The Finney-Robertson Message Is the Gospel Message

Finney's Systematic TheologyHow do I combine Phil Robertson and Charles Finney? Rather easily. Robertson spoke clearly on the nature of sin, yet also said we had to love everyone, even those caught up in sin. Finney, in his Systematic Theology, puts it this way:

The command is, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Matt. 19:19). This says nothing about the character of my neighbor. It is the value of His [God’s] interests, of His well-being, that the law requires me to regard. It does not require me to love my righteous neighbor merely, nor to love my righteous neighbor better than I do my wicked neighbor. It is my neighbor that I am to love. . . .

But while the law requires that this should be willed to all . . . irrespective of character, it cannot, and does not require us to will that . . . any moral agent in particular, shall be actually blessed but upon condition that he be holy. Our obligation to the unholy is to will that they might be holy, and perfectly blessed.

While we are to desire the best for all, we need to recognize the basic Gospel truth that sin must be done away with first. No one who remains in sin can receive the ultimate blessing of God. Sin separates from God; only through repentance and faith in the work of Christ on the Cross can any of us enter into His kingdom. That’s Finney’s message, and it’s Robertson’s message as well. But more than that, it’s the Biblical message.

Duck Dynasty & the Homofascist Gaystapo

I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. Skinning an animal or cleaning fish are not on my bucket list. I don’t concoct ingenious, makeshift contraptions to make things work. I’d make a lousy redneck. Yet I absolutely love Duck Dynasty. I resisted it for over two years, but so many people were referencing it, and I heard that the Robertson family are Christians, so I finally succumbed to watching an episode. I was hooked from the start.

Duck Dynasty

The writing is clever, the humor sometimes subtle; in fact, I’m not sure how much of what the characters say is scripted, since much of it seems so freewheeling. At the center of the family is the patriarch, Phil Robertson. Although I like all the characters, his little quips are my favorites. His wry sarcasm is one of the highlights of the program. Yet he’s also approachable beneath his gruff exterior. At the end of most shows, he leads the family in prayer around the dinner table, and he often uses the name of Jesus specifically. Robertson’s life was a mess for a long time, and his marriage was endangered, until he repented of his sins and turned his life over to Christ. One of his goals with Duck Dynasty is to showcase genuine Christian faith in whatever ways he can. The A&E network has tried to put roadblocks in his way, but he doesn’t compromise on what he believes.

Why am I writing about this today? Robertson sat down with a writer from GQ magazine for an interview. Part of that interview dealt with his faith and how he views society through the lens of Christianity. He spoke about sin, and specifically mentioned homosexuality, along with other sexual actions outside of a man-woman marriage, as a sin. He went on to paraphrase pretty accurately a passage from I Corinthians, chapter 6. When asked what he considered sinful behavior, here’s what Robertson said specifically, according to the interviewer:

Phil RobertsonStart with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there. Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men. Don’t be deceived. Neither the adulterers, the idolaters, the male prostitutes, the homosexual offenders, the greedy, the drunkards, the slanderers, the swindlers—they won’t inherit the kingdom of God. Don’t deceive yourself. It’s not right.

Nothing he said in that statement was outside orthodox Christian belief. Millions of us—and I do mean “us”—believe the same thing and are distressed that our society has degenerated to the point where we have legalized a sexual act that will ultimately destroy not only the person caught up in it, but the families that will be decimated, the children growing up without a stable home, and a moral civilization overall.

His remarks created a firestorm. All the homosexual groups were outraged and demanded that A&E cut ties with the Robertsons. They accused him of hate speech (I knew when we began to introduce that concept into American law that we had started down a slippery slope) and pretty much read him out of the human race. The network issued a statement of its own, which included a decision:

His personal views in no way reflect those of A&E Networks, who have always been strong supporters and champions of the LGBT community. The network has placed Phil under hiatus from filming indefinitely.

At least they are honest as to where they stand. They don’t simply allow pro-homosexual talk, but they champion that whole lifestyle. From my perspective then, they have declared themselves as active promoters of sinfulness. Phil Robertson has ostensibly been taken out of the program, although the next season’s episodes are already filmed.

I watched two news programs on Fox last night—Megyn Kelly and Sean Hannity—to see how they would handle this situation. Both had panels to which they asked questions about Robertson’s right to say what he believed. Kelly’s panel included a rabid homosexual activist who practically foamed at the mouth, vitriolically accusing Robertson of spreading vitriol. The other two, and Kelly herself, gave only tepid endorsement of Robertson’s First Amendment protections. Normally, Kelly is the best of interviewers and doesn’t let guests get away with dominating a conversation and speaking over the top of others. Last night, she seemed to back off and let the activist say whatever he wanted, practically giving him the last word. Why the change? Is she afraid of the LGBT lobby, which has become poisonous to anyone who dares criticize the homosexual lifestyle?

Hannity loves Duck Dynasty and knows the Robertsons. One of his guests, rather inexplicably, said this was not a religious liberty issue. Nothing Robertson said, he opined, was religious in nature. Huh? The one constant on both panels is that even conservatives fear to tread into this issue. Too many conservatives may consider themselves Christian, but they are mostly cultural Christians, which is not the same thing as the real deal.

What is occurring in our society is an all-out attack on Biblical standards of morality. Those who say it’s a figment of evangelicals’ imagination are not paying attention. The goal will be to outlaw any public expression of Christian belief that directly contradicts newly accepted societal norms. I’ve heard words like “homofascist” and “Gaystapo” to describe the militant attitude of the homosexual activists. They seem apropos to me. Tolerance has taken a whole new twist, and it’s anything but tolerant:

 Value Judgments 1

Value Judgments 2

Value Judgments 3

Value Judgments 4

Value Judgments 5

Christians who believe that homosexuality is sinful also hold out the hope that all sin can be repented of and forgiven. There’s nothing hateful about the proper Christian approach here: identify the sin so that we can help people get free of it. That will never happen if we refuse to acknowledge the sin in the first place.

There will be persecution on this issue. Where will the church stand? Will we cower in fear and avoid talking about it? Worse, will we adopt the world’s views? A shaking is taking place. Only those who are grounded on Scripture will come through this with their faith intact.

Finney: Man Can Obey God

One reason Charles Finney was so successful as an evangelist was his insistence that all people are accountable for their actions. Finney didn’t allow excuses; in his view, too many people would hide behind a theology that said they couldn’t obey God. He considered that illogical and dangerous to one’s spiritual state. In his Revival Lectures, he is quite blunt:

Revival LecturesWe, as moral agents, have the power to obey God, and are perfectly bound to obey; and the reason that we do not is, that we are unwilling. The influences of the Spirit are wholly a matter of grace. If they were indispensable to enable us to perform duty, the bestowment of them would not be a gracious act, but a mere matter of common justice.

Sinners are not bound to repent because they have the Spirit’s influence, or because they can obtain it, but because they are moral agents, and have the powers which God requires them to exercise. So in the case of Christians. . . .

When God commands us to do a thing, it is the highest possible evidence that we can do it. For God to command is equivalent to an oath that we can do it. He has no right to command, unless we have the power to obey. There is no stopping short of the conclusion that God is tyrannical, if He commands that which is impracticable.

The children of Israel were told in Deuteronomy, chapter 30, that they were capable of obeying God:

For this commandment which I command you today is not too difficult for you, nor is it out of reach. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us to get it for us and make us hear it, that we may observe it?” . . . But the word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, that you may observe it.

I’m also reminded what the apostle John says in chapter 5 of his first letter:

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments; and His commandments are not burdensome.

We are called to lives of obedience, and He’s given us the ability to be obedient. It’s time we stop making excuses for sin.

The Narcissistic President

It takes a special kind of narcissism—a particularly virulent strain—to see the awful effects of one’s policies and continue not only to spout falsehoods about how wonderful those policies are, but to keep blaming someone else for the problems one has caused. Barack Obama has practically created his own brand of narcissism, a malady seldom seen in this strength.

Narcissism is really just another name for supreme selfishness, which is the root of all sin. The medical field, though, shies away from explosive terms like “sin”; that clear-eyed perspective is replaced with non-judgmental descriptions. If you turn something into a disease rather than a choice for which one is truly responsible, it eases the blame. You see, it’s not selfishness; it’s a “narcissistic personality disorder.” Yet even when they try to soften the blow, the description from the Mayo Clinic site is still pretty startling:

Narcissistic personality disorder is a mental disorder in which people have an inflated sense of their own importance and a deep need for admiration. They believe that they are superior to others and have little regard for other people’s feelings. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence, they are vulnerable to the slightest criticism.

The site goes on to say that treatment for this “disorder” centers on psychotherapy. God has a different remedy: recognition of sin, repentance, and forgiveness through the ultimate sacrifice of His own Son.

The current Obamacare debacle has brought Obama’s narcissism to the foreground for all to see. First, he refuses to acknowledge the long-term problem it causes for the economy:

Economy

Then there are the tragic consequences for individuals, consequences for which he doesn’t seem able to “feel” their pain. He’s “sorry” they are experiencing problems, but he can’t bring himself to take full responsibility. His so-called apology a couple of weeks ago was no apology at all. He has never, throughout his administration, shown any willingness to accept accountability for his actions. Even as his key piece of legislation is ready to crash, he continues to believe it can fly. As in the ancient Greek fable of Icarus, he heeds no warnings :

Crash

Then, when all evidence mounts that disaster is looming, he comes up with a quick fix, designed only for one purpose—to help his party retain control of Congress in the next election cycle. What is this fix? Bullying insurance companies to restore policies that he was responsible for canceling in the first place. Again, it’s not his fault; blame the insurance companies who were coerced into his plan. All experts in the field say this cannot be done, especially since it’s only a one-year fix, merely a delay of the inevitable:

The Fix

Then yesterday, at a meeting with CEOs, he gave his most bizarre explanation yet for why his landmark legislation is having so many problems: it’s those darn Republicans! How can one make any progress when they oppose his wise policies? Somehow, in his mind, Republicans are the reason why his website was a joke, why young people don’t want to pay double for insurance premiums, and why the entire program is simply unworkable. There’s really only one prize Obamacare ought to win, and it’s appropriate for the season:

Top Turkey

The president, meanwhile, lives in his alternate world, ignoring reality, and refusing to see any culpability on his part. This is not some disorder; this is just the self-centeredness that has been the hallmark of mankind since the Garden. Unfortunately, when the presumed leader of the free world is neck-deep in it, everyone suffers the consequences.

The God of the Second Chance: A Personal Testimony

I was a young man on fire for the Lord. At age 22, just after graduation from college, I became part of the ministry of the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN). As an on-air radio announcer, I played contemporary Christian music and offered whatever spiritual insights a 22-year-old could possibly offer.

Then my church started a Christian school and looked around for someone with a degree of some kind to become its headmaster. My radio, television, and film degree seemed to qualify at that point. I was also eager to take on the task.

A longer story made much shorter: I was too young, too inexperienced, and too immature to handle that responsibility. For various reasons, I wandered away from the Lord and eventually left that position.

Too many testimonies spend far too much time highlighting the sins of one’s former life. I don’t wish to do that. Suffice to say I was angry with God, filled with ingratitude for what He had given me in life, and looking for some reason to abandon Him entirely. In short, I was in open rebellion.

At the height of this rebellion, I decided to go back to college to earn a doctorate in history, which had been my minor in my undergraduate years. This decision was made without seeking God’s leading; I really didn’t care what He thought, if He was even there at all. What I hoped was that these degrees, and all the learning I would imbibe along the way, would provide a meaning for my life that now was missing.

I applied myself to higher education with all my being, completing my master’s degree in one year, then moving on to the doctorate. Two years later, I had finished everything necessary for the degree except the doctoral dissertation. After three strenuous years of reading, researching, writing, and test-taking, I was almost exhausted.

What was even worse was I had come no closer to genuine meaning for my life than when I had started. When you come to the end of yourself, that’s where you will find the Lord patiently waiting for you.

EcclesiastesI began to read the Bible again and slowly came to the realization that I had been a fool. One particular passage stood out to me one day, found in Ecclesiastes 12:11-14:

The words of wise men are like goads, and masters of these collections are like well-driven nails; they are given by one Shepherd. But beyond this, my son, be warned: the writing of many books is endless, and excessive devotion to books is wearying to the body. The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

It would have been difficult to find a more appropriate passage to speak to my condition. I had wearied myself with devotion to books. What I needed was to once again fear God and keep His commandments.

I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to finish my doctoral degree. After all, I hadn’t asked God about it in the first place. Yet He opened up time for me to do so, with an assurance that somehow He could use this degree for His kingdom. When an opportunity came to teach as an adjunct faculty at Regent University, I gladly accepted it.

Regent was a three-hour drive from my home, so I would travel there once a week to teach a couple of master’s-level courses. I still struggled, though, with whether I was completely forgiven by God for all those wasted years and the damage I had done with my bad attitudes and other sins during that time.

One day, in January 1989, as I was making that trek to Regent, I was listening to music as I drove. The song was an old hymn of the church, It Is Well with My Soul. When I listened to the second verse, it came alive:

My sin, oh the joy of that glorious thought, my sin, not in part, but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more. Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, oh, my soul.

As soon as those words filled my mind, something else filled my mind: a voice spoke, declaring, “That’s for you.”

As I recall it now, I can’t say for sure if it was an audible voice, but it was so real, and the Source was so obvious, that I was swept away by the love of God. He was telling me I had a fresh start. I could put aside my past sins and move onward for Him. I was so overwhelmed; the tears flowed; driving on I-95 became rather dangerous. But the presence of God and His love filled my being.

The reality of that voice has stayed with me to this day, and God has fulfilled those words in my life. I’ve been able to put the past behind and move forward. Shortly after that divine intervention, a door opened for my first fulltime teaching position as a professor. I’ve now been in this ministry for 25 years.

In those early days after “the voice,” I began referring to the Lord as “the God of the Second Chance.” I still believe that, and I remain eternally grateful for the second chance He has given me. Never would I dream now of throwing away the blessing and the honor of serving Him.

Ecclesiastes 12

Lewis: Discerning Good & Evil

The apostle Paul notes that “the god of this world [i.e., Satan] has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel.” Scripture also talks often about how those without the truth are walking in darkness. C. S. Lewis picks up on this theme in Mere Christianity when he explains how sin warps our understanding of our very sinfulness:

Good & EvilThe right direction leads not only to peace but to knowledge. When a man is getting better, he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good; a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right.

This is common sense, really. You understand sleep when you are awake, not while you are sleeping. . . . You can understand the nature of drunkenness when you are sober, not when you are drunk. Good people know about both good and evil; bad people do not know about either.

I think our goal is spelled out in the book of Hebrews:

For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.

We need discernment. Only by growing in righteousness will we ever see clearly the distinction between good and evil.

The Rot Doesn’t Start at the Top

Have you ever felt like this: so sickened by the ocean of dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance of the majority of humanity that you just want to seal yourself off from the ugliness of it all? If not for the mercy I’ve received personally from the Lord, and His forgiveness for my own past dishonesty, lack of integrity, and arrogance, I would be tempted to find a nice isolated corner of the world where I could simply let the parade pass me by.

As if anyone can find such a corner.

There’s no escape from the pervasiveness of sin in our society. For me, the two most distressing places to find sin are among those who claim the name of Christ and in those who presume to lead us politically. The first—the church—is supposed to be the light in this dark world. When we act like the world, we snuff out the light. The second—our government—is supposed to be a servant of God, carrying out His will in the public sphere. When it decides to become its own miniscule god, it does the opposite of what the real God intended.

In my study of church history, I’ve often been grieved by the manner in which so many have dishonored the God they claim to serve. As a student of the history of politics and government, I’ve been almost as dismayed by the pride of politicians who believe they are bringing us utopia and by the outright lies they offer to achieve their goals.

Our current political leader, though, has set a new standard for arrogance and deception. Just when I thought no one in public life could ever top Bill Clinton for blatant dishonesty and love of self, along comes Barack Obama.

I don’t really want to go through a litany of all the dishonest statements he’s made or the growing list of things for which he denies all knowledge or responsibility, but some cartoonists have encapsulated them for me, so I’ll let them speak:

Didn't Know

Knows Nothing

He won’t even admit when he’s been wrong. Previous presidents have taken responsibility for failures and have won back public confidence: Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs fiasco; Reagan in the Iran-Contra affair. But this president? He won’t even acknowledge that his “guarantee” that everyone would be able to keep their health insurance policies if they liked them was a complete sham. He invents a new narrative of what he “actually” meant by words that could only be taken in one way. It’s obvious he lied to get Obamacare passed into law; it’s just as obvious his overall goal is to force everyone in the country into his system eventually.

It’s difficult for me to contain the disgust I feel for this man. I’m ashamed he’s the president of my country. Yet how did he get to be that leader? He didn’t just grab the title and run with it. He convinced enough of our fellow citizens that he was their savior—and I use that word advisedly, as he has always held himself up as larger than life. I mean, who else would ever say that their election was “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal”?

I expect people with outsized egos to dominate our politics. The lure of power draws them. What’s most distressing is how easily fooled the people can be as they continue to believe the big lies:

Great Pumpkin

The rot doesn’t start at the top. It rises from the masses who are an unhealthy combination of ignorance and selfishness. At this point, there’s no excuse for ignorance about Obama or his agenda. The selfishness at the root of it all—we want the goodies government promises—can only be dealt with at the personal level. It’s back to the basic Gospel: recognition of our sinfulness, repentance, acceptance of the forgiveness offered through the Cross, and the development of a renewed mind so we can see the world more clearly—through the principles found in Scripture—and not be fooled again.