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the real lessons from the 2012 election

Al Mohler, whom I greatly respect, posted some lessons from the 2012 election that he learned. His basic conclusion is that America is becoming more liberal, less moral, and more anti-Christian, and that the Republican Party and Christians need to consider a way to “winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions.”


I understand that during elections we can sometimes see trends and patterns that aren’t as objectively visible during non-election season, but this election told me very little about non-Christian America. I already knew the unbelieving world was morally bankrupt, anti-Christian, hostile to the gospel, against traditional marriage, consumed with self-interest, etc. Read Paul’s Spirit-inspired description of the non-believing world back in his day: “People will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (2 Tim 3:2-5).

Paul wrote those words 2,000 years ago. America didn’t become like this suddenly the past 4 years. This is the way unbelievers have been for millennia. Maybe the religious heritage of our nation prevented these sins from being especially visible, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t there, hidden beneath the surface of religious or social pretense.

Are we worse off spiritually as a nation now than we were 15 or 20 years ago? Perhaps, but that’s not because unbelieving society is becoming more liberal or morally bankrupt. It’s because Christians haven’t spread the gospel or showed the love of Christ to unbelievers, and now we find ourselves as a shrinking minority. Or to say it another way, there are less Christians in America than there used to be and so America is literally becoming un-Christian. What do you think happens when the salt of the earth loses its flavor or the light of the world is put under a basket? We’re seeing it before our very eyes.

The only way for Christians to “winsomely convince Americans to share our moral convictions” is by helping said Americans to see their need for Christ and come to Him for salvation. Then the Holy Spirit will do the work of showing them where their moral convictions need to be. We can’t make America Christian from the outside in. The Spirit’s work of sanctification (i.e., “setting apart”) can only be done from the inside out. We must start with the hearts of individual people in order to reach the moral backbone of our nation. But we already knew all that, right?

That’s why I said that this election told me very little about non-Christian America. It did, however, tell me a great deal about Christians and the American Church. Let’s look at some of the lessons I learned about Christianity from this election.

I learned that Christians associate their missional identity far too closely with their political one. For the Christian, there is only one agenda on this earth – to glorify God by helping people (including ourselves) become disciples of Christ. That’s it. Our agenda isn’t to moralize society. It’s not to make America conservative. It’s not even to attack sinful patterns that we see in society. Discipleship is first, last, and only on the list of things Christians should be accomplishing.

Now here’s the irony of what we’re seeing the Church today – the emphasis on social politics as a (or the)  mission of the Church has actually done the exact opposite of our true mission. The “Moral Majority” mindset hasn’t led our nation to desire to follow Christ – it’s turned people away from Christ! And even if we were successful at making our nation more moral, that still hasn’t made them more Christian. God isn’t glorified by a bunch of sinners who try not to sin. He’s glorified by sinners who recognize their sinfulness and turn to Him for rescue from it. There is very little that we can do to distract from that more than focusing our efforts on social issues in our society.

But there is another issue here – that Christians are measuring their success by what happens at the polls. The mood yesterday among many Christians was one of doom and gloom. We failed. The total secularization of America is coming. Christians are about to be eradicated. The end is near.

God doesn’t measure our success by whomever is elected into our government. If so, then Jesus’ whole concept of  “the Church” has been an utter failure. When has there ever been a time that the Church has found a way to bring perfect people into the leadership of a country? And while we’re at it, when in the OT theocracy did God ever set up a perfect person to lead Israel? Or how about the Israelite Monarchy? I’m pretty sure that King Saul for most of his reign was a more godless man than Barack Obama has ever been. Do you know who “elected” him? Yahweh.

God is doing something much bigger here that cannot be measured by how godly or godless our government officials are. His assessment is based on His people’s heart and, in particular, on whether or not they love Him with everything they are and whether or not they love their neighbors as themselves. And sometimes believers do love as God desires them to and strive for discipleship, and yet their efforts have no discernible effect on their surroundings (See: Jeremiah, Book of). That doesn’t mean that they have failed in their mission. It just means that God has chosen to bless them in a way that remains to be seen.

I learned that Christians identify too closely with the Republican Party. I already knew this to be the case, but boy do I know it now. Christians were willing to compromise a tremendous amount of their faith in order to try to get Mitt Romney into office.

How do I know this to be the case? Because the vast majority of Al Mohler’s article could have been written by an unsaved Republican politician, and it wouldn’t have seriously altered its message. Because Billy Graham met with Mitt Romney before the election and immediately took his website’s statement against Mormonism off of the internet so that it wouldn’t hinder the Republican cause. Because Christians are willing to rally against liberals to “support life”, but then in the same breath support the ruthless and unconstitutional killing of leaders, civilizations, and fellow Christians abroad. Why? Because that’s what Republicans do, and Christians are Republicans; so it’s what we do too.

Listen, when the world associates Christians with the Republican Party, it’s not a good thing. It’s not a good thing to be associated with any party, because they all have major flaws that dishonor God. Christ wasn’t a Republican, and if a Christian has good reasons to be a Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party member, or what have you, they are free to, but they should all hold their political party loosely, so as to not bring their party’s baggage onto the name of Christ.

I learned that Christians looked to the Republican candidate as a sort of savior of our nation who, after losing the election, also lost our nation along with him. There was literal weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that I saw and heard from the evangelical community. Why? I’m not even sure that those who were so upset knew. I know that some were concerned about Obama’s economic and foreign policies, but I think the majority are scared to death about what his social policy could entail the next 4 years.

Four more years of a liberal President!? The world may end during that time! At least 2 more liberal Supreme Court Justices! Permanent abortion! Gay marriage federally legalized! Contraceptives required to be funded by churches! The 10 Commandments kicked out of schools! Christian liberties abolished!

Let’s be honest with ourselves here – Obama probably will not be able to do everything evangelicals fear he will (even if he wants to). But even if he does, we can be certain that Romney would not have been able to undo it all. How would he undo the laws on abortion? It’s not as simple as just appointing a couple of conservative justices and having them overturn Roe v Wade. Not to mention, Romney flip-flopped on the issue of abortion anyway, and we don’t even know what he truly believes on it. What about Obamacare (which is the cause of the contraceptives dispute that the Catholic Church has with the government)? Romney already said he liked parts of Obamacare and that he wouldn’t get rid of them. But the parts he wanted to keep would have not have been possible without keeping the most controversial parts of the bill. Plus Romney passed Romneycare in Massachusetts, which is basically Obamacare on the state level.

But the bigger picture here is that Christians have only one Savior – Jesus. What if our country becomes totalitarian and starts persecuting Christians? For us, nothing significant has changed. Our hope lies in Jesus, both for our spiritual needs and for our physical ones. We should still vote and be passionate about improving our country, but if “our guy” doesn’t get elected we have to shrug our shoulders and move on. Our citizenship is in heaven, and ultimately our Supreme King determines who rules us during our time on earth.

I learned that Christians did not focus on God the way they should have leading up to the elections. Social media among Christians exploded yesterday with a host of theological cliches aimed at making them feel better about their defeat – “God is still in control,” “This world is not my home,” “God’s wrath is coming on this country,” etc. Now I’m aware that some people posted these things to console others about the election outcome, but a great deal of what I saw was Christians clearly consoling themselves.

Before I go any further, I need to clarify that if we console ourselves or others when discouraged, it should be in truth about God, specifically the truth of the gospel. But something about what I kept seeing after this election made it feel disingenuous. Specifically, I noticed a lot of people who acted like they could care less about God’s sovereignty leading up to the election, who suddenly became bold preachers of God’s sovereignty after Obama won. Were they directing their thoughts that way prior to the election? And if so, why did they only start talking about it after the election was lost?

My hunch, and I admit that this is a guess on my part, is that many Christians were not thinking much about God in the days leading up to the election. Their thoughts going into the election wasn’t, “This world isn’t my eternal dwelling place. Ultimately, these elections will have no bearing on my soul. But God is in control, and even if I don’t like who our president is, God will sustain and protect me in the way He sees fit.”

The great chagrin that Christians demonstrated once Obama was reelected suggests to me that their pre-election thought process went more like this: “If we can just get Romney into the White House, he’ll be able to turn around this mess that Obama got us into.” Once Obama was reelected and hope of that turn-around was out of the question, suddenly God enters the picture. So they console themselves with thoughts that “God is in control,” which is really just a way of saying, “I have no clue what God is doing right now, but I sure hope He does.”

Maybe I’m being a bit judgmental here, but how else can you describe the evangelical response to the election? If you were meditating on God’s sovereignty and on the eternal state prior to the elections, how could you possibly be outraged, depressed, or anxious following the election results? I could understand feeling a bit of frustration with the direction our country is heading in, but in general those emotional responses aren’t fruit of the Spirit, and they don’t come from God. Neither did the bulk of the response that came out of evangelicalism following the election.

I learned that Christians have a very elementary understanding of government and how it relates to their faith. This needs to be broken down into subpoints.

1. Confusion on how large the government should be

Liberal America wants the federal government to pass gay marriage. Conservative America wants the federal government to ban gay marriage. Liberal America wants the federal government to maintain abortion. Conservative America wants the federal government to ban abortion. Liberal America wants the federal government to put up a wall of separation between religion and state. Conservative America wants the federal government to allow a blending of religion and state (but only if that means the state doesn’t interfere with religion and that it only allows Christian things to be involved in the government, not other religious elements).

What’s the similarity between all of these illustrations of the stark difference between liberal and conservative politics? They all rely on the federal government to control social issues as they’d like. But there’s a problem here – America is a huge nation. We have literally hundreds of governments in states, counties, and cities that operate under our federal government. If the federal government messes up, we all suffer for it. And, guess what? The federal government messes up a lot.

The reason why Christians have lost the war over abortion is because the federal government got involved. Yet they want to use the federal government to outlaw abortion. How foolish is that? We’re going to give one government that wields its power over 300,000,000+ people the ability with one stroke of the pen to determine who lives and who doesn’t? And do you really want the federal government to determine who can get married and who can’t? Do you realize how great of a risk you’re taking giving that kind of power to our central government?

Christians will continue to lose political victories if they keep giving the federal government power over social issues. Why? Because all it takes is a handful of men in the federal government to change everything. The best answer is to limit federal power and give more authority to the states. Then Christians can have more influence in legislation that affects them and elect someone closer to their worldview. But even then, it will never be perfect. As I stated before, the ultimate solution to our country’s problems is the gospel, not the government.

2. Confusion on whether our government should be a theocracy or not

Most Christians would say they aren’t trying to make America into a theocracy. But practically speaking, this often doesn’t appear to be the case.

Let’s talk about gay marriage again. Why do Christians want to outlaw gay marriage? The quick answer is, “Because it’s a sin!” But if you actually read what the Bible says about marriage, you’ll find that it never addresses gay marriage at all. What it does address is homosexuality, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. Even if gay marriage were banned, homosexuality, which is the real sin issue, would still continue in America. So should Christians lobby for banning homosexuality? What about premarital sex? Divorce? Covetousness? Deceit?

Pretty soon you go down the slippery slope and find yourself creating a government based on the rules of the Bible. You might even call it a theocracy. But that’s a good thing, right?

Wrong. For starters, the Bible is not a government handbook. But more importantly, people should have the right to choose to sin or to turn away from their sin to Christ. God gave us free will for a reason, and it’s not the government’s job to decide our morality for us. The government’s primary responsibility is to protect and sustain its citizens. There are some sins that inhibit a person’s protection or sustenance and those should be outlawed, but it’s outside the bounds of a government’s responsibility to tell people that they can’t sin. That’s God’s job, not the government.

3. Confusion on what significance Christian symbols really have

Most Christians feel threatened by the government when it does things like outlawing the Ten Commandments from being in schools and courthouses, outlawing public prayer in government buildings, eliminating crosses from public parks, etc. Now I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to fight for religious freedom, but our fight should be done properly and intelligently, not angrily and defensively. And our fight for freedom should come second to our expression of our freedom – namely our efforts to make people into disciples of Christ.

Furthermore, much of the fight over “freedom” is more of a fight over the symbols of Christianity than it is over real freedom. I could go on with this point, but it has already been articulated quite well.

I learned that Christians want religious entitlements. “Liberals” allegedly want social entitlements from the government; so Christians expect the government to provide what I’m going to call “religious entitlements,” and ultimately this is exactly what the Republican Party has promised to evangelicals in order to get their vote.

What do I mean by “religious entitlements?” I mean that we think that we shouldn’t have to make difficult decisions between obeying God and obeying the the government. We think that people should be forced to have the same worldview as us. We think that we should be able to be hateful toward those who disagree with us, without consequences. We think that we should be able to hold to our Christian beliefs while still pursuing the American Dream. We think that the government should give precedence to Christianity over other religions. We think that we have the right to be Christian and have it easy.

The majority of our brothers and sisters in Christ who live overseas would have no idea what we’re talking about. Nor would they desire to.

I’m not saying that religious freedom is bad. I’m just saying that we aren’t entitled to it and we shouldn’t tell the world that we are. That turns them off to Christ all the more, just like it turns us off when we see people mooching off the government for entitlements that we don’t think they deserve. We should be grateful when given religious freedoms, respectful when they’re taken away, and resolute when the absence of religious freedom forces us to practice civil disobedience.

Do you know what happened when the Christians of the Early Church had their “religious entitlements” taken away? They rejoiced. They didn’t cry about it. They didn’t talk about God bringing judgment on their country. They didn’t run away, scared. They thanked God for being able to share, in a small way, in the sufferings of Christ and of the believers who went before them.

The Republican Party appears, in a lot of ways, to be a dying breed. Either Christians can go down with the Republican ship, fighting for air after every wave of opposition comes crashing down, or they can cut the cord once and for all and be followers of Christ, as our true King commands them to us. Christians haven’t had any problem following God in a country full of religious liberties. The question is, whether that commitment to God will remain when the social conservatism that the Republican Party has kept alive ceases to exist.


god’s kindness demonstrated through a mac pro

This post is a little bit different than normal – I just want to brag on God specifically for an act of kindness He showed towards my family and me recently.

The story begins this past winter when my Mac Book Pro unexpectedly died on me. It was no longer covered by warrantee and so I suddenly found myself without a computer. The good news in this is that I had religiously backed up the files on my Mac Book Pro using Apple’s Time Machine program, which backs up all your files, programs, and settings so that if you ever need to restore your data on another computer and want the exact same programs, configuration, etc. on it as your old one, you can do it with the click of a button. The bad news is that this only works on another Mac and I didn’t have another one. So I had to get by using my work laptop (with Windows XP) and hoping to find a good deal on a Mac somewhere down the line, when I had the money to get one.

Fast forward ahead to July of this year. A high school friend of mine from NJ was selling a Mac Pro (the desktop version of the computer, not a Mac Book Pro, which is the notebook/laptop version of the computer. This detail becomes important later on in the story.) which he no longer needed because he was upgrading to a newer model. It was a good deal and I now had the money to purchase it; so I bought it from him and received it towards the end of the month.

When I received it, I excitedly got out my backup hard drive (which had all my files on it – pictures, home videos, movies, music, important documents, etc.) and told my new Mac to restore itself from my backup drive. There was only one problem (well, actually two problems, but they combined to cause one big problem): Time Machine only works if you are restoring it to the same type of computer (which, in this case, would have needed to be a Mac Book Pro, not a Mac Pro) with the same operating system (which also was not the same between the two computers).

So what happened? It took about 2 hours restoring everything and then took me to the login screen. I tried logging in to use my new computer and… no luck. For some reason it wouldn’t take the password. I went to google and found that this is a common problem and went through a few steps to try to correct the problem, only when I did this and restarted my computer, it booted up and then froze. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get it to work. The operating system had crashed. Now I was stuck.

I needed to take it to the Apple Store for them to fix it, but the computer is really big (probably 50-75 lbs) and hard to lug into the mall, and this was now a week before my daughter’s birthday party and we were frantically working around the clock on our home to get it ready for the big event. So getting it fixed became a non-priority.

Then came the plot twist that none of us saw coming – the day before my daughter’s birthday party, our house was broken into. The robbers stole a handful of consumer electronics, most notably the backup hard drive that had all my files stored on it. However, there was one consumer electronics item that incredibly they didn’t steal – the Mac Pro.

This wasn’t merely an oversight on their part – the computer was located in the room from which they stole the most stuff (including the infamous backup drive, which was actually connected to the computer). So I can only logically conclude that they ignored the computer because it was simply too big. They didn’t steal anything that weighed more than 10 lbs and apparently considered something that size to be too big of a risk.

So now the entirety of my library of digital information/media was on the hard drive in a Mac Pro that had a broken operating system. Not good. In fact, I had no assurance that my files had even made it on the hard drive because I had never been able to look at them on the computer, since it was broken.

But immediately after my daughter’s party, we went on vacation. Then almost right after vacation I went on a business trip that took me through the end of August. Then when I returned, I spent the next 2 weeks recovering and working on a host of other projects that built up during the lost month of August. Then this past week I decided it was time to work on the computer.

I had never attempted to save files from the hard drive of a computer that wasn’t working; so this was new ground for me. Fortunately, a friend had a cable that allowed me to connect the hard drive to another computer to transfer files off of it. So I tried to connect it to my Windows XP work computer, and it didn’t work because of the whole incompatibility thing between Mac and Windows. However, from what I could see, it didn’t appear there were any files on the hard drive, which made me extremely nervous.

However, I had a few friends with Macs and one of them let me view the hard drive using his computer. To my relief, everything appeared to be on it! However, I had to transfer all the files onto a new backup drive that I had purchased, which wasn’t particularly easy and I wasn’t sure it would go ok. But by God’s grace (and with some help from another friend) I was able to copy over everything that was important.

Now, I had to get the computer fixed and copy everything from the backup drive back to the Mac Pro. I took it to the Apple Store (yes, more than a few people at the mall laughed and/or pointed as they saw me walk in with such a huge machine), they fixed it, and showed me what I needed to do to move my files over. There were no problems – to my knowledge all of the files remained safe and fully workable, despite being moved back and forth on multiple hard drives, including a hard drive that was on a computer that wouldn’t work. Tonight, I completed the transfer of the files and everything from my old computer is now on my new computer. I am missing nothing, even though I was on the edge of the cliff for losing it all.

So that’s the story. Now here’s the breakdown of God’s kindness that I see demonstrated throughout this ordeal:

  1. He helped me see the importance of backing up everything from my Mac Book Pro onto my backup hard drive.
  2. He orchestrated the events that would lead to my friend selling his computer and me purchasing it from him less than two weeks before we were broken into.
  3. He led me to attempt to restore the data from my backup hard drive onto the Mac Pro days before we were broken into, even though in hindsight, we were so busy that it didn’t really make much sense that I took the time to do that.
  4. He spared the files on the hard drive of the Mac Pro, even though they very well could have been corrupted after the computer essentially crashed.
  5. He caused the criminals to avoid stealing the Mac Pro, even though it was more valuable than all of the other items that they stole from us, combined.
  6. He gave me several friends that were able to help me whenever I ran into a roadblock with saving the files on the hard drive.
  7. He allowed the data to be transferred from the Mac Pro, onto an external hard drive, and then back to the Mac Pro without any significant issues and without any data being lost.

There’s a lot more I could mention here, like the fact that our safety deposit box, which has all of our major legal documents in it, was untouched even though I had left it out in the open in the very place where they stole the most stuff from us (and had left it unlocked!), or the fact that most of the stuff they stole was garbage (like old computers that didn’t work anymore, including the infamous Mac Book Pro).

Now there are times when things don’t go the way we want them to, and God deserves the glory for those times because He is sovereign, good, and all-knowing and we can’t fathom His ways. But in this case, things did go my way. And I want to give God the glory for that. His kindness didn’t just end at the cross, although that was the quintessence of it. His kindness extends to us in small things that the God of the universe really shouldn’t care much about. But He does. To Him be the glory.

theologically sound alternatives to piatt’s “ten cliches christians should never use”

Yesterday, Christian Piatt wrote a post for the blog Patheos attacking ten cliches that he feels Christians should never use. The post ended up being quite controversial, considering many of the cliches deal with some form of orthodox Christianity (such as God’s sovereignty, Christ’s Lordship, or the atonement). It would be easy to assume that he’s attacking those doctrines themselves, but he’s not. He’s simply stating that the cliches end up being unhelpful because of their sloppy theology, inappropriateness, or both. The fact that this blog post has caused so much debate over whether the cliches are actually helpful or not is indicative to me of the problem.

Now the response to Piatt’s post shouldn’t be one of never attempting to comfort or witness the gospel to someone, as some have suggested. The alternative is to fill your mind with phrases that are theologically pregnant and appropriate rather than ones that are theologically sloppy and presumptuous. So I’d like to attempt to offer a theological alternative, not to Piatt’s post but to the cliches which he attacks.

Please note that my alternatives are not the only possible alternatives to these cliches. You may very well think of your own alternatives that are more theologically precise and/or are more appropriate for people that you communicate with. If you do, I would be more than happy for you to comment on my blog with what you come up with.

Cliche #1: “Everything happens for a reason.”

My Alternative: “God is sovereign over all things and orchestrates all circumstances to bring Him glory and to make His people more like Christ.”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never says the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • Things don’t just “happen” for a reason, as if this thing called reason is just floating around in the air, causing events around us. God makes things happen for a reason. The Bible would never contain a phrase like this because it’s fatalistic and not God-centric.
  • The word “everything” is very imprecise. A sneeze is a thing; so was there a hidden reason why I sneezed the other day, other than the fact that my body was trying to expel a foreign substance that entered my nasal cavity? Maybe, but most likely there was not. That’s not to say that God wasn’t in control in that situation; it just means that not everything He allows has some kind underlying meaning to it that we need to evaluate.
  • Before attempting to refute my above point with Romans 8:28, please consider that the word “things” is not in the original text. The translators have added “things” in order to be more clear, but actually they probably should have substituted something more precise, like “all circumstances.” That’s why I feel like my alternative is a much more accurate representation of the biblical text than the cliche.
  • Let’s face it – sometimes even telling a person in the most theologically accurate way possible that God is in control isn’t what they need to hear. They may just need you to listen to them and “mourn with those who mourn.”

Cliche #2: “If you died today, do you know where you’d spend the rest of eternity?”

My Alternative: “If you died and met with God today, what would be His evaluation of your life?”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never suggests witnessing to someone by leading with this question. So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • The reason why God saves people is not primarily so that they go to heaven. It’s so that He is glorified by redeeming His people from their sins (Titus 2:11-14). The eternal state is only a part of this process of redemption.
  • The cliche-question implies one of two answers: heaven or hell. But the Bible focuses more on eternal life than it does heaven (and no, the two are not equal). So what is eternal life? Ultimately, it is the supreme manifestation of knowing God (John 17:2-3). The focus is on God, not the streets of gold.
  • When witnessing to someone, should the focus be on what their evaluation of their life is or on what God’s evaluation is?

Cliche #3:“He/she is in a better place.”

My Alternative: “God is so kind that our loved ones who trust in Him for salvation are able to spend eternity worshiping with Him, free from sin and the distractions of the fallen world.”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never says the phrase “He/she is in a better place.” So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • As already stated, eternal life isn’t about the “better place,” it’s about the loving God who redeems His creation to worship Him forever. The fact that they are in a “better place” is inconsequential because the only reason it’s better is because it is filled with God and free from sin. So why not just focus on those things instead?
  • Focusing on the deceased person places the focus (and ultimately, the glory) on that person, not God. Notice that in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, Paul only mentions the deceased 4 times. Paul makes reference to God/Jesus/Lord 10 times. The comfort we take in death ultimately has nothing to do with the dead person – it has everything to do with what God did for that dead person.

Cliche #4:“Can I share a little bit about my faith with you?”

My Alternative: “What do you believe about God or religion?”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never suggests witnessing to someone by leading with this question.  So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • When witnessing to someone, you can’t cram your faith down his/her throat. When you study how Paul evangelized the pagan world, you find that he did it differently almost every time. The reason is because his audience changed and each had different hurdles for coming to Christ. You don’t know the hurdles of the person you’re witnessing to until they tell you what they believe. And they won’t be able to do that if you’re too busy telling them what you believe first.
  • In John 4, Jesus dealt with the “woman at the well,” and He witnessed to her without ever asking to share His faith. On the contrary, he opened the door for her to share her faith and then gently addressed the flaws in her theology. His faith-sharing was a conversation, not a monologue.

Cliche #5: “You should come to church with me on Sunday.”

My Alternative: “Would you like to have lunch with some of my friends and me on Sunday afternoon?”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never encourages us to bring unbelievers into a Christian worship setting/service. The biblical model for evangelism always finds Christians going to the lost rather than trying to bring the lost to Christians.
  • Although God can use a church service to help the lost see their need for Him, it could also be incredibly confusing to an unsaved person and cause him to be turned off to the gospel. The Christian culture is very foreign to the unsaved world and to immerse someone into that culture prematurely is like transplanting a New York businessman – suit, tie, and all – into the Amazon Rain Forest without providing the proper food, vaccinations, maps, etc. to help him get by. This is not an invitation that we should give a non-Christian lightly.
  • It’s easy to ask someone to attend a non-personal church service. But it’s vastly harder to have that person eye-to-eye with you at a restaurant where all your flaws are on full display. But guess which approach is more effective? Hopefully you guessed correctly – it’s the personal approach that involves one-on-one interaction, and it’s not just limited to eating out. The bigger issue is that we try to make it easier on ourselves by bringing the lost to a weekly church service, when the most effective way to reach them is by spending personal time with them and showing them love the other 6 days of the week.

Cliche #6: “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”

My Alternative: “Have you responded to God by turning away from your sins and turning to Jesus for salvation through His obedient life (whereby He satisfied the demands of God’s Law) and death (whereby He satisfied the punishment required by God for your sins), believing that what Christ did is enough to save you from your sins and restore you to a loving relationship with God?”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never describes salvation as “asking Jesus into your heart.” So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • The closest Scripture comes to this is Romans 10:8-13, but these verses never mention a) asking Jesus anything – the core actions in these verses are confessing and believing, not asking, b) Jesus coming into anyone’s heart – the heart was viewed by biblical people as the core part of the person, and so Paul is simply stating that belief in the gospel must come from your innermost being and not be merely a head-knowledge, or c) that we need to ask whether or not a person is saved to begin with, as the cliche in question above assumes (although I concede that it could be helpful at times, but it’s not warranted from this text).
  • Since this “asking Jesus into your heart” concept isn’t biblical, it actually does the opposite of what it’s supposed to do. It distracts people from responding properly to the gospel in repentance and faith.

Cliche #7: “Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior?”

My Alternative: “Have you responded to God by turning away from your sins and turning to Jesus for salvation through His obedient life (whereby He satisfied the demands of God’s Law) and death (whereby He satisfied the punishment required by God for your sins), believing that what Christ did is enough to save you from your sins and restore you to a loving relationship with God?”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The Bible never describes salvation as “accepting Jesus.” So the cliche itself lacks biblical precedence.
  • The term “lord” is virtually meaningless in our society. If we are going to use it with non-Christians, we need to give quite a bit of background into the way the Bible uses it first. And, in any event, how frequently do we need to discuss lord-ship when witnessing? I can’t think of any witnessing situation I’ve had where I felt like I needed to discuss it, and even if I did, I would try my best to discuss it in terms that make sense today, rather than being stuck on the word “lord.”
  • The term “savior” is also one that needs hefty explanation before tossing it around haphazardly in conversation with a non-Christian. The average un-churched person would be incredibly confused by the term. Who is this savior? Who is he saving? Why is he needed? What is he saving from? What happens after he saves? If you don’t answer those questions before using the term, your witness will likely be more confusing than eye-opening.

Cliche #8: “This could be the end of days.”

My Alternative: “Christ could return and establish His perfect, sinless kingdom on earth at any moment.”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • The “end of days” is a meaningless phrase. Days are not going to end. The power of sin on this earth is what will ultimately end when Christ returns.
  • Focusing on the “end of days” (or last days, last things, end times, etc.) makes Christians sound like they are gleefully waiting for the earth to self-implode. The reason we look forward to the end is because Christ promises to restore everything back to its pre-sin state, not because everything is going to be utterly destroyed. He’s coming to do a positive transformation, not to bring about destructive upheaval.
  • Focusing on the “end of days” (or last days, last things, end times, etc.) takes the focus off of Christ. The world talks a lot about the end of the world (if you don’t believe me, just wait until December, 2012), but it doesn’t talk much about Christ (at least not in a biblical sense). Christians aren’t supposed to be so easily distracted with current events that they lose sight of Christ in it all. And if we’re going to talk about the last days, the subject of the conversation needs to be Christ.

Cliche #9: “Jesus died for your sins.”

My Alternative: “God is totally perfect and set apart from His creation (i.e., holy). Because of this perfection and holiness, whenever we sin, we act in rebellion against Him and violate who He is. Sinning also demonstrates that we are following in the footsteps of Satan, who was the first “sinner.” When Satan sinned, God created hell as a place of eternal punishment for him and his followers; and so, as sinners and followers of Satan, we too deserve his punishment. But when Jesus came to earth, He lived a perfect life before God and died a sinner’s death of crucifixion, despite having never sinned. For those who turn away from their sins and turn to Christ for salvation, God has lovingly accepted Christ’s obedient life and death on the cross in the place of their sinful rebellion and punishment of hell that they deserve.”

Why Does It Matter? 

  • “Jesus died for your sins” assumes the audience understands a lot of very weighty doctrine. I disagree with Piatt here that this phrase should never be used, but I would agree that it should only be used when a very clear groundwork of the gospel has been laid. Christ’s atonement is impossible to grasp without first understanding the concepts of  sin, righteousness, the Law, God’s holiness, and His justice.
  • As I’ve already implied, this sentence totally ignores the all-important concept of justification, which can’t be understood without a firm grasp of the Law and Christ’s righteousness. How will a non-Christian understand this if you pull the “Jesus died for your sins” card on them without first explaining the other, equally important doctrines?
  • [Note: I’m not getting into the discussion of whether or not Christ died for the sins of all people or only of the elect as that isn’t the bigger issue here and wasn’t what Piatt was referring to anyway.]

Cliche #10: “Will all our visitors please stand?”

My Alternative: “I don’t think I’ve met you yet?” [courtesy of Josh Simons]

Why Does It Matter? 

  • Making visitors feel uncomfortable is something that many churches do quite well. Making visitors stand is the best way to make them feel uncomfortable.
  • This is a way that churches try to make it easier on themselves to identify visitors. Why should it be easy? Churches need to do their work to get to know who is (and who is not) a part of their church.
  • Church leaders should not be singling out the visitors from the pulpit. On the contrary, the people in the church should be taught to identify visitors quickly and put the focus on their relationship with them instead of their church attendance.

2011 in review – 10 things i learned

No doubt this post is late. Most people wrote their “2011 review” columns in December. But I guess it just didn’t occur to me until recently that it would be beneficial to me (and maybe others) if I spelled out what a year’s worth of God pursuing me accomplished.

In 2011 I saw a seismic shift in my theological presuppositions. I was raised a fundamentalist, and I saw enough good in fundamentalism that I wanted to remain in those types of churches. That was until I realized that my disagreements with fundamentalism were not just minor ones (as I had always convinced myself) – they were major enough that they were keeping me from growing the way I should. So, for the first time in my life, 2011 saw me in a non-fundamentalist church, and there were many things that I found myself thinking and doing that I had never thought or done before because of my upbringing – and yet many of these things seemed so simple and obvious.

So I say this to warn you that some of what I “learned” will likely be radical to you if you fancy yourself a fundamentalist. For many others, these things will appear incredibly basic, even elementary. With that in mind, let’s begin.

1. Gospel-centeredness. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, one of the main things that drove me out of fundamentalist churches was their teaching of the gospel. To the majority of them, the gospel is something for the unbeliever, and growth through good works is for the believer. I had a significant problem with this works-based model of sanctification (Paul calls it “another gospel” in Galatians), and so I fled to the gospel and found that my growth in Christ is not based on something I must do, but what He has already done.

I had striven my whole life to put on the fruit of the Spirit in my own power – with zero success. I realized that the fruit of the Spirit is something that comes naturally when one looks to the Cross. We love because He first loved us. We have joy because Christ has secured our eternal home for us in heaven. We have peace because God’s wrath has been satisfied by Christ’s death. Think about what an insult it is to our Savior when we feel like we need to conjure up the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Was His death not enough? Is the knowledge of Him and what He accomplished not sufficient for life and godliness? These truths gripped me more than ever this past year, and the result was dramatic.

2. Continuationist but not entirely “charismatic.” My church is continuationist is doctrine and it’s very refreshing to be around Spirit-led people who are pursuing the gifts of the Spirit. This is, in my experience, absent in most churches that teach cessationist pneumatology. As a result, I’ve found myself agreeing with the vast majority of continuationist doctrine.

However, I still don’t know what to think about speaking in tongues and healing. I definitely do not see anywhere in the Bible that clearly teaches that these have ceased, but on the other hand, I do not see them being performed in the same ways that they were in the Early Church. (When was the last time you saw someone healed of a sickness by going under the shadow of someone with the gift of healing?) So the jury is still out for me on how to view these “charismatic gifts.”

3. Biblical fellowship. I never truly understood the importance of Christian fellowship until this year. In many churches I had been involved with, fellowship is having a pot luck meal with the rest of the church. The result was that spiritual growth was strictly a one-on-one thing. In other words, it’s between “you and God” and no one else should be involved with it. If that were the case, then why did Christ institute the Church? Why does the Bible command us to confess our faults to each other? Why does Paul tell us to encourage one other? How are we to bear each other’s burdens? These are things that cannot be accomplished merely in pot luck dinners and church visitation. These are things that should be done throughout the week – encouraging, warning, helping, loving. Spiritual growth does have a “one-on-one” element, but it also has an “us together” element. And I found this past year that I need the latter just as much as I need the former in order to grow.

4. Enjoyable (biblical) worship. Fundamentalism teaches that you should enjoy worship but not too much. You must develop a taste for classical music and 18-19th Century hymns, otherwise you won’t be able to worship properly. For much of my life, I attempted to do this, and I had some success with it. But it always felt shallow. It seemed strange that, even though Scripture never addresses the subject of specific musical styles, this was such an important aspect of worship. Why was it that the music that I was best able to express myself through was so sinful? Why was it that the worship that I most enjoyed allegedly resulted in me “walking in the flesh?”

In reality, I had tossed out that bad doctrine a few years ago, but it wasn’t until this past year that I actually began visiting churches that had a biblical view of worship. It was remarkable what a difference it made when I was able to enjoy worship for the first time. It was no longer just a part of the Sunday service but a crucial time of offering my praise back to God.

Now, worship is one of the highlights of my week. In fact, when my wife and I went on vacation last year, we actually went out of our way to find a good church to attend on the Sunday we were out, drove over an hour to visit it, and loved every moment of it. In past vacations, attending a church service would have been absurd. This time, it felt like our week would’ve been incomplete without worship.

5. Loving parenting. Being a parent is hard. Being a loving one is even harder. Many times this past year I found myself responding to my daughter in the flesh. It’s the easy thing to do. When something goes wrong, get angry, yell, and put the child in her place. But this model of parenting isn’t what we find in the gospel. God is our loving Father who graciously shows mercy and love to us in our rebellion. This is still something I have to constantly grow in, but what I learned in 2011 was an important first step.

6. Bible reading/study programs. There are many Bible reading programs out there, but all of them involve one thing – time. The Bible is no small piece of literature – a compilation of 66 books which each have their own unique message but which also depend on each other to comprise the larger message of the gospel.

This creates a challenge because each book contains so much depth that it is virtually impossible to understand one book without camping out in it and studying it for days, weeks, or even months. But at the same time, you cannot understand that book without understanding the other 65 books. So you must choose your poison – either study one book at length to the detriment of the others or read through all of them relatively quickly to both the advantage and detriment of each of them.

However, in 2011 I found what I believe to be the best possible compromise – a read-through-the-Bible-in-90-days plan that exposes a person to the entirety of Scripture but still leaves 9 months to study several books in depth. It’s certainly a challenge to stay on a plan like that, but it is much more beneficial than a “camp out on one book” plan that ignores the rest of Scripture or a “read the Bible in one year plan” which has just enough daily reading to make it difficult to study in depth but not enough to give you a big picture overview of the book.

Many people object that 90 days forces you to read through the Bible too quickly to digest what you’re reading. I 100% disagree. I feel like that is the perfect amount of time for catching on to some of the major themes and ideas that the authors were trying to communicate. Many, if not all the books of the Bible were written under the assumption that the audience would read through them quickly. As such, there are many things that you pick up on reading through a book in 1, 2, or 3 days that you would not pick up on in 10 days. If there is something you don’t understand that you would like to camp out on, you can make a note of it and come back to it after the 90 days is up. You still have 9 more months for in depth study!

7. Bible audio. One thing I did more of this past year than ever before was to listen to audio of the Bible. I always shied away from it because I liked to have the option of taking time to stop and think about a verse or passage that struck me, and I didn’t think listening to an audio recording would allow that.

However, what I learned from this experience is that much of the Bible makes for great listening. The majority of the Bible was written as a narrative/story and the authors probably intended that their stories would be read aloud. I found that there were many things that I never picked up on when reading a passage that I did pick up on when listening to it. There were several, “Ohhh, that’s why that happened!” moments that occurred as I listened to the books.

And really, the same thing is true of some of the “meatier,” deeper books – most notably, the epistles. Many, of them were written with the intention that they would be read allowed to a local church body. (If you look closely, you will see references to this throughout the Bible, such as in Revelation where John commends those who both “read aloud” and “hear” the book.) So while there is good reason to read and study a passage in depth, parsing each noun and conjugating each verb, many passages were ultimately written with a listener-audience in mind.

8. More reformed. I’ve had a more reformed theology of salvation since high school, but only recently have I started questioning dispensational eschatology as well. Having always been taught dispensationalism, some of the nuances of reformed theology are a little foreign to me, but the more I learn it, the more I find myself embracing it. I do not currently consider myself amillennial, but maybe in the near future I will. There is still much studying that I must do on the subject before I fully come to my own conclusions.

9. Knowing less than before. In many ways I feel like I know less than I did last year. That’s not because I have forgotten a substantial amount during that time (although that may be true). It’s more of a mentality shift, and it’s built on the foundation that Christians (myself included) tend to be more dogmatic on many relatively inconsequential issues than Scripture is. The Bible says a lot, but it also doesn’t say a lot.

For instance, Genesis says that God created the world and poetically depicts Yahweh as speaking creation into existence in 6 days. Did Moses intend for his audience to interpret that literally or is there a more figurative significance? (Maybe the “speaking” the world into existence signifies the ease with which God created everything, or maybe the “6 days” was intended to be more of an allusion to the work week (and subsequent Sabbath Day of rest) than it was an actual time stamp on God’s creative labors.) I tend to learn towards the more literal understanding of Genesis 1-2, but the reality is that Moses explains the entire creation of the cosmos in 2 short chapters, and he clearly does not intend for his readers to analyze these chapters scientifically (yikes). Shouldn’t that lead us to be a little less dogmatic on how it all happened, considering that there are clearly an abundance of details left out from this creation narrative? The answer is: yes. And I don’t feel like that’s a heretical response, as long as you believe in the one part of the narrative that is clear – that God created the world on His own the way He wanted to. Ultimately, that’s what all the debate over Genesis 1-2 is about anyway.

So whereas in the past I would staunchly challenge those who disagreed with my interpretations of passages, such as Genesis 1-2, now I find myself becoming less certain that I am right and those who disagree with me are wrong. The reality is that no one is right 100% of the time – not even theologians. I think it’s better to recognize that up front instead of having to learn it the hard way.

10. Conservatism vs. Christ-likeness. Maybe the most drastic change in my thinking occurred when it finally sunk in that I could be extremely conservative and yet know nothing of Christ. The Pharisees were probably the most conservative people of their day, and yet their conservatism became sin because they elevated it above the clear teachings of Scripture.

As I began to meditate on this, it became clear that many times the most conservative choice is not the most biblical one. Was Christ conservative in the way He approached the Sabbath Day? Clearly not. Read the OT Sabbath laws and then read what Christ did on the Sabbath. Many of the things He did appear to be blatant violations of Scripture, but that was ok because He recognized the big picture and understood that slavishly conservative adherence to Sabbath law was not what God was looking for.

What is wrong in large doses might be right in smaller ones. What is wrong in some circumstances might be right in others. What is wrong to one person might be right to another one. Obedience to God isn’t a formula. You can’t just assume that it’s always best to be conservative, to play it safe. Christ didn’t play it safe. He didn’t just do the most conservative thing all the time. He did things that caused others to call him a drunkard, a glutton, a friend of prostitutes, and demon-possessed! And if Christ-likeness looks to some like gluttony, then I hope someday to be accused of being the most gluttonous person alive.

someone worth dying for?

Our society lives for positive messages. We love to hear that we’re held in high esteem, that things are looking up, that the economy is improving, that others love us, that God has a plan for us. These types of messages are in high demand – just turn on TV or the radio or swing by Barnes and Noble and look at some of the best-sellers out there. We want to hear people say things that make us feel good. That’s just a part of our nature.

Christian song-writers have picked up on this, and some of the top hits on Christian radio today are feel-good messages. This in itself is not a bad thing since Scripture is filled with many promises and encouraging passages that are intended to make God’s people feel good about their faith and their lives. But there is a danger here – the danger is when a feel-good message violates the message of the gospel.

The way I see it, there are three kinds of feel-good messages/songs. The first one operates on the assumption that I should feel good because I am good. It could be a song that simply praises a person (e.g., You Raise Me Up) or that encourages them that, even though they don’t feel good right at that moment, it ultimately doesn’t matter because they are good on the inside. The second type of feel-good message operates on the assumption that my life is about to get much better. For example, “You may be down and out now, but things will be getting better soon; so keep your head up!” The final feel-good message is the only one of the three centered on the gospel. This one operates on the assumption that I have nothing in myself, but in Christ I have everything. Whereas the first two focus on the presence of good apart from Christ, this final one emphasizes that the good in a person’s life comes only through Christ, and through this truth it drives home the message of encouragement.

Practically speaking there is a lot of overlap between the different feel-good messages, but it’s the perspective that ultimately determines whether the message is gospel-centered or not. For instance, you might say to a believer who was recently laid off, “Don’t worry. Things will get better. Just fight through the difficulty now, and eventually you’ll see the silver lining on the storm clouds.” Or you might say, “Don’t worry. God is in control, and He has promised that in His saving work all things happen in perfect harmony with His plan to make you more like Christ, even though you may not currently see how that is possible.”

Both of these messages of encouragement at their core are saying the same thing – don’t worry about what you’re going through now because, although you can’t see it, something good will come out of it later – but where they differ is in perspective. The first one is inherently man-centered because all of the focus is on the subject who is experiencing difficulty. The second one is inherently Christ-centered because all of the focus is on His work of salvation. The first one is grounded on an assumption that things will improve. The second one is grounded on the truth of the gospel. The first one fails to encourage because it brings about more questions than answers – What kind of better circumstances will I experience? When will it happen? How will I know when it comes?  The second one succeeds at encouraging because it challenges us to confront the questions we have with biblical doctrine – God’s sovereignty, His love for us, His plan for us in sanctification, His ultimate goal for us in glorification, etc.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy for us to blur the lines between gospel-centered and man-centered encouragement. A few months ago, I was listening to Christian radio and a new single by Mikeschair came on called Someone Worth Dying For. Here are the lyrics to the chorus of the song:

Am I more than flesh and bone?
Am I really something beautiful?
Yeah, I wanna believe, I wanna believe that
I’m not just some wandering soul
That you don’t see and you don’t know
Yeah I wanna believe, Jesus help me believe that I
Am someone worth dying for

The end of the song rounds out with repeating, “You’re someone worth dying for.”

Now, my goal is not to attack Mikeschair in this. I can’t be 100% sure what they were trying to communicate through this song. It is very possibly that, in an effort to make the lyrics fit a certain standard for rhyme or meter, the message they were trying to communicate was distorted.  But unfortunately, not knowing their motives, I can only look at it and tell you that to me it communicates something that is very anti-gospel. The entire message of Scripture is that humans are sinners, not worthy of heaven or God, but that Christ in his great mercy, while we were dead in our sins, came to earth and paid the penalty of our sins and made us righteous so that we could be fellowship with Him. So, to echo Mikeschair, yeah, I wanna believe that I’m someone worth dying for, but Scripture doesn’t allow me to do that. The encouragement of the gospel isn’t that I’m worthy for salvation but that Christ saved me despite my unworthiness.

The sad thing is that currently this song is #12 on the Christian music chart and has been on the chart now for 23 weeks. Is this the kind of message that Christians need to encourage themselves with? Am I supposed to console myself with feel-good words of my own worthiness before the cross of Christ?

Allow me to present an alternative. Tenth Avenue North came out with a song last year called You Are More that is very similar but seeks to encourage a Christian from a gospel perspective. Here is the chorus and bridge of the song:

You are more than the choices that you’ve made,
You are more than the sum of your past mistakes,
You are more than the problems you create,
You’ve been remade.

‘Cause this is not about what you’ve done,
But what’s been done for you.
This is not about where you’ve been,
But where your brokenness brings you to

This is not about what you feel,
But what He felt to forgive you,
And what He felt to make you loved.

What a refreshing change of perspective! It’s not about me but about Him. It reminds me of what John the Baptist said: “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

In order to encourage one another from the gospel we must do a lot of decreasing. We are nothing. God is everything. We are temporal. He is eternal. We are sinful. He is gracious. We deserve death. He gives us life. If every good thing we have comes from the Father through Christ, then how could we possibly be encouraged by lesser things? Ultimately, the only true encouragement that we can have is when we look to Christ. It’s not about us but about Him.

…when babies die…

It’s a question that comes up over and over again, a topic for theological debate that students have pondered over for years, a source of doubt in God for some, and a source of anger towards God for others. It’s a question that the Bible never asks, and, if there is a place in Scripture where God answers it, He only does so indirectly. It’s a question that many Christians (and non-Christians) find troubling because it strikes an emotional chord in such a way that very few other theological debates are capable of. It is a question that has afflicted many parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers, siblings, friends, spouses, old people, young people, and just about everyone else in between.

Where do babies go when they die?

Answering this question is extremely difficult because it strikes right at the heart of the paradox of God. God’s holiness means that all flesh is guilty before Him, but doesn’t His justice mean that He is totally fair? God will not accept those who do not trust in Christ for their salvation, but what about those who are incapable of accepting or rejecting Him? God predestines some to eternal life without there being any way for us to understand whom He chooses or why, but are there any groups of people that we can confidently say that He always chooses for eternal life, regardless of any other circumstances?

All of these questions are difficult and none is explicitly answered in Scripture. Yet, your position on the eternal destination of babies that die is in large part informed by which direction you lean with these paradoxes (and others).

So where do we begin when trying to answer this seemingly morbid question? To start, as a Christian, there must be three possible answers to where babies go when they die: heaven, hell, or nowhere. And before we go any deeper into this question, it is important to note that that last option – nowhere – has no scriptural support. Throughout Scripture the afterlife is viewed as a time of judgment resulting in eternal life for some and eternal damnation for others – there is no third option. There is no in-between state.

Now a person may argue that a baby’s soul, like his/her body, has not fully developed, resulting in there being no eternal state for them. But if we are going to look at this scripturally, then we must point out that there are several passages in Scripture that indicate that God views a baby (even an unborn one) as much more than just an undeveloped child. In fact, there are verses in both the OT and NT that go so far as to say that God calls unborn children to salvation and sanctification (Isa 49:1; Jer 1:5; Gal 1:15), and there is never any indication in Scripture that God views a baby any differently than He does an adult when it comes to process of salvation.

So here we are again – back at square one. When babies die, do they go to heaven or hell? It’s incredibly important at this point for me to once again reiterate that the Bible does not answer this question directly. However, there are theological conclusions that we can draw that can inform what we believe on this subject – conclusions that can be derived from biblical and systematic theology.

So what are some of these conclusions? (Note: I fully recognize that I am pulling these conclusions from my own, generally reformed theological frame of reference. Also note that this list is representative, not exhaustive.)

  1. Original sin – Adam, as the head of the human race, committed the one sin that renders man guilty of hell (Rom 5:12).
  2. God’s sovereignty over salvation – God is not passive in the salvation process. He is the one who draws people to Himself (Eph 1:3-10).
  3. Man’s free will in salvation – Although God is sovereign, man still bears the responsibility to accept or reject Christ (John 3:18).
  4. Faith in Christ – The only way to be saved from sin is through faith in Christ (Eph 2:8-9).
  5. Justification – Salvation isn’t just about cleansing from sin (although that is clearly part of it); it is also about completely obeying God’s Law. Even if a person were to never commit a sin, s/he would also have to fully obey God’s Law in order to be accepted in God’s presence for eternity. Sinlessness alone isn’t enough. Sinless righteousness is what is required, and this only comes through faith in Christ, who lived the sinless, righteous life on man’s behalf (Rom 10:1-17).
  6. Age of accountability – The way this doctrine is typically taught is more manmade than biblical. However, the Bible does indicate that there is an age at which a child has not yet learned how to choose between good and evil (Isa 7:16a).
  7. God’s mercy – God desires all to be saved. He is not happy about people going to hell (2 Pet 3:9b; 1 Tim 2:3-4).

You can see by this list that some theological presuppositions would seem to indicate that God would send all babies to heaven, and others seem to indicate that this is unlikely. There are many different angles to look at, and ultimately, none of them gives us a complete answer to the question of where deceased babies go. The Bible simply isn’t clear on this subject, and anyone who says that it is clear is either naive or willfully deceptive.

That said, there is one major part of this discussion that I have intentionally overlooked up to this point – the narrative in 2 Sam 12:15ff on the death of David’s son. This story has taken center stage in the discussion of babies’ deaths, with many using it to “prove” that babies must go to heaven. The logic behind this argument is as follows:

  1. David found comfort in his child’s death. This only makes sense if the child went to heaven.
  2. David says about the child, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” This only makes sense if the child went to heaven, since David was clearly not planning to go to hell himself.
Now I admit that this argument appears reasonable on the outside, but when you dig a little bit deeper, you find that there are a great deal of logical flaws.
  1. We do not know the precise age of the child when he died. It is quite common in the OT narratives for many years to pass in between verses without any indication of the time lapse. So to assume that the child is a baby and not 6 or 7 years old is just that – an assumption that is unprovable scripturally.
  2. David’s concept of the afterlife would have been quite rudimentary, at best. His “Bible” would have been the Pentateuch, which hardly mentions the afterlife, and the precise doctrines of heaven and hell don’t appear in Scripture until Jesus’ teaching in the NT. It is very hard to know for sure what David thought would happen when he (or anyone else) died.
  3. The most common way of referring to the afterlife in the OT was the word sheol, which usually has the loose meaning of “the grave.” It may very well be that this is what David is thinking when he says, “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” In other words, “I cannot bring him back from the grave. I can only join him in the grave.”
  4. In connection to the previous point, a very similar verse is Genesis 37:35, where Jacob, mourning the alleged death of Joseph, says, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” I see two reasons why this cross-reference is important: a) because sheol has a very negative connotation here (which is inappropriate if Jacob were referring to heaven), and b) because Jacob is not comforted by the idea of being united with Joseph in sheol. Similarly, David’s statement of “I shall go to him, but he will not return to me” may not be so much a statement of comfort as it is one of resignation to the reality that sheol was now the only way for him to be united with his son.

As you can see, it is quite difficult to use the 2 Samuel 12 narrative to prove or disprove anything in this argument. God did not place that story in Scripture for the purpose of telling us what happens to a baby’s soul when s/he dies, and so it’s best that we not do this either.

So what now? How do we answer this question of what happens when babies die? Where do we turn for comfort in such a tragedy as a miscarriage or SID?

The answer is actually quite simple.

We tend to look at a baby’s death as something different than an adult’s death, and in many ways it is different. In this discussion, the key difference is that a baby is incapable of making a conscious choice of faith in Jesus Christ; so it is hard for us to rationalize how God could punish such an “innocent” child.

But there is one important similarity between a baby’s death and an adult’s death. That similarity comes when the child or adult closes his eyes for the final time on earth and passes into eternity. Both must stand before God. Both must give an account. And both will receive their eternal judgment from God – He who is totally holy, just, loving, and merciful. He who punishes the guilty but rewards the righteous. He who does all things right and operates on a level of wisdom that none of us will ever be able to comprehend. Yes, the person who dies, be it an adult or child, must stand before his Creator, and then it is up to God to decide what to do.

Jesus, seemed to be recognizing this reality as He died on the cross and uttered these words of faith: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” God, here I come. My soul is Yours. I have no power over what is coming next, but into Your hands I commit it all, and I trust You to do what is best.

We often forget that we must do this every time a person dies. As Christians we tend to think that once a person gets saved it’s a “done deal.” Salvation is like a ticket to a baseball game – you either have it or you don’t, and if you do, you’ve got nothing to worry about because you’ll get in without any problem.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not suggesting that Christians should be concerned or scared about entering the afterlife. What I’m saying is that the faith that we have in Christ for salvation comes to a climax at death because of how unknown the afterlife is to us. None of us has seen God. None of us has experienced heaven or hell. None of us knows what happens on the other side. Eternity is entirely unknowable and uncontrollable to us.

This is why it takes so much faith to see a loved one leave earth. We have so many questions that are left unanswered. What are they doing right now? What do they look like? How do they feel? These are questions that we have no choice but to commit to God because, ultimately, we really don’t know what happens when a person passes into eternity. We are 100% reliant on God to fulfill the promises of His Word and to do it in a way that is loving and gracious to us and our loved ones. We, like Jesus on the cross, must commit their souls to God. He is the One to whom they are accountable. He is the One who knows everything that they did and did not do in their lives. He is the One who gave His Son to save them from sin and hell. And only He has the power to choose the final destiny of their soul.

So when a baby passes into eternity? Really, the end result is the same. God in His omniscience and wisdom must make a decision on what to do with his/her soul. Although He hasn’t chosen to tell us what that decision is, we know that it is totally just, loving, gracious, holy, wise, and right. How could it be otherwise – He is God! And because He is God, we can cry out, Father, into your hands I commit this child’s spirit. I trust in You to do what is right with his soul. You give and You take away according to Your great wisdom. Blessed be Your Name.