Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Danger Will Robinson!

The old - and cheesy - TV show "Lost in Space" featured a robot who waved his arms, saying "Danger Will Robinson" whenever he sensed a problem.

I think the warning applies to us. "Danger Will Robinson!". One of my great concerns for Christianity, especially American Christianity, is that we do not know God’s Word. We do not think theologically. We do not evaluate life through the eyes of Scripture. We do not take advantage of opportunities to learn God’s Word. We don’t actively and seriously pursue growing and living in Christ or helping others to grow in Him (discipleship).
What do these problems I sense look like? A few examples - and I know some of you will disagree, but that's okay. It's my blog :-)
(1)    From a popular book: “If there is no sign of caring for the poor in our lives, then there is reason to at least question whether Jesus is in our hearts... Caring for the poor is a necessary evidence of Christ in our hearts." (Really? Is that the basis for our justification?).

(2)    “We need more Jesus and less Paul” (Really? Are the words of Jesus in Scripture more inspired than the words of Paul?)

(3)    Making statements that seem to be pulled from thin air, not from the text, such as: “Hip hop music is bad. In fact, Michael Jackson’s moonwalk is the dance demons do in hell.” (Yep, I really heard this from a pulpit, somehow connected to Romans 8:1).

(4)    Arguing from emotions and passion instead of wrestling with the text to first see what it says. (Really? We start with passions and then move to truth?) Emotions and passions are good, but we must start with truth. I’ve had multiple discussions over the years about the death penalty. Inevitably, those opposed argue from statistics, flaws in the system, and emotions rather than wrestling with passages like Genesis 9:6, the many references to “they shall be put to death” in Leviticus 20, and Romans 13:4. My point here isn’t to argue for or against the death penalty; it is that we must start with Scripture (whatever the issue) and then look at issues, not the other way around.

(5)    Focusing on one issue at the expense of others. This feels like “if you don’t have the same passion as I do for this issue, then you are wrong” (Really? Can’t someone be equally passionate about another biblical issue?). When we turn a single issue into the litmus test for one’s spirituality, we are wrong, even if the issue is legitimate (see #1 above!).

(6)    Downplaying the importance of doctrine vs. “practical” teaching. (Really? How can we practice truth without knowing truth?) We’ve turned “doctrine” into some kind of dirty word. Granted, if we stop with doctrine, we can become dry in living out God’s truth, and, granted, some doctrines are more important than others. But the bedrock of doctrinal truth must support the practical application of God’s Word. And doctrine, correctly taught, is immensely practical!
There’s more, but you get the point.
What do we do about these problems?
The solution is simple… we need to learn the Scriptures. See what the text says, understand what the author intended, and then figure out what it looks like in our world (observation, interpretation, application). Read in context – to help ensure the verse says what we think it says.
And we need to make a priority of sitting under solid teaching. But I am concerned we choose to stay at home when we have opportunities to learn. Be careful – not every teacher on “Christian” radio or TV provides solid teaching, and not every book in the “Christian” bookstore is worthy reading. Regardless, we must put ourselves in places to learn God’s Word so we can live God’s Word for our good and His glory!
Let’s avoid the dangers. Let’s “long for the pure milk of the Word” (2 Pet. 2:2) and “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3:18).


  1. On point 1, I personally agree with Platt and others who write the same thing..and I know where he gets it from, because I get it from there too: Matthew 25, where Jesus puts ALL people (nations) in front of him and says that the sheep (righteous) are going to heaven because of how they handled the "least of these" who were defined as those in dire physical need (i.e. the poor) and tells the other group they are going to hell because they didnt take care of the "least of these"...Jesus said it, not Platt or me. And to Platt's further defense, he raises the thought/question as a point to ponder...if you dont care for the poor, the is a REASON to question..." not, you are "going to hell".

    On point 2, people say we need more of Jesus becuase studies have shown that most teachings from the pulpit focus on Pauline theology...and less on Jesus...ut Jesus is our central character. Whenever someone says we need "more of Jesus",, they often mean that we need to reclaim as Western believers what Jesus teaches.

    Dont disagree/have different viewpoints with the rest of it, but I would say doctrine is a hot topic. Too many church divisions over doctrine (non-essential), and Jesus only talked about 2 doctrines: love God and love your neighbor. As my friend Shane Claiborne said, when we get to heaven God isnt going to ask us about what we think of the virgin birth...

    Just some thoughts.

  2. Thanks for the comments. Jesus spoke of far more doctrines than "just" love God and love neighbor - he talks about salvation, hell, finances, end times, the Holy Spirit, the Father, scriptures, the kingdom, etc.

    I didn't mention Platt's name on purpose (or the sources of any of the other comments, which I do not believe I took out of context), because the point was not about them. It was about knowing God's Word, and the dangers of using it incorrectly. He does, in fact, make it a litmus test of salvation, not just a "point to ponder": "Caring for the poor is one natural overflow and a necessary evidence of the presence of Christ in our hearts" and "Rich people who neglect the poor are not the people of God." Those aren't ambiguous. "Necessary" means that without it, Christ is not in our hearts. I agree caring for the poor is a natural overflow, but it is not the test of one's salvation.

    In-box me a facebook note if you want more info about how I see that verse. I'd prefer we leave it at disagreeing agreeably at this point. I absolutely agree we (the church) need to be doing more to positively impact the poor, and that is a crucial step of obedience; I just don't agree with Platt's, Claiborne's, and apparently your, conclusion about Matt. 25.

  3. Great post, Roger! We all like to ride our particular hobbyhorses, but the truth is that we need to start with the scriptures.

    Historically, it is unlikely the Reformation would ever have spread without the invention of the printing press and the widespread dissemination of the bible in the common vernacular. Sad that so many times we (including me!) take the scriptures for granted and don't even read them.

    As for the Matthew 25 controversy, I can only say that ALL scriptures must be interpreted in light of other scriptures. I believe that it is clear that our justification comes from faith alone in Christ alone, not in good works -- even though good works, such as helping the poor, are a very good thing.

    By the way, much sociological research in recent years backs up what I take to be the real message of Matthew 25: those who have placed their trust in Jesus for salvation are FAR more giving in terms of money, time, and even blood. Originally the researchers found that Republicans were more generous, but on further inspection it turned out that white churchgoing Christians were just much more likely to vote Republican. Churchgoing Democrats, it turns out, were equally generous, and atheists of either party were equally stingy.

    Historically, individual Christians and the church have helped the poor, rather than letting the government do it. Certainly Jesus never mentioned a government program that allows us off the hook!

    And if we are serious about helping the poor, we must confront the evidence that many government programs have had enormously destructive effects on poor families, encouraging dependency and helping sponsor the rise of single parent families.

    There is just overwhelming evidence that children do much worse in single parent families, being far more likely to suffer abuse, drop out of school, commit crime, commit suicide, etc. As for the expense and huge debt burdens these programs place on our children, one wonders if Jesus would approve. He was quite protective of kids!

    A thought to ponder: if helping the poor saves us, then the Chinese communist government will have a special place in heaven. You see, their abandonment of communist economics in favor of capitalism in the 1980s has led about 400 MILLION Chinese out of poverty in the last three decades! But these same folks continue to persecute Christians, arresting and sometimes torturing people for their faith. Are we really saying that we'll see this government in heaven?

  4. Frank, you have interesting insights. to be clear, I am definitely not saying "works", in this case care for the poor, as what saves us. What I am saying, as does Platt and others writing on these issues, is that if we are truly in faith, we will have a movement towards the poor. Thats clear in Scripture. I agree with you, we need to let Scripture interpret Scripture...and the biblical emphasis on caring for the poor as essential Christian practice is clear. Its starts in with Moses (Deut 10, Lev 25), goes through to the kings (Solomon), to the prophets (All prophets spoke of care for the poor), to john the baptist (who said repent..his followers asked what they should do then...he replied, if you have one of something give it to someone who has nothing), to the apostles (James 1, 2), and culminates with Jesus (too many references to mention)...If fact, it is so essential that Jesus talks about the POOR more than ANY other people group in Scripture. That is Scripture interpreting Scripture. So, therefore, it is no surprise when Matthew 25 comes around that Jesus gives this vivid description of how we care for least of these being a reflection of being in Him. "caring for the poor" is a clear, coherent, and essential message in the Scriptures.

  5. I made some changes to the blog - primarily the title and first paragraph because I unintentionally ruffled some feathers. the main points are the same, but I softened the approach a bit. I don;t mind ruffling feathers, but it needs to be for the right reasons.

  6. Anonymous,

    From your first post:

    "Matthew 25, where Jesus puts ALL people (nations) in front of him and says that the sheep (righteous) ARE GOING TO HEAVEN BECAUSE of how they handled the "least of these"...JESUS SAID IT...and tells the other group they ARE GOING TO HELL BECAUSE they didnt take care of the "least of these..."

    In your last post:

    to be clear, I am definitely not saying "works", in this case care for the poor, as what saves us.

    In no way is this clear. Either your first post is true and we're stuck with a very confusing contradiction between Matthew and Paul in Ephesians 2 (for by grace you have been saved through faith,... not as a result of works...) or your last post is true, we do not make it to heaven because of how we handled the least of these, and you've slandered Jesus by claiming that he misunderstood or misrepresented His own gospel. Alternately (and hopefully), you are using words so loosely as to be quite unclear in your meaning and unintentionally slandered Jesus (as "because" inherently states causation. As in, I like bananas because they are delicious. The cause of my love for bananas is their delicious flavor. Or, for example, we go to heaven BECAUSE we care for the poor. Caring for the poor is the causative action that allows us to go to heaven). If that were the case, I'd love to hear your new paraphrase of Matthew 25.

    Matthew 25 isn't really the main point of the original post, though. It's merely the jumping point from which the author quoted in the post has the same incongruous use of the English language to make a point that the verse itself does not make.