Lessons from the Titanic Part 2

Special Guest Post by Alex Carmichael

Last week, when we began our study on Lessons from the Titanic, we spoke about the people on board the Titanic. We looked at how even the wealthiest of men couldn’t buy their way onto a lifeboat, even though they could have bought the entire Titanic many times over. We also looked at the importance of what real wealth is, and saw that in the life of Pastor John Harper. We also saw how nothing is worth exchanging your soul for the things of this world, or in the trade-offs we may make that keep us from living the abundant life that Jesus promises us when we take up our cross and follow Him. This morning, we’re going to look at the Titanic herself, from the moment of her conception to her last moments, and the lessons we can learn from her. When one has an idea in his head to build something, and its name is going to be “Titanic”, you know that everything is going to be larger than life, absolutely everything, from start to finish, is going to be something greater than had ever been seen before. Even the designing of the Titanic was a massive undertaking, with the sheer number of plans that had to be drawn up, the plumbing and electrical and mechanical systems that had to be put into place, all the logistics that had to be considered, the international regulations that had to be followed, and all the attention to detail, all of it has to be planned well in advance. And once that was done, when all the plans were in place, it would take nearly 15,000 men more than two years to construct the Titanic. Built for the White Star Line at the Harland and Wolff shipyard in Belfast, Northern Ireland, the Titanic’s owners were in stiff competition for the Atlantic with the rival Cunard Line. Everything had to be just right. People wanted luxury, and to say that’s what they found in the Titanic would be an understatement. Elegance was the only word for her interior. Lavish in its decor, menus, and entertainment, it surpassed the highest expectations of all of its passengers. Not only was Titanic the most luxurious ship the world had ever known, she was also one of the fastest moving vessels on the sea. It was a floating palace loaded with fine amenities, a five-star hotel on the sea. It had tennis and squash courts, exercise rooms, and a gymnasium. It had trellised verandas, Turkish baths, and it was the first ship to have a swimming pool on board. It had a marvellously ornate ballroom and five grand pianos. It even had elevators– which was really something in 1912. All of it, actually, was really something for 1912. Never before had anyone seen anything like it. In fact, J. Bruce Ismay, the chairman and managing director of the White Star Line, selected the name Titanic to “convey sheer size…and size means stability, luxury, and, above all, strength”. The Titanic was also a technologically and aesthetically state of the art ship. As she set sail from Southampton to New York on her maiden voyage on April 10, 1912, she was the largest man-made moving object of her time. In fact, if you were able to stand the ship on its end, she would have been one of the world’s tallest buildings. She was 882 and a half feet long, the length of almost three football fields. She weighed over 46,000 tons. Each one of her three engines produced over 15,000 horsepower, which made her capable of travelling almost 24 knots. Each of her anchors weighed 15.5 tons, with just one link in an anchor’s chain weighing 175 pounds (80 kilos)! And her double bottom iron hull was 5 feet thick. The Titanic consumed over 650 tons of coal a day, over 27 tons every single hour. That would mean that the “Black Gang”, the 289 men who worked in her boiler and engine rooms, would be bringing forth and shovelling in just under a half a ton of coal every single minute of her journey. And with all the latest innovations in ship-building technology, including fifteen watertight doors designed to seal any water up through F Deck in its sixteen compartments, it was widely believed and accepted that this ship really was unsinkable. On board the ship were 887 members of crew. There were 1,320 passengers. To feed everyone on the scheduled six day voyage, the Titanic packed enough food to seemingly feed an army. On board, there was 85,000 pounds of fresh meat. 15,000 pounds of fish. 25,000 pounds of poultry and game. 40,000 eggs. 80,000 pounds of potatoes. 3,500 pounds of onions. 10,000 pounds of rice and dried beans. 7,000 heads of lettuce. 5,500 pounds of tomatoes. 2,250 pounds of peas. 800 bundles of asparagus. 36,000 oranges. 16,000 lemons. 50 boxes of grapefruit. 1,000 pounds of grapes. 10,000 pounds of cereals. 2,200 pounds of coffee. 800 pounds of tea. 1,500 gallons of fresh milk. 600 gallons of condensed milk. 1,200 quarts of fresh cream. 1,000 sweetbreads. 1,120 pounds of jams and marmalades. 6,000 pounds of butter. 10,000 pounds of sugar. 200 barrels of flour. 20,000 bottles of beer, ale, and stout. 1,500 bottles of wine. 850 bottles of spirits. 15,000 bottles of mineral water. And 1,750 quarts of ice cream. For its maiden voyage, no matter if you were a 1st Class, 2nd Class, or 3rd Class passenger, no expense was spared to make this trip something to remember. The Titanic had all these luxurious accommodations, she had all these amazingly wonderful and wondrous things, she had everything one could imagine… but she didn’t have enough lifeboats. Indeed, there was no ship that ever gave her passengers more confidence, there was no ship that ever made her passengers feel more secure. But they would all soon discover that the only thing they had, in reality, the only thing they had on board the Titanic, was a false sense of security. Within six days of her departure from Southampton, even with all this might and with all this grandeur, the great ship would lie two miles below the surface of the sea. 1,502 people of the 2,207 on board the Titanic would lose their lives. The world would wake up to the news shocked and amazed. It would seem nigh on impossible that such a fate could befall this “unsinkable” ship. And within hours of her sinking in the wee hours of April 15, 1912, the story of the ship, the story of its victims, and the story of the survivors, every aspect of the story of the unsinkable Titanic was being told. Since then, there has been a deluge of items produced about the tragedy. Her story has been featured in every form imaginable– in newspapers, magazines, books, music, radio, film, television, and the internet. Even in sermons immediately after her sinking, and in sermons today, her story has been, and is being, told. In fact, doing a google search nets over 144,000,000 “Titanic” results, and a search on Amazon.com finds almost 11,000 items about her. The story of the Titanic has continuously captivated each and every generation the past one hundred years. From the moment the Titanic disappeared into the icy waters of the North Atlantic a century ago, her story has held the world spellbound. The loss of the Titanic left a world shaken in disbelief, and made people stop to think. And people are still thinking. I believe that God wants us to remember the lessons the Titanic story provides, as these lessons are still relevant to us today– in fact, they’re timeless lessons. The story of how and why the great ship sank is a timeless story as well. And it all seems so unlikely, even to this day. So let’s look at what transpired on that day almost one hundred years ago… For the first few days of their voyage, the passengers and crew enjoyed a rather tranquil crossing on their way to New York. Even on the night of April 14, the crew members had remarked that they had never seen the Atlantic more calm. In fact, the sea that night was later described as being “as smooth as a piece of polished glass”. Iceberg warnings had come in via wireless telegraph messages during the day and into the evening, but they weren’t given much thought. The captain had been through this before, and he was looking to get into New York sooner rather than later. So all things were to continue as they were, and the Titanic continued to use her Morse code wireless to transmit messages from passengers to people in North America. This was the latest in technology, and the more affluent passengers wanted to impress their family and friends by sending them messages from the middle of the Atlantic. In fact, the Titanic was sending out so many personal messages, almost non-stop, that the ship nearest to her, the California, was forced to burst in without warning, telling the Titanic’s dedicated Morse code operators, “Say, old man, we are surrounded by ice and stopped!”. The California’s operators hadn’t had permission to burst in on his transmission, and the closeness of the ships meant that the message would practically deafen the Titanic’s operator. So the Titanic operator angrily replied, “Shut up! Shut up! I’m busy! I’m working Cape Race!”. At that, the California’s sole wireless operator turned off their messaging system for the night, while the Titanic operators continued sending the personal messages of her passengers. And the Titanic herself pressed forward. At 11:40 p.m., the most famous maritime disaster in history began to unfold. The great Titanic, pride of the White Star Line and of Great Britain, was approaching an iceberg. The lookouts in the crow’s nest, who the entire voyage had not had the benefit of using binoculars as they hadn’t been returned to their locker, saw the iceberg late. They were using only their vision, and this would normally be fine. But on a moonless night when the sea was extremely calm and where no water was lapping up against the base of the icebergs, the mountains of ice were difficult to see. The iceberg was seen awfully late by the lookouts, and the message of impending doom was relayed to the bridge as quickly as they could: three sharp rings of the bell, the signal for “object ahead”. They then phoned in the message to the bridge, and the message was immediately imparted to the senior officer in charge at that time. Within seconds of the iceberg being spotted, First Officer William Murdoch ordered the engines to halt, then reversed at the same time as ordering hard a-starboard. This action caused the Titanic to turn to port, with the starboard side of the ship nearest the iceberg. The ship would take over a kilometre to stop, over a half mile, and the ship’s 100 ton rudder would be slow to move. So as the lookouts in the crow’s nest braced for a head-on collision, the ship, at the last moment, slowly began to turn. As they passed the iceberg, now close enough to touch, they could see why they had had even greater difficulty in spotting this one. It was a “blue berg”, recently overturned and still dark with seawater. Strangely enough, if the Titanic had just continued on her course, or if she hadn’t turned in time, and had hit the iceberg head on, she would have most likely suffered only minor damage. She was specifically designed for this kind of collision. But it was too late. The ship could not turn far enough in time to miss the iceberg. In attempting to turn the 882.5 foot-long ship in order to completely miss the iceberg, the Titanic glanced an ice ramp, a protruding shelf of the iceberg below the surface, which caused the hull’s plates to buckle and rivets to pop below the waterline. The Titanic was only three feet away from safety, literally only a step away from not hitting the iceberg. But hit it she did. Seawater rushed uncontrollably into five front watertight compartments. If only four had been breached, she would have remained afloat. But the wound was fatal. The Titanic was doomed. As a sidenote, until relatively recently, why the Titanic sank wasn’t exactly known. The most widely held theory for many years was that when the ship hit the iceberg, it opened a massive 300 foot gash in her side, the length of a football field. However, during a number of expeditions to the wreck of the Titanic in the 1990’s, an international team of divers and scientists used sound waves to probe the wreckage. What the sonar images revealed was something much to everyone’s surprise. They discovered that the actual damage caused by the iceberg was surprisingly very small, a mere pinprick relatively speaking. Instead of the expected huge gash, they instead found six relatively narrow breaches across six watertight holds. It was a total area of less than 12 square feet. There was no trace of the supposed 300 foot gash. As unbelievable as it was, this seemingly minor damage led to the demise of the great ship. And it was enough to sink her in a period of only two hours forty minutes. Yet the collision wasn’t even noticed by most people. And for those who did notice, they didn’t think it amounted to much. A good number of passengers were drinking, dancing, gambling, having a great time at the moment the Titanic struck the ice. Most others were asleep or reading in their cabins. A group of gamblers went out on deck to look around, but soon returned to their cards. Others came out from their cabins, and played soccer with chunks of ice that had been scraped onto the ship. Still, nothing catastrophic seemed to be in the air. One person even said that it seemed that the ship merely quivered as if it “went over a thousand marbles. There was nothing terrifying about it at all.”. But soon thereafter, the first ever SOS in history would be sent out. The California was only 10 miles away, and would have normally picked up the distress calls– and would have gotten there in time to save many lives– but no one was in her telegraph room to hear them. When the damage below had been thoroughly assessed by none other than Thomas Andrews, the ship’s designer, and the horrifying news delivered to Captain Smith, the crew were then told to go to each cabin, awake the passengers, and advise them to get up on deck with their lifevests on. The Titanic had 3,500 lifevests and 48 lifebuoys. But in the icy waters, these things would be practically useless. And the people didn’t think they would need them, they had such faith in the great ship. Many even joked about the lifebuoys, with some actually putting them on and dancing around the deck while others stood back and laughed. One man even joked as he put one around a woman. “You’ve got to wear this”, he said, “it’s all the rage!”. So when people were told to put on their lifevests, many initially refused. Many said they didn’t want to get dirty and mess up their gowns. They didn’t see the point in putting them on, as they had complete confidence in the Titanic’s ability to stay afloat. But just after midnight, Captain Edward Smith, the highest paid sailor in the world, the man who had had the privilege of captaining all White Star maiden voyages the previous eight years and who was now set to retire after the Titanic’s scheduled return voyage, this most experienced of seamen did something he never imagined he’d have to do: he ordered the crew to ready the lifeboats. He knew the ship would sink within a few hours. But even at that, the passengers were reluctant to leave the comfort of the huge ship for a 70-foot drop down to the dark ocean in the tiny wooden boats. Even when some were urged to get into the lifeboats, they said, “Why should we get into the boats and go out into the cold night, when we’ll just be coming back on board in a few minutes?”. The order was “women and children first” onto the lifeboats, but many of the women refused to leave without their husbands, and had to be forcibly picked up and placed in the boats. Families were torn apart, as women and children bid farewell to husbands and fathers, and some even had to say goodbye to sons and brothers, some as young as 13, who were, incredibly, not allowed onto the lifeboats. And even though there were only lifeboats enough for less than half those aboard, very few of the boats were loaded to capacity. The Titanic carried 20 lifeboats, enough for 1,178 people. All but 2 were launched. Each lifeboat could hold up to 65 people. Yet lifeboat after lifeboat pulled away with as little as 10 people on board. This was in part due to the message of “women and children first” being misinterpreted as meaning “women and children only”. As the lifeboats on board became fewer and fewer, and as the freezing water rose higher and higher, cascading through the lower levels and then the ballroom and then the Grand Staircase, many found themselves scrambling, shouting, running, panicking, looking for any remaining lifeboats, as the water eventually swept onto the upper deck. Many others resigned themselves to the fact that their life was about to end. Many of those who were still on board when no more lifeboats would leave were passengers who had somehow still believed the myth of the Titanic’s invincibility, who had even refused to get in the lifeboats despite being told that the ship was in trouble. They had clung to the belief that the ship was unsinkable– and were somewhat offended when officers told them to evacuate, when they had paid such enormous sums of money for luxury travel. When the last lifeboat to leave had been launched, there were still over fifteen hundred people on board the doomed liner. Only 705 people– less than a third of the people on board– found safety on the lifeboats. Hundreds more could have been saved. Many of those who had huddled at the very stern of the boat in the last minutes as the ship began to lurch upward were quickly swept away once the liner plunged below the surface of the water. Very few were left on board, except for a couple who did not respond to a repeated call at their cabin to report on deck, and the gallant crew working below deck who tried to keep the Titanic running for as long as possible. There were also the Italian and French members of the kitchen crew. They remained on board as a consequence of the longstanding animosity the English had towards the Italians and French. You see, shortly after the Titanic collided with the iceberg, the kitchen crew were taken to their quarters by members of the deck crew, and locked inside until further notice. They were still locked in their cabins as the Titanic plunged to the bottom of the sea… For most of those who were in the water, they didn’t fare much better. If a person hadn’t gotten into a lifeboat by now, they had little chance of survival. Only six people who found themselves in the water were picked up by a lifeboat later on. The best possibility for being saved was by getting into a lifeboat before the great ship went under. The most awful part of it all is that so many had the chance to do so, but didn’t get into a lifeboat when they had the chance. Easily the most infamous person who did get into a lifeboat was the chairman of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. As the call for “women and children first” was made, and knowing that the ship would soon be at the bottom of the sea, Ismay was more aware than anyone of the inadequacy of the number of lifeboats the Titanic had. And he also bore more responsibility than anyone for that problem. At a meeting two years earlier, when the details of the Titanic were being finalized, Ismay had been presented with a plan to equip the Titanic with 48 lifeboats, with a capacity of well more than what the Titanic would carry. Ismay studied the plans for a few short minutes, then rejected it on the account of expense, and the fact that he and his fellow White Star senior executives thought the Titanic would be unlikely to sink before help would arrive. Having fewer lifeboats would make for a better looking, less crowded boat deck, as more than the 20 they would carry would make it “too cluttered”. The 20 they would have on board was going to be more than the legal requirement, after all. So after making his rather quick decision, Ismay immediately turned to the question of the ship’s décor, where he would spend two hours discussing carpet for the First Class cabins. So before stepping into a lifeboat, Ismay would have been confronted with his deathly decision to drastically cut the number of lifeboats. And then, without looking at any of the crewmen in charge of loading the lifeboats, Ismay took his spot at the bow of the lifeboat. It would be something that would ruin his reputation, and would send him into seclusion for the rest of his life. This is one of the more scandalous occurrences that night. But the worst thing that would happen that night would be the hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people who found themselves still on board when there was no way to be rescued, when the realization would come, to men, women, children, and families, that there was no hope. It must have been nightmarish, almost surrealistic, to have to say their last goodbyes to family members when this realization would finally dawn upon them. To think about being in the shoes of these people in this dreadful plight, to be thrust into a situation of having to say goodbye and to hold loved ones for the very last time, is a place I don’t ever like going to. But one person who was haunted by this very thing was Second Officer Charles Lightoller. He was standing on a lifeboat less than fifty yards from the Titanic as the great ship began her final plunge into the sea, and he could hear husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, parents and children, crying out to one another, “I love you”. This horror stayed with him the rest of his life… On April 15, 1912, at 2:20am, the Titanic slipped beneath the waves and began her long plunge to the bottom of the Atlantic. Countless numbers remained on the surface, struggling to stay alive in the icy waters. Within minutes, most would succumb to hypothermia or drown. There were, however, reports from Titanic survivors who described the cries of victims, who were wearing lifevests, that lasted for more than an hour, even in the frigid -0.5º C (31º F) waters. Many of these people called out for the lifeboats to return to rescue them, but only one returned. Only one lifeboat chose to return. That one lifeboat chased the cries in the darkness, seeking to save only a precious few. 1,502 souls would enter eternity that night one hundred years ago… As the story of the Titanic is relived this month, there will be many congregations around the world who will be hearing sermons about what happened that fateful night one hundred years ago. In fact, this week at Harper Memorial Baptist Church in Glasgow, they will be holding a series of special events to celebrate the life of their former pastor, John Harper, who lost his life that night as he preached to those who were facing a Christ-less eternity. Many sermons in the past, and perhaps many sermons this month, will speak of Jesus being a lifeboat, of Jesus being the only lifeboat who has come to seek and save that which was lost. That’s fine, and I understand the reasons behind using this analogy. But, Biblically speaking, this analogy is only half right. The message will go something like this: You’ve been on a ship that’s now going under, and you’ve found yourself in the dark and icy water, with little hope of rescue, slowly sinking in a sea of sin. But Jesus comes by in a lifeboat and throws you a lifebuoy– all you’ve got to do is grab it, hold on, and He’ll pull you in. God has sent out a lifeboat to pick us up. You get into this lifeboat by trusting in Christ to pull you in. But you’ve got to take the first step in order to be saved. Won’t you get in the lifeboat by putting your trust in Jesus today? Don’t go down with the ship. I know it’s just a story used to illustrate a point, and I can appreciate the sentiment behind it, but this kind of analogy is not theologically accurate. If we’re going to use analogies to illustrate Scripture, we must be as faithful as possible to what God’s Word is saying. A more accurate analogy would be something like this: You’re not only in a sea of sin, and you’re not just drowning in it, but you are, in fact, already dead at the very bottom of the sea. Jesus comes to you, and resuscitates you, and gives you new life. It is only then, when you have been given new life, that you are able to find yourself floating on the surface of the sea and knowing exactly what danger you are in, and then grab onto His hand and be pulled into the lifeboat. This is the only way you could be saved– as Scripture tells us that we are dead in sin. And a dead man can do nothing for himself. A person first needs to be made alive again by God, to be born from above, before he can do anything in regard to moving toward God. This is regeneration, where God changes our hearts, where we are born again. We don’t do it ourselves. We don’t regenerate ourselves, we don’t make ourselves to be born from above, we don’t bring ourselves to faith– it is all a gift of God. Where once we were dead in trespasses and sin, He dove to the bottom of the ocean and raised us from the dead. Turn in your Bibles to Ephesians 2v4-10: 4 But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. The message of this Resurrection Sunday is not that Christ threw us a lifebuoy and hoped to save us, but that He actually saved us. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross actually secured the salvation of His people. He died to pay the penalty of those who would believe on Him. Christ’s death did not merely procure the possibility of people being saved: those who are Christ’s are actually saved from the penalty of their sin. That is the nature and the extent of the atonement, that what Christ actually achieved on the Cross wasn’t to open the door to the possibility of people being saved– but that actual salvation was accomplished right there and then. If it were that what Christ did on the Cross was only to make salvation a chance possibility, then no one at that point in history is actually saved by what He did! And that would mean that it is what we do that makes Christ’s atonement effective, it relies on our actions to make Christ’s work efficacious– rather than what Jesus did on the Cross alone. If His death only gave everyone only the possibility of being saved, then it did not actually save anyone. Yet Scripture tells us that Jesus is both the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12v2). It’s all of God. And that’s where the analogy of us taking the first step to get into the lifeboat falls greatly short, as it doesn’t take into account what had to take place first. Jesus says in John 6v44: “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day”. The word for “draws” is the word ἕλκω (“hel-ko”), and it means “to draw, pull, drag”. Metaphorically, it means “to draw by inward power, lead, impel”. This word is also used in John 21v6: And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast, and now they were not able to draw it in because of the multitude of fish. It’s used in the context of pulling or dragging in fish. And it’s used in James 2v6: But you have dishonored the poor man. Do not the rich oppress you and drag you into the courts? To “draw” doesn’t mean to “woo”. People are not “wooed” into the courts. It’s not a passive action. Hel-ko” is akin to Jesus actively diving down to the depths of the ocean and resuscitating you, rather than to Him merely throwing you a lifebuoy, hoping you’ll take it. The Good News this Easter Sunday is that if your faith is in Him, He has, as Micah 7v19 says, He has cast all your sin into the depths of the sea. That is the end of forgiven sins, that they are cast into a bottomless sea– where we once lay before He found us, and breathed new life into us.

Lessons From the Titanic Pt.1

This is a Special Guest Post by Alex Carmichael

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the RMS Titanic. For generations, this tragic story has captivated the hearts and minds of people in all walks of life all over the world.  People of all ages are still greatly intrigued with her story.  Even after all this time, interest in the Titanic still runs deep.

I’ve been fascinated by the Titanic since at least the time I was in high school, and I’ve come across many a tale about her voyage and sinking.  Some of it has been incredible yet true, and some of it has been found to be interesting but untrue.  There have even been a great many myths and legends put forth as to the cause of the disaster ever since that fateful night in 1912, tales ranging from sabotage to an evil curse of a mummy that was said to be on board.  All very intriguing.  But it’s important to sort the truth from the myth, to separate the wheat from the chaff.  So what I am going to do over the course of the next three Sundays is to bring you the true story of the Titanic.  I’ll also let you know if some of the stories are apocryphal or unverified.  And above all, we’ll look at this from a Biblical perspective.

We’ll start our journey this morning by first looking at why the story of the Titanic has had such enduring appeal the past one hundred years.  For one, I think people are fascinated by it in part because of our putting ourselves in their shoes of the people on board the Titanic.  This is a common occurrence among Titanic buffs, and I’ve often thought, “What would I have done?”.  What would I have done if I were on board and saw the lifeboats going off half-filled with people after the call for “Women and children first”?  Would I have tried to have gotten onto one of them?  Or would I have followed the protocol of the day?  I’ve wondered, would I have been courageous like the engineers and crewmen who remained below decks at their posts, who kept the ship going, trying to save the sinking ship?  What would I have done if I were on the ship as it was lurching upward, and about to go under?  What would I have done if I found myself in the icy waters with little hope of rescue?  What exactly would I have done if I were in their shoes?  These were things I’ve thought of almost every time I’ve read or seen something about that fateful night 100 years ago..
And that perspective of what I would have done has greatly changed as I’ve gotten older.  When I was in high school, it was all about me, how would I have saved myself if I were in that situation.  But now, and from the time I was married and had children, the question has become a more difficult one, as the question now is, “What would I have done to save all of us?”.  And every time I’ve thought about it in that light, it’s always come back to not wanting to think about being in their shoes…

I was, however, vividly confronted with having to think about this kind of situation while on my honeymoon.  For our honeymoon tour around Scotland, Julie and I booked passage on a roll-on/roll-off car ferry from Oban on the Scottish mainland.  This is the type of ferry where you drive on to the ship in what amounts to it becoming a huge sea-ferring parking lot.  The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry would take us over the sea to Skye, and then we’d venture our way on to the outer Isles.

When the ferry docked, it let down its massive ramp doors, and we drove on board the ship.  We were then directed to a parking spot about halfway into and under the ship.  As we got out of the car, I looked to where we were to drive out from later on, and then to where we had just driven in from.  As soon as I did this, the memory of what took place only a few years earlier startled me.

What that was, was the tragedy of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise, a car and passenger ferry–  just like the one we were on–  that operated the Dover to Europe route across the English Channel.  That ferry capsized moments after leaving the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, killing 193 passengers and crew.  It was the second deadliest maritime disaster involving a British ship in peacetime since the sinking of the Titanic.

What happened with the debacle of the MS Herald of Free Enterprise was, before leaving port, it was the duty of a specific crewman to electronically close the large ramp doors.  However, the crewman responsible for that task that day was still in his cabin, and was still asleep when the harbor station call sounded and the ship was ready to set sail.  The first officer who was required to stay on deck to make sure the doors were indeed closed was under pressure to get to his station on the bridge, and he had left the deck with the ramp doors open in the expectation that the crewman responsible for closing the doors would arrive in time to do so.  The captain of the ship assumed that the doors had been closed since he could not see them from the wheelhouse because of the ship’s design, and there were no indicator lights in the bridge.  So the boat took off…and the water rushed in…

At a hearing afterwards, the first officer was asked why he did not close the ramp doors given there was no one else there to do it.  His response:  it was not his duty…

I’m sure the ferry that we were on was a much safer ship because of that disaster in Belgium.  And it was a nice ship that we took, very fast and very powerful.

But it didn’t hold a candle to the beauty and elegance of the Titanic.  It may sound like a cliché, but they really don’t make ships like her any more.  Yes, today’s ultra-modern ships have all the electronic gadgetry and convenience that one can imagine.

But the Titanic would have had them too, if they were available.  What is missing from today’s ships that wasn’t missing on the Titanic is the grandeur and the great attention to detail that was evident everywhere on the Titanic.  Even in the Steerage Class quarters, the 3rd Class quarters, these poor people who were on their way to a better life were staying in rooms they never imagined they’d ever see.  The entire Titanic made whoever you were, whether the wealthiest of the wealthy or someone in Steerage whose only possessions were little more than the clothes they were wearing, whoever you were, you felt like you were in a dream.  For if there was ever the epitome of a physical expression of opulence, it was this ship.

And this grandness is what made so many of the world’s most rich and powerful want to get on board, particularly for her maiden voyage.  It drove them to be the first to see what was on the Titanic–  and to be seen on her as well.

The Titanic’s passenger list is a veritable Who’s Who of the world’s uber wealthy, a ship full of the super rich and famous.  That’s why the ship was dubbed “The Millionaire Special”, and the luxury and status-symbol that sailing on the maiden voyage of the Titanic is a reason why so many of the world’s so-called “elite” were on board.  To get a one-way ticket in a First Class State Room cost $4,000 (£2,500).  Today, that would roughly be $75,000 (£47,000).  Round trip, that would be, in today’s money, $150,000 (£94,000).  Amazingly, the combined wealth of the passengers on board the Titanic was $500 million (£315 million), or about $9.375 billion in today’s money (£5.591 billion).

One of the very wealthy on board was John Jacob Astor, who was, in fact, the richest man in the world at the time, worth $150 million (£94.6 million).  That would equate to about $2.8 billion (£1.8 billion) in today’s money.  He was a colonel during the Spanish-American War, who put his personal yacht at the disposal of the U.S. government.  He was also an inventor who helped to develop the turbine engine, and he was also a real estate magnate who built the famous Astoria Hotel in New York City

Astor was on the Titanic because he was returning from Egypt with his new 19 year old bride.  They were on an extended international honeymoon after his divorce from his first wife, and their affair had scandalized New York City.  Astor’s new bride was even younger than his son.

But this wealthiest of men would not return to New York.  After the Titanic hit the iceberg, he left his extravagant suite to investigate the incident.  He was unimpressed, so he quickly returned and reported to his wife that the ship had just struck ice, but that the damage did not appear serious. She wasn’t alarmed at the news, but her husband’s reassurances soon proved to be unfounded.

Later on, when all seemed lost, and as his wife boarded a lifeboat, Astor asked if he could accompany her, due to her “delicate condition”, as she was pregnant.  He was denied access to the lifeboat by a senior officer, Charles Lightoller, as the call was for “woman and children first”.  Astor then threw his gloves to his wife, and lit a cigarette.

He and his dog were last seen alive on deck before the ship went down.  His body was recovered, crushed and covered with soot, as he was one of the gravely unfortunate swimmers who were hit by the ship’s forward funnel after it collapsed.  These huge funnels were massive, large enough for two trains to pass through side by side.  Astor never stood a chance.  He was only 47.

Strangely enough, as that funnel fell onto the water and onto that group of ill-fated swimmers that included Astor, it also kicked up a wave that washed a collapsible lifeboat thirty yards clear of the Titanic.  Those who were clinging to the collapsible lifeboat were afraid that when the ship went down, they would be sucked down with her.  That terror never materialized for them when the funnel pushed them clear, and one of the fortunate few included Lightoller.

Another person of great wealth on board was Benjamin Guggenheim, who was worth $95 million (£60 million) ($1.8 billion/£1.1 billion today), a fortune his family made in the mining and smelting industry.  His family possessed one of the largest fortunes in the world.  Benjamin Guggenheim, though, was known as a spoiled, arrogant, and wilful man, determined to live life his own way to the detriment of others.  He was on board with his new mistress.

As the ship was going down, Guggenheim found that he couldn’t get on any lifeboat.  Fearing the worst, he told a steward: “Tell my wife I did my best in doing my duty.”.  He then prepared himself for the end.

As this was set to be the next to last night out for the journey, when First Class passengers customarily dressed in their most resplendent attire for dinner, Guggenheim decided to dress in that formal evening ware to meet his fate.  He and his valet sat in chairs on the deck, sipping brandy and smoking cigars while the Titanic sank.  He is famous for these comments as the liner was about to go down: “We’ve dressed in our best, and are prepared to go down like gentlemen.”  He was just 46 years old.

Another prominent passenger on the Titanic that night was Isidor Strauss, the owner of Macy’s department store in New York City.  He was worth $50 million (£31 million) ($937.5 million/£581.3 million today).  He was travelling with Ida, the wife of his youth.

When the elderly couple appeared at the lifeboats, Ida was told to get into the half-filled lifeboat.  As she began to climb into the lifeboat, at the last second, she changed her mind, turning to her husband and said, “We have been living together for many years.  Where you go, I go.”.  Mrs. Straus then turned to her maid, and helped her get into the lifeboat.  She gave the maid her fur coat, saying, “Here, take this, I won’t be needing it.”.  The old couple then stepped away from the lifeboat, and settled into a pair of nearby deck chairs to await the end together.  They were last seen on deck sitting in deck chairs holding hands when a huge wave washed them into the sea. They both died together that night, after more than 40 years of marriage.

These are all people whose stories are well known, whose stories always seem to make it into all the books and movies and tv programs about the Titanic.

But there is one person whose story is often left out of the newspapers, magazines, books, radio shows, films, and television programs.  That man is a Scotsman named John Harper.

Harper was born into a Christian home in 1872 in Houston, Renfrewshire, near Glasgow.  He became a Christian at age 14, and he began to preach at the age of 18, when he would go into the streets of his village to preach the Word of God.  After six years of toiling on street corners preaching the Gospel and working in a mill during the day, Harper came under the care of the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, who supported him in a ministry in Govan, the ship-building section of Glasgow. This allowed Harper to devote his whole time and energy to the ministry.  As his life unfolded, one thing was apparent about Harper, in that he was consumed by preaching the Word of God.  He had even preached in Belfast, where the Titanic was built.

In 1897, he became the first pastor of Paisley Road Baptist Church in Glasgow.  The church started with just twenty-five members, but had grown to over five hundred members when he left thirteen years later. That church is now known as Harper Memorial Baptist Church.

During his time in Glasgow, Harper married, but he was soon widowed. Though the marriage was brief, the couple were blessed with a beautiful little girl named Nina.

When he boarded the Titanic, Harper was 39, and pastor of Walworth Road Baptist Church in London. He was travelling with 6 year old Nina and his sister-in-law, Jessie Leitch.  He was to preach for several weeks at the Moody Church in Chicago, where he had been guest preacher the previous fall.

As soon as it was apparent that the ship was at some point going to sink, Harper immediately took his daughter and sister-in-law to a lifeboat. He bent down and kissed Nina, then looked into her eyes and told her that she would see him again.

He then ran throughout the doomed ship crying out, “Women, children, and unsaved into the lifeboats!”, and to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!”.  He was warning people of the danger before them, talking to them about the eternal destiny of their souls.

Even as the rear of the huge ship began to slowly lurch upwards, Harper was seen making his way up the deck proclaiming the same message.  Later, when the Titanic began to rumble deep within, most people thought it was an explosion.  But it was actually the gargantuan ship literally breaking in half. At this point, many people jumped off the decks and into the icy, dark waters below. Harper was one of these people.

Harper continued preaching the Gospel to those in the freezing water, admonishing people to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ!”.  And when the mighty ship went under, he clung to whatever piece of wreckage he could to continue his sermon.

Harper was seen swimming over to people in the water telling them of the salvation that is found in Jesus alone, and to trust in Him before it was too late.

Harper swam over to one young man who had climbed up on a piece of debris. Harper asked him, “Are you saved?”.

The young man replied that he was not.  Harper then tried to lead him to Christ only to have the young man who was near shock, reply “No”.  Harper then took off his life jacket and threw it to the man and said, “Here then, you need this more than I do!”, and swam away to other people.

A few minutes later, Harper swam back to the young man and this time, the man had come to a point salvation.

Of the 1,528 people that went into the frigid waters that night, six were rescued by the lifeboats.  One of them was this young man on the debris.

Four years later, at a meeting of the survivors of the ship, this young man stood up and in tears recounted how John Harper had led him to Christ.  He stated that after meeting with Harper for the last time, the pastor tried to swim back to help other people, yet because of the intense cold, he had grown too weak to swim.

Harper’s final moments were recounted by this man in these very words.  He said:

“I was drifting alone on a spar that night, when the tide brought Mr. Harper, also on a piece of wreck, near me.  ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’.  ‘No’, I said, ‘I am not.’.  He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’.  The waves bore him away, but strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’.  ‘No’, I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’.  He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved’, and shortly after, he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper’s last convert.”.

Harper’s last words before going under in the frigid waters were “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved!”.

Does Hollywood remember this heroic man?

No.

But that doesn’t matter.

This servant of God did what he had to do. While other people were trying to save their own lives, John Harper gave up his own life so that others could be saved.

When looking back at Harper, one may think of John 15v13: Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.

And when you look back at all of the extremely wealthy people we’ve mentioned this morning, there’s one verse that should come to mind–  Mark 8v36:  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?

Jesus says in Matthew 19v24 that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God”.   It is not the fact that a person has riches that keeps them from Heaven, but the fact that riches have them.  Their riches rule them.  It’s just like the rich young ruler who asked Jesus (Luke 18) how he could inherit eternal life.  In the end, the rich young ruler couldn’t do it, because he was too attached to his worldly possessions, and with doing things that are not God’s ways.

Having millions upon millions in your bank account may give you an awesome sense of power.  But what is the true value of these things if in the gaining or having of them you lose your own soul?

To build the Titanic one hundred years ago cost £4.7 million ($7.5 million).  Each of these wealthy men could have bought the Titanic.  In fact, they each could have bought it many times over.

Yet they couldn’t buy a ticket onto a lifeboat to save themselves.  All this wealth could not save them.  It never can.

John Harper was richer than any person on the Titanic.  He already had much more than the world could ever offer.  He showed that he had more wealth than all the rest of them put together.  Harper had eternity.

Think for a moment of the greatest ambition that you have. If you could be anything you wanted to be, if you could have anything you wanted to have, what would that be?  What would you choose?

Now, if in achieving that goal, you lost your own soul, would it be worth it?

And if you did indeed gain the whole world, how long do you think you could hold on to it?  How long could you enjoy it?  Fifty years?

What Jesus was talking about was eternity.  “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”.  That’s eternal.  The gaining of the world is only for a very short time.  The pleasures of this world are always limited, they all have definite time limitations.  But a walk with God is forever.  And it can start here on Earth, just as we see with John Harper.

So, again, if you could have anything that you wanted, if you could have anything you desired, absolutely anything, what would it be?

If you were able to achieve or to attain that wish, that desire, but it cost you your soul, what would it profit you?  What would it profit you if you gained the whole world, but you lost your own soul?  Is it worth the cost?

Of course it’s not.

So if trading the biggest thing you can imagine or wish for isn’t worth exchanging that for your soul–  then what about the little things?  What about the little things that you think and say and do that keep you from the treasures of the Kingdom?  Are they worth exchanging for what God has for you?

Turn in your Bibles to Mark 8v34-37.  In my Bible, this section is headed, “Take Up the Cross and Follow Him”:


34 When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.
35 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.
36 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?
37 Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?

If we are going to live “the abundant life” that Jesus promises in John 10v10, it’s not going to be gotten doing things the way the world does them.  It’s not going to be gained by having or pursuing the things of this world.  In fact, in John 10v10, Jesus says “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
The world will steal and kill and destroy that abundant life God promises us if we choose to pursue these things over pursuing the ways of God.  Jesus Himself tells us that if we are to have the abundant life, then we are to deny ourselves, to take up our own crosses.  This is the very opposite of the way of the world.

But it is the only way.

Money and power and pursuing the things of this world will not get us into Heaven any more than these things got Titanic’s wealthy men into lifeboats.  In fact, they will be the very things that will keep us from truly knowing God.  The only way we can get into Heaven is by trusting in Christ, who paid for our passage on the Cross.

John 14:15 and The Love & Discipline of God

My son is three. He is a wonderful boy. He likes trains and animals (chickens are his favorite, followed very closely by our cats and dog). I have often been told that one’s children teach many things, and tonight my son taught me something about the love and discipline of God. In the book of Hebrews chapter 12v 5,6, we are reminded about how it is that God treats us as his children, “And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”

My son has always been a good sleeper, but the past few nights he has been staying up for some unknown reason. I have faithfully been putting him back to bed, and tonight I had a talk with him about discipline. The thrust of the conversation was that I discipline him because one day God will. I told him to go to sleep and left.

A few minutes later, I heard a rustling at his door. I stand right outside it, and as he opens it, he see’s me and drops his flashlight and jumps in bed. I follow quickly behind him. As soon as I sit on the bed, he finds me in the dark and says, ” I love you Da-Da,” while cuddling into my arms. The world seemed to freeze. A Bible verse came to mind, ” If you love me, keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) and I thought to myself, this must be how it is with God, our Father. He tells us what to do, and as soon as we think he isn’t looking… we do our own thing. He comes in and we rush back into doing the right thing, but He knows everything that happened. When God comes near as his children we rush to him crying out, I love you Daddy.  I believe that God, through the scriptures says what I said to my son, If you love me, obey me; I love you, son, I want what is best for you. God could have revealed himself in any number of rolls and ways, but one of the primary ways was as Father, and Hebrews reminds us that we are sons.  God disciplines us, for the same reason I discipline my boy, to conform our hearts to Christ.

Washington State, Gay Marriage and Christianity.

Last night it was all over the news that the state of Washington passed a bill that would allow for gay marriage. Rather then remaking an argument against this from a Christian perspective (as we all know that no one will be swayed by it, and it has been said by others in much better terms than I could say it), I would simply like to point out that the now tired pro-gay argument of equality has fallen flat on its face. Allow me to illustrate with a statement from the New York Times:

Washington has steadily expanded rights for gay and lesbian couples since 2006, when it approved domestic partnerships. In 2009, it passed a so-called everything-but-marriage bill, which was challenged in a public referendum and upheld by voters, 53 to 47.         ( Emphasis added)

If equal rights was the goal and not the systematic redefinition of marriage, why wasn’t the 2009 law enough?

As a Christian, I believe I am called to love truth. Yet, it seems that on this type of issue many Christians are allowing themselves to be ignorant of the facts rather than stand against culture.  The law of God is to be a curb to wicked men, but when that law is unknown or, worse, rejected as invalid it can not function to restrain evil.

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted. (1 Tim 1:8-11)

Dr. Greg Bahnsen explains that, “The law provides an external standard of justice which can be applied within the civil sphere, as is evident from Paul’s mentioning of transgressions which can particularly be given cognizance by human law. The law was enacted or laid down, says Paul, for the unruly -such as murderers, kidnapers, homosexuals, perjurers, and the like. The law by its very nature aims to restrain the misconduct of lawless men.” (The Functions of God’s Law)

As believers we must stand up and preach the Law and the Gospel. That is the hope of nations.

Lunch With an ICOC Friend

Have you ever had that friend who said they were a Christian… They used the right terms most of the time, and you never really gave it a second thought? I am coming to realize that I, all too often, take people at their word on this too easily. What I mean is that there are a lot of “weird” beliefs out there that pass for “Christian” and without really digging deeper into it, things can seem good on the surface.  While I love discussing theology, apologetics, etc… I generally do that with people who I attend Church or old friends with whom I grew up.  I have a personal quirk/flaw… I am opinionated, so I try not to discuss things with brothers I may offend.

Today, I went to lunch with a friend of mine from work who I knew was a pastor. I didn’t know what church he went to, and so I figured I would dig around to see what I could learn- theology talk around the office is always a good thing. I started with a simple enough question: “What church do you go to?” He quickly replied with, “The Church of Christ.”

Now in my mind there were two options — one was the restoration movement non-instrumental Church of Christ, which can have issues with Baptismal Regeneration and can be hetrodox or can be orthodox. The other option was just pure trouble. It could be the International Church of Christ.  I would put this one in the “Danger Will Robinson, Danger” category, aka. borderline cultic.  Some of the problems that came to mind were:

  • Baptism, by immersion, is essential to salvation.
  • Baptism must be as a true “disciple” or it is not valid.
  • Baptism must be performed in the International Church of Christ to be valid.
  • Being a disciple is necessary to be a Christian.

 

After a couple of questions, it came to light that it was indeed the latter of the options… and I was disappointed. We began to discuss the baptism of Jesus, and he was making some common statements, about it being to fulfill the law and to be an example for believers to follow. I have had this conversation with people from various Christian  perspectives.  

There seems to be an almost universal ignorance of what law had to be fulfilled. Hebrews explains that Jesus is our High Priest. Now in order for Jesus to be a priest, he had to fulfill the legal requirements of priesthood.  He had to be consecrated for the priesthood, which included a sin offering [not needed for the sinless Son of God], being washed with water (Lev. 8:6Exodus 29:4),  being anointed with oil (Lev. 8:12Exodus 29:7), and being 30+ years of age may have also been a requirement (Num. 4:3). We see clearly in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus had these things done. He was washed in baptism and was anointed not with oil, but with the Holy Spirit, through whom he would do miracles. 

I tried to explain this to the man, who as is commonly the case, wouldn’t listen to the other side. I love it when people act as if they can simply quote Acts 2:38 as if someone who disagrees with them has never read that verse, or perhaps that they used the Black Highlighter on it. 

I have a couple of pieces of advice should you come across someone who holds to this view or a similar one:

  1. Ask them if Abraham was saved without baptism, and if the method of salvation is universal throughout the old and new covenants.
  2. Press the issue of Cornelius in Acts 10. Specifically, I would focus on the following and ask the question: Does the Holy Spirit indwell unsaved men?

While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days. (Act 10:44-48)

3. Press very hard on Romans 5:1ff, it says we are justified by faith. How can justified  men be unsaved?

Sacred Journey: A Protestant at an Interfaith Dialogue

Interfaith Dialogue

When a pastor friend of mine told me that there was an interfaith dialogue at George Fox University, the local college, I was excited to go. I have read, studied, and listened to and about this type of thing, but never had attended one in the flesh. I figured it would be an eye opening experience.

Interfaith Dialogue

The speakers were a Zen Buddhist teacher, a Rabbi, a Muslim and a Woman Pastor (From George Fox). The music and rayers were done by the local Baha’i Center. (see their bios)

Bios of Interfaith Speakers, George Fox 1/15/12

 

The Jewish Rabbi spoke first. I took notes. By no means is this a complete discussion or recounting, but rather it just hits the things that I felt were most noteworthy. He was discussing the Jewish “Master Story”. He said it was a story of the confronting of power and that the story was centered in Exodus and Numbers. He went on to explain that need to confront power (Pharaoh) and go to the promised land.

The thing that really got to me was the Rabbi’s discussion extolling doubt as a virtue. He started of like this: “You know those tv preachers… I am envious of them, of their confidence.” *Audience has sporadic laughter and agreement*. He continued to expound on the idea of doubt is a virtue of faith. This idea was linked to the idea of a rabbi discouraging a non-Jew from becoming Jewish.  It was a somewhat non-nonsensical argument in my mind.

From a Christian perspective this guy was coming out of shallow left field. Doubt isn’t a virtue. Faith is. Nowhere in his presentation, which included a lengthy discussion of Jews seeking justice for the oppressed, was there anything about looking for a messiah. Maybe it is just my Christian perspective, but I thought that the Jews were still looking forward to the Messiah. How is it that we can have a discussion of faith and not mention Jesus the whole time. I wish that he would have answered the question: Who is Jesus to you?

The Muslim speaker presented next. He opened up with a commentary on the moderators opening comments. He was focused upon this idea of justice, and how justice was missing from many of the presentations of this kind ( speaking of interfaith discussions I believe). I found myself somewhat frustrated by this talk of justice by a Muslim. It was my belief that justice for this man meant something that is injustice from not just a Christian perspective, but from every other perspective represented there: namely, Sharia Law.  I had stopped listening and my mind was flooded with the few specifics of Sharia that I knew and perhaps the only verse in the Qur’an that I know by heart – O you who believe! do not take the Jews and the Christians for friends; they are friends of each other; and whoever amongst you takes them for a friend, then surely he is one of them; surely Allah does not guide the unjust people. — Qur’an 5:51.  So Here is a man standing before me who is preaching a justice that would mean my ( and the rest of those present who were not Muslim) subjugation, oppressive taxation or death. My mind then went on to wonder how many people were actually understanding what he wasn’t saying here. How many people would understand that his concept of justice is in fact unjust.

I came back from my thoughts, in time to hear him begin discussing how cartoons of the prophet are offensive. He explained that from the Islamic perspective all the prophets are to be respected. He then went through in Arabic some of the highlights of the OT prophets, asking the crowd if they could recognize which prophet he meant. Then he got to Isa. I knew I was about to be galled. The crowd of course didn’t recognize the name. He pressured them and finally told us that it was the prophet we would call Jesus; and that we got his name wrong. The smug arrogance of the statement was thick in the air. I could tell that many of the Christians had a deep disagreement and frustration by this statement, which was oddly encouraging that they seemed to take a stand on something.  I would have loved to press this guy on this idea and on the concept that he actually respects Jesus as a prophet, given that he denies what Jesus taught.  I get the feeling that he doesn’t understand that Jesus claimed for himself divinity ( John 8:48ff).

He then went on to discuss Muslim prayers, something that I found interesting is that he said that you get more credit [with Allah] if you pray with at least one other person. The idea was that it was somehow a better work than simply praying alone.  He then discussed heaven and how it is about having more good works than bad works. I was sure that his 15 minutes had elapsed at this point. He must have discussed prayer for another 5 minutes.

He seemed to be winding down, with the concept of missionary work being offensive to Muslims. He said if you come to the poorest and dig a well that is good, but if you dig the well and “Bring your Christ” it is offensive. He made it seem like this type of thing is akin to taking advantage of the poor.  With this he finished. I sat back thinking to myself how he really just didn’t tell the whole story. From my understanding, the concept here is that Jesus is not God in Islam. That to come and preach that Jesus is God is what is offensive to the Muslim.  They need us to do these things for them, but don’t want Christ preached beyond what the Qur’an says about him.

Here is the problem: The Message of Christ is Offensive. ( cf. Gal 5:11, 1 Pet 2:8, Rom 9:33)  I know this may come as a shock to you — the Gospel of the crucified God-Man Jesus Christ is just as offensive to the Muslim as it was to the Jews and Greeks.

One might think that I am a bit off the reservation with the whole justice and Sharia law issue. After Mr. Ahmed’s presentation, I went up to him and asked him if he felt that Sharia law was perfectly Just. His answer was no surprise, he said that it was absolutely just. I would assert that any man who consistently holds to that position, and believes that such a law should govern any land, can never ultimately have religious agreement with a non-Muslim. The difference in concept of justice is so definitively separate. To be clear, that doesn’t mean that he will be violent, abusive or destructive to those of another faith.

Mr. Carlson Spoke after the break. I am not really going to say much about his presentation, for two reasons. 1. Buddhism as a non-Abrahamic faith would require a lot of explaining and 2. Given that he holds to a non-theistic view of Buddhism, the specifics don’t matter as much as the general theism issue in my mind. He is simply an Atheist with an Eastern philosophical-religious system at the end of the day. I believe he should be addressed as any atheist would.

The Final speaker of the night was Sarah Baldwin, the George Fox Campus Pastor. I did Call Mrs. Baldwin a couple days after the event to clarify a couple of things. Sarah presented what she called a “Theology of Suffering.” The focus of her presentation was that we experience the Christian life not as Jesus and me, but as Jesus and we. She stated off with a story about going to Calcutta. She said she was struck by the amount of suffering. She began to tell of a woman who was naked on the streets, and how she experienced “Jesus in the flesh, in the eyes of that woman.”  She then said that she could make sense of the gospel, “whatever you do for the least of these.”  I was ready to lose it.1  The Gospel is not whatever you do for the least of these, the Gospel is defined for us by Paul as –

…That Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.                  1 Corinthians 15:3ff (ESV)

I would say that if we are offering up a gospel different from what Paul dictates for us in scripture, we are in serious trouble.

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.
Galations 1:8-9

However, the most problematic statement by Mrs. Baldwin was, “by Jesus’ Death, he carries our suffering.” I don’t need a crucified savior to relate with my suffering, I need him to remove my sin.

Here’s my big problem with the whole event. There wasn’t a clear proclamation of law and gospel. There was no call to repentance of sinners. I understand an event to gain knowledge about other faiths, but I believe that Christians that are given an audience of non-believers, should be compelled to call them to repent. If we believe that hell is real, and people are really going there, how could we function otherwise?

If interfaith events can create unity between contradictory faiths, it must be by the abandonment of the uniqueness of each or one. Moreover, Biblical Christianity is incompatible with any other religion, if we are to keep its unique truths. I believe Paul says it best:

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.”
2 Corinthians 6:14-18

1 —  in my later call with Sarah, she clarified that the gospel isn’t “whatever you do for the least of these,” and she described the gospel as what I would call the Eschatology of Hope, the good news of resurrection and the kingdom of God becoming present.

Do Miracles “Violate” the “Laws” of Nature?

I remember reading the work of a popular apologist not too long ago in which radical higher criticism was briefly analyzed in order to expose its anti-supernatural presuppositions. The author did a great job in showing how the claims of radical higher criticism cannot be substantiated without first presupposing that (i.)God does not exist or (ii.)if God exists then He cannot violate the Laws of Nature by performing miracles, but I had a problem with the language he used for (ii.). I found the wording of (ii.) to be problematic in two ways. Firstly, for the Christian, the wording presupposes that particular metaphysical claims espoused by the unbeliever are true and must be accepted as such (i.e. the wording makes an unnecessary concession to the unbeliever’s implied worldview); and secondly, for the unbeliever, asking whether or not God can violate the Laws of Nature involves assuming (a.)a particular worldview that Biblical Christianity does not teach, and it also (b.)is guilty of the fallacy of equivocation.

The question of whether or not miracles violate the Laws of Nature presupposes a theology that has more in common with deism than it does with Biblical theism, as it presupposes that Nature was created by God only to be left to sustain and perpetuate its own existence apart from the perpetual exercise of His omnipotence. In other words, the question of whether or not miracles violate the Laws of Nature presupposes that God is not currently working with His creation, but has left it to itself. However, Scripture teaches us that God currently upholds all things by the power of His Word.[1] This means that although it is true that God made all things to fulfill a particular task, and has equipped them with the necessary means of fulfilling their appointed tasks, it is ultimately by His omnipotence that they exist and continue to exist.[2]

Not only this, but when we look to the Old Testament we see that God promises Israel agricultural prosperity on the basis of their obedience to His Law.[3] Therefore, creation obeys God whenever He speaks (whether in His blessing it,[4] or in His cursing it[5]). God cannot violate the Laws of Nature because He sustains all things, upholds all things, constantly and, therefore, never stops exercising Omnipotent power over all of His creation. Christians need to state this clearly: God can only be said to violate the Laws of Nature from a human standpoint. In truth, the sun rises and sets because God has (i.)created the sun to fulfill that particular task and (ii.)chosen to allow it to continue to so function. God is not under obligation to sustain all things, but is free to allow them to fall apart, or cause them to behave in a way that they never will behave again. God is the Author of Life and the One who sustains it.

The unbeliever who tells the Christian that miracles cannot happen because they violate the Laws of Nature is, as I’ve already noted, working with a deistic theology and not a Trinitarian/Biblical theology. God does not violate Laws of Nature that would otherwise operate on their own, apart from the perpetual exercise of His omnipotence, by causing His creation to do something unrepeatable and unique to a particular time and place. In addition to this, the unbeliever who says that miracles are a violation of the Laws of Nature mistakenly understands the Laws of Nature to be prescriptive Laws and not descriptive Laws. Ironically, the unbeliever, when told that God determined the Laws of Nature to be x or y will vehemently remind the Christian that Natural Laws are merely descriptions of what is the case and not prescriptions as to how things are to function! Either the Laws of Nature are prescriptive and can be said to be violated, or they are descriptive, in which case it is logically impossible for them to be “violated.” The unbeliever could, of course, assert that the Laws of Nature are prescriptive and can be “violated,” but then they would be stuck with the embarrassing question:

What Lawgiver prescribed these Natural Laws?

Miracles, then, are not a violation of the Laws of Nature for the following reasons: (i.)Christianity is not a deistic system of belief and (ii.)if the Laws of Nature are descriptive it is logically impossible for them to be “violated.” Beyond the problems already mentioned in this article, the question of whether or not miracles are a violation of the Laws of Nature begs the question of whether or not miracles are possible by identifying them as violations, thus stacking the deck against the Christian.

-h.


[1] Cf. Hebrews 1:3

[2] Cf. Psalm 104:10, 14, 20, & 24-30;  Matthew 6:26-30; Colossians 1:15-17; Revelation 4:11

[3] Cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-5, 12, 15-18, & 23

[4] Cf. Genesis 1:11-12

[5] Cf. Genesis 3:17-18

When Christopher Hitchens Dies, He will Still Hate God

Before I even start I want to make a few things known to you the reader.  I hope and pray that God will be merciful to Christopher Hitchens and grants him the gift of repentance and brings him to faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins.  I would enjoy a Heaven that has Christopher Hitchens in it.  Let me go one step further, I would enjoy heaven with Adolph Hitler as a resident, if he was brought to repentance and faith before he died.  You have to have the right theological mindset to be able to accept what I just wrote.  Hitler does not deserve hell for eternity more than I do.  I am so grateful for God’s wondrous grace, mercy and love for such a sinful buffoon like me.  I have been praying for Mr. Hitchens and will continue to pray until all hope is gone, and that being when he takes the last breath that God has so graciously afforded him up to this point in time.

If Christopher does not come to repentance and faith in Christ alone then, regardless of what Rob Bell thinks, when he passes from this life, he will, as the rich man in Luke 16, open his eyes in hell, and he will be tormented by the flames.  I do not want this for him, but the reality is what it is.

If you have been living under a proverbial rock  and don’t know who Christopher Hitchens is, do a quick scan on Google and you will find out that he is one of the premiere atheists of our time.  He is intelligent and a very abled speaker and writer.  And at the time that I am writing this, he is dying of throat cancer and has lost his ability to speak.

He said this in Vanity Fair in October of 2010:

An enormous number of secular and atheist friends have told me encouraging and flattering things like: “If anyone can beat this, you can”; “Cancer has no chance against someone like you”; “We know you can vanquish this.” On bad days, and even on better ones, such exhortations can have a vaguely depressing effect. If I check out, I’ll be letting all these comrades down. A different secular problem also occurs to me: what if I pulled through and the pious faction contentedly claimed that their prayers had been answered? That would somehow be irritating.

So the Atheist worldview has him not wanting to die so as to let his atheistic friends and fans down, but also not wanting to live so his ‘enemies’ won’t be able to glorify God for his healing.  He is right, that is depressing.

Christian Today Australia reported in April of 2011 about a letter he wrote to the American Atheists conference:

Rallying atheists to form a resistance against “this sinister nonsense,” the cancer-stricken unbeliever called on his fellow atheists to defend and uphold the separation of Church and State. He concluded his letter with the line, “don’t keep the faith.”

Here we see the evidence of the continued hatred for religion as a whole and the defiance of the existence of God.

But does Christopher Hitchens really not believe in God?  He would like you to think so.  I have always heard that it is impossible to prove a negative, yet he has spent his life trying to prove that God doesn’t exist and that he doesn’t believe in Him.  But God tells us in his word that which Mr. Hitchens insists is not there, the reality of the existence of God is known to him, and he is fighting to hide it:

Rom 1:18-20

(18)  For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.

(19)  For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.

(20)  For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.

There is no neutral ground, sinners hate God, and they want to stamp Him out of their minds.

The nature of the sinner does not change after death.  He does not sit in hell and lament all the wrong he has done.  Where did we get these ideas? From Dante?  The God cusser is still a God cusser, the adulterer is still an adulterer, and the God hating, blaspheming atheist still shakes his fist at the God he will still insist isn’t there, yet the reality that he/she is suffering the eternal punishment for their sins against the eternal God will be undeniable .

God does not send neutral souls to suffer for eternity, read what the scripture says:

Rev 21:6-8

(6)  And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.

(7)  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.

(8)  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

 

They are still recognized and identified in their utterly depraved state and will remain that way forever with no opportunity to repent.  Hades is full of sinners that still desire to sin, but yet unable to fulfill those wicked desires that took them there.

Read what Dr. James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries said in a sermon titled “The Carmen Christi” at Arann Reformed Baptist Church earlier this year(around 47:15 mark):

…right now God restrains the madness of man, but once the restraint is taken off in hell itself, what torture must it be to stand upon the parapets of hell screaming your hatred of God for eternity, knowing there is nothing you can do any longer, to in any way hurt God or his creation.  People say “we are going to be partying in hell”.  No. You are going to be alone.  Alone with your hatred and self destruction.

You don’t stop sinning.  That’s why the punishment doesn’t stop.  And I am convinced that if you were to reach into the pit of hell, 10,000 years into eternity, grab a smoking soul, bring it out and sit it down, and say “Here’s your choice: either love the Lord your God with your heart, soul, mind and strength and  worship Him in purity or turn around and walk right back in to where you are” every single one would turn around, spit at you and dive right back into where they were.

The reality for Christopher Hitchens is this: his current hatred and denial of God will not change after death.  He will not stand before God and beg for mercy, he will continue to blaspheme, hate, and reject the God of the universe.  The only change will be the lack of personal satisfaction of getting away with defying God that he enjoys here.  There will be no more longsuffering by God.  No more mercy.  No more undeserved blessings of life and breath.  God will judge him for his sins and be just in casting Mr. Hitchens into hell for eternity.

Sad isn’t it.  I do not glory in what will happen, but I do glory in the righteousness of God who is right in all that he does.

Will God grant Christopher repentance?  I pray and hope so, but if not, God is still just.

 

 

Identifying “Christian” Cults

Reading the Fine Print

In a previous post on the harm that cult leaders like Harold Camping can cause confused Christians, I gave a brief testimony of my stint in a cult. In the comment section of this post, a reader reported to me that he had visited the cult’s website and couldn’t any evidence of their being a cult. And he’s right. On paper, or as it were on-line, everything is fine. That’s why I chose to attend their services. It wasn’t until I had been attending there for some time that I began to see that the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith was a confession that they only claimed to hold to, as I found out that the leader denies justification by grace alone through faith alone (i.e. the Gospel), says that faith is the effectual cause of justification as opposed to the instrumental cause of justification,[1] practices what is called thought-reform/cognitive reconstruction, i.e. “brainwashing,” and emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically abused the members of his cult. In his hands, the Bible became a book where he was Moses and the people in the pews were the rebellious children of Israel. In other words, he was faultless in his own eyes. He even referenced Scripture about Christ as if it referred to himself. But you wouldn’t know that just from taking a glance at their website.

This may be the case in many churches that have a solidly orthodox confession/statement of faith, but who don’t actually believe what the contents of that confession/statement of faith. The place that I got sucked into used the 1689 London Baptist Confession as a badge of honor, a means of separating themselves from “the world” (i.e. whoever did not attend their congregation) in a self-righteous manner. All of this, again, can’t be noted just from looking at their website; I had to learn the hard way. And I thank the Lord that I did. You see, the individual professor of faith in Christ is not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture. This is true in two ways: (i.)with respect to oneself and (ii.)with respect to one’s pastor. After leaving my spiritual life in the hands of an abusive cult leader, I learned that he was not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture. I also learned that I was not the sole infallible interpreter of Scripture as I struggled with his heretical beliefs and how I was to effectively demonstrate their heinousness. I was forced to read my Bible more intently, more frequently, and more prayerfully. I was also forced to study theology more intently and to compare what I was reading with I knew from Scripture. And I wound up seeing how the Lord has blessed His church with teachers who have faithfully exegeted Scripture and preached the Law and the Gospel faithfully to their congregations. This was particularly encouraging, as I then understood that it is the Lord who preserves His church. He cares for His flock, feeds them, and leads them into glory.

What’s the Point of All This?

I wrote this follow up blog primarily deal with what is a real problem in many places but often goes unaddressed in the bigger ecclesiastical discussions (at least in my opinion). The problem of cults that have an external badge of orthodoxy but which preach a false Gospel, nearly deify the “pastor,” and which condone psychological, emotional, and spiritual abuse needs to be addressed for what it is. During my time of learning about cults, and learning that I was in a cult myself(!), the Lord graciously led me to some resources that helped me and my wife understand how it is that we were being abused. Below, I’ve provided a list of resources that were very helpful to my family in adding our ability to reason properly about our situation, identify the place we were sucked into for what it was/is (i.e. a cult), and gain Scriptural encouragement to leave that cult. Many cults are easily spotted; however, what is more psychologically unsettling and spiritually devastating is when a place has all the external marks of being a faithful church, and is really a place of bondage, oppression, and abuse.

If you are in a “church” and feel as though you might really be in a cult, I’d advise you to pray, ask the Lord for His guidance, and ask Him to reveal what lies hidden in the darkness. He is faithful and won’t give you a stone if you ask Him for bread. My wife and I prayed for the Lord to show us the cult leader’s heresy, and after some time the leader preached heresy pretty openly from the pulpit. Also ask the Lord for wisdom to understand His Word. And ask the Lord to lead you to commentaries that are trustworthy, sound in their theology. Don’t be afraid to question the person teaching you. If that person gets enraged (as the cult leader I confronted did), or belittles you (as the cult leader I confronted did), or refuses to answer your questions on  matters that are of eternal significance (as the cult leader I confronted did), then that is enough of a warning signal to you that what you are involved in is at the least a church where the “pastor” should not be exercising spiritual authority over anyone, let alone pretending to be the shepherd over God’s flock; and at the worst, it is a cult where you must bow the knee in submission to the pope or suffer excommunication from his kingdom.

If you need help identifying whether or not you are in a cult, CARM has an excellent page that concisely breaks down the visible signs of what a cult is, as well as the spiritual and moral teachings that are universal when it comes to cults (e.g. all cults have a distorted understanding of the Gospel). In addition to CARM’s cult page, here are some resources that I found online that were a great blessing to me and my family. I hope they will help you as they helped us.

Solus Deo Gloria.

-h.

———————————————————————————————–

Resources

How to Identify Cults Posturing as Churches

 

Is Your Church Free From Cultic Tendencies? A Checklist for Responsible Christians (batteredsheep.com)

 

When Should a Christian Leave a Church? [Pts. 1, 2, & 3] (John G. Reisinger at batteredsheep.com)

 

Signs of a Destructive Cult (factnet.org)

 

What is Mind Control? (factnet.org)


[1] This distinction, although I haven’t heard many preachers talk about it, is extremely important, as it distinguishes the true Gospel from false Gospels. Faith as the instrumental cause means that faith is passive, receptive, receiving salvation; Faith as the effectual cause means that faith is rewarded with eternal life, which is completely heretical. Charles Hodge gives a concise and proper definition of the Christian understanding of faith as the instrumental cause of justification in his Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Chap. XVII, Sec. 8.4.

The common doctrine of Protestants on this subject is that faith is merely the instrumental cause of justification. It is the act of receiving and resting upon Christ, and has no other relation to the end than any other act by which a proffered good is accepted. This is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, (1.) Because we are constantly said to be justified by, or through faith. (2.) Because the faith which justifies is described as a looking, as a receiving, as a coming, as a fleeing for refuge, as a laying hold of, and as a calling upon. (3.) Because the ground to which our justification is referred, and that on which the sinner’s trust is placed, is declared to be the blood, the death, the righteousness, the obedience of Christ. (4.) Because the fact that Christ is a ransom, a sacrifice, and as such effects our salvation, of necessity supposes that the faith which interests us in the merit of his work is a simple act of trust. (5.) Because any other view of the case is inconsistent with the gratuitous nature of justification, with the honour of Christ, and with the comfort and confidence of the believer.

(Online Source)

Standing in opposition to the Scriptural teaching on faith as the instrumental cause of justification is the view of faith as the ground of justification, or as the effectual cause of justification, which was held by the Remonstrants (i.e. Arminians). Hodge explains their position in 8.3.

According to the Remonstrants or Arminians, faith is the ground of justification. Under the Gospel God accepts our imperfect obedience including faith and springing from it, in place of the perfect obedience demanded by the law originally given to Adam. There is one passage in the Bible, or rather one form of expression, which occurs in several places, which seems to favour this view of the subject. In Romans iv. 3, it is said, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness;” and again in ver. 22 of that chapter, and in Galatians iii. 6.

(ibid.)

 

Hodge then goes on to explain how the view of the Arminians/Remonstrants is unscriptural.

 

If this phrase be interpreted according to the analogy of such passages as Romans ii. 26, “Shall not his uncircumcision be counted for circumcision?” it does mean that faith is taken or accepted for righteousness. The Bible, however, is the word of God and therefore self-consistent. Consequently if a passage admits of one interpretation inconsistent with the teaching of the Bible in other places, and of another interpretation consistent with that teaching, we are bound to accept the latter. This rule, simple and obvious as it is, is frequently violated, not only by those who deny the inspiration of the Scriptures, but even by men professing to recognize their infallible authority. They seem to regard it as a proof of independence to make each passage mean simply what its grammatical structure and logical connection indicate, without the least regard to the analogy of Scripture. This is unreasonable.

[…]

What, therefore, Abraham believed, was that the seed of the woman, the Shiloh, the promised Redeemer of the world, was to be born of him. He believed in Christ, as his Saviour, as his righteousness, and deliverer, and therefore it was that he was accepted as righteous, not for the merit of his faith, and not on the ground of faith, or by taking faith in lieu of righteousness, but because he received and rested on Christ alone for his salvation.

(ibid., emphasis mine)

Apologetics and the Law/Gospel Distinction

Law/Gospel?

Before getting into this topic, we have to establish what the following verses have in common. I’ve chosen a number of verses from throughout the New Testament. Let’s take a look at them.

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.[1]

Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?[2]

…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…[3]

Now the Law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more…[4]

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.[5]

All of the above verses, as you may have noticed, draw a distinction between the Law, on the one hand, and the Gospel, on the other hand. The Law tells us what God commands; the Gospel tells us what God promises. The Law says, “Do this and live;” the Gospel says, “Christ died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised,”[6] and “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” Reformed minister in the Church of Scotland, John Colquhoun summarizes the Biblical Law/Gospel distinction in this way:

The Law…promises eternal life to man on condition of his own perfect obedience, and of the obedience of no other; whereas [the Gospel] promises it on condition of the perfect obedience of Christ received by faith, and that of no other. The promise of Law as a covenant is the promise of God as an absolute God; but the promise of the Gospel is the promise of God as a God of grace in Christ. The promise of the former was to have been performed after obedience, whereas the promise of the latter begins to be performed to the true believer before, and in order to, his obedience. In the Law of works the promise of privilege is grounded upon the performance of duty; but in the Gospel the performance of duty is founded on the promise, and even the enjoyment, of privilege. The promise of the Law is strictly conditional, but the leading promises of the Gospel are, to us, entirely absolute.[7]

This distinction is important to the whole of the Christian faith, as it concisely describes the two ways in which man relates to God. A man is either under the Law, or he is under grace; there is no middle ground. A man is either the recipient of God’s wrath or the recipient of His grace. A man is either condemned by the Law, or he is justified by the Gospel. To those who are proud in heart, we preach the Law to show them their sin, “so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no flesh shall be justified in His sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin.”[8] To those who are laden with guilt, upon whose hearts the weight of their rebellion against God continually rests, to these Christ says: “I will give you rest…and you will find rest for your souls.”[9]

What Does this Distinction Have to Do with Apologetics?

“Apologetics is the branch of Christianity that deals with the defense and establishment of the Christian faith.”[10] As such, it is concerned with providing answers to common objections to the Christian faith, which are, in essence, objections to the revealed character and will of God. To object to the revealed character of God is to object to God Himself; and to object to the revealed will of God is to object to His standard of moral judgment; it is, therefore, to sin. On the other hand, apologetics aims to provide not only a critique of non-Christian worldviews, but also seeks to establish the Christian faith. These two ways of doing apologetics have been called negative apologetics and positive apologetics. In my own estimation, negative apologetics, which seeks to dismantle supposed opposition to the Christian faith, corresponds roughly to the Law, the primary purpose of which is to remove the unbeliever’s supposed grounds for continuing in sin; whereas positive apologetics, which presents proofs in favor of the Christian faith, corresponds roughly to the Gospel. The former exposes the heart of Christ’s opponents in revealing their underlying presuppositions and removing the possibility of making excuses for themselves; the latter is declarative, presenting the Christian faith to the unbeliever in purely positive terms. Here are some texts that will, I hope, show you what I mean.

[a.] “Negative” Apologetics (Law) [b.] “Positive” Apologetics (Gospel)
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ…[11] 

 

We must be able to refute those who are in error[12]

 

 

God has destroyed the wisdom of the wise[13]

But in our hearts we honor the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us…[14] 

 

But we must hold firm to the trustworthy Word [of the Gospel] as taught, and give instruction therein…[15]

 

But Christ has become for us wisdom from God[16]

In column [a.], the task is one of deconstruction, destroying opposing worldviews; in column [b.], the task is one of building up, making a defense. Again, in column [a.] the task corresponds to the preaching of the Law in that it removes any supposed excuse an unbeliever may present for his unbelief; in column [b.], the task corresponds to the Gospel in that it presents a positive case for the Christian faith. The former leaves the proud unbeliever without excuse, removing all pretence, and exposing the nature of his unbelief (it is moral first and intellectual second); the latter gives the unbeliever what he cannot on his own find and possess: the truth.

Application

Understanding the rough correlation between Negative/Positive Apologetics and Law/Gospel Distinction, I think, may be helpful in guiding our interactions with non-Christians. There is a time for negative/deconstructive/destructive apologetics; and there is a time for positive/constructive apologetics. The question of which methodology would be best to use depends on the situation at hand. As the Law is for the proud and the Gospel is for those humbled by God’s convicting Word by the power of the Holy Spirit, so negative apologetics, for me, has usually been most helpful in dealing with those who think that they have strong, rock-solid anti-Christian arguments, while positive apologetics has been helpful in dealing with those who have seen the fragility of all thought systems and religions that stand in opposition to Christianity. In either case, we are called to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints, so may the Lord grant us the discernment needed to effectively use both of these methods of argumentation.

-h.


[1] John 1:17

[2] John 8:5

[3] Ro 3:23-24

[4] Ro 5:20

[5] Ro 6:23

[6] 2 Cor 5:15

[7] A Treatise on the Law and the Gospel, pp. 149-150 (Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 2009)

[8] Ro 3:19-20

[9] Cf. Matt 11:28-30

[10] See CARM’s Apologetics page for more information.

[11] Cf. 2 Cor 10:5

[12] Cf. Titus 1:9b; There are two issues with this citation that need to be addressed here, namely: (i.)Within the context of Titus, Paul is describing what qualifications an elder must have in order to serve; however, I believe that this qualification is a sub-qualification of always being ready to give a defense. The difference, then, would be one of degrees to which the task could be carried out. The elder is held to a much degree of responsibility for taking of God’s people and keeping them from going astray (cf. Eph 4:11-16 & James 3:1); and (ii.)The command to refute those in error is applicable to all opponents of Christianity who, by dint of proposing a worldview that denies the Christian faith, are contradicting the truth.

[13] Cf. 1 Cor 1:18-21

[14] 1 Peter 3:15

[15] Cf. Titus 1:9a

[16] Cf. 1 Cor 1:30

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