Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Manhattan Declaration

There is a document that was drafted, signed, and is online for public viewing and signing called the Manhattan Declaration. It was released on November 20, 2009 and was presented to the public by press conference. This document has a huge significance on the Christian community because it is something that is directly addressing the issues of Life (abortion), Marriage (hetero/homo), and Religious Liberty. What makes this document different is the fact that it was drafted by and signed/supported by leaders from the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical backgrounds.

The drafters of this document are Charles “Chuck” Colson, Robert George, and Timothy George. Among the people that were initial signers and participated in the discussions/debates that lead to the final draft of the document are Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Ravi Zacharias, and Wayne Grudem among others. The complete list of signers can be found here. There is a lot of controversy surrounding this document and there are people that are well respected and authoritative individuals on both sides of this. Among those who have chosen not to sign the document, and are subsequently urging others to do the same, are R.C. Sproul, James White, John F. MacArthur, and Alistair Begg among others.

Over the last couple weeks I have been doing as much reading and listening as I can from people on both sides of this issue and have come to some confusions that I need to get out of the way first. The misconception from people who have signed the document against those who have not is that those people are doing so for the sole reason that they don’t like one of the groups who are supporting it (usually Roman Catholics) and I don’t see that objection as being substantiated. The misconception from people who have not signed the document against those who have is that those people are making a deliberate attempt at destroying of the Gospel, and again I don’t believe that objection is a just one.

When I first was finding out about this declaration I ran into the name of Chuck Colson as being sort of the main guy behind it and, of course, my first thought was “Oh great, the ECT guy.” However, I was reminded that the other drafters were not of similar background to Colson and that they should provide a balanced view when it came to certain things. The document itself is only eight and a half pages long and is fairly easy to read, so I would encourage anyone to go and check this stuff out for yourself, and you can do so by going here. As being someone who would fall under the category of Evangelical as presupposed in the document itself, and further still, as someone who holds to Reformed theology, it did come as a bit of a surprise to see the names of Al Mohler and Wayne Grudem on the list. Mohler wrote a wonderful article on his website which describes his reasoning for signing the document and I believe it is certainly worth reading when you’re coming to your conclusions about whether or not you’re going to sign it. On the flip side of that, James White has an article up on his website for his reasons against signing it that provides a good balance, I think, to Mohler.

I believe the main social issues raised in this declaration are absolutely vital for Christians to be concerned about and, in fact, fighting for the Biblical perspective in the increasingly anti-Christian society in which we find ourselves. I do not take issue with the social issues how they are presented, nor does anyone of the people I will mention that are against the document as well. The problem here comes with confusion in certain language which regards the gospel as well as discrepancies between people who have signed the document about the sole purpose of it. I truly believe that there are Roman Catholics who I will see in Heaven, and that there are some Eastern Orthodox who are on the narrow path as well so what I am not doing is discounting these people out of hand.

On page 2 of the document, under the heading of Declaration, there is a line toward the end of the page that says “It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.” and this sentence struck me as interesting. On its own, I would wholeheartedly agree that that is indeed the duty of every Christian. However, I will say that this statement has some differences in meaning when given in the light of the three major groups listed. When we talk about the Gospel by Faith alone through Grace alone we run into a problem in that Evangelicals and Roman Catholics disagree about those statements. Now, if we are to be taking this statement to mean that the Gospel differences represented are to be cast aside in favor of a foundation of Trinitarian belief, as Chuck Colson has stated, then we are no longer talking about the same foundation. If we are to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ in its fullness, as that statement suggests, I would point out that there is another conflict when an Evangelical talks about Solus Christus and a Roman Catholic priest practices “alter Christus.”

James White, on an episode of his podcast “The Dividing Line” reviews an interview in which J. Ligon Duncan is defending his reasons for signing the document and in it, he refers to Niel Nielson’s blog entitled “Why I almost didn’t sign the Manhattan Declaration” to give a glimpse of some of the “in house” dialogue that was going on between the people who were drafting/signing/discussing the document in its early stages. There is a long quotation in the blog which was an email correspondence between Niel Nielson, who was at that point still debating to sign, and a friend who was encouraging him to sign and notice that what he says is essentially the same thing that I have been trying to articulate.

The key question for me is: Am I willing to sign a statement like
this, along with Christian leaders who define what is stated as the
basis for the statement in very different ways?

For example, what do the Catholic leaders signing the statement mean
by: “It is our duty to proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of
season” (bottom of p. 2)? What is the “gospel” to them? Am I
comfortable signing the statement on the basis of my understanding
of the terms used, i.e. knowing full well that others signing it are
using those same terms to refer to very different things?

I wish that such theological language had been left out entirely,
and that the statement referred more directly and exclusively to the
issues themselves. But when such a statement as that at the bottom
of p. 2 is included, the document implies a theological agreement on
the content of the gospel – and thereby goes beyond co-belligerence
in a similar way as the ECT documents.”

Dr. Nielson takes it a step further with another email, or perhaps part of the same email between himself and the same person.

Could it be that, by avoiding clarification of the biblical gospel and giving — or allowing — the impression of agreement on such a basic matter as the content of the gospel, we are in fact, with every good intention, weakening our distinctive gospel witness?

… it’s hard for me to imagine that Colson and George, both ardent supporters of ECT, are not at some level still just as ardent about the theological reunifying of Protestant and Catholic communities. The theological language of the document — extraneous if the purpose is co-belligerence pure and simple — carries implications and connotations for theological agreement that I don’t think I can countenance.

Don’t get me wrong: We must work with all our energy, alongside all like-convicted others,…for the sanctity of unborn life, for marriage, for biblical sexuality, etc. Those are my deep and vital convictions, and I do my work at Covenant with fixed resolve on those matters, willing to accept all consequences and costs.

But this statement asks far more of me than that. Take out the “gospel” language, and I sign in an instant.

He concludes the email correspondence quotes with an answer to his friend asking him whether he would prefer to sign a document that was a secular argument against abortion, gay marriage, etc. to a deficient Christian/biblical/gospel argument and to that he responded:

…for the purpose of such a common statement among the stated groups, I would prefer no argument at all to a deficient Christian/biblical/gospel argument, i.e. one which I believe is likely to create a misleading impression of common theological conviction about foundational matters. Rather, let’s together state our common convictions about the issues (perhaps even acknowledging that we come to those convictions via very different routes and for very different reasons, i.e. we disagree theologically but we all end up here on the issues), and together declare our common intentions to act according to those convictions.”

However, Nielson signed the document anyway and didn’t provide answers to these objections that he had other than saying that his convictions regarding the political topics at hand were essentially strong enough to override them. This I see as very troubling. As I said earlier, Christians should be vitally concerned with the issues that are discussed in the MD and should stand against the movement to remove them as they were originally intended. HOWEVER, bringing these issues to such a level as to place them higher than the Gospel is a grave error.
Do I believe that Albert Mohler, Wayne Grudem, and J. Ligon Duncan have fallen off the path and are no longer walking with Christ? No I do not. I may not be as ardent in my position as James White may be in not signing this document; however I agree with him and others who have chosen not to sign it in that the Gospel is of the utmost importance. I believe that any shift towards ambiguity or cloudiness regarding what your position is in regards to the Gospel should be avoided at all costs.
The question then shifts outside a bit to the witness of the people who have signed and not signed the document. Would a nonbeliever look at your action of signing a document as being strange in regards to the reasons listed? Would a nonbeliever look at your action of not signing a “Christian” document and be confused? Would either of these positions harm your witness and, as fulfilling your duty, as the document states to “proclaim the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in its fullness, both in season and out of season.” I believe there is something to be said from both of those statements, but unfortunately there isn’t a third option here that might eliminate all possibility of someone somewhere taking your actions and judging you by them. I believe that in response to this question, God is in control entirely and that His will works itself out regardless of earthly circumstances.
These are the reasons I have chosen to not sign this document and I encourage those of you who believe as I, and others believe, to join with me in not signing the document and to take the advice of J. Ligon Duncan when he said “If you think this document is fundamentally about the Gospel, about who is a Christian, and about what is a true Church; Please agree with Dr. MacArthur and Dr. Sproul, not with me!”

What is it that makes vomit so appealing?

I’m sure your first thought is something like “what kind of a disgusting question is that!??!” because that’s kind of my first question too. Comedian Dane Cook has a line in one of his bits that goes something like this: “way in the back of your brain, as strange as it is, there’s actually a part of you that enjoys puking” and within the context of his set, it’s a very funny joke, but I also think he accidentally stumbled upon an interesting social commentary.

Proverbs 25:11 “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” I used to read this verse and rationalize my own involvement with it by saying things like “oh, well surely that refers to a certain type of people…..I mean, really, it says ‘fool'” until I looked up the Hebrew word used there, kesı̂yl, which means to be silly, or fool-ish. It came to mind that you could easily substitute the generic term “man” in for the word “fool” just as easily as you could substitute “Jesse” or “Satan” and that would still remain a true statement.

The question, however, is why? Why do we, or why do I keep returning to my folly? There are some forms of folly that you could point toward an easier answer than others. For example, let’s say that someone has figured out how to work the system, and cut corners or cheat a little on their taxes. The IRS has enough money anyway right? They get what they want, and this person gets a little bit more money in their bank account. In this case it is pretty simple why he would want to return to his folly. In fact, by society’s standards, this isn’t folly at all. This person is viewed as someone who is clever, or smart, or someone who is ahead of the curve

What about the folly that deals entirely internally though? The pleasure that you might receive from getting high, drunk, eating excessive amounts candy, who knows….it can be applied to a great number of things. The side effects of these things are easy enough to spot, that is the coming down off the high, the hangover, headaches, withdrawals etc. Everyone knows of the side effects of doing things that are generally termed “bad” but, knowing that, still goes ahead and does them.

A friend of mine posted a verse that I believe can shed a good deal of light on this topic, and that is Galatians 5:17 “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” This can be looked at in two different ways but it is the exact answer to the questions I’ve been posing here. The first part says that the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit. If there is one thing I’ve noticed, it’s that the more I grow in my walk with God, the more painfully aware I become of sin and my own sinful nature. Paul continues to describe in the chapter what the acts of the sinful nature are and contrasts them with the fruits of the spirit. This is a great representation of what the two sides of every Christian are fighting about. The sinful nature deeply desires to do things to satisfy the flesh, or put another way, to do whatever is necessary in order to feel good. The second part of that verse is the flipside of the first and says that the Spirit desires what is contrary to the sinful nature. These are the things that we would consider counterintuitive because we don’t exactly feel like we want to be doing these things. It doesn’t at all make sense for us to give large amounts of money to people without receiving anything in return. It doesn’t make sense for us to “turn the other cheek” when we are slandered, yet that is what the Spirit desires. The Spirit within the Christian desires what God desires, and the closer we come to God, the stronger the Spirit fights and gains ground on the old, sinful nature. The last part of this verse is the most important one I believe. “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” This is where I mentioned that this could be looked at two different ways, and actually it might be more accurate to say that this verse speaks to two different things simultaneously.

On one hand, you have the deep desire to follow in the footsteps of Christ and to do the things of God and to cherish that which God cherishes, yet you still have this sinful nature that absolutely does NOT want to have any part of that and wants only to satisfy itself and actually to do things that hinder any sort of movement towards God and thus, away from selfish things. Conversely, you have the sinful nature, as well as society in large part, telling you to only do what satisfies yourself at the cost of others and ESPECIALLY if it is contrary to what the Spirit would like to be doing. So from both sides of this you have a battle going on where either side is prohibiting the other from doing what it wants. This seems to be quite the problem, but I believe a well known sermon illustration could help here. The idea is that you have two dogs, one black and one white, now the one that you feed more is going to be bigger and stronger and eventually will overpower the other one. Obviously, this is referring to the two sides of self that we were just talking about. The more you give in to your sinful nature, the easier it is to sin. It’s a vicious cycle, and eventually you’ll become spiritually blind to the fact that what you’re doing is wrong at all. I know this because I’ve been there. It’s harder to do the things that the Spirit wants to do when you’ve been trapped in sin for so long, but I also know that the closer you get to God and the more you feed that white dog, the easier it is to do the things of the Spirit.

We Are Arrogant Clay…

Many Christians will claim that God is the highest form of good or the highest form of morality and the source of all happiness and joy that we experience and observe on Earth. The strange thing is that when we run into something that we don’t like, say some form of cruelty or injustice we start coming up with a variety of things to say, think, or do to sort of blur our original view of God. Most Christians will also hold that God is in control of everything…..at least they’re fine with saying that while good things are happening. When bad things start happening, we begin to get a bit shaky on that claim as well.

There have been many terrible atrocities done throughout the course of human history and these events continue to happen. It is when examining these events that people start to question God the most. Philosophically, this is called the Problem of Evil and is something that is a struggle no matter what camp you happen to fall into Theologically. I’m not going to attempt a full scale examination of this, but rather try to show just how sovereign God is in what He does.

On Earth, we often look at events like the holocaust and say, “how could God allow that to happen?” and taken farther, we look at Hell and think “a loving God wouldn’t______” or “a loving God would______” but it becomes apparent that we have now applied some sort of outside standard to how we are judging God. What is that standard exactly? If God is the source of all goodness, justice, and morality. How can we judge God by any other standard other than Himself?

“I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose.'” – Isaiah 46:9-10

“I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted” – Job 42:2

“Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” – Psalm 115:3

See the pattern here? God’s plans and purposes cannot be thwarted, changed, or frustrated. God will accomplish everything that He sets out to do. There is an example of great calamity as well, when Jeremiah looks at the destruction of Jerusalem and cries out to the Lord.

“My eyes are spent with weeping; my stomach churns; my bile is poured out to the ground because of the destruction of the daughter of my people, because infants and babies faint in the streets of the city.” – Lamentations 2:11

That’s pretty intense, especially when he talks about the infants and babies. Most of us would stop right there and start questioning God about His purposes or blaming God for doing what He did or allowing it to happen, or not stopping its happening. Jeremiah, however, goes an entirely different route even though he is obviously extremely emotional over the whole ordeal.

“Who has spoken and it came to pass, unless the Lord has commanded it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that good and bad come?” – Lamentations 3:37-38

John Piper points out that if God reigns as sovereign over the world, then the evil of the world is not outside His design. As an example, he cites Amos “Does disaster come to a city, unless the Lord has done it?” – Amos 3:6

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” – Proverbs 21:1; cf. Ezra 6:22

“The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord” – Proverbs 16:33

Not one sparrow “will fall to the ground without your Father’s will” – Matthew 10:29

The pattern here is that not only will nothing happen apart from the will of God, but that nothing is also outside of his control. This undoubtedly will raise questions about free will of final judgments etc. However I will turn to a couple of Biblical examples that I think weigh very heavily on the minds of anyone truly thinking about the sovereignty of God.

The story of Job is truly amazing and is worth reading time and time again. Throughout all that Satan does to Job, he remains steadfast and does not reject God. Starting in chapter 31, Job starts doing a very human thing and starts going through all the things he can think of to come up for an explanation for why this is happening to him. I won’t write it all out but essentially he is asking God why this is happening because as far as he knows, he has done nothing to deserve it.

“Oh, that I had someone to hear me! I sign now my defense-let the Almighty answer me; let my accuser put his indictment in writing.” – Job 31:35

That is, by all logical, Earthly standards and reasoning a perfectly legitimate question. This is how God responds.

“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” – Job 38:4 All of Job 38 and 39 contain God asking Job where he was when God did everything, and asking Job who causes all of these things to happen.

The Lord said to Job: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!”
Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy-how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer-twice, but I will say no more.” (40:1-5)

God again begins to question Job, this time about Job’s intentions and what God is able to do. In the end, at the beginning of chapter 42, Job again replies to the Lord.

“I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted. You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my counsel without Knowledge?’ Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know. You said, ‘Listen now, and I will speak; I will question you, and you shall answer me.’ My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” – 42: 1-6

What happens after all this has taken place? After the back and forth exchange with God?

“After Job had prayed for his friends, the Lord made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (42:10) “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” (42:12)

Many times we are unable to see the plans that God has for us, we are unable to grasp the situations that we find ourselves in and we turn to accusations and fear because we don’t understand. Be encouraged, however, by the fact that God knows us better than we know ourselves and He is always looking out for our best interest.

Psalm 20:
“May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. O Lord save the King! Answer us when we call!”

That is an absolutely wonderful way of viewing God, knowing that He will take care of us and protect us when we are in need. We just need to remember our place when it comes to how we think the world should be run and our lives should be run. After all, we are only clay.

“Yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.” – Isaiah 64:2

Where were you when God created the Earth?