Piper’s “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION” Key Arguments pt. 2

The series on Piper’s “The Future of Justification” is continued in this post by taking a brief look at Piper’s key arguments against Wright and the New Perspective. This will be done in two parts due to length, today’s post will conclude the key arguments section (part 1 can be found here).


 Piper’s Key Arguments

 

One of John Piper’s major concerns is what Wright teaches about the role of the imputation of God’s righteousness in Christ and the imputation of the obedience of Jesus to believers according to Romans 5:19. Wright argues that it makes “no sense” to say the judge imputes his righteousness to the defendant. He believes that righteousness is not something that “can be passed across the courtroom.”[1] Wright thinks that when God acts to vindicate His people, then they will metaphorically have the status of righteousness, “But the righteousness they have will not be God’s own righteousness. That makes no sense at all.”[2] The righteousness of the Judge and the defendant has two different meanings and looks nonsensical to Wright because of the framework and method Wright used to evaluate it is incorrect according to Piper. From Piper’s perspective, Wright treats the righteousness of God merely in terms of the actions of the Judge, and not in terms of His deeper attribute of righteousness and omnipotence.[3] Piper believes Wright’s paradigm to explain Paul turns out to limit and distort rather than clarify.[4] Piper brings the argument back to the glory of God. As Piper examines the teachings of Paul and using this law-court imagery, Piper concludes the reason God acts the way He does is not because God is unrighteous, but because God will act in a way that most fully upholds and displays the supreme worth of His glory.[5] Interpreting Paul and the Old Testament, Piper defines God’s righteousness as most fundamentally His unwavering allegiance to uphold the value of His glory. God also demands His creatures forsake their unrighteousness and glorify Him.[6] In contrast to Wright’s view of the defendant and judge, Piper makes the case that what makes God and humans “righteous” is their unwavering allegiance to treasure and uphold the glory of God. Thus, it is conceivable for the Judge’s righteousness to be shared with the defendant. Piper sees the Judge, who is also Creator and Redeemer, will find a way to make His righteousness count for the defendant since it is the exact righteousness they need.[7]

Piper concludes his volume by citing that the reason he wrote this book is to avert the “double tragedy” that is caused by Wright and the New Perspective. The first tragedy is where the obedience of Christ, imputed to the believer through faith alone, is denied or obscured.[8] Piper believes that inevitably a believer’s own works – the fruit of the Spirit – will take on a function that contradicts the very reason the good works exists. Piper argues Wright’s perspective elevates the importance of the works of love, that in turn begins to nullify the glory of Christ and His work that were designed to be displayed.[9]

The other tragedy that Piper hopes to avoid is the undermining of what makes the works of love possible, which is that Christ’s perfect obedience and sacrifice secured completely the glorious reality that the omnipotent Father is for His beloved children. Piper believes that if Christians deny or minimize the importance of the obedience of Christ, imputed to Christians through faith alone, their works will begin to assume the role that should have been Christ’s.[10] Piper argues at length about the supremacy of God’s glory and that God does all He can to uphold His glory and will not do or allow anything to take from his glory.


[1] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 98-99.

[2] Ibid, 99.

[3] Piper, The Future of Justification, 71.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 70.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 71.

[8] Ibid, 187.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

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Piper’s “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION” Key Arguments pt. 1

The series on Piper’s “The Future of Justification” is continued in this post by taking a brief look at Piper’s key arguments against Wright and the New Perspective. This will be done in two parts due to length, so part two will come in the following post that will provide more arguments and Piper’s main goal with this book.


 Piper’s Key Arguments

Piper argues that what God requires regarding a person’s salvation Christ accomplished by becoming the pardon and perfection for that believer. The final suffering and death of Jesus propitiated God’s wrath against the believer. Also, Jesus’ whole life of perfect righteousness, culminating in His death, is then imputed to those who believe. God provided in Christ what God demanded from a person in the law.

N. T. Wright says, “Justification is not how someone becomes a Christian. It is the declaration that they have become a Christian.”[1] Justification “was not so much about ‘getting in’, or indeed about ‘staying in’, as about ‘how you could tell who was in’. In standard Christian theological language, it wasn’t so much about soteriology as about ecclesiology; not so much about salvation as about the church.”[2] Wright sees justification in the first century as not how someone might establish a relationship with God, but “about God’s eschatological definition, both future and present…of who was a member of his people.”[3] Piper believes Wright’s disconnected justification from the event by which a Christian is saved or enters into God’s favor. A main issue that Piper takes with Wright’s thinking is at what point is God totally for the believer; Piper sees that before conversion and faith in Christ, God’s wrath was against the believer, in contrast after conversion and union with Christ, God’s wrath is no longer against the believer. Piper counters Wright’s argument by claiming justification is the moment or the event when a believer put their faith in Jesus Christ and at that moment God is no longer against them but is for them, and counts them as acceptable, forgiven, righteous, and obedient because of their union with Christ.[4] At that moment, even though the person is ungodly, they are declared and constituted just. Where Wright, according to Piper, sees the call as the only decisive saving moment, Piper puts the call with the work of God justifying the believer.

Piper sees Wright’s view on the gospel as challenging and involves some provocative denials about how the gospel relates to becoming saved. Piper claims Wright does not deny that God uses the gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection and lordship over the world to save people. Wright wants to stress that there is a difference between one of the effects of the gospel—namely, personal salvation—and the proclamation of the gospel itself.[5] Piper is concerned that expressing the gospel in this manner will confuse people because it does not include the good news about salvation. In particular, if the announcement does not include news about how and why a person will not be “destroyed” by the risen Christ because of their sin, then it is not good news but actually terrible news.[6] Piper argues that unless the meaning of Jesus’ death and what He achieved is explained, it is not good news. It is good news because now reconciliation with God can be enjoyed by faith, and a person moves from God’s wrath to God’s righteous child. Piper believes in Wright’s passion to liberate the gospel from individualism to making it more historical and global, Wright leaves it vague for the individual sinner.[7]

Piper takes issue with another one of Wright’s gospel nuances. N. T. Wright argues that when Paul talks about how a person can come into a living and saving relationship with the saving God, it is not justification that “springs to his lips or pen.” Wright believes that when the gospel message about Jesus, the cross, and his resurrection is announced to a person, that through this, God works by His Spirit upon that person’s heart to believe.[8] Piper counters this thinking by pointing to Paul’s gospel sermon to the people in Antioch (Acts 13:38-39). As Paul brings his sermon to a close about how people can come to an eternal relationship with God, Piper believes Paul brings this message to a climax with justification.[9] Piper strongly disagrees with N. T. Wright’s theory that justification does not come to Paul’s lips or pen about how to have a saving relationship with God. He says, “It’s not only misleading, it’s not true to the text and it’s going to hurt the church.”[10]

to be continued…


[1] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 125.

[2] Ibid, 119.

[3] Ibid, 125.

[4] Piper, The Future of Justification, 181-182.

[5] Ibid, 45-46, for multiple quotations on Wright’s view of the gospel.

[6] Ibid, 46, 81-91.

[7] Ibid, 86.

[8] Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said, 116.

[9] Piper, The Future of Justification, 20.

[10] Ibid.

Piper’s Thesis of “THE FUTURE OF JUSTIFICATION”

The Thesis of “The Future of Justification”

In the opening lines of the introduction, Piper lays out the intent and thesis of the book: “the subject matter of this book—justification by faith apart from works of the law—is serious. There is as much riding on this truth as could ride on any truth in the Bible. ‘If righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose’ (Gal 2:21).”[1] Piper goes on to remind the reader that if Christ died for no purpose, then believers are still in sin, and those who have died in Christ have perished.[2] N. T. Wright believes the “discussions of justification in much of the history of the church,” since Augustine, got off on the wrong foot of misunderstanding Paul and “have stayed there ever since.”[3] Piper believes that Wright’s portrayal of the gospel, in particular the doctrine of justification, is so disfigured that it is difficult to recognize as biblically faithful. In Piper’s eyes Wright may think he has a clear grasp of the gospel and justification, but Piper is concerned that this belief system will not make the lordship of Christ good news for sinners or show how those overwhelmed with sin may stand righteous before God.[4] Piper’s hope with this book is to correct this misunderstanding and cause believers to seriously study and faithfully preach the gospel, including the good news of justification by faith apart from works of the law (Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16).[5] The dominant argument of this book is that John Piper believes the gospel is being lost not in outright dismissal of it, but in a gradual relaxing of it due to the obscuring of the biblical understanding of justification. Piper believes this distorting of justification is so dangerous that Wright may be reinforcing Roman Catholic soteriology.[6]

[1] John Piper, The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2007), 14.

[2] Ibid, 14-15.

[3] N. T. Wright, What Saint Paul Really Said: Was Saul of Tarsus the Real Founder of Christianity?, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1997), 115.

[4] Piper, The Future of Justification, 15.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid, 183.

Different Views of Justification Defended by their Preferred Scriptural Texts

We continue our series by trying to defend each position using the preferred texts that each side uses to defend its position. For part one, please refer to the initial post on setting this brief series up.  Again, I am not a Roman Catholic and in this post I am trying to use the most widely preferred text that I found in research that support this view. I am sure there are a number of texts on justification that any Roman Catholic believer could point to in addition to the few listed here. The same argument about additional texts to support the Protestant position could be argued as well.


Defend each view using their preferred scriptural texts

Roman Catholics maintain that James 2 is basic to the Catholic denial of imputed righteousness based on faith alone. The Catholic Church attempted to reconcile Romans 3 with James 2 by declaring that faith begins the process of justification whereas works complete it. Catholics maintain that through the on-going process of justification, the righteousness of God through Christ is infused by the Holy Spirit in a believer. Romans 5:19 says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” Thus, a believer is made righteous and justified by obedience.[1] Both Psalm 15:2 and Matthew 25:46 speak of being righteous and doing deeds entitles a believer to enter heaven. First Corinthians 4:7 says, “What do you have that you did not receive?” meaning that God gave the believer grace and we cooperated with God to accept Jesus and the offer of salvation.[2] Romans 5:1-2 indicates that after having received the grace of justification a believer now has access to God’s grace by which they stand in Christ and can then rejoice in the hope (something that is not yet possessed) of sharing God’s glory (Rom 8:24). Ephesians 2: 10 points out that a believer must continue to work in Christ and only by the grace of God can believers do so. However, this grace can be resisted (2 Cor 6:1).

Protestants see the words of Paul in Romans 3 as referring to works of the law by which a person attempts to justify himself. James is speaking of works that demonstrate the genuineness of one’s justification. Where Catholics see works combining with faith to complete the process of justification, Protestants view works as evidence that one has actually been justified by God. A Protestant view of James 2 sees that a justified believer proves their faith by acts of obedience. In other words, faith is justified or made evident by works. Romans 5:1 says a believer is justified (made righteous) by faith. The faith that saves a person is not alone. It inevitably produces good works. Works are not a condition of salvation but a consequence of it. Someone who is truly saved will manifest good works. If there are no good works present, then there is no reason to believe that true saving faith is present either.

Roman Catholics view that a person is not justified by faith alone, but rather through works and faith together. This view contradicts Romans 3:28, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Catholics may also argue that a person is justified by faith, and is preserved or kept in a state of grace through works. However, this too contradicts what Scripture says. Galatians 3:1-3 points out if the people received the Spirit by works of the Law or by hearing with faith. Ultimately, it is by grace through faith alone that justifies a person. Romans 11:6 says, “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” This supports the Protestant theology that justification is not by works in anyway but is by grace through faith in Christ and His sacrifice alone.

The Catholic view of justification seems to contradict passages such as Romans 4:1-12 and Titus 3:3-7 among others. Both of these passages speak to be justified by faith by the mercy and grace of God, not by works or anything of man. According to the Roman Catholic view, a person must await a final justification at death to know whether they have eternal life and will not see God’s condemnation. In contrast, Protestants view the Bible guaranteeing eternal life as a present possession of those who believe (John 3:36; 5:24; 1 John 5:13). John further states the only condition for obtaining eternal life is belief (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; 20:31).


[1] See Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1991: “Justification is at the same time the acceptance of God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus Christ. Righteousness (or ‘justice’) here means the rectitude of divine love. With justification, faith, hope and charity are poured into our hearts, and obedience to divine will is granted us.”

[2] See Council of Trent: Decree on Justification, Chapter XVI: “For, whereas Jesus Christ Himself continually infuses his virtue into the said justified,-as the head into the members, and the vine into the branches,-and this virtue always precedes and accompanies and follows their good works, which without it could not in any wise be pleasing and meritorious before God.” Also see Catechism of the Catholic Church # 1993.

JUSTIFICATION IN CATHOLIC AND PROTESTANT THOUGHT

We continue to look at the concept of soteriology and what are the different parts that make up the whole of salvation. Over the next few posts, we will look at the differences between catholics and protestants on their views on justification. Many years ago now, a group of leaders from both the catholics and protestants got together to try to bring unity to the different parties. They discussed their differences but also wanted to lay out what both parties believe and share and celebrate the similarities.

One of the many splitting points during the reformation and subsequent split from the Catholic church was on salvation and in particular justification. This led to many discussions on what is sanctification, how does communion work, and what does justification mean and how is it imparted to a believer and when. These are just a few of course.

So when the catholic and protestant leaders met, they created a joint declaration where all individuals involved signed off and approved it (document can be found here). Some evangelicals had issues with what was signed and the same can be said for catholics. Essentially, this was trying to bridge a gap and create a united community.

One of the questions that we must ask is what exactly are the beliefs of both sides. Secondly, how does each side defend its position. Third and finally, which view does a person hold and why. So today’s post will focus on summarizing the Roman Catholic and Protestant understandings of justification by faith. The next two post will focus on the second and third post respectively.

We must remember it is important to understand an alternate view in order to create conversation and have greater understanding of where that person is coming from. Below is a collection of my thoughts, research, and collaborative efforts to summarize a broad doctrine into a summary statement.

Personal Note: This is not a slamming of either side or specifically of catholicism. This is researching a particular view in an effort to understand what a catholic seems to believe (in general). I am not here to condemn any views or say one side is better than the other. At the end of the day, I will present my personal view as to why I hold to the salvation and justification, but I understand the importance of a united Church and the love and grace that God has provided. I am thankful for the open dialogue between the two sides to try to bring unity.


Protestants view justification as a specific point upon which God declares the believer as righteous. It is the moment when God declares a guilty person righteous because of what Christ has done. This point is where the believer enters into the Christian life. Protestants hold to the view of sanctification as the process or development of being made more righteous throughout a believer’s life. Justification encompasses the forgiveness of sin, acceptance by God, and the imputation of Jesus’ righteousness.

In contrast, the Roman Catholics believe that Christ’s righteousness is imparted to the believer “by grace through faith,” but in itself is not sufficient to justify the believer. The believer must supplement the righteousness of Christ imparted to them with meritorious works. The Roman Catholics view justification as a point and a process, dependent on the grace that a believer receives by participating in the Church. Grace is often seen as something that can be distributed through various possibilities of change and means. Roman Catholics reject that there is an imputed righteousness of Christ to a believer at the moment of salvation; that is, that a believer is counted as fully righteous in the eyes of God. A person is prepared for justification with the help of actual grace. This disposition toward righteousness occurs through cooperation between a person’s will and the grace that assists them to move toward God. Although grace is present, a person cannot reach this justified state apart from their own efforts. Justification involves being made righteous and holy. The person believes that faith in Christ is only the beginning of salvation and that the individual must build upon that with good works because God’s grace of eternal salvation must be merited.

Roman Catholics hold to the doctrine of transubstantiation where they believe as they partake of the elements of the Eucharist, the literal body and blood of Christ becomes a part of the believer, transforming them, and making them more righteous. On the other hand, Protestant partake of the Lord’s Supper by holding to either the memorial view – the elements are seen as symbols and the believer commemorates Jesus’ death – or the consubstantiation perspective – Jesus is spiritually present in the elements but is not in the elements or are they the physical body and blood of Christ.

While both believed a person is saved by grace, the biggest difference between the Protestant and Roman Catholic view is how a person receives that grace and whether it is the point at which a person becomes a Christian or if it is the point and a process that is continually moving toward salvation.

Sin’s Effect on Creation

Previously, we looked at a working definition of sin. This post will examine the impact of sin not only on humanity, but on the world around us. Sin has made an impact on Creation, humanities relation to creation, and the relationships that we experience with each other. As we have rebelled against the Almighty and holy God, what are we putting in charge of our lives? Are we living for the glory of God or the glory of self? In a world of humans that are sinful (whether you believe in a total depravity or “partial” depravity, that is a discussion for another day), sin affects us each day. It has an impact on us every day and every minute of that day.

In the end, understanding sin causes a believer to look to God and say “Thank You”. Thank you for grace. Thank you for forgiveness. Thank you for sending Jesus to be our lasting and eternal sacrifice. Thank you for atonement, regeneration, justification, and sanctification. Thank you for Your mercy. Understanding sin and how it affects us daily, the ways that it can cause us to disobey God and grieve or quench the Spirit are very important for personal reflection. We must reflect on our weaknesses and trust those to God. All the while, delighting in what Paul said that when we are weak, then we are strong. We are strong because we don’t rely on ourselves. No, we rely on the Holy Spirit. Praise be to God for that good news!


 

Sin’s Effect on Creation

All humans are affected by sin, which distorts our being at its root; the effects of sin are shown in every aspect of human life, in sins.[1]  As a consequence of sin, man lost his spiritual life, became dead in sin, and is subjected to the power of the devil.[2] Total depravity has been transmitted to the entire human race, whereby Adam’s posterity is born with a nature that is absent of divine life and essentially corrupt apart from grace (Gen 6:5; Rom 3:10-19; Eph 2:1-3).[3] Sin is credited with having caused infinite tragedies both in heaven and on earth. Beyond all this, sin must be recognized as that which elicited the greatest divine sacrifice and required the payment of a ransom that necessitates the lifeblood of the Son of God.[4] The problem sin creates is more than a conflict between good and evil, it involves the measureless conflict between the holiness of God and all that is opposed to it.[5]

Sin is more than a surface matter, it is a fundamental corruption of the very essence of what it means to be human.[6] Sin affects us both as individual persons and as persons who are created to live in community.[7] No society, or any aspect of society, is free from the outworking’s of human pride, self-centeredness and the desire to be in control.[8] The human will is able to choose, but, tainted by sin, it has no power to choose what is wholly good.[9]

Conclusion

Sin is fundamentally a restless unwillingness by humans against the infinite wisdom of the Creator. Sin derives its measurements from that which is good, and since the holy character of God is the standard of that which is good, sin is as evil as it appears to be when viewed from the vantage point of the holiness of God. The reality of sin and its dire consequences have led to corrupted relationships with God, one another, creation, and one’s own personal self.[10] Sin has resulted in human’s total depravity. Every aspect of human existence is totally affected by sin. The depravity of sin is both the loss of original righteousness, and the corruption of our being so that we cannot turn to God on our own apart from God’s enabling grace. It is sin that has drawn out redemption from the heart of God, and redemption is the only cure for sin.[11]


[1] Sherlock, “The Doctrine of Humanity,” 234.

[2] Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article IV, Man, Created and Fallen,” internet, 2015, accessed April 26, 2015, http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.

[3] Ibid

[4] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 226.

[5] Ibid

[6] Sherlock, “The Doctrine of Humanity,” 165.

[7] Ibid, 65.

[8] Ibid, 99.

[9] Ibid, 163.

[10] Ibid, 170.

[11] Chafer, Systematic Theology, 224.


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Calvin, John. Institutes of Christian Religion. Translated by Henry Beveridge. London: Bonham Norton, 1599. Accessed April 26, 2015. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/institutes.html.

Chafer, Lewis Sperry. Systematic Theology. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications. 1993.

Dallas Theological Seminary. “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article III, Angels, Fallen and Unfallen.” Internet. 2015. Accessed April 26, 2015. http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.

Dallas Theological Seminary. “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article IV, Man, Created and Fallen.” Internet. 2015. Accessed April 26, 2015. http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement/.

Holsteen, Nathan. “Session 20: Definition and Nature of Sin.” Unpublished class notes for ST 103. Dallas Theological Seminary. Spring Semester, 2015.

Sherlock, Charles. The Doctrine of Humanity. Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 1996.

Strong, A.H. Systematic Theology. Philadelphia: American Baptist Publication Society, 1907

The Gospel Story in a Postmodern World

This past semester I was required to watch a Czechoslovakian short film called “Most” (translated “The Bridge” in English) as part of a class. This film was nominated for an Academy Award back in 2004 for best short film. As a lover of film and photography, I was excited to watch this film and it was simply amazing. The writing is captivating, the cinematography is brilliant (and regardless of whether you watch this film for what I have to say below, just watch it for the brilliance that is displayed), and the music is wonderful.

What made this film more interesting for me is that it was part of a soteriology class (a class on salvation). The professor does a wonderful job at stressing to the students the importance of being culturally relevant. That is, he wants the students to be theologically sound, hear what culture is saying and yearning for,  but also identify ways of connecting with culture and how to share the gospel message through a variety of ways.  What is the message that a person, group, or community is saying. What is that culture or person worshipping? What are the themes or narratives of the story? What is the story and how does one relate to it? Throughout this class, we have listened to songs from mainstream artists to Christian artists to those who were once Christian artists and now are not. Obviously, music and film is a huge factor in society.

In today’s day and age, connecting with the audience through storytelling is vitally important. Typically, being in a postmodern world, connecting with people is all about the story. If we think about how the Gospel message was shared during the Modern era, it is drastically different, not better or worse, just different. Change has brought adaptation. It is a different era. People of today tend to connect through stories. A more recent example is to think back to 20 – 30 years ago and the widespread use of tracts that the church community would use to share the gospel with a non-believer. While those still exist as well as other “older” and different techniques, in dealing with an ever changing world that is always connected and loves their social media, Christians have adapted and tried to venture into different avenues of telling the Gospel story.

The Bridge is a film that really stuck with me. It captivated me and engrossed me into the story. I went in not knowing what it was about or the outcome, but left with an appreciation for what the filmmakers did. The Bridge is an example of talented people sharing the Gospel message through film. It is an example of how we as Christians can show/tell the beauty and majesty of Christ and His work to a generation or population that connects with stories and film.

As a person who adheres, follows, and believes in a literal hermeneutic, there will be many that watch this who say that is not “really” the gospel message. There were many in my class who said or thought the same thing. The reason is the story does not tell the whole story of the gospel. It does not give the viewer insight into the Trinitarian relationship of the Father and the Son and how they put a plan into place for the redemption of the world. It does not show Jesus making a choice. Instead, it shows a split second decision of the father (which is far different from the All-Knowing and wonderful Father).

I say this with caution, watch the film and remember the various parts of the gospel. The cautionary part is to just watch, not through the literal lens of all the film didn’t cover, but through the lens of reflection and contemplation.  Through the lens of a father that made a choice. A choice that was not easy. You may have to put your allegorical hat on. You could also call it a modern parable if you wanted. It is a parable that tells and conveys a message of sacrifice, redemption, and hope.

Some will say, “Well, there is no resurrection.” That is a valid point. There is not a true resurrection of the boy. However, at the end of the film, you are left with a boy that looks very much like the son that died and a father that was sad at how much he lost. Upon seeing the boy, the joy returns with the father raising his arms, essentially seeing the sacrifice was worth it.

The message will focus on the sacrifice and decision of the father. It will show the lengths the father goes to in order to save all those passengers who were doomed and never knew it. There are many today that are walking around searching for answers. There are many who are broken and lost, who have turned to addictions to ease the pain. Many seek to fill the void with things (or “broken cisterns”) that will never leave them satisfied. We have tried to fill this emptiness left by sin with counterfeit gods that only leave us worse off and dissatisfied. Our lives yearn to have that fellowship with our Father that was lost. We long for the Garden.

There is hope though. That fellowship is repaired through Christ. Many have heard or seen the illustration that between God and man there is this canyon or valley that exists because of sin. Christ came, died, rose from the grave, ascended into heaven and will come back. The Cross and Christ essentially bridges the gap between Holy God and sinful man.

The topic of culturally relevant theology is a discussion for another post, but after seeing this amazing film I wanted to share it with you. Many have probably seen it, but think about the title. Think about where this happens. The analogy of the father making a decision by sacrificing his son to save the many has been used in several evangelism models. It is popular enough that you may have even used once before. This brings that analogy to life. The anguish, the hurt, the reluctance, the death, the sorrow, the pain, and the decision all come to life in this beautiful story.

I love the Gospel and love the Gospel story. I am not advocating changing the story or conforming it to “trick” someone into believing. As Christians we are to be strong and faithful to the true and accurate faith in Christ. Yes, I know there are many other stories/films/songs that show the gospel either overtly or covertly, but what I love about this film is how the Gospel story is being shown in a way that relates to this postmodern world. It meets those that are broken in hurting and shows how hard it was for the Almighty Father to sacrifice His only Son. As popular songs and movies play, they show the great need for a Savior and how culture looks for a Savior in all the wrong places. This movie meets the people where they are at with a story of brokenness and redemption. It leaves the viewer with gratitude, thanksgiving and hope.

A whole series and book could be produced on what stands out and touches each of us as we watch the film. What may have been impactful to us once, may be different the next time. Meaning, not just with this film but with songs or other films, a certain portion may stand out to us based on our life circumstances at the moment. If we were to listen or watch it again during a different life stage, something else may stand out. Film offers a wonderful way to share the Gospel. This film stirs inside questions and emotions and thanksgivings for what our Father did, and what our Savior did and endured. It shows that no matter how lost or broken or downtrodden a person may be, God can redeem, bring healing, and restoration.

I ask that you would spend the 30 minutes to watch the film. I gain nothing from it and in no way have any ties to it, nor do I get any monetary benefits. I love this film. Just watch. If nothing else moves you, look for the scene where the snow is falling in front of the camera and see the beauty of the snowflakes. See what comes out of pain. Place yourself in the fathers shoes, what decision would you make? What are ways we can relate the gospel to modern culture that we possibly have not done before?

Lessons about Tribal Missions from the book, The Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we conclude our series on The Spirit of the Rainforest by looking at how one might communicate the gospel message with the Yanomamo or similar tribal cultures. I do not claim to be an evangelist or a missionary. These are merely a few thoughts that came to me as I read the book and seemed to stand out. They are concepts that other missionaries have tried or were shown to work in the book.

Finally, we conclude the entire series by recalling what we learned and what stood out. For anyone thinking about tribal missions, I highly suggest reading Spirit of the Rainforest. It will provide an eye opening look at what missionaries have experienced or are going through. It is a brutally honest book that caused heartfelt pain and emotion in my own life.

As I read this book right after the birth of my daughter, I was struck by the brutal reality of what some people endure and go through. Thinking about the treatment of women, babies, and children, there were many times this book was a tough read. But, the reader is not left with just stories of bad things happening to people. The reader is able to see how the grace, mercy, and light of God can penetrate the darkest of places. There is hope. While it may not be now or any time soon, for the Christian, there is an eternal hope that far outweighs the pain and sorrow of this fallen world.


 

Communicating the Concepts of the Spirit World, Humanity, and Sin to the Yanomamo

The Yanomamo understand that there are some spirits that are “good” and some that are “evil.” They even recognize a hierarchy to the spirit world in describing the great spirit or the spirit that made other spirits. In communicating the concepts of the spirit world, I would establish a common ground that I also believe in the spirit world and that there are definitely “good” and “evil” spirits. These spirits can cause them to do good and know more about peace, love, respect, and doing good; or they can cause them to continue to do evil and live in a cycle of revenge, fear, and guilt. At this point, Ephesians 6:12 is helpful in talking about evil spirits and struggles, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” These evil spirits lie to the Yanomamo and trick them into believing half-truths that cause so much pain and misery. They deceive the Yanomamo and cause them to be afraid of Yai Pada, who is the only spirit that truly loves them, can help them and is not their enemy. Unlike the evil spirits who many times seem ineffective in healing or finding food, Yai Pada cares and provides for their needs. Even these evil spirits recognize that there is nothing they can do against the great spirit.[1] The evil spirits trick them into thinking the Yanomamo rule them, but it is actually the evil spirits that rule the Yanomamo.

The Yanomamo culture is one of revenge and bravado, but even those times when innocent people are killed, many warriors experienced guilt and were troubled with what they had done. They would not tell anyone out of fear of being labeled a coward, but inside they knew that the killing was wrong. This knowledge of wrong points to an awareness of good and evil and shows the depravity of humans as we are all inherently evil. The Yanomamo typically let the men eat first and then whatever was leftover would be for the women and children. Following the ways of Yai Pada, all of the villagers are seen as wanting to take care of and help each other to ensure everyone’s needs are met. Yai Pada is able to change the Yanomamo culture where once children were the last to eat, now they are first. Yai Pada can change the hardest warrior’s heart who has done much killing, hurt, and pain into treating others with love, helping others, and being able to sleep again without the weight of guilt.[2]

This killing, raping, and cycle of revenge is all part of the lies these evil spirits have told them. It leads to a discussion on sin and how the original humans did not obey the great spirit Yai Pada. In the beginning, Yai Pada created a perfect world that was very good.  He created humans in His own image and likeness. There was peace and rest as these first humans enjoyed fellowship with Yai Pada. But an evil spirit deceived these humans causing them to disobey Yai Pada because they were prideful and wanted to be just like Him. Every child born to these humans were born with this curse of disobedience and pride called sin. This sin nature is what causes all humans to do bad and be separated from God. Every time the Yanomamo hear about Yai Pada, the evil spirits get extremely uncomfortable inside the Yanomamo and do not want them to listen to these stories. These evil spirits know they sinned and are trying to get the Yanomamo to also follow their sinful ways, instead of the good and loving ways of Yai Pada that lead to eternal life.

It is important to communicate to the Yanomamo how Yai Pada changes lives. There are many Yanomamo that are miserable, angry, and restless; but, Yai Pada offers a way out. With Yai Pada there is no longer a reason to be scared because He will give peace, protection, and remove fear. In much the same way that Yai Pada protected Jungleman and said Jungleman belongs to Him, Yai Pada does the same for all Yanomamo. Once the Yanomamo believes, they enter a relationship with Yai Pada as their eternal Father and are adopted into His family. In fact, Yai Pada offers a way to every Yanomamo to get rid of that guilt, fear, and shame. As Shoefoot describes, Yai Pada became a Yanomamo himself. He came as a baby, grew up, and showed a completely different way to live. Even though he knew he would be killed, he did it anyway. His death was a death for all Yanomamo’s.[3] “Because he was Yai Pada, he was able to come back from the dead. That is how he cut the trail to where he lives.”[4] He was never unfriendly to the Yanomamo, but is the enemy of the evil spirits from Omawa. The evil spirit Omawa deceived them into this life of fear, killing, and pain to keep them from a life of peace, happiness, and love. Yai Pada is the friend of Yanomamo that put their desires and trust in him. Yai Pada offers the greatest sense of safety and protection, more than the Yanomamo has ever known.

The Yanomamo understand the practice of putting the bow and arrows on a tree after they are done with unokai. The tree takes the killing tools and makes their hands clean so the Yanomamo’s can touch themselves again.[5] That is what Yai Pada’s death did. It changed the Yanomamo’s from being his enemies to making them his friends so they can follow his trail. Just as Yai Pada took the sins of the Yanomamo and forgave them, so too can a Yanomamo now be saved from the fire pit and forgive others because of Yai Pada’s gift.

Conclusion

Spirit of the Rainforest provides readers with real life examples and stories of spiritual warfare that is oftentimes overlooked or not thought about in American culture. Honey provides a great reminder for all of believers that our mission field is all around us; it shows how Christ’s love and power can make a difference not only in a person, but in a village and an entire community. The change in Shoefoot led to a change in a village and eventually the surrounding area. A simple but profound change of rebuking the old ways for following Christ with all our hearts can make us stand apart to live for God’s glory and be examples of Christ. Spirit of the Rainforest challenges Christians to be examples and obedient to God no matter where we are at.


[1] Ibid, 119.

[2] Ibid, 230.

[3] Ibid, 159.

[4] Ibid, 160.

[5] Ibid.

Cross Cultural Review of Spirit of the Rainforest

Today, we continue our Spirit of the Rainforest book review series by examining what are some of the positive aspects of the Yanomamo culture. While they are in a completely different place and have a completely different set of rules, are there aspects of their society that they do better than we do? Is there something we can learn from them? The next post will look at some of the negative aspects of that type of culture.

Positive Aspects

A major positive aspect of the Yanomamo culture is a strong sense of loyalty and community. The Yanomamo are so loyal that any offense to one is an offense to all. This loyalty is tested as those who want to live in Honey often have to give up their families in order to live in the Honey culture of peace and love. The Yanomamo’s are also very generous, even saying being stingy is deserving of the fire pit.[1] Compared to the nabas who never shared, the Yanomamo’s provide a model of a generous community helping out, particularly in the story of Yoshicami and Honey village.[2]

A major difference between the Yanomamo worldview and the secular American worldview is that the spiritual world is intimately tied to the physical world far more for the Yanomamo. The spirit world is more important to the Yanomamo than many Americans, as Americans separates these two worlds much more. Yanomamo generally seek out healing, advice or help from the spirits first, whereas Americans will typically turn to a medicine, science, or their own efforts first, then will turn to spirituality as a last resort. In addition, the Yanomamo display a greater obedience to their spirits leading, even prompting Jungleman to say, “When you have spirits as wonderful as mine are, you would never think of ignoring their advice.”[3] My culture tends to wrestle God for control, oftentimes not submitting to His leading.

[1] Ibid, 96.

[2] Ibid, 190.

[3] Ibid, 42.

Compare and Contrast Angels and Humans: Part 2

Continuing this brief series on the similarities and differences between angels and humans, this post will focus mainly on what makes up a human and how God created them. This section has a little bit of contrasting between angels and humans, please see the previous post on what makes up an angel. The next post will give a broader overview on the major differences between the two created beings.


 

Humans

Only humans were created in the “image of God” according to His purpose, plan, and good pleasure (Gen 1:26-27). With this privileged position, “humanity was the only part of creation addressed by God,” told to procreate and have dominion over it (Gen 1:28; Ps 8:4-8).[1] Genesis stresses that being made in the image of God is of fundamental importance to what it means to be human (Gen 1:26-28; 5:1-2; 9:6-7).[2] Mankind, created of both material and immaterial substances (Gen 2:7; Ezek 37:6, 8-10, 14), is so adapted to the purposes and functions of the immaterial man that he is not conscious of any separation between the body and the soul.[3]

Like the angels, mankind was also led into disobedience to God by Satan (Gen 3). As a consequence of sin, mankind became a “dying creature” and dead in sin (Eph 2:1)[4]; that spiritual death has been transmitted to all humanity (Rom 3:10-19, 23; 5:12), except Christ (1 John 3:8).[5] Whereas the angels who sinned are awaiting the judgment day (Matt 25:41), humanity is able to be forgiven (2 Cor 5:21). While man was made lower than the angels, the incarnated Christ took this lower place for a short time to conform the believer to His own image (Rom 8:29; Eph 1:3-4) and lift them up to His own sphere far above the angels (Heb 2:6-10).[6] Therefore, redeemed humans will eventually judge the angels (1 Cor 6:3).


 

[1] Charles Sherlock, “The Doctrine of Humanity,” (Downers Grove, InterVarsity Press, 1996), 36.

[2] Ibid, 31.

[3] Lewis Sperry Chafer, Systematic Theology, vol. 2, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1993), 146.

[4] Ibid, 149. Also see Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article IV, Man, Created and Fallen,” internet, 2015, accessed February 21, 2015, http://www.dts.edu/about/doctrinalstatement.

[5] Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article IV, Man, Created and Fallen.”

[6] Dallas Theological Seminary, “Full Doctrinal Statement, Article III, Angels, Fallen and Unfallen.”