White Privilege (No, Not That Kind)

Context is King

I used to have the utmost respect for Dr. James White. He tremendously helped me think about the Scriptures in ways that were new and exciting to me as someone who had been raised in the trenches of KJVO Pentecostalism. I owe a great deal to White’s work and ministry for many of the key theological milestones I’ve reached in my life. Ironically, it was his debate with Douglas Wilson about whether or not Roman Catholics are our brothers and sisters in Christ that made me reconsider my position on believer’s baptism.

Although, my theology was far away from his at the time (as I was well settled into the Cumberland Presbyterian camp), I was honored when some of my Baptist friends invited me to attend an apologetics conference where Dr. White would be speaking that was being hosted by their local association. Dr. White’s talk on New Testament reliability was enthralling and very enlightening. I thought of Dr. White fondly as someone who, though a tad bit arrogant and intimidating at times, could be trusted to provide thoughtful dialogue on any given theological topic. It was for this reason that I used to think Dr. White was reasonable enough to have an open dialogue with someone he disagreed with. Almost anytime he saw someone on social media making what he believed were ridiculous claims he would invite them to debate the issues. At times he has even invited people to come onto his show, The Dividing Line, and talk through those issues with him. However, it seems that White doesn’t seem to want to participate in these kinds of open dialogues anymore. Instead, it seems as though he would rather call out his opponents on social media without giving them a chance to defend their statements so he can continue to get applause from his fan club.

James White has such a high profile in the theological world that he doesn’t need to bother himself with every statement made about him on Twitter or Facebook, but I guess his pride won’t allow him to rest until he vindicates himself to his audience.

Here’s What I Mean

Personal friend and former LNT contributor, Cory Allen Byrum, posted a quote from Reformed Baptist Pastor Josh Sommer.

Sommer also made another post which can be seen here:

Image

I’m not sure which one of these quotes caught White’s attention first, but his response on Twitter to the second post soon followed.

It seems as though if you respond to probing questions with your resume, then that makes you correct.

Sommer responded, requesting dialogue with White. White didn’t oblige.

James White made this discussion about social media numbers, Sommer didn’t. Now, I’m sure if Josh Sommer had offered to pay White an honorarium to travel to where he was, then I’m sure White would have jumped all over the opportunity to “pump up his social media numbers,” but seeing as how White didn’t feel he had to anything to personally gain from this dialogue, he might as well accuse Sommer of trying to make a name for himself and move on.

If this had been the sum of the whole interaction between White and Sommer, then we could just call it an interesting day on Twitter and go home, but that wasn’t the end. White went on his own program, The Dividing Line, and proceeded to promptly belittle Josh for his youth and then before reading and condescendingly responding to the quote above that Cory Allen Byrum shared, White said at the 10:25 mark, “My hope is that 20 years from now Josh is going to be sitting at his desk and just go, ‘Oh Lord, I see now and I’ve repented and may I teach others not to do what I did as a young person.'”

And what exactly is that? Challenge him?

Honestly, I would expect someone who is as educated as he is, as old as he is, and someone who holds the office of elder in Christ’s church as he does, would not be so arrogant as die on every hill he comes across.

What Privilege?

It’s simple: Sommer offered to talk to him one on one, and White hid behind his resume and his microphone to make sure his followers only got one side of the story. My hope is that we can see open and honest dialogue between these two great minds and that Dr. White will come to a place of repentance for the way he has behaved.

What is Medium Theology?

As a Cumbelrand Presbyterian, I’m often asked if we are Calvinists or if we hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith, and I always give an answer that sounds something like this: In some ways, and no. We are Calvinistic in some ways, and we reject Westminster Confession of Faith. (Sadly, many Cumberland Presbyterians today have never read Westminster to know why they should reject it. They just know that our founders rejected it and that they probably should too, and they don’t feel the need to look into the matter any further than that.)

Though we are Calvinistic in some ways, Cumberland Presbyterians as a whole wouldn’t label themselves Calvinists. To be a Calvinist generally means to hold to all five points of Calvinism (which you can read about here if you are unfamiliar with them), and Cumberland Presbyterians reject the Calvinistic views of reprobation and predestination while emphasizing both the need for and the power of God’s grace in salvation with the same zeal that Calvinists would.

The Preface to the 1883 Confession of Faith lists what I might call the Four Points of Cumberland Presbyterianism.

The Cumberland Presbytery, which was constituted at the time of the organization of the church, and which originally consisted of only three ministers, was in three years sufficiently large to form three Presbyteries. These Presbyteries, in October, A.D. 1813, met at the Beech Church, in Sumner County, Tennessee, and constituted a Synod. This Synod at once formulated and published a “Brief Statement,” setting forth the points wherein Cumberland Presbyterians dissented from the Westminster Confession of Faith. They are as follows:

1. That there are no eternal reprobates.
2. That Christ died not for a part only, but for all mankind.
3. That all infants dying in infancy are saved through Christ and the sanctification of the Spirit.
4. That the Spirit of God operates on the world, or as coextensively as Christ has made atonement, in such a manner as to leave all men inexcusable.

Preface to the 1883 Confession of Faith

What this amounts to is what T.C. Blake and many of the other early Cumberland Presbyterians would call Medium Theology. To explain what Medium Theology is, I’ll include an excerpt Blake’s work The Old Log House: A History and Defense of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church:

The Cumberland Presbyterian Church claims to occupy what it denominates as the “Medium System of Theology” – a middle ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. The two latter systems (Calvinism and Arminianism) as we all know, are regarded as the extremes of theology. It is also claimed by the advocates of these systems that there is no medium ground; that every one must either be a Calvinist or an Arminian in his religious belief, else he is nothing; but such an assertion, when we analyze it, is absurd – might as well say that there is no territory between the North and South Poles, or that there is no space between the extreme ends of a platform! How could those two systems be the extremes of theology without having this intermediate area- this medium ground?

But let us examine those systems (Calvinism and Arminianism), and see if there is not a theological medium ground.

1. The Doctrine of Election. Calvinism teaches that election is unconditional. Arminianism teaches that there is no election in this life. Medium System teaches that there is an election, but that it is conditional.

2. The Doctrine of Salvation. Calvinism teaches that salvation is unconditional to sinners, but certain to Christians. Arminianism teaches that salvation is conditional to sinners, but uncertain to Christians. Medium System teaches that salvation is conditional to sinners, but certain to Christians.

3. The Date of Election. Calvinism teaches that the date of election is before man was created. Arminianism teaches that the date of election is not prior to the death of the Christian, if indeed it occurs then. Medium System teaches that the date of election is the moment when the sinner is regenerated.

4. The Extent of the Atonement. Calvinism teaches that Christ died for only a part of the human race – that salvation is not possible to all, and that none but those who were “elected from the foundation of the world,” will be saved. Arminianism teaches that the atonement of Christ was made for all mankind – that salvation is possible to all; but, as Christians may fall from grace, it is not certain that any one will be saved. Medium System teaches that the atonement was made for all mankind – that salvation is possible to all, and that every one who has been truly regenerated will be saved.

5. The Perseverance of the Saints. Calvinism teaches that perseverance depends principally upon the immutability of the decree of unconditional election. Arminianism teaches that perseverance depends principally upon good works of the creature. Medium System teaches that perseverance depends, not upon the immutability of the decree of unconditional election, nor upon the good works of the creature, but upon the love of God, the merits of Christ, the abiding of the Spirit, and the covenant of grace.

Other points could be given wherein these three systems differ, but surely these are sufficient to show any unprejudiced reader that there is a medium ground between Calvinism and Arminianism. On that medium ground the Cumberland Presbyterian Church stands; and it rejoices to know that its foundation is broad and secure. Nor do we hazard the truth in saying that not only the Cumberland Presbyterian Church stands upon this medium ground, but that nineteen-twentieths of the Christian world to-day really occupy the same position. How rare to find a Calvinist who adopts all the sentiments of Calvin? And how rare, too, to find an Arminian who adopts all the sentiments of Arminius? Instead, then, of finding no ground upon which to stand between these extremes, we find a vast area – an area large enough to hold not only Cumberland Presbyterians, but also the great body of professing Christians throughout the world. The people can find that medium ground, although theologians may not be able to do so.

T.C. Blake, The Old Log House: A History and Defense of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church

30 Things to Pray on Patriotic Holidays

How ought Christians to pray on patriotic or military holidays? A friend of a differing political persuasion asked me this question on Memorial Day. As I pondered, I jotted down my thoughts. Now that it’s almost American Independence Day, I thought I would share them with you all! Comment your own prayer ideas in the comments below.

Here are 30 prayer topics for Christians of any country to pray on holidays honoring their nation and/or their service members:

  1. For our country, our military, and our political leaders—that we/they would be characterized by excellence, service, repentance, righteousness, truth, mercy, humility, teachability, kindness, community, goodness, integrity, and justice.
  2. For freedom for all to live in peace, safety, and community.
  3. For good laws applied equitably.
  4. For wisdom, grace, humility, and boldness for our community, state, and national leaders and their advisors as they govern, and that they will seek the good of all without partiality.
  5. That we, our nation, our churches, our political parties, our lawmakers, and our military will seek righteous ends by righteous means.
  6. That our ultimate hope will be in Christ, not ourselves, our military, our leaders, or our nation.
  7. For the gospel to be preached and loved in our families, neighborhoods, country, and the world.
  8. For allegiance to the kingdom of Christ and the building up of his kingdom above all other allegiances.
  9. For eyes to see, celebrate, and steward what is honorable in ourselves, our communities, our churches, our military, and our nation. For eyes to see and grieve that which is grievous in ourselves, our communities, our churches, our military, and our nation; and for wisdom, humility; and for grace for areas of reasonable disagreement and ethical gray areas.
  10. That God will give us political leaders who value truth, human dignity, and justice.
  11. For safety for our military, our nation, and all peoples.
  12. For the end of aggression, violence, and genocide.
  13. For those defending themselves and others—for boldness, provision, wisdom, and righteousness.
  14. For those who have served honorable causes in honorable ways—that they will be appropriately honored.
  15. For acknowledgment, repentance, and restitution where war has been unjust and where standards have been applied unequally, and for appropriate accountability for past and present military or national wrongs.
  16. For those grieving the loss a loved ones—for good grief in the context of community; and comfort.
  17. For families that don’t have closure because of missing or presumed dead loved ones—for special comfort for them and for closure.
  18. For those with physical and psychological injuries from war, violence, military service, or a mobile lifestyle—for healing and support.
  19. For families and communities grieving losses in the context of invasion, injustice, or genocide.
  20. For provision, support, and community for military families who are deployed or have deployed family members.
  21. That we will love our neighbors well and seek the peace and prosperity of our communities.
  22. For the church to lead the way in love, repentance, truth, and justice—whether it has the support of its country or not.
  23. For awareness of and thankfulness for the political and social freedoms and blessings we have, for acknowledgment of any grief over where they have been achieved unjustly, and for the commitment to use them in the service and up-building of others.
  24. That we will be diligent to pray for our leaders, and wise in our own communal and political involvement.
  25. That we will seek to understand and care for not just of our own community, political party, or nation, but that of other communities, political parties, and nations.
  26. That our most loved freedom will be the freedom we have in Christ from sin and condemnation, and to sanctification, Kingdom life, and heaven.
  27. That we will acknowledge all our blessings and all our challenges—on a personal and on a national level—as being from God’s good hand and for his purposes.
  28. That we will trust God such that we can have hearts at peace regardless of political circumstances, and that we will be bold and kind disciples of Christ in our communities, our nations, and the world throughout changing political climates.
  29. For spiritual revival characterized by an awareness of sin, repentance, preaching of the Word, prayer, cherishing the beauty of the gospel, evangelism, renewed personal and corporate holiness, and making practical impact in local communities.
  30. For the church to have boldness to stand against the general culture where the general culture is wrong, for the humility to accept correction from the general culture when the church is wrong, and for eager willingness to work with people of all beliefs for the common good of all whenever possible.

My friends, if we are Christ’s, then we are citizens of heaven, and we are called to bear fruit as Christ’s disciples in the places in which he has put us on earth: our families, neighborhoods, local churches, communities, nations, and the world—doing our small part with love and without fear, trusting God’s commitment to grow his church and accomplish his good purposes amongst peoples and nations—looking ahead to the new heavens and the new earth, where Christ will continue his reign as King forever and ever.

How the Gospel Brought Shame to the First Century World by Timothy J. Martin

[Preface: This was originally written in a Facebook by Mr. Martin. I got his permission to post it here for your reading pleasure.]

The Gentile Shame

The Greeks, the Romans, and everyone nation since Babel has balked at the idea of the biblical God. Some were dissatisfied with His mercy. Others were dissatisfied with His justice. It has become the longstanding human tradition to transform the God of the universe into the God of our backyard. So it was with the Romans. Their gods were decadent and sinful as their own culture. Fickle and driven by whims. They also rarely had the consequences of their actions catch up to them. Now the Greek world is supposed to accept the claim that God’s chosen champion came and died on a cross and that he is the only way to salvation? Even if you do come to a true faith, what of the instrument of death?

The cross is taboo. Let’s try to illustrate it with modern ideas. We know that there are very few labels worst than ‘fascist.’ No one wants to be associated with the death machine that was Hitler’s Nazi Germany. Let’s say that we instituted crucifixion for fascists. Now you expect me to believe that God’s Messiah died a fascist’s death? It’s a little harder to believe. It’s very hard to rally around. The Gentile shame of the Gospel robs God of majesty.

The Jewish Shame

Now on the other hand, let us pretend that we are in the place of the Jew. We expected a conquering king. But to your unbelieving blood brothers it appears that we received, instead of a conquering king, a conquered blasphemer. This so called ‘son of God’ who would inherit the nations was, by the testimony of the Sanhedrin, a damnable offender of the law. And rumors of the resurrection – a doctrine going out of style – are a lot harder to believe when you’re in Rome and not in Jerusalem. The Jewish shame of the Gospel robs God of credibility.

The Theological Shame

There is also the very shame that this ‘Gospel’ is the foundation of the church. Where is the inheritance of the Son of God? Where is the justice in this? How can you accept the murder of an innocent man to be the will of God? Furthermore, will the son be vindicated? How can the church follow a disgraced and dishonored incarnate God? Where is the honor of God in this affair? Where is the glory due Christ’s name? Paul is approaching the church in Rome, trying to unite them so that they can fund a missionary journey to the edge of the Earth in Spain, and yet how can a church that does not understand the incarnation pursue Christ? The theological shame of the Gospel robs God of all honor.

The Universal Shame

Now let us step away from the immediate and theological context and look at the anthropological context. As a result of the fall, the heart of man is infested with the deadly sin of self-justification. Absorb that word – justification. It will become the keyword for this entire passage. The self-justification of man shields him from the truth about his state. But now as the Gospel message is proclaimed, God’s word – when His Spirit wills it – pierces the mental shield of self-justification and lets the mind lay naked before the truth of the Gospel. Who cannot become overwhelmed with such mental anguish when they know a perfect God died for them? Who cannot be ashamed of a Gospel that uncovers your wickedness? The universal shame of the Gospel robs man of his self-justification.

Letter to a Church Examining its Racist Past

What is a church to do when it starts examining the way that race relations have played out in its history? Or what happens when the local community points out names of buildings that have racist associations?

I recently had the opportunity to share some thoughts on this topic with a church I have previously been associated with. As they seek to understand their past and present as relates to racism, and as they seek to move forward into the future in a manner in keeping with unity and love, they asked for prayer and advice from their community. This blog post is based on the letter I wrote to this church, though I have adapted it to be more generally applicable, addressing it to a fictional Committee for Community and Racial Relations made up of church leaders of a historically and predominantly White, Presbyterian church in the American South.

To the Committee for Community and Racial Relations:

I grew up in a Presbyterian family and have attended various theologically-conservative churches throughout my life. As a missionary kid, I’ve lived in Asia and four southern U.S. states. In recent years, while in Mississippi, I’ve taken the opportunity to learn more about the history of African Americans and race relations in the United States and the church. One specific resource that was especially formative for my thinking was the book Divided by Faith by Smith and Emerson, which provides a great overview of the various ways that race, racism, and American evangelicalism have overlapped and interacted throughout American history.

I am very interested in this committee and its work to tell the truth about the past and present of your church and make plans for moving forward in a way in keeping with love and unity. I have some thoughts and ideas I wanted to share. Thank you for your openness to hearing them.

First of all, to those of you on the committee, thank you! This is an important work you are undertaking. I know that many of you are well-respected elders and leaders in the community. I am thankful for the first steps this committee, as well as the pastor, has taken on these matters.

Second, I see that there are only men on this committee. I would love to see women included as well. Since we believe that God made men and women different, having different experiences and different things to offer, including women on the committee would be beneficial. Additionally, especially because this committee is examining issues related to race and racism in America, I would love to see several African Americans on the committee or at least heavily relied upon by the committee in conducting their research and in making plans.

Third, race relations and racial reconciliation are complex and important topics, and there are many experts on these topics within the Reformed and Presbyterian community. I would love to see the committee have ongoing connections with some of these people. Some suggestions of people to approach for consultation or resource suggestions are:
– Randy and Joan Nabors, PCA
– Reverend Elbert McGowan, Redeemer PCA Jackson, Mississippi
– Drs Mika and Christina Edmondson, OPC
– Phillip (RTS) and Jasmine (author) Holmes
– Dr Carl and Karen Ellis, RTS
– Dr Anthony Bradley, King’s College

You may also want to check local colleges or universities for professors of African American history who may be able to provide helpful historical context for understanding race relations in your local area.

Fourth, in seeking information on the present and recent past of your church, I suggest having a website that allows people, particularly African Americans, the opportunity to share their experiences of racism as relates to your church and/or provide suggestions for improvement and growth; it’s important that there be the option of anonymity. This opportunity should be made available to African Americans who attend or have attended, are current or former members, are community members or leaders, and are current or former employees; they will be able to offer specific and invaluable insights into the practical outworkings of the church’s beliefs and attitudes regarding race. Local African American pastors may also have valuable information, insights, resources, or suggestions that they might be willing to share with the committee.

Fifth, as past or present sins (or patterns of sin) come to light—whether they are by individuals, groups, or the church as an institution—it is important to offer public and/or private apologies from the church and/or individuals (as is appropriate to the situation), offering restitution where applicable. This repentance should include: naming the sin, explaining why it was wrong, detailing the effects it had on those who were sinned against, expressing grief for the sin and its effects, listing efforts towards restitution, and charting a new path forward to avoid these sins in the future.

Sixth, I want to offer encouragement. From your sister in Christ, I want to say that it is worth it to tell the truth, to do righteousness, and to love. There is power in the gospel to walk in the humility and confidence it takes to admit wrong and change, even when it is painful. Possible discomfort and disruption are worth it if the result is a truer and deeper peace and unity for Christ’s church. In other words, this season is a beautiful opportunity for the church to be purified and to be a witness before the watching world.

And finally, I want to commit to pray regularly that God will give you (and all of us in the church community) strength, wisdom, humility, provision, and boldness to walk in truth, love, righteousness, and unity as we look at the past and present and move intentionally into future.

Thank you for your consideration and for this beautiful work you are doing. May God give you grace for your tasks!

Blessings,
Hannah Conroy

A.C. Dixon on the Passing of His Wife

[Disclaimer: Though we share a last name, I do not think I am related to think extraordinary couple.]

Kuling, China. August 1922.

His wife had been sick for nearly a week now, but she seemed to be showing signs of recovery up until the evening of Saturday, August 6th when she slipped into unconsciousness. The next morning the Rev. A.C. was going to stay home with his wife and let someone else preach for the Chinese congregation in Kuling that morning, but the attending physician insisted that he should go. He went knowing that his ailing wife would want him to go.

As 11:00 approached, A.C. Dixon reported that in the middle of his sermon, in mid-sentence no less, that he felt a strange awareness of his wife’s presence.

During my sermon I had at one time such a consciousness of her presence that for a few moments my mind could rest only upon her, and I had to struggle back to the line of thought I was pursuing.

A. C. Dixon, Mary Faison Dixon: The Wife Who Always Helped and Never Hindered

He knew at that moment that she had gone to be with her Savior whom she loved and longed to see face to face.

The next day the funeral service for Mary Faison Dixon commenced. The platform was covered with flowers, and the congregation from the Kuling Church sang “In the Sweet By and By” in their native Chinese language. A. C Dixon sat there listening to the beautiful voices sing the songs of Zion, waiting for his turn to speak, and wishing intently that the Lord would return right there to establish His kingdom and reunite the Rev. Dixon to his wife.

When it was his turn to take the pulpit, Dixon spoke of his wife’s upbringing, her college education, and how they had met during his first pastorate at Village Baptist Church.

The day was hot, and a company of us were on a stage-coach rattling over a rather rough road. The question was raised among the passengers as to whether women ought to speak in public, suggested by the fact that a noted woman lecturer from New York was to be among the teachers of the normal training school. Among the debaters of this question was a young woman, whose quiet, yet vivacious manner and intelligent reasons attracted my attention. She seemed to have a mind of her own with the courage of her convictions; and, when I looked into her face, there was a beauty with a charm of personality that fascinated me. As I cultivated her acquaintance during the weeks that followed, I found that she was more conversant than I with the best literature, and her ideals of life were deeply spiritual. She loved Christ, the Bible, and the
church.

It did not take me long to decide that she was just the one I needed for a wife…

A. C. Dixon, Mary Faison Dixon: The Wife Who Always Helped and Never Hindered

He spoke of her love for literature, her constant encouragement to him in the work of the Lord. She went with him wherever he went. In Chicago as he went to pastor the Moody Church, she was there. In London, when he was asked to take the helm of Spurgeon’s Metropolitan Tabernacle, she was there. Finally, when when they were called to China as full time missionaries, she was there.

Now, she wasn’t. She had gone to be with her Lord. It is reported that A.C. Dixon left China and went to Baltimore in 1923 to pastor at University Baptist Church. It is not said why he made this move, but I can only imagine that it was because he felt that he could no longer face the daunting task of missionary work without the love of his life by his side.

On June 14th, 1925, A.C. Dixon had a heart attack and entered into the presence of the Lord, to be reunited with his wife, Mary.

“The Death of the gods” by Robbie Willis

Check out this post from my friend, Robbie Willis.

Today we are mourning, because like the Ephesians of Paul’s day, we fear that our temples are being abandoned. A strand of Virus that was unheard of only months ago has emptied our sports arenas, closed our casinos, left bar stools barren, and boarded up box offices. Commerce has closed. Store shelves are emptied. Fortunes are threatened. The voice of the prosperity preachers has faded into the background, hiding behind the walls of their castles in hopes that the plague will pass them by.

As nations come to their knees, we have remembered the value of healthcare workers, grocery store employees, and truck drivers. At last, for a time at least, those we should have honored all along are emerging as heroes. In a shocking turn of events, education has temporarily returned to the home. The family table has been remembered. Bibles are being dusted, and I was almost sure I caught a glimpse of a family altar. In the distance I can still hear the shouts, “Great is Diana of the Ephesians!!” But she isn’t great. False gods never are.

via The Death of the gods

Jonah 3:1-10 // A Crusade in Nineveh

Jonah Series (1)

INTRODUCTION

On New Year’s Day, 1929, Georgia Tech played University of California in the Rose Bowl. In that game a man named Roy Riegels recovered a fumble for California. Somehow, he became confused and started running 65 yards in the wrong direction. One of his teammates, Benny Lom, outdistanced him and downed him just before he scored for the opposing team. When California attempted to punt, Tech blocked the kick and scored a safety which was the ultimate margin of victory.

That strange play came in the first half, and everyone who was watching the game was asking the same question: “What will Coach Nibbs Price do with Roy Riegels in the second half?”

The men filed off the field and went into the dressing room. They sat down on the benches and on the floor, all but Riegels. He put his blanket around his shoulders, sat down in a corner, put his face in his hands, and cried like a baby.

If you have played football, you know that a coach usually has a great deal to say to his team during half time. That day Coach Price was quiet. No doubt he was trying to decide what to do with Riegels. Then the timekeeper came in and announced that there were three minutes before playing time. Coach Price looked at the team and simply said, “Men the same team that played the first half will start the second.” The players got up and started out, all but Riegels. He did not budge. the coach looked back and called to him again; still he didn’t move. Coach Price went over to where Riegels sat and said, “Roy, didn’t you hear me? The same team that played the first half will start the second.”

Then Roy Riegels looked up and his cheeks were wet with a strong man’s tears. “Coach,” he said, “I can’t do it to save my life. I’ve ruined you, I’ve ruined the University of California, I’ve ruined myself. I couldn’t face that crowd in the stadium to save my life.”

Then Coach Price reached out and put his hand on Riegel’s shoulder and said to him: “Roy, get up and go on back; the game is only half over.” And Roy Riegels went back, and those Tech men will tell you that they have never seen a man play football as Roy Riegels played that second half.[1]

What I want us to do this morning is walk through Jonah 3, and I want us to think about what our passage says about Jonah, what it says about Nineveh, and most of all, what it says about God. 

Before we get too deep into the passage, let’s do some review.

  • In chapter 1, we started this walk through Jonah and we saw how God told Jonah to go to Nineveh, but Jonah didn’t want to go because Nineveh was a major Assyrian territory. We said that this would be like God calling one of us to go and preach the good news of God’s love in Christ to ISIS.

    • Jonah instead jumps on a boat to Tarshish and heads in the complete opposite direction. Meanwhile, a storm comes up, and a fish swallows Jonah. That takes us to chapter 2.

  • In chapter 2, Jonah is actually praying inside the belly of this fish, and we saw three specific things that Jonah remembered in his prayer. He remembered God’s Word, he remembered God’s temple, and he remembered God’s mercy. The big verse that we looked at last week was Jonah 2:8 where Jonah said that those who worship idols forsake the mercy that could be there’s. 

 

JONAH REPENTS (v. 1-4)

“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the second time, saying, 2 “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and preach to it the message that I tell you.” 3 So Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly great city, a three-day journey in extent. 4 And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” – Jonah 3:1-4, NKJV

 

We saw the beginnings of Jonah’s repentance in chapter 2. You can’t read Jonah’s prayer like we read last and not see that he has a repentant heart. 

 

  • The theme of chapter 2 last week was a prayer of repentance, but the theme this week is the evidence of repentance. We see this week that Jonah’s repentance is made evident by the fact that he’s obedient to what God has said. And, by the way, that’s always the evidence of repentance in our own lives. 

Repentance isn’t praying the sinner’s prayer. Repentance isn’t a one-time act that you do to get saved. Repentance is the foremost characteristic of someone who is a born-again believer. If you’re a Christian, then your life should be characterized by the fact that you are always looking to Christ for the fullness of your salvation, and the way that your repentance is made evident is the fact that you are seeking to obey God in what He has said. 

 

  • We need to understand God hasn’t saved us so we can sit around and wait for Him to come back. He has actually given us work to do in the world. I feel like a lot Christians have this idea that pastors are the ones who are supposed to be doing all the work while the rest of the Christian people just have to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on, but that’s not the picture that the Bible paints for us. The Bible tells us that we all have gifts and callings. We all have work to do. We all have things that we need to be obedient in doing for the Lord. 

 

In Ephesians 2:8, Paul tells us that we’re saved by grace and not by works lest any man should boast, and we like that, and we should. It speaks truth about the nature of our salvation, but what we don’t like so much is two verses later where the text tells us we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works.

 

  • Why don’t we like that? Because it means we have to do something. 

 

According to Romans 1:5, we have received grace (that’s our salvation) for obedience to the faith. 

 

  • If what Paul is saying is true, and it is because it’s the Word of God, then we have been saved so that we can live in the world and show the rest of the world how to live as witnesses to the Gospel before the face of God. 

 

When you get over into Revelation, Jesus is talking to the Church at Ephesus, and He says, “You know what your problem is? You’ve left your first love.”

 

“Nevertheless, I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remeber therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place – unless you repent.” – Revelation 2:4-5, NKJV

 

Jesus doesn’t say, “Alright, I forgive you, let’s move on.” He says, “I forgive you now remember where you were before, repent, and do your first works again.”

 

  • I think some people believe that just because we’re not under the law anymore that means that there’s no place for obedience in the Christian life, and that’s just not the case. 

 

“Understand this matter aright: By His ascension and by the preaching of faith, Christ does not purpose to rear lazy and sluggish Christians, who say: ‘We shall now live according to our pleasure, not doing good works, remaining sinners, and following sin like captive slaves.’  Those who talk thus have never had a right understanding of the preaching of faith. Christ and His mercy are not preached to the end that men should remain in their sins. On the contrary, this is what the Christian doctrine proclaims: The captivity is to leave you free, not that you may do whatever you desire, but that you sin no more.” – C.F.W. Walther, quoting Martin Luther

 

In the first four verses of Jonah 3, we see that Jonah has repented, and his repentance is made clear by the fact that going back and doing what he should have done in the first place. Jonah doesn’t just blow it off by saying, “I’m sorry, God” and then doing whatever He wants to do. Jonah wants to make restitution because that’s what God’s people want to do. 

 

  • God’s people want to do what’s right. According to Ezekiel 36:26, one of the blessings of the New Covenant is that God gives us a new heart. He takes out the heart of stone, and replaces it with a heart of flesh, and then in Ezekiel 36:27, God says, “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My ways.”

  • How we live and how we walk before God is evidence of whether or not God has actually given us a new heart. 

 

One of the most challenging parts of the Christian life is actually putting into practice what you know is good and right. I don’t think there’s a single person in here right now who would say cognitively that they didn’t want to obey God, but I also think every single one of us, including myself, have a hard time putting into practice what we preach. 

 

  • That doesn’t get us off the hook of obedience, instead it should drive us to look to Jesus and say, “If I’m going to obey it’s because gives me grace to obey. If I’m going to live the way He wants me to it’s because His Spirit empowers me to live the way He wants me to.”

 

A lot of Christians tend to think that living the way God wants you to is like walking on a tightrope and as long as you can keep your balance, you’re good, but if you fall it’s still okay because you’ve got a net below that tightrope called grace, but that’s not how it works. Grace is what gives you the power to keep your balance, and by God’s grace, you won’t need a net because by grace you’ll never fall!

 

  • At the end of Jude, Jude is ending his letter with a blessing to God, and He says, “To Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with joy…” (Jude 1:24)

That fact that Jonah gets another opportunity to be obedient is an act of grace. 

 

  • Don’t think that just because Jonah lived under the old covenant that God didn’t show grace to His people. 

 

Jonah states his repentance in chapter 2, and now in chapter 3, his repentance is shown by his obedience. And because Jonah repents, Nineveh repents. 

 

  • That’s practical in, and of itself because our repentance, our turning from sin and looking to Christ should cause others to turn from their sin and look to Christ.

  • That’s why God saves people. He saves people so that He can use those people to be key players in the salvation of other people. 

 

So, look what happens to Nineveh as a result of Jonah’s repentance. 

 

NINEVEH REPENTS (v. 5-9)

“So the people of Nineveh believed God, proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest to the least of them. 6 Then word came to the king of Nineveh; and he arose from his throne and laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in ashes.” – Jonah 3:5-6, NKJV

 

  • Notice the progression so far: Jonah Repents, the people of Nineveh repent, and then the king of Nineveh repents when he sees what’s happening among the people.

  • I hear people all the time who say that they want to see America turn back to God. They want to see our politicians repent. If you want to see those changes, then you turn back to God.

    • My favorite psychologist Jordan Peterson said he used to hear his college students talk about how much they wanted to change the world, but they didn’t want to change themselves. He finally said one day during one of his lectures, “Do you want to confront chaos in the world? Then start with the chaos in your own life. Start by cleaning your room.” Set your house in order before your start getting on Facebook and talking about how the whole nation needs to be set in order.

    • Before you start telling people that they need Jesus you need to understand that you have a need for Jesus. 

 

“And he caused it to be proclaimed and published throughout Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying,

 

Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything; do not let them eat, or drink water. 8 But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily to God; yes, let every one turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who can tell if God will turn and relent, and turn away from His fierce anger, so that we may not perish?” – Jonah 3:7-9, NKJV

 

One of the questions that might arise in our minds is this: Knowing the history between the Jews and the Assyrians, why would they listen to Jonah? What was it that really caused them to listen to him? 

 

As I was studying for this message, one of the commentaries I was looking at said that the people in Assyria primarily worshipped a god named Dagon.

 

  • If know the Bible well enough, then you know that Dagon was the same god that was worshipped by the Philistines. In 1 Samuel 5, the Philistines stole the ark of the covenant and they took it into the house of Dagon, and the Bible tells us that when the priests of Dagon come into the temple the next day, they find the statue of their false god face down on the ground. So, they prop it up, leave and don’t think anything of it. The next day they come in, and they find that not only is the statue of Dagon on the ground, but it’s broken in pieces so that the head and hands are broken off.

  • What’s really interesting is that Dagon is a fish god. If you look up pictures of it, it looks like a reverse mermaid. It’s got a man’s body, but a fish’s head. 

 

Jonah is swallowed by a big fish, and then he gets thrown up onto the shore of Nineveh. 

 

When Jonah preaches and tells the people the city is going to be overthrown they believe him because, IN THEIR MINDS, this individual went into the belly of their god and he overcame. And the only way that Jonah can overcome is if he serves a God greater than their god. 

 

  • We see God proving Himself like this all throughout Scripture.

    • 1 Kings 18 – Elijah has a standoff with the prophets of Baal. And he says, “Let the God who answers by fire be God.” Elijah pours water all the altar that he built so that when God answers they know it’s God, and lo and behold, God shows up and answers by fire. 

 

God through delivering Jonah from the fish shows himself to the people of Nineveh to be greater than any of their false gods and idols. 

 

And then when they repent and see the greatness of God, God relents. 

 

GOD RELENTS (v. 10)

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.” – Jonah 3:10, NKJV

 

We’re going to see how Jonah responds to that next week when we look at chapter 4, but look at the mercy that God shows to Nineveh. 

 

  • God is not obligated in any way to save Nineveh. God was not obligated to send Jonah to Nineveh. God was not obligated to even save Jonah, but He does. Why? Because mercy is a part of God’s character. 

 

My question this morning is do we recognize that we have received God’s mercy? 

 

We’re always out to get our fairshare. We always want to get what we think we deserve, but according to Romans 6:23, the wages of sin is death. If we really want to get what we’re owed, then what we’re owed is death. But, if Jesus Christ grants us eternal life, then He does so not because we’re good enough or because we deserve it, but out of the abundance of His mercy. 

 

CONCLUSION

This is an excerpt from a Ray Pritchard sermon where he talks about when he read about a prayer for mercy called the ‘Jesus Prayer’ from one of Elisabeth Elliot’s books. 

 

“Several years ago I read Elisabeth Elliott’s fine book Keep a Quiet Heart. In one of the chapters she discusses the “Jesus Prayer.” It is a prayer that arose in the Orthodox tradition over 1,000 years ago. Though the prayer appears in various wordings, its most basic form goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Ten short words, all of them simple and easy to understand. Sometimes the phrase “a sinner” is added to emphasize the petitioner’s deep personal need. When praying together, the word “us” is substituted for “me.” Orthodox Christians have used this little prayer as a central part of their devotional life for centuries.

 

It is easy to see why this prayer has endured. In a sense, it covers everything that we might pray for. It is a prayer addressed to the right Person-“Lord Jesus Christ,” in the right Position-“Son of God.” And its one request summarizes all that we might ask from the Lord-“Have mercy on me.” Since we are truly sinners before the Lord, anything he does for us must be an act of mercy. We have no claim on anything the Lord has, and if we approach God thinking that he owes us something, our prayers will bounce off the ceiling and hit us on the head. Do we need health or wisdom or guidance or strength or hope or do we petition the Lord on behalf of our children, our friends, or our neighbors? Whatever it is we need, no matter what words we use, it is mercy, the pure, shining mercy of God that we seek.[2]

 

My prayer for us this morning is that we would see that every day is an opportunity to be a recipient of God’s mercy. It’s not owed to us. God doesn’t owe us a chance. But, the truth of the matter is that God has freely opened our eyes to know the truth, and it’s only the truth that can set us free. 

 

Let’s pray.

__________________________________

  1. Haddon W. Robinson, Christian Medical Society Journal
  2. Sinners in the Hands of a Merciful God.” Keep Believing Ministries

Decision-Making in Marriage (When One Spouse is Not the Automatic Tiebreaker)

One of the main objections raised to egalitarianism or even soft complementarianism is, “How does a couple make decisions if neither one of them is the tiebreaker?” I had a reader ask me this question on my recent book review of Rachel Green Miller’s Beyond Authority and Submission.

In recent years, I’ve done much study on the Bible, theology, psychology, gender roles, and gender dynamics. All of that coalesced into realizing I had an idea of how to answer this question. I replied to my reader with my initial thoughts, and I decided I wanted to flesh it out further in this blog post.

Basically, I have identified three different categories of decisions that will need to be made in a marriage context.

  1. Group Decisions
  2. Individual Decisions
  3. Consent Decisions

It’s not as cut-and-dry as these three categories suggest, and sometimes they bleed into one another, but they still provide a helpful framework for looking at the different kinds of decisions couples need to make. Also, many of these principles can be applied to other types of relationships: friendships, dating, business, or other types of family relationships.

Let’s look at the three categories of decisions in more detail.

Group Decisions

This is the largest category of decisions and include such things as what restaurant to eat at or what schooling options to choose; these decisions affect the group and are best arrived at using communication and compromise to reach consensus.

When a husband and wife disagree on a decision, the first thing they should do is each explain their perspectives and try to truly understand the other person’s. Often, this will resolve the issue, as one will share information that will end up changing the other person’s mind.

If not, helpful questions to further dialogue could be:
Who has the stronger opinion or bigger need in this situation?
Who has more knowledge, expertise, or experience on this particular issue?
Is there a way to compromise?
What feelings, needs, or histories are each spouse bringing to the situation, and how can they be taken into account?
Whose idea “won” last time?
How can each spouse express care for the other regardless of what decision is made?

It is also appropriate when a wife chooses voluntarily to submit to her husband’s wishes, even if there’s not another specific reason to do so. Likewise, it is appropriate when the husband decides to love his wife by going with her idea, even if there’s not another specific reason for him to do so.

Individual Decisions

Some decisions have more to do with the individual than the couple. For example, what time to wake up in the morning, what hairstyle to have, or what book to read. In these cases, the other spouse may share advice or make a request—particularly if it affects them–but the person who is actually reading the book or waking up at a certain time gets the final say (though they should care a lot about their spouse’s opinions and requests!).

Consent Decisions

Another category of situations are those in which if both spouses do not freely say “yes,” the default is “no.” This could be as simple as deciding whether to have another family over to one’s house (since the house is both spouses’ space). Generally speaking, major financial decisions would fall into this category; both spouses should agree to major purchases, especially if they have a joint bank account. Sexual intimacy is another scenario in which two willing (and hopefully joyful!) yeses are absolutely required in order for things to proceed in a respectful (and non-criminal!) way.

Summary

But does this actually work in the real world? I have friends from various walks of life and different belief systems who say that this is how their marriages function. So yes, it is possible! Because when you have two people with good character and emotional intelligence who seek after healthy communication, true understanding and care, and a willingness to work together, things generally work themselves out.

Application

If you’re unmarried put in the work now to become this sort of person–for your own sake and for the sake of your present and future relationships.

If you are looking for a dating relationship, pay attention to if a potential date has these qualities.

If you’re married and your marriage already looks like this, I rejoice with you! Keep up the awesome work, and consider mentoring others.

If you’re married and your marriage does not look like this, please know that growth is very often possible—especially when both spouses are committed to it!

But here’s a very important caveat: if you are married, and your spouse is guilty of serious and unrepentant sin (such as adultery, abuse, or abandonment), please know that no amount of healthy communication or character on your part can fix your spouse, and if you choose to leave such a spouse, I believe you have done no wrong.

Resources

For those seeking personal growth, character development, and/or relationship strengthening, here is some advice and some sample resources:
– Sit under the teaching of God’s Word and fellowship with his people. These are tools the Holy Spirit uses to grow people in Christlike love and wholeness.
– Look into receiving professional counseling services (individual therapy and/or couples therapy).
– Seek out mentorship or discipleship opportunities by mature individuals or couples.
– Read books such as Boundaries in Marriage by Dr. Henry Cloud (which I honestly haven’t read, though I’ve appreciated some his other books—which are sometimes a bit theological fluffy, so be discerning).
– Study materials put out by The Gottman Institute, which I see as the gold standard in relationship advice, and most of it is totally compatible with a Christian worldview.

And that’s it! Thus ends my musings and insights on how couples can make decisions together in ways that honor one another.

A big thank you to my reader who asked a great question which then inspired this post!

What about you? What advice do you have regarding how couples can make decisions well? What have you found works for you, or how do you want your marriage to work in the future?

How the Doctrine of the Image of God Changed My Life

Growing up in a Presbyterian family, it was always assumed that theology was important for me to know. Some of my earliest memories are of my dad doing extended Bible lessons on Sunday afternoons and my mom teaching Bible stories and children’s catechism using flannelgraph during the week. There was one lesson in particular that we repeated several times about being made in God’s image. The doctrine of the image of God—in Latin Imago Dei—originates in Genesis 1:27, which states that God made humans, male and female, in His image—His likeness.

Starting in first grade, I had the privilege of attending a Christian school where I lived in Davao, Philippines. Each year we studied the Bible, worldview, apologetics, or theology. My teachers, like my parents, assumed that it was the most natural thing in the world for me to learn about my faith—that biblical knowledge and good theology was important for all people. I generally was quite interested in my Bible classes, sometimes doing research on my own and enjoying in-class debates and projects.

When I got to college in South Carolina, the strong foundation built by parents, teachers, and my own study served me well in my pursuit of degrees in Bible and early childhood education. In one of my classes on education, we spoke of our future students as being image-bearers and the implications that had. Students had an intellect, were capable of learning, were relational, and had immeasurable potential. We ourselves, as image-bearers, were to reflect God’s character and steward our responsibilities by treating our students well, even when they posed educational or behavioral challenges.

However, after I finished college, instead of becoming a teacher, I became mostly-housebound due to chronic illness. My intense physical suffering was concurrent with a growing awareness of some of the great evil believed and practiced within the Christian community and the immense damage this caused; together, these two things shook my faith, making it difficult to listen to sermons, read my Bible, or participate in corporate prayer.

By this time, I was living in Mississippi and starting to learn about the realities of racism. As part of this, I listened to a few episodes of a podcast called Pass the Mic. Though mostly engaging topics related to race relations in the United States, biblical anthropology and emotionally-healthy spirituality were frequent topics as well. I remember crying as I realized there were indeed Christians teaching that lament over evil and pain was an important part of the Christian life, things don’t always turn out to have a happy ending, and it’s okay to take trauma seriously.

In one podcast, Mr. Jemar Tisby asserted that aside from beliefs about God and salvation, believing in the image of God is the most important doctrine in Christianity and that its implications were enormous and far-reaching. I couldn’t stop thinking about this for weeks! Now, years later, it continues to have a profound impact on my thinking and life.

But what does it mean for humans to be made in the image of God? Much has been written on the topic, but here is a summary. Humans are like God in some limited ways, including being rational beings, having moral agency, and being relational. Humans are also God’s viceroys on Earth, here to steward the natural world for God’s glory. Likewise, though all of God’s creation is precious and valuable, humans have a special place of honor and value; only they bear God’s image.

In Psalm 8, King David hyperbolically writes of humans as being made “a little lower than God,” describing them as being crowned with glory and majesty, made to rule over all of God’s works:

When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of him,
And the son of man that You care for him?
Yet You have made him a little lower than God,
And You crown him with glory and majesty! (Psalm 8:3-5)

(I’ll briefly note that in Hebrews 2, we learn that this Psalm is also prophetic, pointing to Christ as the ultimate human to whom God subjected all things and crowned with glory and honor. This “image of Christ” in salvation is an important doctrinal development upon the image of God doctrine of creation.)

To summarize, being made in the image of God means 1) that humans are like God in some ways, 2) that humans are to act to fulfill God’s purposes on Earth, 3) and that humans have immense and intrinsic worth. This doctrine makes a huge impact on the Christian understanding of anthropology—the study of man.

One caveat: as humans, we are image-bearers, but we are not just image bears. We are also sinners, both in our nature and in our behavior. This has marred, though not erased, God’s image in us. Some humans, in addition to being image-bearers and sinners, are also saints; this is how the New Testament writers describe all those who are in Christ by faith. Saints, by the power of new life through the Spirit, are empowered to grow in Christlikeness, progressively growing in reflecting God’s original design for image-bearers. As Romans 8:29 says, “For those whom he foreknew, he also predestined to become conformed to the image of his Son.” (See also Colossians 3:10.)

Meditating on the doctrine of the image of God has shaped many of my beliefs, convictions, passions, and behaviors over the past few years. For example, it gave theological validation for calling out and grieving the profound evil of race-based chattel slavery, rape, and murder. Furthermore, it buttressed my calls for justice to be done in the face of evil done to image-bearers (because evil done to those who bear God’s image is very serious). However, in my pursuit of justice, believing in the image of God also undercut thoughts of revenge, because even humans who perpetrate great evil deserve to have their humanity respected.

This doctrine impacted me in other ways too. It gave words to my concerns about how some New Calvinists emphasize the sinfulness of humans almost to the exclusion of acknowledging the image of God in humans. It gave me joy in seeing how much humans can achieve. Simultaneously, it assured me that though my health struggles limited my productivity, my value as a human was not diminished. It encouraged me to have an accurate view of myself, one that was neither too high nor too low.

It gave me the clarity to say that one of the reasons pornography and abortion are wrong is that they both exploit image bearers for the sake of another’s sexual gratification. It made me more compassionate towards animals, feeling responsible to care for them as I am able. It made me passionate in proclaiming that more important than people respecting a leader’s authority are leaders respecting other’s humanity. It meant that all human life has value, even if young, old, or disabled. It gave me a framework for learning from, honoring the accomplishments of, and seeing the good in those who hold differing beliefs than I do. It renewed my belief that the Christian’s roles in work, society, and culture are good because they reflect aspects of who God is and how he works in the universe. It provided a litmus test for myself as I sought to think of each person first as an image-bearer, whatever else they might also be.

I continue to suffer from health struggles and to grieve over many things, but most days, I feel more at peace with myself, with God, with his church, and in society. Correctly understanding doctrines such as the image of God has made a practical difference in my life. It has provided a foundation and guidebook for navigating the complexities, evils, joys, and sorrows of life. It is often a weary and weighty task, yet I am immensely thankful for God’s truth as an anchor for my soul.

I am grateful that he has revealed his truth to us in his word. I am grateful for the people throughout my life who have taught me good theology. And I’m thankful for the Holy Spirit, who continues to apply God’s truth to my life, forming my mind, heart, and actions to be further in accordance with his will.

So let us press on to know and serve the Lord and to equip others to better know and serve him. And let us rejoice in the honor of being made in God’s likeness, taking seriously his call upon our lives, and treating others as the valuable masterpieces that they are.

(Special thanks to Joshua Torrey for helping me edit this article and for sharing a portion of it on the Torrey Gazette.)