Design a site like this with
Get started

Is God a Bad Communicator?

Is God a Bad Communicator?

by Cameron Buettel Friday, November 13, 2015

God is not the author of confusion, as Scripture tells us (1 Corinthians 14:33). But confusion nevertheless reigns in many corners of the modern evangelical church. When it comes to understanding the truth of God’s Word, too many believers are content with subjective interpretations and fluid doctrinal statements. And even churches that claim to have sound convictions can quickly descend into a hermeneutical free-for-all.

Scripture Without the Authority

I was briefly a member of one such church. In a region dominated by liberalism, it proudly submitted to Scripture’s authority in all matters of faith and practice. But the façade of biblical fidelity came crashing down when the senior pastor explained that I shouldn’t talk about sin in my evangelism. “People already know they are sinners,” he contended. When I asked if we could discuss this matter by reasoning from Scripture he shut down the conversation immediately, seeing only futility in further discussion. I will never forget the last words he spoke to me: “You can make the Bible say what you want it to say and I can make the Bible say what I want it to say.”

For all I know, he still professes allegiance to the authority of Scripture. But what real authority can God’s Word have if you don’t believe its meaning is clear?

Because God Said So

That’s not to say the Bible does not contain passages that are difficult to interpret—it does. Some prophecies are mysterious. Some instructions are shrouded in cultural obscurity. And sometimes our English translations bury the profundity of the original languages. But when it comes to matters of essential doctrines, Scripture could not be clearer.

The fundamentals of the Christian faith are not only fundamental because they are biblical, they are also fundamental because the Bible sets them forth clearly. John MacArthur makes that point in his book Reckless Faith:

If an article of faith is to be regarded as fundamental, it must be clearly set forth in Scripture. No “secret knowledge” or hidden truth-formula could ever qualify as a fundamental article of faith. No key is necessary to unlock the teaching of the Bible. God speaks clearly in His Word—it has perspicuity.

The truth of God is not aimed at learned intellectuals; it is simple enough for a child. “You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent, and have revealed them to infants” (Matthew 11:25). The Word of God is not a puzzle. It does not speak in riddles. It is not cryptic or mysterious. It is plain and obvious to those who have spiritual ears to hear. “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul” (Psalm 19:7).[1]

The Whole Bible Tells the Whole Story

But what about fundamental doctrines like the Trinity? The word is not mentioned in the Bible, nor will you find a comprehensive statement on it from any single passage of Scripture.

In that particular case, God’s Word teaches the doctrine of the Trinity with clarity because it is a doctrine that can be deduced from what the whole of Scripture clearly says about God. There is one God and no other (Exodus 15:11Deuteronomy 4:356:432:391 Samuel 2:21 Kings 8:60Isaiah 44:6–8Isaiah 45:21-22). That one God is a plurality of persons (Genesis 1:26Genesis 11:7). And the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are all God (Genesis 1:1Matthew 28:19John 1:1John 10:30Acts 5:3–51 Corinthians 8:6). The totality of how the Bible presents who God is would make no sense without the fundamental doctrine of the Trinity.

God’s Clarity Is Not a Democracy

Those with a strong ecumenical bent tend to put the cart before the horse when it comes to defining which doctrines are fundamental. Rather than treating Scripture as the source of fundamental doctrine, Scripture is subject to the consensus of church denominations. This issue has not escaped John MacArthur’s attention: 

Some would argue that the only test of whether something is essential to true Christianity is whether it is affirmed by all the major Christian traditions. Perhaps this is the very idea behind appeals for ecumenical unity. But as Witsius points out, according to that rule, hardly anything of any substance would remain to distinguish the Christian Gospel from the “salvation” offered by pagan morality or Islamic theology. “There is much truth in the remark of Clement of Alexandria; ‘No Scripture, I apprehend, is so favourably treated, as to be contradicted by no one.’”[2]

Fundamental doctrines are not obscure, nor are they defined by ecumenical consensus. They are fundamental because they represent what Scripture clearly teaches, and as we’ll see next time, they represent everything essential for salvation.

A Liberal Order That Seeks To Shut Down Christian Charities Doesn’t Deserve To Survive

Christian post-liberals on the right have seen how readily the liberal center-left and the Chamber-of-Commerce right surrender to the extreme and illiberal left. It makes them wonder: Why not us?

A Liberal Order That Seeks To Shut Down Christian Charities Doesn’t Deserve To Survive

Dec 26, 2019

It is a basic Christian teaching that good works are insufficient for spiritual salvation. We should also remember they are unlikely to suffice for cultural and political salvation either.

Chick-fil-A’s abandonment of The Salvation Army is yesterday’s news, but its lessons should be remembered, for they explain our cultural and political trajectory. That the chicken chain capitulated even though everyone was “eating mor chikin” is instructive regarding the power of the LBGT lobby and its allies. That they directed this power against a Christian organization dedicated to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and sheltering the homeless — including those who identify as LGBT — is even more instructive.

It exemplifies how hard-liners are driving the cultural left. It is not clear that a majority even of those who identity as LGBT hate The Salvation Army. For example, Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg volunteered for the organization (albeit for a photo op) a couple of years back. Now he is facing criticism from LGBT activists, as those running the movement want total victory, not coexistence. And they are winning.

The campaign included government officials from Buffalo, New York, to San Antonio, Texas, retaliating against Chick-fil-A for its support of The Salvation Army. Even without full control over the government, the left has been aggressive in its use of government power against Christians who believe traditional teachings on human sexuality. The left seems to target particularly those engaged in charitable work, rather than protecting them on account of their good works.

The left’s legal wing is trying to compel Christian hospitals to perform abortions and sex-change surgeries, Christian schools to affirm same-sex relationships, and Christian charities such as women’s shelters to pretend men can be women. A purportedly serious Democratic presidential candidate wanted to tax dissenting Christian organizations, including churches, into oblivion.

The left won’t even spare elderly nuns. When the Trump administration ended Barack Obama’s legal campaign against the Little Sisters of the Poor, various Democratic attorneys general made a point of continuing that unholy effort.

The Rise of Post-Liberal Christianity

This should not surprise us. Jesus promised that the powers of this world would hate his followers, not that they would love us if we were virtuous. While we Christians should always strive to be more like Christ, we should not succumb to a quasi-Pelagianism that presumes our winsomeness determines how others receive the gospel. Christ himself was crucified, and the grace and charity many martyrs exemplified did not save them from persecution unto death.

But that we should expect trouble in this world does not mean we should be disinterested regarding politics, nor does it excuse governments that oppose the church and oppress its people. That our nation seems to be starting down this path has intensified Christian reconsiderations of liberal political theory. Although our government ostensibly protects the freedoms of religion, association, and speech, procedural liberalism increasingly appears insufficient to protect our rights or to ensure a culture of tolerance and pluralism that includes Christians who maintain the traditional teachings of our faith.

The supposedly neutral principles of the legal left consistently restrict the rights and opportunities of orthodox Christians, and the left always pushes the envelope. Christian litigators should, of course, do their best to defend our rights, and thank God for their efforts, but it should be no surprise that more and more Christians are intrigued by varieties of post-liberal thinking, including previously marginalized ideas such as Catholic integralism. It is understandable that Christians are turning against the system of liberal democratic capitalism as it turns against them.

Post-liberal Christians are unlikely to find their minority status daunting, for they see that minorities can win if they are determined and the institutions they face are weak and full of cowards. After all, a minority of hard-line leftists control cultural, economic, and political pressure points that grant them power far beyond their numbers.

For example, the 2020 Democratic field is so radically pro-abortion that even The New York Times has noticed. The Democratic Party stands for abortion today, abortion tomorrow, and abortion forever, as Sen. Elizabeth Warren illustrated in promising that at her inauguration — angels and ministers of grace defend us! — she will wear swag to rep the nation’s largest abortion chain.

Christian post-liberals on the right have seen how readily the liberal center-left and the Chamber-of-Commerce right surrender to the extreme and illiberal left and wonder: Why not us? A decadent and despairing culture with weak institutions and degraded elites is precisely the sort that a determined minority might govern.

Thus, they see an opportunity as our culture disintegrates despite its wealth and technological prowess. Liberal individualism seems to be devouring itself: Fertility is down, loneliness and depression have increased, and deaths of despair from suicide, drugs, and alcohol are way up.

Should Liberalism Be Preserved?

Perhaps it is time to be bold and reorder society toward the highest good, rather than accepting liberalism’s dishonest promises of “live and let live” neutrality. As some post-liberal thinkers note, we increasingly live in a non-Christian integralist society that mandates belief in sectarian dogmas, such as the mystical belief that a man may become — indeed, may already be — a woman. Therefore, they see the alternative to post-liberal Christian politics not as liberalism, but as some sort of post-Christian illiberal politics.

I am sympathetic to some of the post-liberal thought developing on the right. I see the appeal, especially as liberalism’s promise of legal neutrality is exposed as so much fiction. I share many of the critiques of liberal political theory and find its discourse far more interesting than the stale talking points of neoliberals and neoconservatives.

But I am neither Catholic nor Calvinist enough to be much of an integralist, and I remain more skeptical of the likelihood of governmental efficacy and rectitude than many post-liberals seem to be. I also remain attached to many liberal practices, such as the right to trial by jury.

I am, in short, still thinking over these matters and am not entirely in either camp. From this in-between, I would recommend post-liberal thinkers reflect on the frailty and fallibility of human institutions. I also suggest that the defenders of liberal democratic capitalism take the critiques of post-liberals seriously. A liberal order that seeks to shut down Christian charities for nonconformist views on human sexuality does not deserve to survive.

Nathanael Blake is a Senior Contributor at The Federalist. He has a PhD in political theory. He lives in Missouri.

Imagination on the Fringes

By Jill Carattini

Author A.J. Jacobs admits that he was agnostic before he even knew what the word meant. For all the good God seemed to invoke, the potential for abuse was far too high in his mind for God to be taken seriously. In a book exploring religion and religiousness, Jacobs describes an uncle who seemed to confirm this for him. Dabbling religiously in nearly every religion, his uncle went through a phase where he decided to take the Bible completely literally. Thus, heeding the Bible’s command in Deuteronomy 14:25 to secure money in one’s hand, he tied bills to his palms. Heeding the biblical command to wear fringes at the corners of one’s garment, he bought yarn from a kitting shop, made a bunch of tassels, and attached them to every corner he could find on his clothes.(1) While his uncle sought faithfulness to the letter, Jacobs was left with the impression that his uncle was “subtly dangerous.”

There are certainly sections of the Bible that when stripped of context and read in a lifeless vacuum can lead a mind to extremes. Like Jacobs, it is easy to conclude that religion and religiousness are completely ridiculous; or like his uncle, it is possible to assume complete literalism and run in ridiculous directions. The practice of making and wearing tassels on the corners of one’s garment, for instance, commanded in Numbers 15:37, is one such peculiar biblical decree easily dismissed in the name of reason or disemboweled in the name of faithfulness. Yet neither response truly yields an honest view of the command.

In fact, what seems an entirely curious fashion tip for the people of Israel was a common sight in many ancient Near Eastern cultures. Fringed garments were considered ornamental and illustrative of the owner; they were also were thought to hold certain spiritual significances.(2) In Assyria and Babylonia, for instance, fringes were believed to assure the wearer of the protection of the gods. Thus, God’s command of the Israelites to “make fringes on the corners of their garments throughout their generations” took something familiar to the nations and gave it new significance for the nation God called his own. “You will have the fringe so that, when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the LORD and do them, and not follow the lust of your own heart and your own eyes” (Numbers 15:39). Like many of the commands and rituals described in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, the instruction of tassels is about remembrance. The perpetual presence of fringe and tassel was a tangible reminder that all of life, not only moments of piety or prayer, was an opportunity to be in the presence of God. To miss the rich substance of this divine petition is to miss it—and its petitioner—entirely.

But more than this, we do well to carry such social, historical, imaginative, and linguistic depth throughout other segments of Scripture we might otherwise dismiss. What might have seemed an insignificant quirk of an ancient context finds meaning in texts long thereafter. In ancient times, for instance, tassels were a part of the hem of a garment, which itself was a significant social statement. The hem was the most ornate part of one’s attire, and thus declared the wearer’s importance before the world. It was considered a symbolic extension of one’s person, a means of grasping one’s stature—sometimes literally. Grasping the hem of one from whom you wanted something, you were thought to be grasping the very identity of the owner—and hence it was shameful to refuse the request. The hems of kings’ and nobles’ robes, moreover, were symbolic of their rank and authority, and therefore were often longer, richer in color, or made with more costly fabric. Thus, when David cut the hem of Saul’s robe in the cave, the declaration was as potent as crushing the crown of Queen Elizabeth or impeaching the president. Saul conceded, “Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”

But along with authority, importance, and personhood, holiness was also expressed in antiquity by the fringes and hems of one’s garment. The length of a priest’s or rabbi’s fringes was symbolic of piety, respect, and authority. And this message is perhaps no clearer than in the vision of Isaiah when the very hem of the robe of the LORD filled everything before the prophet’s eyes. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Isaiah envisions the God described in Scripture as one whose person is larger than anything we can imagine, one who comes near to us within a specific context, and fills the world with even the fringes of Himself.

I know only of one other hem that amazed crowds and changed individuals and imaginations in the same way. Unlike the priests who made “their fringes long” to shout of their piety, this man had no form or majesty that we should look at him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him (Matthew 23:5, Isaiah 53:2). And yet, people came from the very fringes of society hoping to touch even the hem of his robe. They begged him that they might touch even the tassels of his cloak. And indeed, all who touched him were made whole.(3)

Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.

(1) A. J. Jacobs, A Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007), 6.
(2) “Fringes,” in J. Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1902), 68-70.
(3) Cf. Matthew 14:36, Matthew 9:20, Luke 8:44, Mark 6:56.

%d bloggers like this: