The Curious Irony Of God’s Not Dead

I have no plans to see the latest evangelical movie, God’s Not Dead 2, precisely because I watched the original film and was dismayed by the superficial and incomplete (and therefore false) gospel it presented. I have little confidence that this second movie will do much better. Hey, I could be wrong, but let me explain my problem with God’s Not Dead so you’ll understand my reticence about its sequel.

First, allow me to quote the synopsis of the original movie from the God’s Not Dead website:

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Present-day college freshman and devout Christian, Josh Wheaton (Shane Harper), finds his faith challenged on his first day of Philosophy class by the dogmatic and argumentative Professor Radisson (Kevin Sorbo). Radisson begins class by informing students that they will need to disavow, in writing, the existence of God on that first day, or face a failing grade. As other students in the class begin scribbling the words “God Is Dead” on pieces of paper as instructed, Josh find himself at a crossroads, having to choose between his faith and his future. Josh offers a nervous refusal, provoking an irate reaction from his smug professor. Radisson assigns him a daunting task: if Josh will not admit that “God Is Dead,” he must prove God’s existence by presenting well-researched, intellectual arguments and evidence over the course of the semester, and engage Radisson in a head-to-head debate in front of the class. If Josh fails to convince his classmates of God’s existence, he will fail the course and hinder his lofty academic goals. With almost no one in his corner, Josh wonders if he can really fight for what he believes. Can he actually prove the existence of God? Wouldn’t it just be easier just to write “God Is Dead” and put the whole incident behind him?

The premise of people making courageous stands for their faith inspired me, and I honestly liked most of the movie for that reason (despite the problem of the characters being delineated into stereotypes). As a college freshman, I sadly failed in my attempts to demonstrate that humanism is, in its very essence, diametrically opposed to Biblical Christianity, so I admired Josh for both taking a stand and doing in-depth research to substantiate his argument. The subplot of the Muslim girl who  suffered her father’s rejection  when he learned of her Christian faith also made me like the movie, though it may have reinforced anti-Muslim stereotypes. How wonderful to see young people risk so much for their faith.

Sadly, the producers and writers evidently had difficulty risking financial backing and/or industry support that caused them to compromise the Gospel. While they created characters that made bold stands for God (without, incidentally, directly saying the name Jesus), the writers conveniently avoided any mention of the atonement, repentance or hell. As Radisson lay on the street dying because of a hit-and-run driver, for instance, the pastor gently guides him through a superficial acceptance of Jesus. In presenting his hollow imitation gospel, he briefly mentioned forgiveness of sin, but didn’t really tell Radisson that his sin required the blood of Jesus. He said absolutely nothing about hell. Nothing about repentance.

Sure, the immediacy of Radisson’s death meant the pastor had little time to embark on a doctrinal discourse. But the writers could have either let him phrase things differently or had another Christian character proclaim the true Gospel during earlier points in the movie. For that matter, the Newsboys could have presented those things to the blogger when they lead her to Christ. Sadly, her  conversion scene was shown in quick cutaway shots interspersed with the Newsboys’ concert.

Many of the characters made admirable sacrifices for God, but they barely mentioned the Lord’s sacrifice on the cross. And no one said a word about why He sacrificed Himself.

And, for all the discussion about God not being dead, why didn’t Josh present the historical evidence for the resurrection during his classroom presentation?

As Radisson passed into eternity, horror gripped me. Had the situation been real, he would have entered hell, clinging to an incomplete (and consequently, false) gospel. A real-life pastor, who presumably would have had training in basic Biblical doctrine, couldn’t sugar-coat the Gospel at such a crucial time! Or if he did, he would be guilty of producing a false convert.

Similarly, the producers and writers of God’s Not Dead offer a shallow gospel that encourages false conversions among teens and young adults (their target audience). Why didn’t they display the fortitude to present the Gospel as Scripture proclaims it? One that might result in true converts?

The two movies, if they’re watched by Christians merely as a clean alternative to the moral filth that dominates Hollywood, are relative innocuous, and may even encourage us to make bold stands against a world increasingly hostile toward Christianity. Having said that, don’t regard them as evangelism tools, and please don’t imitate them in offering a wimpy false gospel. People need to hear the real Gospel so that, by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, they might come to know the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Autobiography With Purpose: A Wheelstroke Closer

First visit with JohnSince neither of us can walk, John wanted to take our relationship “one wheelstroke at a time.” Easy for him to say, since he had been living in the Greater Boston Area pretty much all his life. He knew, of course, that I’d moved back to San  Rafael, California just a few short months before we first chatted online, but he had no idea that my interest in a future with him required me to put off major life decisions until  either he proposed or we broke up.

John’s Polio had affected his breathing, making plane travel unwise (and probably dangerous) for him. Consequently, I would have to make all the visits, as well as be the one to move if we married. For that reason, the course of our relationship would affect my future more dramatically than it would affect his. This being the case, I felt an urgency about our future that wanted a faster progression of “wheelstrokes” than John seemed willing to make. In addition to my own eagerness (after all, I was in my mid-40s), I felt pressure from other people to make decisions about my life.

Most notably,  a family member had legitimate concerns about my mom’s ability to care for me in her advancing age. She threatened to find a nursing home for me if I didn’t make an effort to procure a new living situation. Thankfully, I convinced her to wait until we knew what would happen with John. That decision, along with other major decisions, had to stay on hold.

I did, however, begin teaching the Junior High Sunday School class at Church of the Open Door, knowing that it could be a temporary ministry while I waited. I thought it might teach me to control my temper (it didn’t), and the church really  needed teachers for that age group. Other than teaching that class once every three Sundays,  I tried to minimize my attachment to San  Rafael…just in case the Lord brought me and John together.

But John made a significant “wheelstroke” on March 31, 1999 by telling me that he loved me. Not long afterwards, we began making plans for my first visit.

Knowing that we believed we loved each other didn’t assure me that we’d feel the same when we   met face-to-face. Nor did it mean that the Lord wanted us to marry. To further complicate matters (at least from my perspective), a former girlfriend of John’s contacted him as she was dying of cancer. Remembering how my feelings for Bob intensified after he died, I feared that this lady’s death would have a similar effect on John. So I tried to approach my upcoming visit with the attitude that God might use it to show us that He wanted us to just be friends.

Often, when I struggled with confusion and frustration over John, I’d drive my power wheelchair around Terra Linda and pour out my feelings to the Lord. I remember one afternoon when I sat in a secluded little park (a favorite of mine, even though I seldom got to go there) and prayed. I comforted myself with the thought that, even if things with John didn’t work out, the Lord would have blessed me with the opportunity to see Boston.

When John greeted me at Logan Airport that October evening by kissing my hand, I knew it wouldn’t be our last visit. He, on the other hand,  had such difficulty feeding me (selfishly, I’d asked him to do it from my left) that he went home from  my hotel sorrowful that he saw no way of making a marriage with me work.

For my first full day that visit, John planned a trip to the Museum of Fine Arts followed by a lobster dinner in the Oak Room at the Copley Fairmont Hotel. He’d known that I spent the night of my Senior Prom studying Macbeth, so he wanted to make it up to me. Therefore he figured that, rather than spoil my “prom night.” he’d wait until the next day to break the news.

He hadn’t counted on our first in-person date confirming that he was in love.

The next day, before we had lunch with his mom and his pastor,  we kissed for the first time. Later that evening we had dinner at Wolleston Beach with our Personal Care Attendants, and at his church on Sunday I joined him in doing the Children’s Sermon.

Breaking up was the last thing on our minds when John and I said goodbye at Logan Airport that Monday. We’d taken a big “wheelstroke” in our relationship, trusting that the Lord Jesus Christ had plans for us. As yet, I wasn’t certain He had marriage in His will for us, but I sure had hope!

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Eternally Debt-Free

It’s all too easy to relapse into the error of believing that we need to do something to deserve, or at least to maintain, our salvation. All too often, I catch myself falling into that terrible deception.And doesn’t Satan love wrapping us up in the arrogance of self-righteousness followed by the despair of condemnation?

Thankfully, when we realize that Jesus took our sin on Himself, fully paying our eternal debt to God, we rejoice in His abundant grace. Though we owe Him everything, we rest in the assurance that He has paid even our debt to Him! I never tire of celebrating the glorious truth that He suffered in my place so that I can spend eternity in His wonderful presence, where I’ll joyfully praise Him forever more.

Today’s hymn reminds me that I can stop trying to contribute to Christ’s finished work on the cross. He has done everything necessary for my salvation, and I can only praise Him.

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Proud Anger Toward God

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Home from hospital

During the spring of 2012, John lay in a hospital bed recovering from a heart attack as he awaited surgery  for colon cancer. Given all the complications because of his disability (he contracted Polio at age six), I had very real fears that he couldn’t survive the operation.

The ordeal took a tremendous toll on my faith, and the idea of praying “Thy will be done” filled me, not with peace, but with indescribable terror and anguish. Since I knew God is sovereign, I felt a sense of impotence when I prayed, as if I beat on His chest of brass, only to bloody my hands from pummeling Him. If He chose to take my husband from me, He would, regardless of how earnestly I might plead with Him.

One morning I vented my rage, screaming so loudly and viciously that I felt my voice lacerate my throat. I assaulted His character, saying blasphemous things as I proudly declared that I hated Him for letting John develop cancer.

The Lord dealt tenderly with me through those next awful weeks, and in His mercy He brought John back to me. But in His holiness, He let me know that He didn’t accept my prideful tirade against Him. As His creation, I had no right to question His decrees. He reminded me that even Job eventually had to repent for his arrogant questioning.

Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
    I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes.” ~~Job 42:1-6 (ESV)

Popular evangelical thought urges Christians to go ahead and get angry at God, insisting that David did so in the Psalms. Even if David did get angry at Him, he always repented immediately, acknowledging God’s righteousness in every judgment He makes. Scripture simply doesn’t give human beings the prerogative to hold the Lord of all creation accountable for His actions.

This theology that grants us permission to be angry with God demonstrates the narcissism that has polluted evangelical thought over the last 50 years. We habitually treat the thrice holy God as if He exists to serve us, forgetting that He answers our prayers and blesses us as a display of His infinite kindness and generosity. As sinners, we deserve nothing but His wrath, and yet He treats us lovingly and patiently.

I understand the likelihood that the Lord will call John to heaven before He calls me, and I dread that day. But I pray that He will keep me from railing against Him as I did on that shameful morning four years ago. Instead, may He give me a grateful heart to praise Him for lending me this wonderful husband, and for the ways He’s used this marriage to draw me closer to Him.

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Where Fools Find Wisdom

48a60-fourjoyfulladiesMom would fly into my bedroom, her voice filled with panic, and awaken me with announcements of over sleeping or the previous night’s wind storm having blown down a section of the   backyard fence. Predictably, I’d wake up sharing her anxiety, only to see her burst into laughter and cry, “April Fool!” She got me every year!

When I reached college, my April Fool’s pranks often took on more elaborate structures. Over the years, I cultivated the skill, careful not to play jokes every year in order to keep people in an unsuspecting frame of mind. From telling a friend that U.C. Berkeley had accepted me into their graduate program in journalism to insinuating on Facebook that John and I couldn’t agree on whether or not to get a cat, I’ve periodically surpassed  my mother in successfully pulling of April Fool’s jokes.

This morning, inspired by John MacArthur’s radio broadcast, I started thinking a bit more seriously about the relationship between deception and foolishness. Harmless jokes on the first day of April are one thing, but being foolish enough to ignore or reject God’s wisdom has tragic and eternal consequences.

As I thought about how easily worldly philosophies fool people (even professing Christians), my mind went to a few Scriptures that serve as reminders of why we need godly wisdom. To set the stage, I want to begin with Romans 1, zeroing in on Paul’s explanation of idolatry.

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. ~~Romans 1:18-23 (ESV)

Our 21st Century idols my not resemble animals (at least not in most of Western culture), but we still idolize the philosophies that  we create. Most notably, our society worships the twin gods of evolution and psychology (though material wealth and sex also claim a large number of devotees). Particularly with evolution and psychology, people get the thrilling sensation of feeling educated and erudite, able to understand many of mankind’s deepest mysteries.

Yet both evolution and psychology come from human reasoning, rejecting both the authority and the sufficiency of Scripture. Both philosophies depend on elaborate explanations and schemes, insisting that the Bible, if it is to   be believed at all,   requires the supplementation of human discoveries that only debuted in the 19th Century. Most people believe that this newly-acquired knowledge advances our wisdom to a higher level than merely believing God’s Word.

The Holy Spirit, speaking through the apostle Paul, clearly addressed such arrogance:

20 Where is the one who is wise? 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 did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. ~~1 Corinthians 1:20-25 (ESV)

The simple Gospel leads us to all the wisdom we’ll ever really need because it leads us to Christ Himself. Man-made philosophies, no matter how profound they sound, eventually exalt our presumed cleverness. as if we had the potential to unearth the summation of all wisdom. But the Bible tells us exactly where to find the source of true wisdom.

that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. ~~Colossians 2:2-5 (ESV)

April Fool’s jokes are fun, but I praise the Lord that we don’t have to fall for the deceptions of human philosophies. Praise God that the Lord Jesus Christ possesses all the wisdom we’ll ever need.

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Did You Hear The Latest?

cropped-img_4654.jpgI debated with myself whether to write another installment in my Autobiography With Purpose series or continue writing about the intricacies of discernment ministries this afternoon. The Lord answered that question a bit unexpectedly when John and I did our morning devotions together today. We’ve just started reading  Philippians, so John read Paul’s introductory remarks, which include this sentence:

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, 10 so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, 11 filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. ~~Philippians 1:9-11 (ESV)

As I heard these words, it struck me that discernment truly is a desirable commodity for a Christian. Indeed, we do well to pray for the Holy Spirit to develop discernment in our fellow believers, as well as for ourselves. In my private devotions, in fact, I ask Him to use my study of His Word to sharpen my discernment. Blogs, sermons and commentaries can assist in the process, to be sure, but I want Scripture to serve as my ultimate measuring rod for determining truth.

What fascinated me about the passage John and I read this morning, however, wasn’t that the apostle Paul prayed for the Philippians to grow in knowledge and discernment. Rather I found it captivating that he considered discernment as merely a means to an end. He saw it as an instrument in their sanctification process, which in turn would glorify and praise God.

Many discernment blogs have helped me evaluate well-known  evangelical teachers over the past 17 years, and the Lord has graciously used several of them (in addition to the prayers and influence of my wonderful husband John) to draw me into Reformed Theology.But lately I’ve noticed that a few of them read a bit like supermarket tabloids. At times they “critique” legitimate ministries over minor points of doctrine, or worse, on the basis of sensational websites that don’t properly document their claims.

When these blogs deteriorate into mere gossip rags, they dishonor the very Lord Jesus Christ they purport to defend. Admittedly, the fine line between calling out false teachers and slandering ones because an obscure (and usually poorly constructed) website makes some unsubstantiated allegations sometimes blurs a bit. Precisely for that reason, we must take responsibility to verify what we read before sharing it on Facebook or blogging about it.

I admit that blog posts about well-known people, especially if their titles offer indication of derogatory information, attract readers and boost stats. Why? To put it bluntly, folks, our sinful natures relish a nice juicy morsel of gossip (see Proverbs 18:8). Also, it strokes our egos to supply our readers with “exclusive information.” We forget the many Scriptures that condemn both listening to and spreading gossip. So we repeat the allegations, patting ourselves on the back for our faithfulness in executing our discernment ministries.

Dear sisters in Christ, please don’t misunderstand me. There’s definitely a need, and even an urgent one, for exposing the plethora of false teachers that permeate evangelical circles. But for the sake of God’s glory, we must ensure that we don’t pervert any gift of discernment the Holy Spirit may have given us. Discernment should lead both us and our listeners into increasing holiness that brings honor to the Lord Jesus Christ.

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Discerning Our Discernment

Ladies Study 01More Scriptures than I could possibly quote in this little  blog post urge Christians to develop and exercise discernment. The Lord desires that His people learn to distinguish between truth and error, particularly when it comes to His Word. My regular readers know that I champion the idea of encouraging greater discernment among Bible-believing Christians, especially in light of all the doctrinal error infiltrating evangelical churches these days. Weakened doctrine leads to deception, which in turn leads people to hell.

At the same time, we   can actually turn discernment into an idol, feeding into our pride as we fancy that we possess some special knowledge that most Christians haven’t been given. This superior enlightenment pulls us into pride as we use our blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds to demonstrate how knowledgeable we are. Rather than warning people against false teaching  because of a sincere concern for God’s honor and for their souls, we show off our prowess at finding fault with whatever teacher or Christian idea that we manage to dig up dirt on.

I know this is true because I’ve crossed that line myself. May God forgive me!

Again, there’s a legitimate place for pointing out heresy. I praise God for the Reformers the 16th Century who stood against the perversions of Roman Catholicism to restore Biblical Christianity. Having said that, I also believe that we run the danger of manufacturing evidence for heresy where there is none.

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God. ~~1 Corinthians 8:1-3 (ESV)

Apparently some of the Corinthians felt proud of their discernment regarding meat that, after being used in the worship of pagan deities, had been purchased in  markets and served to dinner guests. They would certainly have been right to abstain from eating it themselves if doing so violated their consciences. But in reality, eating such meat could be completely divorced from idol worship. These people “advised” others about the meat in order to show off their supposed discernment. Thus, they puffed up their own egos and, in the process, probably caused people to go hungry.

We all enjoy letting people think that we are “in the know,” don’t we? By billing ourselves as discernment bloggers, we indeed can puff ourselves up…at least in our own eyes. But the same Bible that  commands us to call out false teachers also admonishes us to maintain an attitude of humility.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. ~~Galatians 6:1-5 (ESV)

When we have concerns about a person’s ministry, therefore, we must first examine ourselves. Why do we feel the necessity to call attention to this person’s weaknesses? Is the error they teach assaulting an essential doctrine (such as the sufficiency of Scripture or Total Depravity), or are they simply mistaken about a disputable point of echatology? Are we exposing them because they do serious damage to the Body of Christ, or so that we can bolster our image as tippers of sacred cows?

Sometimes the Church really  does require people with the courage to speak out against doctrinal error. Sadly, we live in a time when evangelicals compromise with all sorts of deception and error, creating a legitimate need for discernment ministries and discernment blogs. That said, let’s be certain to exercise genuine discernment  instead of demonstrating our skill at finding skeletons in the closets of well-known Bible teachers. Above all, let’s remember that our primary purpose is to honor the Lord Jesus Christ.

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