Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Book Recommendation

by Bruce Mills
I am reading a new book which was just published by Crossway at the end of November 2013 titled From Heaven He Came and Sought Her:  It is a presentation of the doctrine of definite atonement, also known as particular redemption or limited atonement.  The book covers four aspects: the doctrine in church history, in biblical passages, in theological understanding, and in pastoral application.
This is the most thorough and in-depth treatment of this subject that has ever been written.  It is a landmark book which, I believe, will become the standard reference book for anyone who wishes to undertake a comprehensive study of this doctrine.  This is not a book for the casual reader who is looking for a quick study, a light overview of the subject.  This is a seminary level treatment of this topic which addresses all the aspects of definite atonement.  It tackles all the arguments against it, interacting with the scholars of opposing viewpoints, while at the same time providing a mountain of biblical and theological support for it.  The book is edited by David Gibson and Jonathan Gibson, and is a compilation of chapters written by twenty-one of the world's foremost Reformed Protestant evangelical scholars, including men such as Henri Blocher, Sinclair Ferguson, John Piper, Thomas Schreiner, and Carl Trueman.  The foreword is written by J. I. Packer and it has received endorsements from men of exceptional scholarship, including D. A. Carson, Michael Horton, David Wells, John Frame, and Ligon Duncan.
I highly recomment this book, but as I said, it is not light reading.  But it is a book which will cause you to think and meditate on the glorious doctrine of the atonement and all that Christ accomplished through His propitiatory sacrifice.  The hardback edition is available at the present time from Westminster Bookstore (wtsbooks.com) for $32.50 plus $4.99 USPS shipping, or as a Kindle download edition from Amazon.com for $19.99. 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Would President Obama Bomb the Canaanites?

by Bruce Mills
I haven't written a blog post in over a year, and this post is no exception because it was written by someone else.  I've been so busy with my new responsibilities as the Executive Director of Verse by Verse Ministries (www.versebyverseradio.org) and other on-going ministry responsibilities that I haven't found the time to write anything worth reading.  However, I read a blog post today on Credo House Ministries Parchment & Pen blog that was so good that I had to repost it here.  It was written by Tim Kimberly, the Executive Director of Credo House Ministries, and addresses a major question that serious skeptics and atheists raise about God.  I hope this challenges your thinking and answers any questions you might have about these things.

by Tim Kimberley  September 27th, 2013

I’ll get right to the point. I think President Obama would have bombed the Canaanites way before God annihilated them. Why am I even bringing up this hypothetical situation? Are statements like this even helpful for us today in our walk with God? For those questions I need to back up a little bit.
I sat at the Credo House, in Heretics Corner, having a very important conversation. A young man who had been a strong believer the last time we met had grown shaky in many of his beliefs. This guy, whom I’ll call Jake, grew up in a very liberal part of the country and was born to liberal parents. His parents are intellectual people who view Christianity to be the opium of the masses.
Jake, slowly but surely, had been worn down by many conversations with atheist family members. Jake and I sat down to discuss many aspects of Christianity he was struggling to believe. After more than an hour and a half of great conversation he finally dropped the bomb. He said, “Alright, this is it, here’s the big one. My family and friends bring this up all the time and I’ve never heard a convincing response. Why is God so unjust in the Old Testament? How can God be loving when he does things like kill the Canaanites?
It’s a wonderful moment in any serious conversation to get to the real heart of an issue. Jake and I had been discussing issues in the periphery and now we were in the center of what was really bothering him. How does an intellectually honest Christian live with a God who called for the annihilation of the Canaanites? I know some of you reading this will think there is no such thing as an intellectually honest Christian, but please humor me for a bit while I talk nonsense.
Whenever we move into the issue of some of God’s actions in the Old Testament I typically have an image pop into my head. For some strange reason I go back to Thanksgiving. I’ll never forget the Thanksgiving many years ago when I finally was able to move from the little kids table to the adult table. At least at my house growing up we had a big table reserved for just the kids at Thanksgiving. We had another big table for all the grownups. Some cultures have elaborate ceremonies marking the passage from childhood to adulthood. The great ceremony, for me at least, was moving from the kids to the adult table.
I was so excited to move from the little kids table but it did have a distinct drawback. The conversations at the adult table were all about adult topics. If I wanted to sit at the adult table I needed to be willing to have an adult conversation. If you’re willing to criticize God for His actions in the Old Testament, you need to be willing to have adult level conversations.
If you are not willing to have an adult level conversation about God, please do not continue reading this post. Additionally, if you are under the age of 18, please stop reading this post. I’m going to get into some topics I want your parents to preview before you read. Seriously, stop reading if you have a weak stomach or are young.
Okay, I’m assuming everyone reading right now is consciously sitting at the adult table ready for an adult conversation. Here we go.
Before jumping directly into dealing with the Canaanites, let’s take a step back from that particular time and place and observe our world.
Let’s not pretend we live in a white-washed world. We live in a world where terms like Holocaust; Rwandan Genocide; and Darfur, Sudan have meaning. These atrocities were not committed by precocious little kids stealing candy from their sisters. These events were horrific. If my 6 year-old son asks me what happened during World War II, I can only provide a sugar-coated answer. I can only use simple words like good guys fought bad guys. I must hold back my more detailed adult knowledge.
Just last week I heard about an evil causing me to take a few shallow breathes. The details of this dreadful evil are difficult to even swallow at the adult table. Several men in New Delhi, India boarded a public transit bus and started gang raping a young girl. After raping her repeatedly they eventually rammed a metal rod up into her body which brutally ended her life. Four men were arrested and tried as adults. Some additional boys involved in the rape were so young they couldn’t be tried as adults.
Now, New Delhi is known as the rape capitol of India. Rape is common there and the men are usually given the benefit of the doubt. It is quite possible these men could have received a slap on the wrist. How could they get less than the full wrath of India?
I could probably make a case that none of these men would have done this terrible crime on their own. They were overcome by a mob mentality. The power of the group took over and each person lost their head. Yes, these young men should definitely be sentenced to prison but since they experienced a mob mentality there should be some leniency, perhaps.
Based on the knowledge the Indian society gained regarding the details of the crime, however, the young men were sentenced last week to death by hanging. The collective response throughout India was a recognition that justice had been served. When we put God on the stand and try him for being unjust, we need to remember there are terrible deeds happening in 2013 requiring extreme justice.
Let’s start going back in time a few thousand years and analyze the morality of the Ancient Near East. You may have heard of Baal worship. Baal is frequently symbolized in the form of a bull. Why? Because the people recognized the large testicles of bulls. Why did this matter? Well, people who worshiped Baal were many times looking for it to rain. In an agricultural society rain is of utmost importance. Baal worshipers thought they could force the hand of their god and make it rain.
Baal worshipers would get together and have massive orgies. Their hope was to turn on their god and force him to have an orgasm. His semen would fall to earth as rain. Yes, that’s a hard thing for a pastor to preach on Sunday morning to a mixed-age congregation. Remember, we’re at the adult table discussing the morality of God. Here’s an ancient Ugaritic poem:
To the earth Baal rained,
To the field rained ʿAliy.
Sweet to the earth was Baal’s rain
To the field the rain of ʿAliy.
[Side note: I'm not trying to be shocking or overly emotional. I'm just trying to be honest with reality while sitting at the adult table.]
You can see why Moses was so upset coming down from Mt. Sinai with the Ten Commandments when the people were “celebrating” after forming a golden calf.
In addition to Baal worship, the Canaanites worshiped a god named Molech. How do you worship Molech? You heat a large statue of Molech up to an insanely hot temperature. You then take a living baby and place it in the hands of the Molech statue until the baby burns to death. Of all the world religions I have studied, the Canaanite worship of Molech is the most frightening. The Canaanites were not innocent people. If that’s how they worshiped their god, you can only imagine how they treated one another.
Do you think the continual burning of children alive, coupled with many other proven “crimes against humanity”, is much better than Syria utilizing chemical weapons in 2013?
 Many of the proven atrocities from Canaan, Babylon and Assyria would certainly have caught the attention of President Obama if these were countries today. President Obama, interestingly, was elected in 2008 with an anti-war platform.
In no way is my intention to debate if President Obama should bomb Damascus. I simply want to point out that an intellectual lawyer and community organizer was elected in 2008 partly on his insistence that he was clearly against the Iraq war. No one, Republicans and Democrats together, would have accused President Obama as being a war mongering leader. He already, however, bombed Libya in 2011 and tried to make a case for bombing Syria.
President Obama has come to recognize when an individual is in charge and has reliable information of wrongdoing, it may be necessary in the pursuit of doing good to destroy people. This is adult table conversation. I don’t think President Obama is a moral monster for wanting to bomb a country that is willing to use chemical weapons. I don’t think President Truman is a moral monster for dropping atomic bombs on Japan in 1945 responsible for killing more than 230,000 men, women and children. For some reason Jake’s parents voted twice for President Obama, possibly support the actions of President Truman, but mock God as a moral monster.
There are, however, some incredible difference between President Obama and God. The one difference most applicable in this conversation is that God is all-knowing. He is fully aware of every tragedy. He is fully aware of every horrific event. God does not need to wait for an investigation to be done. He does not need to send in inspectors, he already intimately knows the situation.
India was aware of that horrible gang rape, but God knew every rape that day throughout the world. It is amazing, I believe, that God allows any country to flourish. If any president had full knowledge of every thought and action, he would probably be seeking congress to bomb all countries of the world.
Our observation of the Old Testament, however, seems to paint the opposite picture of God.Yes, God did pull the trigger a couple times throughout history and dropped atomic bombs. Many more times, however, His mercy and patience far outpaced that of humans.
Jonah is an excellent example. God sent Jonah to tell Nineveh that they would be destroyed. The Assyrians were bastards. That’s the easiest way to explain them. They invented ways to torture people. Crucifixion was first developed by them. They are known for conquering countries and then putting giant fish hooks through the cheeks of conquered people and marching them all the way back to Assyria. The Assyrians would have violated the Geneva Convention every day.
Jonah, famously, goes in the exact opposite direction of Nineveh. Why? He knows the type of God he serves. A war mongering moral monster? No. He knows his God is quick to forgive people. He is slow to punish. He is slow to avenge. Jonah doesn’t want Nineveh to have any chance of forgiveness. Jonah wants to fly the Enola Gay over Nineveh. God, however, is more restrained than Jonah. He wants to give Nineveh a chance to repent. The book of Jonah is an adult table book. God forces Jonah, kicking and screaming, to Nineveh and the people repent. The book ends with Jonah wanting to commit suicide because God forgives people who don’t deserve it.
I am convinced, using only evidence from the Old Testament and the news today, that President Obama would have called for the destruction of Canaan long before God gave his assent.

Friday, August 24, 2012

An Uncommon Commitment to Christ

by Bruce Mills

I just finished reading John Piper’s biography of John Paton (Pāy’tәn), pioneer missionary to the New Hebrides Islands during the late 1800s.  As I read, I was struck with a deep sense of Paton’s commitment to the service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, regardless of the cost to him.  The New Hebrides were filled with cannibals who had killed and eaten other missionaries who had preceded Paton and thus, most of the evangelical church had determined that the islands were off limits to evangelization.  But not to be deterred, Paton announced to the elders of his church that he believed God had directed him to go to the New Hebrides.  One of the older elders, a Mr. Dickson, exploded, “The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!” John Paton’s direct, unequivocal, in-your-face response was:
Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now, and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer.
220px-John_Gibson_PatonWith that kind of commitment to Christ, Paton and his pregnant wife Mary, arrived in the New Hebrides in November 1858.  The couple’s son was born a few months later in February, but after only one month, both Mary and the child died of an epidemic that was sweeping through the island population.  After digging both graves with his own hands, he buried them and slept on the graves for two nights in order to keep the cannibals from digging up the bodies and eating them.  He continued to evangelize the natives on the island for the next four years while in constant danger, until they finally drove him off the island.
But Paton’s commitment to Christ and to the New Hebrides was so great that after remarrying two years later, he and his new wife Margaret returned to the island of Aniwa in the New Hebrides.  The Patons labored together for 41 years until Margaret’s death in 1905 when John was 81 years old.  Despite the continual dangers and threats from the cannibals, the Patons persevered, eventually leading thousands to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.  They trained pastors, taught the natives to read, dispensed medicines, conducted worship services, and sent native teachers to all the villages to proclaim the gospel.  Eventually the entire island of Aniwa turned to Christ, and even today—105 years since the death of John Paton—85% of the population of Aniwa (now known as Vanuatu) identifies itself as Christian, with perhaps 21% of the population being evangelical.
From where did Paton’s unflagging courage to serve Christ come?  Piper points out several reasons for such tremendous courage, but the two which I found most interesting were: (1) His commitment to the doctrines of Calvinism, and (2) His confidence in the sovereignty of God controlling all circumstances. 
Paton recognized that everyone who comes to faith in Christ does so solely because of His sovereign choice and effectual call in drawing those to Himself.  He wrote about these matters, stating “Regeneration is the sole work of the Holy Spirit in the human heart and soul, and is in every case one and the same.”  He then concluded, stating, “Oh, Jesus!  To Thee alone be all the glory.  Thou hast the key to unlock every heart that Thou has created.”  So despite all the misrepresentations of Calvinism’s doctrines and their impact on evangelism, it was his Calvinism that functioned as the impetus for Paton’s overwhelming passion for missions.
In addition, his deep trust in the sovereignty of God allowed him to serve in the most dangerous of circumstances without fear of death.  About one situation in which he and a native believer were surrounded by hostile cannibals who intended to kill them and were urging one another to strike the first blow, Paton wrote:
My heart rose up to the Lord Jesus; I saw Him watching all the scene.  My peace came back to me like a wave from God.  I realized that I was immortal till my Master’s work with me was done.  The assurance came to me, as if a voice out of Heaven had spoken, that not a musket would be fired to wound us, not a club prevail to strike us, not a spear leave the hand in which it was held vibrating to be thrown, not an arrow leave the bow, or a killing stone the fingers, without the permission of Jesus Christ, whose is all power in Heaven and on Earth.  He rules all Nature, animate and inanimate, and restrains even the Savage of the South Seas.
What a deep understanding and application of God’s sovereignty!  John Paton was one of God’s choicest servants whose commitment to Jesus Christ exceeded anything that most Christians today can comprehend.  My heart was challenged by my own lack of commitment, my failure to share the gospel as I should, and how often I fail to apply the truths about God’s sovereignty to how I live my daily life.  I recommend every Christian read either a biography of John Paton (there are several), or perhaps Paton’s own autobiography.  I guarantee that your heart will be challenged also by the incredible commitment of this man of God.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

How Did Christ Become Sin for Us?

by Bruce Mills
A few weeks ago, a friend asked the following question: 2 Corinthians 5:21 says:  “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  So does this mean that Christ gave up His holiness at the cross?   How could this be if God is inherently holy? 
CrucifixionThis is a very significant question, so let me pass along the answer I gave because I’m sure others have wondered the same thing. 
Because we know that Christ was without sin, the phrase “to be sin” requires a careful understanding.  It does not mean that Christ became a sinner.  As God in human flesh, He could not possibly have committed any sin or in any way violated God’s law.  It is equally unthinkable that God, whose “eyes are too pure to approve evil” (Hab. 1:13), would make anyone a sinner, let alone His own holy Son.  He was the unblemished Lamb of God while on the cross, personally guilty of no sin.  Isa. 53:4-6 describes the only sense in which Jesus could have been made sin.  It says:
4Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted.  5But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.  6All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.
Jesus was not made a sinner, nor was He punished for any sin of His own.  Instead, the Father treated Him as if He were a sinner by charging to His account the sins of everyone who would ever believe.  All those sins were charged against Him as if He had personally committed them, and He was punished with the penalty for them on the cross, experiencing the full fury of God’s wrath unleashed against them all. 
This is what we call “imputation.”  In the same way that Christ was made “to be sin” by our sin being imputed to Him, so also, the righteousness of Christ was imputed to our account so that we were made to “become the righteousness of God in Him.”  We are not sinless and righteous, but through imputation in which Christ’s righteousness is charged to our account, God looks on us as being as pure and sinless as Jesus Christ.  So imputation works both ways—our sin was imputed to Christ, and His righteousness was imputed to us.  He remained absolutely holy and sinless, but was treated as though He had sinned; we are absolutely corrupt and sinful, but are treated as though we have never sinned.  What incredible, marvelous grace!

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Next Step: Infanticide

by Bruce Mills
250px-HumanNewbornRecently, two professors calling themselves “ethicists” published an article in the Journal of Medical Ethics attempting to justify what they termed “after birth abortion.”  The term is an interesting one because it is specifically designed to blunt the outrage that would undoubtedly occur if the procedure they are recommending was called what it has been known as throughout human history—infanticide.
These two professors—one from the University of Milan (Italy) and the other from the University of Melbourne (Australia)—do not attempt to hide their agenda.  They argue that newborn babies are unable to understand events taking place around them and cannot anticipate what may occur, and therefore do not truly possess the necessary characteristics to be considered to have reached personhood status.
The professors acknowledge their preference for the term “after-birth abortion” rather than “infanticide” because they claim that the birth of the child is not morally significant.  They justify their position with two arguments:
First, they state, “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus, that is, neither can be considered a ‘person’ in a morally relevant sense.”
Second, they argue that “it is not possible to damage a newborn by preventing her from developing the potentiality to be a person in the morally relevant sense.”
These two arguments lead them to this conclusion: “The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in the sense that both lack the properties that justify the attribution of a right to life to an individual.”
In other words, an infant is not significantly different than an unborn fetus, and thus, so long as that infant remains so, it is perfectly justifiable to terminate that infant’s life. 
Now, we must first understand that this viewpoint is the logical next step to abortion.  The basis of the whole argument for abortion is that the fetus lacks moral status as a human being.  So to argue that it is okay to execute a newborn infant isn’t a significant leap in moral laxity from arguing that it is okay to perform a late term abortion on an unborn child.  And in the same manner, it is not a significant leap to then argue that it is okay to euthanize those adults who because of mental disability or dementia are not capable of understanding the events taking place around them, anticipating the future, and reacting appropriately to such.
Creation-hands-LWhat the professors and the pro-abortionists neither understand nor believe is that human beings do not receive their moral status as persons because of their abilities to think, act, and react by some human determination of personhood.  Rather, man’s moral status is determined because he has been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26).  Nothing more, nothing less.  It is only because the unborn fetus, the newborn infant, the mentally handicapped individual, and the elderly person whose reasoning abilities have been taken by the ravages of dementia all bear the image of God that they have moral status as human beings.  And because they all bear that image and thus have status as human beings, they are entitled to life so long as determined by the God who created them.  He is the One who determines what is morally right, not man, and He determines both the quality (Exodus 4:11) and extent of man’s life (Job 14:5).
So the professors may attempt to disguise infanticide by calling it “post-birth abortion,” but regardless of what they call it, it is still a moral outrage.  But what else should we expect from those who reject any objective standard of morality?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Non-negotiable Doctrines

by Bruce Mills
Which doctrines are so crucial that if someone denies any one of them, he cannot be considered to be a true Christian?  I’ve given some thought to that, and here is my list.

1. The inerrancy and authority of the Bible.
2. The virgin birth of Christ.
3. His complete divinity.
4. His substitutionary atonement.
5. His bodily resurrection.
6. His physical return for His people.
7. Man’s fallen, sinful condition and his inability to save himself.
8. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.

There are other doctrines which others may argue should be added to this list, but these are what I believe are the absolute, fundamental, non-negotiable doctrines which all true Christians must believe. Other doctrines which are not specifically listed may “fit into” one of these doctrines; i.e., the doctrine of the humanity of Christ can be seen to be a part of our understanding of His virgin birth.
While believers may disagree on the details of certain doctrines, belief in the doctrines listed above is non-negotiable. If anyone claims to be a Christian, yet does not hold to these truths, there is solid reason to question the validity of his/her claim.
I do not mean that there might, at times, be differences of opinion regarding certain details about the doctrines listed above (such as whether Christ’s atonement was limited in scope or unlimited in scope, or the timing of His return for the church), but anyone who denies any of these basic beliefs cannot legitimately claim to be a true believer and follower of Christ.