Tag Archives: Truth

“Christians today often speak less about saving the lost than about conquering the world” by J.V. Fesko

“In the church’s efforts to defend the faith, Christians must always take a humble stance toward the world. Like the sons of Zebedee, whom Jesus nicknamed “the Sons of Thunder,” we can be all too eager to call down fire on unbelievers (Mark 3:17; Luke 9:54).

Add in the misguided claim that the Bible provides a comprehensive view of life and the world that encompasses all knowledge, and this can easily turn into Christian imperialism.

Christians today often speak less about saving the lost than about conquering the world.

Especially in the secularized West, the problem with such rhetoric is that it does not align with the more modest claims of the Bible.

The church is a pilgrim people: this world is not our home. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were princes among the people of God and were heirs of the covenant promises, yet they dwelled in tents.

As the book of Hebrews tells us,

“By faith [Abraham] went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:9-10).

Too often, Christians thunder about transforming and conquering the world, but such rhetoric is far from Christ’s conduct. Rather than seeking to conquer the world, Christians in defending the gospel must be willing to roll up our sleeves, drop to our knees, and wash the feet of unbelievers.

Even Christ washed the feet of Judas, one who would eventually betray him.

To claim, as Van Til does, that no true learning occurs outside of Christian education, casts an unintended but nevertheless real shadow of contempt on God’s natural gifts, which He has abundantly given to the world, even to the apostate line of Cain.

Christians have much to learn from the unbelieving world about many things: science, mathematics, engineering, literature, art, music, and even ethics. Acknowledging that Christians have something to learn from unbelievers does not require that we embrace in toto what unbelivers claim.

Rather, to learn from the unbelieving world ultimately means to submit to God’s natural revelation in the world and the general wisdom He has so liberally bestowed on His good but nevertheless fallen creation.

We dig amid the muddy soil of this sin-marred world in search of pearls and gems of God’s wisdom.

We must always interrogate and compare any claim against the canon of Scripture to determine whether truth-claims are accurate. In our use of the book of nature, we must never set aside the book of Scripture.

Scripture must always regulate our understanding of the book of nature, lest we abandon the truth and imbibe the world’s erroneous and sinful interpretations of the book of nature.

But we must not forget that all truth is God’s truth, regardless of its human point of origin.

It is true that those who hold the truth in unrighteousness resist the very source of the order, pattern, purpose, freedom, and beauty in nature. They ineluctably presuppose the theism that they willfully distort and resist.

Nevertheless, nowhere in the New Testament do we find language touting the superiority of Christian knowledge, claiming that Christians understand math or science better than unbelievers.

Instead, we encounter the humility and love of Christ for sinners, the same characteristics that should mark the church. Hence, Peter counsels Christians to adopt a humble posture in the face of persecution as they testify and give a defense for the hope that is in us. (1 Peter 3:15-16)

We do not conquer through cultural domination and making claims about the world’s ignorance.

Rather, if love is one of the goals of epistemology, and epistemology is ultimately the submission to God’s authoritative revelation, then we are not cultural conquerors but beggars showing other beggars where they can find a meal.

We conquer the world by laying down our lives in testimony for and defense of the gospel, not in making claims of cultural conquest or epistemological superiority.

As a pride of ferocious lambs, Christians testify to and defend the truth of the gospel with the books of nature and Scripture always in hand.

Christians need not shun the book of nature. We can rejoice because Christ looks out on the creation and all truth and rightfully claims “Mine!” Every square inch belongs to Christ, and therefore every square inch belongs to Christians.

But just because it all belongs to Christ does not mean that Christians are somehow automatically intellectually or culturally superior to their unbelieving counterparts.

Christians know the right motivational foundation and teleological goal of all knowledge, though they frequently forget them, and never succeed this side of glory in living in full conformity to them.

Nevertheless, with this proper understanding of epistemology, we can fruitfully interact with unbelievers, because we share the image of God.

We can defend the gospel, knowing that apologetics can clear away intellectual obstacles to the gospel, clarify our own understanding of the truth, protect the church from false teaching, and encourage our own hearts as we further immerse ourselves in the truth.”

–J.V. Fesko, Reforming Apologetics: Retrieving the Classic Reformed Approach to Defending the Faith (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2019), 215, 217, 218-219.

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“Jesus’ first act of love in commanding love is to correct a false interpretation of Scripture” by John Piper

“If someone had said to Jesus the words, ‘Love unites; doctrine divides,’ I think Jesus would have looked deep into that person’s soul and said, ‘True doctrine is the root of love. Therefore, whoever opposes it, destroys the root of unity.’

Jesus never opposed truth to love. He did the opposite. He said that He Himself is the embodiment and sum of truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Referring to Himself He said, “The one who seeks the glory of Him who sent Him is true, and in Him there is no falsehood” (John 7:18).

At the end of His life, what prompted Pilate’s cynical question, “What is truth?” (John 18:38) was Jesus’ comprehensive assertion about why He had come into the world: “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth” (John 18:37).

Even His adversaries saw how indifferent Jesus was to people’s opinions and how devoted He seemed to be to truth. “Teacher, we know that you are true and do not care about anyone’s opinion” (Mark 12:14).

And when Jesus leaves the world and returns to the Father in heaven, the Spirit He would send in His place would be called “the Spirit of truth.” “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness about Me” (John 15:26).

Therefore, unlike so many who compromise the truth to win a following, Jesus did the opposite. Unbelief in His hearers confirmed that a deep change was needed in them, not in the truth. “Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice” (John 18:38).

“Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (John 8:47). “Because I tell the truth, you do not believe Me” (John 8:45).

In other words, when the truth does not produce the response you want—when it does not “work”—you don’t abandon the truth. Jesus is not a pragmatist when it comes to loving people with the truth.

You speak it, and if it does not win belief, you do not consider changing the truth. You pray that your hearers will be awakened and changed by the truth. “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). “Sanctify them in the truth,” Jesus prayed; “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

When Jesus prays that people be “sanctified in the truth,” He reveals the roots of love. Sanctification, or holiness, as Jesus understands it, includes being a loving person. He is praying that we would become loving people and would be merciful and peaceable and forgiving.

That is all included in the prayer, “Sanctify them.” And all this happens in and by the truth, not separate from the truth. The effort to pit love against truth is like pitting fruit against root.

Or like pitting kindling against fire. Or like pitting the foundation of a house against the second-floor bedroom. The house will fall down, and the marriage bed with it, if the foundation crumbles.

Love lives by truth and burns by truth and stands on truth. This is why Jesus’ first act of love in commanding love is to correct a false interpretation of Scripture.

Of course, it is possible to use truth unlovingly. For example, when a village of Samaria would not receive Jesus “because His face was set toward Jerusalem” (Luke 9:53), James and John knew this was a truth-insulting response. It was an assault on the truth of Jesus.

So they said to Jesus, in defense of the truth, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). The answer was swift and blunt: “He turned and rebuked them” (Luke 9:55).

But the solution to that unloving response was not to stay in the village and alter the truth to get a better response. He did not say to the Samaritans, “Doctrine divides, love unites, so let’s put our doctrinal differences aside and have relational unity.”

No, the solution was, “And they went on to another village” (Luke 9:56). There are many people yet to be loved with our truth. We will keep offering the saving truth in love wherever we can, and we will not be violent with those who reject us.

But the truth will not be changed. It is the root of love’s life, and the kindling of love’s fire, and the foundation of love’s strength.

When Jesus demanded that we love our enemies by contrasting this with the interpretation that said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy,” (Matt. 5:43) he was lovingly showing us that correcting false interpretations of the Bible is one crucial way to love our enemy.

The next obvious implication of Jesus’ words for the meaning of love is that it is not unloving to call someone an enemy. We live in an emotionally fragile age. People are easily offended and describe their response to being criticized as being hurt.

In fact, we live in a time when emotional offense, or woundedness, often becomes a criterion for deciding if love has been shown. If a person can claim to have been hurt by what you say, it is assumed by many that you did not act in love.

In other words, love is not defined by the quality of the act and its motives, but by the subjective response of others. In this way of relating, the wounded one has absolute authority.

If he says you hurt him, then you cannot have acted lovingly. You are guilty. Jesus will not allow this way of relating to go unchallenged.

Love is not defined by the response of the loved. A person can be genuinely loved and feel hurt or offended or angered or retaliatory or numb without in any way diminishing the beauty and value of the act of love that hurt him.

We know this most clearly from the death of Jesus, the greatest act of love ever performed, because the responses to it covered the range from affection (John 19:27) to fury (Matt. 27:41–42). That people were broken, wounded, angered, enraged, and cynical in response to Jesus’ death did not alter the fact that what He did was a great act of love.

This truth is shown by the way Jesus lived his life. He loved in a way that was often not felt as love. No one I have ever known in person or in history was as blunt as Jesus in the way he dealt with people.

Evidently His love was so authentic it needed few cushions. It is owing to my living with the Jesus of the Gospels for fifty years that makes me so aware of how emotionally fragile and brittle we are today.

If Jesus were to speak to us the way He typically spoke in His own day, we would be continually offended and hurt. This is true of the way He spoke to his disciples and the way He spoke to His adversaries.

People were offended in His day as well. “Do you know,” His disciples asked Him, “that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (Matt. 15:12).

His response to that information was brief and pointed: “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides” (Matt. 15:13–14).

In other words, “They are plants that do not produce the fruit of faith because God has not planted them. They don’t see my behavior as love because they are blind, not because I am unloving.” These and dozens of other things he said to both friend and foe in ways that would rock us back on our emotional heels and make many of us retreat in self-pity.

The point of this is that the genuineness of an act of love is not determined by the subjective feelings of the one being loved. Jesus uses the word “enemies.” That would be offensive to some, especially since he goes on to unpack his point with words like, “And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others?” (Matt. 5:47).

He does not fret over the possible criticism that He is not being careful enough to distinguish real enemies from annoying brothers. Jesus seems to expect us to handle tough words like “enemy” mingled with tender family words like “brother.”

I do not mean to say that love is oblivious to the words it uses or the effects they may have on others. Love does care about blessing the loved one. It desires to bring the loved one out of pain and sorrow and into a deeper experience of joy in God—now and forever.

But I am stressing another side of the problem that seems unusually prevalent in our psychologized world. I am simply drawing attention to the fact that feeling unloved is not the same as being unloved.

Jesus is modeling for us in his life the objectivity of love. It has real motives and real actions. And when they are loving, the response of the loved one does not change that fact.

This is good news for the lover, because it means that God is God and the loved one is not God. The judgment of the wounded loved one is not absolute: It may be right, or it may be wrong. But it is not absolute. God is absolute.

We give an account to Him. And He alone knows our hearts. The decisive thing about our love when we stand before God is not what others thought of it, but whether it was real.

That some people may not like the way we love is not decisive. Most people did not recognize Jesus’ love in the end—and still do not today.

What matters is not that we are justified before men, but that God knows our hearts as truly (though not perfectly) loving. And He alone can make that final judgment (Luke 16:15).”

–John Piper, What Jesus Demands from the World (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2006), 215–220.

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“Then Luther arose” by John Calvin

“At the time when divine truth lay buried under this vast and dense cloud of darkness;

when religion was sullied by so many impious superstitions;

when by horrid blasphemies the worship of God was corrupted, and His glory laid prostrate;

when by a multitude of perverse opinions, the benefit of redemption was frustrated, and men, intoxicated with a fatal confidence in works, sought salvation anywhere rather than in Christ;

when the administration of the sacraments was partly maimed and torn asunder, partly adulterated by the admixture of numerous fictions, and partly profaned by traffickings for gain;

when the government of the church had degenerated into mere confusion and devastation;

when those who sat in the seat of pastors first did most vital injury to the church by the dissoluteness of their lives, and, secondly, exercised a cruel and most noxious tyranny over souls, by every kind of error, leading men like sheep to the slaughter;

then Luther arose, and after him others, who with united counsels sought out means and methods by which religion might be purged from all these defilements, the doctrine of godliness restored to its integrity, and the church raised out of its calamitous into somewhat of a tolerable condition.

The same course we are still pursuing in the present day.

All our controversies concerning doctrine relate either to the legitimate worship of God, or to the ground of salvation.

As to the former, unquestionably we do exhort men to worship God neither in a frigid nor a careless manner, and while we point out the mode, we neither lose sight of the end, nor omit any thing which is of importance.

We proclaim the glory of God in terms far loftier than it was wont to be proclaimed before, and we earnestly labour to make the perfections in which His glory shines better and better known.

His benefits towards ourselves we extol as eloquently as we can, while we call upon others to reverence His Majesty, render due homage to His greatness, feel due gratitude for His mercies, and unite in showing forth His praise.

In this way there is infused into their hearts that solid confidence which afterwards gives birth to prayer. And in this way, too, each one is trained to genuine self-denial, so that his will being brought into obedience to God, he bids farewell to his own desires.

In short, as God requires us to worship Him in a spiritual manner, so we most zealously urge men to all the sacrifices of spirit which He recommends.”

—John Calvin, The Necessity of Reforming the Church, Trans. Henry Beveridge (London: W.H. Dalton, 1544/1843), 39-40, 43-44.

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“Christ is full of both” by Herman Bavinck

“Truth and grace go together because Christ is full of both (John 1:14).”

–Herman Bavinck, The Wonderful Works of God (trans. Henry Zylstra; Glenside, PA: Westminster Seminary Press, 1909/2019), 394.

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“They were great souls serving a great God” by J.I. Packer

“Maturity is a compound of wisdom, goodwill, resilience, and creativity. The Puritans exemplified maturity; we don’t.

We are spiritual dwarfs. A much-travelled leader, a native American (be it said), has declared that he finds North American Protestantism, man-centered, manipulative, success-oriented, self-indulgent and sentimental, as it blatantly is, to be 3,000 miles wide and half an inch deep.

The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants. They were great souls serving a great God. In them clear-headed passion and warm-hearted compassion combined.

Visionary and practical, idealistic and realistic too, goal-oriented and methodical, they were great believers, great hopers, great doers, and great sufferers.

But their sufferings, both sides of the ocean (in old England from the authorities and in New England from the elements), seasoned and ripened them till they gained a stature that was nothing short of heroic.

Ease and luxury, such as our affluence brings us today, do not make for maturity; hardship and struggle however do, and the Puritans’ battles against the spiritual and climatic wildernesses in which God set them produced a virility of character, undaunted and unsinkable, rising above discouragement and fears, for which the true precedents and models are men like Moses, and Nehemiah, and Peter after Pentecost, and the apostle Paul.

Spiritual warfare made the Puritans what they were. They accepted conflict as their calling, seeing themselves as their Lord’s soldier-pilgrims, just as in Bunyan’s allegory, and not expecting to be able to advance a single step without opposition of one sort or another.

Wrote John Geree, in his tract The Character of an Old English Puritane or Nonconformist (1646): ‘His whole life he accounted a warfare, wherein Christ was his captain, his arms, praiers and tears. The Crosse his Banner and his word [motto] Vincit qui patitur [he who suffers conquers].’

The Puritans lost, more or less, every public battle that they fought.”

–J.I. Packer, “Why We Need the Puritans,” A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 22-23.

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“A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth” by J.I. Packer

“A half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.”

–J.I. Packer, “‘Saved by His Precious Blood’: An Introduction to John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ,” A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 1990), 126.

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“A neighborhood of strangers and a world of fragments” by Neil Postman

“A book is an attempt to make thought permanent and to contribute to the great conversation conducted by authors of the past. Therefore, civilized people everywhere consider the burning of a book a vile form of anti-intellectualism.

But the telegraph demands that we burn its contents. The value of telegraphy is undermined by applying the tests of permanence, continuity or coherence.

The telegraph is suited only to the flashing of messages, each to be quickly replaced by a more up-to-date message. Facts push other facts into and then out of consciousness at speeds that neither permit nor require evaluation.

The telegraph introduced a kind of public conversation whose form had startling characteristics: Its language was the language of headlines–sensational, fragmented, impersonal. News took the form of slogans, to be noted with excitement, to be forgotten with dispatch.

Its language was also entirely discontinuous. One message had no connection to that which preceded or followed it. Each “headline” stood alone as its own context.

The receiver of the news had to provide a meaning if he could. the sender was under no obligation to do so. And because of all this, the world as depicted by the telegraph began to appear unmanageable, even undecipherable.

The line-by-line, sequential, continuous form of the printed page slowly began to lose its resonance as a metaphor of how knowledge was to be acquired and how the world was to be understood.

“Knowing” the facts took on a new meaning, for it did not imply that one understood implications, background, or connections. Telegraphic discourse permitted no time for historical perspectives and gave no priority to the qualitative.

To the telegraph, intelligence meant knowing of lots of things, not knowing about them.

Thus, to the reverent question posed by Morse–What hath God wrought?–a disturbing answer came back: a neighborhood of strangers and pointless quantity; a world of fragments and discontinuities.

God, of course, had nothing to do with it.”

–Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), 70.

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