A friend of mine committed suicide two days ago. He was a friend who helped introduce me to the preaching of John Piper, whom God has used more than any other single human to shape me for the good. My friend posted ‘goodbye’ videos on his own personal website before he killed himself. There is too much to process in writing right now, but one quote did stick out to me that I simply must address. It is a quote that I know even three and a half years ago would never have entered my friend’s mind:
“Anyone who says they know for sure [what happens after death] is either selling a book or has confused ‘for sure’ with ‘hope.'”
I would simply quote to you who read this 2 Peter 1.16-21 for your encouragement and perseverance and joy:
“For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. And we have something more sure, the prophetic word, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Peter heard a voice from heaven– as hard evidence as you can come by. Yet God put in his heart the knowledge that the written Word is even more sure than that. There is nothing like the Scriptures! It is not that we “know for sure”; it is that God is for sure! His Word to us is more sure than we can possibly imagine. We do not have a category in our own minds for how sure His Word is. Cling to Him in your darkest hour, my friends.
Please do not tell me doctrine is unimportant. Do not tell me that I should be sharing Jesus as opposed to thinking deeply about theology:
- sharing Jesus includes, and is a result of, thinking deeply about theology (substitutionary atonement, the Lordship of Christ, how God works through evangelism, realities of heaven and hell)
- if God has revealed it, He revealed it in the Bible so that we would understand it (Deut 29.29); He intends for all His children to know Him through His Word; the more theology you know, the more you know God; if it does not help you know God deeper, it’s not real theology
- a misunderstanding of the doctrine of vocation, providence, missiology, etc. leads people to spend too much money on themselves
- a misunderstanding of the total inability of man, God’s sovereign grace in election, etc. can lead to Christians being uncompassionate towards unbelievers
- a misunderstanding of male and female roles can lead to homosexuality, apathy about authority, and raising our children to think similarly.
- a misunderstanding of God’s holiness, man’s sinfulness, God’s meticulous sovereignty, and God’s redemptive will in the person of Jesus Christ can lead to people committing suicide in the midst of pain, like a friend of mine just did.
Please take His Word seriously.
Timothy George spoke extremely clear (pun intended) on the doctrine of perspicuity at SBTS last year. I am deeply saddened that so many Christians do not believe God spoke to be understood. Here are some thoughts that have been brewing recently:
- My daughter who is 12 years old could read 1 Tim 2.12 and tell you what it means.
- The devil likes it whenever there are “scholars on both sides of the issue.”
- Cries for unity in spite of theological differences, though the intent is good, do not communicate to me that you are concerned that God’s heart may be grieved over the misunderstandings of His Word.
- Dependence on “scholarship” over hot topics seems to make pastors weak in the pulpit; if pastors are not the experts of God’s Word on earth then the role of shepherd/teachers in the NT becomes very un-perspicuous to me.
Scholars, please don’t make the Bible less clear. Seminaries, please equip pastors to be scholars, and deny degrees to “scholars” whose scholarship does not benefit the local church. Churches, please recapture your role as the central vehicle for gospel advancement and Bible interpretation. Christians, pray and read trusting that God has spoken in such a way that fallible human beings could still understand.
Do not argue with anyone about whether or not Jesus died in the place of every single person who has ever lived. First, unless you believe Jesus’ death failed in any sense, the answer is obvious. But also, the biblical writers are never addressing that issue. In fact, they do not even try to argue that often about whether or not every single person who has ever lived is a sinner.
Trust me, I believe every person who has ever lived is a sinner and deserving of God’s wrath. But all the weight of the “all” passages in the NT are addressing the fact that Jews and Gentiles are together now. Whenever “all” is positive, the emphasis is that Gentiles are included. Whenever the “all” is negative, it seems the weight is that even Jews are included.
For example, I have concluded this week that Romans 3.23 is ever-so-slightly misquoted by everyone. I have always used it to argue that every single person who has ever lived is a sinner. While I still believe that truth, and believe there are many passages that teach that, that is only implied in Rom 3.23. The “all” in v23 is the same group being talked about in v24: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace…” Clearly, not every single human being who has ever lived is justified by God’s grace. The “all” of v23 is supposed to shock us by pointing out that even Jews are included in that group. Paul is arguing that anyone can become righteous apart the Law; it is a righteousness through faith in Christ “for all who believe, for there is no distinction, for all have sinned…and are justified by his grace…” (Rom 3.21-24). The argument is about God seeing no distinction among mankind. You might interpret Rom 3.23-24 as “all (who are ever saved) have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justfied by his grace…” The weight of “all” is always on the surprising nature of Jews and Gentiles being blocked together.
Who cares right? Two things: first, I would simply point out how easy it is to get the simplest verses exegetically wrong (“wrong” might be a strong word here). We must work hard to get the text right! This is God’s Word to us! Second, arguments about limited atonement never enter the Apostles’ minds. I think they believe the same thing John Calvin believes. It’s just that it never enters their minds when they are making arguments. Not only in the atonement passages do I not think it enters their minds, I am not even sure they are thinking of “all” (as in every single human being) in the sin passages. That is how far those kinds of arguments are from their minds.
This is the first time I have ever come across the name, Nathan Finn. He is a history professor at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. He debunks a myth about the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. This is very helpful, and something you can pray for our local convention to think about. Please pray for me as I look to start conversations over the next month or so to persuade people to think more biblically about certain key issues. Our local convention actually holds to one of our historic confessions– rather than our denomination’s current one– for what I consider bad reasons. What Finn writes here makes so much sense and I just pray common sense over my brothers and sisters here.