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Monday, June 20, 2016

Applying Concurrence

In the first half of this discussion of a forgotten doctrine that I think should be rediscovered, I defined concurrence as the simultaneity of God's work and man's in the occurrence of man's good works (but not in the evil we do).  In other words, neither occur exclusively from one another, but they concur.  We can't think, say, or do something truly good spiritually unless God's Spirit is doing it in us at the same time (with logical priority given to His work, because He is the ultimate cause of all good).  As Philippians 2:12-13 says, "It is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

The practical value of concurrence lies in the fact that it affirms the great truths of God's sovereignty and man's responsibility equally. The Bible itself "walks a tightrope" between them, and much error in Christian practice has proceeded from an over-emphasis on one or the other.

To focus excessively on man's role breeds pride in success and despair in failure, both of which are displeasing to a Lord who said "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn. 15:5) and promised that through Him we can do all things (Phil. 4:13). Concurrence keeps God's powerful hand in view and "gives theological statement to the truth of faith that while man by himself does evil, only God can be the author and finisher of whatever good man may accomplish."[1] It secures hope for God's servant as well, reminding him that the strength of the Almighty is behind his efforts.

On the other hand, God's control of every circumstance has often received too much emphasis--leading to a sinful passivity on the part of some. After all, the thought proceeds, if God has foreordained everything that will occur, why should we do anything?

It is in answer to this question that concurrence probably makes its greatest contribution to Christian thought, as it intends "to underscore the fact that God's work does not blot out human activity, but defines and contains it."[2] One convinced of God's absolute sovereignty must understand that God has ordained the means as well as the ends, as Loraine Boettner explains:

"It is not merely a few isolated events here and here that have been foreordained, but the whole chain of events, with all of their inter-relations and connections. All of the parts form a unit in the Divine plan. If the means should fail, so would the ends....If we engage in the Lord's service and make diligent use of the means which He has prescribed, we have the great encouragement of knowing that it is by these very means that He has determined to accomplish His great work."[3]

Likewise, if man does not make use of the means which God has prescribed, he incurs judgment. Boettner illustrates that by the story of "one in Scotland accused and convicted of murder, who said to the judge, 'I was predestined from all eternity to do it.' To whom the judge replied, 'So be it, then I was predestined from all eternity to order you to be hanged by the neck, which I now do.'"[4] 

The doctrine of concurrence, with its basic assertion that God's work and ours do not occur exclusively, but that they concur, especially helps to illuminate four enigmatic areas of human experience: salvation, sanctification, prayer, and evangelism.

Concurrence in Salvation

Divine concurrence is central to Paul's doctrine of salvation. In a very real sense the sinner acts in a way conducive to his acceptance by God: he repents, believes in Christ, produces works as an evidence of that faith, and perseveres. But he is also acted upon by God, who chose him before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:3), illumined his mind and heart concerning the truth (2 Cor. 4:6), "crucified" him with Christ (Rom. 6:6), granted him faith and repentance (Eph. 2:8; 2 Tim. 2:25), and began a work of sanctification that will continue (Phil. 1:6).

Concurrence affirms God's sovereignty in salvation so that sinners are comforted in knowing that their eternal destiny does not rest upon their own feeble attempts at righteousness, and so they have no reason to boast (Eph. 2:9). But concurrence also upholds the sinner's responsibility to act, for God does not grant the glorious ends of salvation to one who has refused to apply the means. As Boettner says, "If God has ordained a man to be saved, He has also ordained that he should hear the Gospel, and that he shall believe and repent."[5]

Concurrence does not explain all the intricacies of God's saving work; it only affirms that God somehow moves our will so that we desire to follow Christ, and then accepts us because "he that comes to me I will certainly not cast out" (Jn. 6:37). Paul leaves the mysteries unsolved and commands Timothy to "take hold of the eternal life to which you were called" (1 Tim. 6:12).

Concurrence in Sanctification

The historical view of Quietism is an example of an unbalanced view which could profit tremendously from an understanding of concurrence. Quietists regard sanctification (meaning the process by which a believer is conformed to the image of Christ) as entirely the work of God, with man's role being one of near inactivity. The Quietist viewpoint is perhaps best represented by the modern slogan of "Let go and let God."

To their credit, the Quietists base their viewpoint on a valid scriptural truth--that spiritual growth cannot be accomplished apart from God's power. We are not adequate in ourselves (1 Cor. 3:5) and God has promised to enact and complete the work of sanctification (Phil. 1:6; 1 Thess. 5:23-24). Quietism ignores, however, Paul's numerous exhortations to apply effort in becoming like Christ. He told Timothy, "Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness" (1 Tim. 4:7) and "Be diligent to present yourself approved to God" (2 Tim. 2:15). As R.C. Sproul writes:

"Sanctification is cooperative. There are two partners involved in the work. I must work and God will work.... We are not called to sit back and let God do all the work. We are called to work, and to work hard."[6]

Paul echoes this truth in Romans 15:30 when he says, "Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me." This verse and the afore-mentioned Philippians 2:12-13 ("Work out your salvation,... for God is at work in you") present a doctrine of concurrence in sanctification. Both God and the believer are at work in the process.

Concurrence in Prayer

The believer should merely accept God's promise that "the effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much" (James 5:16), but it often becomes difficult to do so when that promise is considered in the light of God's sovereignty. If God has pre-ordained every event, why pray?

First of all, prayer is primarily meant to effect a change in the believer rather than in God, as many Bible commentators have pointed out--for God certainly does not change His mind. But secondly, there is a real sense in which prayer is effective, because it is an ordained means by which God carries out His plan. God takes pleasure in granting the requests of His children, because He then receives their praise:

"And He will yet deliver us, you also joining in helping us through your prayers, that thanks may be given by many persons on our behalf for the favor bestowed upon us through the prayers of many." (1 Cor. 1:11)

God's ultimate ability to answer our prayers and the fact that He works concurrently with our actions provide the incentive for the believer to bring petitions before Him. As one author wrote, "If you find yourself exercised with benevolent desires for any object, there is a strong presumption that the Spirit of God is exciting these very desires, and stirring you up to pray for that object, so that it may be granted in answer to prayer."[7]

So answered prayer is made possible by Divine concurrence: God is inclined to act at a time when His children call unto Him fervently (James 5:16), repeatedly (Luke 18:1-8), and from pure motives (James 4:3).

Concurrence in Evangelism

Nowhere does the doctrine of concurrence need to be stressed more than in the realm of evangelism. The relationship between God's sovereignty and man's responsibility is most volatile here, leading easily to an imbalance in emphasis.

Though the Bible clearly and repeatedly states that God has foreknown and predestined those who would believe in Christ from before the world began (Eph. 1:4,11; Rom. 8:29), many react to this doctrine and ignore it, considering it incompatible with their desire to reach the lost.

On the contrary, Divine sovereignty is the central truth in the whole doctrine of salvation and should be stressed in the context of evangelism. When the truth that "God saves" is foremost in the mind of the evangelist, he will be unlikely to become proud if the results are good and unlikely to sink into despair when they are not.

Furthermore, a belief in God's sovereignty does not destroy incentive toward evangelism, as some think. The confidence that God gives the increase (1 Cor. 3:6) breeds persistence and endurance, as J.I. Packer asserts:

"Far from making evangelism pointless, the sovereignty of God in grace is the one thing that prevents evangelism from being pointless. For it creates the possibility--indeed, the certainty--that evangelism will be fruitful."[8]

That is because of what Jesus said in John 6:37: "All that the Father has given Me shall come unto Me." The results are guaranteed; God will save his people. This was great comfort and incentive for Paul when God spoke to him in Corinth: "Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city" (Acts 18:10).

God is sovereign, and the Bible does not consider that to be a harmful truth. But does that negate our responsibility to evangelize? Many have thought so, at least in practice if not in creed; but this represents the opposite extreme and is equally in error.

Those believing in God's absolute control must once again remember that God works concurrently with our action. He uses means to accomplish His ends, and the means he has ordained in the salvation of men is evangelism. As J.I. Packer wrote, "He sends us to act as vital links in the chain of His purpose for the salvation of His elect."[9] Paul, after his most thorough discussion of God's sovereign choice in Romans 9-10, denounces the idea that evangelism is unnecessary:

"How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:14-15)

Once again an understanding of concurrence is proven beneficial; in this practical area of evangelism it allows God to receive all the glory for His marvelous work, yet allows men to play a blessed part in it.


The term concurrence needs to be rediscovered in theology, and the doctrine it represents taught more widely. When emphasizing the sovereignty of God, it becomes "a kind of theological praise,"[10] declaring that any good thing originates in Him alone. And when man's responsibility is in view, the doctrine acts as a safeguard against spiritual lethargy.

John MacArthur finds a parallel to Paul's teaching of concurrence in Exodus 14, where Moses and the children of Israel are trapped at the edge of the Red Sea, the Egyptians in pursuit and closing in. Moses shouts to the people with confidence, "Don't be afraid. Stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" (which MacArthur describes as "great faith but bad advice"). The Lord then speaks to Moses, saying, "Why are you crying unto Me? Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to go forward." MacArthur comments:

"It's not 'stand still and see the salvation of the Lord,' it's 'Go forward.' God was going to give the victory, and He was going to give it in such a way that no one would deny that it was Him who did it, and in such a way that it could have never been done with any help from man. But He wasn't going to do it until the Israelites moved forward. What an analogy that is, because that is precisely what Paul is saying to us in the spiritual dimension."[11]


[1]Roger Hazelton, God's Way With Man (New York:  Abingdon Press, 1956), 77.

[2]G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids:  Eerdman's, 1952), 128.

[3]Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1932), 257.


[5]Ibid., 254.

[6]R. C. Sproul, Pleasing God (Wheaton: Tyndale House, 1988), 227.

[7]Charles G. Finney, Revival Lectures (n.c.: Revell, n.d.), 54. Finney’s theology of Divine sovereignty was deficient, I believe, but I also believe he happened to get it right in this quote.

[8]J. I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downer's Grove: Intervarsity Press, 1978), 106.

[9]Ibid., 98.

[10]Hazelton, 73.

[11]John MacArthur, Jr., "God At Work In You" (Grace to You audio recording, 1988).

Friday, June 17, 2016

Rediscovering Concurrence

When I wrote the original version of this article as a seminary student over a quarter of a century ago (which explains some things about the style and content), I began it with these words:  "Whereas the sovereignty of God and His providence are doctrines that have suffered from too little emphasis in the modern evangelical church, Divine concurrence is one that has nearly vanished. This doctrine is helpful, however, in understanding God's government and the part men play in it."  During the last 25 years or so, the doctrines of Divine sovereignty and providence have been rediscovered to a significant degree in the American church, but for some reason concurrence has not.  And I still think it would be helpful for people to know about it, perhaps even more now.[i]

According to G.C. Berkouwer, the term concurrence is intended to illuminate the relationship between Divine and human activity.[ii] The Bible repeatedly affirms two paradoxical truths: God is completely sovereign in the affairs of men, yet men make genuine choices and are held responsible by God for their actions. Scripture yields a doctrine of concurrence when it presents the actions of God and man occurring simultaneously, thus allowing some insight (however limited) into the means by which God achieves His will in the world.

Objections to concurrence as a doctrine, raised throughout the history of theology, have contributed to the diminished use of the term. For instance, Charles Hodge (according to Berkouwer) "is of the judgment that in the concurrence doctrine man tries to explain the inexplicable, not content with the simple and certain declaration of the Bible that God does govern all his creatures and all their actions. In concurrence we want to know more than this, we want to know how this is done."[iii]

Hodge is correct when he says the result of such speculation is that "we land in all sorts of metaphysical questions which no one can solve."[iv] Certainly no man can pretend to understand all the intricacies of how God accomplishes His will in the world--His ways are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). But concurrence, rightly understood, simply affirms the relationship between God's action and ours, rather than attempting to explain the spiritual dynamics involved. It holds that neither occur exclusively, but that they concur. (And the practical benefits of that truth, presented in part two of this discussion, are significant.)

Webster's dictionary defines concurrence as "agreement in action, opinion, or intent." (Concur is "to happen together, to coincide, to act together to a common end or effect" and concurrent is "happening or operating at the same time.") The plain meaning of the word makes it appropriate for theological use, for it echoes much scriptural teaching about the relationship between God's action and ours.

So for this discussion the doctrine of concurrence is defined as the simultaneity of First Causes (God's will and action) and Second Causes (man's will and action), with logical priority given to First Causes.[v]

The final phrase in that definition counteracts another prevalent criticism of concurrence as a doctrine--that it makes God merely a "helper" or an accomplice in our endeavors, allowing men to take some or most of the credit for their good works. On the contrary, "to believe in the Divine concurrence or assistance means that man stands in dire need of such help and indeed cannot go on without it,"[vi] and "that man, in order to bring his works to a good and right end, requires the assistance of God."[vii] In other words, although men and women make choices and commit acts that are essential for the drama of human history to unfold, but they do so according to a Divine script and under the Director's control.

Concurrence is a theme woven through the entire Bible (cf. 1 Kings 8:58, 61; Ezra 1:5, 7:27; Prov. 21:1; John 15:5; 2 Peter 1:3), but nowhere does it receive more attention than in the writings of the apostle Paul.

God's absolute sovereignty over man is never questioned by Paul. He calls God "the blessed and only Sovereign" (1 Tim. 6:15) "who works all things after the counsel of his will" (Eph. 1:11). He boldly proclaims God to be the First Cause in the salvation of men (Eph. 1:3-11, Rom. 8:29), their subsequent sanctification (Rom. 8:28, 1 Thess. 5:23), the establishment of governments (Rom. 13:1), and even everyday events (1 Cor. 4:19, 16:7).

Paul places equal emphasis, however, on man's responsibility. His epistles are filled with commands enjoining men to exercise their will in conformity with God's law at the risk of eternal or temporal judgment. Realizing his own responsibility before God, he says "I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified" (1 Cor. 9:27).

But Paul does more than merely assert the dual truths of God's control and our action--he frequently indicates a unique connection between the two. Consider, for example, his admonition to the Philippians in 2:12-13:

 "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."

We are at work and God is at work, at the same time, toward a common end. Paul presents this same co-operation of causes in 2 Corinthians 8:16 when he says, "Thanks be to God, who put the same earnestness on your behalf in the heart of Titus." As Jerry Bridges writes, "Titus' actions are attributed by Paul to both God, who put a concern for the Corinthians into Titus' heart, and to Titus, who acted with enthusiasm and on his own initiative. Titus acted freely, yet under the mysterious sovereign impulse of God."[viii]

Likewise the churches of Macedonia (in the same chapter), who gave in abundance because of their own desire, did so "by the will of God" (vs. 5).

When Paul speaks of himself, he mingles God's work with his own desire and effort. He begins five epistles by stating that his apostleship is "by the will of God." But his service to God was also the consuming desire of his heart: "I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls," he says in 2 Cor. 12:15 (cf. Rom. 9:3; 1 Cor. 9:16-17). He refuses to boast in what he claims God has done through him (Rom. 15:18), but admits that his own effort is a necessary ingredient in the Divine work:

"But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me." (1 Cor. 15:10)

"And for this purpose I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me." (Col. 1:29)

Paul knew this concurrence of Divine and human action did not take place in him alone; therefore he could tell believers, "We have confidence in the Lord that you will do what we command" (2 Thess. 3:4). He commands them to "Stand firm in the Lord" (Phil. 4:1), but affirms that "he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand" (Rom. 14:4; cf. Jude 24). He says "Rejoice in the Lord" (Phil. 3:1, 4:4) but also "May God fill you with peace and joy" (Rom. 15:13). And for those he admonishes to "be strong in the Lord, and in the power of His might" (Eph. 6:10) he prays "that He would grant you,... to be strengthened with power through His Spirit" (Eph. 3:16).

Of further note are Paul's constant references to Divine concurrence in phrases such as the following: "We overwhelmingly conquer through Him" (Rom. 8:37), "giving thanks through Him to God" (Col. 3:17), and "Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure" (2 Tim. 1:14).

Finally, Paul's doctrine of concurrence "has primarily in view man's good works"[ix] and does not extend to the area of man's sin. Paul is clear that God does not cooperate with man in evil, but rather "will provide a way of escape" from it (1 Cor. 10:13). He also tells the Galatians that "this persuasion," which was hindering them from obeying the truth, "did not come from Him who calls you" (Gal. 5:8). Paul ascribes full responsibility for sin to the sinner (Rom. 7:24); therefore "the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things" (Rom. 2:2; 2 Thess. 1:6).

Paul agreed with the concern of his fellow apostle James, that God should never be blamed for our sin. James wrote, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust. Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.” (James 1:13-15). But James also clearly agreed with Paul about Divine concurrence in all the good things that happen in this world, because he immediately adds, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow. In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures” (vv. 16-17).

The apostolic teaching in the New Testament is consistent in affirming that the active and responsible agent in all good is the Creator, while the active and responsible agent in all evil is the creature (whether fallen angels or sinful humans). So although it is theologically accurate to say that God ordained evil, has planned for it to occur, and brings good out of it for His sovereign purposes, it is not correct to say that He “cooperates” in it or “causes” it in the sense of active and responsible agency. That is what the Westminster Divines were trying to communicate when they said that God is not “the author of sin” [x]—though they may have chosen some regretful and confusing terminology. God is the “author” of sin in the sense that He planned it and controls it (the analogy of a scriptwriter/director in our culture may be more helpful), but He is not the “author” of sin in the sense that he promotes it or acts it out (both ideas that are related to the etymology of the word).

God does, however, do all of those things when it comes to decisions we make and actions we take that are pleasing to Him. He is the source of all good, in every way, and He even “rewards His own gracious gifts,” as Martin Luther was fond of saying. He arranged for the universe to work this way so that only He would ultimately receive glory, which is in fact the ultimate good that could ever be achieved. He is our Creator and perfect in all he does, therefore He is the only One truly worthy and deserving of glory. So, as Jeremiah 9:24 and 1 Corinthians 1:31 say, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” The doctrine of Divine concurrence reminds us that one day it will be crystal clear that God deserves the glory and thanks for everything good, so that we can give it to him now as a part of our everyday lives.

In part two I'll discuss some practical implications and applications of the doctrine of concurrence...



     [i]Whenever Christians become aware of the scriptural doctrine of God's sovereign control, numerous questions inevitably arise in their minds about the relationship of that doctrine to human responsibility (such as those mentioned in the second part of this article). Concurrence is the most concise and appropriate designation for the answers to those questions, and that alone makes the term useful for theological discussion.

     [ii]G. C. Berkouwer, Studies in Dogmatics (Grand Rapids: Eerdman's, 1952), 126. To my knowledge, Berkouwer is the only well-known scholar who made wide use of the term "concurrence," although most other scholars have discussed the doctrine it represents to some degree.

     [iii]Ibid., 128.


     [v]Marc Mueller, Theology I Syllabus, The Master's Seminary, 1989.

     [vi]Roger Hazelton, God's Way With Man (New York: Abingdon Press, 1956), 74.

     [vii]Ibid., 75

     [viii]Jerry Bridges, Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts (NavPress, 1988), 61.

     [ix]Hazelton, 77.

     [x]The Westminster Confession, Chapter III Section 1. One of the Scripture references they include for this statement is James 1:13-17. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Metaxas Miracle

The story of what just happened to me last night could be added to the chapters in the back of Eric Metaxas' book Miracles as another example of what he believes that word describes.

I loved Metaxas' book about Bonhoeffer so much that I was thrilled to see this new one at my local library a month or so ago, and I checked it out.  I was not so thrilled when I saw some of the content, and have often thought of writing a review of it here on my blog, even to the point of renewing the book a couple times.  But I never got around to doing that, and got a notice from the library that it was due the next day and couldn't be renewed anymore, so I grabbed it out of my pile and set it on my desk to remind me to take it back in the morning.

Then the really "miraculous" stuff started happening.  I was preparing to teach a class for that next day at a local school and one of the topics raised in the textbook was the different opinions among Christians about whether miracles still happen or not.  Thinking through how I would present both sides of that debate made me think of the Metaxas book, which happened to be sitting on my desk in front of me, and made me think again about writing something.  Then during a break from my prep I saw a controversial tweet by Metaxas that someone had posted on Facebook, where he quoted Bonhoeffer as saying that every sermon should have "a shot of heresy" and said that he was about to interview the (heretical) author of The Shack on his new book.  Which made me think even more about Miracles and convinced me to finally write about it.  If I used the kind of language that appears in the book, I would say God gave me this miracle of amazing coincidences and unmistakable supernatural impressions to get me to write this article.  So if you don't like what I say, you'll have to blame Him, because He spoke to me and led me to do it through these miraculous signs and promptings, etc.

I don't talk like that, actually, and that's why I didn't like parts of the book.  Many of Metaxas' general thoughts about miracles are good, and I agreed with the whole section defending the ones depicted in Scripture.  But there are problems with his discussions of modern day miracles, which unfortunately makes much of the book problematic.  One of those problems is that he summarily dismisses (in one paragraph) the view of many Christians who do not believe that all the kinds of miracles depicted in the Bible occur today, and he misrepresents them too.  On page 72 he describes such Christians as "dispensationalists," but if he would have taken even a modicum of time and effort to look into this further, he would have found out that many "cessationists" are not dispensationalists.  In fact, most of the teachers I find persuasive from that perspective are not dispensational, and I myself am not.  (See my book Decisions, Decisions at the link on the right for my own discussion of the issue.)

But the biggest problem with the book is that Metaxas hasn't done enough careful work in discerning and understanding the issue of miracles itself.  He fails to distinguish (especially in his example chapters at the end) between the "remarkable providences" that God does all the time (and at all times) and the "signs and wonders" that He has only done at specific times in history to usher in new eras of Divine revelation and validate the messengers who delivered it (see Hebrews 1:1-2 and 2:3-4).  What happened to me last night is an example of the former, as are many of the examples Metaxas records in the final chapters.  But many of the miracles depicted in Scripture are unique and unrepeatable today, precisely because they were intended to be "signs" pointing to the unique and unrepeatable phenomenon of new Scriptural revelation being delivered by God to His people.

Ironically, Metaxas makes a good case for this idea himself on pages 18-19, though he doesn't seem to recognize the impact it should have on his understanding elsewhere:

"The parting of the Red Sea is another example [like the resurrections from the dead] of how atypical and staggering such things were at the time they occurred.  God very much meant it to be so.  If the Red Sea parted every few years it would have meant nothing when it parted 3,500 years ago so that the Israelites could escape the approaching Egyptian soldiers.  We could then regard its parting just in time for the Israelites to escape Pharaoh's army as a happy coincidence of timing.  But since the Red Sea never parts of its own accord--it is many hundreds of feet deep where the Israelites would have crossed--we may conclude that God was intentionally doing something inexplicably and toweringly attention-getting.  That was plainly the point of it.  It is not in any way presented in the pages of Exodus as something that might be taken for granted.  It was meant to be taken--and was taken--as epochal, as a hinge in the history of the world."

Compare that to a story Metaxas tells in his example chapter called "The Power of God." in which a friend of his felt a strong impression in a worship service to lay hands on his pastor and "suddenly began to feel what he very distinctly describes as 'a warm sphere' emanating from the center of his stomach.  Brad says that he uses the word 'sphere' specifically and deliberately, because it wasn't a vague, 'gooey' feeling.  'No,' he says, 'this was an actual sphere, a ball, an orb that I could tangibly feel.'  He describes it as 'warm, round, and pulsating.' Then, while this was happening, he became aware of his prayer for the pastor 'taking on a life of its own.'"

In contradiction to his cogent explanation of the uniqueness of the biblical "signs and wonders," Metaxas believes that the parting of the Red Sea and his friend's worship experience are both miracles, and uses the same word to describe both.  And that is the problem with many of the miracles he describes in the last section of the book... I won't deny that people experience such things, but I would call them "remarkable providences" that God does constantly in the lives of His people, rather than using the same terms the Bible reserves for "atypical and staggering" things like bodily resurrections and the Red Sea.

Other examples in that last section of the book, however, raise another concern I have about Metaxas' apparent lack of discernment.  He mentions earlier in the book that Satan and demons can do "signs and wonders" as well, but he doesn't seem to realize that could be happening in some of the more obviously supernatural events relayed in his examples (especially when the people involved may be under the influence of false doctrine, like his Roman Catholic friends).  Some of these fantastic occurrences may have been merely imagined, of course, because our minds are extremely complex and can convince us of unreal experiences (take dreams, for example).  But there are supernatural powers at work other than God, and according to Scripture his enemies actually have a penchant for "signs and wonders" (Matthew 24:24, Mark 13:22, 2 Thessalonians 2:9, Revelation 15:13-14, 16:13-14.)

I know these issues are difficult to fully understand and explain, and that my understanding and explanations may create even more questions than they answer.  So in humble recognition of that difficulty, let me end this discussion by throwing out an idea in the form of a question.  I've been thinking along these lines lately, especially after studying the passages I just mentioned in Revelation, but I realize I might be missing something and may need someone to correct me...

Are there any New Testament prophecies that say or imply that God will do "signs and wonders" after the Scriptures have been completed?  In other words, the NT writers made numerous predictions of things that would happen after the time they were writing.  Whether those things would happen soon after they wrote or long after depends on our interpretation, of course, but everyone agrees they were predicting future events beyond the time when the Scriptures were written.  And although they predict a lot of "signs and wonders" happening by the power of Satan and his demons, I don't see any prophecies saying that God would be doing those things during the church age.  On the contrary, I think other passages imply that He would not be doing the same kinds of miracles any longer (1 Corinthians 13:8, Colossians 2:18, Hebrews 2:3-4).  Obviously those "cessationist" proof texts are much disputed, but I'm wondering if the lack of future prophecy about Divine "signs and wonders," coupled with the predictions about demonic "signs and wonders," might corroborate the idea that the only ones occurring during the church age will be counterfeit ones that are the result of either demonic or self deception.  And when you study church history, it does seem that most of the movements and individuals who strongly emphasized "signs and wonders" have been theologically heterodox or questionable at best.  Remember, please, that I'm not referring here to the many "remarkable providences" that all Christians have experienced, but claims of performing "signs and wonders" just as Christ and the apostles did.

If the Bible does not predict God doing more such "signs and wonders" beyond the New Testament, but repeatedly says counterfeit ones will occur, we should at the very least be extremely careful and even skeptical about those that are reported.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

The Rainbow's Real Significance

Since the symbol of the rainbow is ubiquitous in our country right now, because of the nationwide legalization of gay marriage, it is my job (and my joy) to tell you what it really signifies.  I chose both those words carefully and purposefully:  "really" because regardless of how any movement or ideology might use the rainbow, or how any individual mind might construe it, that won't change the fact that God himself created it and communicated its meaning long ago; and "signifies" because he actually calls it a sign of something important we all need to know.

Genesis 9:8-17 tells us that God made a covenant with Noah and all of his descendants, that he would never again destroy the earth by flood.  He said, "I set my bow in the cloud, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth" (v. 13).  Notice that God says it is "my" rainbow--it belongs to him, so he has the right to say what it means, and we have a responsibility to recognize and respect that pronouncement.  This is like how people today expect others to honor the name they have chosen for their children, or perhaps chosen for themselves (if they change their name)--except our responsibility regarding the rainbow is much stronger because of Divine authority, coming from the one who created us and gives us everything good we have.

What does the rainbow really mean for us?  When considered in the context and compared with other Scriptures, it clearly speaks of God's plan of redemption and forgiveness for people who deserve His judgment because of our sins.  The reason God won't destroy the earth again by flood is not because the people who survived were good--in fact he clearly says the opposite (Gen. 8:21, 9:20-27).  It's because there was a plan to save people from the eternal punishment we all Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death [in the context a spiritual death], but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."

So when you see a rainbow, God wants you to think about Jesus!  How he was the best thing that ever happened to this planet, how he was the Son of God who fully revealed the divine nature to us, and how he "died for our sins according to the Scriptures...and rose on the third day" (1 Cor. 15:3-4).  And because of the occasion for the inception of this sign, we can't eliminate the idea of the judgment we deserve for disobeying what we know to be right, or ignoring God's law by making up a morality of our own.  That's what people were doing before they were destroyed by the flood, and that's what we're still doing today.  And I'm not only talking about the kinds of sins that the rainbow has come to represent in our culture...heterosexual immorality is just as bad, and the "spiritual adultery" and "spiritual idolatry" that we all have in our hearts is even worse (James 4:3-10).  Just loving and desiring other things more than Christ himself is enough to make us spiritual criminals deserving of judgment (see the first and last of the Ten Commandments).

"All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way"--wandering around blind and endangered on a God-made landscape like the one in the picture above.  "But the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on him"--thankfully the rainbow reminds us that we have a Good Shepherd who has shown the "no greater love" of laying down his life for us! (Isaiah 53:4-6, John 10:11-18)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

A New Verse for "If" by Rudyard Kipling

I've been inspired by Kipling's classic poem for many years, and today I imagined a fifth verse that he might have written since he passed on to the next life...


If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,   
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;   
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;   
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;   
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,   
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,   
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,   
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
And the "newly discovered" fifth verse, sent from the next life...
If you can keep in mind that “Man” is in Adam,
   Until Christ becomes a new one to him;
If you can keep the Divine and human balanced,
    Giving God the glory due Him;
If you can grasp what’s really life and really live it,
   Give up what can’t be kept for what’s been won:
A new heaven and earth, with God’s presence in it,
   Then—most of all—you’ll be His Man, His Son!

Monday, April 13, 2015

"The Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16

“Those who will walk by this rule, peace on them, and mercy, even on the Israel of God.”


Who or what is “Israel”?  Statements by the apostle Paul, such as “not all Israel is Israel” (Rom. 9:6) and “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26), clearly reveal that the question is one that can only be settled by careful exegetical and theological consideration.  Simply assuming that Israel is an earthly nation, or a plot of land in the Middle East, does not reflect a thoughtful reading of the Word.

As I understand it, the most fundamental and important meaning of “Israel” in Scripture is God’s covenant people, who were gathered together in an earthly nation throughout most of the Old Testament era, but now are spread throughout the world in the New Covenant kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.  In other words, the church today is the extension and completion of Old Testament Israel, so that through Christ we receive all the promises made to that ancient people (both now and in the future).

It is beyond the scope of this paper to explain and defend that understanding thoroughly—for that I refer you to O. Palmer Robertson’s excellent book The Israel of God (P&R, 2000), or other books that discuss the distinctions between “dispensationalism” and “covenant theology.”  But here I want to address one very specific issue:  Is the New Testament church ever called “Israel” in the Bible?  I’ve often heard my dispensationalist friends say, “The church is never called ‘Israel.’”  I think they’re wrong about that, and if so, it reflects on the bigger theological issues.

It seems to me that the church is called “Israel” in many ways in Scripture, without using that exact term (see the last section of this paper).  But I also believe the exact term is used in Galatians 6:16, and the term is actually used for the purpose of affirming the continuity of Old Testament Israel and the New Testament church.  So I would like defend the use of the word “Israel” in referring to the church, and the “covenant theology” behind it, by entering into a thorough exegetical discussion of this disputed verse.  Hopefully those who take the time to work and think through it will not be too quick to make the statement I mentioned above.  And perhaps some may find themselves more open to a greater continuity in God’s plan through the ages.

There are basically two views propounded as to the identity of "the Israel of God" in Galatians 6:16:  Either the phrase refers to all believers (both Jews and Gentiles), or it refers to believing Jews only (whether they believe currently or will do so in the future).  My conclusion is that Paul was referring to all believers in a manner that would bolster and conclude the argument of the epistle, which is that Gentile believers should not be required to live as ethnic Jews under the Mosaic economy.  I will present several arguments for that view, which will include criticisms of the opposing view and answers to some objections.

          Support from the Syntax of the Verse

The case for the "all believers" view begins first with considerations from the syntax of the verse itself, which would be entirely unnatural if Paul referred to a large group ("those who will walk by this rule"‑‑meaning all believing Jews and Gentiles) and then added a reference to a small part of that same group (believing Jews).  It would be like saying, "I cheer for the football team and the linebackers," and like that sentence it would be nonsensical unless there was some clear contextual reason to view the word "and" (Gk. kai) as meaning "especially" or otherwise distinguishing the part from the whole.  Taking the kai to indicate "especially" is very troublesome, because if Paul wanted to communicate that idea he could have used a very common construction containing the word malista (translated "especially"), which he did in fact use in an almost identical arrangement in Galatians 6:10 (cf. Acts 25:26; 1 Tim. 4:10, 5:8, 5:17; 2 Tim. 4:13; Tit. 1:10; 2 Pet. 2:10). 

If the "especially" connotation is eliminated as unlikely, then the "believing Jews" view is left with a "team and the linebackers" structure defies the normal use of language.  One commentator suggests that this kind of wording may be found in Mark 16:7, but admits that he knows of no other possible example.  (And even that example in Mark is questionable because  there are other viable explanations for the wording of the verse.)  So it seems more likely to me that the connected phrases in Galatians 6:16 are describing the same group of people and the kai is being used in an explicative sense that can be translated "even," "namely," or "that is."  Therefore "the Israel of God" is appositional to "those who walk by this rule.”  This syntactical construction is not overly prevalent in the New Testament, but it is more common than the awkward one suggested above by most "believing Jews" proponents.  Examples of the explicative use of the particle are John 1:16, 1 Cor. 3:5, 8:12, and 15:38.  In those verses the phrase after the kai is not something different from and additional to the phrase before the kai; rather the second is merely restating the first in a different way.

I am aware that some proponents of the "believing Jews" view say that "those who will walk by this rule" is referring only to the Gentiles rather than to all believers.  They base this idea on the possibility that the pronoun hosoi takes a definite form rather than an indefinite.  But even if it does, the limitations implied in the definite are in need of no other explanation than the one already provided by the words "who will walk by this rule."  It is a definite group of people in that it only includes those who are justified by faith alone, but it still includes all who are justified by faith alone, whether Jew or Gentile.

Another item of syntactical support given for the "believing Jews" view is the idea that Paul could have made "the Israel of God" clearly appositional if he would have left out the kai.  Thus the last part of the verse would read, "peace and mercy upon them, upon the Israel of God."  Because Paul included the kai, the argument goes, he clearly intended to separate "them" and "the Israel of God."  The problem with this argument is that the word order in the Greek text reads, "And those who by this rule walk, peace upon them and mercy, kai upon the Israel of God."  Since there are no punctuation marks in the Greek text, an ommission of the kai by Paul would have resulted in this meaning:  "peace upon them and mercy upon the Israel of God."  The only way that Paul could retain the combinational benediction ("peace and mercy" bestowed together) and communicate the appositional sense in this syntax, therefore, was to add the kai as a kind of punctuating conjunction.  In modern English we would use a comma:  "Peace and mercy upon them, the Israel of God."  In ancient Greek Paul needed to use the kai:  "peace upon them and mercy, even upon the Israel of God."
Finally, exegetical arguments for the "all believers" view cannot be complete without addressing the strongest support for the opposing view, which is the fact that the Greek preposition epi ("upon") is used in Galatians 6:16 with both groups.  Because the verse bestows peace and mercy "upon them and upon the Israel of God," the argument goes, therefore Paul meant to differentiate the two groups.  This argument is strong because such a structure is common in New Testament Greek when the writer refers to two separate groups or ideas (e.g. Matt. 27:25; Heb. 8:8), but several considerations render it inconclusive.  First, the New Testament sometimes uses one epi with two separate groups (e.g. Matt. 5:45), indicating that the two syntactical structures are interchangeable and that neither necessarily conveys a distinct emphasis.  Second, there is at least one other New Testament occurrence of the preposition appearing twice with two appositional objects (Rom. 10:19; cf. Heb. 10:16), so that construction is not entirely without precedent.  And third, if the kai is indeed used in an explicative rather than a copulative sense, then the grammar of the verse is already unusual and we should not expect too much normality in the other features.

          Support from the Immediate Context

Verse 15 also supports the idea that Paul was referring to both Jews and Gentiles as "the Israel of God."  That verse says, "Neither is circumcision anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation [or creature]."  In addition to restating Paul's recurrent theme that ethnic or physical characteristics do not determine whether one is a "son of Abraham" (see next argument), that verse also uses the term "a new creation," which sounds very similar to the term "one new man" in Ephesians 2:15.  That may be significant because in the latter verse Paul is explicitly referring to the Jews and Gentiles being consolidated into one people of God.  So it is possible that the "new creation" may be referring to "the Israel of God," rather than to the regeneration of individual believers, as it is often understood.  Regardless of the validity of that notion, verse 15 still unmistakably has the concept of "no more ethnic distinctions in the people of God" and fits perfectly with a reference to the Gentiles being included in "the Israel of God."

Also, in verse 15 Paul says, "May it never be that I should boast, except in the cross."  Considering the life he lived prior to conversion, described in Philippians 3:2-8, it would be difficult to eliminate the idea of Jewish ethnic pride from his statement.  In other words, Paul is saying (at least in part), "The only thing that distinguishes me from anyone else is the grace of the cross.  I would not differentiate myself in any way from a Gentile believer, least of all by upholding a racial distinction that false teachers are using to indicate superiority."  So when he applies the term "Israel of God" to Gentiles also in verse 16, Paul makes explicit what has been implicit in his preceding words.  The parallels to that passage in Philippians, by the way, are striking:  there the Apostle says to Gentiles as well as Jews, "We are the true circumcision" (v. 3), meaning that a Gentile believer can be said to be "of Israel" just as much as Paul, who was "of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews" (v. 5).

           Support from the Larger Context

The most significant support for the idea that "the Israel of God" includes Gentile believers is a theme that Paul weaves throughout the book of Galatians in his attempt to prove justification by faith.  That theme is the inclusion of the Gentiles into the spiritual lineage of Abraham (Gal. 3:7‑9; 3:14; 3:18; 3:26‑29; 4:26‑28; 5:16).  Since that lineage is undeniably implied in the word "Israel," Galatians 6:16 is merely reminding the reader about what has been taught throughout the epistle.  This answers the objection that there is no other instance in the New Testament where the church is explicitly called "Israel."  That may be true, but one can say the same thing with different words.  For instance, the phrase "by faith alone" does not appear in the Bible in connection with justification (as Roman Catholic theologians are quick to point out), but we Protestants hold tenaciously to that slogan and support it by saying that the idea is clearly expressed in many passages.  Another example would be the term "three in one" (or "trinity"):  although those exact words are not used to describe God in the Scriptures, the concept is clearly communicated by the use of other words.  

Similarly, terminology like "sons of Abraham," "blessed with Abraham," "Abraham's seed," and "heirs according to the promise" are simply other ways of expressing the concept that believing Gentiles are a part of the covenant people that has been called Israel (cf. Rom. 9:6‑9; 24‑30; 11:17‑24; Eph. 2:11‑22; Phil. 3:3-5; etc.).  Trying to defend the idea that "Abraham's descendants" and "Israel" refer to two different groups, on the other hand, is an exegetical nightmare.  (The explanation that "sons of Abraham" merely means "to be like Abraham in some way" falls flat because the other similar terminology mentioned above cannot mean that, and also because the Judaizers and Jewish believers would not understand the phrase that way when they heard it.)

Many of the “believing Jews” proponents say that the word "Israel" must mean ethnic Jews, because the word always refers to the ethnic people in the New Testament.  First, I’m not sure that idea even fits with the Old Testament use of the term, because proselytized Gentiles were also considered to be a part of Israel (see Robertson, pp. 184-185).  Second, as I mentioned above, there are other ways to say "Israel" than "Israel," and those other similar terms do often speak of a covenant people that includes Gentiles as well.  Third, the word "Israel" is indeed used to refer to the “spiritual” people of God, as opposed to the ethnic, in at least one case (Rom. 9:6—and notice that Paul says the same thing in two other ways in the following verses).  Fourth, we know the meaning of words primarily from their context rather than from their lexical catalog, though the latter is important to consider. And finally, “covenant theologians” are not overly concerned with this problem, because we do not believe that God intended to continue calling the elect "Israel," but rather that He would give His people a "new name" or "another name" (cf. Isa. 56:5; 62:2; 65:15).  This could be a reference to the church, which takes the name of Christ (Matt. 16:18), or it might simply be a way of saying that the constituency of "Israel" would be so different that the name would no longer be appropriate for common use.  In other words, there is no reason even in the covenantal scheme that we would frequently find God calling the church "Israel."  We would only expect it to happen when there was a specific point to be made, like in Galatians 6:16.

The Judaizers themselves provide the last support that I will mention in this paper.  Paul pronounced a curse on them in the beginning of his discussion (1:8‑9), and undoubtedly one of his purposes throughout the book was to directly and specifically confront their error. He even resorted to acid sarcasm at one point in his polemic against them (5:12).  Most commentators present the idea that the Judaizers filled their propaganda with references to Jews being "sons of Abraham," and thus Paul attacked their error head on by boldly stating that the believing Gentiles were also "sons of Abraham."  Would it not be therefore natural to assume that the Judaizers also ranted about the glories of the ethnic nation of Israel, and that Paul, wanting the Gentile believers to know that they did not need to return to the trappings of that fleshly institution, ended the epistle by reminding them that they themselves are a part of "the Israel of God"? 


In closing I would like to add an observation that does not really serve as a support for my view, but would provide an illustration of its superiority if it is indeed the best interpretation.  I read a Master's thesis about this specific issue in Galatians 6:16, in which I thought the author exhibited commendable objectivity and candor in presenting the considerable support for the "all believers" view.  It appeared to me, however, that although his careful consideration led him to reject the "believing Jews" theory, he could not bring himself to accept the "all believers" view because of his theological predisposition against covenant theology.  Though I would never denigrate such a predisposition (if it was formed by careful study), the alternative conclusion he presents to the two traditional views was shocking to say the least.  He ends up claiming that Paul must have been referring to the Judaizers as "The Israel of God," even though the apostle had consigned them to hell at the beginning of the epistle!  One wonders which view this man would have embraced if he had not been so afraid of covenant theology.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Es of Entertainment, #7 -- Eliminate Anything You're Not Sure About

This post will be about the seventh and final biblical principle that can be applied to your entertainment choices, to make sure they are pleasing to God and beneficial to you.  In the previous posts I've discussed Exalt God, Exercise Biblical Discernment, Expose Evil Rather than Enjoying It, Economize Your Time, Edify Your Brothers and Sisters, and Excise Anything that Tempts You to Sin.  Here is the last of the seven Es...

Eliminate anything you’re not sure about.  Romans 14:23 says, “He who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin.”  This is a warning that no one should act against his or her conscience.  It is not spiritually healthy to do so, and it is also displeasing to God.[1]  He who doubts that what he doing is right, the Scripture says, is condemned if he does it (“condemned” here means guilty, or sinning).  From the context, we know that this statement applies even to activities that are not wrong in themselves, like eating meat that had been offered to idols.  Yet we are told that someone who eats meat, or does anything else the Bible does not address, is sinning if he is not sure it is right.  How can this be?  Well, Paul explains in the second half of the verse:  “Because his eating is not from faith: and whatever is not from faith is sin.”

If we think something is wrong to do, and we do it anyway, it is a sin—even if God never said that the activity itself was wrong.  This is because our choice has not been made because of faith, but because of some other motive.  So it is not the action itself, but the choice, that is displeasing to God.  A helpful illustration in the realm of entertainment would be a woman who was taught while growing up, by her parents and her church, that listening to “rock music” is always wrong.  That style of music is “of the devil” and “worldly,” the argument goes, and we should not enjoy it even if it has good words, because that would be compromising with the devil and the world.  This is a legalistic view that goes beyond Scripture and does not proceed from a sound interpretation of the Word.[2]  However, any idea has a certain power when you hear it over and over again from the people you love and respect, especially when you are a child.  So the woman in our illustration has been convinced that it is wrong for her to listen to any music with electric guitars and drums.

Now suppose a group of friends from work give her a hit album for her birthday and say they want to hear what she thinks of it when they take her out for dinner the next night.  If she decides to listen to the album, while she still thinks it is wrong to do that, she will be sinning, because at that moment something is more important to her than pleasing God.  It will not be her faith in Him that motivates her to do it, but her fear of what her friends will think, or perhaps her own curiosity.  Should her conscience be realigned, or retrained, so that she could listen to something like that without feeling guilty?  Yes, I think it should (see below).  But until that happens, she should not listen to the music, because it will come between her and God if she does.  It will damage the most important relationship she has, because when she prays to him she will not be able to pray “in faith,” believing that He hears her.  Instead she will be thinking something like this:  “I don’t know if I should be doing this—God might be upset with me.”

Your conscience is like a diagnostic program running at all times on a computer.  Depending on the information it has been given, it will judge whether you are doing the right thing or the wrong thing.  If it judges that you are doing the wrong thing, it will flash a “warning light” (we call this “feeling guilty.”)  That warning light of guilt is very helpful in keeping us from moral crashes, but sometimes a conscience can be overactive on a particular issue, because it has been given wrong information.  So like a computer, it can be reprogrammed with different and better information, so that it will not set off an alarm when it is not really necessary.  Your ultimate goal should be to have a conscience that is fully informed by Scripture, which will only keep you from doing that which is displeasing to God, and not from good things you have the freedom to enjoy (see Rom. 14:22). 

So your conscience may need to be re-trained on a particular issue or issues, but as long as you think something is wrong, don’t do it.  Because if you act against your conscience repeatedly, then you will develop what the Bible calls a “seared conscience” (1 Tim. 4:2, Titus 1:15, Ephesians 4:19).  In such a conscience, the warning light has been ignored so often that it no longer flashes anymore, and we find ourselves blind and enslaved to sins that will eventually destroy us.  As Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 say, “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.”

The old saying, “Let your conscience be your guide,” is not entirely true.  Your conscience can be wrong, and may need to be re-trained, as in the case of the women who cannot listen to any “rock” music.  But though your conscience should not be your guide in determining the truth, it should be your guard in the sense that it can keep you from wrong paths that lead to destruction.  We should never push past this guard, but sometimes we might persuade it through biblical reasoning to move out of the way.  On the other hand, we need to be constantly “arming” our conscience with more principles from Scripture, so it can protect us from choices that would hurt us in the end.
This principle of conscience applies to your entertainment choices, as well as all other areas of your life.  If you are wondering whether or not God wants you to watch that movie, listen to that music, read that book, or whatever choice you face, it is better to be safe than sorry.  Don’t let an insignificant form of entertainment get in the way of the most significant relationship you will ever have!  As Romans 14:17 says, “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”

[1] For more verses about the importance of having a clean conscience, see Acts 23:1 and 24:16, 1 Timothy 1:9, and Hebrews 13:18.

[2] The arguments used against contemporary musical styles can sometimes exhibit award-worthy creativity.  Some say that if the rhythm in music is emphasized more than the melody and harmony, it is ungodly.  Another argument is that some types of music are acceptable to God because of where the primary beat falls, but others are not acceptable because the primary beat falls somewhere else.  These ideas do not arise from the exegesis of Scripture, to say the least, and upon closer inspection are actually inconsistent with Scripture.  When we take into account the types of instruments that were used in Old Testament worship, which included tambourines, cymbals, and the guitar-like “lyres” and “lutes” (Psa. 68:24-25, 98:4-6, 149:3, 150:1-6), it is likely that the music of the Jews was quite heavy in the rhythm department.  And given the lack of professional composition in most cases, the beat was probably falling all over the place!