Friday, September 19, 2014

Lewis’ & Piper’s Troubling Affirmations of Hedonism

The following article is also featured at Worldview Weekend (here).

For more background information on the legacy of C.S. Lewis:

As a follow up to my September 10th article (Victoria Osteen & John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism”: What’s The Difference?) and my related interview with Brannon Howse on September 11th, I wanted to offer a series of columns addressing the continuing influences of C.S. Lewis’, as promoted through John Piper’s teaching on Christian Hedonism.[1] Originally, this entire discussion was triggered by the following tweet from the Desiring God Ministry on September 4th:


As was discussed on the September 11th Worldview Weekend broadcast, the notion of issuing partial affirmation to Victoria Osteen’s hedonistic pronouncement is disturbing at best, and it demands further scrutiny by Christ’s church. In addition to Victoria Osteen’s troubling tweet, I also mentioned Piper’s partial praise of Ayn Rand concerning her philosophy of hedonism. Overall, what I have presented thus far is that of a genuine concern for the continued promotion of Christian Hedonism in view of its dangerous undermining of the Scripture’s presentation of love, as an attribute of God and as the foremost of all Christian affections. Some of the things mentioned within these columns will be extracts from my book, Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, however, many other points will be unique to this series. This article will consist of the first of four topics in the series:





It is my hope and prayer that those who read these articles will be blessed, deeply challenged, and driven to search the Scriptures for the final authority in everything. The critical analysis of another man’s doctrine and teaching is a serious matter, and I do not take it lightly. Nor do I wish to be cavalier or unnecessary in my treatment of this subject. The doctrine Christian affections is a crucial one, and it is my prayer that this material will supply solid food for Christ’s sheep. If the reader is a supporter of John Piper’s ministry, then please know that my ultimate design is this: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, But deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” Proverbs 27:6. If the word wounds us, then let us be healed by its perfect surgery. In the end, a world that will not endure the critical analysis of another man’s teaching is a dangerous place to be. We must all examine ourselves by the standards of God’s word. Overall, my ultimate goal is to point the reader to God’s word over and above the errors of men.

Let’s begin with our first point of consideration:

I. LEWIS’ & PIPER’S TROUBLING AFFIRMATIONS OF HEDONISM: As I have already stated, John Piper’s repeated emphasis on Christian Hedonism is, by his own admission, a construct of thought that stems largely from C.S. Lewis, who said:

“You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”[2]

The repeated concern that I have expressed regarding John Piper’s teaching on Christian Hedonism is that the biblical notion of hedonism is entirely antithetical to godly Christian affections. It would appear that Piper understands this to some extent since he admits that the term has an “arresting and jolting effect” on others.[3] In addition to this, a repeated emphasis on subjective delight, within the construct of Christian Hedonism, diminishes the breadth of truth about the nature of our relationship with God. During the WVW broadcast on September 11th, I mentioned that Jonathan Edwards called love the “fountain of all the affections.” The broader quote is worthy of mention here:

"For love is not only one of the affections, but it is the first and chief of the affections, and the fountain of all the affections." (Matt 22:37-40) [4]

I also mentioned Thomas Boston’s description of the various Christian affections as being the “ingredients of love” [5] whereby he also said:

“Filial affections are due to a father; love, reverence, delight in him, and fear to offend him, Romans viii. 15.”[6]

Boston’s mention of filial reverence is important since it reminds us of God’s priority for such affections with His people:

Isaiah 66:2: “…But to this one I will look, to him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

Isaiah 66:2 further expands our sense of understanding of what godly affections entail, to include humility, contrition, and reverence before God in view of the absolute authority of his word. Simply put, those who love God truly will exemplify more than just one or two affections, but will embrace the full spectrum of that which genuine love actually produces in the heart of the redeemed. We must remember that, of all the affections described in the Old Testament Scriptures, Christ calls love the foremost in Mark 12:28-31. Combining all these considerations, this is why I wrote in Altar to an Unknown Love:

“…the foremost commandment encompasses a full spectrum of affections, thoughts, and convictions within the worshipper, including: personal/relational knowledge [yada],[7] trust [betach],[8] delight [‘anag],[9] devotion [gol],[10] rest/dependence [damam],[11] hope [hochelet], filial fear/reverence [yare],[12] and joy [semachot].[13] This is not an exhaustive list of godly thoughts and affections, but it offers a sample of the ingredients[14] of genuine love as found within God's Word.”[15]

The above paragraph supplies a collection of affections from Psalm 37 and other texts. Clearly this is a limited treatment of the full breadth of Christian affections, but it is supplied in order to remind the reader of the danger of limiting the full counsel of God’s revelation on this, or any other subject. It should be noted that John Piper frequently quotes Psalm 37:4 alone whereby David enjoins us: “…delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” This is a wonderful and precious truth, however, by sampling just one verse out of Psalm 37 the reader is stripped of the other thoughts and affections mentioned in this one Psalm. John Piper may see this limited exegetical practice as being helpful to his defense of Christian Hedonism, however, this tactic hides the broader realm of love as the fountain of all Christian affections.

All of this brings me back to my expressed concern regarding Piper’s teaching on Christian Hedonism, along with his willingness to issue partial praise for a false teacher and an outspoken atheist: Victoria Osteen and Ayn Rand. The common denominator between these two examples is hedonism. For Victoria Osteen, her comments are self-explanatory:

"I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we're not doing it for God—I mean, that's one way to look at it—we're doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we're happy. That's the thing that gives Him the greatest joy…So, I want you to know this morning: Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy," she continued. "When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God really. You're doing it for yourself, because that's what makes God happy. Amen?"

The linked article in the Desiring God tweet, by Chad Ashby, alludes to the presumption that Victoria Osteen was “trying her best at a John Piper ‘Christian Hedonist’ impression,” though she was missing the mark. Ashby offers no evidence about how he could know what she was "trying" to do, however he later states that Victoria Osteen was expressing a desire which echoes “God’s original design for us as humans.”[16] Based upon this, Ashby called her comments “half right,” and the proprietors of Desiring God Ministries echoed this sentiment via their tweet. In the case of Ayn Rand, Piper makes his sense of connection quite clear in his paper: The Ethics of Ayn Rand – Appreciation and Critique:

“To this day, I find her writings paradoxically attractive. I am a Christian Hedonist. This is partly why her work is alluring to me.”[17]

Within the “Appreciation” section of this same paper, Piper offers this affirmation of Rand’s individualism and hedonism:

“Happiness, for Ayn Rand, ‘is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction’ (VS, 29). On the basis of this definition, I am willing to say yes to the following sentence: ‘The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose’ (VS, 27).

imageThe references of “VS” represent Rand’s book entitled, The Virtue of Selfishness. It seems difficult to grasp that any believer would seek to find elements of appreciation within such a book as this, but the reader should also be aware of Rand’s definition of love from the vantage point of her hedonism:

"Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values: love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one's own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns and derives from love." [The Virtue of Selfishness]

Rand can be credited for her honesty and even her accurate understanding of the biblical definition of hedonism, however, the end product should be refuted rather than praised. Tragically, John Piper believes that Rand’s hedonistic creed - “The achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose” - is an agreeable statement. I say that this is tragic because any effort to Christianize Rand’s creed within the motif of Christian Hedonism will fail for one simple reason: Rand’s important use of the word “own.” Clearly, Ayn Rand rightly understood the principle of hedonism as being selfish, autonomous delight/happiness. As the author of The Virtue of Selfishness, she does deserve that much credit. For her, this was central to her understanding of man’s “highest moral purpose.” However, antithetically (according to Christ), love for God[18] (as those who have been first loved by Him[19]) is the foremost purpose of mankind. These two concepts are not at all close, instead they represent polar opposites of each other. In this respect, Paul’s antithetical warning strikes a deafening tone:

2 Timothy 3:1–2, 4: 1 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2 For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers… 4 treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure [philedonai] rather than lovers of God [philotheoi]…

Paul’s description of the ungodly affections and actions of men in the last days showcases the antithetical nature of hedonism versus Christianity. As I mention in my book, Altar to an Unknown Love, the Greek words eros and hedone, denoting selfish desire and pleasure, bore a strong family likeness to each other – literally:

“…eros was more than a philosophy of self-pleasure, it was the formal name of the god of love, whose spiritual progeny, hedone, embodied a similar notion of autonomous self-delight.” (Altar to an Unknown Love, p. 65)

Though my book focuses on the corrupt notion of eros, more than hedone, their similarity in concept is important to keep in mind. In the former case, the New Testament writers completely avoided the use of the words eros, eran, and erastes,[20] because these words had “become so steeped in sensual passion, carried such an atmosphere of unholiness about them (see Origen, Prol. in Cant. Opp. tom iii. pp. 28–30), that the truth of God abstained from the defiling contact with them…"[21] In the latter case, hedone is used in the New Testament on just five occasions. In the case of both of these terms, the concept of a relationship with another is not in view, unlike love. However, central to Christianity is the reality that love emphasizes union with another. Thus, the Christian’s every affection is rooted in the idea of union with Christ. Clearly, hedonism stands in opposition to the core realities of Christian faith. In order to see how the biblical writers understood and utilized this term, the following is supplied from The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology (TNIDNTT). I would ask the reader to peruse this very carefully:

NT In the NT hedone is found only 5 times. All are in later books and all have a bad connotation.

1. The desire for pleasure fills the man estranged from God. He thinks that he is living out his own irresistible desire for pleasure, and in so doing he revolts against God and his will, but in fact he becomes the slave of the hedonai. He has become a doulos – slave and lives in – sin. He is separated from God, unless God delivers him from this slavery (Tit. 3:3 ff.). 2 Pet. 2:13 ff. give a picture of these people who have given themselves over to their hedonai, showing how they have become the victims of the destructive powers which are in revolt against God.

2. Men estranged from God are not the only ones threatened by the insatiable desires of the impulses (Tis. 3:3). The Christian also remains exposed to this power. Even prayer can be misused as a means to satisfy these passions. Jas. 4:3 shows how vain prayer is under these circumstances. Where unrestricted impulses have their way and hedone rules the life, man’s relationship to God is inevitably threatened, inner – peace is destroyed, and good relationships with one’s fellow-man are poisoned. If a man gives way to his desires, he is entangled in perpetual dissatisfaction and finds himself in a chaotic condition (Jas. 4:1). The NT lists of vices picture clearly and in detail the characteristics and results of hedone. They range from unrestrained sexuality through all the symptoms of lack of self-discipline to a self-centered indifference to one’s fellow-man.

3. The dangers which unchecked impulses have for faith are seen most clearly in the interpretation of the parable of the sower. The word is used only in Lk. 8:14, hedonai tou biou “pleasures of life” (cf. the par. In Mk. 4:19 and Matt 13:22). Where hedone reasserts its mastery, faith dies, choked among the thorns.

4. This process is seen most clearly in false teachers. They entangle themselves in false teaching, lead others astray into it, and become victims of a moral self-destruction. This is described in vivid detail in 2 Tim. 3:1-5 as one of the ways in which “the last days” can be recognized. Here Paul uses the Hel. Forms philedonai, lovers of pleasure, and in contrst philotheoi, lovers of God (both NT hapax legomena, but used already by Philo).

5. Both in epithumia and hedone the sinister power of the instincts is expressed. It is insatiable and directed against God. It lives in man, threatens his ethical standards and enalsves him. The NT warns the Christian not to be driven by them – even if the hedonai are expressly mentioned only in Tit. 3:3 – and not to neglect watchfulness. Hedone as the drive to self-expression can be conquered only by the power of God. We must beware of confounding hedone with the desire for true – joy (chara) which is never rejected by the NT. Joy is satisfied rather by communion with God, often even in the midst of suffering and persecution. If G. Stahlin (TDNT II 926) is correct in seeing the contrast to 2 Pet. 2:13, “They count it pleasure (hedonen) to revel in the daytime”, in Jas. 1:2, “Count it all joy (charan)…when you meet various trials”, then it is clear how paradoxically the Christian’s longing for joy finds its fulfilment and goal. [Bold, italics mine]

I would ask the reader to look at, once again, the crucial thought supplied in the above article:

All are in later books and all have a bad connotation…We must beware of confounding hedone with the desire for true – joy (chara) which is never rejected by the NT. Joy is satisfied rather by communion with God, often even in the midst of suffering and persecution.

The summary found in TNIDNTT, from beginning to end, reminds us that the biblical writers understood the sinful notion of this word. The fact that it was employed, exclusively, to convey the idea of selfish, sinful desire is self-explanatory. Thus, as a biblical term it should be used in a biblical way. However, we see an abundance of people in the modern day employing scriptural terms in unscriptural ways; or using sensual terms in order to convey biblical concepts. During the radio program, mention was made of Mark Driscoll and Ann Voskamp in this vein, but there are many, many more examples that we could expose. In the end, all of this runs contrary to the sound counsel which John Piper confidently resisted in his appendix to Desiring God:

“I am aware that calling this philosophy of life ‘Christian Hedonism’ runs the risk of ignoring Bishop Ryle’s counsel against ‘the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification.’ Nevertheless I stand by the term…”[22]

I believe that Mr. Piper could have benefited further from Bishop Ryle’s mature counsel. Because of this, I will supply a more complete portion of Ryle’s counsel so that the reader can see the very counsel that Mr. Piper admittedly set aside:

"Finally, I must deprecate, and I do it in love, the use of uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification. I plead that a movement in favor of holiness cannot be advanced by new-coined phraseology, or by disproportioned and one-sided statements--or by overstraining and isolating particular texts--or by exalting one truth at the expense of another--or by allegorizing and accommodating texts, and squeezing out of them meanings which the Holy Spirit never put in them--or by speaking contemptuously and bitterly of those who do not entirely see things with our eyes, and do not work exactly in our ways. These things do not make for peace: they rather repel many and keep them at a distance. The cause of true sanctification is not helped, but hindered, by such weapons as these. A movement in aid of holiness which produces strife and dispute among God's children is somewhat suspicious. For Christ's sake, and in the name of truth and charity, let us endeavor to follow after peace as well as holiness. 'What God has joined together let not man put asunder.' It is my heart's desire, and prayer to God daily, that personal holiness may increase greatly among professing Christians in England. But I trust that all who endeavor to promote it will adhere closely to the proportion of Scripture, will carefully distinguish things that differ, and will separate 'the precious from the vile.' (Jeremiah 15:19.)"[23]

"There is an Athenian[24] love of novelty abroad, and a morbid distaste for anything old and regular, and in the beaten path of our forefathers. Thousands will crowd to hear a new voice and a new doctrine, without considering for a moment whether what they hear is true.--There is an incessant craving after any teaching which is sensational, and exciting, and rousing to the feelings.--There is an unhealthy appetite for a sort of spasmodic and hysterical Christianity. The religious life of many is little better then spiritual dram-drinking, and the 'meek and quiet spirit; which St. Peter commends is clean forgotten (1 Peter 3:4.). Crowds, and crying, and hot rooms, and high-flown singing, and an incessant rousing of the emotions, are the only things which many care for.--Inability to distinguish differences in doctrine is spreading far and wide, and so long as the preacher is 'clever' and 'earnest,' hundreds seem to think it must be all right, and call you dreadfully 'narrow and uncharitable' if you hint that he is unsound!"[25]

It is both striking and ironic that the atheist Ayn Rand had a better understanding of the meaning of hedonism than many today. By confessing to be a hedonist, Rand expressed an innate knowledge of that universal philosophy common to all the descendants of Adam: that the chief end of man is his own selfish pleasure. Selfish, autonomous delight is a universal religion practiced by all unbelievers, and this stands as the antithesis to Christianity:

“they will be…lovers of pleasure [philedonai] rather than lovers of God [philotheoi]…”

Once again, it is no compliment to the advocates of Christian Hedonism that an atheist like Ayn Rand has a better grasp of hedonism than they. All men are pleasure seekers, but no descendent of Adam can love God until God first extends His love to us:

1 John 4:19 “We love, because He first loved us.”

Such a miracle of salvation places a heart of flesh within the believer so that God’s formerly unknown love would be known and experienced by His children:

1 John 4:16: “We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

And as those who now love God, our every affection flows from the very love that He first gave to us. It is in this union – this relationship of love with God – that we find the fullness and beauty of all genuine Christian affections. All of this is a precious miracle, and it has absolutely nothing to do with hedonism. Because of this, I was filled with absolute incredulity when John Piper went so far as to make this statement earlier this year:

"…here's what attracted me and how I think she [Ayn Rand] points to truth and to Jesus ultimately: she esteemed reason, individualism, and hedonism - and so do I..."[26]

In view of what has been written thus far in this column, the above statement by Mr. Piper is stunning, reckless, and disturbing. Piper’s comments spread a troubling message to his vast audience. By suggesting that Ayn Rand “points to truth and to Jesus” through her esteem of “reason, individualism, and hedonism,” Mr. Piper has dispatched a message that confuses the Gospel itself, for hedonism does not point to God – it points away from Him. Simply put, Ayn Rand didn’t point to Jesus, instead her life exuded a genuine enmity against God through her public blasphemies of His name and proud declarations of autonomy. However, according to Piper, Rand’s hedonism brought her close (but not quite) to the mark of God:

“…This was her biggest problem…she thought that the highest virtue was happiness through reason…and I want to say “yes”… through the right use of reason to know what’s really there. And then she made one massive flaw that totally created many other flaws, that is, she totally rejected the existence of God and that made her blind to what true happiness is and what virtue truly is…she was almost landing on the moon with her rationalism; almost landing on the moon with her individualism; almost landing on the moon with her hedonism and she missed it, because she had no God in her system…”[27]

Contrary to Piper’s assumptions, Rand’s rationalism, individualism, and hedonism reveals a trajectory of complete opposition to God, rather than “almost” hitting the mark. Her lost condition and thinking should remind us of the true value of human wisdom and reason:

1 Corinthians 1:18–25: 18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.” 20 Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

Ayn Rand, like any other sinner, will never be drawn to God by human wisdom. Those who try to salvage points of praise from the trash heap of human wisdom are engaging in a procedure that is in opposition to the Apostolic example:

2 Corinthians 10:3–5: 3 For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, 4 for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. 5 We are destroying speculations [logismous] and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…

Paul’s use of the word logismous (speculations/reasoning) is important. By it, Paul reminds us of our relationship with the world’s wisdom and reasoning: we are at war with worldly reasoning and wisdom, and we battle against such things with the true knowledge of God. However, those who employ human reasoning and wisdom are working against God’s campaign of truth, while siding with this fleshly world and its supposed wisdom. Concerning Ayn Rand’s rationalism, it was thoroughly irrational because it was raised up against the knowledge of God. As well, her “individualism” was nothing but pure rebellion:

“I will not run anyone’s life—nor let anyone run mine. I will not rule nor be ruled. I will not be a master nor a slave. I will not sacrifice myself to anyone—nor sacrifice anyone to myself.” [The Ayn Rand Column]

A better expression for Rand’s “individualism” would be moral autonomy (auto + nomos: a law unto herself). Clearly, she would not bend her will to the great Lawgiver. And, as already noted, her hedonism was an honest expression of eros and hedone, as is common among all men until they are redeemed by God Who is love (as already cited):

"Love and friendship are profoundly personal, selfish values: love is an expression and assertion of self-esteem, a response to one's own values in the person of another. One gains a profoundly personal, selfish joy from the mere existence of the person one loves. It is one's own personal, selfish happiness that one seeks, earns and derives from love." [The Virtue of Selfishness]

To be blunt, the reader should receive the apostolic message, while rejecting the thoughts of those who wish to suggest that the godless “point to truth and to Jesus” through their reasoning and wisdom. When it comes to the merits of mere religion or human philosophy, Paul had a remarkably clear assessment of matters: “…in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.” Paul, does not say that the wise of this world come close to truth through their reason, individualism, and hedonism, instead he argues that they miss the mark entirely and continue to do so until their world is invaded with the Gospel, which is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16).

In all of this, the transitive influences of C.S. Lewis and John Piper continue in the present day. It continues to spread like wildfire, and the church must be ready to address these important matters for the sake of Christ’s glory and our Gospel witness within this fallen world. Thus, this subject: Lewis’ & Piper’s Transitive Influences on Evangelicalism, will be addressed in the next column.

[1] Throughout this series of columns, the expression Christian Hedonism will be in italics in order to distinguish it as a manmade philosophy, distinct from any explicit or implicit teaching of Scripture.

[2] Lewis, C.S. (2002-11-04). Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (pp. 90-91). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

[3] John Piper, Desiring God, p. 298.

[4] Jonathan Edwards, A treatise concerning religious affections: (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1996).

[5] Boston, An illustration of the doctrines of the Christian religion, p. 401.

[6] Thomas Boston An illustration of the doctrines of the Christian religion with Respect to Faith and Practice upon the plan of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism: In Three Volumes (Printed by John Reid), p. 277.

[7] For some specific uses of yada, see Psalm 46:10, and 100:3. Also, in Psalm 37 David speaks of “God,” not generically, but personally through his use of God’s personal memorial-name [Lord ~ yahweh]. David’s frequent use of God’s personal name reveals his personal/relational knowledge of the one true God who intimately loves His chosen people as His children.

[8] Psalm 37:3, 5.

[9] Psalm 37:4.

[10] Psalm 37:5.

[11] Psalm 37:7.

[12] Deuteronomy 10:12. “Filial affections are due to a father; love, reverence, delight in him, and fear to offend him, Romans viii. 15.” Thomas Boston An illustration of the doctrines of the Christian religion with Respect to Faith and Practice upon the plan of the Assembly’s Shorter Catechism: In Three Volumes (Printed by John Reid), p. 277.

[13] Psalm 16:11.

[14] Boston, An illustration of the doctrines of the Christian religion, p. 401.

[15] Matthew 22:40.

[16] In the comments thread, Chad Ashby tries to clarify his article as follows: “…as people made in the image of God, even in our depravity, we express desires that echo God’s original design for us as humans. Mrs. Osteen may not even know the first question of the WSC, but her statement echoes something about the chief end of man whether she knows it or not. That was the point I sloppily tried to explain in the final portion if the article.

[17] John Piper, The Ethics of Ayn Rand: Appreciation and Critique, June 1 1979 (Revised, October 9, 2007).

[18] Deut. 6:4-5

[19] Deut. 7:7-8

[20] Eros, who according to Hesiod was a primordial deity believed to be one of the three key sources of the family tree of Greek gods.

[21] Trench, R. C. (2003). Synonyms of the New Testament. (9th ed., improved.) (43). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

[22] Piper, Desiring God, p. 287.

[23] J.C. Ryle, Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, & Roots, (Charles Nolan Publishers, Moscow Idaho, 2001), p. XXIX.

[24] Ryle's mention of Athenian love of novelty refers to what is described in Acts 17 - a subject that will be addressed in greater detail in chapter 1 of this book.

[25] Ryle, Holiness, p. XXIX.

[26] March 6, 2014, Ayn Rand’s Tragic Trajectory (Episode 292)

[27] Ayn Rand’s Tragic Trajectory (Episode 292)

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man


eBook and paperback - available at For more information about this book, go to: For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to:

2 Timothy 3:1,4: "In the last will be...lovers of hedonism [φιλήδονοι]..."

For centuries, the world of professing Christendom has faced countless contests regarding the nature of God's justice and love, as well as the doctrines of Heaven and Hell. Rob Bell's book, Love Wins, is just another illustration of this reality. The entire protest revolving around Bell's book was fairly dramatic, however, it produced more smoke and heat than productive light. Despite the loud complaints leveled against the controversial author of Love Wins, what he unveiled in his book should have produced little surprise. There is a very important and untold story behind the whole Bell debate that must be passed on for the sake of future generations. The mystery and oddity of this conflict has revealed a systemic problem - one that is much greater than the premature protests surrounding Rob Bell. Altar to an Unknown Love addresses the untold story which stands behind the scenes of Bell's particular views of theology. What the reader may find surprising is that Bell's teachings are remarkably familiar, and have even been promoted, whether directly or indirectly, by some of Bell's loudest critics. All of this points to a great opportunity for the church in the present day. The conflict surrounding Rob Bell actually supplies an opportunity to rediscover our need to go back to the Scriptures themselves, rather than to the teachings and traditions of men. This is an opportunity for the church to rediscover the priority of Sola Scriptura, now, and for the generations to come.

Review by Iain Murray:

Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C. S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man Michael John Beasley ( Lightning Source, Milton Keynes, 2011, 146pp, £6.50/$10.49

The last year has seen major controversy in the United States over Rob Bell’s Love Wins, A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived. Interest in that book is now passing, but before it does so, Michael Beasley believes there is a wider issue that ought to be addressed. Bell’s thinking, he notes, has been condemned by evangelicals who are, at the same time, professed admirers of authors from whom Bell has drawn, namely, George MacDonald and C. S. Lewis. Beasley challenges the consistency of this procedure, and if his book is taken seriously—as it deserves to be—it must promote more controversy, for MacDonald and Lewis are widely respected figures. Lewis is virtually an icon of American evangelicalism; on one occasion the readers of Christianity Today rated him as the most influential writer in their lives. But the only dependable foundation for Christian belief is missing in Lewis. He does not believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, with the result that his conclusions are a conglomerate of Bible, imagination, and philosophy. Does the absence of that foundation matter when it comes to understanding the love of God—the subject with which Beasley’s book is primarily concerned? From Acts 17, the Athenians’ worship ‘To An Unknown God’, Beasley shows that the saving knowledge of God is only known by divine revelation. Lost man is as ignorant of that knowledge as were the Athenians. Yet, instead of starting with Scripture, Lewis believed that a consideration of love in man can help us to understand love in God. A major part of Altar to an Unknown Love is a refutation of this error. The love to be found in unregenerate man is self-love— love centering around the pursuit of pleasure, and identified by the Greeks (and by Lewis) as eros. But the love of God (never called eros in the NT) is altogether different, and is unknown until a person is born of God (1 John 4:7-10). ‘Those who do not know God cannot know his love’ (p. 52). ‘Without understanding the nature of his love . . . we are left with nothing but our own shifting sands of human affection’ (p. 39).

A reconstructed presentation of the love of God—to be found in all the authors Beasley is critiquing— produces teaching which carries no offence to the natural man. What is more offensive to the natural man than truth concerning the justice of God and his wrath against sin? But that offence is eliminated by the subjective, man-centered teaching here reviewed. The love of God is such, it is said, that it requires him to respect human freedom, and that freedom should control how we think of heaven and hell. ‘The damned’, wrote Lewis’ publisher of The Great Divorce (Macmillan Publishing, 1976), ‘are under no obligation to return to hell. They can stay on in heaven if they wish—if they are willing to forgo their most precious sins’ (p. 86). Or as Lewis said, ‘The doors of hell are locked on the inside’ (p. 89n). ‘We get what we want’, says Bell. ‘God is that loving. If we want isolation, despair, and the right to be our own god, God graciously grants us that option . . . God says yes, we can have what we want, because love wins’ (pp. 85, 122). So it is not justice but love that takes anyone to hell. The divine love, which is claimed to be subordinate to human freedom, leads to men being given what they want. Heaven and hell revolve around man, not God (p. 81).

This thinking does not simply take away the offence of biblical truth; ultimately it takes away the gospel itself. For if God’s determination to judge and punish sin is no part of his character, then a substitutionary atonement ceases to be a part of the Christian message. It is not accidental that none of the authors Beasley is examining believed that in the shedding of his blood Christ was bearing the penalty of sin. The author points out correctly that C. S. Lewis did not belong to evangelical circles in Britain in his lifetime. To our mind he proves the case that Lewis is now so widely acceptable in American evangelicalism because non-biblical ideas are not being recognized for what they are. Artistry in writing, effective story-telling, with a mixture of ‘disconnected scriptural references and thoughts’, are able to achieve wide success in a day when discrimination has given way to popular appeal. These are all characteristics of the writings of Bell, Lewis, and MacDonald. This is not to say that all they wrote is equally deserving of condemnation. Beasley’s strictures on Bell’s Love Wins are rightly the most severe (pp. 114-15). Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, now produced on film by Disney for the millions, is not in the same category, but when ‘more and more preachers are eager to cite Lewis in support of their theological positions’ the warning contained in this book is not unfounded. It raises issues of fundamental importance.

Michael Beasley, a science graduate of California State University, and of the Master’s Seminary, has served in pastoral ministry since 1994. We are impressed and thankful for the character of his writings. His valuable book, Indeed, has Paul Really Said? A Critique of N.T.Wright’s Teaching on Justification, has already been reviewed in these columns.

Iain H. Murray

For more information about this book, go to:
For more information about The Armoury Ministries, go to:

Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

Relevant articles (re: Worldview Weekend Interview): Victoria Osteen & John Piper’s “Christian Hedonism”: What’s the Difference:

John Piper’s 1979 article on Ayn Rand (Revised in 2007):

Friday, September 05, 2014

Victoria Osteen and “Christian Hedonism”

Victoria Osteen’s dark moment of honesty before a watching world has generated much buzz and discussion lately. However, one must wonder why there is so much surprise in this – she has simply admitted to the very core of her theology. Her version of “Christianity” is an idolatrous cauldron of hedonistic pleasure. In her world, self reigns supreme – and the name of Christ is simply a nametag that she attaches in an attempt to provide cover for her heresy. Those who didn’t already know of the Osteen’s theology either haven’t been paying attention, or perhaps they have never heard of the bizarre spectacle of their “ministry.”

Simply put, what Victoria Osteen proudly proffered before a watching world should have provoked little surprise. However, what should capture the attention of the church is the response given by John Piper’s desiring God ministry:

Whoever generated this tweet (whether it was John Piper himself or one of his assistants) has managed to give half credit to that which is pure idolatry, and this is no small problem. While I am glad that people are offended by Victoria Osteen’s proud declaration, I fear that those same masses will overlook and ignore the above, disturbing tweet. Nothing that Victoria said made any biblical sense seeing that her worldview is rooted in hedonism – and God is pleased with none of it. But it is this notion of hedonism in Osteen’s comments that led me to predict that there might be some form of private or public affirmation from those who advocate the contrived doctrine of “Christian Hedonism.” When the above affirmation was placed in the public forum, I was sad, but not surprised. Because of this, I want to share a few thoughts and warnings about this disturbing admission from those at Desiring God:

Firstly, I have no desire to disparage any sound teaching others have garnered from men like John Piper. The profound truth is that God, in His infinite wisdom, uses frail and fallible men to communicate His infallible word. This is true for myself and for any other messenger of God's word. When Piper focuses on the Gospel, he is quite solid; however, his repeated attempts to infuse the contrivance of "Christian Hedonism" into his teachings is deeply problematic.In his book, Desiring God, Piper tries to justify using the salacious term, hedonism, as an expression of Christian worship.[1] In his earlier years in the ministry, he credited C.S. Lewis for this idea more directly, but over the years he has attempted to justify it through various other means. In his book, Desiring God, Appendix 4 – Why Call It Christian Hedonism?, Piper issues a strenuous attempt to justify his use of this expression in six different ways:

1. Through a definition supplied by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

2. Through another definition supplied in The Encyclopedia of Philosphy.

3. Through C.S. Lewis’ statement (among others): “You notice that I am drawing no distinction between sensuous and aesthetic pleasures. But why should I? The line is almost impossible to draw and what use would it be if one succeeded in drawing it? If this is Hedonism, it is also a somewhat arduous discipline.”

4. By reason that the term “Hedonism” has an “arresting and jolting effect.”

5. He cites Jesus’ mention of coming as a “thief” in the night (Matt. 24:43-44), among other texts, as justification of using scandalous terms in a godly context.

6. He argues that he is able to sanctify, for godly purposes, the term Hedonism by affixing it with the name Christian.

These are all interesting arguments, but the reader should notice that they are rooted in C.S. Lewis, philosophy, and human reasoning more than anything else. As for his attempt to supply scriptural justification for “Christian Hedonism,” perhaps another man could just as well begin advocating “Christian Lust,” “Christian Fornication,” or “Christian (fill in the blank with any corruption here_____)” based upon the same reasoning. Frankly speaking, this is all reckless thinking and continues to be propagated through many today who insist on speaking of Christian faith in sensual, salacious terms. Within this same appendix (Appendix 4), Piper strangely admits that his actions run contrary to the counsel of wise men like J.C. Ryle – who strongly advises against the use of “uncouth and new-fangled terms and phrases in teaching sanctification,” but then proceeds to justify his use of the term hedonism which, scripturally speaking, depicts grotesque self-satisfaction (lust, autonomous delight, similar to eros) as a means of conveying Christian affections.

The problem that Piper has, for himself and for those whom he has influenced over the years, is that his construct of thought has no scriptural basis whatsoever – no matter how hard he tries to justify it. His use of salacious language has produced various forms of spiritual offspring such as Mark Driscoll (Time magazine has called him the cursing pastor) and Ann Vosscamp (who speaks of intimacy with God in very sensual language – see Gary Gilley’s review of One Thousand Gifts here). Whatever his motives, he is begetting a generation of individuals who now believe that the sine qua non of Christian affections is desire, rather than agape love. I could agree with this if it were biblical, but it is not. The Bible never uses “hedonism” as an expression of godly affections because selfish, autonomous delight is at the heart of such a term, whereas epithumea (desire) can be used of godly desire, but is never emphasized on equal footing with agape love. However, agape love is repeatedly given supremacy over every affection mentioned in Scripture. I always like to illustrate the point by encouraging men to drop the word “love” when speaking to their wives. Instead of saying – “I love you” – try saying “I desire you.” This may last for a little while, however, over time your spouse will wonder what has happened to you – and what has happened to the nature of your relationship. Of course a man desires his wife – but he does so out of his relational bond of love with her. The problem of using “hedonism” is that the notion of a relationship is utterly obliterated, as evidenced by the Bible’s use of the term. Mr. Piper may be able to find alternate meanings to the term hedonism in more contemporary works, but the problem remains: he is using this biblical word in an unbiblical way. Additionally, the problem with using the term desire as a near substitute for love is that this procedure denigrates the relational understanding which is intrinsic in the concept of genuine agape love. If everything is about desire and joy, to the diminishment of love, then we end up with a heap of confusion about Christian motives. Thus, out of such confusion, the managers of the Desiring God Twitter account are able to give half credit for Victoria Osteen’s bizarre and idolatrous drivel about going to church for your own, autonomous joy. However, if we were better rooted in the biblical motive of love, then such confusion would be blown away.

If we refuse to be anchored by the language of Scripture, then we will drift into the dangerous waters of human reasoning – perhaps even giving half-credit to heretics. But when it comes to love versus hedonism, the Scriptures are quite clear. God has many attributes (Holiness, wrath, righteousness etc…) – but of all of His attributes, there are very few that have been elevated to the status of this predicate adjective construct: God is love. One thing He is not is hedonism (selfish, autonomous delight) – such a contrivance as this is unscriptural and borders on blasphemy.

Let us be guilty of emphasizing what Scripture emphasizes. I have no desire to diminish the concept of our desire for God or out joy in Him – what I do hope to qualify is that these affections can only be understood properly within the context of our love for Him, seeing that He first loved us – 1 John 4:19.

This is what God hath said – and it is good.

For a much more detailed treatment of this important subject (agape vs. eros/hedone, i.e., hedonistic affections), see – Altar to an Unknown Love (link here).  This title is available in paperback or Kindle format:


Rob Bell, Love Wins, and the book: Altar to an Unknown Love from The Armoury Ministries on Vimeo.

A brief Follow-up:

Some have queried about my interaction (or lack thereof) with the linked article by Chad Ashby, and I wanted to clarify matters relevant to this. For those in doubt, it should be self-evident that I read the linked article since I refer to the specific notion of giving “half” credit to VO, a metric supplied by the article rather than the tweet. However, my article has more to do with my longstanding experiences with the followers of John Piper and those who gladly claim the title “Christian Hedonist.” The core point being made in the article is this: what Victoria Osteen said isn’t mostly wrong, it was completely wrong and disgraceful. Like any other cult, her every word is infected with the corruption of false teaching. Her “God” is a false god; her “joy” is a false joy; her concept of “worship” is false, etc. The linked article was too confused to address directly[2] – my focus was on the legacy of “Christian Hedonism” and the related, yet bizarre notion of trying to harvest edible chunks from the theological sputum coming out of Victoria Osteen (Yes, that’s strong language, but please see Proverbs 26:11). As well, the thought of directing others to such a quest is disturbing at best. Concerning anyone’s objections to my description of the word Hedonism, please note that the philosophical and theological ether that surrounded this term in the 1st century is a subject that exceeds the full focus of my article (it is a lengthy subject that I only partially deal with in my book), but it is impossible to appreciate this term’s history without first understanding the philosophical realm from which it evolved. To learn this, a general knowledge of Greek mythology is needed, replete with an understanding of Hesiod’s teaching on the primordial forces of CHAOS, Gaius, Eros, and Tartarus, along with the various descendants including Hedone. The mythological history of this word (Hedone – hedonism) continued into the 1st century, bearing the idea of lust, autonomous desire, and sensuality/salaciousness (as I stated in my article). The lexical scope of this term is still a broader discussion, but my reference to it comports with the scriptural connotation (Romans 1:24, 1 Peter 4:2, 2 Timothy 4:3, James 1:14, 4:2-3, 2 Peter 3:3, Jude 16, 18, Mark 4:19, Luke 8:14). A serious lexical analysis of this important term should remind any student of the Bible that when Christ, Paul, James, Peter, and Jude employed this term, they were not doing so in deference to Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary or The Encyclopedia of Philosophy; instead, they were employing a term that was well known to the audience of the day – and they knew quite well that such a term was rooted in the notion of sinful, wicked desire. I would encourage the reader to search this matter out and to remember that our allegiance must be to God and to every jot and tittle of His word above anything else.

Once again, Chad Ashby and Desiring God Ministries are entirely free to give half (or partial) credit to the heresy of Victoria Osteen; but this is where we part company – I can offer no credit to a heretic whatsoever. In over twenty years of pastoral ministry, “Christian Hedonism” has been a discussion that has come to my doorstep time and again, but I can assure you that it is not something that I have chosen so seek out for personal entertainment or amusement. Christians need to take these questions and discussions seriously without engaging in crass mockery. The prevalence of “Christian Hedonism” in the modern day, which is a Lewisian construct to the core, will continue to make it so that pastors will have to take a stand on this issue – one way or the other.

[1] See – Altar to an Unknown Love: Rob Bell, C.S. Lewis, and the Legacy of the Art and Thought of Man, page 64, footnote #91.

[2] Chad Ashby – “I think we hate what Mrs. Osteen had to say more because it hit a little too close to home.” (Q. Really? This hits close to home? For whom does this “hit home?”). Chad Ashby - “You know, Victoria Osteen was about half right. She was trying (and failing) to articulate half the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: ‘What its [sic] the chief end of man?’” (Q. Does Chad Ashby really know what VO was “trying” to do such that he can assign half-credit to her?) From: “Was Victoria Osteen Really that Off Base?”

Thursday, September 04, 2014

The Bitter-Sweet Lessons of Divine Providence

mjbatwhbcnowredeemerbiblechurchLast month I stumbled upon some sad and difficult news, the likes of which I will not describe in detail, but will only say that it involves a church in the northern Midwest. I heard about this news via a Christian podcast which aired shortly after the crisis in question. When I heard this news, I couldn’t help but to recall to mind several memories concerning one of the most difficult experiences that I have gone through in the ministry. The memories and experiences that I will share will be nameless recollections from the past. To be frank they are difficult memories and past anxieties that I have entrusted to God, lest my own heart be corrupted with a root of bitterness. Yet, these distant memories also bear forth a bounty of important life lessons. Whenever I do think of them, I am immediately drawn to the reflection of God’s kind and faithful tutelage of my soul. Thus, these memories supply helpful goads and warnings as I continue to grow as a Christian, a husband, a father and a pastor. This is the way of God's beautiful providence: the most bitter experiences in life supply an abundance of teaching concerning our great need for Christ; for His wisdom; for His grace; for his love and tender mercies. Therefore, what I share with the reader is given with the design to pass along important life lessons that the Lord continues to teach me as a bankrupt sinner, devoid of wisdom apart from His Word. There may be those who will read what follows and be familiar with the details which lie behind my generic recollections. If this is the experience of the reader, then please know that my only design is to pass along the life lessons that God has ordained for his people – for me; for you; for every member of His church.

When I was in the earliest years of ministry I was serving in a church whose spiritual beginnings came from the hyper-grace teacher: R.B. Thieme. At the time, I was too inexperienced to comprehend what this meant, but I eventually discovered that the seeds planted by this man, and others like him,[1] established problematic roots in the church – and those roots ran very deep. To varying degrees, men like Thieme champion a notion of grace which maligns the precious truths of the Lord’s sovereignty, mankind’s total depravity, God’s irresistible grace, His unconditional election, particular redemption, and most notably - the doctrine of the perseverance of the Saints. Along with these problematic influences in the church, there was a strong thread of “Evangelical Feminism” – a pernicious doctrine that continues to grow with unmitigated acceleration within the professing world of Evangelicalism.[2] Now I should note at this point that, after being a pastor for over 20 years, I would never enter into such an environment like this again. However, as a young pastor, energetic, optimistic, and naïve, it was my desire to teach the word with the hope that many could be persuaded by the clarity of God’s word on these important matters. Yet, in this first pastorate of mine, I began to discover some of the stark realities of pastoral ministry. What I soon discovered is that individuals who disagree with a church’s leadership will soon reveal their true character, for better or for worse. The number of conflicts that I had to face during this season of ministry are too numerous to articulate here, but in just one example I recall having to travel to California with my wife and young children in order to perform my first funeral service in my life - for my father. My wife had just had a miscarriage and so our family was having to face the reality of death in many different ways. The most difficult aspect of the funeral services that I had to perform for my father centered on the fact that he never made a profession of faith in Christ. Not only did I oversee his funeral, but I had to attend to the affairs of his dwindled estate. All of this proved to be exhausting for all of us as a family, both physically and emotionally.

Upon our return home, I was welcomed with a petition demanding my resignation, signed by several devotees of hyper-grace teaching.

Experiences like these can be crushing, especially to a young pastor; however, in God’s good providence these difficult years began to teach me, in a strange and inverted way, the importance of my role as a shepherd in my home first, for an essential reason: every trial that a pastor faces should bring him back to an inspection of his soul, his dealings with his family, and his dealings with the church – in that order. I began to realize that how I responded to these trials before God and men had the potential of blessing or burdening my wife and children. In fact, I should say that any trial has a way of reminding any man why it is that he needs to be a strong leader in his home as a means of protection from all external conflicts from the world and even the church. For this, I am thankful for God’s sweet providences, though they seemed quite bitter at the time. For five and a half years the Lord delivered a steady stream of such experiences as we navigated our way through various conflicts involving theology proper, harmartiology, soteriology, ecclesiology, the institution of marriage, the family, and the roles of men and women. Every conflict that I had to face brought me to my knees before God, forcing me to reflect on my attitude, conduct, and demeanor before the flock of my household – before any other consideration of my broader ministry to the church. In short, the Lord was teaching me the simple but often overlooked lesson of 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

1 Timothy 3:4–5: 4 He [the overseer – v. 1] must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)…

They say that sometimes big things come in small packages, and with this very thought I would suggest that one of the biggest lessons of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is packaged within Paul’s parenthetical comment: (“…but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”). I believe that Paul’s lesson on the overseer’s home supplies an important nucleus for all that surrounds it. You see, a man’s singular devotion to his wife, his temperance, prudence, respectability, hospitality, ability to teach, sobriety, self-control, gentleness, peacefulness, and monetary self-restraint are best tested and seen within the crucible of the home before they are tested and seen anywhere else. God does not call shepherds to role-playing or stage-acting; He calls them to the substance of godly leadership in the home as the unimpeachable evidence of his qualifications to lead in Christ’s church. Because of this, the family should be seen as the veritable canary in the coalmine, signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the man who fills the office of overseer. What I began to discover amidst these early trials of my ministry is that the Lord was refining me in ways that I could never have before imagined.

This is the stuff of refinement that no Seminary degree can impart.

It is for this reason that I fully believe that genuine overseers are not created by manmade programs, rather, it is God who sovereignly calls overseers to such an office such that their conduct and character will become evident within a watching church – in God’s time. Such a process as this reminds God’s people that it is God who builds His church, not men, and that the overseer who is truly called by God will be in public what he is in the private. The following 6 principles began to crystalize for me:

1. The Principal Focus of a Pastor’s Leadership: Paul tells us that a genuine overseer must be one who manages his own household [ἰδίου οἴκου] well. This statement points to the principal focus of the overseer – his own [ἰδίου] household. Thus, before an overseer can shepherd other households within the church, his own household must be his first ministry above all. Should he fail here, he fails everywhere. As already stated, his family is the veritable canary in the coalmine signifying either the spiritual health or illness of the pastor.

2. The Nature of His Leadership: Paul reminds us that the overseer/pastor is one who manages his household well. The word manage [προϊστάμενον] literally means “standing before others,” denoting a clear and decisive leadership/management. This concept is important and harmonizes well with Ephesians 5:23, where all husbands are commanded to lead their households because the husband is the “head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church.” Taken together, these verses obliterate the contemporary mythology of co-leadership between husbands and wives in the home. Many churches actually believe and teach such co-leadership in the present day, however, biblically speaking, the wife is the helper to her husband according to the creation ordinance (Genesis 2:18), but not a co-leader (Ephesians 5:22-6:4, 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Decades of feminism in the world have influenced the modern church in such a way that these principles are nearly lost – to the demise of many. However, a man who loves his wife is the one who, in the imitation of Christ, will supply a decisive leadership which provides a haven of protection for her and the children. As an example of this principle of loving leadership, God’s covenant of grace with Abraham reveals an important kernel of truth: “For I have chosen him, so that he may command [H. yatzawe] his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.” Genesis 18:19. This verb, command - yatzawe/tzawa comes from the root word mitzwa (commandment) and is correctly translated as “command” in the NASB. Whatever else the reader might think or assume about the nature of Abraham’s calling of leadership, it was rooted in a clear and decisive management based upon the “way of the Lord.” Abraham was not called to delegate this responsibility to others; nor was he allowed to neglect it or even share it with his wife Sarah; instead, it was Abraham’s responsibility before God alone. In the end, if a man does not lead his household in this manner, he is not qualified to shepherd the flock of God.

3. His Pedagogy in the Home: According to Scripture, a godly husband must seek the sanctification of his wife (Ephesians 5:25-33) and his children (Ephesians 6:4) by means of the ministry of the word. This principle establishes the importance of regular worship in the home (i.e., family devotions/worship). However, spiritual indifference leads men to the neglect of such duties, but love for Christ drives a man to such privileges with great joy. In homes where such a pedagogy of love takes place, one will find the fruit of peace and joy. However, wherever such a pedagogy is weak or absent, uncertainty, sorrow, fear, depression, anxiety, discontentment, provocation, and anger will fester and grow. The overseer must manifest this important duty of family worship for the sake of his own household as well as for the sake of other men who watch his example. As Thomas Manton has said: “A family is the seminary of church and state; and if children be not well principled there, all miscarrieth: a fault in the first concoction is not mended in the second; if youth be bred ill in the family, they prove ill in church and commonwealth. By family discipline, officers are trained up for the Church, (1 Timothy 3:4). Upon all these considerations how careful should ministers and parents be to train up young ones whilst they are yet pliable, and, like wax, capable of any form and impression in the knowledge and fear of God.” Simply put, a man is not “apt to teach” if he is not leading and teaching his wife and children in the home first and foremost.

4. The Importance of Hospitality: Paul’s mention of hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 isn’t a quaint notion of social etiquette, but has to do with the quality of loving those who are outside of his household. Such a ministry reveals his care for, and generosity with, others in his broader community. However, hospitality is also important because it supplies a means by which the shepherd can interact with, and be visible before, others within the church. Paul’s instruction about hospitality should bring to mind Peter’s important command in 1 Peter 5:2-3: “[shepherd the flock of God among you…] nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” The words, proving to be examples [τύποι γινόμενοι], speak of the overseer’s perpetual transformation[3] as seen and witnessed by the people. Thus, a pastor is not a fixed, motionless statue, but is a living, breathing human being who is being transformed by the power of God’s grace such that his life is one that is becoming a greater example to the people who watch him. Despite his flaws as a human being, he, his wife, and children are all growing in wisdom and grace – and the open act of hospitality avails such progress to a church that is called to emulate such an example. Again, hospitality is more than social etiquette – it is the ministry through which sheep can see their shepherd and his family in a very real way.

5. The Centrality of Love: Interestingly, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is devoid of any explicit mention of love; however, the notion of love is implicitly revealed in every qualification. First, I say this because, as the foremost commandment is indeed foremost in every dimension of life (Deuteronomy 6:4-5, Mark 12:28-31), so it is with every qualification disclosed for the overseer seeing that love must govern everything in the pastor’s relationship with God and men. Second, a careful perusal of 1 Corinthians 13:1-7 reveals that most of the character qualities of the overseer are repeated in this quintessential section on love. Moreover, the overseer’s leadership in his home must reflect that of Christ’s loving leadership of the church: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25). An overseer’s loving devotion and fidelity towards his wife formulates the basis for his capacity to lead his household well, and all of this establishes the requisite foundation of his leadership of Christ’s church, for “if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?” Though an explicit mention of love is nowhere to be found in the text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, it is everywhere by means of the whole counsel of God’s word and is central to everything.

6. The Extent of these Qualifications: As a final point of observation, Paul’s list of qualifications for overseers in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 is to be applied to all overseers – without exception. Though this may seem to be too simplistic an observation for our discussion, it is not. From the beginning of my ministry to the present, I have often encountered a kind of culture of relativity within the church, especially as it relates to elder qualifications. Within such a culture, “staff” pastors are expected to conform to the standards for overseers (at best), while “non-staff” pastors can shirk such standards at will. Such thinking is both unsupportable and disturbing. Though it is recognized that those elders who are primarily focused on public preaching and teaching are to be mindful of James’ warnings concerning teachers (James 3:1), such a notion in no way mitigates the biblical qualifications for “non-staff” elders. Elders who frequent the pulpit as well as those who do not should all be invested in pursuing the elder qualifications stipulated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 - because none of these texts establish any distinction among those who teach frequently versus those who teach with less frequency. The standards for overseers are not just for those with a seminary degree, or for those who readily fill the pulpit, but they apply to all who bear the title and office of overseer; and a conscientious pastor should seek the application of these standards among all overseers within the church so that he might be surrounded with the kind of accountability that he truly needs for the sake of his life, doctrine, and ministry overall. The removal or avoidance of these standards is spiritually dangerous to the pastor and the entire church.

This is just a small summary of lessons that deeply impacted my life and ministry during these times of testing. Though the pressures around me seemed to be overwhelming at times, the reality was that God was crushing me in order to formulate a valuable faith and conviction that cannot be acquired in the academy. What I did not realize at the time is that these seemingly obvious principles would prove to be deeply controversial. The more I became convinced of the central importance of the overseer’s need to exemplify a godly household in his ministry, the more controversy I faced. Though these principles should not be controversial within Christ’s body, I do maintain that the encroachment of feminism within the visible church supplies a veiled yet virulent opponent to such standards.

So what exactly happened during these trying years of ministry? How does this story end? Well, I won’t divulge all of the details (for there are too many), but the ebb and flow of this season of ministry came to a head when I was eventually accused of having standards for marriage and family that were “too high.” Please note, this was not an accusation of being unbiblical or of failing morally; instead, I was given the cryptic charge of having standards that were too high. At the outset, I was both disturbed and concerned over such charges. The reality is that, should I ever exceed what is written, I would clearly be in the wrong. In such a case as this I would gladly be shown my fault by Scripture, however, this never took place. Instead, I fear that behind these cryptic accusations was the veiled confession:

“We want lower standards.”

I must say to the reader that this is a fearful confession for any church. All of us must recognize that our standards fall short of God’s – daily, but this is to be expected. Isaiah 55:9 reminds us that our ways are exceedingly low, and God’s standards are always higher than ours: “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.” The solution to this is not found in the pursuit of standards that are lower than what God prescribes; instead, we must seek out His high standards in our continual pursuit of growth, knowing that we will never achieve perfection in this life - until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6). In the day of His return, we will be like Him and will be brought into conformity with His image. Until then, we are to reach out for God’s high and holy standard until our last breath, knowing that our sanctification in this life is progressive until the end. This is what I must seek as a Christian; as a husband; a father; and an undershepherd, and it is what I should call others to seek for Christ’s sake and ultimate glory. However, I fear that modern Christendom has divested itself of the high standards of God’s word in exchange for a lesser standard. It seems that many today are looking for a pastor who can become the next power broker in the market of “bigger is better”- Christianity. Simple, quiet, faithful devotion to the ministry of the word is out; market-driven big-religion is the new fad. Though Paul commands us to “make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands,” the world scoffs at this as primitive, puritanical, culturally irrelevant and that which will never “trend” on Twitter.

So be it.

As believers we should cherish the priceless robe of “the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3), rather than craving the world’s festal garments. Though such worldly clothing is ornate and eye-catching, it never endures. In all of this, I close by thanking the Lord for His precious lessons to me. Within the crucible of these trials, the Lord refined me and led me to understand my need to grow further as a Christian; to grow as a husband; a father; a pastor; and a heavenly citizen within this fallen world. Without the protective safeguards of God’s high standards, I fear that I would fail in the ministry by shrinking back to a lesser standard rooted in my own wisdom and strength rather than His. In God’s good providence it was through these years that I began to preach and write on the subject of marriage and family, which eventually supplied the foundation for my book, The First Institution.[4] As a result of my work on this book, I came to discover that, if anything, my standards needed to be raised further by the truths of God’s word. In all of this, I am deeply thankful to the Lord for His faithful tutelage in my life such that I can look back on such trials and see the tender providence of my faithful Shepherd.

To Him be the glory forever…

This article is also posted here.

[1] Specifically, the most prominent influences within the church came from R.B. Thieme, Zane Hodges, and George Meizinger.

[2] The reader should note that, throughout my ministry I have maintained that feminism is the indirect product of effeminism – that is, men who are unwilling to “act like men” 1 Corinthians 16:13. Wherever men create a vacuum of leadership (in the home or in the church) they create an indirect incentive for women to take their place. Thus, my concern over the prevalence of feminism in the modern era is not about women, primarily, but is centered on the preponderance of men who are failing to lead in the manner that God has called them.

[3] [G. γινόμενοι] – This present middle participle speaks of perpetual transformation of an individual’s nature and character. Perhaps a better translation would be “becoming examples” which clearly denotes the continued, progressive nature of the pastor’s mature as witnessed and imitated by others in the church.

[4] The First Institution: A Theological and Practical Guide for the Reformation of God's Institution of Marriage and Family [Hardback: ISBN-13: 978-1935358008].

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Does Paul “Invite” or “Anticipate” Human Reason?

One of the most interesting aspects of the Apostle Paul’s pedagogical methodology is his frequent use of staged questions which come from the vantage point of human reasoning. The book of Romans is filled with such a trail of staged questions, and this trail is established early on in the epistle:

Romans 3:1–8: 1 Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? 2 Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? 4 May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written, “THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTIFIED IN YOUR WORDS, AND PREVAIL WHEN YOU ARE JUDGED.” 5 But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) 6 May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? 7 But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? 8 And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

The Apostle purposefully jousts with a nameless opponent in order to demonstrate the dangerous dead end of human reasoning (i.e., speaking according to men - κατὰ ἄνθρωπον λέγω). His descent into such calumnious rhetoric is designed to stage his repeated retort: may it never be! (μὴ γένοιτο). The thought of accusing God of unrighteousness (v.5), conjoined with the licentious consideration of doing evil that good may come, all stem from the madness of human reasoning, as John Calvin rightly says.

Though this is a digression from the main subject, it was yet necessary for the Apostle to introduce it, lest he should seem to give to the ill-disposed an occasion to speak evil, which he knew would be readily laid hold on by them. For since they were watching for every opportunity to defame the gospel, they had, in the testimony of David, what they might have taken for the purpose of founding a calumny, — “If God seeks nothing else, but to be glorified by men, why does he punish them, when they offend, since by offending they glorify him? Without cause then surely is he offended, if he derives the reason of his displeasure from that by which he is glorified.” There is, indeed, no doubt, but that this was an ordinary, and everywhere a common calumny, as it will presently appear. Hence Paul could not have covertly passed it by; but that no one should think that he expressed the sentiments of his own mind, he premises that he assumes the person of the ungodly; and at the same time, he sharply, touches, by a single expression, on human reason; whose work, as he intimates, is ever to bark against the wisdom of God; for he says not, “according to the ungodly,” but “according to man,” or as man. And thus indeed it is, for all the mysteries of God are paradoxes to the flesh: and at the same time it possesses so much audacity, that it fears not to oppose them and insolently to assail what it cannot comprehend. We are hence reminded, that if we desire to become capable of understanding them, we must especially labor to become freed from our own reason, (proprio sensu) and to give up ourselves, and unreservedly to submit to his word.[1]

Calvin is right in his understanding of Paul’s teaching method and message. Paul is neither inviting nor encouraging calumnious responses to truth. Instead, he anticipates what he knows will flow from the human heart as a result of corrupted and limited reasoning. Paul repeats this pedagogic procedure again in Romans 6:

Romans 6:1–2: 1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be [μὴ γένοιτο]! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?

Once again, Paul anticipates the natural man’s response to God’s sovereignty over sin and corruption in order to refute such fleshly thinking.[2] This same methodology is again repeated in Paul’s profound treatment of God’s sovereignty in Romans 9:

Romans 9:14–21: 14 What shall we say then? There is no injustice with God, is there? May it never be! 15 For He says to Moses, “I WILL HAVE MERCY ON WHOM I HAVE MERCY, AND I WILL HAVE COMPASSION ON WHOM I HAVE COMPASSION.” 16 So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. 17 For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE I RAISED YOU UP, TO DEMONSTRATE MY POWER IN YOU, AND THAT MY NAME MIGHT BE PROCLAIMED THROUGHOUT THE WHOLE EARTH.” 18 So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires. 19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?” 20 On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use?

In many respects, Paul increases the intensity of his warnings to those who would raise calumnious back-talk to the Potter. Paul already refuted the speculation that injustice can be found in God back in Romans 3, and it is repeated here in the ninth chapter for reinforcement to what follows:

Romans 9:19 You will say to me then, “Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?”

It is important to note that Paul anticipates (in the indicative mood) the above query, that is to say, he asserts with certitude that men will respond thus (“You will say [Ἐρεῖς] to me…”). Paul’s follow-up to such an anticipated question is extremely important. His reference to God as the molder and potter brings to mind God’s severe displeasure with those who question His authority and sovereignty:

Isaiah 45:9: 9 “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’?

Isaiah 29:16: 16 You turn things around! Shall the potter be considered as equal with the clay, That what is made would say to its maker, “He did not make me”; Or what is formed say to him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Consistent with all of his other rhetorical questions, Paul’s staged queries in Romans 9 have the design of unveiling the heart of man behind the question. Therefore, Paul’s point of presenting such questions is designed to reveal: 1) the corruption of human reasoning; and 2) the purposes of God in all of His providential dealings with man. Once again, I believe that Calvin is right when he refers to the staged queries of Romans 9 as monstrous madness:

“Monstrous surely is the madness of the human mind, that it is more disposed to charge God with unrighteousness than to blame itself for blindness. Paul indeed had no wish to go out of his way to find out things by which he might confound his readers; but he took up as it were from what was common the wicked suggestion, which immediately enters the minds of many, when they hear that God determines respecting every individual according to his own will. It is indeed, as the flesh imagines, a kind of injustice, that God should pass by one and show regard to another.”[3]

Calvin reminds us that the normal questions raised by the natural man are typically bad questions which flow from the corruptions of the human heart. But such bad questions have a pedagogical purpose within Paul’s instruction. I would submit to the reader that Paul’s method here is designed to remind us all that, apart from grace, we are all madmen who are incapable of comprehending spiritual truth. The universal madness of men is well summarized by Solomon as follows:

Ecclesiastes 9:3: This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that there is one fate for all men. Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives. Afterwards they go to the dead.

Overall, it is important to understand Paul’s rhetorical methodology. For the sake of his readers, Paul anticipated questions that were formulated from the poverty of human reason. He did not do this in order to invite us to think in such terms, but to expose the danger and untrustworthiness of human reasoning. When applying this teaching methodology, we must remember never to shame people when they raise such questions about God; but neither should we invite them to persist in such rebellious thoughts. I believe that the balance is to remind them, as does Paul, that some questions are inherently bad. The problem with such queries isn’t just that they are misleading, but that they convey something quite insidious: blindness, foolishness, and rebellion against God – for all have sinned and fall short of His glory (Romans 3:23).

In the end we should be thankful that Paul raised these questions at all, for when we consider them carefully, we find that such thinking is a certain reality for all of the descendants of Adam. By exposing these faults within us, Paul reveals the supremacy of God’s revelation to us concerning His transcendent nature and purposes. Moreover, though it can be said that the believer can, by grace, embrace such transcendent truths – it must be acknowledged that our knowledge in this life is still limited and veiled due to our own sin and human frailty, and therefore we ought to confess with the Apostle:

Romans 11:33–36: 33 Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, OR WHO BECAME HIS COUNSELOR? 35 Or WHO HAS FIRST GIVEN TO HIM THAT IT MIGHT BE PAID BACK TO HIM AGAIN? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

Paul’s summary in Romans 11 brings us all to the place that we all belong: on our knees before the Pottertrusting Him in faith while trembling before His awesome power and authority - Isaiah 66:2: 2 “For My hand made all these things, Thus all these things came into being,” declares the LORD. “But to this one I will look, To him who is humble and contrite of spirit, and who trembles at My word.”

[1] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (electronic ed.). Calvin’s Commentaries (Romans 3:5). Albany, OR: Ages Software.

[2] “We indeed know that nothing is more natural than that the flesh should indulge itself under any excuse, and also that Satan should invent all kinds of slander, in order to discredit the doctrine of grace; which to him is by no means difficult. For since everything that is announced concerning Christ seems very paradoxical to human judgment, it ought not to be deemed a new thing, that the flesh, hearing of justification by faith, should so often strike, as it were, against so many stumbling-stones.” Calvin, J. (1998). Romans, (Romans 6:1).

[3] Calvin, J. (1998). Romans (9:14).