For 5 years I was the pastor of Trinity International Church in Strasbourg, France. I created this blog with those people in mind. In mid-November 2018 I will become the Senior Pastor of Word of Life Church in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. The focus of this blog will therefore shift, but I pray that people from the blogosphere will continue to find it helpful wherever they might be found.
The churches' websites includes recorded sermons for those who are interested. Click the links below to access them.

Friday, December 9, 2016

God is Not Silent

This week I read an article posted on Facebook by TICOS friend Timothée Davi. The article, written by theologian Roger Olson, spoke of a disturbing trend that is now a reality in western society: the absence of objective truth. Reading this article coincided with my reading of Psalm 19 in which the voice of God is celebrated as the source of truth. These are my reflections on that psalm.

Creation's Declaration

We are surrounded by fantastic artwork that continually showers us with messages from its Creator. The glory of God is revealed in the creation around us. His power and majesty is on display. The creation is not God, but his fingerprints are unmistakable. The creation does not speak with words but pour forth speech that everyone can see.

The psalmist speaks of the heavens declaring the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). In the opening pages of the Bible we read of God creating the universe in which we live. Scientists are left speechless and the incredible vastness and teeming fullness of space. Its distances are beyond comprehension and contains innumerable galaxies. Unlike humanly formed things, the immensity of the universe created by God displays his infinite nature.

In another corner of the scientific world, the scientists rarely look up because they are looking down into the smallest of things. And over the last century they have continually discovered ever smaller things. Consider for a moment that around 1900 scientists presumed the atom to be the most basic building block of the universe. The term "atom" come from a Greek word meaning "unable to be cut". The very existence of atoms was controversial until 1910. By the 1930s the electron and proton had been observed and assumed to be elementary. Today scientists speak of quarks and bosons. The world appears to be both infinitely large and infinitely small. The nature of God on display for all to see.

Science itself is is based on the idea that there are rules and principles by which the creation operates. We do not live amidst chaos, but it a realm governed by order. This order can be explored and discovered. This, too, points to the nature and character of the Creator. Creation pours forth speech pointing to the Creator.

God has Spoken

God is not silent. Not only has he made himself known in the creation, he has also spoken into it. The Bible is the Holy Spirit infused record of those words (2 Timothy 3:16-17). These words are pure and flawless. They have power beyond paper and ink, they can refresh the soul. They can make wise the simple. They can guide us in the path of life (Psalm 19:7-8). They, even more than the creation, lead the way to the Creator.

Written by many men over the span of centuries, the pages of the Bible speak with a common voice. There is a divine authorship that gives the Bible its own unique authority. God has spoken. His words are truth. They correspond with reality. To ignore or reject what it says is like turning off your GPS and trying to find your way in a strange city on a foggy night. The direction you take may seem right, but it won't correspond to reality. You may be able to travel a great distance or with amazing speed, but you will wind up in the wrong place.

The psalmist describes the Bible using a variety of terms: the law of the Lord, the testimony of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord, the commandment of the Lord, and the rules of the Lord. These phrases seem hard and cold, but the impact in the lives of those who follow them is incredible. Through the Bible, our thirsty souls are revived. There is a hunger in our souls that only the Word of God can satisfy. We were made live by Word of God and when it is absent, we languish and whither. Through the Bible, we gain wisdom. We live in a confusing world with innumerable options and voices trying to influence us. The Bible is designed to act as a GPS to help us navigate through the maze of life. It gives us true wisdom. Not only do those who follow it make better decisions, they discover a relationship with God. This relationship is what they were designed for and the discovery fills their souls with deep and lasting joy.

Our Response

The psalmist recognises that there his own life falls far short of glory found God's revelation. He knows that the study of the Word will show him more ways that he has violated it. Therefore he prays that God would forgive him for his "hidden" sins (Psalm 19:12-14). He goes on to pray that he would be kept from "presumptuous sins". These are sins that stem from pride. The presumptuous person thinks that they are wiser than God and can ignore or disobey what he has stated in his word without consequences. The result is is always disastrous. Simply put: you cannot outsmart God. The psalmist knows this and has written to remind himself and others of the value of God's Word.

Michelangelo's David is the "ideal man"
rather than an accurate representation
of the biblical David.
He is uncircumcised.
Photo by Jörg Bittner Unna
- wikipedia commons
There is another response that is mentioned by the apostle Paul in Romans 1. There he reaffirms that the creation bears abundant testimony of the nature and character of God. There is so much knowledge of God pouring forth from the creation that the only appropriate response should be thanksgiving and worship. But many have rejected God. In Paul's words, "claiming to be wise they became fools." They replaced God with something else. They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator. In fact, they have not only exchanged the truth, they actively suppress it (Romans 1:19-21).

In Western civilisation, this replacement has not resulted in the worship of objects made of stone or wood, but rather in the worship of man himself (Romans 1:22). The rise of humanism (as opposed to theism) placed man at the center and created an imaginary "ideal" man/society which was to guide life. Truth was "out there" and could be found and discovered through careful study and observation. Humans were smart and could discover this truth on their own. They threw off any other authority than themselves.

Reformers such as Luther and Calvin are sometimes called humanists, but this is not really accurate. Man was not their center. They boldly declared that God is the center and God has spoken and his objective truth was to be found in the Bible. Their careful study of the Bible was grounded in this conviction. They rejected the authority of the Roman Church, because they rightly saw that the its doctrine was not in agreement with the objective truth of the Bible.

There were others, though, that rejected not only the Roman Church but the authority of the Bible as well. The Bible became merely a interesting and perhaps useful historical document. Its teachings were freely rejected in the search for the ideal man/society. These are the "secular" humanists. It is this force that slowly gained the upper hand in Western civilisation. They believed that truth was "out there" and could be discovered, but they reject the Bible as authoritatively true. Man is to be the authority.

Roger Olson's article reflects what is happening in our society today: people now feel that there really is no such thing as truth. Or rather, people are increasingly basing their lives on feelings rather than facts. Truth has become irrelevant. The culture of West has become post-modern or post-truth.

I think this is the result of two things. First, after centuries of trying to define objective truth, there has been little consensus...the search is ongoing and the humanist's "truth" is ever changing. Second, the "information age" that is upon us deluges us with millions of statements claiming to be true which frequently are not. Just think about the "fake news" stories that flood the internet! People now filter by what feels good rather than searching for objective truth. Put another way, all truth has become subjective. Facts are mere opinion.

The secular humanist turned off the GPS of biblical truth and determined to find their own way through the fog. But now they have reached the point of despair. There is no "right" direction. Perhaps there is no real destination to find! Each person is told that whatever direction they head in the fog is acceptable. Just head in any direction you want. Whatever feels right in the fog is right for you. The worst thing a person can do in our current culture is to tell someone that they are heading in the wrong direction. Because there is no objectively "wrong" direction anymore. So just be nice and try not to bump into people.

This is true both in secular society, but also increasingly true in churches. We are living in a "post-truth" culture. As Dr. Olson puts it, "Many Christians who, so it seems to me, simply don’t care about truth as much as they care about feelings. If a doctrine, for example, doesn’t feel right, then it is at best unimportant. If an ethical stance seems hurtful (e.g., “not nice” or “intolerant”), it must be wrong." The standard of rightness becomes a person's feelings rather than truth. An increasing number of Christians reject what the Bible says if it doesn't "feel right." The Bible is no longer the objective standard of truth. They presume to know better. Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, they follow their feelings rather than the Word of God. They choose to ignore the GPS and follow their feelings into the misty night. The church is supposed to be the pillar and foundation of the truth because it should reflect accurately the truth of God's Word (1 Timothy 3:15). Unfortunately, many who claim to follow Christ are wandering in the fog.

God has spoken. His creation declares his glory. He spoke through the prophets and then he spoke through his Son. His Word reveals objective truth. And one day people will stand before the throne of God and he will ask, "Did you listen?"

Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy.
Chicago Statement on Biblical Hermeneutics.

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