Reductio ad Hitlerum, Part 26: What if Hitler had a deathbed conversion?

November 10, 2018

I’m a fan of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale, an apologetics podcast from Ravi Zacharias’s ministry. In each episode Vince and Jo (along with host Michael Davis) answer often difficult questions about Christianity that are submitted by listeners.

In the most recent episode, a listener asked the following: “If Hitler repented to God on his deathbed, would he have been forgiven?”

Please note that no one is asserting that Hitler did repent and believe in Jesus. Indeed, since he committed suicide, it seems unlikely that he even had a deathbed. So the question is hypothetical. But I like Jo’s response:

This is what it comes down to at the bottom of it, right? This may be the hardest thing to accept in Christianity. People say that if there’s a loving God, why would he judge people? But I think the much harder thing is, if there’s a loving God, why would he forgive people—even this person, even Hitler? But actually, the reality of the Christian faith is, either it’s for everybody or it’s for nobody. There’s no middle ground here. And I think what this question reveals is that on some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve: that there are certain people who deserve forgiveness and there are others who don’t. But the bottom line here—the message of the Bible—is that none of us do. Grace is completely unmerited.

The theologian Christopher Wright says that every victim of sin is also a sinner. There is none who is not also sinned against. That’s the state we’re in. It doesn’t mean that all sin is the same. I do think there are certain things that are horrifying and grotesque and sick and evil, and Hitler is the example we go to for that, and the life he lived is absolutely appalling. We’re not leveling out and saying that there aren’t differences in the way that we sin. But nevertheless we are saying that we’re all in the same boat in the sense that, yes, we’re still dead in our sin—whether it was extreme sin that killed us or small sin, we’re still dead in our sin.

And I think the question here becomes, Is the cross big enough to carry it? No matter the horrendousness of the evil, is God big enough to defeat it? Is his love strong enough to wipe out even the most horrendous kind of hate? And what does that say about what Christ carried on the cross, and the gravity of that, and the enormity of it—that even something so heinous could be what Christ is bearing for us at the cross?

My favorite part of her answer is this: “On some level we’re still thinking of forgiveness as about what we deserve.” We believe we have to deserve or earn or pay for or prove ourselves worthy of God’s saving grace. Some people measure up, while others clearly don’t.

What about you? Do you believe that you have to deserve forgiveness?

The dying Capt. Miller speaks the most unhelpful words possible to Private Ryan.

Before you answer, consider how you respond to the following scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan. If you’ve seen it, you may recall the dying words that Capt. Miller, Tom Hanks’s character, spoke to Private Ryan, played by Matt Damon. After nearly everyone in the unit dies in order to save Ryan’s life, Miller grabs Ryan by the lapels and says, “Earn this… Earn it!”

Next we see an elderly Ryan, decades later, near the end of his own life, standing beside the grave markers at Normandy beach—asking his children and grandchildren, “Did I earn it?”—in other words, did he live a life worthy of the sacrifices that Miller and his fellow soldiers made for him so long ago? Did he deserve the life that their deaths made possible for him?

His family reassures him: “Of course you did, Dad!”

And I’m like, Really? Who are they kidding? A dozen or so men sacrificed their lives to save Ryan’s life: How could he possibly “earn” that sacrifice? How could he repay that debt? How could he balance those scales?

He couldn’t… which is why I find this scene between Miller and Ryan more horrifying than any of the bloody carnage depicted in the movie. Miller places on Ryan an impossible burden of guilt.

Yet, in a way, this scene depicts our predicament before God. Because of our sin, we owe God a debt we can never repay. The difference, of course, is that instead of insisting that we repay the debt—a debt infinitely greater than what Ryan owes—God himself pays it for us on the cross of his Son Jesus, who is also God.

Instead of grabbing us by the proverbial lapels and saying, “Earn this,” God says, “Receive this… receive this free gift, which I paid for on the cross. It was my pleasure to purchase this gift for you because I love you that much! Receive it!”

So the question is not about Hitler, and how evil he is, but Jesus and how powerful the cross is. Do we believe, in other words, that Jesus accomplished something objective on the cross to make forgiveness of sin possible, such that both God’s perfect love and his commitment to perfect justice—both of which are aspects of God’s nature—would be upheld?

If the Bible is telling the truth, the answer is a resounding yes.

In Mark 10:35-45, which I preached on a few weeks ago, Jesus hints at how the cross accomplishes this. When James and John ask about sitting at Jesus’ right and left hand in glory, he says, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?”

This “cup” is the same cup to which Jesus will later refer in the Garden of Gethsemane in Mark 14:36 (and parallels): “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” This is also the cup to which the Old Testament refers—a symbol of God’s wrath, which, scripture warns repeatedly, the unrighteous will have to drink as punishment for their sin:

For in the hand of the Lord there is a cup
    with foaming wine, well mixed,
and he pours out from it,
    and all the wicked of the earth
    shall drain it down to the dregs. (Psalm 75:8)

Thus the Lord, the God of Israel, said to me: “Take from my hand this cup of the wine of wrath, and make all the nations to whom I send you drink it. They shall drink and stagger and be crazed because of the sword that I am sending among them.” (Jeremiah 25:15-16)

The good news, as Isaiah prophesies, is that God will remove the cup of his wrath.

Thus says your Lord, the Lord,
    your God who pleads the cause of his people:
“Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering;
the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more.” (Isaiah 51, 17, 22)

In the interest of justice, how can God do this? Does humanity not deserve to drink this cup? What causes God to take the cup away?

Only this: God offered an acceptable substitute for us. And who could possibly serve as a fitting substitute? Only God.

In other words, we owed a debt to God that only God could pay. So he paid it—willingly, out of love. This is why God came into the world in Christ: to “give his life as a random for many” (Mark 10:45). Jesus’ words in this verse point back to Isaiah 53:5, 10:

But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed…

Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.

As a result of God’s offering of himself on the cross, an “offering for guilt,” we—those of us who believe in Jesus—become the “offspring” of God himself. As John himself (the very one who, along with his brother, is squabbling over sitting at Christ’s left or right hand) would later write,

But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13)

This is the gospel, the very foundation on which I’ve built my life. Thank you, Jesus!

Journaling through Proverbs: “Buy truth, and do not sell it”

November 8, 2018

Today’s reflection (which I’m transcribing with minimal editing from my journaling Bible) comes from Proverbs 23:17, 23:

Let not your heart envy sinners,
    but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day.

Buy truth, and do not sell it;
    buy wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

23:17: “Let not your heart envy sinners”: The antidote to “envying sinners,” this scripture says, is “fearing the Lord.” What does it mean to envy sinners? For me, it means wanting the praise and recognition that other people receive. I want (in the case of fellow UMC pastors, who are also fellow sinners) their more prominent church appointments. I want their social media “likes.” I want to live in their hip and trendy neighborhoods. I want their respect. I want them to love me. (They love others; why can’t the love me, too? Do they not know how clever, charming, and funny I am?) But God’s Word is telling me, by contrast, to desire only God’s praise and approval, not other people’s (“Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”); to care only about what God thinks of me, not what other people think of me; to fear God, in other words.

At the heart of envy is fear: What if other people are getting something that I’m not getting? This scares me. The acquisition of glory (which I so desperately crave) is a zero-sum game: If someone else is getting it, they are stealing it from me. If other people are being exalted, I am being diminished.

What a miserable way to live! Why not trust instead that God is giving me everything I need? This is in part what it means to fear the Lord.

23:23: “Buy truth and do not sell it”: And just think: it’s not even something that I have to buy; it’s completely free. And alongside “wisdom, instruction, and understanding,” it’s available in this book, Proverbs, and this Book of Books, the Bible. Buy it? I don’t even have to. But if there were a price for it, this scripture says—even an expensive one—it would be worth paying.

Instead, it’s free. Yet too often I think, “It’s still too expensive! It’s not worth the time and effort to invest in. It’s not worth getting up early, or (worse for me) going to bed early, in order to acquire this truth, wisdom, instruction, and understanding… I’d rather be lazy… I’d rather suffer!” Because  make no mistake: that’s what I do! My envy (as I point out above) causes suffering. My anger causes suffering. My resentment causes suffering. It causes me to suffer, not to mention the suffering of others—those poor souls who have to live with me, or deal with me on a regular basis!

So, in the interest of “loving my neighbor,” if not loving myself, I need to “buy truth,” wisdom, instruction, and understanding.

Do I really think it’s worth it? Or would I rather suffer? This verse, please notice, says it is worth it.

Lord, teach my heart to believe it. Amen.

Journaling through Proverbs: “Do not toil to acquire wealth”

November 5, 2018

Today’s reflection (which I’m transcribing with minimal editing from my journaling Bible) comes from Proverbs 23:4-5:

Do not toil to acquire wealth;
    be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
    for suddenly it sprouts wings,
    flying like an eagle toward heaven.

The book’s ambivalent relationship with (attitude toward) wealth continues. Having wealth, per se, is good and preferable to not having it: You can accomplish great good with it and, to some extent, protect yourself from harm. The problem is that we can’t acquire wealth without being sorely tested. Indeed, Proverbs warns that most of us will fail the test. Prosperity is as much, if not more, of a test than poverty. It tempts us to place our trust in earthly treasure rather than in God. See Proverbs 30:8b-9. Notice v. 4 says, “Do not toil to acquire wealth,” not “Do not acquire wealth.” In fact, Proverbs makes it seem as if a life devoted to God’s wisdom and knowledge will naturally lead to some measure of material wealth. But the acquisition of this wealth should never be the goal: our goal should be to seek our treasure in God alone.

Inasmuch as we don’t have wealth (in which case who among us can deny that folly and sin—whether personal, familial, or institutional—don’t play an important role?**), we can, by God’s grace, have wealth in God. Finding our treasure in God is independent of earthly treasure. Indeed, this is why we need discernment: to know that worldly treasure is fleeting, unlike the treasure we find in Christ, an “inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).

** I can already hear skeptics of the Bible objecting to this, but not so fast: Who among us, regardless of financial means, is able to say, “I have applied all the lessons of wisdom found in this book to my life; I have not behaved foolishly or sinfully or greedily; I have always worked hard and never been lazy; I have always been a good steward of the gifts that God has given me; yet I still find myself in desperate financial need”? Not me! I suspect that none of us can.

The point is, each of us can take responsibility for our sinful contribution to our own financial troubles while at the same time recognizing the sinful forces at work outside of ourselves that have contributed to these troubles. Isn’t this why this same book (Proverbs) commands compassion, generosity, and almsgiving to the poor—because it recognizes the extent to which sin outside of ourselves or beyond our control has harmed us?

Nevertheless, this book, along with the Bible as a whole, loudly affirms that we can find true wealth in God—any one of us! God’s grace, therefore, couldn’t be more democratic!

But the book’s overriding preoccupation is this question: Do we desire God more than any earthly treasure? Do we want the wisdom and knowledge that come from God’s Word more than silver or gold? If not, then Proverbs has nothing to teach us, for this is the book’s starting point: the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 9:10):

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
    and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.

“And put a knife to your throat if you are given to appetite”

November 4, 2018

I’m currently journaling my way through the Book of Proverbs, using this beautiful resource from Crossway. I wrote the following in reference to Proverbs 23:1-3:

When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
    observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies,
    for they are deceptive food.

23:2: “if you are given to appetite”: By which this rich ruler can make you do his bidding. This warning need not apply only to food! We sell ourselves out for many other things, too—all for the sake of our appetites. Yet the Book of Proverbs (along with the rest of scripture, of course, though Proverbs makes this point many times) tells us repeatedly that we can satisfy our truest, deepest appetite in one place, in one object: in God alone, and in those things that belong to him. This book, the Bible, in which I’m writing these words, contains everything necessary—as God’s Spirit speaks to me through it—for my happiness. How many times does Proverbs say that the knowledge and wisdom it offers are better than gold and silver—and that I should pursue this before anything?

Dear Lord, give me a deeper appetite for all that is within this book. Indeed, this is exactly what you’ve been doing for years—since 2009. But I want and need more. I need more of you! You want me to be happy with the happiness that’s found only in you. I want that as well!

As C.S. Lewis said:

God gives us what He has, not what He has not: He gives us the happiness that there is, not the happiness that there is not. To be God—to be like God and to share His goodness in creaturely response—to be miserable—these are the only three alternatives. If we will not learn to eat the only food that the universe grows—the only food that any possible universe ever can grow—then we must starve eternally.[†]

C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 47.

Sermon 10-21-18: “Whoever Would Be Great Among You”

November 1, 2018

I preached this sermon on October 21, 2018, at Cannon United Methodist Church in Snellville, Georgia. My first sermon in a while! (I will preach again on November 25.) The video comes directly from an iPad, so the quality isn’t as good as it will be as soon as we get some multimedia equipment replaced at our church. We had some recent flooding… it’s a long story. Anyway, I hope you enjoy it!

Sermon Text: Mark 10:35-45

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As we read the gospels we often like to identify the “good guys” and the “bad guys,” the heroes and the villains. And we identify with the good guys. And in the gospels that’s usually Jesus, right? We are like Jesus, and we are not like those bad old Pharisees. Or we’re like the Good Samaritan, and we are not like the bad old priest or Levite. Or we’re like the sheep, and we’re not like the bad old goats. And when we read today’s scripture, chances are we say to ourselves, “We are not like those obstinate, slow-witted, egocentric disciples—especially James and John! We are not like James and John!”

And I agree. We are not like James and John.

Consider one of the most difficult teachings in the New Testament, which comes from the lips of Jesus himself: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:26.

Jesus is using hyperbole—that is, he’s exaggerating on purpose to make an important point. But the point is clear: that his disciples’ love for and have allegiance to Jesus is so great that all other loves and allegiances look like hatred in comparison. If you’re forced to choose between your love for and allegiance to Jesus and your love for and allegiance to everyone and everything else in the world—including the people who mean the most to you—the choice is clear: we disciples choose Jesus every time!

And we may read these words and think, “It’s so difficult. I’m not sure if push came to shove, I could make that choice” But guess what? Back in Mark chapter 1, that’s exactly what James and John do! They are literally mending their fishing nets on their father’s boat, working as part of their father’s business. And when Jesus calls them to follow him, they literally leave their father behind. Could I do that? Thank God I’m saved by grace because what Jesus is asking is so hard! Read the rest of this entry »

“Change my desires so that I desire you alone”

October 15, 2018

For the past six months or so—thanks to my daughter’s influence and example—I have been journaling in my Bible. (They make Bibles for exactly this purpose, and this is the one that I use.) For me, who likes to write, this experience has been deeply fruitful. I’m currently journaling my way through the Proverbs. What follows is my reflection on Proverbs 15:15-17, mostly in the form of a prayer. (I am literally transcribing from my handwritten notes.)

See Psalm 37:4; Matthew 6:33. From Solomon’s perspective, there is a kind of cheerfulness of heart that is immune to external circumstances. These verses make a point very similar to Jesus and the rest of God’s Word: We find genuine happiness in God alone. I’ve experienced enough of this happiness to know it’s true. But I need more!

Lord, can I dare to ask you to give me more? I confess that too often my heart is NOT cheerful (v. 15). I confess that too often I find my treasure in so many other people, places, and things. I need you to melt my heart! Change my desires so that I desire you alone—and the things that belong to you. I’m not even asking you to “work with me,” synergistically, the way we Wesleyan-Arminians so often want you to work. I’m not asking that you would COOPERATE with my free will. I’m asking you—I’m pleading with you!—TAKE CONTROL! Give me grace that obliterates my stubborn, sinful heart. Override my free will. I won’t mind, I promise! Only give me a joy that finds complete satisfaction in you! O God, I want that so badly!

Teach me, God, that “a little with fear of the Lord” is greater than the greatest treasure. If you have to afflict me (I say this with fear and trembling) with a  “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7), as you did with my brother Paul, please do so. Give me this severe mercy if that’s what I require to find my treasure in you!

In my pastoral prayer yesterday, I prayed for victims and survivors of this most recent, devastating hurricane, which has nearly wiped whole towns off the map (like Mexico Beach, FL). I said in my prayer that many of your children are enduring a “severe trial.” I chose those words with care: For some of your children—not all and likely not many, but for some—this “fiery trial” (1 Peter 4:12) will be their greatest blessing. Why? Because, like me, they have found their treasure in something or someone other than you. And now, possessing very little, this experience will lead them to repentance—sweet repentance!

Like comedian Stephen Colbert, who told an interviewer in 2015 that coming to grips with the death of his father and two of his brothers at age 10 was the equivalent of “learning to love the bomb,” some of these victims and survivors will, by God’s grace, be able to say, “I love the thing I most wish had not happened”—because, in losing their treasure in houses, possessions, and even family or friends, they will find their true treasure in you. (Needless to say, your children who died in the hurricane are experiencing your grace and love in a way that those who are left behind are unable to experience: They have found their treasure in a way that we, on this side of eternity, can only dream! “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Phil. 1:21).

Podcast Episode #31: “One-Conditional Love”

October 13, 2018

It’s become a truism within Christian circles to speak of God’s “unconditional love” for humanity. But is this the most accurate way to describe God’s love? In this episode, following the lead of the late United Methodist theologian Thomas Oden (who first popularized the phrase “unconditional love” within theology), I argue that God’s love is best described as “one-conditional,” not unconditional.

As I warn in this episode, the difference between the two couldn’t be more consequential.

This is the second of two podcasts on the authority of scripture. 

Podcast Text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

You can subscribe to my podcast in iTunes, Google Play, and Stitcher.

Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Friday, October 12, 2018, and this is episode number 31 in my ongoing series of podcasts. 

You’re listening right now to “Unconditional Love,” by the Altar Boys, from their 1986 album, Gut Level Music. The Altar Boys were a Christian punk band—yes, they had that sort of thing back in the glorious ’80s, when I was coming of age. This song was not one of their original compositions, however. It was written by two Christian musicians—the former “queen of disco,” Donna Summer, and producer-songwriter Michael Omartian. If you remember the eighties the way I do, you’ll recall that the song was a minor hit for Ms. Summer in 1983, and the music video featured the Jamaican boy band Musical Youth, who had just had a hit on MTV with their song “Pass the Dutchie.”

In a little while, I’ll switch gears and play the song “Crossfire” by Kansas from their 1982 album, Vinyl Confessions. This was the second album the band made after lead guitarist and songwriter Kerry Livgren—the writer of “Carry On, Wayward Son” and “Dust in the Wind”—was converted to Christianity, along with bass player Dave Hope. 

You’ll hear that song later. But I’m starting with the Altar Boys because we Christians today practically take for granted that God loves us with un-conditional love. We use that expression all the time: unconditional love. In fact, I still remember an argument I got into many years on my blog with a dear Christian friend who challenged me on the notion of God’s unconditional love. God’s love, he said, is not unconditional. And I thought his words were borderline heresy! 

Imagine my surprise, then, just a few years ago, when I read a theological memoir called A Change of Heart by a well-respected theologian—who also happens to be United Methodist—named Thomas Oden. (Oden died in 2016.) In this memoir, he sheepishly admits that he was responsible for either coining the phrase “unconditional love,” or at least popularizing and applying it for the first time to theology—and to God’s loving relationship with humanity. He said he borrowed the concept from the psychotherapeutic work of psychologist Carl Rogers. 

When Oden first began writing about God’s unconditional love, he was a progressive Christian theologian. But he changed. In the late-’60s he experienced a conversion of sorts; by his own admission, he embraced orthodox Christianity—not capital O orthodox; he remained a humble Methodist. But he was no longer enamored with innovation in Christian theology; when it came to theology he liked the old stuff. In fact, he told Christianity Today that he had a dream once in which he saw his tombstone. His epitaph read as follows: “He made no new contribution to theology.” Oden became, in his own words, an “orthodox, ecumenical evangelical.” Read the rest of this entry »

To remove every “plausible source of false happiness”

September 21, 2018

In case you missed the news a couple of weeks ago, Geoffrey Owens, the actor who played Elvin Tibideaux on The Cosby Show back in the ’80s and ’90s, was photographed while working as a cashier at a Trader Joe’s in Clifton, N.J. The photo was accompanied by unflattering articles on the Fox News website and the U.K.’s Daily Mail.

I was heartened by the reaction to these articles: Many prominent people, including fellow ’80s TV star Justine Bateman in the tweet above (who asked his permission to re-post the grocery store photo), rose to Owens’s defense, accusing the photographer, the news media, and online gawkers everywhere of “job shaming.” The controversy even led to two new TV gigs for Owens: on a Tyler Perry-produced show and on N.C.I.S.

In a New York Times interview today, Owens was asked what advice he had for other struggling “non A-list” actors: “My advice is get a job at Trader Joe’s and have someone take your picture without you knowing it.”

I’m glad he can laugh about it! All’s well that ends well.

Now allow me to get down off my moral high horse: I was one of those online gawkers. First, for some reason, I was surprised by the change in his appearance. As a first-generation viewer of the Cosby Show, shouldn’t “Elvin” remain that 20-something nebbish who married the stronger, more confident Sondra—as if—surprise, surprise—middle age doesn’t happen to all of us? Deeply unfair on my part, I know! Then I felt pity: “How the mighty have fallen! After all, he was on a number-one TV show for years, back when that meant something—back before the prime-time audience splintered into a thousand different pieces.

Worst of all—who am I kidding?—I felt a sense of relief: “While I’ve never been famous, I’ve never made a lot of money, and I’ve never been nearly as successful in my respective career(s) as he has been in his, at least I’m not a cashier at Trader Joe’s! Here’s one more person to whom I can feel superior, at least for the moment.”

But for now, I want to say a word about my second emotion: pity. Why did this photo evoke that emotion within me?

Because I secretly believe, all evidence to the contrary, that assets like fame, popularity, career success, awards, good looks, money—all of which he surely possessed even as a supporting actor on the number-one sitcom in America—are life’s greatest treasures. Therefore, when I see him today, I see a man who lost everything.

How could I not feel sorry for him? How tragic!

But instead of feeling sorry for him, why not feel sorry for myself? Because my reaction to the image of the present-day Geoffrey Owens proves that I don’t believe the gospel of Jesus Christ the way I should.

After all, hasn’t Jesus warned me not to lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (Matthew 6:19-24)? Hasn’t he warned me to be “rich toward God” rather than rich in possessions (Luke 12:21)? Hasn’t he told me that my greatest treasure by far is found in him (Matthew 13:44-46), and, indeed, that he doesn’t tolerate even a close second in anyone or anything else (Luke 14:26)?

Yet I keep looking for my treasure outside of him. Why?

In my quiet times recently, I’ve been Bible-journaling my way through the minor prophets. I’m on Habakkuk. Just yesterday, I read the following from chapter 2:9, which, in context, is directed to the king of Babylon:

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm!”

How vain the king was to “set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm,” as if it’s safe from the reach of God himself!

Yet am I so different? While I won’t bother telling you what’s inside my particular nest, suffice it to say that I have one, and when it’s empty, I feel angry, insecure, and unsatisfied. Why? Is Jesus not enough for me?

Unless or until he is, I’ll never be as happy in life as I want to be.

C.S. Lewis described my condition well in his book The Problem of Pain:

As St. Augustine says somewhere, ‘God wants to give us something, but cannot, because our hands are full—there’s nowhere for Him to put it.’ Or as a friend of mine said, ‘We regard God as an airman regards his parachute; it’s there for emergencies but he hopes he’ll never have to use it.’ Now God, who has made us, knows what we are and that our happiness lies in Him. Yet we will not seek it in Him as long as He leaves us any other resort where it can even plausibly be looked for. While what we call ‘our own life’ remains agreeable we will not surrender it to Him. What then can God do in our interests but make ‘our own life’ less agreeable to us, and take away the plausible source of false happiness?[1]

Does God love love me enough to want me to be truly happy? Then I shouldn’t be surprised when he plunders the “nest” I refer to above—when he takes away every “plausible source of false happiness.” Have your way, Lord! “Let me be full; let me empty. Let me have all things; let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.”

Consider the apostle Paul. He doesn’t say, in Philippians 3:8, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and doing the apostolic work to which he’s called me.” He counts everything as loss—even his work—in comparison to knowing Christ!

This convicts me. Because I want Jesus and… This “and” makes me miserable.

So I don’t know anything about Geoffrey Owens. But based on the evidence in the photo above, I have absolutely zero reasons to feel sorry for him. For all I know, he has Jesus (and he certainly has the opportunity to have Jesus), in which case he has a treasure far better than fame, popularity, career success, awards, good looks, and money.

God, out of your great love for me, do what’s necessary to make me believe it.

1. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 94.

Podcast Episode #30: “Listen to What the Man Said”

September 18, 2018

In this lengthy podcast episode, the first of two on the subject, I tackle the question of the authority of scripture. We hear many authorities in our culture—even within today’s Church—telling us, in so many words, “The Bible can’t be trusted.” As I argue in this episode, you may as well say, “God can’t be trusted,” because it’s clear from Jesus’ own teaching that the Bible is God’s Word.

I want us instead to “listen to what the man said” and regard scripture the same way Jesus himself did. I want this episode, along with the next one, to serve as an antidote to the skepticism about the Bible that is rampant in our culture and is harming our fellow believers—especially Christian young people.

Podcast Text: 2 Timothy 3:16-17

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Hi, this is Brent White. It’s Monday, September 17, 2018, and this is episode number 30 in my ongoing series of podcasts. You’re listening right now to a #1 hit song from 1975 called “Listen to What the Man Said” by Wings—written and sung, of course, by Paul McCartney from the album Venus and Mars.

And the reason I wanted to play this song is that I have discerned a troubling trend among my fellow Christians, not least of which my fellow United Methodist clergy: And that is, they often say that when it comes to the Bible, we need to “listen to what the man said”—the “man” in this case being Jesus—and not necessarily pay close attention to what the rest of the Bible says. Especially the Old Testament! They often speak as if the God revealed in the Old Testament isn’t quite the same as the God revealed in “the man,” Jesus. Therefore we can’t quite trust what the Old Testament has to say.

So one of the purposes of this week’s podcast, and next week’s, is to say, “Yes, by all means, let’s listen to what the man said. But we can’t even know who the man is, or make sense of what he said… apart from the whole counsel of God, which includes the Old Testament.”

If you don’t believe me, consider Luke chapter 24. This is Easter Sunday. Two disciples of Jesus were on their way from Jerusalem to their hometown of Emmaus—about a seven-mile journey. The resurrected Jesus appears to them on the road, but, Luke tells us, “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” Jesus asks them what they’ve been talking about. They explain to him the shocking events of Good Friday and how, today, on Sunday, they heard the reports from the women who went to the tomb: that it was empty, and that angels appeared to them and said that Jesus had been raised. These two disciples were confused; they didn’t know what to make of any of this.

Jesus said, in verses 25 and 26, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” Then in verse 27, Luke writes, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he”—that is, Jesus—“interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Did you hear that? “Beginning with Moses and the Prophets”—which is shorthand for the entire Bible—Jesus interpreted “in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” So: they were walking on the road for about two-and-a-half hours. Assuming Jesus was with them for most of the way, then he must have spoken to them for a long time about what the entire Old Testament had to say about him. Right? There must be a great deal of information in the Old Testament about who Jesus is, why he came, what he accomplished, what his gospel means!

In spite of this, I have actually had United Methodist pastors tell me, “I don’t like preaching from the Old Testament.” Why? “Because I like preaching Jesus.” Aye-yai-yai… I like preaching Jesus, too. And I like preaching the gospel. And I do so in every sermon I preach—whether my sermon text is from the New Testament—be it the four gospels, or Acts, or the Epistles, or Revelation—or from the Old Testament. Because, as I’ve said before, I find Jesus—and I find his gospel message—on nearly every page of the Old Testament! In fact, I would venture to say that if you don’t find Jesus and his gospel there, you’re probably not reading it right!

But I know, I know… There are challenging passages in the Old Testament. What do you do with the ones that seem… at odds… with Jesus’ example and teaching? For example, the Passover story in Exodus 12… In that story, God himself passes through Egypt and strikes down the firstborn male in every family whose house wasn’t covered by the blood of the lamb. Hold on… The blood of the lamb as protection against God’s judgment and wrath? That sounds familiar… That sounds like what Jesus did… on the cross… Jesus, the very one of whom John the Baptist said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”[1] Read the rest of this entry »

A new blog post (and podcast episode) is coming soon!

September 12, 2018

To my longtime readers and listeners: I am working on a lengthy podcast episode on the authority of scripture, which I will post here shortly. Thanks for your patience!