Dealing with Presumed Biblical Contradictions

Three years ago, the Gospel Coalition held a regional conference called Clarus, which had been titled, “Scripture: God Speaks.”  During the Q&A time, New Testament pastor-scholar, Greg Beale, answered a question about supposed contradictions in the bible.  He gave the best answer that I have ever come across on this subject.  For many believers in Christ, the bible contains errors or contradictions, which render it less than trustworthy in their eyes.  There are many respected pastor-scholars in Evangelical seminaries throughout the US and the world, who advance the notion that the bible contains unsolvable contradictions.  This remains one of the most common objections to the truthfulness or inerrancy of scripture.

One of my younger brothers introduced me to the writings of Arthur W. Pink or A.W. Pink.  He traveled throughout the UK and the US as a preacher.  For most of his life, Pink and his writing output remained a thing of the past.  Over the last two decades, there has been a resurgence in the modern church with respect to Reformed theology, and in particular, the Reformed view of salvation.  This modern revival of Reformation teaching has lead to the discovery of the works of Pink.  I am about to begin his book titled, The Attributes of God, the source of the quote below this paragraph.  Few writers today match Pink’s ability to state with clarity the difference between  a book knowledge about God and the knowledge of God that transforms dead souls into living ones in Christ.

“The foundation of all true knowledge of God must be a clear mental apprehension of His perfections as revealed in Holy Scripture. An unknown God can neither be trusted, served, nor worshipped. In this booklet an effort has been made to set forth some of the principal perfections of the Divine character. If the reader is to truly profit from his perusal of the pages that follow, he needs to definitely and earnestly beseech God to bless them to him, to apply His Truth to the conscience and heart, so that his life will be transformed thereby.

“Something more than a theoretical knowledge of God is needed by us. God is only truly known in the soul as we yield ourselves to Him, submit to His authority, and regulate all the details of our lives by His holy precepts and commandments.  ‘Then shall we know, if we follow on (in the path of obedience) to know the Lord’ (Hosea 6:3).  ‘If any man will do His will, he shall know’ (John 7:17).  ‘The people that do know their God shall be strong’” (Dan. 11:32).

(Arthur W. Pink, Preface, The Attributes of God, 1923)

Knowing God vs Knowing About God

In Our Right Mind

If a public speaker addressed an audience by saying, what I’m about to say may give you the impression that I’m not in my right mind, what effect would that have on them?  It could be construed as a stunt in order to keep folks from exiting too soon.  I might be inclined to see just how insane the person would become over the subject.  Now, suppose a missionary or a minister conveyed that sentiment. There is good reason to expect the crowd or audience to tune out at that point.  Depending upon the context, ministers come off as insane or not in their right mind.  What else is new?  Take a look at the following passage from the apostle Paul:

“13 For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  14 For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:13-15, ESV).

Clearly the language of verse thirteen is hyperbole, which Paul uses to maximum effect.  His audience may find his message and himself to be insane as he discusses the resurrection of Christ.  After all, there is no other way to read verses fourteen and fifteen.  The apostle Paul makes a strong statement about Christ’s love controlling him and others like him who have believed in Christ’s death and resurrection.  It is their reason for living and speaking as they do (2 Cor. 5:15, ESV).  Paul began verse thirteen by making an apparent concession to his audience, but the hyperbole and the subsequent logic of the next two verses turn the tables on the audience.  He has placed the ball in their court as to Christ’s death and resurrection.

This brings to my mind a key observation about the text and its context.  Paul had no qualms about sounding and looking like an insane person.  If he came off like a crazy person for conveying the truth about Christ and his gospel message, then Paul accepted those consequences.  According to the text, he knew himself to be in his right mind; therefore, he states with boldness that the love of Christ controls him and those in his audience who believe in Christ’s death and resurrection (2 Cor. 5:14, ESV).  When I read over this section of scripture, I sense an individual who possessed great conviction about the truth of Christ’s death and resurrection. There is no other possible conclusion unless one believes the apostle Paul to have been insane.  Of course, that remains a dicey stance given Paul’s insistence on the veracity of message independent of the messenger.

Because our culture today soft pedals many issues, individuals who express truth with conviction and boldness come off as either weird or those who rock the boat.  Keep your head down and be a good little boy.  Now, now, we do not want you to stir up any trouble, or to disturb the peace otherwise we will have to correct such behavior.  When it comes to the truth claims of the gospel, believers must remain true to the truth of the message and its source: the resurrected Messiah.  The apostle’s Paul’s life serves as a convicting example of one committed to proclaiming the gospel message in full.  He cut no corners, or rounded the edges.  Paul delivered the gospel regardless of how he sounded and looked to his audience.  He knew who he served and believed: the God-Man Jesus, who died and rose again for his sake and the redeemed.

Gravity: A Review

Alfonso Cuaron established his international reputation with his Mexican import from 2001 titled Y Tu Mama Tambien.  Three years later, he sat in the director’s chair on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  Many fans of J.K. Rowling’s books and movies believe Cuaron’s picture is the best of the series.  In 2006, the Mexican-born auteur released the riveting Children of Men, based on the novel by P.D. James.  Cuaron’s adaptation of James’ novel made several top ten lists that year, and this reviewer believes it to be one of the best films in the first decade of the Twenty-first century.  Until Gravity came out last year, Cuaron had been silent in his cinematic output. Seven years spanned the time between Children of Men and the release of Gravity in 2013.  Was it worth the wait?  The answer is a resounding yes.

Gravity focuses on two astronauts in a life or death struggle to survive an orbiting debris field as they perform routine maintenance on the Hubble Space Telescope.  This provides hair-raising suspense moments, which escalate with each subsequent encounter.  In the midst of the suspense, the 3D cinematography immerses the viewer in the realm of space.  The images of earth and space from the characters’ vantage point dazzle the mind and the eye.  When one considers Steven Price’s hypnotic music score overlaying each scene, the sum total effect of the movie harrows the viewer.  At some point, I kept thinking to myself, “I’m glad that mankind has ventured into space, but we have no business being up there.”  Cuaron’s movie is a cinematic ride.   It is a work of fiction, so I have no doubt in my mind that it fudges with aerospace details.  Nevertheless, men and women belong on earth not in space.

Of course, Cuaron’s picture would mean very little if the characters had not been so believable.  Sandra Bullock gives one of her best performances in her career as Dr. Ryan Stone, who must battle for her life in space.  The irony of this particular point is that Dr. Stone confesses to Matthew Kowalski, played by George Clooney, that she has no reason to return home on earth.  She enjoys the silence of space.  In many ways, this admission by Dr. Stone indicates either her preference for silence or a preoccupation with lifelessness or death.  An argument could be made that she is already dead even though she is alive.  When one lacks the will to live, it is a mere formality when actual, physical death takes place.  A lifeless soul is a dead one; therefore, physical death is a matter of time.

Clooney’s Matthew Kowalski character is lively and alive.  He is the foil or counterpoint to Dr. Stone, who is morose and hopeless about existence.  Through Kowalski, the viewer gains an appreciation for enjoying the moment in space without losing sight of the bigger picture: earth is home and that is the goal.  His level-headed approach to life draws out of Dr. Stone the essence of who she is as a woman and as a person.  During one of their conversations, Kowalski uncovers his colleague’s underlying anguish over her daughter’s tragic death due to a freak accident on a playground.  It does not matter to Dr. Stone that this event took place four years ago.  The significance of her admission is that it is a past event of death, which remains at work in her in the present.  For the audience, we now understand her reason for the despair over her life.

After the initial encounter with the debris field, Kowalski rescues Dr. Stone and they head toward ISS in order to take the shuttle to the Chinese station for re-entry.  Because of Kowalski’s ingenuity and street smarts, he realizes that they have ninety minutes to get into ISS before the debris field hits a second time.  Kowalski uses the rest of the jet propulsion in his pack to get them to ISS; however, they approach with too much momentum, which leads Kowalski to release himself from the tether in order to save Dr. Stone’s life.  While drifting out into space and to his certain death, Kowalski talks Dr. Stone through the steps to get inside ISS and execute the escape plan before the debris field hits.  His voice serves as a beacon of hope for Dr. Stone.

In a key scene, Dr. Stone manages to enter ISS and strips off the space suit down to her tights.  She curls into a fetal position much like a fetus inside a mother’s womb.  Little does Dr. Stone realize that her rebirth has begun with her fight to stay alive.  Much like a mother’s contractions or birth pangs, the movie continues the ebb and flow of near death and release after each successful attempt by Dr. Stone. When she reaches her lowest point, Dr. Stone resigns herself to her own death as she hears the birth of a child over the AM frequency. It is a telling moment as it reveals the exhilaration of new life and the finality of death.  Dr. Stone prays for the ability to pray sort of like hoping against hope.  She experiences a vision in response to her prayer wherein Kowalski comes to her aid in her time of need.  God answers her prayer.

From here on out, Cuaron’s picture is a textbook example of blending the elements of allegory and realism in service of his story.  Dr. Stone still has a life and death struggle on her hands, but she realizes the help provided to her by the angelic visitation in the form of Kowalski.  Hope returns to her spirit as does life.  One could argue that Dr. Stone has proceeded from death to life in a spiritual sense. Gone is the hopeless and despairing soul at the start of the picture.  Now life, spiritual life, courses through her spirit and body, which invigorates her to face whatever comes her way as she heads to earth.  When Dr. Stone boards the falling Chinese station, she braces herself for a crash landing.  Oddly enough, the capsule ends up in a lake and sinks.  What more could Dr. Stone possibly encounter?

In many ways, this final sequence cements the allegorical nature of the movie.  The lake and the space module symbolize the womb and the birth canal.  Will Dr. Stone come out alive and kicking?  When Dr. Stone swims out of the module and reaches the surface, there is relief.  She is alive, and the struggle played a key role in it.  Once she swims to shore, the earth’s gravity is strong as she has been in space too long.  Dr. Stone braces herself to stand and take her first steps, call them baby steps, into her new life as a result of her spiritual rebirth.   The old Dr. Stone has died, and the new has come.  She has crossed over from death to life.  It is a triumphant ending, which grows out of the fierce fight to live.  Cuaron’s movie is a masterpiece.

“The first and foremost trouble under this heading is to be concerned about the person, rather than with the person himself. The trouble with the people who were not orthodox was that they were wrong in their doctrines about God and about the Lord Jesus Christ and about the Holy Spirit. But now I am indicating that there is a terrible danger of our putting the doctrines, the true doctrines, about the persons into the place of the persons. And that is absolutely fatal. But it is a very similar snare, which traps evangelical people, and orthodox people. You can be orthodox but dead. Why? Well, because you are stopping at the doctrines, you are stopping at the definitions, and failing to realize that the whole purpose of doctrine is not to be an end in itself, but to lead us to a knowledge of the person and to an understanding of the person, and to a fellowship with the person.

“The New Testament itself deals with this at great length in many places. And the history of the Church certainly brings it out very clearly. There are, indeed, churches today, and denominations that are perfectly orthodox, yet are quite dead. They do not seem to be  used at all in the salvation of souls, nor really in giving their people assurance of salvation. Why? It is because they remain only on the level of doctrine–this intellectual concern and this intellectual correctness. It is a terrible thing to substitute even doctrines for the living realization of the person.  And this applies also to preaching. Of course a preaching which is non-doctrinal is in the end quite useless. Yes; but let us remember there is a difference between preaching about doctrines and preaching doctrinally.

“By that I mean that you can preach doctrines in a purely intellectual and mechanical manner. You start with your doctrine, you expound it, and you end with it, and you have preached about the doctrine. That is not the business of preaching. The business of preaching is to preach doctrinally about God, about the Lord Jesus Christ, and about the Holy Spirit and their work for us in our salvation. You see, there are constantly snares in this Christian life. We have that powerful adversary, the Devil, who is ever trying to ruin everything that God does, and to rule over us, so we have to be careful. We must not spend our time merely with the definitions and the statements, and stop at them, thus failing to arrive at a knowledge of the persons, and failing truly to receive and to live the full Christian life. Dead orthodoxy, in practice, is as bad as heterodoxy, because it is quite useless.”

-D. Martyn Lloyd Jones, Revival (Wheaton: Crossway, 1987), 58-59

Dead Religion

The Nature of the Atonement

Jarvis Williams provides a brief and concise explanation regarding Christ’s atonement. For whatever the reason, this has become a controversial doctrine with misrepresentations of those on either side of this issue. The atonement is central to the gospel and to our Savior. Williams deals with two main texts from Romans 3 and Galatians 3; however, he barely scratches the surface on this great and wonderful doctrine. For more on the atonement as it relates to the Old Testament, feel free to check out my blog post from several weeks ago.

In Love

At first glance, the phrase in love might lead some to think that this is going to be a piece about love.  It sounds like I am about to wax poetic on puppy love or lovey dovey things.  Of course, that could not be further from the truth; however, I may devote a post in the near future to that topic.  During my morning devotions, the phrase, in love, jumped out at me as I read the following verse:

“Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.  Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14, ESV).

When I read over this verse, it feel like I need to duck from these commands.  They are like bullets from a machine gun.  Is this Paul’s intention?  My answer is no, but it might take some explaining to get there.  After reading this verse a third or fourth time, the second half of it seems to be the foundation.  I can be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., but without love, who cares?  In fact, the apostle Paul conveys this message in his justly famous love chapter, which is the thirteenth chapter to the same letter of the above text.   By the time we get to our verse, Paul throws out some concluding exhortations and reminders.  It makes total sense for Paul to repeat the love theme of chapter thirteen as he brings his letter to the Corinthians to a close.

In the English language, in love is a prepositional phrase.  My readers and followers might be thinking, ok, Mr. English Lit guy, so what?Prepositional phrases either modify nouns or verbs, which means in the above scripture text, the phrase in love modifies the action being performed by the person.  The apostle Paul exhorts the Corinthian believers to characterize their actions in love.  This means that the actions rest upon the foundation of love.  The next obvious question to ask is what kind of love is this?  According to the Greek lexicon, the word for love is agape, which comes from the Father in Christ by the Spirit.  Do these Corinthian believers exhibit such divine love in and of themselves apart from the Father?  The answer to that question is an obvious no.  Paul spends the entire first letter to the Corinthians reminding them of their position in Christ, and the responsibilities that result due to their union with Christ.

God’s love in Christ through the Spirit draws the Corinthian believers into the body of Christ.  Another way to say this is that God’s love characterizes and establishes these Corinthian believers in the body of Christ.  According to Paul’s words in chapters twelve and fourteen, these believers exhibit unique gifts of the Spirit in order to edify each other and to display Christ to the world.  All of these doings and manifestations of the Spirit have their foundation in love, God’s love.  When Paul fires off his quick list, be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, etc., these qualities are not possible without being in God’s love.  How does one wind up in God’s love?  There are a number of ways to say it, but I will stick with a Pauline answer from Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

The Corinthian believer’s position, and all believers’, is secure in Christ, it was a gift, and it is in love.  From this place, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to be on the alert in love, to stand firm in the faith in love, and so on and so forth.  The manner of our being strong must be characterized by God’s love.  If one’s position is in love, then it follows that one’s actions may be in love, too.  It is not possible to exhibit God’s love without being in his love.  He is the source from which believers draw from in order to live.  Apart from God and his love, all that believers and anyone accomplishes is zero.