’t stand without the lowest.” This makes sense. Case in point, what makes the height of Mt. Everest so spectacular is the depths of the Grand Canyon. What makes the height of the Freedom Tower possible is the depth of its foundation.

This is true, especially true of the gospel. The height of the good news of the gospel does not stand without the depths of the bad news. R.C. Sproul notes: “The gospel is only good news when we understand the bad news.”  If someone says to you—“I have bad news and good news”—if you are like me you may prefer the bad first (to get that out of the way) then the good. As a child I would prefer first my bland vegetables so I could in turn enjoy my dessert.

This is true of the gospel. Tim Keller says that: “In the gospel, we discover we are far worse off than we thought, and far more loved than we ever dreamed.” In other words the good news is the love of God, that we are loved beyond our wildest dreams, that we are accepted beyond what we can ever imagine, that we are embraced with breathtaking love! This is the height of the gospel that takes our breath away!

However, many take this for granted. Many in the churches across America today assume they are loved by God. God’s love is too domesticated, too tame, and too familiar. Such an understanding of God’s love is far from breathtaking, it’s more stale, arid, and old. Such a heart has never experienced the true love of God.

Ironically, what makes the height of God’s love so breathtaking to a true believer is coming to an understanding of the depths of our sinful nature, a biblical understanding that we (apart from Christ) are far worse off than we thought. Unconverted man hates this notion. Because of this he creates man made religions. For example look at legalism and humanism, The man- made religion of legalism tells us that the glass of our human goodness is half- empty. We are good, but not good enough. So, because of this, we must keep striving to increase our half-empty glass to being two-thirds empty or three-fourths empty with emphasis on the empty, the not quite good enough. The religion of legalism is fatally pessimistic. The other extreme is the man-made religion of humanism. It tells us that the glass of our human goodness is half-full. We are good, and getting better. We must strive to increase our half-full glass to being two-thirds full or three-fourths full with emphasis on our fullness; we are good and getting better all the time. The religion on humanism is fatally optimistic.

However, the gospel of God concerning Christ (the only God-made religion) is neither pessimistic, nor optimistic. It’s realistic. The gospel via the law says that it doesn’t matter if the glass of human goodness is either half-empty or half-full. For example, the gospel says that it doesn’t matter if the glass of your human goodness either has one drop in it (like the vice of an Adolf Hitler) or full to the brim (like the virtue of a Socrates). The gospel via the law tells us that the glass of our human nature is dirty with sin, that our dirty glass of sin contaminates our good works. The bad news is not that our glass is full or empty, but dirty. It doesn’t matter how little or how much water we have. It is still dirty.

But the good news is this: if we would fall on the mercy God and trust and repent of our sins and stop looking to our accomplishments (whether half-full or half-empty) and look to what Christ has accomplished on the cross, then God will do what is impossible for us to do; God (as Paul says to Titus) will wash us, and renews us, and pour out on and in us His Holy Spirit. In short, He will pour out our good works, wash the glass of our hearts, and renew us by pouring his presence and power within us, replacing the sour water of our righteousness with the pure water of the righteousness of Christ. Beloved this is the breathtaking height of the gospel!! As Christians may we soak this in! Though we are far worse off than we dare to think, remember that we are far more loved than we dare to dream.

Soli Deo Gloria

Carl

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