Sunday, April 25, 2010

Justification by Faith Alone: Not optional

We Evangelicals believe in Justification by Faith Alone. God accepts us because we believe, not because we work. Sometimes we get lulled into the idea that although this matters, it is not that important to God. Certainly he overlooks a little working for the sincere. In other words, he accept Christians that believe in the cross but reject justification by faith alone. This doctrine is important but not crucial.

That was not Paul's perspective. The Jewish teachers in the Galatian churches had begun adding one teeny-weeny work, circumcision, as a necessary precedent to salvation. How did Paul respond? Radically and violently. He prayed down a curse on them. Twice he writes, "Let him be accursed!" (Gal. 1:8,9). Then in the third chapter he reiterates the idea. "All who rely on works of the law are under a curse" (Gal. 3:10). In Phil. 3 he calls them "dogs, evildoers, those who mutilate the flesh."  In 2 Cor 11 he even calls them "deceitful workmen," servants of Satan who disguise themselves as angels of light. In Gal. 5:12 he prays that they will castrate themselves.

In an age like ours, one which prizes itself on tolerance, these are fighting words.

Why such strong statements? First, justification by works is a "basic principle of this world" (Gal. 4:9). It is the element common to all false religions. It consigns millions to Hell. Those who seek to be justified by their own efforts actually reject Christ and his cross. In Paul's words, this belief system "severs us from Christ" (Gal 5:4). In other words, if I can work my way into salvation why do I need Jesus?  I don't.

The truth is the opposite. Christ came because self-salvation is impossible. When I insist on working I am really saying to Christ, "I don't need your cross." I can do it on my own. For God, the gift of Christ was infinitely costly. It is apparent why he is not too happy with those who take this stance.

The implications are far reaching. First, it means that every local church should place a continuous priority on the proclamation of this crucial doctrine. Second, it means that we should treat liberal Protestants, Roman Catholics, and men like N.T. Wright, who distort or twist this truth, like Paul treated those troubled the Galatians. No sweet talk. No false "niceness." Heaven and Hell are in the balance. The glory of God is at stake. We should treat them graciously, but our resolve, and our language, should be similar to Paul's.

Friday, April 16, 2010

A Scottish Christian HeritageJust finished another wonderful work on church history by Ian Murray called A Scottish Christian Heritage. Scotland is a small country. At the time of the Reformation its population only numbered 800,000. Today it is still only 5 million. However, this country has enjoyed an impact on world and church history completely out of proportion to its numbers.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the tales told by Murray in this book. The author devotes chapters to key Scottish figures such as John Knox (1514-72), Robert Bruce (1555-61), and Thomas Chalmers (1780-47). Most interesting were the two chapters devoted to the heroic 19th century scottish missionaries. First, John Paton to the New Hebrides Islands in the South Pacific. Second, Robert Moffat courageous missonary to South Africa. These chapters alone are worth the price of this volueme.

I have been reading Ian Murray, a disciple of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones,  for 20 years. I have yet to pick up a volume that has failed to feed my soul.  I was especially moved by the life of Robert Moffat. In fact, I was so moved that I plan to locate and read a full length treatment of his life.

Buy and read this book. You will be deeply enriched.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Cure for Obamacare

If you are concerned about Obamacare. If you are concerned about the future of our nation. If you want a book, that if everyone in the United States read it, would gurarantee the resolution of  our economic problems, then you need to read Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem, by Jay Richards.

Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the ProblemRichard's book is tonic for the discouraged economic soul. Delightfully well written, entertaining, and easy to follow, Richards argues for the power of unfettered capitalism. In his conclusion the author writes, "If I've conveyed anything in the previous pages, I hope it's the oft-neglected truth that the creation of wealth has as much to do with spirit as with matter" (pg 209).

Richards makes this point in many hard hitting ways. For example, our problem is not diminishing natural resources, it is fettered mental and spiritual resources. Our problem is not the rich getting so at the expense of the poor. It never works that way. The problem is an underclass in American culture denied the tools or desires to get ahead by an overweening governmental bureaucracy.

Wealth is not material. True wealth is a byproduct of spiritutal, moral, and social liberation. That best of this liberation takes place when men and women amplify personal wealth by meeting the legitimate needs of others.

By contrast, socialism is the enemy of wealth, freedom, and prosperity. It doesn't liberate the poor. It oppresses them. By stealing from the rich and giving to the poor Socialism inevitably kills the Goose that lays the golden egg. It is not a win-win proposition. It is not even a win-lose proposition. Ultimately, it is a lose-lose proposition.

Richards organizes his book around eight myths about capitalism. My favorites are the myth that free trade requires a winner and a loser, the myth that the essence of capitalism is greed (Greed actually destroys capitalism), and the myth that working with money is inherently immoral.

Richards closes with an insightful observation about the Environmental Movement. "In a recent documentary, Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore said that by the mid-1980s, environmentalists had succeeeded in their primary goals. So the activists got more extreme. Then, with the end of the Cold War, many left-wing activists joined the environmental movement without changing their philosophy. Environmentalism then became, as Moore put it, the "new guise for anit-capitalism'" (pg 196).

Buy this book, read it, and get all of your liberal friends to read it. Economic freedom and political freedom cannot be separated. They are joined at the hip.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Book to Navigate Uncertain Times

We live in uncertain times. Massive changes in the American political system are underfoot. The tectonic plates of our political system have shifted, and all Americans will feel the convulsions.

Two recent books will be especially useful for those trying to navigate their way through these changes. The first I will review today. It is Thomas Sowell's A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political StrugglesA Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. Sowell is an African American economist. He is a Senior Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution. Most perceptive Americans have noticed a gulf that is growing increasingly wide between conservatives and liberals. The lack of civility has reached epic proportions. I am 61. I remember when it was not this way.

Sowell's book takes us to the heart of the conflict. It is over two different views of humanity. The first he calls the"unconstrained view" of mankind. It assumes that people are basically good. "man is, in short, 'perfectible'...meaning continually imrpovable rather than capable of actually reaching absolute perfection" (pg 18). The person with this view trusts human nature. Therefore, he trusts government. He thinks government, made up of unconstrained politicians, can do things well, even better than private individuals left to their own initiative. Since people are basically well intentioned, he feels little need for the military or the police.  Reasoned discussion will bring them our enemies to their senses. Democrats, liberals, and socialists tend to have an "unconstrained" view of humanity.

The other is the "constrained view" of humanity. Man has "a radical infirmity in all human conrivances, an infirmity inherent in the fundamental nature of things" (pg 14). This view distrusts human nature. Believing that people are essentially greedy, self-interested, will abuse power, and use others, it looks for ways to disburse, not concentrate human authority. This view motivates men and women to spend money on national defense, and build solid police and fire departments. The "constrained view" distrusts government. The less the better. It seeks to decentralize governemental power. It places a premium on capitalism. Captitalism regulates and tempers the rapacious desire for human improvement, harnessing man's corrupt desire to the common good.

All prescient Believers will recognize in the "constrained view" the doctrine of Original Sin. The twentieth century has been a search by the "unconstained view" for a Utopia on earth. But the verdict has been rendered. The more people believe in the goodness of humanity the more evil they become, and the less people believe in the goodness of humanity the more virtuous they become. The unconstrained view has led to the forced liquidation of 20 million Russians by the search for a Communist utopia, the deaths of 80 million Chinese in the search for a Chinese communist utopia, and the execution of one third of the Cambodian population for the same reason.  In each case, men with an unconstrained view of humanity sought to build a utopia on earth. In the process the very evil that they denied boiled to the surface and destroyed their efforts.

We should be concerned. The unconstrained view is gaining the upper hand in the American political system. What is the solution?

It is not politics. We need to perform our political duty, but ultimately, the solution will not be found there. The solution is the gospel. For only in the gospel do we come face to face with who we really are. We are sinners that deserve crucifixion. The confrontation with each persons own personal inward evil that the gospel brings to pass, ultimately works an opposite magic. It makes men and women virtuous.

So, in conclusion, preach the gospel. Commit to a gospel-preaching local church. Place your eyes on eternal things. "Our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus" (Phil 3:20). There is a direct correlation between vibrant Christian religion, a constrained view of humanity, limited government, and personal freedom.