Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Safe & Secure?

 Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble...(2 Peter 1:10)
In the Bible verse above we are admonished by the Apostle Peter to diligently pursue the assurance of our own personal salvation. The Christian is instructed to know with certainty the answer to this one all-important question, “Am I truly saved?” Can you, dear reader, answer this question with certainty? Do you know beyond any doubt that you are in fact saved?

Louis Berkhof in his little book, The Assurance of Faith, observes: “There are comparatively few Christians today, who really glory in the assurance of salvation.” He wrote this in 1939 and I suspect, as Christians persist to doctrinally drift, that his words have only increased, and will continue to increase, in relevance. Berkhof himself surmises,

[W]e also meet with some professing Christians today--and it is to be feared that their number is on the increase--who apparently do not think about the matter of assurance, or who, if they do, fail to take it seriously. They simply seem to take it for granted, and speak of it as a matter of course. They assert their assurance in an off-handed way, but leave the impression that they hardly know what it means...the matter of personal assurance has not gripped their souls. Their spiritual life moves on the surface and is utterly lacking in real depth.
I’ve met many Christians who fit the description offered above by Berkhof. One gentleman stands out in particular. If I could ask him today, “Are you truly saved?” I’ve no idea what his reply would be. But I can tell you, at one time he would have answered, “Oh, yes, I am saved.” I can’t tell you what his answer would be now, because he couldn’t give me an answer for now, back then. In other words, even when he thought he was saved, he had no assurance.

This poor Christian once said to me, “I believe I am saved right now, but if I pulled onto the highway and was hit by a truck and died, if I said a bad word just before impact; I would be lost.” Before me was a man who had no biblical concept of salvation, no understanding of justification by grace through faith, and who, therefore had no ground or basis for assurance whatsoever.    

Assurance of salvation has nothing to do with man-centered thinking such as, “I am saved today and I hope I can somehow keep myself saved tomorrow.” How can one be confident today while doubting tomorrow? How can one be confident in the ability of man? “With men this is impossible...” (Matt. 19:26a).

However, the one who meditates upon or contemplates the joyous doctrine that he is saved and kept by the power of Almighty God,  has no room for doubt: “...but with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26b). Granted, our assurance of salvation is not perfect, in the sense that even the most devout among us can battle confusion, discouragement, depression, fear, and yes, even doubt or anxiety. But this is not the normal or persistent mental and spiritual state of God’s elect.

The elect of God can be, and are admonished to be, assured that they are in the state of grace and that they are kept in that state of grace by grace; i.e. We are saved and we are kept saved by the power of God.  This saving and keeping power of God is spoken of in the Apostle Peter’s first epistle when he writes to the elect that they are “...kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1:5).

Subsequently, we are encouraged in Peter’s second epistle to make our “call and election sure.” How should we go about doing this? How can we have certainty instead of conjecture? To begin, we must start with that which is objective rather than subjective, viz. The promises of God in the scripture. The promises of God in scripture are foundational to the believer’s assurance of salvation.

In looking to the promises of scripture, we are also beholding the Christ of scripture. Christ is our perfect Savior who saves perfectly. "This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day...And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My Father‘s hand" (John 6:39;10:26).

We also read in the scripture that the believer should be assured of salvation due to the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, who “Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16). Here, Berkhof quotes from the Canons of Dort: “This assurance, however, is not produced by any peculiar revelation contrary to, or independent of the Word of God, but springs from faith in God’s promises, which He has most abundantly revealed in His Word.”

Along with the promises of God and the perfect Christ of scripture, and with the inner witness of the Holy Spirit, we must also consider the testimony of the Christian graces, the fruits of salvation, in our own lives. The Apostle John speaks of the believer’s assurance of salvation in ethical terms.
Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments...Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us  (1John 2:3; 3:24).
Because we are saved, kept, and transformed by God’s power, let us live in holy, humble assurance.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Sam Harris: Deep Thought for Shallow Minds

Sam Harris is a grave embarrassment to atheism, intellectuals, and the Stanford University philosophy department…His ignorance of the basic tenets of the faiths he targets most directly is astonishing…Harris is also shamelessly intellectually dishonest. Anyone planning to debate Sam Harris would do well to ensure that there is a moderator, preferably one with a shock collar, as Harris is one of those slippery characters who invariably attempts to avoid answering all questions posed to him while simultaneously accusing the other party of arguing in bad faith and failing to address his points. (Vox Day, The Irrational Atheist, p. 113,114,115)
The above quote comes from a chapter entitled, “The End of Sam Harris” [an obvious allusion to Harris’ book, “The End of Faith”]. As one reads Day’s withering deconstruction of Harris’ thought and body of work, one realizes that his characterization of Harris is not a caricature. It’s an accurate portrayal. Day’s chapter on Harris is well documented and his logic is irresistible.

Thus, having read Day’s treatment of Harris, I was somewhat intrigued when a devout atheist, a few weeks ago, challenged me to watch an address given by—you guessed it—Sam Harris. This particular devotee refused to even interact with me until I had witnessed first-hand the object of his adoration.

So I indulged him. I watched. I also listened. And while I am under no illusion that any amount of truth will shake the atheist’s faith, I've come to the obvious conclusion that Vox Day couldn’t be more correct: Sam Harris is astonishingly ignorant of the Christian faith.

Harris begins his lecture with this little gem: “Christianity is founded on the claim that the Bible was dictated by the Creator of the universe.” This is a total misstatement of fact. In no sense is “God dictated the Bible” a foundational truth claim of Christianity. In fact, it’s not a truth claim of Christianity at all. No orthodox Christian believes God dictated the Bible.

Rather, Christians profess that God used the individual author’s intellect, thought, vocabulary, and syntax in the writing of the sacred text. Each human author’s style and idiosyncrasies is readily apparent. God superintended the writing, yes, but He in no sense dictated it. Hence, the Bible is entirely, in the original autographs, the inspired word of God and man.

How can we trust anything Sam Harris says, regarding Christianity, when he is inexcusably ignorant of what he claims to be a foundational truth claim of the faith? Is he intellectually lazy and incompetent or is he intellectually dishonest and untrustworthy? (I suppose it need not be either/or…it could be both/and.)

But let’s move on. Not only is Harris witless as to what the Bible is, he is also breathtakingly clueless as to what it says. Harris builds a case for religious sexism on this stupid premise: “While man was made in the image of God, woman was made in the image of man, according to Christianity.”

So says Sam Harris. But what does the Bible say? “God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Genesis 1:27). Does Harris not know this is in the Bible? Could such a level of illiteracy be feigned?

He continues his baseless assault by alluding to the Bible’s “wives submit to your husbands in all things.” Conveniently, he fails to mention “husbands love your wives as Christ loves the church,” which appears in the same passage—the very next sentence. (Oh, my, Sam, how hellish would this world be if every wife respected her husband and every husband cherished his wife—the horror of it all!)

Harris asserts that one way theists “defend God” is to claim that “religion is useful.” Granted, many folks see a utility to religion. But what Bible verse or Christian creed or confession espouses a utilitarian view of religion? What Christian offers: “I believe in the resurrection of Christ because I find it just so useful”? What a silly notion.

Predictably, Harris makes a lot of noise concerning morality. He proudly preaches, “The most atheistic societies on the planet, like Sweden and Denmark and the Netherlands are in many respects the most moral.” Has he not considered that perhaps these countries are “most moral” [whatever that means] due in part to the residual effects of a strong Christian heritage?

Furthermore, on what basis can he affirm “superior morality” when he denies the very existence of an objective moral standard? In his unbelievable denial of the generally and specially revealed moral Law of God, Harris goes so far as to compare human moral capacities to “chimpanzees comforting each other.”

Presumably he means the same ethical chimps that mercilessly maul their primate cousins for breakfast, cannibalize their infant offspring for lunch, and munch human limbs and faces for snacks—all of this, it seems, without a twinge of regret.

Is this the pinnacle of atheistic moral reasoning? Is Sam Harris the brightest of the “Brights”? If so, perhaps Alister McGrath’s assessment is correct and we are indeed entering the “twilight of atheism.”