It’s been nearly three years since my last post on the Know Be Do blog. But I have been busy writing. I took a sabbatical from the blog to write my first book, which, “Surprise!”…is entitled Know Be Do: Turning the Christian Life Right Side Up. I spent about a year and a half researching and writing the book and another year and half getting it published (by WestBow Press, a division of Thomas Nelson and Zondervan). Now, I am pleased to announce that the book is published and is being released this month. You can find out more and purchase the book at my author website LarryAlanThompson.com. Also, I’ve written a companion Know Be Do Bible Study Resource booklet designed for small group or personal study. You’ll find more information about it at my website as well. I hope you’ll read my new book and consider doing the Bible study, perhaps leading your small group or church through the study. Thank you for following this Know Be Do blog. Look for future blog posts and connect with my social media feeds at LarryAlanThompson.com.
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For this enlightening post, I welcome a very special guest blogger—my daughter, Ginger Thompson Horton. Outside of her hero, Dr. Albert Mohler, I don’t know anyone who reads more books than Ginger. She’s not an avid reader. She’s not even a voracious reader. She’s a carnivorous reader. Last year she read 50 books. 50! Not romance novels. Not teeny-bopper books. Fifty books of the caliber that she lists below—that’s about one a week. Amazing!
A few months ago, Ginger called to ask for our input on a list that she was compiling of the top 25 Spiritual Classics Every Christian Should Read. We gave her our suggested titles, and I asked if she would provide me with an annotated list which I could publish as a guest blog on Know. Be. Do. (By the way, Ginger has a real blog—www.SweetIcedTea.net, one with hundreds of actual subscribers and readers, unlike my own pathetic, self-interested ramblings. Her blog is about the sweet, sophisticated Southern life. Check it out!)
She recently published her unannotated list on a second blog of hers, GingerLand, which included an introduction of why she embarked on creating the list. You can read that post in full here, but I’ve included a few pertinent paragraphs below by way of introduction to this annotated list. Her list itself is must-reading for every Christian. I‘ve read nine of the 25 books on the list, and recently started a tenth, but it is my intention to begin working my way through the entire list (although not as as quickly as Ginger, I’m sure!) So, without further ado, here is Ginger’s wonderful road map to reading your way through the spiritual classics. I know it was hard for her to limit the list to just 25 titles, so if there are books you would add, we would love to hear your comments!
When I was young, my spiritual birthday was always marked in my house. I got a cake with my favorite verse written in frosting, and a present of a book or some music (most often a CD by my favorite, Steven Curtis Chapman) or a new Bible. So this year, I’m marking my birthday with a project.
I am a reader. The way I learn best is often by reading what others wiser than me have written. I’ve spent the last month jotting down some of the spiritual classics—some I’ve read, many of which sadly I have not.
I plan to spend next year reading 25 of the Christian classics—one for every year I’ve been saved. There were so many more that could have been on this list. I brainstormed, perused my own shelves, asked my spiritual mentors, searched in other books, blogs, and for friends’ recommendations. At the end of the day, this was an extremely hard task. When there were cuts to be made, I erred on the side of cutting those I had already read, or had read recently, so this list is fairly personal to my year. But I truly feel that all 25 of these are classics and sure that they deserve a place on the shelf of any Christian’s library.
- A Celebration of Discipline by Richard C. Foster—We are called to be disciples of Christ. Discipleship takes discipline. This classic offers a look on the challenging ways in which we can foster discipline in our inward life (through meditation, prayer, and fasting), in our outward walk (simplicity, solitude, submission, and service), and in our corporate worship (confession, worship, guidance, and celebration).
- Confessions by St. Augustine—This classic by St. Augustine of Hippo is widely considered the first autobiography ever written in the Western world, so it is not only a Christian classic, but also influential in literature. Most of us most likely read City of God in high school, so I’m looking forward to learning more about the early life and conversion of this saint.
- The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—Interest in the life of Bonhoeffer is enjoying a resurgence in popularity as of late due to the 2008 film Valkyrie and a recently published bestselling biography by Eric Metaxas (Comment from Larry: Recently finished this biography and highly recommend it.) Bonhoeffer has the authority to write on the cost of discipleship. As a German living during World War II, he was executed for his resistance to the Nazis.
- Desiring God by John Piper—I had enjoyed this Piper classic before, but it is worth another read. Piper advocates Christian hedonism, teaching that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”
- Foxe’s Book of Martyrs by John Foxe—Nothing is more inspiring than the stories of those who literally gave their very lives for the cause of Christ. How can we do any less?
- The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom—Another wonderful story of one who sacrificed much in the name of Jesus. Corrie Ten Boom hid Jews during the Nazi regime and was arrested and held in a concentration camp during World War II. Her forgiveness is astounding, and her story reads like an exciting spy novel.
- Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis—When I worked at my college bookstore, this was one of the most requested Christian classics. It’s been translated into more languages than any other book outside the Bible itself, so any book with staying power is one that deserves a place on my list.
- In His Steps by Charles Sheldon—Though published in 1897, this novel inspired the WWJD? bracelet trend of the 1990s. It’s rare to find a book over 100 years old that is so pragmatic for our daily lives today.
- The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey—Phillip Yancey never fails to make me think through my preconceived notions of canned Christianity. The Jesus of the Bible is much less like the Jesus of Sunday School felt boards. The real Jesus is complex, passionate, brilliant. Yancey takes us through Christ’s life on earth—from His Jewish roots, group of close friends, surrounding geography, spoken words, and evident personality to learn more about our incarnate God.
- Knowing God by J. I. Packer—J. I. Packer is a leading theologian of our day. My brilliant sister read this modern Christian classic in high school and said it made more difference in her life than most any other book. Enough said. It’s on the list.
- Listening to Your Life by Frederick Buechner—Frederick Buechner is hands-down my favorite living author. He has a fresh way of explaining things that makes the divine seem simple and the simple seem divine. Every time I read anything he has written, I think, laugh, sometimes cry, and always marvel at the beauty that words have when from the pen of a master. I’ve read almost everything Buechner has written, but this is one of his seminal works with the message that our Creator uses our own lives to speak to us.
- Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis—No real explanation is needed for Mere Christianity. Should be required reading, for Christians and non-believers. There is no more simple defense of our faith. Anything by Lewis is worth reading.
- My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers—The devotional classic by Oswald Chambers is designed to be read in short segments—one devotion for each day. A perfect way to start the morning reflecting on His Highest.
- On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius—Written in the fourth century, On the Incarnation is one of the enduring defenses of our faith, but timely for today when scholars are still debating the divine nature of Jesus Christ.
- Orthodoxy by G. K. Chesterton—Chesterton wrote many Christian classics, both fiction and non-fiction. Orthodoxy is his personal journey to faith and apologetics.
- Paradise Lost by John Milton—A classic piece of literature that most of us read in high school or college, but worth a revisit.
- Pensees by Blaise Pascal—Pascal’s thoughts have been quoted in many of my favorite Christian books—from John Eldredge to Phillip Yancey—so he is highly read. If you’ve ever heard of “Pascal’s Wager,” this is where the concept stems from.
- Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan—I remember my parents reading from Little Pilgrim’s Progress, a chapter a night when I was small. I was captivated. The original version is tough to slough through (pun intended), so make sure to get a good modern version. This Penguin Classic paperback comes highly recommended.
- Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence—The title says it all. We could all do well to learn the practices of this 17th century monk.
- Saint’s Everlasting Rest by Richard Baxter—I love meditating on heaven. Baxter wrote The Saint’s Everlasting Rest while severely ill, and it will make you look forward to heaven. I know it’s a great book when I have more portions underlined than not.
- The Saving Life of Christ by Major Ian Thomas—One of my spiritual heroes, Dr. Adrian Rogers, mentioned this book more than any other I recall. It was only recently that I finally got around to reading it, and I am only sad I waited so long. Revolutionary, in the truest sense of the word, in that it can change your perspective on the purpose of Christ’s life and death. But it’s so simple, and so foundational to what the Bible really teaches.
- The Search for Significance by Robert McGee—I, like so many Christians, suffer from the performance-based trap of spiritual self-worth. Either we see ourselves as a lowly worm of a sinner, or worse, we think we can bring something to God with our own righteousness. Our acceptance in the eyes of God is only found in Christ’s work, not our own accomplishments or the opinions of others.
- A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller—One of the most beloved Psalms, looked at through the eyes of a shepherd and his sheep. Keller, a former sheep rancher, shows us to trust and rest in the Good Shepherd.
- Six Hours One Friday by Max Lucado—I must admit, I went through a period of snobbery against Max Lucado. It wasn’t anything so wrong with his message, per se. Just how many people flocked to it and stayed only there, going no deeper. But I recently picked up another title of his (Come Thirsty), and was struck by how the message doesn’t need to be any “more intellectual.” Lucado always has a way of piercing the simple message of God’s love right to the heart. I’ve read quite a bit of Max Lucado (my favorite so far being And the Angels Were Silent), but my dad recommended this as his favorite classic. Since I’ve not read this one, subtitled Living in the Power of the Cross, it made the list.
- Through Gates of Splendor by Elizabeth Elliot—Once again, biographies often have the power to inspire like no sermon ever could. I’m familiar with the story of missionary Jim Elliot, killed by an Ecuadorian tribe, along with five other men. Elizabeth Elliot, Jim’s wife, wrote his story and continued to serve as a missionary among the Auca Indians after his death.
For more of Ginger’s book recommendations, check out this post: Top Ten Books, Selected Personally for Me.
Often, the most soothing music is a product of tension. Just look at the strings on a guitar, violin, harp, or piano. Each string has the precise amount of tension needed to create the perfect pitch. A little more or a little less, and the note would be off-key. But stretched straight and true, the strings produce soaring sounds that belie the stress they bear. Even the human voice itself creates sound because of vocal cords held in tension.
God orchestrates His World with the same kind of Divine Tension, playing a Love Song for His Creation that resonates in perfect pitch for all eternity. Like a six-string guitar, I see six strings of truth, each held in Divine Tension on one end by God Himself, like the bridge of the guitar, and on the other end by His human creation, like tuning pegs.
1. God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility
This particular string has produced a lot of disharmony among Christians through the centuries, and still is today. In fact, our own Southern Baptist Convention has grappled with it for decades, and it seems to be a thundercloud looming on the horizon that’s threatening to bring more darkness and storms into our churches. How delighted our enemy must be. The mind-numbing question of Calvinism vs. Arminianism has been debated ad nauseam, and it’s certainly not my intention to try to settle it here. I know and respect people on both sides of the fence. I’ve studied the thorny issue six ways to Sunday, and tried to wrap my head around Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, and Sublapsarianism until my head spins. But I’ve come to peace on the issue: When the Bible teaches that God is 100% sovereign, then teach that. And when the Bible says “whosoever will” may believe, then teach that. We’ll never reconcile the two any more than you can pour the ocean into a thimble because God’s “brain” is infinite and ours is quite finite. That’s not a cop out, and, no, I don’t think He ever intended us to comprehend it all nor reconcile it all. “For now we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). It’s a Divine Mystery, and that’s part of the Divine Tension that I’m writing about.
I do believe, however, I can understand why we can’t understand it. The whole issue from man’s perspective is immersed in the dimension of “time.” We can’t think outside the dimension of time any more than a fish can imagine life outside of water. That’s the element we were born in and exist in. But God is outside of time. Take your timeline and turn it 90 degrees on end, so you’re looking not at a line, but at a single point. That might give you some small idea of God’s perspective. All time is collapsed into a single simultaneous reality. So the precise “order of decrees” and whether God gives grace one second after man believes or whether man believes one second after God gives grace is all a moot point. God isn’t restrained by time. He operates in a qualitative realm that lies beyond the quantitative limitations of time and space. Yet, we cannot think in this realm. So the best we can do is imagine Him reaching down with His hand of grace as man reaches up with his hand of faith, and the two connect eternally—past, present, and future collapsed—forming an unbreakable string, tuned perfectly by the Divine Tension of God’s Sovereignty and Man’s Responsibility. “Saved by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). Beautiful! We can turn the tuning peg all we want—sharp or flat—reformed or 1-point Calvinist (my personal position) or on and on ad infinitum—and you won’t improve on the perfect pitch of God’s finely tuned Word.
2. God’s Revelation and Man’s Senses
While the first string produces dissonance primarily inside the church, this string produces discord inside and outside the church. Mankind—churched and unchurched alike—is increasingly putting more and more faith in their senses, namely science, and less and less in God’s revelation, namely the Bible. For the purposes of this post, let’s leave metaphysics to the arena of philosophy, and limit our definition of science to empirical science. Science is essentially the knowledge that we acquire through our senses. Science has become god in our modern world. But true science isn’t the enemy of the Bible. All science, properly interpreted, supports the Bible. But science has limits, as does human reason, modern man’s other authority. We ordinarily cannot experience the supernatural through our five senses, so it is dismissed as myth, fantasy. God’s Word records events we’ve never seen: a universe forming in six days, a sea parting and exposing dry land, an ax head floating, a man getting swallowed by a great fish, 5,000+ people getting fed with two loaves and five fishes, a life-long blind man made to see. We cannot see. So mankind rejects the supernatural. Or tries to twist the tuning peg his way, inventing naturalistic explanations, such as Theistic Evolution. Enlightened rationalism. But the guitar string just goes out of tune. And then after rejecting all these manifestations of the supernatural, some still claim to swallow the one Supreme Miracle, the Resurrection of Christ, while denying all the rest. And well they should. Because if one doesn’t believe that He lives, then one has no hope of living eternally.
But enough about the controversy. I want to focus on the beautiful music. This string, precisely stretched between God’s Revelation and Man’s Senses, produces a particularly lovely strain of music that swells with faith and love for God. Why? Just think: If God really wanted to, He could manifest Himself in much more obvious ways that would be clear to our senses and to the masses. He could ride across the sky on a white charger every afternoon. (Or could that be the sun?) He could write John 3:16 in one’s mother tongue right on each individual’s forearm. (Or would that be any different from the Bible?) He could send an angel down in the midst of each church service to declare the Words of God. (Or is that what a preacher, God’s messenger, is?) He could manifest Himself in any number of ways in such an obvious manner that perhaps even the most hardened atheist would have to say, “OK, that’s got to be God.” Why doesn’t He? He wants people to believe, doesn’t He? That question used to bother me. I would say, “God, please, come down here and just show off some. You alone have the right to. You’re our Creator. Show off. Show them!” Well, forget for a moment that He’s really already revealed Himself in quite a few convincing and compelling ways. As He said to the rich man, “‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31). There’s an even more glorious reason why He doesn’t go overboard appealing to our senses. It’s because when man uses his sixth sense, his supernatural sense, FAITH, in order to know and trust God, then God gets all the more magnified glory. After all, soulless animals could use their five senses to become aware of God, if He were to rely solely on natural senses to reveal Himself. But God has chosen to reveal Himself in supernatural ways that we can experience and believe only through the special sense with which He graced man—FAITH. That string stretched between man, made in His image, and God, our Maker, produces a sound that cannot be heard with natural hearing, but only through supernatural listening. And when we see and hear with our supernatural senses, our praise rises to exalt Him in an extraordinary way.
3. God’s Saving and Man’s Witnessing
God made man a partner with Him from the beginning. God put Adam and Eve in the Garden and gave them jobs to do, even before sin entered the world. He told them to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Rule the creatures, work the garden, and watch over it—all before the Fall. So it’s no wonder that when it came to the job of revealing Himself to all of mankind and of making disciples of His Son, God also hired man as His partner. “Then Jesus came near and said to them, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’” (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s the Great Commission. But it’s really a great privilege. Imagine if Bill Gates called you up and offered you the job of Chief Marketing Director for Microsoft. Never mind that you might hold out for the Apple job, the point is that it would be a great honor. Infinitely more so is it an honor for us to be holding the other end of the string that plays the Gospel melody all around this globe. He didn’t need us, but He chose to use us. And now we’re essential to His plan: “But how can they call on Him they have not believed in? And how can they believe without hearing about Him? And how can they hear without a preacher?” (Romans 10:14). You’re probably beginning to see the pattern develop here in the Divine Tension between God and man that fills the universe with His praises.
4. God’s Forgiveness and Man’s Repentance
This string forms a tight chord with point #1. Repentance and faith are two ends of one string. Two sides of one coin. When we turn to Christ, we turn away from our sin (repentance) and towards our Savior (faith) all in one grace-full movement. He forgives the instant we repent. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). “Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, sinners, and purify your hearts” (James 4:8). It’s a kind of Divine Dance in which He leads, we follow, He rejoins, and we respond. (See Psalm 51.) It’s beautiful music that begins the moment we believe and become His, and it continues throughout our life here on earth, every time we fail Him and He faithfully forgives. It’s how an adulterer and murderer named David became a “man after God’s own heart.” And how a cursing, denying ol’ salt named Peter became “the rock.” From David the harpist to Peter the “rocker,” there’s plenty of tension there to produce some soulful praise music.
5. God’s Blessing and Man’s Obedience
In perfect harmony with the low note of #4 is the high note of #5. ““If you carefully obey my commands I am giving you today, to love the Lord your God and worship Him with all your heart and all your soul, I will provide rain for your land” (Deuteronomy 11:13-14). “‘If you have faith the size of a mustard seed,’ the Lord said, ‘you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you'” (Luke 17:6). God’s Word is full of conditional promises. If you do what I tell you to do, I will bless you. If you don’t, you’ll pay the consequences. This string isn’t too hard to tune. It’s pretty straightforward. That’s not to say that obedience itself is easy. But at least He has made it abundantly clear what He expects. It’s all for our own good, after all. As Pastor Adrian Rogers said, and I’ve quoted many times, “When God says, ‘Thou shalt not…,’ He’s really saying, ‘Don’t hurt yourself.’ When God says, ‘Thou shalt…,’ He’s really saying, ‘Help yourself to happiness.'” He created us, so He knows what will hurt us and what will help us. More often than not, obedience bears its own reward, and sin is its own punishment. You reap what you sow. Sowing and reaping are another example of God and man working together. And whether it’s positive reinforcement or negative disincentive, it’s all about our good and His glory. Beautiful.
6. God’s Will and Man’s Plans
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). While point #1 is concerned primarily with man’s eternal destination, this string relates to man’s plight while still on earth in time and space. No doubt God rules and overrules man’s plans, and often I’ve felt like a man walking southbound on a northbound train; no matter how fast I walk, I’m still heading north. But there’s a mystery in how God’s directive will and His permissive interact, and how prayer changes the equation. There’s much I don’t understand about prayer, but I take comfort in knowing that the Holy Spirit intercedes where my feeble prayers fall short. (Romans 8:26) I know that God has a firm grip on His end of the string, and as I fumble and stumble my way through life, making plans and praying for what seems best, I’m so glad that He takes up the slack to make beautiful music out of the sour notes that I so often hit. How often He has taken something that was meant for bad, and turned it into something good. He gives only good gifts to His children, and so I praise Him that His sovereign will means that He has a wonderful plan and future for me that involves his loving discipline at worst and his abundant blessing always—His glory and my good. He always connects the dots.
There you have it: six strings of Divine Tension strung between God and man, making beautiful music with the Creator. Why all this free will for man? Why does He give us so much responsibility and freedom? It all comes back to what brings Him the most glory. Without choices, there could be no genuine love, only robotic love. So He gives us freedom to love Him, and the unspeakable privilege of being in relationship with Him, being connected to Him, being used by Him. He didn’t have to use us or choose us. He’s God. He didn’t need a little boy’s two loaves and five fishes. He could have fed 5 million by simply speaking a word. But He chose to use us. To make music with us. He chose to become one of us. He chose to lay down His life for us—by His own free will. So we could live with Him forever. He chose to reveal Himself to us. He chose to forgive us. He chose to bless us. Now we, made in His image, have choices. To believe. To reject “Seeing is believing” in favor of “Believing is seeing.” To witness. To repent. To obey. And as we do, oh, what melodious praise we produce as we lift praises to the One Who gives us our song. Simply Divine!
The commentary below was a response I wrote to an article entitled “Science and religion: God didn’t make man; man made gods” which originally ran as an op-ed piece in the Los Angeles Times (July 18, 2011) and was republished by the Lexington Herald-Leader (July 20, 2011). Citing recent research that supposedly unravels religion’s “DNA,” the article by J. Anderson Thomson and Clare Aukofer argued that man invented gods because we needed them and that faith in the supernatural is just another evolutionary adaptation to help us survive. I wrote the Herald-Leader editor and asked if they would publish a rebuttal, and they agreed, but gave me only 700 words. You can read it along with all the reader comments (72 comments at the time of posting) here. The version below is the full version not edited by the paper to make it fit, along with some other expanded content that I included after reading some of the responses to my commentary. I would love to hear your comments.
Imagine a world without religion.
That’s what Thomson and Aukofer, the writers of the recent article “God Didn’t Make Man; Man Made Gods,” ask us to do. Then they point to several radical, negative examples, such as Osama bin Laden, in an attempt to write off all religion.
OK, let’s imagine life with no religion. Most hospitals wouldn’t exist. Many of the best universities in the world wouldn’t exist. Many of the charities. Perhaps even the United States themselves. All these institutions and many more were founded in the name of religion, namely Christianity. If this kind of selective thinking is the basis of the so-called scientific research that Thomson and Aukofer offer as evidence that man created God, then I put little credibility in their conclusions.
There’s nothing wrong with their scientific methods and observations. It’s the conclusions that are wrong, because they filter their results through the assumptions of the theory of evolution. For example, some of their research found that humans have an innate need for attachment and for protectors. Since the writers begin with the assumption of evolution, they interpret this as evidence that humans created “super parents”—gods—to help them cope. But if you begin with an assumption that the Bible is true, the same experiments would support the Scriptures’ truth that man was created in the image of God. God wants fellowship. That’s why He created us. He wired us with the need to live in community and in families. And He built into each one of us a God-shaped vacuum that only He can fill.
Take another one of their findings: that even infants have a built-in sense of morality, an “evolved” trait, they assume. Yet the Bible tells us in Romans and other places that God built into each of us a sense of right and wrong—a conscience—that points us to God. It’s one of the ways He has revealed Himself to us.
My point is that there’s nothing wrong with their empirical evidence. It’s their interpretation that’s wrong. They come to erroneous conclusions because their presuppositions come from their authority—the unproven theory of evolution. Christians come to different conclusions because our presuppositions come from our authority—God’s Word.
Even their overarching proposition fails to pass the logic test. On one hand they say faith is a bad thing for the human race. But their argument wouldn’t pass a freshman logic course. Because on the other hand they argue: Evolved traits make creatures more fit to survive. Faith evolved. So the only logical conclusion is that faith is something that makes us more fit, a good thing for humans.
It’s beyond the scope of this letter to debate the shortcomings of the theory of evolution, but my point is that all science—properly interpreted—supports God’s Word.
There are limits to what knowledge can be obtained and proven using reason and empirical evidence. History can’t be proven this way. And supernatural truth cannot be proven this way. Therefore, the man who says he will only believe what passes the judgment bar of human reason and empirical science is selling himself short. There is much more to God’s universe than that.
Of course, I could rehearse all the classic philosophical arguments for the existence of God—the cosmological argument that says there must be a first cause: God. Evolution and science don’t explain the existence of matter. Faith in God does.
There’s the teleological argument: The world is highly complex and organized. Take the human eyeball, for example. Like a fine watch, something that intricate argues for a Designer, not something that fell together in time as the result of a series of birth defects/mutations. From galaxies to solar systems to eyeballs to atoms, there is so much order and complexity in the universe that it takes much more faith to swallow the theory of happy accidents (evolution) than that the Supreme Being designed it all.
There’s not space here to go through all the arguments for God. And there’s really little point. God has revealed Himself clearly to us through His Word—the Bible, through creation, through our conscience, through history, and supremely through His Son, Jesus Christ.
In fact, no man can with intellectual integrity truly claim to be an absolute atheist. An absolute atheist says that God does not exist. But what man would claim to possess 100% of all possible knowledge? Say you claim to know even 50 percent (quite presumptuous). You would still have to admit that God might exist in the portion of knowledge that you do not have. Therefore, there are no true atheists, only agnostics, who can truthfully only say, “I’m not sure if God exists.”
If you’re not sure, then you should look in places in which reason and empirical evidence do not shed light. That is faith. Science has limits. It says, “Seeing is believing.” Faith has no limits, because it says, “Believing is seeing.”
My commentary generated a lively online discussion. And after reading the reader comments on the Herald-Leader website, I was surprised by two things: 1) The high number of people who commented. In less than 48 hours, the story had 72 comments. I read the Herald-Leader online most every day, and that’s a lot for a piece that was practically buried on the op-ed page. 2) How overwhelmingly negative the comments were: 3:1 negative to positive. I had imagined that my fellow Christians, also angered by the original article that attempted to dismiss God as a mutation of our imagination, would flock to my defense. After all, Kentucky is still in the Bible belt, isn’t it? Or have we loosened our belt? Anyway, of the 72 comments to date, 48 were against me, 16 for me, and 8 were neutral or no particular position. And of the 16 in support of me, probably half were from my daughter Ginger who loyally–and quite articulately–defended her Daddy and her Heavenly Daddy.
I don’t have the time to respond to every comment, but most were centered around the same themes anyway. So after reading all the comments, here are my observations and rebuttals:
1. I’m amazed at how militant self-proclaimed atheists are about their, uh, beliefs (?), uh, non-belief (?). You would expect an evangelical Christian to be passionate and proselytizing. After all, we sincerely believe that Jesus is the only way to avoid an eternity in hell, and we are commanded and compelled to rescue as many people as possible from the burning building. But why does an atheist care what anyone else believes? If they truly believe there is no God, what difference does it make to them if I believe? I don’t care if a child believes in the tooth fairy. The fact that atheists are getting more and more militant about their worldview and more and more antagonistic toward Christians is characteristic of the “New Atheism,” led by “the Four Horsemen of the New Atheism,” Christopher Hitchens (who several readers mentioned), Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris. These four men have recently published best-selling books on atheism. If you’re looking for a concise primer on New Atheism, I can highly recommend Atheism Remix by Dr. Al Mohler.
2. I’m amused that evolutionists have such a huge blind spot when it comes to seeing that they, too, are “believers” in a faith system. They think their system is based on facts, but the mysteries of the universe are so vast, and all they have are a few random puzzle pieces for which they have extrapolated a fanciful theory, filled in with broad presuppositions and conjecture. Science hasn’t even begun to answer fundamental questions, such as “Where did matter and energy come from in the first place?” Nor specific questions, such as “Why are there no transitional fossils?” The mysteries of life forms are mind-boggling. Scientists cannot begin to create life in a laboratory. How can they be so sure they have figured out how life formed in the beginning? That’s true arrogance. And that’s true faith—in science fiction. I’ve often said that it takes more faith to believe that a fine-tuned athlete like John Wall (brain, senses, muscles all coordinated perfectly) just fell together through a series of accidents, than it does to believe that a Creator designed him. Yes, evolutionists live by faith, too.
3. I’m annoyed that that so many readers are putting their faith in the fact that 99% (or whatever number they happened to pull out of their hat) of scientists believe in evolution, so that makes it true. Truth isn’t true because of popular vote. If it is, then I’d like to turn that on them and say, OK, Christianity is true because more people follow Christianity than any other faith system, including atheism. Christianity is true because it is fact. Many readers don’t get that. They think that faith and fact are two separate worlds. Nonsense. The Bible is true because it is fact. And faith follows fact. You don’t commit intellectual suicide to become a believer. You can read much more about this in excellent books such as Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Lee Strobel’s The Case for…series. Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis resources. The Bible stands up to any truth test.
- The Internal Evidence Test: The Bible has complete unity among 66 books written by 40 authors over 1,500 years in two continents and three languages. The only explanation is that there is one ‘Publisher.” God. There’s much more evidence, such as the more than 300 prophecies that were fulfilled by Christ.
- The External Evidence Test: Ancient historians and modern archeologists have confirmed the historical accuracy of the Scriptures. The Bible is scientifically accurate, too. After all, it was written by the One Who created the world and science. Two millennia before scientists discovered that they were wrong all along about the earth being flat, Isaiah wrote, “It is He that sitteth upon the circle of the earth…” (Isaiah 40:22). How did Isaiah know the earth was a circle? Because God inspired him to write it. God wrote the Bible. He knows a little more about the world than scientists. Is it possible that today’s scientists just could be just as wrong about evolution and the big bang?
- The Bibliographic Test: The Bible is supported by more manuscripts by far than any other piece of literature from antiquity. The New Testament has 24,633 extant manuscripts. 2nd place: Homer’s Illiad with 643.
What’s my bottom line in all this? It’s this. The authors of that original article, God didn’t make man; man made gods are partially right—man has made a lot of gods (little “g’). They’ve been doing it since the Garden of Eden. And man himself is the chief of all these gods. All man-made gods have one thing in common: they are made in the image of man. As I’ve studied the man-made gods of ancient cultures (Roman, Greek, Sumerian, etc.), I’ve observed that they are all made in the image of their creator—man—with the same attributes as man. They’re petty, jealous, bitter, unforgiving, and on and on—just like man. And salvation always comes the same way. Man makes a way to God. The atheists are right: man is better off without these gods.
Only one God is different. The true God, the God of the Bible, Yahweh, the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. He is not made in the image of man. He is all-loving, gracious, merciful, forgiving. And instead of man finding a way to God, God came to man in the person of Jesus Christ. That’s what sets Christianity apart from all the other religions. “Religion” is man striving, climbing a mountain to find God. Christianity is God coming down the mountain—Mt. Calvary—to save man. That’s no man-made God.
So take your pick. God, Who made man in His image. Or man, who made god in his image. God, Who came to man. Or man, who tries to make it to god. As for me, I’m not smart enough to make a god. But I’m too smart to ignore the God Who made me.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. (Psalm 53:1)
Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. (Romans 1:21)
God scares me to death.
I don’t make that remark flippantly. Or irreverently. Or as hyperbole.
I state it deliberately.
God literally scares me to the point of mortifying sin and self. And that’s a good thing. Not a bad thing.
Fearing God is not a popular notion these days. You don’t see a lot of best-selling books about it. Or seven-part sermon series. Or TV evangelist fear-fests.
We’re afraid of fear.
People prefer thinking about God as a gentle Father. Or a Friend. Or a Savior. Or a Healer. Or a Prayer Granter. And certainly He is all those things.
But the same divine attributes that make Him such an amazing Father, Friend, Savior, and more are the very characteristics that make Him worthy of fear.
He is omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnipresent. Holy. Jealous. Infinite. Self-sufficient. Just. Sovereign. And yes, wrathful.
After all, this is the God who struck a man dead for simply trying to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling off a cart! (1 Chronicles 13) Of course, they were disobedient for putting the Ark on a cart in the first place. But the bottom line is: God is holy, God is powerful, and God is wrathful—a combination that certainly evokes fear.
“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10)
Fear has all kinds of benefits. I just mentioned wisdom. The Bible also connects the fear of the LORD with understanding, praise, instruction, avoiding being a fool, departing from evil, honor, humility, good counsel, might, stability, strength, treasure, and salvation.
Fear is a lot like the sensation of pain. Pain might be perceived as a negative. Until you realize that pain tells you to remove your hand from a hot stove. Tells you to go see a doctor when something’s not right. Keeps you from doing something stupid like jumping off a tall building or grabbing a live wire. Were it not for pain, many of us might be dead.
Fear has helped me “depart from evil.” God reminded me as He did Job in Job 28:28: “And unto man he said, Behold, the fear of the LORD, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding.”
I remember a time in my life when I had fallen into the grip of sin that had a particularly strong hold on me. I could feel it sapping my strength, leading me away from God, and enslaving my mind, will, emotions, and spirit. For about a month I was in a free fall. Then for about the next three months, God unleashed the longest string of bad things that I can recall ever happening to me. Rapid fire. Almost daily. It brought me to my knees. There was no doubt in my mind that God was taking me to the woodshed, getting my attention. Scaring me to death.
“For if you live according to the flesh, you are going to die. But if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)
“Therefore, put to death whatever in you is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry.” (Colossians 3:5)
Many translations use the phrase “put to death.” I like the King James: “mortify.” It captures the feeling of being scared to death, “mortified.” Which is precisely what the fear of the LORD should properly do.
The fear of the LORD should make us scared to death to sin. That’s OK to say, all you who can’t conceive of a wrathful God. Remember, that fear, like pain, can be a healthy thing, often, the most gracious thing He can do.
Growing up as a kid, I was scared of my Dad. He had a temper. And I didn’t want to set it off. I did a few times. Like the time he told me to clean up my mess in the garage, and I let him know that I would get around to it when I was good and ready. I didn’t exercise a lot of wisdom on that one. And he gave me a dose of understanding. And trust me, he mortified my rebellious attitude.
My heavenly Father gave me a lesson I won’t forget. I won’t forget the pain and fear I experienced. But I dropped that sin cold turkey, and don’t plan on testing God on that one again.
I’m sure there are a few reading this who think I have a warped sense of God. Like He’s just sitting around waiting for us to mess up so He can zap us with a punishment. First of all, if we are His child, it’s not punishment. It’s discipline. Discipline has as its objective to bring about repentance and restoration. Punishment seeks only vengeance and judgment. God punishes those who are not His children. He disciplines those who are. Hebrews 12:4-11:
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”
7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
The fear of the LORD is designed for our benefit, not His sick pleasure. If you think of God only as the forgiving, merciful, gracious, long-suffering Father, you are the one with the warped view of God. God has many dimensions. He is merciful, yet wrathful. Long-suffering, yet angry. To be friends with, yet to be feared.
And make no mistake, when the Bible says fear, it means fear. Scared to death. Don’t water it down. It’s not just respect. Not just reverence. Fear. The kind of fear that makes you drop that sin like a live wire.
A few years ago there was a popular slogan floating around pop culture that said, “No fear.” It was hip to pretend that you were afraid of nothing. There was even a clothing line called “No fear.” How foolish. Fear isn’t a thing to fear. Fear is a thing to embrace.
Why don’t we fear God like we should? Often, it’s because He is long-suffering. He doesn’t always zap us the minute we sin. There’s a principle in Scripture called the “Law of the Harvest.” Its tenets are: 1) You always reap what you sow; 2) You reap more than you sow; and 3) You reap later than you sow. It works both in the positive and negative. Sow a kernel of corn. You will reap several ears—a few months from now. Slip into sin. You’ll reap the whirlwind—maybe not right now, but soon enough. Satan uses that delay to fool us. We think we’ve gotten around God. But the discipline is coming. And praise God for it. Without it, we might just keep our hand on that hot stove till we’re fried. So be afraid. Be very afraid.
But look carefully at what God said, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.” It’s the beginning. Not the end-all. It’s an immature believer who goes through life doing the right thing only because of the fear of consequences. That’s a good start. But go beyond fear as a motive. Let love be the end motive. As a boy, fear may have been my main motive for obeying or serving my Dad. As I grew up, love became my motive. Today, my earthly father is in Heaven. But oh, how I love him, and what a privilege it would be today for me to go clean out his garage.
There was a bumper sticker a few years ago that said, “Know God. No fear.” Clever, but not the best theology. Sure, God can remove illegitimate fears about this life and of the fear of death and hell. But to truly know God is to know fear. And ironically the fear of the LORD brings peace that passes understanding. Let God scare you to death. And in the process, He will lead you to life.
A vandal took a can of blood red spray paint a few nights ago, and scrawled on the walls of our home a love letter from God.
I’m quite sure God and love were the furthest things from his mind as he assaulted the front and both sides of our 168-year-old house with his graffiti. And I must confess, God and love were not my first thoughts when I discovered it the next morning.
But after the shock, the anger, the fear, the sense of violation and injustice subsided, it became perfectly clear that the handwriting on the wall was God’s.
Not that He caused it, but that He took something man clearly meant for bad, and turned it into good.
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).
God has a way of doing that. He was in the recycling business long before it was cool. He takes things that are diabolical, diseased, distressed, depressed, deprived, disgusting, discarded, dying, dead. He takes them and salvages them into something good, glorious, golden, great, grand, gleaming, gainful, gracious, godly.
He did it with my life.
And He’s done it in my life—over and over. The graffiti on the wall is just the latest example (more later about how He’s done that). But there have been many other times. Take for example the time the Southern Baptist Convention voted to merge the agency I worked for with another organization, effectively eliminating my job. We were distraught. Angry. No evil intended, I’m sure, but it felt that way. Yet a month later I was working at a church in the perfect position, a position that later helped me launch my own ministry. God meant it for good.
It’s no secret that our daughter Ginger was conceived out of wedlock. And the Planned Parenthood office offered to help us “take care of it.” Evil. Now we have not one but two wonderful daughters and two sons-in-love who love the Lord. Glorious.
I could go on and on. But I wanted to write specifically about how God has acted in this latest instance with the vandalism. Here are just a few of the ways He took a bad situation and produced good for us and glory for Himself:
- He protected us physically during the night it happened. Also, no property was harmed other than the damage caused by the paint.
- We have met and strengthened relationships with neighbors. Some have been in our home for the first time, and we’ve been in their homes for the first time. We bless the Lord for these important steps as we have been trying to reach our neighbors for Christ during our five years here. Hopefully, they have seen a peace and attitude through all this that points them to Christ.
- Prayers have gone up for the individual(s) who did it. They may never have been prayed for otherwise. (By the way, we have no idea who would have done something like this. There are are no words or symbols, only scribbling. The police think it was probably random.)
- We have been depending on God and His grace more during this time, spending more time with Him, focusing more on Him—things He wants all of the time.
- Pending the final decision by our insurance company, we may get our entire house painted for the cost of our insurance deductible. (Of course, our gain is the insurance company’s loss, and ultimately all of us pay for vandalism through higher premiums.)
- We have received encouragement and blessings from so many friends and neighbors, many of whom have graciously offered to come and help us clean up the mess.
- We—and others—have been reminded again of how God takes bad things and recycles them for good.
I’m quite convinced that nothing happens to us that God doesn’t allow. And if we can just be patient and wait for Him to do His work, we will see how it becomes something good. 100% of the time.
It reminds me of a story about a woman who was driving late one evening through a strange town when her car died in a neighborhood where you don’t want to be alone at night. It was raining hard and very dark, and as she sat inside her car trying to decide what to do , she noticed a large man walking towards her car. She didn’t like the looks of him and locked the doors. He walked past the car, looked inside at her, and then turned back around. She didn’t want to look up, but he tapped on the window. She ignored him, focusing her attention on her cell phone. He knocked harder on the window and was talking to her, but she tried to tune him out and the rain was so hard she couldn’t hear anyway. He began to pound on the window and rock the car, screaming at her, and she began to panic and cry out. Finally, the man picked a stone and broke out the window of her car, reached inside the car, grabbed the door latch, and flung open the door. The woman screamed and fought as the man grabbed her and dragged her out of the car, both of them falling to the rain-soaked pavement. Just then, a locomotive screeched by on the rails, only a few feet away from the man and woman, as the car bent around the front of the train and slid sideways down the track. The woman’s car had stalled on the train tracks. The man was trying to save her life.
How often do we claw and fight our way though life as things happen to us. Some, evil things caused by evil people. Some, trials engineered by God to make us stronger. Some, temptations crafted by Satan to make us stumble. Some, consequences of the sinful choices we make ourselves. Yet in each case, God can take the bad thing and turn it into something good.
He did it for Joseph in Genesis 50 (click here for an excellent message about this from my pastor, David Prince). He’s done it for me. He will do it for you. Just look for the love letter from Him. It can show up in the most unexpected places.