Monday, July 24, 2017

Bad Doctrine in the Hands of an Angry Minister: A Review of Brian Zahnd's "Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God"

Brian Zahnd has a bone to pick. By the title of his upcoming book, slated to release on August 15, you might think his bone is with puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards. The title of the book is Sinners In the Hands of a Loving God, a play on words against Edwards' famous sermon Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God, perhaps the most famous sermon ever preached on American soil. But Zahnd's bone isn't with Edwards. It's with the Bible.

Zahnd hates the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement. He has made no secret of this. I believe that if he and I were sitting next to one another, he would go, "Yup, I hate it." He agrees that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, but he has a rather vague way of explaining that. Zahnd says, "We violently sinned our sins into Jesus." Okay, what does that mean? Where is that in the Bible?

The Bible says Jesus died on the cross as a substitute for sinners. God imputed the guilt for our sins onto His Son, and He bore the punishment that we deserve in our place. By his sacrifice, God's wrath burning against unrighteousness is appeased. All who believe on the name of Christ are covered by His blood, and they have peace with God. The theological term for this is penal substitutionary atonement.

The Bible says, "He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned -- every one -- to His own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6). Notice there that God put our sin on Jesus.

The Apostle Paul says the same in 2 Corinthians 5:21, stating that for our sake, God made Him to be sin who knew no sin so that we might become the righteousness of God. God did that. To the Romans he wrote, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith" (Romans 3:23-25). Again, God put Him forward to be a propitiation by His blood.

Propitiation specifically means that God's anger has been turned away by the ransom that Christ paid for us. R.C. Sproul explains, "Propitiation brings about a change in God's attitude, so that He moves from being at enmity with us to being for us. Through the process of propitiation, we are restored into fellowship and favor with Him."

John wrote, "In this is love, not that we have loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). The doctrine of the atonement is a beautiful word of God that brings forth praise in the heart of every Christian who looks upon the cross and sees the love of the Father displayed in His Son Jesus Christ who shed His blood for our sins.

Brian Zahnd doesn't think so. He's quite sour over it, preaching that it makes God out to be a monster. Consider the implications of that -- If the doctrine of the atonement is biblical, Zahnd says God is a monster. How can Zahnd worship God if he thinks Him monstrous? Is he willing to hinge his own salvation on this issue?

Now, I've only read the first chapter since that's what his publisher has made available online ahead of the book's release. Lest anyone think I'm being unfair limiting my judgment to one chapter, the chapters in the table of contents happen to be titles of articles Zahnd has written on his blog: Jesus Is What God Has to Say, Who Killed Jesus?, Closing the Book on Vengeance, etc. I doubt the rest of the book says anything I haven't read or heard him say somewhere else.

From Jonathan Edwards to George MacDonald

Apparently Zahnd used to be quite the fundamentalist and his inspiration was Jonathan Edwards. He even made his own handwritten copy of Edwards' sermon Sinners In the Hands of an Angry God. That's dedication. But then turning to criticize the sermon, Zahnd is on his way to calling God a sadistic juvenile by page three, and a merciless torturer and keeper of an eternal Auschwitz by page five.

Now a far cry from Edwards, Zahnd's opinions on divine punishment are heavily influenced by the late George MacDonald, of whom Zahnd gives glowing praise. MacDonald likewise hated the doctrine of the atonement and taught that Jesus atoned for sins simply by defeating evil (known as the Christus Victor theory). He also believed that hell was not a place God sends people to, but a fire he uses to purify the heart of a hardened sinner just as a doctor uses fire to cauterize an infectious wound.

Zahnd quotes MacDonald's repudiation of Edwards believing that the Puritan's teaching was not Christ-like: "From all copies of Jonathan Edwards' portrait of God, however faded by time, however softened by the use of less glaring pigments, I turn with loathing. Not such a God is he concerning whom was the message John heard from Jesus, that he is light, and in him is no darkness at all."

According to Zahnd, God can't be a God who destroys sinners because that's too dark and God is light. He craftily pieces together fragments from Jeremiah, Paul, John, David, Hosea, Solomon, Job, and Hebrews. He insists, "The Old Testament is a journey of discovery," and "The Old Testament gives us many (and often contradictory) options." In between he says, "The Bible itself is on the quest to discover the Word of God."

Ah, and there's the fault in Zahnd's doctrine. The Bible is not a quest to discover the word of God -- the Bible is the word of God. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). The God on the right side of the book is the same God as the one on the left side of the book. Jesus Christ is the God of Leviticus. He is the God who delivered the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and destroyed those in the wilderness who did not believe (Jude 1:5). He was not idly standing by while He watched His angry dad reign down fire on Sodom and Gomorrah but was active in that judgment (Genesis 19:24).

How does Zahnd deal with such stories and passages? The same way MacDonald did concerning hell. Whenever we read about God's "wrath" in the Bible, Zahnd says it's simply a metaphor. Citing Psalm 7:11-13, Zahnd says God doesn't actually abhor sinners. Rather, sinners destroy themselves by their own sin and the Bible calls this the wrath of God.

The truest picture of God we have in the Bible, believes Zahnd, is seen in the parable of the prodigal son. "This is the portrait that preachers and theologians and artists should work from," he says. By that one quote it should be apparent how Zahnd attempts to paint the version of God he likes best. When you approach the Bible as a quest or a metaphor, then you can start with any allegory in the middle and work out from there.

I'd like to note that the story of the prodigal son is not actually called the story of the prodigal son. That's the name most popularly attributed to the parable, but it would be more accurate to call it the parable of the older brother. Why? Because that's who Jesus is addressing. The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling that Jesus "receives sinners and eats with them" (Luke 15:2). So Jesus told them three parables: one about a shepherd who rejoices when he finds his one lost sheep, one about a woman who rejoices when she finds her one lost coin, and one about a father who rejoices when he receives his one lost son.

All three parables illustrate that all of heaven rejoices when even one lost sinner repents (verses 7 and 10). But the parable of the prodigal son contains an element the other two stories don't have, and that's the older brother. When Jesus gets to the third parable, he hammers his point home to the audience he was addressing -- the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling. They're like the older brother who doesn't rejoice over the repentance of sinners, but rather believes he deserves a party because he kept all the father's rules.

In a sermon on this parable entitled Beware the Elder Brother, Voddie Baucham preached that the older brother here is saying, "I don't care that the death of Christ on the cross made the redemption of my brother possible. I just care that you don't think enough of me keeping the rules. What's important here is not the Father's delight in a sinner who was ransomed by the Son and brought home by the Spirit. What matters here is that you make much of me." That's the point of the parable. It's to warn the elder brother, not to preach the gospel.

Much to Zahnd's chagrin, Benjamin Warfield has pointed out that the parable of the prodigal son does not contain the gospel. Jesus said, "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10), yet there is no seeking on the part of the father in the story. But most importantly, Warfield says, the parable is not the gospel because there's no atonement for sin! Of little wonder why Zahnd likes it so much.

Warfield dealt with this same matter in his day. Certain false teachers were denying the atonement and trying to push the message of the gospel contained in the parable of the prodigal son. Warfield responded:
 "It is precisely because there is no atonement in this parable that it has been seized upon by the modern tendency to which we have alluded, as the norm of the only Christianity it will profess. For nothing is more characteristic of this new type of Christianity than that it knows and will know nothing of an atonement. The old Socinians were quick to perceive this feature of the parable, and to make use of it in their assault upon the doctrine of Christ's satisfaction for sin. See, they cried, the father in the parable asks no satisfaction before he will receive back his son: he rather sees him afar off and runs to meet him and gives him a free and royal welcome. The response is no doubt just that other Scriptures clearly teach the atonement of which no hint is given here; and that we have no right to expect that every passage in Scripture, and least of all these parables, which exist under necessary limitations in their power of setting forth the truth, shall contain the whole circle of Christian doctrine."
Bam. So again, nothing that Brian Zahnd has written in Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God is anything new. Warfield was combating these same criticisms a hundred years ago. It's just the same old heresies with a different book jacket on it.

In Conclusion

The doctrine of the atonement has taken some punches this year, but the word of the Lord stands forever. Michael Gungor went on a Twitter tirade in which he called the doctrine of the atonement "horrific." William Paul Young, who wrote the forward to Zahnd's book (and whose most recent book I reviewed a few months ago), calls the atonement a "lie."

In response, Owen Strachen wrote the following: "What truly horrifies sinful humanity is not, in the end, Scripture's stubborn reliance upon blood atonement. The problem is much deeper. What truly offends human nature about the atonement is the greatness of the God who forgives through it, the lavish nature of the mercy that flows from it, the salvation for the wicked accomplished by it. It is precisely this salvation our fallen hearts reject. It is exactly this forgiving God we defy and even dare to correct. We must take care here: to promote the cross without the atonement means we do not promote the cross at all."

I fear for Zahnd's soul when he calls God a monster for the atonement when the Bible clearly teaches it. If Zahnd doesn't repent, he may soon discover that the wrath of God is not a metaphor, no matter how much he insists it is. If Zahnd does repent, he will finally see the grace, love, and mercy of God in the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ for sinful man -- as he has yet to see it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Internet Famous: How a Young Couple's Quest for Fame Turned Deadly

A young couple wanted to be famous on YouTube. They aspired to have 300,000 followers and millions of views. What kind of stunt could they do to get that much attention? So the young man, Pedro Ruiz III, got an idea. He would have his girlfriend, Monalisa Perez, fire a gun at an encyclopedia he held to his chest, convinced the bullet wouldn't go through.

The gun Perez used would be a Desert Eagle .50 caliber pistol -- comparable to a .44 Magnum and can hit with the force of a .308 Winchester rifle. But Ruiz thought he was safe. He had tested the stunt on a stack of encyclopedias and it didn't even go through the first one. Perez was of course reluctant to participate, but her boyfriend talked her into it. She posted on Twitter that they were "probably going to shoot one of the most dangerous videos ever."

Ruiz thought this was the ticket to becoming internet famous and he would be throwing parties. The couple resided in rural Minnesota, Perez a stay-at-home mom pregnant with their second child and Ruiz working for a railroad company. They wanted something more than their meager living. YouTube fame was their way to stardom.

But the stunt went horribly wrong.

On Monday evening at the couple's residence, a camera was fixed on a ladder and another on the back of the car to catch the feat from two different angles. Ruiz held the inch-and-a-half thick book in front of him. Perez fired the gun from a foot away. It went through the volume and hit Ruiz in the chest. Their three-year-old daughter was with them.

The Norman County Sheriff's Office received a 911 call around 6:30 from Perez, admitting that she and her boyfriend were trying to make a YouTube video and she accidentally shot him in the chest. Ruiz was pronounced dead on the scene.

Perez is being charged with second-degree manslaughter, meaning that according to the law she killed her boyfriend out of negligence and not malicious intent. For this stunt, she could face a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Her family has said that she will have to live with this for the rest of her life, and that's penalty enough.

"I really have no idea what they were thinking," said Sheriff Jeremy Thornton to the New York Times. "I just don't understand the younger generation on trying to get their fifteen minutes of fame."

Indeed, fame is toxic. Even deadly. The Apostle Paul said, "Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Galatians 6:7-8).

In other words, anything we try to gain in this world that we think will bring satisfaction to our flesh will ultimately result in destruction. That might not happen as quickly for you as it did for this young couple, but it's still corrupt and will come to ruin.

You know that. You observe it in the world around you. The tech gadgets you love so much today that you can't imagine your life without are the stuff of tomorrow's garage sales and garbage heaps. So why are you trying to find joy in things that will not last? That ultimately we know cannot bring us any lasting satisfaction? Surely you've heard the proverb that says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12, 16:25).

That's what happened to Pedro Ruiz III and Monalisa Perez. And everyone else thinks they know better. Prior to this disastrous stunt, their YouTube videos had a couple-thousand views each at the most. Thanks to the attention caused by Ruiz's death, they now have views into the tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, one video with half-a-million views.

I scrolled through the comment section of those videos, and it's full of people who think they have more sense than Ruiz or Perez. Said one comment, "Now you're a stay-in-jail mom!" Another said, "I hope nobody feels sorry for his death, you two are idiots" (profanity omitted). Another said, "Playing Stupid Games will award you Stupid Prizes."

But what if the stunt had worked? What if they got the attention they wanted without someone having to lose their life to get it? I wonder how many of the same people who are decrying the couple's foolish antics would have become immediate participants in their quest for fame. How many copycats would have tried to concoct a potentially deadly stunt just to get a million thumbs ups?

Maybe you have enough sense not to shoot someone in the chest. Maybe internet fame is not important to you. But given the circumstances, you are just as capable of doing self-destructive things to get the things you think you need to be happy. Maybe that destruction won't happen in the length of a trigger-pull, but again, you will be destroyed with whatever worldly thing or idea you sow to your flesh.

The Bible talks about a day that is coming when the world will be judged with fire, and the works that are done on it will be exposed. Whatever was done for the glory of God will survive, and that person will receive an imperishable crown in Christ's eternal kingdom. Whatever was not of God will be destroyed, along with those who did such godless works.

Said the Apostle Peter, "Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to His promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by Him without spot or blemish, and at peace" (2 Peter 3:11-14).

The Bible says to set our minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth, and we will live forever with Christ in glory (Colossians 3:1-4). All flesh is like grass and its glory like the flower which withers and fades into nothing (1 Peter 1:24). For those whose minds are set on earthly things, their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame (Philippians 3:19).

Jesus said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels" (Luke 9:23-26).

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Is Aaron Hernandez Guilty or Innocent?

Aaron Hernandez, the famed football tight-end for the New England Patriots, was convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd who died of a gunshot wound on June 17, 2013, in North Attleborough, MA. Hernandez was arrested 9 days later in connection with his death, and was found guilty of first-degree murder which came with a mandatory life-sentence without the possibility of parole.

Hernandez was also indicted for the 2012 double homicide of Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado, but was acquitted earlier this year. Just days after his acquittal, Hernandez was found dead in his prison cell having hanged himself. His death was ruled a suicide. Cardboard was jammed under the cell door to make it difficult for someone to enter and stop him, and Hernandez had covered the floor in shampoo so his feet would slip and he'd be unable to save himself if he had second thoughts.

He left three handwritten letters next to an open Bible and had written the reference to "John 3:16" in ink on his forehead. He also had rosary beads hanging on the wall of his cell. In addition were drawings on the walls in his own blood. One drawing was an unfinished pyramid with the Eye of Providence and the word "Illuminati" scrawled underneath. In the notes he had written, he said he was entering a "timeless realm," that he loved his family, and no one should shed any tears for him.

Today, less than three weeks after his suicide, a Massachusetts judge acquitted Hernandez of murder, and based her decision on a legal rule called abatement ab initio. According to the rule, if a defendant dies before their appeal is heard, the conviction gets thrown out. Hernandez did not have the chance to appear before he took his own life. So though Aaron Hernandez died a convicted murderer, in the eyes of the law, thanks to this legal loophole, he is an innocent man.

There is a day that is fixed on which God will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). Everyone will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and He will gather the nations before Him and separate them as one separates the sheep from the goats. Those who worshiped Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and did the things that Jesus did will enter into eternal life. But those who did not know Christ will suffer under the eternal wrath of God (Matthew 25:31-46).

There will be no legal loopholes. It is appointed for a man to die once, and after that comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). None of the laws that man can devise will be able to save a person on that day. Such laws and legal stipulations have no bearing on the condition of a person's eternal soul. Jesus said not to fear the one who can destroy the body and after that can do nothing. Instead, we are to fear Him who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell (Luke 12:4-5).

A man or woman can die innocent in this life, having not broken any law of man. But on the other side, he or she will be found guilty of breaking the Law of God. As for the lawless and disobedient, the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to the Law of God (1 Timothy 1:9-11).

As for adulterers, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). As for the heart that brings forth evil thoughts, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and slander (Matthew 15:19). As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).

All have sinned, and the wages of sin is death (Romans 3:23, 6:23). The only way that a man can escape this sentence under the holy and righteous justice of the living God is if his sins have been atoned for by the perfect blood of Jesus Christ. This is not a "loophole." Justice has been paid, and it has been paid by Christ. This is the grace and mercy of a loving God who, though we deserve His wrath and nothing else, gave Himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14).

The wrath of God was poured out upon Christ on the cross. He took our sentence upon Himself, and by His wounds we are healed of our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He cancelled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This He set aside, nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14). Jesus kept the Law when we could not and lived a perfect life, and for our sake He became sin who knew no sin so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

For those who have turned from sin and worship Christ the Lord, your sins are forgiven for His name's sake (1 John 2:12). Let your conduct in this world be honorable, so that when others speak up against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day that He returns to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 2:12). This is the only way for you to be saved -- through faith in Jesus Christ -- and no other way. There is no other way one can stand righteous before God than clothed in the righteousness of Christ. He will forgive you your sins, cleansed from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9), and save you from the day of wrath, making it for you a day of rejoicing.

Even more than this, we will be raised with new and imperishable bodies, like the body of Christ our Lord (Philippians 3:21), and will become fellow heirs with Him in His kingdom. He will wipe away every tear and death shall be no more, neither will there be mourning, crying, or pain ever again (Revelation 21:4). Turn from sin and cry out to God for forgiveness, and you will have it. Go to church so that you may grow in the knowledge of Him, in brotherly love and kindness, stirring one another to love and good works, encouraging each other as we see the Day of the Lord drawing near (Hebrews 10:25).

No one knows the day or the hour that they will die. And there are any number of ways that you could be taken out of this world at a moment. A feather can hold itself to the ground against a strong gust of wind more effectively than you can hold your life in your own hands. As the great preacher Jonathan Edwards has said:
"It is no security to wicked men for one moment, that there are no visible means of death at hand. It is no security to a natural man, that he is now in health, and that he does not see which way he should now immediately go out of the world by any accident, and that there are no visible danger in any respect to his circumstances... All the means that there are of sinners going out of the world, are so in God's hands, and so universally and absolutely subject to His power and determination, that it does not depend at all the less on the mere will of God, whether sinners shall at any moment go to hell, than if means were never made use of, or at all concerned in the case."
It is by the grace and will of God that you have not been snuffed out in this very moment, though that is what you deserve. And God has no obligation to spare you His wrath. Who has done anything for God that He owes something to them (Romans 11:35)? He sits in the heavens and He does as He pleases (Psalm 115:3).

But it has pleased God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to atone for the sins of His people. He rose again from the grave, showing that He has power over death itself, so that all who believe in Him will inherit His eternal life. He has done this by His great mercy and love, to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:6). We know God is true to His promises to save the people of Jesus Christ because He is true to Himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

The verse that Aaron Hernandez scrawled on his forehead, John 3:16, says this: For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life. Aaron Hernandez did not understand this verse or any of the word of God, nor did he have the life of Jesus Christ. Otherwise, he would not have taken his own life, for no one who murders has the eternal life of Christ abiding in him (1 John 3:15).

There is no sin Aaron Hernandez committed that he would not have been forgiven. But instead of trusting in Christ, he tried many other ways to get to heaven by his own power -- not through the God of the Bible, but through the false god of the Illuminati and the false god of the Roman Catholic Church. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one gets to the Father but by me" (John 14:6). Jesus is not one of the ways. He is the only way to God. And whoever does not know the truth does not know the way.

Though a judge on earth may pardon the sins of Aaron Hernandez, the judge of all the universe does not submit to the will of men. He is great and He is fearful, which is why it is said, "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of all knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7). Whoever does not fear God knows nothing (1 Corinthians 8:2). All of His works are wonderful. The stupid man cannot know and the fool cannot understand the mighty workings of God; that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever (Psalm 92:6-7).

Today is the day of salvation (2 Corinthians 6:2). This is the day to turn from your sin. Call upon the Lord and ask for His forgiveness. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourself before the Lord, and He will exalt you (James 4:8-10). Believe on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved (Acts 16:31).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Lies We Believe About God (a review of the new book by The Shack author William Paul Young)

Hot on the release of the mediocre film The Shack (18% approval rating by critics on Rotten Tomatoes, 6.8 viewer rating on IMDb), the book's author William Paul Young has released Lies We Believe About God. It came out March 7, less than a week after The Shack hit theaters.

If there was any question about Young's theology, this book leaves no doubt. Personally, I had no questions about what Young believes about God -- it's all in The Shack. But this hasn't stopped scores of people from defending the book/movie as "just a story." For example, rapper Lecrae, featured on the film's soundtrack, defended it as just fiction and not theology, as though fiction gets a pass when it comes to the scrutiny God commands we are to give everything (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

Aside from the fact that any talk about God is theology, Young has outright said The Shack is theology. In the forward to C. Baxter Kruger's book The Shack Revisited, Young wrote, "Please don't misunderstand me; The Shack is theology. But it is theology wrapped in story, the word becoming flesh and living inside the blood and bones of common human experience." (This is the quote given in the WWUTT video on The Shack vs The Bible.)

Kruger returned the favor by writing the forward to Young's book Lies We Believe About God. And it's a really weird forward. It's almost as if Kruger is saying, "I know the stuff you're going to read in this book is kind of wonky, but I can verify that William Paul Young is still a Christian!" In actuality, Young in his own words exposes himself as a heretic. Again, we shouldn't be surprised. He already did this in The Shack.

All of Young's chapters in the book are "lies we believe about God." There are 28 of them, chock full of man-centered doctrine. It's not kind-of man-centered. It's all man-centered. Here are ten of the titles of these chapters and the theology they contain. Again, the titles are all "lies" Young says most people believe about God.

"God is good, I am not." 
And again, I must emphasize Young believes this is a lie. He goes as far as saying that there are pastors who are allowed to stand in their pulpits and preach this lie that people are not good. Young has a tenuous relationship with the Bible. Sometimes entire chapters of his don't contain a single verse. So we don't know how Young deals with passages like Romans 3:12 which says, "No one does good," or verse 23 which says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." Young repeats the liberal theological trope that everything God makes is good, and since I'm made in the image of God, I am good. But he misses the reality of original sin: since Adam, we have taken that image and desecrated it with our sin, exalting ourselves in the place of God, and for that we deserve His holy and divine wrath. Jesus, the only good man there ever was, satisfied the wrath of God with His sacrifice on the cross. All who believe in Jesus will live. That gospel message does not exist in Young's theology.

"God is in control." 
Yes, Young actually believes that God is not in control. He says, "God has the creative audacity to build purpose out of the evil we generate, but that will never justify what is wrong. Nothing, not even the salvation of the entire cosmos, could ever justify a horrific torture device called a 'cross.'" Does Young just not know that the Bible addresses this very thing? Peter preached at Pentecost, "This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men" (Acts 2:23). God foreordains, but this in no way absolves men from the guilt of his evil acts. What we mean for evil, God always means for good (Genesis 50:20). We are responsible to turn from sin and to Christ for forgiveness.

"God does not submit."
Young comes back over and over to the fact that we are created in the image of God and proceeds to draw false conclusions: Since I'm made in God's image, whatever I'm like, God must be like that. Since I have to submit, then God also has to submit. Young also believes the Father submits to the Son. He does not. Young goes as far as saying God even has to abide by the golden rule: He treats us the way He wants us to treat Him. But Jesus serving us (Matthew 20:28) is not the same thing as submission. To submit means to yield to authority. We have no authority over God. Absolutely zero. The only person Jesus submitted to was His Father in heaven. He submitted to God and served us as the ultimate example of what it means to love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. This fulfills the law and the prophets (Matthew 5:17, 7:12).

"God is more he than she."
Young tells a very remarkable story about how his mother saved an infant child who then grew up to become an Anglican priest who tells Young's mother that Young was right to make God in The Shack into a large black woman named Papa. Ugh. He took a true, very heart-felt and inspirational story, and turned it into something self-centered and pretentious. Young says God possesses feminine qualities (nurse, mother, etc.); therefore, He can be a woman, too. Again, it's all man-centered and feelings-based, not biblical. God created man to be the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church. The husband is to be a picture of Christ laying His life down for the church, the wife is a picture of the church submitting to Christ, and the head of Christ is God our Father (1 Corinthians 11:3, Ephesians 5:22-33). For all Young's talk about "submission," the one thing he doesn't seem to want to submit to is the Bible.

"You need to get saved."
Young says, "God does not wait for my choice and then 'save me.' God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!" He goes on: "Every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. When Jesus was lifted up, God 'dragged' all human beings to Himself." He references John 12:32 which says, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself." It's the favorite verse of all universalists, and it's totally out of context. Previously in John 3:36, we read, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him."

"Hell is separation from God."
Since Young has already revealed himself as a universalist, surely you know he doesn't believe anyone goes to hell. In fact, he quotes Romans 8:38-39 which says nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. Therefore, hell cannot be a place where we are separated from God. Rather, Young says, hell is God. It is "the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness and Freedom that intends to destroy every vestige of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive." But Jesus said those who do not believe in Him and do the will of His Father in heaven will go away into eternal punishment at the final judgment (Matthew 25:46, Revelation 21:8). Hell is a real place that real people will be cast into unless they in this life repent of sin and follow Jesus Christ. The Bible could not be more clear.

"The Cross was God's idea."
Young says God didn't come up with the cross -- we did. Again, the Bible addresses this point. See above. The Bible foretold that Christ would be crucified centuries before crucifixion was even invented (Psalm 22:16). This is not because God looked down the tunnel of time and learned something about the future, as though God needed to learn anything. That is a pagan myth rooted in fortune-telling and soothsaying. God knows the future because He foreordained it.

"Not everyone is a child of God."
This again is something presented in The Shack, that everyone is God's child. Logically, if everyone is made in the image of God, and everyone is good, and everyone is going to go to heaven, then of course according to Young, everyone is a child of God. He takes out of context a passage from Ephesians 4 to back up his point. But he missed the one in Ephesians 2 that says before we come to Christ, we are children of the devil subject to the wrath of God (see also John 8:44). God adopts us into His family through Jesus Christ, and we become the adopted sons and daughters of God (Ephesians 1:4-5, Romans 8:15, Galatians 4:4-7, 1 John 3:1). Indeed, not everyone is a child of God. Only those who are followers of Jesus are children of God.

"Sin separates us from God."
Again, we're created in the image of God, and God doesn't create anything bad. Sin, according to Young, "is anything that negates or diminishes or misrepresents the truth of who you are, no matter how pretty or ugly that is." He then goes into a bunch of Osteenian affirmations of who the Bible says you are: "You are trustworthy! You have integrity! You are loving!" No, you're not. The Bible says very specifically what sin is: "Sin is lawlessness" (1 John 3:4). It is willful, open rebellion against the High King of the universe. Everyone has done it (Romans 3:23) and everyone deserves death for it (Romans 6:23). But the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord for all who believe. Those who are in Christ will turn from a life of sin and pursue the righteousness of God.

EDIT: Someone asked me if in the book Young said Jesus was guilty of sin. Not exactly. Young postulates that Jesus made mistakes, like He misspelled a word or hammered a nail in the wrong place. His definition of sin is actually too soft for him to say that Jesus sinned. He basically says you are capable of living the human experience perfectly like Jesus did. Sin is when we think less of ourselves than we really are. It's still heresy because it's works-righteousness and if we say we don't sin His word is not in us (1 John 1:10). But Young doesn't commit the added error of accusing Jesus of sinning against God.

"God is One alone."
Young says that the God who "needs to be appeased, and failure is met by wrath and judgment" is a false one. Unfortunately for Young, that's the God of the Bible, only it's not the whole picture. He is indeed a God of wrath and judgment, but He is also a God of love and mercy. Young says those two things cannot co-exist. God says that they do (Exodus 34:6-7). He displays the full spectrum of His glory by saving for Himself the objects of His mercy, and pouring out judgment on vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22-23). God is eternally gracious toward those whom He has saved and adopted as His children. He is eternally wrathful toward those who have rebelled against Him and rejected His Son. Repent of your sin and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior, and be saved from the coming judgment.

Young closes his book by presenting a quote from the god of The Shack, and says that's the god he believes in. Quite literally, he says the god he believes in is the god he invented in his own story. The Shack is a story, and it is a lie from the heart of a liar. With this new book, Young set out to "expose" lies we believe about God. Instead, he presented a lot of lies he believes about God.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

An Uber Confusing Evangelism Experience

I'm presently in California for the Shepherd's Conference held at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The theme this year is in honor of the 500th anniversary of the protestant reformation. Speakers include John MacArthur, Al Mohler, Mark Dever, Steve Lawson, and many others. It's going to be a great week of teaching and fellowship with other pastors.

I wasn't in California for very long before I was exposed as "not from around here." Yes, the "You're not in Kansas anymore" jokes abound. I've been all over the U.S., having set foot in about 40 different states, but I guess there's just something different about California.

When I got to my hotel, a gentleman recommended to me that Uber was the best way to get a ride, much cheaper than a cab. I'd never used Uber before, so I downloaded the app and scheduled my first trip. The Uber map put me in a weird place to rendezvous with my driver, but we managed to find each other. I apologized and told him this was my first Uber experience, and he explained to me how it all worked.

My destination was Grace Community Church. How I ended up there is a story in itself. The short version is that Nate and I need to work on our communication skills. But since I was on the GCC campus, I figured I would look around. Everyone was getting ready for the conference. There's tables and tents and more tables and somewhere there's surely chairs.

I found my way to the Master's Seminary library. There in a display case under glass are Dr. John MacArthur's first sermon notes -- on the book of Philippians! That's also the first book I preached through. I had no idea it was Dr. MacArthur's first as well. When was that, 1878? Did he ever meet Charles Spurgeon?

Anyway, once it was dark, I figured it was time to head back to my hotel. For some reason, my Uber app didn't want to work. I became concerned I wasn't going to be able to get back to Burbank. I was just about to start fasting and praying when suddenly a car pulled up in front of me. The driver rolled down the window and said, "Gabriel Hughes?"

"Yes?" I replied.

He said he was my Uber driver. We were both kind of stunned because my app wasn't working and he said his was acting up, too. But he did get a notice that a Gabriel Hughes needed a ride from my current location. Because I'm a trusting person, I hopped in and off we went back to Burbank.

He asked me if I went to church there at Grace Community since that's where I was coming from. I said I was in town for a pastor's conference. I asked him if he was a Christian and he said he was an Armenian Christian. Well, I thought he said he was Arminian.

Now, I've never had anyone just outright say to me that they're an Arminian. But this was in a certain context. I was just coming from John MacArthur's church, after all, a famous Calvinist preacher. In my brain, I thought this driver knew of the church and its Calvinist teaching, and he found it necessary to clarify that he was Arminian.

So I started explaining to him the doctrines of grace. I explained that mankind is inherently sinful. In fact, he's so depraved that he can do nothing righteous before God. Romans 3 explains that no one is righteous, no one understands, and no one seeks for God. We cannot will ourselves to believe in Him. But we also can't resist His will when He calls us to Himself.

In God's infinite grace and mercy, which He predestined for His children, He regenerates our hearts to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. We turn from our sin and believe on His name. His sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd and they follow Him and no one is able to snatch them out of His hand. In the Spirit we are sealed for the day of redemption. That's the short version, anyway.

The driver was rather confused. Somewhere in his attempt to clarify, he said that Armenians were the first Christians. I thought he said that he was First Christian; as in, the First Christian Church denomination. So I asked him, "Is your church like a non-denominational First Christian church, or are you Stone-Campbell and teach baptismal regeneration?" Now he was really confused. (You can look up what he meant by "first Christians" on your own.)

I was eventually able to figure out that he was saying that he was an Armenian Christian, not an Arminian Christian. He explained he had never heard these terms before: Arminianism and Calvinism. So I explained to him that Arminianism was named after Jacobus Arminius from whom the doctrines were derived, and Calvinism was a response to Arminianism named for the teachings of protestant reformer John Calvin.

So this unassuming Uber driver got a theology lesson in the short distance from Grace Community Church to Burbank,. We also managed to get the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians in there. I told him that while there are different perspectives of covenant, we're still brothers and sisters in Christ and Him crucified. That was probably another confusing reference.

It wasn't until the end of our trip that I figured out he considered himself a Christian because he was Armenian, but didn't actually know the gospel. Sometimes he went to church and lit candles, he said. Though I'm sure I gave him a very confusing gospel message, I pray that the Spirit will make sense of it for him. Maybe he knows he can always go to Grace Community Church.

I'm a stranger here in more ways than one. It's all Nate's fault.