Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: February, 2014

GEORGE WHITEFIELD, EVANGELIST

George Whitefield preaching

George Whitefield preaching

    We recently had the occasion to read a remarkable sermon by George Whitefield entitled “The Method of Grace.” It is a fascinating example of evangelistic preaching and is well worth taking to heart today.

    Whitefield (1714-1770) was perhaps one of the most phenomenal preachers ever to preach in the English language. The famous 18th Century evangelist traveled extensively through England, Scotland and the American colonies, and was a leading figure of the Great Awakening of the 1740’s. He almost always drew huge crowds wherever he went. Untold thousands owed their conversions to the instrumentality of his preaching.

    The text for this particular sermon was Jeremiah 6:14, in which the prophet Jeremiah, speaking of the corrupt religious leaders of his day, said, “They have healed also the hurt of the daughter of my people slightly, saying, Peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Whitefield then began his sermon with this striking observation: “As God can send a nation or people no greater blessing than to give them faithful, sincere, and upright ministers, so the greatest curse that God can possibly send upon a people in this world, is to give them over to blind, unregenerate, carnal, lukewarm, and unskilled guides.” Such preachers, Whitefield said, were prone to curry favor with their audiences by giving them a false assurance – by papering over the real and serious spiritual problems that plague the nation. A faithful preacher, however, will tell his listeners the truth, so that they might achieve a genuine peace to their souls.

    Whitefield then proceeded to do exactly that. He began by stressing that true religion is an inward thing, “a work wrought in the soul by the power of the Spirit of God.” Then he pointed to the fact that we are guilty of having committed actual sins. But even more that that, we are sinners by nature. “If we look inwardly, we shall see enough of lusts, and man’s temper contrary to the temper of God. There is pride, malice, and revenge, in all our hearts . . .”

    Whitefield pointed out that sometimes, when people first come under the conviction of sin, their initial reaction is to try to do better, — to try to reform their lives outwardly through their own effort. But without a renewed heart a person may be doing many of the right things outwardly, but for the wrong reasons, and that hardly gains credit with God. “. . . nature cannot act above itself. It is impossible that a man who is unconverted can act for the glory of God; he cannot do anything in faith, and ‘whatever is not of faith is sin.'” Even the good works of Christians are tainted by impure motives. “. . .my repentance wants [i.e., needs] to be repented of . . . Our best duties are so many splendid sins.”

    He then pointed out that many people who were reared in a Christian environment may think that they are Christians, when in fact they are not. They have what is sometimes termed “a historical faith” – an attachment to the Christian religion mainly for social and cultural reasons – lack what Whitefield called “a true faith, wrought in the heart by the Spirit of God.”

    Here we can see one of the most striking differences between Whitefield’s preaching and what often passes for “evangelism” today. Whitefield began by laboring to convince his listeners that they were sinners. Then, and only then, did he proclaim the promise of forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. You have to get them lost before you can get them saved!

    Having described the lost condition of his unconverted listeners Whitefield then went on and came to the crux of the matter. In order to achieve genuine, lasting peace, “You must be enabled to lay hold upon the perfect righteousness, the all-sufficient righteousness, of the Lord Jesus Christ, you must lay hold by faith on the righteousness of Jesus Christ, and then you shall have peace . . . Before we can even have peace with God, we must be justified by faith through our Lord Jesus Christ, we must be enabled to apply Christ to our hearts, we must have Christ brought home to our souls, so as his righteousness may be made our righteousness, so as his merits may be imputed to our souls.” Here we can see that two different things are involved in salvation. One is the act of “justification,” whereby Christ’s righteousness is “imputed” or charged to our account, and we are thereby counted righteous in the sight God. The other element of salvation is regeneration, or the New Birth, the work of the Holy Spirit in our souls, convicting us of sin, bringing us to faith in Christ, and imparting to us spiritual life. The former element does not happen without the latter.

    Whitefield ended his sermon with a heartfelt plea to sinners to flee to Christ for salvation. He warned them of the danger of hell. He cited his own personal experience as an unconverted person. And even though he was a staunch Calvinist he urged his listeners to act, although he did not issue an alter call or ask people to walk down an aisle.

    Whitefield’s sermon is a startling reminder of what is involved in a genuine conversion, and what evangelism is supposed to be like. What is at stake is eternity, and what is involved is the inward transformation of the soul by the power of the Holy Spirit. And what are needed are faithful preachers who will boldly tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. May God raise up such men in our time!

CHRISTIANITY IS SUPPOSED TO BE DIFFERENT

In our last blog post we commented on a CNN Belief Blog by Rachel Held Evans in which she took Evangelicalism to task on a number of issues. Among other things she criticized evangelical Christianity for being “hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She goes on to say that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more that sticking to a set of rules.” In saying this she seems to be adopting the viewpoint of modern society at large, in which homosexuality is rapidly becoming accepted. (We realize that her own personal opinion may be more nuanced than that, but if so, it does not come out in her article.)

But Christianity is not supposed to conform to the standards of the world. It is supposed to be different from the society around it.

We get a clear picture of the position of the church in the world in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. Paul is writing to a group of Christian believers in the city of Ephesus, an important commercial, political and religious center in Asia Minor. The epistle may also have been intended for Christians in nearby cities as well. The region was sophisticated and wealthy – a center of Hellenistic civilization.

Paul makes it clear, however, that the Christians were not to conform to the standards of society around them. “This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind” (Eph. 4:17; NKJV). He then goes on to give a scathing critique of the surrounding culture. Their understanding is “darkened”; they are “alienated from the life of God”; their hearts are hard; they are “past feeling” (vv. 18,19). As a result, they “have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness” (v. 19). The word translated “lewdness” (aselgeia) means licentiousness or sensuality (cf. NASV,NIV,ESV). It speaks of a decadent society devoted to pleasure.

The Christians in Ephesus used to live like that. But Paul tells them to “put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to deceitful lusts” (v. 22). He goes on in verses 25-32 (and indeed the entire rest of the epistle) to list the behaviors that acceptable and unacceptable. They were to put away all lying, anger, stealing and foul language. “Let all put away bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you” (vv. 31,32). In other words, Christianity is everything about how we live, and how a Christian lives should stand in sharp contrast with how the rest of society lives. The Christian life is supposed to be a life of non-conformity.

Ms. Evans complains that “the evangelical obsession with sex can make Christian living seem like little more than sticking to a list of rules.” In some churches that may be the case, and she may have felt that way as a young adolescent chafing under parental control. But that is not the way it is supposed to be. True holiness begins in the heart and mind. “. . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,” Paul says (v. 23). Having denounced a whole list of sinful behaviors, Paul concludes by pointing to the inward attitude of the heart: “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted. . .” (v. 32). True righteousness flows from the heart, and sinful behavior is sinful precisely because it is contrary to the love of Christ that should fill the heart.

This, in turn, presupposes the actual experience of salvation and the real relationship with Christ that follows. Having described the moral corruption of Gentile society Paul says, “But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as the truth is in Jesus” (vv. 20,21; NASV). To “hear Him” means to sense Christ Himself calling you to salvation. To be “taught in Him” means to learn as one is “in Him,” i.e., to know Him personally and to have His Holy Spirit dwelling in your heart. The Christian thus taught has a new perspective on life, a new value system, and new motives. He is no longer content merely to go through life living for himself, seeking pleasure wherever he can find it, and exploiting others to his own advantage. He has a higher calling and purpose in life, and the world with all its tawdry tinsel and toys has no attraction for him. He is a changed person, a “new man,” with a renewed heart, and he could never go back to his former manner of life.

The proper aim of Christianity is not to become more like the world, either in style or in substance. The church is not called to base its doctrine or its practice on public opinion polls. Rather, it is supposed to follow Christ in the path of discipleship. And this requires a life of non-conformity.

MILLENNIALS AND THE CHURCH

In a recent CNN Belief Blog evangelical blogger and author Rachel Held Evans tells us that she is frequently asked to speak on the question of “Why millennials are leaving the church.” She recites a familiar litany of complaints. Surveys, she says, show that “young adults perceive evangelical Christianity to be too political too exclusive, old-fashioned unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.” She then makes the interesting observation that simply adapting a more contemporary worship style will not succeed in drawing young people back into the church. “What millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance. . . You can’t hand us a latte and then go about business as usual and expect us to stick around. We’re no leaving the church because we don’t find the cool factor there; we’re leaving the church because we don’t find Jesus there.”

    It must be admitted that Ms. Evans makes many valid criticisms. For too long the institutional church has put style over substance, only to find itself outdated and irrelevant as soon as styles change. And yet it is strange that she would also criticize the church for being too “old-fashioned.” Which is it? Trying too hard to be “cool” or too old-fashioned?

    Ms. Evans also criticizes the church for being “too political.” But here criticism here rings a little hollow as well, for in practically the same breath she complains that we are “unconcerned with social justice.” Might she not be trying to replace a right-wing political agenda with a left-wing one?

    It can be argued that the Christian Right is too closely aligned with one particular political party. But in retrospect it is a little hard to see what evangelicals could have done differently. When the United States Supreme Court hands down an atrocious decision like Roe v. Wade, should Christians simply stand by quietly without a whimper of protest? Where, then, would our “concern with social justice” be? And when one of the major political parties aligns itself with radical feminism, where are social conservatives expected to go? The Democrats effectively drove us into the arms of the other party.

    But more to the point, Ms. Evans seems to suggest that the church should leave room for doubt, accommodate modern science, and change its sexual morality. “We want an end to the culture wars. We want a truce between science and faith . . . We want to ask questions that don’t have predetermined answers . . . We want our LGBT friends to feel truly welcome to our faith communities.”

    It is at this point that it becomes evident that Ms. Evans has grossly misunderstood the nature of Christianity. The aim of Christianity is to bring individuals into a real relationship with the true and living God. But God is eternal, transcendent, and unchanging. He is the Creator and sovereign Lord of heaven and earth. He has revealed His will to us through His chosen prophets and apostles. And what He expects of us is that we bow before Him in humble adoration and submission to His will.

    We suspect that the trouble with many young adults raised in Christian homes is that they have only a secondhand faith. They know what they have been taught to believe, and they know that the larger world does not share those beliefs. They are desperately trying to find a way to “fit in.” They find themselves caught with one foot in the church and one foot in the world. But Christianity requires repentance and faith. It requires a clean break with the world and a firm commitment to Christ.

    At one point in her discussion Ms. Evans stated that millennials long for “faith communities in which they are save asking tough questions and wrestling with doubt.” Apparently it never occurred to her that there is a contradiction between faith and doubt. It is understandable that people have doubts, and they deserve our understanding – but they do not belong in a “faith” community. It is fine for a seeker outside of the church to look for answers to honest questions, and we welcome an open discussion of the issues. But a seeker should never be admitted to the membership of the church until his doubts have been resolved and he is ready to commit himself wholeheartedly to Christ. Baptism is a confession of faith, not an admission of doubt.

    In a way many millennials are probably victims of the very methodology Ms. Evans criticizes. For too long the church has tried to attract converts by appealing to their sense of self-interest and their thirst for entertainment, instead of challenging them with sin and righteousness, heaven and hell. The result is a host of sociological conversions — people who want to think of themselves as members of the evangelical community, but lack a genuine encounter with the living God and thus are not convinced of the truth of orthodox, biblical Christianity.

    Ms. Held says, “Like every generation before ours and every generation after, deep down, we long for Jesus.” Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24; NKJV). Christianity is a life of faith and obedience, of love and self-sacrifice.

    As for the church, it needs to do what it should have been doing all along. It needs to challenge the world with the truth, call sinners to repentance, and point them to the cross. “. . . each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is” (I Cor. 3:13). Are we not looking at wood, hay, and straw?


Henry Morris and the Lewis Overthrust

Most mainstream geologists today probably equate Young Earth Creationism (YEC) with “junk science,” as opposed to real science, which is supposed to be based on hard evidence. But the fact of the matter is that most of Henry M. Morris’ seminal book The Genesis Flood, which he coauthored with biblical scholar John C. Whitcomb, is devoted to a discussion of the evidence. His work should not be simply dismissed by critics; they should refute it, if they can.

    Morris was primarily concerned with attacking geological Uniformitarianism and building the case for Catastrophism as an alternative. More specifically, he advocated “Young Earth” Creationism, contending that most fossiliferous rock strata can be tied to a single geological event, the world-side deluge recorded in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. Morris’ argument is that Uniformitarianism cannot explain much of the evidence, which actually points in the direction of some form of Catastrophism.

    How well did Morris establish his case? Let us look at one particular piece of evidence, the Lewis Overthrust in Montana, USA and Alberta, Canada. The Lewis Overthrust in an example of a formation in which the supposedly older rocks are on the top and the younger ones on the bottom. Morris cites this as evidence that the rock strata are out of chronological sequence, thus disturbing the argument for evolution from the fossil record.

    The standard explanation for this formation is that it is an example of an “overthrust,” a case in which a large wedge of rock was forced up and over an adjacent layer of rock. In this case the rock wedge is several miles thick and several hundred miles long, and apparently moved nearly 50 miles eastward. Morris wondered how such a thing could be possible on this scale.

    “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks really behaving in such a fashion, unless we are ready to accept catastrophism of an intensity that makes the Noachian Deluge seem quiescent by comparison!  Certainly the principle of uniformity is inadequate to account for them.  Nothing we know of present earth movements – of rock compressive and shearing strengths, of the plastic low of rock materials, or other modern physical processes – gives any observational basis for believing that such things are happening now or ever could have happened, except under extremely unusual conditions” (The Genesis Flood, pp. 180-181).

Morris denied that the characteristic evidence of a fault thrust were present, and maintained that the “overthrust” consists of normal bedding layers, laid down in the order in which they are now found, and thus upsetting the evolutionary timeline.

    The anti-Creationist website TalkOrigins has an article entitled “Thrust faults” in which John G. Solum examines Morris’ argument in detail. In some ways Solum is unfair in his treatment of Morris, sometimes misrepresenting Morris’ arguments and missing the point Morris was trying to make. But to his credit he does interact with the evidence and makes some telling criticisms. In particular he cites evidence to show that the Lewis Overthrust does indeed show evidence of being a genuine fault thrust. He also criticizes Morris for quoting some of his sources out of context, and notes that Morris misidentified a lock layer in a photograph in Morris’ book (Figure 17 on page 190). There seems to be little reason to doubt that it is a genuine overthrust.

    Ironically, when Morris how such a massive overthrust could have occurred, he could have answered his own question. He himself notes at one point that “It is quite true that the entire area . . . gives much evidence of faulting, folding, and general tectonic activity . . . Such activity is to be expected in connection with mountain-uplift processes, whatever the nature or cause of these processes may be” (p. 185). And that is, indeed, exactly how most geologists now believe is the case. The Lewis Overthrust was formed at the same time as the Rocky Mountains, and this, in turn, was the result of colliding tectonic plates on the west coast of North America.

    But in refuting some of Morris’ evidence, Solum ironically reinforced Morris’ central thesis. The overthrust is just a part of a much larger system – the entire Rocky Mountains. If it is true, as Morris said of the overthrust itself, that “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks really behaving in such a fashion,” how much more true is it of the entire Rock Mountains? And if the principle of Uniformity states that “The present is the key to the past,” and that “Rocks formed long ago at the earth’s surface may be understood and explained in accordance with physical processes now operating” (Gilluly, Walter & Woodford, Principles of Geology, p. 18), then how can we account for something on so large a scale? As Morris put it, “Nothing we know of present earth movements . . . gives any observational basis for believing that such things are happening now.” “It seems almost fantastic to conceive of such huge areas and masses of rocks really behaving in such a fashion unless we are ready to accept catastrophism” — a catastrophism that exceeds even Henry Morris’ imagination!