Chatting by the lake

Law, Grace and Nouthetic Counselling of Depression

I have been studying pastoral care this semester, and I came across Jay E. Adams’ work on Christian counselling.  For the most part, I have really appreciated Adams’ critique of Freudian psychoanalysis and the culturally-accepted “medical model” of mental illness.  He argues that depression needs to be understood in biblical categories, in particular, that it is not something that simply seized upon a person from the outside, like catching a stomach bug.  Rather, it is often the result of spiralling unbiblical reactions to a circumstance.  That circumstance may not have been something under the person’s control, but allowing themselves to wallow in despair is.  That is a behavioural response that needs to be addressed biblically.

However, a cautionary word I would add when attempting Adams’ method is that it’s easy to think we’ve understood when we haven’t.  If the goal of nouthetic counselling is to lovingly confront the lies people believe with biblical truths, then it is necessary to understand precisely what those lies are that they believe.  If we don’t do that, we run the very real risk of further overemphasising truths they are already comfortable with, and as a result de-emphasising truths that they are currently doubting.  This has the effect of reinforcing the lie rather than the needed corrective truth!  Not a good outcome at all.

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A child turning on the stove

I love you, that’s why I’m voting “No”

Australia is about to vote on whether or not same-sex marriage should be legalised. What has been very strange for me is to see so many Bible-believing Christians who are seriously considering voting “Yes”.  So I want to leave aside all the tangential, political issues for a moment, and look at the biblical case that homosexuality itself is simply a bad idea.

Romans 1:26-27 says the following:

For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

According to this passage, a homosexual lifestyle is something that God gives people over to, as a consequence of our continued rebellion.  Theologically, it is part of the “passive wrath” of God.  It is a natural consequence of our continued sexual rebellion, which God allows us to experience so that we will see that sin leads to death.

How then could I, as a Christian, encourage same-sex marriage?  How could I not try and discourage people from something that I consider part of God’s wrath?  If I love them, I will hope that they could be spared from that suffering.  So out of love, I will be voting “No”.

There are many people, very dear to me, who are same-sex attracted.  I will still love them, I will still care about them and I hope I can still have a good relationship with them.  But I cannot, in good conscience, encourage them towards a lifestyle that I think is deeply harmful to them.  I love them far too much for that.

Man Grieving on Bench

The Crisis Catechism

Sometimes everything seems to go wrong at once. Worse, sometimes it feels like it’s all my own fault! This can be pretty crushing emotionally. At those times, I ask myself this series of questions which I call “the crisis catechism”. It’s simple to answer, because every answer is “yes”. It’s goal is to turn your attention to Jesus, instead of to your own circumstances, shortcomings, failures or faults.

Is Jesus Christ the enthroned King and sovereign Lord over all creation (Colossians 1:16)?

Did Jesus Christ die on a cross, once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18)?

Were all your sins, past, present and future, laid upon him and permanently dealt with as he died on that cross (Hebrews 10:14)?

When God adopted you into His family, did He know fully and completely who you would become and what He was getting himself into (Ephesians 1:3-6)?

Did Christ rise from the dead, conquering every enemy who would keep you from him, whether the grave, the devil or your own flesh (Colossians 2:13-15)?

Did Christ stake his honour and glory on the promise that he will never cast away anyone that comes to him (John 6:37-40)?

Does his steadfast love endure forever (Psalm 118:1-4)?

Does his death in your place take away all unrighteousness and all shame (Romans 10:10-11)?

Does eternal joy in communion with God await you when this life ends (Psalm 16:11)?

Will he who began a good work in you see it through to the very end (Philippians 1:6)?

As you serve his kingdom, will he be with you to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20)?

ARE ALL GOD’S PROMISES “YES” IN HIM (2 Corinthians 1:19-20)?

Do All Speak in Tongues?

There is a commonly held belief that whenever someone is filled with the Holy Spirit, the initial evidence of this is that they speak in tongues.  1 Corinthians 12 is the key chapter on this issue, and I encourage you to read the whole thing in context.  Context alone is enough to make it clear that Paul doesn’t expect everyone who is filled with the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues.  He argues that the church is “one body” even though it has “many members”.  He compares the different gifts people have to different parts of the body.  He writes (verse 15):

If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body.

It’s a metaphor.  The implication is that if someone says “because I do not speak in tongues, I do not belong to the church,” that would not make them any less a part of the church.  God has given different gifts to different people, so that the church works together as a whole, just as he has given different functions to the hand and the foot, but they work together.
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Reading a Hebrew Scroll

Two Serious Problems for Presuppositionalism

The Canon of Scripture

How can a presuppositionalist decide which books belong in the canon of scripture? The typically-accepted canon does not contain an authoritative list. What if I were to “presuppose” that 1 Maccabees or the Book of Enoch belonged in the canon? What if I wanted to eliminate Jude, Hebrews, Esther and Obadiah? It doesn’t seem like these changes would cause any great, internal inconsistency. If we say that some new book is inconsistent with the other canonical books, first we must ask how we know that our existing books are canonical? How can we use the Deuteronomy 18 test for prophets without first assuming that Moses was a prophet? Determining the canon by strictly presuppositional methods is the height of circularity. I realise that staunch presuppositionalists are not necessarily opposed to this. But I live in optimism that every person’s tolerance for irrationality must have a breaking point.

Hermeneutical Principles

Where does a presuppositionalist get their hermeneutical principles from? From scripture? What hermeneutical principles were they using to interpret those scriptures? They cannot have been scriptural principles, because scripture had not been read yet! The presuppositionalist wishes to believe that they only use the words of God as their axioms. But in practice this simply cannot be true. The words “hear O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one” mean nothing at all, unless they mean that Israel does not have 2, or 20, or 200 gods. But the denial of many gods is not stated explicitly. For these words to have that meaning, the speaker and hearer must have a prior commitment to the law of non-contradiction. Logical axioms are absolutely required to do even the most basic hermeneutics. That is to say, the very act of reading scripture must presuppose certain logical axioms.

Presuppositionalism and the Problem of Evil

I sometimes hear Christian apologists of a presuppositional persuasion argue that when atheists bring up the problem of evil, they are necessarily borrowing a standard of morality from the Christian worldview in order to form their objection. The apologist then says that this means the objection is invalid, or that it is self-defeating.

But isn’t this exactly the methodology that these presuppositional apologists coach Christians to use? “Step into their world view and show them its inconsistencies.” Aren’t the atheists doing exactly that? Maybe the likes of Richard Dawkins and Michael Schermer use different jargon to the Christian philosophers you’re used to, but I think they’re arguing with fundamentally the same pattern. What they are really saying is “if you believe that God exists and defines morality, then it is inconsistent to believe that he himself often violates that morality. Step into our world view and you will see, since we don’t believe God exists, we don’t have this inconsistency.”

Now, I have problems with this argument for atheism. I think it is flawed and there are counter-arguments I would make. But if we say that the atheist cannot make the argument properly because they don’t believe in a God-defined morality, then I think we are missing their point.

In Defence of Individualism

The generation of pastors and teachers I have learned from have tended to be very down on individualism. They are often heard telling young whipper-snappers like me that “your generation is so individualistic!”. They seem to mean this as a harsh criticism. But if they are right (and I’m not entirely persuaded that they are), then I think they are wrong to find fault with us for it.

Individualism is a good thing. People feeling more free to make the conscientious decision to be Christians, as individuals rather than by default (e.g. because of family or national allegiance), is a good thing. A culture of individualism is the only possible solution to the twin evils of persecution and nominalism.

But, truth be told, I don’t think “defending individualism” is nearly as outrageous as it sounds. I think very few people who decry individualism really mean it. I think they are just confusing their words. Individualism really means the strong conviction that individuals ought to have responsibility for, and authority over, their own life choices. I think that often what people really mean when they say “individualism” is “selfishness”. But those two things are not the same. Individualism is the opposite of collectivism. Selfishness is the opposite of love. You can be a loving individualist and you can be a selfish collectivist.

I recommend the former.

Chase Faithfulness, Not Growth

I often hear church-growth gurus say “we have to care about the numbers, because those numbers represent real people.” This sounds well and good on the surface, but ultimately, I recommend ignoring that advice. Why? Because you first need to ask what price you’ll pay.

The nature of setting a goal is that you make sacrifices to achieve it. If you want to lose a few kilos, you will either have to sacrifice a few sweet treats, or else sacrifice your morning sleep-in to hit the gym. If you decide to set your ministry a goal in terms of numeric growth, what will you sacrifice to get it?

We’d probably like to think our only sacrifices would be the ineffective ministry activities we would drop to make room for better ones. But is that the reality? Once you’re about the numbers, you’re really trying to serve two masters: growth and faithfulness. The great mistake of the church-growth gurus is believing that growth and faithfulness will always go together. If we’re faithful, there will be growth. If there’s no growth, we must not be ministering in a way that is fully faithful.

But that kind of thinking is nonsense. Some of the world’s worst theologians preach in the world’s biggest churches. Joel Osteen, Rob Bell, Benny Hinn and Bill Johnson all come to mind. On the other hand, the best gospel preachers the world has ever seen have been met with terrible rejection at times. George Whitfield, Charles Spurgeon, Stephen in Acts 7 and Jesus himself in Matthew 11 and Luke 4. The relationship between growth and faithfulness is a tenuous one at best!

A man cannot serve two masters, he will love one and despise the other. Will your decisions be made to chase growth or faithfulness?

Of Prawns and Pride Parades

This is a question I get pretty often, in different forms.  Sometimes it’s an atheist who thinks they’ve found a grave inconsistency in Christianity.  They also seem to assume that it’s never occurred to Christians as they read the Bible, for the last two thousand years.

But it does occur to Christians, and so I sometimes get it in a more thoughtful form.  They ask about Matthew 5:17-19:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

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