The intolerance of ‘tolerance’

tsslogo.jpgIn light of our discussion on religious tolerance and policy shifts limiting evangelism efforts on college campuses (Georgetown specifically) I am reminded of a point made by Don Carson, a man himself passionately committed to and engaged in campus evangelism. I transcribed this quote several years ago but since lost the text. So this morning I trekked back into the audio archives, located the quote and clicked out a transcript. It was a great honor to attend this message personally on October 6, 2002 at Omaha Bible Church. For simple folk like myself, I think the point is better stated here than anywhere in Carson’s books.

“Twenty five years ago ‘tolerance’ was understood to be a virtue that operated something like this: If I hold strong views on any particular subject I am nevertheless judged to be ‘tolerant’ if I think that your views are bad, immoral, improper, even disgusting, wicked or stupid, but still insist you have the right to defend them. In other words, a ‘tolerant’ person puts up with somebody else’s views and insists they have the right to hold them even while – in the vigorous arena of debate – we might disagree fundamentally on who is right or who is wrong. Such a person is a ‘tolerant’ person.

But nowadays, that is not what ‘tolerance’ means. Now ‘tolerance’ means that you don’t hold that anybody is right or wrong. Everybody is equally right or wrong. Nobody is more right than another person. If you don’t hold that then you are ‘intolerant.’ Now that is a huge shift … Under this new definition of ‘tolerance’ I don’t even know what ‘tolerance’ means because in the old view of ‘tolerance’ you had to disagree with someone before you could actually tolerate them. How do you say ‘Oh, yes, you are entirely right – I tolerate you?’ … This new ‘tolerance’ actually becomes extremely intolerant of anybody who does not buy into this view of ‘tolerance’ because if you actually come right out and say that some view is wrong or silly or foolish or indefensible or even questionable, then you are judged to be ‘intolerant.’ Thus, in the name of this newfangled tolerance it turns out, at profoundly deep levels, to be the most intolerant thing of all!”

D.A. Carson, Evangelism in the 21st Century (session 2), address delivered at Omaha Bible Church on Oct. 6, 2002. Carson will be back at OBC in 2008 (DV).

Evangelism @ Georgetown U

tsslogo.jpgIn order to curb proselytizing, Georgetown University recently instituted the following policy:

“While zeal for spreading the good news of the Gospel is a most worthy Christian virtue, there is increasing agreement among Christians today that proselytism, defined as any effort to influence people in ways that depersonalizes or deprives them of their inherent value as persons or the use of any coercive techniques or manipulative appeals which bypass a person’s critical faculties or play on psychological weakness, is unworthy of Christian life. Physical coercion, moral constraint, or psychological pressure and inducements for conversion which exploit other people’s needs, weaknesses, and lack of education are not to be practiced by representatives of affiliated ministries.”

This statement is open to broad interpretation. Can you mention God’s eternal judgment, or would this be considered “coercive” or “manipulative”? Will talk of personal sinfulness violate a person’s “inherent value”? If arguments were based on Scripture as the revealed Word of God would this be to “bypass a person’s critical faculties”? At its core the gospel is an answer to our greatest needs, our sin, our weaknesses, our ignorance and calls us to repent (say we are wrong) and turn from our current ways. I wonder what a public reading of Revelation 3:17 would get you? “For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” Would this get you arrested or kicked off the Georgetown campus?

If I were pursuing a PhD, it would be a study in contemporary trends in so-called religious tolerance. Interesting shifts are taking place in our country. For example, in former days religious tolerance was about lovingly tolerating other people despite an intolerance towards their ideas. This tolerance leads to civil discussions and an opportunity for Christians to love their neighbor and also be repulsed by their neighbor’s false understanding of the gospel. Tolerance is now taking a new form. Religious tolerance is no longer a tolerance of persons we disagree with, but rather a debate on what opinions will be tolerated publicly. This is a significant shift because religious tolerance is quickly becoming religious intolerance if we don’t believe what the policy holders approve.

This post is no endorsement of bone-headed evangelism that has no humility, that puts down its audience, that yells all day at the wrath to come without mentioning the Son who bore this wrath so sinners can come to their loving eternal Father. What I am saying is that these groups cause reactions in policy that — when mixed with the new religious ‘tolerance’ of opinions — will impact the work of the humblest evangelist.

HT: SF

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Related: “In a relatively free and open society, the best forms of tolerance are those that are open to and tolerant of people, even when there are strong disagreements with their ideas. This robust toleration for people, if not always for their ideas, engenders a measure of civility in public discourse while still fostering spirited debate over the relative merits of this or that idea. Today, however, tolerance in many Western societies increasingly focuses on ideas, not on people. The result of adopting this new brand of tolerance is less discussion of the merits of competing ideas — and less civility. There is less discussion because toleration of diverse ideas demands that we avoid criticizing the opinions of others… Exclusiveness is the one religious idea that cannot be tolerated. Correspondingly, proselytism is a dirty word. One cannot fail to observe a crushing irony: the gospel of relativistic tolerance is perhaps the most ‘evangelistic’ movement in Western culture at the moment, demanding assent and brooking no rivals.”

D.A. Carson in The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism (Zondervan: 1996) pp. 32, 33.

God’s wrath and horror films

best-horror-films.jpgIn light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:

– Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?

– Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?

– In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?

These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.

Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,

“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).

God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.

What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.

As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.

I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!

My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.

Warning …

… The quote you are about to enjoy is extremely hot!

 

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Propitiation? What’s that all about? … This blend was hand picked from the mountain peaks of the 2006 Desiring God National Conference: The Supremacy of Christ and the Church in a Postmodern World.

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The importance of God’s wrath

The importance of God’s wrath

Yesterday I posted some comments about my gratefulness to Christ for escaping the horrifying consequences of my own sinfulness, namely escaping God’s wrath (see Saved from the wrath of God). Today I want to return to the topic and post from arom59big.jpg slightly different angle.

From my perspective – and knowing my own heart — we sinners are apt to forget the gospel. When we become ignorant of the gospel, we make unwise life decisions, bear children ignorant of the gospel, and live in marriages where the Cross is not central (Eph. 5:22-33). It’s to our benefit, humility, and joy to be reminded of Scripture’s emphasis upon the wrath of God poured out towards sinners. This is what Christians have been saved from. The wrath of God is absorbed in the substitutionary work of Jesus Christ as our judicious and forensic Savior, and we are never beyond need of reminding.

So why is the doctrine of God’s wrath so important? For starters, the gospel – that the wrath of God resting upon the heads of all sinners, is, in Christ, absorbed when He drank the cup of our condemnation and substitutes Himself for the redeemed – is always in a process of erosion. This is especially true today.

One of the most noted dangers of the New Perspective(s) of Paul is the de-emphasis on Christ as the substitute who absorbs the wrath of God. After citing direct quotations from prominent NPP writer N.T. Wright, T. David Gordon writes, “The enemies and powers defeated by Christ do not (for Wright) include God’s own wrath or judgment … when he explains Paul’s narrative theology, and the cross and resurrection as the center of that narrative, he is entirely right, but when he explains precisely what Christ therein triumphed over, the wrath of God is not among the panoply” [in Gary L.W. Johnson and Guy P. Waters, editors. By Faith Alone: Answering the Challenges to the Doctrine of Justification (Crossway: 2006), p. 63].

The point is we are always in danger of forgetting God’s wrath. By sheer volume of Bible references, the wrath of God towards every sinner is the central consequence of our sinfulness. It is central to the work of Christ, central to the gospel, and central to living the Cross centered life.

So in hopes of stirring you up by way of reminder, here is a (short) list of some reasons why the theme of God’s wrath is important:

1. God’s wrath is biblical. The Scriptures are saturated with the wrath of God. Look for yourself. Talking about God’s wrath is nothing but letting the priorities of Scripture become our own priorities. We should be humbled and sobered by God’s wrath, but never silent. God has promised that sinners – all who are sexually impure, covetous, idolatrous, or otherwise impure and unrighteous – will face the wrath of God (Jam. 2:10; Eph. 5:3-6). Those who say otherwise are speaking empty and deceptive words.

2. God’s wrath reveals God. The wrath of God reveals His holiness, envy, perfections, an intense hatred of rebellion, His righteousness, His justice, His power. “I will make myself known among them, when I judge you” (Ezek. 35:11). Soberly, God reveals Himself in the damnation of the wicked. “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory” (Rom. 9:22-23). The beauty of the Cross and the redeemed shines with greater luster when compared to the coming condemnation coming upon the wicked. Until we understand God’s holiness and wrath, we will only have wrong conceptions of Him.

3. God’s wrath reveals who we are.
We are sinners. We exchange the glory of God for created things. We happily replace the joy of God for collecting Hallmark figurines, antiques and Beanie Babies (Rom. 1:18-23). We would rather treasure the fleeting things of the world and forfeit our souls (Mark 8:36). We are His subjects, but we do everything in our power to reject Him. We will abandon the natural biological creation to invent our own unnatural means of rebellion (Rom. 1:27). Every act of rebellion stokes the wrath of God (Rom. 1:18). If we have become honest with ourselves, we know that we are wrath-deserving, glory-exchanging, sin-pursuing sinners that (apart from Christ) can only expect the eternal wrath of God’s holiness. This is who we are. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, one of the great preachers of the 20th century, writes: “The way to appreciate your own sinfulness is not to look at your actions, nor your life, but to come into the presence of God” (Great Doctrines, 1:72). Step close enough to feel the heat of God’s holiness.

4. Importance of God’s wrath in the daily life of the Christian. To the question, “How are you today?”, C.J. Mahaney has popularized the response: “Better than I deserve.” Try it sometime. The barista behind the counter at Starbucks will give you a very puzzled look. But this will also be a great opportunity to share that an understanding of God’s wrath has made a permanent impact in your heart. So what do you deserve? Do you deserve perfect health? A venti Americano? Comfortable finances? An early retirement? Comforts? Vacations? The Christian knows better. Sinners (of which Christians will be until we see Christ face-to-face and have our sin burned away) deserve the wrath of God. It’s only because of God’s graciousness in the death of His Son that some sinners will be spared. Most sinners will get exactly what they deserve — the undiluted, eternal torment of God’s burning wrath. So why do we get angry when our comforts are disrupted by our spouse or children? Take a look into your own heart and ask: What upsets me? These disruptions are typically rooted in a misunderstanding that we are entitled to something other than wrath.

5. God’s wrath kills self-righteousness. If ever there was a truth that would break a self-righteous sinner like me, it’s the truth that God’s wrath rests upon me eternally if I am uncovered by the righteousness of Christ. My church attendance and good works and kindness and charity are a flick of water into a raging furnace. What can I do to cool the wrath of God? In light of His blazing holiness, what efforts, what works, will extinguish His wrath towards each of my sins? The popular wax gospel of human invention — that God will be pleased with me because I am not as bad as others – melts near the furnace of God’s wrath. Even a great and righteous prophet must pronounce condemnation upon himself in the presence of a holy God (Isa. 6:1-7).

6. God’s wrath exalts the work of Christ. How easily we forget that the searing pain and scorching suffering of Christ can never be pictured by His lacerated back and the holes in His hands, feet and side. These physical pains are only a surface-level visual to the horrors of the Son drinking down the cup of God’s wrath (Mark 14:32-36 with Jer. 25:15-38). “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). Or to put it another way, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). The Gospel is centered around God’s wrath. For in His anger towards sinners He transferred the wrath from His children onto His only Son and then crushed that only Son. Until we catch a glimpse of the horrors of God’s wrath, we will never begin to see the horror and the beauty of the Cross.

7. God’s wrath motivates evangelism. How can we be quiet? “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (2 Cor. 5:11). The thought that sinners would rest content in self-righteousness was appalling to the Apostle Paul. All self-righteous sinners, and especially the religious, need to hear the gospel to be saved from the wrath of God. This gospel travels on the wings of preachers sent out with the self-righteous killing Gospel (Rom. 10:1-21). What loosens the mouth to speak the Gospel is a heart that has seen a glimpse of the eternal wrath awaiting sinners (Acts 17:30-31).

8. God’s wrath drives me deep into doctrine. I can only escape God’s wrath if I am justified. So what is justification? Justification is the transfer of Christ’s righteousness to me, whereby God declares me “righteous” and takes my sin and wrath and transfers these upon the account of Christ, whereby He is declared “guilty” and endures the wrath I deserve. By faith, I entrust my salvation alone to Jesus Christ, my sin is atoned, I am declared righteous, I have the hope of eternal life and enjoy peace with God (Rom. 3:9-5:21; Gal. 3:1-14; Phil. 3:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:21). If I am not justified, I am not safe from the wrath of God. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Rom. 5:9). The wrath of God gives significance to doctrines like justification.

9. God’s wrath reveals the beauty of our adoption. We are all by nature sinners and this makes us naturally “children of wrath” (Eph. 2:3). But now the enemies of God can be reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10). We are more than justified and declared righteous, we are taken into the family of God! Through Christ, our relationship to God radically changes! By faith alone, we come back to our Father in all our filthy sinfulness and He runs to us, grabs us, kisses us, celebrates over us, and calls us His children (Luke 15:11-32). If you are justified, God has taken His judgments away from you and now sings over you with loud singing (Zeph. 3:14-17)! The wrath of God was paid in Christ and through this beautiful Gospel I am now accepted. It’s not because I am good enough or ever will be obedient enough, rather because of His graciousness alone. Every day I can wake up knowing I am a child of God and that will never depend upon my own appeasement of God. Jesus, Thank you!

Jesus, Thank You (song by Pat Sczebel, Sovereign Grace Ministries)

The mystery of the cross I cannot comprehend
The agonies of Calvary
You the perfect Holy One, crushed Your Son
Who drank the bitter cup reserved for me

Your blood has washed away my sin
Jesus, thank You
The Father’s wrath completely satisfied
Jesus, thank You
Once Your enemy, now seated at Your table
Jesus, thank You

By Your perfect sacrifice I’ve been brought near
Your enemy You’ve made Your friend
Pouring out the riches of Your glorious grace
Your mercy and Your kindness know no end

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Related: Propitiation is the theological term for the appeasement of God’s wrath in Christ’s substitutionary work for sinners. Theologian John Murray writes, “Sin is the contradiction of God and he must react against it with holy wrath. Wherever sin is, the wrath of God rests upon it (cf. Rom. 1:18). Otherwise God would be denying Himself, particularly His holiness, justice, and truth. But wrath must be removed if we are to enjoy the favor of God which salvation implies. And the only provision for the removal of wrath is propitiation. This is surely the import of Romans 3:25, 26, that God set forth Christ a propitiation to declare His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the ungodly.”

Packer: Humble Calvinism and evangelism

Packer: Humble Calvinism and evangelism


“So far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility – indeed, the certainty – that evangelism will be fruitful. Apart from it, there is not even a possibility of evangelism being fruitful. Were it not for the sovereign grace of God, evangelism would be the most futile and useless enterprise that the world has ever seen, and there would be no more complete waste of time under the sun than to preach the Christian gospel.”

– J.I. Packer. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (IVP: 1961) p. 106. ISBNs: 083081339X, 9780830813391