How Serious Was Jesus About Turning the Other Cheek?

“Turn the other cheek.” Such a nice little cliché these days. Of course, these words come from the very mouth of God in Jesus Christ, so we should take them as having the utmost importance. Do we take them that way?

In modern American culture, we really act as though “turning the other cheek” were a joke. We would never laugh at or degrade the command, but our attitudes and advice betray us. What do I mean? For an example, let’s take a trip to Nickelodeon.

On Nickelodeon shows (think iCarly or Victorious), there is a recurring theme. The “good guys” (i.e. some of the main characters) are often wronged by the “bad guys” (random other characters, usually slightly less likable). So what do the main characters, who serve more or less as examples to the kids watching the shows, do in response? They get payback. Often with silly and elaborate plans, they avenge themselves and make fools of their enemies. And are they punished, reprimanded, or in any way shown as wrong for doing so? Never. Instead they are displayed as gloriously vindicated. Sweet revenge, on Nickelodeon, is a perfectly acceptable response to being wronged.

This is, of course, not limited to Nick. The same idea is present in mainstream TV for more grown up audiences, in their sitcoms and dramas. Even Disney has been picking up this revenge plot in recent years. And these shows are not setting the standard which the culture is prone to follow (unlike in certain other social issues like, to an extent, homosexuality), but instead reflect with at least some degree of accuracy the values of the people. Only a quick perusal of Facebook or a few minutes of eavesdropping (on people almost any age) is enough to see how ready and willing people are to stick up for their honor and hurt others. When people insult you, respond with a worse insult. If someone does you wrong, don’t let them get away unpunished. There is no thought to turning the other cheek.

You can even see this among Christians in ways just like the world, or sometimes in unique ways that are particularly detestable since they bear the name of our Lord Jesus. Consider the obnoxious, rude, and sinful bumper sticker with a cross which says, “If this offends you now, what until you see it at final judgment!” That attitude is nothing less than fleshly revenge against a world Jesus already told us would ridicule His people.

Of course, Jesus refuses to let us do any of this. Defending your own honor, getting revenge, or responding to people with insult are all clearly a violation of what Jesus said here:

You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I tell you, don’t resist an evildoer. On the contrary, if anyone slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Matthew 5:38-39

Remember that being slapped on the cheek isn’t really as much of a physical attack as an insult. Slapping someone in the face is a way to spite them. And what does Jesus say? When our reputation, honor, skills, or character are insulted or ridiculed, how should we respond? Turn the other cheek. Getting even, insult for insult and humiliation for humiliation, is explicitly forbidden. Instead, we are commanded to let them be. Do not retaliate. Don’t even bother sticking up for yourself. And why should we, anyway? There is no reason but pride. If an insult is true, we should simply listen and graciously acknowledge our fault. But if an insult is false, why bother responding? God will vindicate His people on His own time in His own way.

Despite the “amens” this might receive, Jesus’ command here is a completely countercultural idea. Our culture (along with most cultures throughout history) demands that we stick up for ourselves, defend our honor, and pay back those who wrong us. But Jesus calls us higher, to a better culture of love. In this culture, we do not get even, because vengeance is the Lord’s. Nothing we can do to a person compares to the judgment they receive from God for their sin, a judgment Jesus Himself took on the Cross. Indeed, responding to an insult with anything but kindness is an insult to God, which says to Him, “You didn’t do a good enough job judging their sin. Jesus didn’t suffer enough to cover an insult to me! In fact, I am more important than You are, since Jesus did not retaliate to those who insulted Him but remained silent.” That attitude is messed up.

So let’s review the calling: don’t bother defending yourself from people who insult you. Do not pay back anyone who wrongs you. Basically, don’t put any effort into showing that you are in the right, because if you are in the right, you have this word from God:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: “’Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay’, says the Lord.”

Romans 12:19

Instead, pray this prayer:

Vindicate me, LORD my God, in keeping with Your righteousness, and do not my enemies rejoice over me.

Psalm 35:24

(Heads up: “How Serious Was Jesus About…” will be an ongoing series.)

May God Destroy You and Your Children

Isn’t the Bible so wonderful? Day after day, we are presented on Facebook with the many inspiring and heart-warming promises and truths from the Good Book. We all know them. We can be confident in all our pursuits since “I am able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Never do we need to worry about the future, because Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you—this is the Lord’s declaration—plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.”

Yes indeed, we have many sweet hopes to cling to in the Bible. But not everything is quite like you’d think. Truthfully, most of the pretty little quotes we pull out of the Bible—especially the Old Testament—and put on pillows are arbitrarily ripped out of context. They sound nice, so we use them without paying any attention to the who, what, when, where, and why behind them. This, however, isn’t an entirely appropriate way to handle God’s written word.

To see what I mean, think about verses like these:

Let his children wander as beggars, searching for food far from their demolished homes. Let a creditor seize all he has; let strangers plunder what he has worked for.

Psalm 109:10-11

Happy is he who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rocks.

Psalm 137:9

I will bring distress on mankind, and they will walk like the blind because they have sinned against the Lord. Their blood will be poured out like dust and their flesh like dung.

Zephaniah 1:17

Indeed, I am about to send snakes among you, poisonous vipers that cannot be charmed. They will bite you. This is the Lord’s declaration.

Jeremiah 8:17

You will eat your children, the flesh of your sons and daughters the Lord your God has given you during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you. The most sensitive and refined man among you will look grudgingly at his brother, the wife he embraces, and the rest of his children, refusing to share with any of them his children’s flesh that he will eat because he has nothing left during the siege and hardship your enemy imposes on you in all your towns.

Deuteronomy 28:53-55

None of these have quite the same inspirational quality, do they? They’re actually a bit scary and difficult. But without context, there’s no less reason to think that these apply to us than that the happy stuff does. What, after all, makes Jeremiah 8:17 different from Jeremiah 29:11?

So what? Are we, again especially with the Old Testament, forbidden from quoting anything to encourage? Clearly not. Paul does this himself on multiple occasions. But if we can do encouraging quotes rightly, how do we do so?

Basically, the key word is context. We have to pay attention to the who, what, when, where, and why. To make my point simple, I’ll just dive into two examples.

First, an example of my scary verses. Deuteronomy 28:53-55 speaks of God sending such a harsh judgment that people in their distress will resort to eating their own children, and even then not sharing any with others. So what’s the context? Can this be applied to us? In the passage’s original place in Deuteronomy, God is declaring the blessings and curses of the Old Covenant to Israel. If they obeyed His laws, they would receive many blessings. If they disobeyed, they would receive many curses, including this one. Of course, we modern Gentile believers are not under the Old Covenant, but the New Covenant in Christ (Heb. 9:15). There are no curses in the New Covenant (Rom. 8:1, Gal. 3:13). This means this passage clearly is not about us.

There is, however, a twist. Even though this passage does not directly apply to us, such a harsh judgment does reveal the intensity and severity of God’s condemnation against sin. How serious must disobedience be if God even punished Israel by letting their enemies terrorize them so much that they ate their children? And if God would provide such a punishment to those who received only types and shadows, how much greater will those who refuse the fully revealed salvation of God’s only Son be punished (cf. Heb. 2:2-3)? Moreover, if Jesus bore the full wrath of God for our sin, how much of a sacrifice must that have been! So even though this passage isn’t directly about us, there are applications which affect us.

Now for an example of thinking context through for the happy verses. I’ll take Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you…” What was the original context of this verse? Jeremiah was writing a letter to the Jews who were exiled in Babylon. In verse 10, he told them that God promised to bring them back to Israel after 70 years. The good plans involved Israel’s return to the promised land. God’s judgment, the Exile, was not His last word, because His plans were for their good. Again, then, we run into a verse which is not directly about us. Jeremiah 29:11 was written to and for exiled Jews in Babylon to reassure them of God’s promise to bring them back to Israel. We are obviously not in the same situation, so this verse is not about us.

Even still, there is clearly a way that this verse can be applied to us. We who are the Church are the true Israel, according to the New Testament. We are not at home in this broken age; we are exiles waiting for our restoration when God makes the New Heavens and New Earth. And God has promised to do this, to bring us safely home to the recreation of the new age. He will indeed resurrect us just as He did His beloved Son, who brought the beginning of the kingdom to the world. Like the exiled Jews, God is promising to bring us safely home. For “we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Therefore Jeremiah 29:11 can actually be applied to us as well, just in a secondary way.

Hopefully these two examples are helpful. The Bible is filled with texts which were written neither to us nor about us, but all of them were still written for our benefit (2 Tim. 3:16-17). When we look at the Scriptures, we must be discerning, rightly dividing the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Many verses are not directly to us, but they do have wider applications which affect us. This is especially the case when looking at the Old Testament. Only context (both the immediate context and the context within the whole story of the Bible) can tell us exactly what is for, about, or to us. So let’s keep that in mind, that we may be approved by God.

Happy Resurrection Day! (Or, Why Easter Rocks)

Happy Easter, everyone! Today is that marvelous day when we all sing of one reality: He is risen! The Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, rose from the dead on this day around 2000 years ago. As it is written, “God raised Him from the dead.”

Today, I do not feel the need to correct any errors, at least directly, because the Resurrection is a reality of what is right and good. Easter is for happy celebration, so correction feels out of place. I do, however, want to simply highlight some of the great truths about the Resurrection, so that we can rejoice in and meditate on them for this Easter day. Without further ado, let’s remember what the Resurrection means for us:

The Resurrection means that our physical bodies will be resurrected. If anything is clear from Jesus rising, we can know that His rising is the cause and the guarantee of ours (John 14:19, Rom. 6:5, 8, 1 Cor. 15:20-23, 2 Cor. 4:14). Our salvation can never be complete without our bodily resurrection, because God made us to have bodies, and in fact if we don’t physically rise from the dead through Christ then we are still lost in our sins (cf. 1 Cor. 15)! But praise be to God that He has raised our Lord from the dead, so that all us of who die in Him will be resurrected just like He was (Rom. 6:8). And when we are resurrected, we will receive the eternal life of knowing God, and His Son whom He has sent (John 17:3, 1 John 5:20).

The Resurrection means that we are forever united to God in intimate fellowship through Jesus. Jesus was and is the God-man, the one person who holds together in Himself both divine (Col. 2:9) and human nature (1 Jn. 4:2). He is completely God and completely human united together in His very being. So because He carried that closeness through His entire human life and death, in the end to come out victorious risen, God and humanity are forever reconciled! Jesus Himself is the one Mediator (1 Tim. 2:5), the person with one foot in God’s life (John 1:1) and the other in our human life (Heb. 2). By the power of an unending life (Heb. 7:6) He forever keeps us in the Father’s presence. For we are in Christ (Rom. 8:1, 12:5, 1 Cor. 1:30) the Son, and the Son is in the Father (John 17:21), and the Father is in the Son (John 17:23).

The Resurrection means we are justified, brought into a right standing before God. The Bible tells us that Jesus was raised for our justification (Rom. 4:25). Even though we were sinners before God, condemned in His sight, Jesus took on our sin (2 Cor. 5:21), died, and then rose. This was the final act needed to make us right in God’s sight, for by coming back from the dead Jesus gave us a new life not under law and its condemning powers. For whoever has died is free from the law (Rom. 7:1, 4), and in coming back to life Jesus brought us a new life apart from the law (7:6). This means there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:1). By raising Jesus from the dead, the Father stamped His approval on Christ’s entire life and work of salvation (Acts 5:3-32, 17:31), meaning we are certainly now righteous in His sight.

The Resurrection means that all creation will be redeemed and made new. Jesus did not rise just to give us new life, but in fact He did this to restore the whole universe! As we see in Romans 8:19-23, creation itself is eagerly waiting for the Spirit to restore the world to glorious freedom (and at this point Paul’s already established the connection between the Spirit’s regenerating work and Christ’s resurrection). Jesus reconciles all things in heaven and earth to God (Col. 1:20), even the broken creation, which will be put through the fire (2 Pet. 3:10-13) to become a new creation (Rev. 21:1). All this is accomplished by the Resurrection of the Son of God.

How can I even conclude reflecting on such a wonderful truth? I’ll let Paul do it for me. Since Jesus rose from the dead:

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare His own Son but offered Him up for us all; how will He not also with Him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the One who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the One who died, but even more, has been raised; He also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Romans 8:31-39

Faith and Works, Plus a Bar Fight

The Fight

A Catholic bishop and a Presbyterian preacher walk into a bar. Seeing that they were both teachers of Scripture, they began talking theology over drinks. The discussion soon got heated when they got to the topic of justification by faith. Before anyone knew what had happened, both men lay dead on the floor, beaten and bruised.

In an instant they found themselves before God. They were told by an angel to be patient while God prepares to declare their destinies. But they couldn’t control themselves and blurted out, “Who was right, Lord? Are we justified instantly by faith alone or progressively by faith and works?”

Immediately God responded, “Neither of you are justified by either faith or works, for in your dispute you’ve both proven not to be my children! Depart from me, you workers of iniquity, for I never knew you.”

Just-As-If-I’d Never Sinned

What is the point of this little story? Well, it doesn’t have much of one, I just wanted to start with a story, especially if I could use the classic bar setup. But it is related to the topic of this post, namely the relationship between faith, works, and justification.

From an average Protestant perspective, we have the doctrine of sola fide, aka justification by faith alone. In this account, while we start legally on the hook for our sin and guilty in God’s court, when we put our faith in Christ God immediately declares us righteous, giving us a not-guilty verdict and acquitting us of the charges against us. Thus we are saved from God’s wrath. From that point on our faith naturally produces works through the Spirit.

From a Catholic perspective (which I hope I am presenting accurately), justification is a state bound up with sanctification (becoming holy). When we become Christians, we start becoming sanctified and so also justified because God infuses us with grace that creates faith and works if we are willing to make use of it. As we make use of God’s grace provided through the Holy Spirit, we become more holy and therefore find ourselves increasingly in right standing before God. In most people, though, death comes before we are completely holy and completely justified, so we must undergo cleansing in Purgatory until the process is complete.

The Part Where I Define Stuff

What both of these positions have in common is underlying grace. For the usual Protestant view of sola fide, we can only be acquitted because Jesus takes our condemnation for us out of sheer, undeserved grace. We can’t earn His sacrifice, but merely say “yes” to it. Likewise for the Catholic, we can only be sanctified and justified by grace. All of our faith and works which justify us can be traced back to God’s grace provided through the Spirit.

Of course, it is important to consider what faith and works are to discuss this issue. We can’t think of faith as just plain belief, thinking something is true. After all, even the demons have that kind of faith, and they are doomed. Saving faith, according to James especially, is an active thing which demands to be made real through works. Without works, we are taught, faith is dead and useless, totally incapable of justifying anyone.

What are works, though? That depends what we’re talking about. Works can usually refer to three things: actions which are done in order to fulfill the Law, anything good anyone does at all, or the good things we do by the power of the Holy Spirit. The first kind is the mostly blatantly ruled out as having anything to do with justification. Paul goes on and on about how following the Law can’t fix anything. All Christians must categorically deny the possibility of being justified by keeping the Law to avoid falling under Paul’s stern condemnation of the Judaizers.

The other two kinds of works are where things get less clear cut. There is a difference between works we manufacture on our own to be good and works the Spirit creates in us. The former is clearly excluded from justification when Paul rules out all boasting in our own righteousness. If we are saved, we do not get credit. No one can say that he earned or performed his own way into a right standing with God, otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

On the other hand, there are the good deeds done because of the Holy Spirit living in us. Most Protestants would still deny that these have any role in our justification, even though they come solely by God’s grace. Proponents of something called the New Perspective on Paul would generally argue that these works do play into our final justification, but that even then we are promised this end when we believe. Catholics would include all these good works in the process of becoming holy, which is what carries our justification.

Speaking Different Languages

Much of the divide between Protestants and Catholics, but not all of it, on justification can be traced back to miscommunication regarding these three kinds of works. When the average Protestant hears the Catholic say we are justified by both faith and works, he assumes the first and/or second kind of works, so they hear “We are justified by faith and keeping the Law” or “we are justified by faith and our own efforts to do good.” When Catholics hear us claim that justification comes apart from works, many hear that people who live fruitless lives of clearly dead faith will be saved as long as they agree with the facts of the Gospel.

So when we understand faith as a living, active, life-changing kind of belief, the kind of trust in Jesus which bears fruit through the Holy Spirit, there are indeed many Catholics who would more or less agree that this faith alone justifies. Likewise, if we understand the works Catholics say contribute to justification as the good we do because of the Holy Spirit in us, caused entirely by grace, then while not all Protestants would agree, most would drop the charge of a “work your way to heaven” heresy.

Neither position is without its weaknesses, though. Sola fide will never quite feel snuffly fitting with James 2 (especially verse 24), and it actually does lead and has led many people to think that fruitless “Christians” are assured of salvation, or that believing facts and praying a prayer are enough. The Catholic view I think sometimes stumbles through Paul and lends itself to many abuses, such as legalism, self-righteousness, performance-based spirituality, and even superstition in combination with any ambiguous form of their sacramental theology.

Resetting the Focus: Grace is a Person, Not a Thing

I, personally, take a step back from the standard Protestant and Catholic views to focus on what—actually who—they have in common. We all agree that Jesus is the true cause of our salvation and that we owe it all to Him. When it comes to the issue of justification, Jesus already lived a life of perfect faith and perfect works in our place. He trusted the Father, did good deeds, kept the Law, and made all around flawless performance on our behalf. When we meet Him in the Gospel through the Holy Spirit, all we do is nothing. By simply not resisting Him, we are spiritually united to Him, with His own faith coming into our hearts and His own works flowing out through our hands. Christ Himself is the grace behind all faith and works we do. Jesus’ life flows into us through faith and out of us through works.

In this way, we receive both justification and sanctification from Jesus’ own innocent status and perfect holiness. In one moment we are united to Christ in faith and so become right with God and set apart for Him, while we spend the rest of our lives being transformed to live Christ’s right life before God and become purely holy all the way through.

I think if we keep Jesus the main thing, looking at it all through the light of His own person and work instead of impersonal versions of grace, faith, justification, and holiness, then we’re in good shape. While I do think sola fide, when given proper nuance and focus, is a superior way to speak of our right standing before God over the Catholic articulation, that is secondary to saying our salvation is all of Christ. In the end what matters is if we agree that we are accepted not because we are worthy in ourselves, but because of what Christ has done and still does for us, in us, and through us. Amen?

All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Romans 3:24

(I am aware, my more theologically minded readers, that I did not really interact with at least one other important view on justification, namely the New Perspective on Paul, especially as proposed by N. T. Wright. But this post is long enough as it is, and the NPP, while certainly important to this discussion, would not greatly affect what I have to say.)

Why I Defend What I Don’t Believe

If you read my blog, and even more so if you know me in real life, you’ve probably noticed that I tend to be unusually defensive about doctrines I don’t agree with and people I think are wrong. My recent post on Catholicism makes a decent example.

Some might assume this is because I’m secretly leaning to my opponents’ ways or maybe I’m some kind of relativist who thinks everyone’s interpretations are equally valid. Neither of those ideas would be true. Instead, I simply am committed to clarity and charity.

To get what I mean, follow the link below to a blog post on Reformedish. He explains the same behavior in the author of a book I really want called Deviant Calvinism.

Why Argue For a Position You Don’t Hold? Clarifying Crisp’s Deviant Calvinism | Reformedish

Why I’m Still An Evangelical Protestant

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’ll define my terms for any readers who don’t know exactly what Evangelical Protestant refers to. “Protestant” encompasses all churches descended from the Reformation, when Martin Luther and others concluded there was rampant intuitional and doctrinal corruption in the Catholic Church. They tried to reform it, but wound up breaking off into their own churches. Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Pentecostals, and most other non-Catholic churches fall under this label. While there’s a lot of diversity among Protestants, we all agree that the Roman Catholic Church is not the one true church, and that their Pope, Magisterium, and Tradition do not have special/infallible teaching authority.

The other part of this label—”Evangelical”—is harder to give a simple definition for, but really applies to churches which, after the fundamentalist/liberal wars of the 20th century, carried on most of the fundamentalist theology with an emphasis on evangelism and Bible. Baptists and Pentecostals make up most of the Evangelical demographic, along with non-denominational churches, and smaller portions from the Lutheran, Reformed, and even Catholic traditions.

Most of you, my readers, are probably Evangelical Protestants, too (though I know I have a few filthy Papists reading!). If you’re Baptist, I guarantee you are one of us. If there’s any further confusion, what I’m going to say in a moment will clear it up more.

So why am I writing this? For two reasons. For one, in the wider world of Christendom, Evangelicalism gets a bad name. We’re viewed as immature, shallow, and ignorant. But while there are several valid critiques by people both inside and outside Evangelicalism, I think much of the disdain is also undeserved or at very least exaggerated. We have strengths which offset and I daresay outweigh our weaknesses, and they deserve a fair hearing. The second reason for this post is to reassure you all that I really am still an Evangelical at heart. I frequently criticize the Evangelical world, and I often also defend other traditions, but I want to clarify that I only do this because Evangelicals are my own flesh and blood. Evangelicalism is still my home, and as such I’m more aware of its flaws than those of any other group. Who do you criticize more than your own family? But as family, however critical I may be, I’ll defend my Evangelical brethren to the death.

So, without further ado, here are the things that I think Evangelical Protestantism gets right, the things which keep me from leaving home.

We Evangelicals have a unique respect for the authority of Scripture. Radical fundamentalists treat Scripture like the Pharisees with their actually unbiblical rules and regulations. Liberal Protestants treat the Bible as an inferior thing to their modern and postmodern values, eschatologies, and science. Catholics give their own so-called “Sacred Tradition”equal weight to Scripture and give their leaders the ability to set interpretations in stone. As far as I’ve seen, only Evangelicals consistently try to live under the Bible, taking it at its word as best as we understand. Even when we let other stuff mess up our understanding of Scripture, there’s always a willingness to simply follow what it says.
However much the term “personal relationship with Jesus” is overused and abused, there remains a very legitimate concept that each of us must have intimate fellowship with the Father through the Son through the Spirit. We emphasize the personal: you do not inherit union with Jesus from your parents or culture but must embrace Him yourself. We pound hard on the relationship: Jesus is personally invested in us with a great love and seeks for us to reciprocate. Prayer, Scripture, and all Christian acts bring us to know our Savior.
Nothing says “passion” like a big gathering of Evangelicals, especially teenagers. Sure, some of its hormones and shenanigans, but there’s real stuff, too, because in Evangelicalism we teach people to own their faith and let it drive their lives. Challenges and energy define our events and movements. While passion alone can be misplaced or fizzle out, when used properly it is a valuable asset for Christianity, moving people to really carry forth the love of Christ in the Gospel in a visible and impactful way.
Cultural Engagement
I’m not a fan of full-blown efforts to be/become “relevant,” but if there’s one place Evangelicals stand out most obviously it is in attempts to contextualize the truth and use popular culture and media to spread the Gospel. Sure, it’s usually done awkwardly and sometimes even embarrassingly, but that’s precisely why we need to keep people in Evangelicalism: so that theologians, data experts, and other people with necessary skills can round out the group in such attempts.
Last, but far from least, Evangelicals practically have a monopoly of the namesake, evangelism. As far as I know, no other tradition comes close to matching Evangelicals on the priority of taking the Good News about Jesus to those who haven’t heard. The Southern Baptists practically rule the missionary world. We’re not the only ones who believe in Hell, but we probably take it the most seriously. Plus, while most of the other traditions are talking about the importance of social justice, meeting needs, and solving problems in society (usually over the importance of evangelism), we Evangelicals are often out incorporating those very things into our mission work, spreading the Gospel while improving the world. And this, I believe, is of the utmost importance. After all, what was is the martyrs who Catholics so revere died doing? To what cause did Peter, supposedly their first Pope, devote his life?

I could probably extend this list a bit, but I think what I’ve mentioned so far, especially the first and last points, is enough to make my point. Despite all my theological musings, perplexities, and wanderings, these qualities of Evangelical Protestantism have kept me here. I honestly believe this is the best tradition for these reasons, even if I offer plenty of criticism, too. I only complain because I want to see us become the best and most Christian we can really be. And again, it’s these first and last points that really hold me in. I cannot conceive of doing Christianity that it’s robustly and ministerially Biblical, and emphatically evangelistic (even if in my personal life I don’t always live these out). So I plan on sticking around. And unless God decides to seriously throw me off, I expect that’s just what I’ll do.

(P. S. The Frances Chan featured image is because I think he’s one of the best we Evangelical Protestants have to offer.)

In Defense of My Catholic Brethren

Are Catholics Christians? To phrase it better, is Catholicism truly Christian, a thing which genuinely preaches and follows our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? Do faithful, educated Catholics actually know Him?

I do believe the answer is “yes.”

I’ve wanted on some level to make a post on this for a very long time, but in all honesty fear has held me back, fear of how my evangelical Protestant friends, relatives, and other readers will react. I believe this was wrong of me, because if I am right that Catholics and Protestant are united as children born from the Father, then I should be willing to own my brothers instead of be ashamed.

So why do I believe that Catholicism is a legitimate part of the Christian religion, that Catholics are as born again as Protestants? Well, I’m not a Catholic apologist, so I won’t bother answering common objections about Mary, prayer to saints, images, transubstantiation, or baptismal regeneration. I don’t believe in these things, and I do think they’re problematic. My research and discussions with Catholics have at least led me to believe, though, that they are far from damnable heresies.

Where I believe things count the most, Catholics agree with us. We follow one God in the three persons of Father, Son, and Spirit. We agree that Jesus Himself was/is that Son, God become human for us and for our salvation. We believe He died and rose to set us free from sin and for Him. We believe in the coming final judgment and resurrection of the dead.

The core of this all is Jesus. Unlike every cult, false religion, and demonic ideology out there, Catholics get Jesus right. They trust in the one and only Mediator, the God-man, who lived and died to bring salvation to the human race. They preach Jesus the crucified Messiah and risen Lord. What else must we ask of them?

The truth is that God never listed for us certain doctrines about salvation, or the church, or praying which we absolutely must believe to be a Christian. He only says to throw ourselves on His Son as our only hope. Our good doctrine or bad doctrine, just like our good and bad works, are not the ground of our salvation. That is Jesus Himself. And as long as He alone is our hope and trust, we are promised that we will never perish but have eternal life, even if you’re Catholic.

None of this is to say that right beliefs are unimportant, or that there are no Catholic practices that are legitimately wrong. But the same goes for us. We all have something wrong, and probably all have some big stuff wrong. From what I see of Jesus in the Scriptures, and from the history of His Church, we are in no place to judge others for what we do ourselves on this matter.

The reason I bring this up at all is because I’m convicted about unity. Paul repeatedly commanded believers to have one heart and one mind, pounding unity over and over in his letters. John insisted that everyone born of God must show love to all of his brothers and sisters. Jesus Himself prayed to the Father asking that the coming church would be one just like He and the Father are one. This radical call to unity in Jesus our Savior means it is shameful, even sinful, for me to hide my belief that Catholics are fellow participants in God’s eternal life.

Unfortunately, in the average evangelical Protestant church, no one really knows or understands what Catholics actually believe and why they believe it. So we resort to inaccurate one-liners, gossip, and misrepresentations to maintain the wall of separation. This is clearly a shame. Because of this, I plan to ask some of my Catholic friends to continue guest posts to help give you more of their perspective on things, so that we can at least unite around the common love we have for Jesus and understand each other, even where we disagree.

In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.