A Love That’s God

In Christian contexts, we hear that word a lot.  Love.  It’s everywhere in Scripture from the key teaching in Leviticus 19:18 (reiterated by the Lord Jesus in the Gospels) to God’s description of Himself as “love” in 1 John 4:8.  These are important, foundational teachings to the Christian faith and without them we would not be who we are.  We wouldn’t be Jesus people.  We wouldn’t be Bible people.  This is a doctrine that is integral to the fabric of our faith.

However, the problem comes when that’s the only doctrine of our “faith.”  Allowing the doctrines of sovereignty, holiness, righteousness, justice, and wrath to fall by the wayside unquestionably changes the conversation.  This “faith” is no longer Christianity.  This “faith”, to borrow a term from Christian Smith, is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, the basic tenets of which are:

  1. A god exists who created the world and watches over everyone.
  2. God wants people to be good, nice, fair, and loving to each other.
  3. The goal of life is to be good to other people, be happy, and feel good about yourself.
  4. God does not need to be particularly involved except when needed to resolve a problem.

This is the primary “religion” of the people in the United States of America.  This is the “god” in which many of us trust.  This is the “god” that many of us believe our one nation is under.  This god is somewhere out there and isn’t coming home for a while and has left a note for the siblings to play nice and when you do you’ll get a warm feeling inside which means you’re a good, loving person.  This is a false religion preaching a false gospel that many have assumed is historic, orthodox, Biblical Christianity.  And for this we need to repent.

I could end this post here, hopeful that those who have elevated God’s love above all his other attributes would realize their error and seek forgiveness.

But then Mr. Mainline Love-Machine sputters in. “But but but but but but but…that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that God isn’t sovereign or holy or righteous or just,” he retorts, conveniently leaving one out.  “It’s just that the Bible says, ‘God is love.’  Everything else must flow out of his love, so whatever is loving, that’s what God does.”

And here we have arrived squarely at the issue at hand.  What is love?  Baby, don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me…no more.

I agree with the Mr. Machine.  Whatever is loving is what God does.  The natural deduction would be, then, “If God did it, it must be loving.”  This is where Mr. Machine and I would disagree.  You see, we both open the text of Scripture and see God doing all kinds of crazy things.  My sentiment would be what was stated above.  “Whatever is loving is what God does and if God did it, it must be loving,” meaning that I view God’s destruction of the Egyptians, Canaanites, and all the other -ites as loving in the same way that His rescue of the Israelites from captivity and ready defense of the widow, orphan, and sojourner was loving as well.  I think that Mr. Machine and I would deviate at this point.  I have an inkling he would call majority of what God did in the text of Scripture unloving, if you can get him to even admit that God actually did them and they weren’t “just truth-filled stories.”  The judge of love is no longer God, but our own human fancies.

The fundamental difference is that I look at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and then allow Him to judge and define what love looks like throughout the very same text of Scripture.  Mr. Machine looks at the text of Scripture where God calls himself “love” and rushes to find God in everything that he calls loving.  The breakdown is that, by his definition, Mr. Machine not worshiping a God that’s love.  He’s worshiping a Love that’s god.  You see, when we get to define what love is and demand God and everyone else adhere, our definition has just excluded the Prophets, the Apostles, Jesus, and God Himself.

When we deify Love, or any other attribute of God for that matter, we always (for we must) redefine it and make it into something it never was intended to be.  Love no longer can mean anger, wrath, or justice (an inconsistency which I’ve written about here).  It must mean something else.  And once we stand proudly beside our newly defined “god,” we demand that the one true God meet our own twisted, prideful, fallen, sinful, human qualifications of Love.  And when He doesn’t, He is wrong.  “God wouldn’t say that.  God wouldn’t do that.  God wouldn’t require that.  God wouldn’t prohibit that.  That’s not very loving.”  (*New Definition of Love* Read: That’s not very nice.)

This redefinition problem extends far beyond our deification of Love.  One more example.

We have redefined, and arguably inverted, the definitions of arrogance and humility.  I’m certain that whether in public or private, someone somewhere will think me arrogant for blogging in the way that I do, but maybe a hypothetical situation would be easier.

Situation 1: Pastor Evangelly-goo gets up in front of his congregation and spends the entire 20 minute sermon flattering and cajoling and talking about himself, his story, and his experience.  People, then, walk away and say to themselves, “What a humble, transparent pastor we have.”  Why?  “Because he talked about himself the whole time.”

Situation 2: Pastor John (the Baptist, Chrysostom, Knox, Calvin, Flavel, Owen, Piper, MacArthur…take your pick) gets up in front of his congregation and says, “Thus saith the Lord Almighty, the Lord of Hosts…” and then proclaims the Word of God, a message that would have been true if he, the pastor, had never been born because it comes right out of the text of Scripture.  People, then, walk away and say to say to themselves, “What an arrogant man.”  Why?  “Because he didn’t talk about himself at all.  All he did was talk about God and the authority of the Bible.”

Here’s where the redefinition comes in.  We live in a time when to speak a true word based on what God said is defined as arrogance while to hem and haw and equivocate and offer a shoulder shrug making your own doubts, skepticism, and questions the center of the cosmos is defined as humility.

We live in a time when speaking the truth about God’s detest for, restrictions on, and punishment of sin is defined as unloving while calling the very things God did in the text of Scripture unloving and simultaneously demanding He rise to our new definition of Love is defined, somehow, as loving.

There’s only one word that can be said for people like us.  It’s no wonder it was Jesus’ first public message in the Gospel accounts (Mt. 4:17; Mk. 1:15) and the first sermon of the Church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:37-38).


Protestant Patriots

I know I’m late to the game, because as I pulled in with my mitt and bat ready, the lights were off and no one was in the field.  But that’s not going to stop be from taking a few cuts at the plate and even hitting a few balls just to see how far they can go.

I posted last week about the Future of Protestantism discussion that happened at Biola.  After the conversation, all the pastors and bloggers that are much smarter than me and much better writers than I’ll ever be all gave their two cents.  They sent their hits sailing into the outfield and some even over the fence.  And so here I am, practicing in the dark, taking my swings by shouting by opinions into the vast expanse of the internet.

First of all, three cheers for all the gentlemen who participated in this conversation.  It was incredibly edifying and put shoes on a lot of the barefoot ideas and questions I had running around in my own head.

Second of all, my overwhelming sentiment from this whole discussion was, “I agree.”  While there were some minor disagreements, overall, I was in agreement with all three gentlemen and feel that they presented their sides well, though it came to light that they agreed more than they disagreed.

My last and most in-depth point is this: Those Protestants who truly desire to see the Reformation Spirit of God sweep again must truly be Protestant Patriots.  There is a quote attributed to Augustine, but even if he didn’t say it, the sentiment is true.  It states, “The Church is a whore. But she is also my Mother.”  Despite all her ills and her faults and her mistakes and errors, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her.  I think the predominant feeling among young(er-ish) evangelicals is frustration with the Church.  They ask questions about all the divisions in the Protestant churches and namely the evangelical churches.  And for good reason!  Think about it.  How many conservative, Protestant, evangelical denominations are in the U.S.?  How many are Baptists?  How many are Presbyterian?  How many are “non-denominational”?  It seems to me that feeling is growing and causing quite a bit of unrest among young Protestants.  This is what Peter Leithart addressed in his opening comments.  The Bible talks about unity and we look around and we don’t see it.  We don’t see it among Protestants.  We don’t see it between Protestants and Roman Catholics.  We don’t see it between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.  So there are some legitimate feelings of angst and uneasiness among younger Protestants.

The problem is the two major solutions that these disheveled Protestants have concocted.

The first is what I have affectionally termed “evangelly-goo.”  It says something to the effect of, “All these doctrines and creeds and catechisms divide us.  Guys, all we need is Jesus.  Why can’t we just all come together and worship Him in love and unity and oneness?”  You’re right.   I am overstating it a bit.  This is unrealistic.  They probably don’t know how to pronounce “catechism.”  The assumption behind Mr. or Miss Evangelly-goo is that we aren’t already worshipping Jesus, but that we are worshipping something else.  This may be true for some, but I wouldn’t argue that this is true for the overwhelming majority.  And, ultimately, the real problem here they end up begging the question.  “How should we worship in oneness and unity?”  “Oh.  We’ll our faux-hawked, metrosexual band leader is going to lead the 12-piece-praise-band (4 of which play acoustic guitar) in a never ending chorus of ‘How Great Is Our God.’  We might do some Hillsong if we have time, but ‘How Great’ usually takes about 30 minutes. Sooo…”  You see?  In their mind, the only way we can have unity is if we all give up our theological differences and comprehensive ecclesiological/worship preferences for theirs.  This isn’t unity.  It’s conformity.  The Apostle Paul had to deal with something similar in Corinth.  And he, like the restless Protestants, called out people for their divisions.

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,”

To this we all should give a hearty, “Amen.”  And the loudest usually comes from the Evangelly-goos.  But the problem is that I left off the last part of the verse.  In true Pauline fashion, Paul saves his harshest condemnation for last.  Here it is again.

What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.”

The problem in Corinth is similar to the Evangelly-goo problem Protestants are tempted into today.  The “Jesus Trump Card” didn’t work back then, and it won’t work now, because the reality is the Evangelly-goos are willing to require everyone repent and ignore their distinctives…except for them.

The second solution is abandonment.  We Protestants are seeing a number of the young and the restless swing over to the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox denomination believing all their unity problems have been solved.  But this is another point that stuck out in Dr. Leithart’s comments.  If the Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxs are branches of the True Church, albeit very unhealthy and diseased branches, then our unity problems don’t stop with jumping off the Protestant ship and reneging on all of our Protestant confessions, which is the point Carl Trueman was making.

The fundamental problem with both of these solutions is that none of these Protestants are true patriots.  They confess that they are Protestants, but out of the same mouth comes cursing and all kinds of evil about Protestantism.  They…WE…have forgotten the Mother from whence we have come.  To use an analogy from Douglas Wilson:

“Say that mom has a drinking problem, and it is time for an intervention. Whom do you want leading and coordinating it? The son who calls every week and sends flowers and a card every mother’s day, or the son who has been a cynical smartmouth from high school on? The son who has observed the pieties is qualified to say something about the maternal sin, and is the most likely to do it right. The other son might actually be the source of the problem and ought not to be put in charge of fixing it.”

My proposed solution is an army of Protestant Patriots.  We need faithful Protestant sons and daughters who love their Mother, recognize they would be nothing without her, and wouldn’t abandon her if it meant death to take the eternal truths of the Reformation and apply them to the current ills of the Church (yes, the entire Church) and carry that mantle into the coming centuries and millennia using them as a rallying cry and a banner to unite all Christians.

This is (the future of) Christianity.

The Future of Protestantism

Back in November, Peter Leithart, a prominent Protestant scholar and thinker, wrote a for First Things magazine about the end of Protestantism.  You can read his post here.

This created a bit of a firestorm in the blogosphere from all brands of Protestants including from people in Peter’s “camp.”  It’s this firestorm that caused a group of people at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute to gather together some of the loudest voices in this “conversation” to have a roundtable discussion about what was really being said.  You can read the background of how all this came together here.

That event took place on April 29th and the video was quickly uploaded for people like me who missed the live event.  I watched the entire discussion and I believe it was very helpful in clarifying a few things, but also pressing some other issues that need to be discussed.

I am now sharing that video with you as to inform my next few blog posts, because my next few posts will address some of the things discussed in the video.

Warning: This is best watched all at once even though it is just under 2.5 hours long.  This is also not for the theologically faint of heart.  These men will swim down to the bottom of the pool and start pulling up the tiles.  So if that’s what you love and you’re a theology nerd like me, strap in, because this is a good one.