#TBT: What is Truth?

What is truth? This is the question that many people today, especially in America, are asking themselves. As these individuals seek to find the answer to that question, they make assumptions, make historical connections, use proponents, and practice what they find to be their truth claim. However, this brings about another question. How can Christians confront these truth claims? How can Christians engage people who say or believe, “I cannot impose my truth on another or say that someone’s truth is wrong”?

In the beginning stages of the United States, many Europeans came to America for various reasons. One reason in particular was to escape religious persecution. With many different beliefs coming from different parts of the world, the United States began to allow religious tolerance. Thus, tolerance has always been a key component in the American lifestyle whether tolerating religion or lifestyle. Due to effects of The Revolutionary War, Americans realized how independent they could actually be. The result was individualization in America. Because American roots are founded in individualism, this is a key component for why everyone has their own truth to live by.  Therefore, people will not impose on other person’s truth because everyone has their own truth.  As a result of being individualistic, we are in control of our own truth so that no one can impose on another’s “personal” truth.

As the United States began to grow as a nation, there is one key factor that contributes to how American thinking went from absolute truth to “personal” truth. This key factor is when Charles Darwin introduced evolution. This was a naturalist point of view. When evolution came around, it introduced a whole different aspect of human beings, everyone part of an evolutionary process and trying to survive. Therefore, humans have no purpose because there is no Creator. Humans have to create their own purposes and they have to create their own truth.

If humans create their own truth, then people will tolerate each person’s truth because that truth works for them.  This way of thinking has flooded the American thought.  Many people don’t believe in absolute truth, but that truth is different for everyone. As a result, there is no confrontation which would result in conflicts. This breeds well in the age of Post Modernism, the belief that there are no absolutes truths, but truth is based on everyone’s own experiences (Glossary Definition: Post Modernism).

In America today, there are countless examples and practices of accepting and tolerating everyone’s “personal” truth.  The first example is found in the media. In the show “Dancing with the Stars” from a few seasons ago, there was a transgender dancer on the show, known as Chaz Bono. Of course, the acceptance of transgender would not have happened without the support of homosexuality. No one should be able to impose their beliefs onto somebody else for their lifestyle.

These examples point directly to the assumptions our culture makes. The first and obvious assumption made from this statement is that truth is not absolute, but rather it is relative. One could say the assumption in this way, “My truth is true for me and your truth is true for you.” Looking at this assumption, though, makes one question what truth even is. Who sets the standard for the truth? Yet, these are not the only assumptions being made about this claim.

Another assumption comes straight from the statement is that nobody is wrong. One person cannot tell the other person that they are wrong so you would have to make the assumption that they are not wrong. This leads to an even more distracting assumption. If nobody is wrong, then that means everybody is right in their own eyes about what the truth is. It echoes Judges 21:25, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Truth becomes merely what works for the individual, and the individual takes control of their truth. They become the standard.

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At the root of this truth claim is the question, “Who says?” As one can see, the answer is that the person does. However, one cannot tell others what their standard is as it is their standard. In other words, human beings become their own standard. People become their own truth and nobody can tell them that their truth is wrong. The reality is individuals cannot simply be the standard, because, if they are, there is no stable standard for judgment, for good and evil. People also cannot be the standard of judgment because we are imperfect. We need a perfect Being to be the standard, a standard outside of ourselves.

This standard is none other than Yahweh Himself. He is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Truth is spoken in the name of the LORD (1 Kings 22:16; 2 Chronicles 18:15), displaying a connection between truth and the LORD. Needless to say, if these proponents of tolerance and control all come back to the issue of standard, one can see that the standard of truth is Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ sets the standard for which we are shown what true tolerance is and what is implies and, even more importantly, humans see who the Controller of Truth is. It is God.

Christians know their truth through the Word. The Word reveals Truth which, in turn, reveals reality. According to J.P. Moreland, Christians are responsible to present their knowledge of the Truth in a world that is so tolerant of “personal” truth. Christians are responsible for ensuring that absolute truth is taught to others.  This is our duty.  Jesus is the Truth and Christians must convey His Truth to a postmodern, individualist, tolerate society.

This post is a revised excerpt from a college paper written by Theron St. John and Katie Campbell in 2011 for the course, Introduction to Philosophy, taught by Dr. Mark Eckel at Crossroads Bible College.

Moral Absolutes

Maleficent is important. She is important because she is an icon, a symbol. She is a symbol of evil, a powerful sorceress and a fire-breathing dragon who delights in tormenting others. In fact, she is almost equated with Satan himself, as though she were a she-Devil. In the original Disney film, Sleeping Beauty, she is said to wield the fires of Hell. She is said to be pure evil. Not only that, but Satan’s symbol is the serpent, or dragon (Rev. 12:9), and Maleficent has the ability to take the form of a black dragon. Take these three things, as well as her headpiece which has horns, and you have a symbol of pure evil, a representation of Satan himself.

But wait! That’s only part of the story! There is another side to Maleficent, as can be seen in the modernized version of Sleeping Beauty, titled Maleficent. Maleficent didn’t start off evil. She was betrayed by her lover. That’s why she turned evil. And in fact, Princess Aurora herself actually earns Maleficent’s affection, and serves to redeem Maleficent from her evil. Maleficent has regrets about the evils she has wrought. What we find in this modern retelling of a classic fairytale is a villain who is not two-dimensional, but three-dimensional. The villain is no longer pure evil, but a person with feelings, and a reason for their evil.

I am actually quite fond of this idea. However, I believe that this modern portrayal of a classically evil character has an underlying view of humanity behind it. Consider Into the Woods. Originally a play, Disney took it and made it into a musical. In it, classic ideas and symbolic figures are turned on their heads. Prince Charming is only that—charming, and also lascivious! The witch of the story has been hurt and abused by others, and that’s why she has put a curse on the baker and his wife.

As a writer, I’m very fond of three-dimensional characters who have a lot of depth and can change and grow in a story. These characters are known, in literature, as dynamic or round characters. But two-dimensional and one-dimensional characters, also known as static or flat characters, also have their place. Often, they serve as symbols of two absolutes: good and evil. In a post-modern society, thinking in such absolutes is frowned upon. In fact, in post-modern thinking there are no moral absolutes.

I watch quite a few movies, and I think there has been a shift in cinema. The bad guy is no longer the bad guy. Or at least, he’s not as bad as he was before. And the good guy is no longer the good guy, or at least not as good as before. This shift in cinema, particularly in Disney I think, speaks to an idea very common to modern man and his estimation of man: humans are born basically good. It is only when bad things happen to and warp them that they become evil and do evil things. Additionally, there is no pure good or pure evil.

This estimation of man is the predominant view in today’s culture, at least in the United States. It is especially prevalent in psychology, despite psychology’s father, Sigmund Freud, believing that humans were inherently selfish, not good. This colors how we view human beings, their suffering, and their failings. This idea leads to the disintegration of personal responsibility and becomes a game of “who done it”. Suddenly, a man’s struggle with pornography becomes no fault of his but from the way he was raised or from experiences he had in early childhood. People are no longer violent because they naturally have violent tendencies or simply aren’t good people. No, video games and easy access to guns have made them this way!

But is it so wrong to have evil be evil and good be good? Doesn’t it create an unrealistic duality that cannot be seen in reality? I don’t think so. To see this duality as unrealistic necessarily implies that there is no such thing as this duality. But this is patently false for the Christian. Christians know that there are moral absolutes, and that there is someone who is purely good and someone who is wholly evil. They are God and Satan respectfully. As for man—man is sinful. People naturally fall on the spectrum closer to evil than to good.

It is true that man is not wholly evil but that their whole being has been affected by sin. As bad as any person may be, he or she could always be worse. But man is not naturally inclined to good, either. Absolutes serve to demonstrate how man ought to be and how man ought not to be. Absolutes in stories serve to teach truth: there is a dualistic reality of pure goodness and whole evilness. Even if it is not found purely in human beings, human beings exist in that reality and they will always be closer to one side of the spectrum: good or evil.

Not only do absolutes teach the truth of our morally dualistic reality, they also teach children how they should be and how they should not be. The world is not some fluffy, idealistic place where people are basically good and friendly. People are selfish. The world is hard. It is cursed! Evil is real, and evil will be punished. There are consequences for one’s actions. But this means that good is also real. And because good is real, and good is stronger than evil (God is infinitely stronger than Satan), we know that good will triumph in the end.

This gives us hope! And every man and woman and child, no matter who they may be or where they come from, needs hope. Hope is that spirit in man that drives him forward, longing for better things and striving for better things, and indeed waiting for better things. So, while it can be good to have evil characters who can be related to, it’s also important to discern the view of mankind behind the creation and portrayal of such characters, and also to remember this: whether man does good or evil, there is only one who is purely good, and there is also one who is wholly evil.

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

Worldview Analysis: Wicca

“You’re a wizard, Harry.” So said Hagrid to the young Harry Potter, the boy who would go on to the capture the imaginations of people, young and old, throughout the world. J.K. Rowling’s series on “the boy who lived” has made tons of money—and lots of publicity, both positive and negative. Christians still attack Rowling’s works of fiction to this day. “Witchcraft!” they cry. I once heard someone describe Harry Potter’s battle with Voldemort this way, “It’s basically evil fighting against evil.”

Interestingly enough, J.K. Rowling herself claims that she intended for Christian religious themes to be in her books, subtly. This subtlety, of course, was almost abandoned completely in The Deathly Hallows, with Scripture references and Harry Potter as a Christ motif, sacrificing himself for others, experiencing a resurrection, and defeating Voldemort. So, while Harry Potter may have been a gateway for many young people to enter into the practice of “witchcraft”, “Wicca”, and “Paganism”, the books themselves are not nearly as insidious as one might think.

But what is this “witchcraft” practice, exactly? People will talk a lot about “Wicca” and “witchcraft” without knowing a lot about them. Many assume that these practitioners worship Satan. However, things are not as cut and dry as people might think. You see, witchcraft is part of a practice under the umbrella religion of Neo Paganism. Neo Paganism often has very little to do with the Christian figure of Satan in the direct manner that people usually think.

There are a variety of beliefs in Neo Paganism. However, since Harry Potter is often lumped together with Wicca, and because Wicca is a popular spiritual belief in America, I will be focusing on this form of Neo Paganism. Even in Wicca there are some varying beliefs. Some may consider “Wicca” and “Witchcraft” to be the same thing, but others would say they are not, for example. This is just one of many views, and this varied system of belief is part of the appeal of Wicca—practitioners are free to add or subtract beliefs from their practice as they see fit. Nevertheless, there are some ideas commonly held by practitioners.

The first is simple: “all is one”. The cosmos is essentially undifferentiated, universal energy. Furthermore, all living things have equal value. Human beings are not special creatures, but are part of the whole of nature. In this manner, Wicca is much like Pantheism, a religious/philosophical system I discussed in the September blog post.

The second is this: “I am divine”. Wiccans believe that they have divine power. They are themselves gods and goddesses of a sort. The third is the idea of limitless power. Wiccans do not believe that their powers are limited by any deity. There is a kind of deity, however, that is generally believed in by Wiccans: The Mother Goddess.

The fourth is a focus on altered consciousness. Wiccans have strong beliefs in the supernatural, the spirit world, and in altered states of consciousness, which are attained through rituals, rites, and spells. These spells are cast by using the power and energy of the spirit world. There are a variety of spells for a variety of problems. There are love spells, blessings, curses, and even the art of Divination.

Fifth, Wiccans are anti-authoritarian. Again, this is one of its most appealing qualities. They also do not believe in absolute “good” or absolute “evil”. Despite the idea that Wiccans worship Satan, they do not, at least consciously. They do not believe that Satan even exists. So the idea that witches intentionally call upon Satan and demons for their power is a false one. The Halloween movie Hocus Pocus is lightheartedly suggestive of this false idea. When the Sanderson sisters, the witches of the movie, see a man dressed as Satan, they refer to him as “Master”.

Sixth, and lastly, most Wiccans do follow a certain ethic, called the Wiccan Rede. It states this, “If it harms none, do what you will.” They also believe in something called the Threefold Law, which states, “Anything you do will come back to you three times.”  For this reason, most Wiccans are peaceful people who prefer to do good, and not harm—generally. This is because all living things are of equal value and whatever you do will come back on you threefold. So if you put a curse on someone, get ready for worse stuff to happen to you!

In Harry Potter, “witches and wizards” are born with an innate talent to cast spells. They do not call upon the spiritual world, but rather on their own power. Additionally, there is nothing about the Wiccan Rede or the Threefold Law at all in Harry Potter. There is no belief in a Mother Goddess or in the pantheistic things seen commonly in Wiccan beliefs. Harry Potter’s magic is fictional. There are other stories, however, that are not so fictionally docile, such as seen in the films Practical Magic and The Craft.

As Christians, our interactions with Wiccans should be loving. We know that there is only one true God, and that He has made human beings in His image. When we converse with Wiccans, we can share common ground with them. There is great value in creation, because God created it and it reflects His glory. We are to be stewards of what He has created. And there is a vast supernatural side to existence, and we should do to others as we would want them to do to us.

But salvation cannot be found in spells and rites, or in communing with the “spirit world”. Salvation can only be found through the atoning work of Christ on the cross. We are not limitless, and we are most certainly accountable for our actions. This accountability must be emphasized. But a robust relationship with the living God should also be emphasized. Many Wiccans became Wiccan because of a deep spiritual yearning that was not satisfied in the Church.

May it be that we, as the Church, can show Wiccans that there is, in fact, a very satisfying, spiritually fulfilling, reality in Christianity, and that is a relationship with Jesus Christ, who bought us with His own blood. For there is nothing more spiritually satisfying or engaging than a walk with Christ. Wiccans thirst for a fulfilling spiritual life. Christ offers water that satisfies, and the one who drinks it will never thirst again (Jn. 4:13-15).

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

Facing our Fear

Fear is often tied to Halloween. Fear has also been the subject of a class I have been teaching with my church for the last two months. Referencing the book When People Are Big And God Is Small by Edward Welch throughout the class, we defined what the fear of man is and identified what it may look like in each one of our lives. Three specific manifestations of the fear of man seem to prevalent in life: the fear of exposure, the fear of rejection, and the fear of harm. When we have sinned, we do not want to confess what we have done so out of the fear of exposure we attempt to cover up. Because we allow what others think of us to control us, we do not risk rejection by telling them the truth but we tell them what they want to hear. This is evident in our witness. We do not share the gospel with unbelievers because we are afraid they may reject what we have to say. We have the fear of rejection. Our brothers and sisters in Christ in persecuted countries face the fear of harm. They fear for their lives. Certainly with the fear of harm there is a level of understanding why it is present. That is why Jesus says in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We live in a fallen world and we are fallen beings. Simply put, we fear people.halloween

The World’s Way and The Word’s Way of Facing Fear

We know we fear people. But we don’t how to face that fear. We get counseled by the culture. They tell us we need to have greater self-esteem and we should not allow what others say to affect us. While both have a hint of truth, for we should not degrade ourselves and we should not allow others to control us, their words of wisdom fall short. The world’s way of responding to the fear of man does not solve the problem. It does not solve the problem because it leaves out the Person who is the solution. Matthew 10 hits at this truth and Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 shines light on this, “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” The way to face our fear, the fear of man, is not by disregarding people. The way we face our fear of man is by having a biblical view of God. When we do, we realize He is the One who has total power, He is the One who can see all, and He is the One we fear. Unbelievers should fear God with a fear of judgment because He can kill both the body and soul. This should produce repentance in the heart and a trust in the Lord. This is possible because of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. We still allow the fear of man to settle into our lives. We do not always fear God like we should. But we see 1 John 4 that God loves us and has sent His Son to save us. 1 John 4:18 tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” For the Christian, we no longer face God’s eternal punishment for our rebellion. As redeemed ones, we fear God in a new light. Edward Welch puts it this way, “[t]his fear of the Lord means reverent submission that leads to obedience” (Welch 97). Another way to speak of this type of the fear of the Lord is to speak in terms of worship. We fear the Lord by keeping His commandments. When we are keeping His commandments out of a joyful heart, we are worshiping Him. And He is worthy of that praise. He sees everything we do and think and we are accountable for everything we do and think. Our fear should not be with people but with God. We respond and face our fear of people with the fear of God.

Facing Fear with the Proper Perspective

Our fear of the Lord does not mean we disregard people. Rather, our fear of the Lord places our view of people in its proper place. The Apostle Paul is a grand example here. By no means was he a people-pleaser (Galatians 1:10; 1 Thessalonians 2:4). He was a God-pleaser and the love of Christ was what controlled and compelled him (2 Corinthians 5:6-15). Throughout his letters, though, you see his desire to please the Lord was accompanied by his love for people. He did not fear people but he loved and served them. We should too! We should not be controlled by the fear of man and we should not let people define us (our identity). Our identity is in Christ and we fear the Lord because of who He is and what He has done. When we grasp and hold to this biblical view of God, we are well on our way to facing our fear.

Photo Source: http://7-themes.com/6988943-halloween-pumpkin-carving.html

Worldview Analysis: Pantheism

If you’re a geek like me, you’re probably pretty stoked about the new Star Wars movie coming out in theaters this December. Then again, maybe you’re skeptical. After all, many Star Wars fans found Episodes I through III (the new movies) to be rather disappointing. Whatever your opinion about the Star Wars movies, I want to talk about something in the movie franchise that is very important.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good story. But we must remember that with every story comes a message. A discerning person can enjoy a movie while at the same time rejecting, if need be, the overall message of the movie, or even certain thematic elements of the movie. But there is a danger if one is not discerning. One of the things that makes children’s movies like Brave and Megamind so potent is that Christian parents may not be aware of what their children are being fed (no discernment), and children are malleable.

Now, imagine if you would, a universe where all things are linked and are ultimately part of some “One” spiritual existence or collective consciousness. In death, a person loses his or her personal existence and becomes part of the One. Sound familiar? It should. This is essentially what “The Force” is. Shocked? Hopefully not. As Obi Wan says in the original Star Wars film, A New Hope, “The Force is what gives the Jedi his power. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us. It penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

And when a person dies in the Star Wars universe, he or she becomes “one with the Force”. In another film, Revenge of the Sith, Jedi Master Yoda communes with another Jedi who has already died, Qui Gon. Qui Gon speaks of how he became one with the Force but was able to retain his consciousness, something he will teach Yoda, who will go on to teach it to Obi Wan. As the characters state, in death one becomes one with the Force. And while Qui Gon retained his consciousness, this is apparently not the normal way of things.

This isn’t some new thing created by George Lucas for the Star Wars universe. It is based on a real worldview: Pantheism. Of course, Pantheism is a varied philosophical belief, so when I speak of it I am sticking to the basic, generally accepted ideas at the heart of Pantheism. In Pantheism there is a singular, binding, spiritual consciousness. When a person dies, he or she loses all personal identity, becoming part of the collective spiritual consciousness. However, this can only be done through “enlightenment”. More on that shortly. Pantheism is mainly linked with Buddhism and Hinduism, but it can also be seen in philosophies such as Stoicism.

The Jedi masters teach the younger Jedi, called padawans, to let go of all attachment and emotion, as can be seen in movies such as Revenge of the Sith. This is a common goal for many Pantheists, as they believe that all matter is really illusion and that the key to becoming free of that illusion (enlightenment), and the cycle of reincarnation, is to separate oneself of attachments to the illusion. While the emphasis in Episodes IV-VI (the old movies) seems to be more on keeping control of one’s negative feelings, Episodes I-III take the teaching further.

How does Pantheism look as compared to the Judeo-Christian worldview? In Pantheism, God is impersonal, a “force” if you will. In Christianity, God is personal. In Pantheism, man is, in essence, one with God. In Christianity, man is a creature made by God, separate from God. In Pantheism there is no relationship to God. How could there be? God is impersonal. In Christianity, however, the ultimate goal is a relationship with God, for God is personal.

There is no such thing as sin in Pantheism, and there is only salvation, enlightenment, when one escapes the illusion of matter. But in finding enlightenment and escaping the cycle of reincarnation, a person loses all sense of individual consciousness and personality because he or she joins the collective consciousness. In fact, the very concept of individual consciousness and personality is also an illusion.

For Christians, sin is a very real thing. In fact, it is man’s fundamental problem. Salvation is found through the atoning work of the Christ (savior), Jesus, on the cross. Literally, Jesus had to earn humanity’s salvation through perfect obedience to the Father because they couldn’t do it themselves. And in death, there is no loss of personal identity, of individual consciousness. Rather, a person experiences one of two destinations as a very conscious and personal being: perfect communion with God and the saints as individuals living in a heavenly and earthbound kingdom, or ultimate separation from God in outer darkness and eternal fire.

Certainly the rule of the day in Christianity is to be selfless, as Jesus was. But this selflessness does not mean the negation of self, but rather the denial to oneself in favor of others. Christianity is, by its very nature, a relational worldview. Humans are, by their very nature, relational. And the material world is quite real. Few people really live consistently with the idea that matter is an illusion. How can they? Pantheists would claim that that is simply how strong the illusion has held of people. But then, maybe an oncoming train really is an oncoming train, and the pain of being hit by that oncoming train is real pain.

I will be going to see the new Star Wars movie (Episode VII). Hopefully you will too. And hopefully after reading this, you will have insights with which to go and see the movie. Perhaps now you can look for the Pantheistic themes. What do the characters say? Do they sound Pantheistic? For me, these observations make the movie more enjoyable. I like thinking critically about movies.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying entertainment that comes with a different message, a different worldview. A Christian just needs to be discerning. And whatever he or she does, let Christ be at the center.

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

To Heaven and Back?

There has been a phenomenon in recent years over people’s near-death experiences and supposed glimpses and visits to heaven (and hell). These experiences have been turned into bestseller books, and the books have been written into movies. For instance, 90 Minutes in Heaven, a book released in 2004, is being released in theaters today. Some may say, “This is great for the Christian faith. I think God is trying to tell us something.” Without sounding crude, I would have to disagree with the first part of the statement and agree, tongue-in-cheek, with the second half of the comment. Let me explain: What greatly concerns me about these type of movies is the basis of them are on the person’s experience. The foundation and authority are not Scripture. With a number of “heaven” stories, it should not come as a surprise that some of them contradict each other and many times there is no Scriptural basis for the things they say they experienced. What may concern me even more than these people’s accounts is the number of Christians that flock to such movies. In order to know what heaven is like, they go to a child to hear what their experience was. They listen to the man who claims he was in heaven but is now back here. Often, where the people of God neglect to turn to for a description of heaven is the Word of God. The Bible is the authority for our lives and we bank our hope on what it says. That means if we want to know what heaven is like we go to the Bible. We live in an age where feelings and experience are exalted and the Bible is laid down. However, for the Christian, the Bible is above all and is our source of truth and the standard of authority. While I will say honestly there may be some instances where people have an experience and it does not contradict Scripture. To that, I cannot speak to because I humbly admit I do not know. Nevertheless, please take time to watch the video above and hear David Platt elaborate a little more on this subject. If we are going to be discerning in our learning, we must have God’s Word as our foundation and our source and standard for truth. These types of movies are not always fruitful for the Christian faith but they do show us that God is saying something: go back and read His Word. Simply put, Christian, be discerning in your learning!

Here is a beneficial article by Dr. David Shrock as you think on this subject further and learn to discern. For more articles, visit Tim Challies website here.

Worldview Analysis: Atheistic Existentialism

Do you believe in destiny? Perhaps you are unsure as to what destiny even is. How can you give a proper answer about something when you don’t even really know what that something is? Definitions are everything. The key, then, is to first be able to define destiny. Only then can you hope to answer the question.

Destiny goes hand-in-hand with another word: destination. A destination is somewhere you are going. You can deduce, then, that your destiny is your ultimate end, your ultimate destination, and everything along the way. Some use the word “fate” instead of destiny. The word fate generally carries more negative connotations with it, however.

Is this enough to answer the question? Well yes, yes it is, but only on a surface level. Most everyone believes that he or she is going somewhere. We’ve only touched upon the basic definition of destiny. A fuller definition of destiny has its nuances. To some, destiny is unchangeable, determined and set by a being transcendent of the individual, whether it is society or a deity.

To others, destiny can be almost infinitely changeable, entirely dependent on one’s choices. Certainly there are things that cannot be escaped. A man born into poverty did not choose to be born into poverty, but with his choices, and with a bit of luck and a bit of help, he can escape that poverty. Destiny is not something that is set before you but something you must fashion for yourself.

This idea finds its home in Atheistic Existentialism, one of two branches of the philosophical framework of Existentialism. The other is Theistic Existentialism. This post’s focus is on Atheistic Existentialism. The reason for this is simple: it is very prominent in today’s culture, at least as far as the United States is concerned, though it is likely a prominent feature of European culture as well.

Atheistic Existentialism was born out of attempts to respond to Nihilism. Nihilism, the ugly but honest child of Naturalism, saw the nonexistence of God purported by Naturalism as a logical lead to the nonexistence of meaning and morality. In short: no God, no meaning, no morality, and no hope. Atheistic Existentialism is an attempt to respond to Nihilism. It does not seek an escape by running away, but by confronting Nihilism head on.

In Atheistic Existentialism, human beings make themselves who they are. Not only do they fashion themselves, but they also fashion their destiny. This is an act of rebellion against the Natural universe, a universe that demands, unknowingly, that there is no meaning, no value, and no purpose. The existentialist is well aware that there is no ultimate meaning in the universe, but rebels against it nonetheless by creating meaning. One rebels against a universe without values by consciously creating values.

Without going into the details, because there isn’t enough room for that here, Atheistic Existentialism is supported by several seemingly cogent arguments. Indeed, it seems that if there was only material and Naturalism was correct, Atheistic Existentialism might be the best answer—except that it ultimately does not escape Nihilism.

Such things, perhaps, seem lofty. Surely Atheistic Existentialism is something that is only encountered in the graduate world or when you talk to that one atheist friend of yours who believes in creating his or her own values. But if you think that this is a concept that is seen mostly in the graduate world, you are wrong. Our modern cultural stories here in the U.S. are often inundated with the concepts found in Atheistic Existentialism.

The fact of the matter is, and it is perhaps startling if you did not realize it before, you can find these concepts taught by two well-known, highly popular organizations—Dreamworks and Disney. Sometime in the growing distant but still recent past, both of these organizations came out with movies. Dreamworks came out with their movie Megamind in 2010, and Disney came out with Brave in 2012. The idea of forging one’s own destiny can be seen quite clearly in both.

Both Megamind, the anti-hero protagonist of Dreamworks’ film, and Merida, the protagonist of the Disney film, close the movie with statements about making one’s own destiny. Merida uses the word “fate” in place of destiny, but the concept is the same. And this isn’t some paranoid conspiracy based on little nuances of the film here and there. One of Megamind’s ending lines is quite direct: “It seems that destiny is not something chosen for you, but something you choose for yourself.” Atheistic Existentialism…

Can you change your fate, as Merida claims? Is destiny something you make for yourself? Is that a biblical notion? For theologians, this enters into a somewhat controversial realm. On the one hand, human beings have a responsibility with their God-given free actions to choose to live lives of obedience or disobedience (for example, Genesis 3 and Joshua 24:14-15). On the other hand, God is sovereign. What He wills to happen will come to be, and there is nothing human beings can do about it (see, for example, Proverbs 21:30). But does He determine everything that will be?

Man has a responsibility to repent. If he does not, he will perish, as Jesus says at the beginning of Luke 13. Man has, then, one of but two destinies, destinies set before him by the LORD. He can choose to live a life of obedience, and his destiny will be eternal life (John 3:16). Or he can choose to live a life of sin, and his destiny will be eternal punishment (Matt. 25:41-46). Israel chose disobedience, and so her destiny was one of destruction (see the Old Testament prophets and II Kings).

Atheistic Existentialism offers an answer to Nihilism. But so does the Judeo-Christian worldview. The reality of Jesus the Messiah’s life, death, and resurrection is not only a testament to the good will of God but also a loud proclamation that there is such a thing as morality and meaning. Furthermore, the concepts of Atheistic Existentialism run contrary to biblical principles. God makes men. Men make their choices, and God sets them upon their paths. Do you believe in destiny? You should. For the Christian, one’s destiny is a very hopeful thing, something set down by a good, loving, just, and holy God.

This post was written by Joshua Wagner. Joshua is 26 years old and happily married to his wife, Heather. He is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Counseling at Crossroads Bible College. He is passionate about the Church, art and literature, theology, philosophy, and writing.

Christian Freedom, Legalism, and the Book of Hebrews

From passages like Galatians 4:21-5:1, we get the doctrine of “Christian Freedom”. The Reformers observed this as they looked to the authority of Scripture. A good definition for Christian freedom is as follows: “The Christian is free from any and all obligations that are not taught in the Scriptures or discerned through good and necessary inference.”

This does not mean that we have no responsibilities as followers of Christ. I hope no one gets that impression when thinking of Christian freedom! Simply put, if the Bible commands something, then the Christian is obligated to obey it. So, for instance, the second commandment says, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image” (Exodus 20:4). Thus, we have no visual depictions of God. Psalm 33:2 says, “Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings!” While I’ve never seen a ten-stringed harp at my church, nor do I even know what a lyre is, I think you get the point: we use whatever instruments we have to sing and give thanks to our God. Or another example: in Matthew 5:42 Jesus says, “Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.” And so we have it from the Lord himself to be generous with our worldly goods. Such commandments are the will of God. We know that because they are in his Word.

But that also means that whatever is not taught in the Scriptures cannot become an obligation that we put on ourselves or others. I remember the church in which I was converted had a statement in their covenant that prohibited dancing. Well, when my sister—a very pious Christian—became a professional ballerina I’m glad they reconsidered how unbiblical that prohibition is. Alas, my sister was not excommunicated because they realized she was (and is) free to dance because the Bible nowhere forbids it. (In fact, a case could be made that someone has to dance if the universal church is to obey Psalm 150:4 in any way.) So too we, just like the Galatians, should revel in the good instruction the Lord gives us so that we do not make excuses to live in the flesh (see for example Galatians 5:13–26). But on matters where the Lord has not spoken, let us give thanks for our freedom, being confined only by wisdom and love (see Romans 14 where the point is exactly that we should be ready to lay our freedom down where it would be loving to do so for another).

This was a precious doctrine to the Reformers because they were disputing a medieval Roman Catholicism that sought to add all kinds of regulations to churches and individual Christians which have no basis in Scripture. Thus, a commitment to Sola Scriptura (a doctrine that elevates the “Scriptures only” above all traditions and opinions) necessarily resulted in a commitment to Christian Freedom. For it is through the Bible that Christ rules the world. It is through the Bible that the Good Shepherd leads his flock. It is through the Bible that the voice of the risen Messiah is heard among his people. Thus, the Reformers understood Christian Freedom to preserve the exclusive Lordship of Christ. To add to the Scriptures or take away from them is to subvert his right to reign. Paul wouldn’t allow the “Judaizers” to do it in Galatia; the Reformers wouldn’t allow the Pope to do it in Europe; and we shouldn’t allow anything to do it here.

Now to be sure, this is not the opposite of “legalism.” Legalism is the idea that it is through some work of our own that we are saved. Indeed, we should reject all legalism. Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in the finished work of Christ alone (i.e., not anything we contribute). We are not talking about conversion, but how to live the Christian life. And certainly there are expectations the Lord has for Christians. But we don’t walk with obedient hearts because we think that will save us or atone for our sins. Rather, we obey the commands of the Master because we love him, want to glorify him, and point others to him—all under the wonderful leading of the Holy Spirit (again, see Galatians 5:16, 24–25). In other words, let’s keep our apples here and oranges there in our attempts to be precise in our beliefs.

Finally, I cannot resist commenting on Hebrews 12:14 which says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” Interesting; if we don’t achieve holiness we will not see the Lord! That is pretty clear. There is a holiness that is not only expected but required for salvation. Does that actually sneak some kind of works-righteousness in the backdoor? We are, it says, to strive for this holiness. I think we should view it like this: when we become Christians (by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone), the Holy Spirit will inevitably achieve his goals in leading us to grow in holiness. One of the means to that end is such a command as Hebrews 12:14 and others like it. This progress in holiness does not save us, but is part and parcel of the salvation that has already begun in us and bears fruit throughout our lives. In other words, our obedience to Christ becomes an ever-increasing reality in the life of the true Christian.

Some might object to such theological hairsplitting (though not you because you’ve persevered to the end of this article). But I would object to their objection! Life is complicated and—praise the Lord—he has furnished us with holy Scripture that meets such complications head on. Would that we had one answer for every situation, but sometimes we have questions about our freedom, sometimes about perceived legalism, sometimes about growth in holiness, and so on. Part of a life in pursuing that holiness is continually transforming and renewing our minds (Romans 12:2), thereby becoming less conformed to this world and its potentially binding and enslaving patterns, with the result that we’ll be able to discern the will of God, what is good acceptable and perfect. Christ has set us free to do just that!

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

A False and Loveless “Gospel”

You’ve seen their quotes shared on Facebook. You have heard such teachings deemed “inspirational”.  The Bible even seems to be used in preaching. Yet, the message portrayed is a false message. The gospel preached is a false gospel. What is this gospel? The prosperity gospel.

What is the Prosperity “Gospel”?

The Prosperity Gospel goes by other names such as “Word of Faith movement”, “Word-Faith movement”, “Health and Wealth Gospel”, and “Positive confession”.  David Jones lays out a summary of this supposed gospel, that it “teaches that God wants believers to be physically healthy, materially wealthy, and personally happy”. With wealth and health as the primary focus, talk of sin is at minimal, distorted, and even neglected. The gospel is, at best, assumed. The attention is on your potential and that God is for you and wants you well.

Who are Their Leaders?

Once we understand what this message teaches, it is pertinent to address the leaders of this camp. Before doing so, there may be people who object, “Is it really right to call out names?” Considering the fact that these leaders are preaching a false gospel, I believe Scripture gives us a directive. Observe two examples from the example of Paul:

By rejecting this [faith and good conscience], some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.” (1 Timothy 1:19b-20).

But avoid irreverent babble, for it will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have swerved from the truth, saying that the resurrection has already happened.” (2 Timothy 2:16-18)

While a few more cases could be brought up, including Jesus calling out the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23, for our purposes it should suffice that from Scripture we see there are instances of calling out those who teach falsely and lead people away from the truth. Moreover, Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:13-14, “Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.” Exposing these false teachers and their message are a part of what it means to guard the good deposit, the gospel. As stewards of the gospel, we must not allow the gospel to be distorted but call Christ-followers to be discerning. To help in that effort, we expose. With that purpose in mind, we realize we cannot speak on all these teachers, such as Joyce Meyer and T.D. Jakes. However, let’s look at two, one who has been in the spotlight more recently and the other being likely the most famous one in this arena:

  • Creflo Dollar

With a rather ironic last name, Creflo Dollar is probably the biggest prosperity gospel preacher who has been in the news recently, seeking donations for a pricey private jet. He has even authored a book You’re Supposed to Be Wealthy. In the product description Dollar is said to give “spiritual and practical wisdom on how to position yourself for financial increase…Anyone can reach the level of divine wealth that God desires for His people to talk in by doing what is necessary to receive the abundance that rightfully belongs to us as sons of God. You are supposed to be rich.”.

On his own website, Creflo Dollar writes, “ As the righteousness of God, your inheritance of wealth and riches is included in the “spiritual blessings” (or spiritual things) the apostle Paul spoke of in Ephesians 1:5. Based on Psalm 112:3, righteousness, wealth and riches go hand—in—hand. You have every right to possess material wealth—clothes, jewelry, houses, cars and money—in abundance. It is that wealth that not only meets your needs, but also spreads the Gospel message and meets the needs of others. The Bible says that wealth is stored up for the righteous (Proverbs 13:22, New American Standard). However, it will remain stored up until you claim it. Therefore, claim it now! You possess the ability to seize and command wealth and riches to come to you (Deuteronomy 8:18). Exercise that power by speaking faith-filled words daily and taking practical steps to eradicate debt. Like God, you can speak spiritual blessings into existence (Romans 4:17). Remember, doubt keeps silent, but faith speaks!”

  • Joel Osteen

The guy with the grin. The man who can motivate. Joel Osteen attracts many people to a building every Sunday and has even won support with the likes of Oprah. If Creflo Dollar is the most recent prosperity gospel preacher in the news, Osteen is the most well-known one. To be sure, he is a great speaker. He motivates his people. There is a problem, though. The message he preaches is not the message of the gospel. What motivates the people is not the gospel. It is a message of self. Consider his book Your Best Life Now. His steps for fulfilling your potential include enlarging your vision and developing a healthy self-image. While the parts of the gospel may be implied in some areas, Osteen fails to represent how one can grow (and in reality, our best life is not now but is yet to come). Looking further, here is a statement made in his book,

God wants you to live in abundance.  You were born to be a champion.  He wants to give you the desires of your heart.  Before we were formed he prepared us to live abundant lives to be happy, healthy and whole.  But when our thinking becomes contaminated it’s no longer in line with God’s word.

The truth is this line of thinking is not in line with God’s Word. To say we were formed and prepared so we can live lives here on earth as happy and healthy is not the gospel; it is the American Dream. The American Dream does not save; only God can and does through the gospel. So, while the message may have God mentioned in them and have other biblical themes, if there is no cross, then the message was not truly biblical (1 Corinthians 2:1-5).

One last remark regarding Joel Osteen: it has been said he does not talk about sin. He is actually aware of this critique. Rather than admitting to it, he has said he does mention sin but just in a different way. And what way is that? He says he tells people how they can become better. He believes God has called him to bring hope to people and to lift people. Yet, the cross seems not to be of central importance for him as he desires to give people hope.Prosperity Gospel

What’s Wrong with the Prosperity “Gospel”?

If the prosperity gospel is a false gospel, it is necessary to ask, “What is wrong with its teaching?” To be honest, a number of things:

One, reflecting on our topics in Discerning in Our Learning thus far, we have seen what the gospel is and the real definition of love. The gospel as found in the Word of God shows us our foundational problem is sin. We have rebelled against a holy and good God and due to receive the just punishment of eternal torment apart from Him. Christ has come to save us by becoming our substitute on the cross. Because of Him and only by His grace can we be saved through repentance and faith. To reiterate, our foundational problem is sin! What the prosperity, or health and wealth, gospel does is it names our foundational problem as poverty or sickness. To be sure, some of its preachers may mention sin every now and then but they do so without defining sin. Their big push is for people to grow in their self-esteem, in positive thinking, and in their prosperity. Yet, if sin is not addressed as the primary problem, then the solution will not be the gospel of Jesus Christ. The reality of God’s holy-love is a sanctifying love. True love confronts sin, calls sinners to repent, and trust in the One who is love. Therefore, if sin is not addressed or, worse, neglected entirely, as is and can be the case in the prosperity gospel, then it is appropriate to call this false gospel a loveless gospel. Just as it would be unloving for a doctor not to tell an ill patient they are sick, it would be unloving for a supposed pastor not to call people to repent of their sin and receive Christ.

Secondly, theological errors abound. David Jones, again, is of assistance here. He lists five the biggest errors: (1) The Abrahamic Covenant is a means of material entitlement, (2) Jesus’ atonement extends to the “sin” of material poverty, thus the atonement included physical healing, (3) Christians give in order to gain material compensation from God, (4) faith is a self-generated spiritual force that leads to prosperity, and (5) prayer is a tool to force God to grant prosperity. For more of an explanation of these errors, check out 9Marks Journal, pages 34-35 and the whole in general on this topic.

A third, and the most important, reason why the prosperity gospel is wrong is the testimony of Scripture. Does the Bible ever promise to Christians that we will be materially rich and wealthy? There should be a resounding “no!” Ironically, the New Testament paints a different picture. In the life of Jesus (Luke 9:58) and Paul, what we see is not a call to comfort in luxurious living; it is a call to die to self and suffer for Christ’s sake. Indeed, Paul is an example that suffering does not take away from the fullness of life. Ajith Fernando in an article titled “Is It God’s Will for All Christians to Be Wealthy”  remark, “In his epistles he [Paul] presents his sufferings as part of the evidence that he was blessed and called by God (e.g. 2 Corinthians 4:8-18; 6:3-10; 11:13-33; 12:1-10; Galatians 6:17).” For a deeper conversation on God’s will for Christians concerning wealth, you can read the article in full here. The point to be made here is the in the testimony of Scripture, the blessing of God is not solely done in wealth and health. Can that be a part? Certainly. But it is completely wrong to assert this is for all Christians and that if they give financially, they will be rewarded by the same means and more. The Bible shows us the blessing of God can come through the means of suffering. It is this suffering that reminds us of the fellowship we have with Christ (Philippians 3:7-10) and this is what points us back to the gospel.

Conclusion

The prosperity gospel’s heart is not truly focused on God. Its main course is on the gifts, not the God of the gifts. Absorbed in this heresy is the mentality of entitlement. We are told essentially God owes us something and we deserve material wealth if we believe. Gone is the entrusted mindset. In all of our hearts, whether formal or functional, we struggle with this issue. We daily face the battle of entrusted vs. entitled. As Christ-followers, our call is to be stewards of all God has entrusted to us. The most important thing He has entrusted to us is not material possessions. It is the gospel. It displays true love, holy-love. We must guard it, love it, and share it.

Recommended Resources

  • For real life examples of the prosperity gospel’s destructive impact, check out these two Gospel Coalition articles:

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-horror-of-the-prosperity-and-neo-pentecostal-church-in-africa

http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/the-gospel-that-almost-killed-me

Defining Love

haiti-heartFrom John Lennon’s “All you need is love” to Rob Bell’s Love Wins, there is no shortage of discussion on love. In particular, there is much talk for Christians on loving God and loving one another (Matthew 22:34-40). Within Christian circles and outside of them too, you hear some rendition of the phrase “Just love, don’t judge”. Indeed, if we are to reflect the character of God, we must be loving people. 1 John 4:8 says, “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.” But, wait a minute…what is love? See, the problem with the two references above in this discussion on love is they do not have a biblical understanding and definition of love. Some may affirm 1 John 4:8 “God is love” but will, in all truthfulness, mean “Love is god”. As we, Christ-followers, continue to discern as we learn, we must follow-up “What is the gospel?” with the subject of love.

Love Misdefined

We currently live in a culture, and the church is guilty here too, that speaks much about love without describing what love actually is. Yet, seeing this “love” in action, we can detect a few false notions of how people perceive love. Tony Merida does a fantastic job addressing this in his book Ordinary (pages 18-19):

  • False View #1: Love is tolerance

Please don’t misunderstand me here; when I say the first false view of love is tolerance, what I am not saying it that tolerance is wrong. Once again, defining tolerance is important. Nevertheless, tolerance does have a rightful place when defined rightly. However, in this day and age, if anyone calls sin sin, in accordance with what the Bible teaches, that person is labeled as “bigoted” or “narrow-mined” (Merida 19). Therefore, this view of love says those who are truly loving will not talk about sin and call out sin and certainly not give a call to repentance. No, they want to equate love with tolerance. They want to hear love spoken but without the context of truth.

  • False View #2: Love is merely Eros

Hollywood movies and songs portray this view of love as if it is merely a romantic and erotic love. What this view of love fails to capture is the commitment that goes in to defining love. Casual sex and sleeping around are not descriptions of true love but of lust. Real love takes commitment. Even so, marriage is commitment. Marriage is a covenant. Love is not merely a romantic love based on casualness but a love based on commitment and covenant. We see the latter in the Word of God as He has a covenant love for His people and is committed to them.

  • False View #3: Love is sentimentalism

A third false view of love surely can be tied in with number two. Nevertheless, this view emphasizes love as the feelings we have. Love is simply an emotion. Love is, as stated, sentimentalism. Wrong! While emotions do play a part in love, it is foolish to say love is merely feelings. Consequently, to do so result in a selfish sort of love. Love because about your feelings and it centers on self. Real love does the opposite (see 1 Corinthians 13). Along with point #2, love is commitment. It is committing and acting on behalf of another for their good. There are those in need around the world, such as orphans, who are desperate for love, not needing merely feeling but for someone to take action (Merida 19).

Love Misapplied

When love is misdefined, the implication is love will be misapplied. If we see love as merely tolerance, we will not dare to speak on sin. If we do not speak on sin, then there will be no reason for anyone to repent. If there is no reason to repent, then there is no need for the gospel. You see the chain of reaction here? Applying one of these faulty views of love not only damages and mars the true character of God, but it removes the reality of the gospel from our lives.

Love Aligned

When love is misdefined and misapplied, we run the risk of losing the gospel. The only way to align love back to its correct understanding is to get back to the biblical understanding of love. J.I. Packer profoundly hits on this in his book Knowing God and declares, “God’s love is holy love” (Packer 110). Dr. David Wells does the same in his work God in the Whirlwind, reiterating God’s love is best described as holy-love. Dr. Wells further reminds us we must begin with God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture, not what our initial inclinations want us to think of who he is (Wells 81). We speak of love as without content, a love without definition, and a love without action. To align love back in its place, we do need to affirm 1 John 4:8 that “God is love” but we need to read on into verses 9-10:

 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 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.

Love aligned is a love centered and rooted in the gospel. It is holy-love. True love confronts sin, calls sinners to repent, and trust in the One who is love. God, in line with His holiness, had to punish sin and the rebellion of man, and His love brought forth the sending of Jesus Christ. Mercy and justice, holiness and love, met on the cross. God’s love is not some abstract love without any meaning. God’s love is a sacrificial and sanctifying love. God’s love is a holy-love. Biblical love will not keep us where we are at; it will drive us to greater intimacy with God and growth in Christ-likeness. It is fitting, then, to close with a quote from J.I. Packer, defining God’s love:

God’s love is an exercise of His goodness towards the individual sinners whereby, having identified Himself with their welfare, He has given His Son to be their Saviour, and now brings them to know and enjoy Him in a covenant relation. (page 111)