True Christianity & Absurd Christianity

Jonathan Edwards writes about the nature of true and false Christianity,

“Thus we see how full, clear, and abundant, the evidence from Scripture is, that those who are truly gracious, are under the government of that lamb-like, dove-like Spirit of Jesus Christ, and that this is essentially and eminently the nature of the saving grace of the gospel, and the proper spirit of true Christianity…

Nothing can be a greater absurdity, than a morose, hard, close, high-spirited, spiteful, true Christian.”

[On Religious Affections…, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1834), 306, 307]

God at the Command of Prayer?

Always stood in wonder at how Jonathan Edwards, the great Calvinistic mind and the great revivalist, could speak of prayer in such a fashion:

“God is, if I may so say, at the command of the prayer of faith; and in this respect is, as it were, under the power of his people; as princes, they have power with God, and prevail.”  [Some Thoughts Concerning The Present Revival of Religion…, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 1 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1834), 426]

May God keep me and keep the church from the kind of view of God’s sovereignty that discourages relentless prayer and laying hold upon God to act.

It is possible, and, I think, it is most biblical to believe that God sovereignly wills everything (and I mean everything), and to pray in such a way and with the kind of faith that prevails with God.

May God make me such a man.

Christianity is Not Primarily About Sensing God’s Presence

J. Gresham Machen, in his classic work Christianity & Liberalism, makes the following argument against the idea that Christianity is primarily about “feeling the presence of God” and contends that human affection itself is bristling with dogma and the knowledge of God is the very basis of true Christianity:

With regard to this objection, it ought to be observed that if religion consists merely in feeling the presence of God, it is devoid of any moral quality whatever. Pure feeling, if there be such a thing, is non-moral. What makes affection for a human friend, for example, such an ennobling thing is the knowledge we possess of the character of our friend. Human affection, apparently so simple, is really just bristling with dogma. It depends upon a host of observations treasured up in the mind with regard to the character of our friends. But if human affection is thus really dependent upon knowledge, why should it be otherwise with that supreme personal relationship which is at the basis of religion? Why should we be indignant about slanders directed against a human friend, while at the same time we are patient about the basest slanders directed against our God? Certainly it does make the greatest possible difference what we think about God; the knowledge of God is the very basis of religion. [Christianity & Liberalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1923), 55.]

For those who immediately react and say, “But isn’t human affection for God and experience of God important?” Yes, of course, and Machen would not object nor would holy Scripture. The key issue is that Christian experience is to be derived from the knowledge of God–not trump the knowledge of God.

If you don’t think this is true talk to your wife or husband and ask her/him if it’s ok just to “sense” and “feel” their presence for the next couple years and not engage in any sort of communication that would help you understand who they are and what they are thinking or feeling or what their plans, hopes, and dreams are. Most likely if you tell your spouse you just want to “feel” them for the next couple years it may initially sound romantic and a bit titillating but it will probably backfire 🙂

Contending With God Without Asserting Your Rights – The Syrophoenician Woman

Was reading Tim Keller’s latest book over the weekend on the gospel of Mark, and was stunned by the insight he brought to the passage discussing Jesus’ reaction to a Gentile woman’s assertiveness and faith:

24Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.

25But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.

26Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

27And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”

28But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.”

29And He said to her, “Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.”

30And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left. (Mark 7:24-30)

Keller states,

Isn’t this amazing? She doesn’t take offense; she doesn’t stand on her rights. She says, “All right. I may not have a place at the table–but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is wrestling with Jesus in the most respectful way and she will not take no for an answer. I love what this woman is doing.

In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our own dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness–and I need it now.” (King’s Cross, 88-89).

I know little of this kind of faith. And you probably do too.

How often are your prayers for healing and the righting of perceived wrongs or genuine evils in your life derived more from your sense of having your rights overlooked than from appealing to Jesus’ goodness? This woman does not appeal to Jesus on the basis of her worthiness or her rights, but on the basis of his extravagant grace. She is pleading with Jesus for healing, exorcising grace even though she knows she and her daughter don’t deserve it.

If you’re like most Americans, Jesus’ first reply would’ve angered you. You would have lashed out at his insensitivity. “How dare you.” “Do you know who I am?” “Why don’t you care about me?” “Who do you think you are?” “I deserve this.” “My daughter doesn’t deserve this.” “Look at all that I and my family have done.” “This is evil! How can you respond like that? You’re supposed to be good!”

Many of us would have left after Jesus’ first reply enraged that the God-man would speak to us that way.

But faith relentlessly goes after Jesus because of who He is not because of who you are. Contend with Jesus boldly in light of his character not your own.

And remember Jesus’ “no” doesn’t always mean “never.” Jesus honors persistent faith.

God doesn’t owe you anything, but he’s gracefully given a sinful world everything in Jesus.


Salvation Starts with God

Herman Bavinck states,

“Those who start with God can also do justice to humans as his rational and moral creatures; but those who start with humans and first of all seek to secure their rights and liberties always end up limiting the power and grace of God.” (Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, 573)

God’s Compassion & Divine Healing

Jack Deere writes,

Understanding Christ’s compassion for the sick and hurting has great practical ramifications. I frequently meet people who are enthusiastic about praying for the sick…Often their primary motivation in praying for the sick is to see something exciting, something supernatural, or to prove their theological opponents that God does heal after all.

These are not New Testament motivations for healing. God is not in the business of gratifying our desires for excitement nor in helping some of his children win arguments over others. He is in the compassion business. To the degree that you can enter into his compassion for the sick and for the hurting, you can be a vessel through whom the healing power of Jesus can flow. If you really want to be used in a healing ministry, ask your heavenly Father to let you feel his compassion for the hurting.

To argue that Jesus has withdrawn his healing ministry from the church today is to argue that he has also withdrawn his compassion from the church. But if we believe in a compassionate Savior, we ought to have confidence in his desire to heal in the church today. (Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, 120, 121)