Simmering Thoughts Podcast on Joy

I enjoyed recording an episode of the Simmering Thoughts podcast yesterday with my friend, Ryan Akers. He and Chris Dean normally host, but due to illness in Chris’ family, they were forced to scrape the bottom of the barrel. We continued their series on the fruits of the Spirit by discussing joy from a biblical perspective. You can listen to the episode here.

My Experience of Black America

Photo taken by yours truly in a crush of people on the east Capitol steps, July 2007

Over the past week, I sat down at my computer to write about black America, by which I mean Americans of African descent and their culture. I had hesitated to do so for a long time, for I was certain that no matter what I wrote, it would cause offense. However, I have come to feel that this fear is actually detrimental to the cause of racial reconciliation, and that only in sharing our stories can we ever hope to understand one another. I therefore sat down to write, and what came out of me was not a few brief thoughts, but a continuous stream of contemplation. I present this very long article to the public in the hope that it might be somewhat helpful. I particularly hope it can benefit the Church.

Perhaps it seems silly to speak of myself experiencing black America, as I am white and have not spent a substantial portion of my life in the company of a large number of African Americans. However, the fact is that practically everyone has experienced something of black America. What they’ve experienced might represent a tiny fragment of the whole, but it helps to define how they view black Americans and think about issues of race and/or ethnicity. Looking back on my life now, I realize how those experiences have helped to shape my ideas. Not only that, but they have taught me some things about the Church. Continue reading

Predestination: The Promise of Salvation

Predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning. When we preach this doctrine, we proclaim that God is not only eternally Savior, but He eternally had a people to save. We proclaim that He is not bound by linear time, and His foreknowledge is so perfect that for Him to know something will occur means that it will occur. We proclaim that God has loved His people from eternity past, and He will work His will in them so that they will most certainly persevere. Yes, predestination is the promise of the end at the beginning, and in that we can have confidence.

The doctrine of predestination could not exist if God was bound by linear time: that is, if His existence progressed eternally in a series of seconds, minutes, and hours. Human beings exist within linear time. We are presently something we were not in the past and will not be in the future. We cannot look ahead, nor can we turn back. We respond to events as they hit us one by one, and thus we are subject to change.

God is eternal. This means He is not bound by linear time like we are. As the Psalmist wrote, “Before the mountains were born / Or You gave birth to the earth and the world, / Even from everlasting to everlasting, / You are God.” (Psalm 90:2) The Lord is clearly aware of and works within linear time—after all, He created it. When He became incarnate as a man, Jesus Christ was most certainly bound by linear time. He was like us in every way…except without sin. However, the eternal Godhead is fully eternal. Scripture continually points to God’s ability to declare the future things as proof that He is truly God. This is meant to reveal to us that God is not bound by linear time, and He is therefore in a different category than us. The Creator is distinct from His creatures. Continue reading

Our Savior: The Author of Salvation

When we speak of salvation, we often begin by talking about ourselves, and that is our first mistake. It would be better for us to start by considering the One from whom salvation flows: our forever Savior, God Almighty. When we build our understanding of salvation upon our own identity, we can have no assurance, but when we build it upon the character of God, we have every assurance.

The first thing we must say about God is that He is what He is. The One who revealed Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14) does not experience any change in character. All that He is, He was eternally, and all He is now, He will forever be. Our experience of His character may change, but the character itself doesn’t. God cannot become something He previously was not, so as to be created. He cannot improve on what He is now, so as to become better. He is the perfect Creator then, now, and forevermore.

Therefore, when we say that God is Savior, we do not assign to Him a new identity that He did not previously possess. He was a Savior even before there was something to save, and because He has always been a Savior, He always will be. He is a Savior precisely because it is in His nature to save. When Jesus Christ said He came to earth “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), He was describing the eternal character of God as manifested in that portion of redemptive history. Continue reading

Some Articles You Might Have Missed in 2017

Photo by Wikipedia user Ondrejk

As we are about to enter 2018, I am giving in to societal pressure and releasing a yearly review article. My readership has grown over the course of this year, and I suspect that some people may like to see what they missed earlier in 2017. Therefore, here is a kind of greatest hits list…though I’m sure your own opinions on the matter will be mixed.

Boaz is a Hero for our Time 12/20

Unchanging Love, Unchanging God 12/13

Sexual Abuse isn’t just Hollywood’s Problem 11/13

Do Baptists have a Right to Celebrate the Reformation? 10/30

Out of Egypt: My Four Years Working for a Foreign Government 10/11

Why Did God Make Me a Woman? 9/25

The Nashville Statement, Procreation, and the Purpose of Marriage 8/31

An Examination of Tim Keller’s Views on the Trinity 7/26

Is Wonder Woman a Good Example of Biblical Womanhood? 7/6

On Sin 6/15

Treating People as more than just Bodies 5/24

What are You Building with that Social Media Account? 5/9

For You and for Your Children: The Curse and the Promise 4/11

How Christ Redeemed Our Suffering 3/21

The Perils of Pastoral Power 3/8

“I Do Not Allow a Woman to Teach” 2/21

B.B. Warfield in Dayton 2/16

Which Gender is God? 2/11

Being Female in the Era of Trump 1/23

The Reformer Who Wrote Erotic Poetry 1/17

Joseph’s Search: A Christmas Parable

On the night that Jesus was born, shepherds came to the manger to worship Him. They found the experience so spiritually beneficial that they said to Joseph, “All of Bethlehem should be joining us! Go out and find more worshipers!”

“Will we have enough room?” Mary asked. “Bethlehem is not a large town, but even so, I’m not sure we can fit them all.”

“We’ve already seen miracles tonight,” Joseph said. “The Lord will provide for the worshipers.”

So Joseph went out into the streets of Bethlehem to invite the residents to come worship their king. When he got to the first door, he knocked and a young man answered. Continue reading

Boaz is a Hero for our Time

“Ruth and Boaz” by Barent Fabritius, circa 1660

The torrent of sexual misconduct allegations that have overwhelmed us these past few weeks were a long time coming. This type of sin has existed in every culture and at every point in history. The gender revolution of the past few decades allowed us to believe that we as a society had put such things behind us: that women would be treated as equals, child abuse was no longer acceptable, and people would show each other a certain amount of respect. After all, we thought, we’re not barbarians.

I am sorry to inform you that we are, in fact, barbarians. There is no getting around the fact that powerful men still abuse less powerful women. In fact, it would be far more accurate to say that powerful people abuse less powerful people, because we see males abused by males, males abused by females, and females abused by females. While the greater number of complaints fit the standard powerful male/less powerful female model, I do not wish to minimize anyone’s suffering by pretending that it doesn’t exist.

Perhaps you are beginning to feel that when the man who’s been reading you the news for years, the beloved college football coach, the kindly priest, the president of the United States, and the actor waxing eloquently about social justice all have dirty hands, there is no one left for you to trust. Perhaps you are tempted to think that sexual harassment and abuse are simply par for the course, and those with power will always abuse it. You do not reach this conclusion because you believe it is morally right, but as a way of protecting yourself from further disappointment.

There is some truth in the phrase, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” which was first coined by John Dalberg-Acton but had been expressed in slightly different ways much earlier. Power does not actually make us sinful, but it allows sin to become much more damaging…and excusable. Therefore, we might begin to assume that there is a kind of inevitability to this all: men with power will always take advantage of that power. They cannot do otherwise. They’re only human. Continue reading

Christ Was Born for More Than Death

“The Marriage of the Virgin” by Giotto di Bondone, circa 1304-6 (from “Scenes from the Life of the Virgin”)

As we near that magical day when children will eat far too many sweets and parents will get far too little sleep, we are continually reminded that the Christmas season isn’t just about Santa Claus, elves, and reindeer (a.k.a. caribou). Slogans such as “Put Christ back in Christmas!” and “Jesus is the reason for the season!” abound, all of them meant to call our minds back to the true meaning of the holiday, or at least question whether or not atheists should be allowed to join in the fun.

One saying that seems to have a stronger theological grounding is some variation on the following: “Jesus Christ was born in order to die.” The motivation behind this choice of phrase is a good one. While the manger, angels, and donkey are all nice, the story of Christmas cannot be properly told without mentioning the problem Jesus came to solve. He was not born merely to proclaim peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Rather, He came to save us from our deadliest enemy: sin. The peace He brought us is not a temporary, earthly one, but rather an eternal, heavenly one. He made it possible for us to be permanently at peace with God.

Therefore, it is entirely appropriate and even necessary to link the incarnation of Jesus Christ with His atonement. Christmas means nothing without Easter. The first step in appreciating Christmas is to understand that the Son of God took on flesh to make an end of death and sin. His sacrifice allows us to be forgiven. We must never lose sight of that fact or diminish its importance.

Nevertheless, stating that Jesus was born to die puts us in danger of minimizing other parts of His work that were equally important and necessary. The Son of God became incarnate as a human being not only to remove our sin, but also to make us righteous. Yes, those two things are connected, but they are not exactly the same. Continue reading

The Girl Empress Gets Thoroughly Mortified

I was recently honored to appear on the Mortification of Spin podcast and talk with my friend Aimee Byrd and frenemy Dr. Carl Trueman about my new historical novel, The Girl Empress. You can listen to the podcast at this link or through the iTunes store. I thoroughly recommend Mortification of Spin to you for all your theological podcast needs, provided you remember they are all lapsed Baptists in need of God’s grace. (That’s a little joke. Nice Presbys.)

Unchanging Love, Unchanging God

NASA photo of the Omega Nebula

Why does God love us? How does He love us? These seem like appropriate questions to be asking at a time of year when we are celebrating God’s love as evidenced in Christ’s Incarnation. A thousand hymns proclaim to us the love of God, and yet there is some disagreement as to exactly how and why we receive that love. Does God love everyone equally? Does He love you now as much as He ever will? Is there anything you can do to gain more of His love?

Perhaps you have heard a statement like this at some point in your life: “There is nothing you can do to make God love you more. He loves you unconditionally.” I have certainly heard such things on numerous occasions. They are typically spoken as words of comfort to doubting hearts, or words of correction to those who pursue works righteousness. However, there are some who proclaim them unbiblical.

This is a topic of great practical importance for the average believer. It is no crime to want to understand if, how, and why God loves you. If we go to great lengths to pursue the love of human beings, then we surely ought to be putting in an even greater effort to earn the love of God Almighty. But is there any amount of effort that can earn God’s love?

Some debate whether God’s love is conditional or unconditional, or if in fact it is partially one and partially the other. These terms can have different meanings for various people, but the real issues at hand are whether God loves all human beings, if He loves them all in the same way, on what basis He loves, and if there is anything we can possibly do to increase His love. Continue reading