Posts Tagged ‘Mark Galli’

Sermon 04-08-18: “No Other Gospel”

April 19, 2018

Like a former addict who suffers a dangerous relapse, the Christians to whom the apostle Paul is addressing today’s scripture are themselves facing a kind of relapse—only one that is far more dangerous than a relapse to illicit drugs. Because this “relapse” risks destroying not merely their bodies but their very souls as well… for eternity! And it’s a dangerous threat for us present-day Christians, too! What am I referring to? Listen to the sermon and find out!

As I said last week, my preaching style has changed somewhat. I preached from an outline, not a manuscript—with much ad-libbing. So the following manuscript, which I wrote from memory after the fact, will be different, to some extent, from what I preached.

Sermon Text: Galatians 1:1-10

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Back in 1985, when I was 15, I saw Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Omni in Atlanta. Do you remember the Omni? It was one of the first concerts I went to, and I became a lifelong Tom Petty fan. So, like many of you, I was deeply saddened when he died late last year. The initial report was that he suffered cardiac arrest. Then about a month later, a medical examiner reported that he died of an opioid overdose. He had broken his hip while on tour last year, and—because the “show must go on,” he was prescribed a powerful narcotic called fentanyl, which is, like, 50 times more powerful than heroin.

Petty confessed in a recent autobiography that he became addicted to heroin in the mid- to late-’90s. But he got clean. So his addiction to this latest opioid represented a tragic relapse.

In a way, this is what Paul is dealing with in Galatia—a relapse of a sort. Except a relapse into opioid addiction would be far less harmful, from Paul’s perspective, because it could only destroy the body. Whereas the relapse that the Galatians are facing could potentially destroy their souls!

So what do I mean when I say “relapse”?

To answer that, we need to ask ourselves: What did Paul preach to the Galatians? What ideas did he build his ministry on? What message was Paul willing to suffer and die for? He tells us in the greeting of letter, verses 3 through 5: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”

This is Paul’s gospel in a nutshell! Let’s look at some of the key words and phrases.

“Grace”: The free gift of God. We can do nothing to earn it: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Ephesians 2:8-9. “Peace”: This is the end result of receiving this gift. Prior to Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross—and our faith in it—we were not at peace; we were incapable of achieving peace; there was a state of enmity between us and God. Paul says in Romans 5:10 that we were “enemies… reconciled to God by the death of his Son.” But the end result of Christ’s death is described in Romans 5:1: “[S]ince we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Read the rest of this entry »

By faith alone… or not?

August 7, 2015

As he so often does, and always with a congenial spirit, my friend Tom challenged a point I made in a sermon—this time related to the one I posted yesterday, on Mark 10:13-27. This discussion is important enough to merit a separate post.

In that sermon, I spent time analyzing Jesus’ words to the Rich Young Ruler in verse 18: “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”

I confess that whenever I’ve preached or taught this text, I’ve mostly ignored this verse. It seemed like a strange diversion. Now I view it crucial to the meaning of the passage. As I said in my sermon:

My point is that Jesus isn’t denying that he’s good; he’s denying the basis on which this young man believes that Jesus is good. See, the young man doesn’t know that Jesus is both fully God and fully human. He believes Jesus is merely human—just like everyone else. But he sees Jesus doing all these good things; he doesn’t see Jesus doing any bad things; and, he senses there’s something different, something holy about Jesus, and he wants to know what it is…

See from this man’s perspective, goodness was about doing and not being. Inheriting eternal life was about what you do and not who you are.

Therefore, Jesus is saying that we cannot be saved through our good works. None of us is good enough. None of us can ever be good enough. It’s only by God’s grace through faith. As I’ve said before, every other religion teaches that if you want to be “saved”—however salvation is defined—you have to do these things. Christianity alone says, “Because you’re saved, you will do these things.”

Tom disagrees. While we can never earn our salvation, he writes, good works are required—the work of repentance, for example. He added:

I submit, however, that being “born again,” while involving a work of God, nonetheless of necessity is going to bring about a “change of character” if it is to be “salvific.” Having faith does mean, I think, that we have to be willing to “change some things” on account of wanting to have God in our lives. “Lovest thou me more than these?”, Jesus asks Peter. “Yes.” “Feed my sheep.” Salvation requires an “exchange” between us and God. “My life for your life.” I want what God has enough to give up what I have to get it. Hence the pearl of great price illustration you mention.

So, what exactly do we have to “give up”? Or “change”? I think this can vary from person to person, along the line of how John answered those who asked him. Sort of, what God “puts his finger” on, just as Jesus did with the ruler. Even doing so is not “good enough” to earn salvation without grace and forgiveness, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have to “do it,” whatever “it” is, to “seal the deal.”

I affirm much of this: Yes, being born again requires repentance. But even this repentance is made possible by God’s grace. Being born again will bring about a change of character such that we will be willing to change. But this character change and this newfound willingness to change is made possible by that same grace. Like Peter, we will want to obey the Lord in whatever he tells us to do. But our obedience is a response to a prior grace: it’s not on account of Peter’s “feeding Christ’s sheep” that Peter was saved.

After all, suppose the Rich Young Ruler had obeyed Jesus and sold all of his possessions. I believe that Jesus was telling the truth: the young man would be saved. But not through the bare act of selling his possessions. Rather, Jesus knew that the man’s act of obedience would signal that this change of heart wrought by the Spirit—this new birth—had taken place.

Again, grace comes first. The good work we do afterwards is a sign of that grace. I think this is consistent even with James’s words about faith being dead apart from works. Works are a sign of salvation; not its cause.

But Tom, ever the bulldog attorney that he is, gave another challenging response: So why am I not a Calvinist? Why don’t I believe in individualistic predestination? At this point, I waved my Arminian flag: we Arminians believe that while prevenient grace makes possible our ability to choose to accept God’s gift of salvation, we still choose.

But if that’s true, he wondered, how is choosing not itself a meritorious work—like, from his perspective, the work of repentance and obedience? Either way, whether he’s right or I’m right, an exchange is taking place: God is giving us something in response to something we do.

Doggone it! Tom is raising the smartest objections to the Arminian side. In fact, I’ve heard Catholics raise similar objections against us Protestants. (Tom is Southern Baptist.)

Nevertheless, I would say the following: this choice we make to receive Christ, while not exactly nothing on our part, isn’t much. Whatever else it is, it shouldn’t be construed as a meritorious work through which we’re saved.

I admit that sounds pretty lame, even to me. To help me out, I’ll quote from author and Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, who, in a different context, wrote the following about our “choice” or assent to be saved.

A man finds himself in the middle of a vast sea, treading water. There is no land in sight, no boat on the horizon. He is hungry and thirsty and rapidly tiring. He’s headed for death. This man may have free will to swim in one direction or another. He may choose to swim or to tread water. But when it comes to the most important thing, he has no choice—he cannot choose to survive. He’s going to drown.

Then along comes a rescue ship. When the ship gets close, it lets out a raft with three men on board. Rowing over to the desperate man, they stretch their arms out over the edge of the raft and grab him. He grabs their arms as they pull him into the boat. They take him on board the ship, give him medical attention, and get him home. The man is saved.

When this man then recounts his story to his family, how will he describe it? Will he say, “Well, the rescuers loved me so much, they pretty much let me decide my fate. And, really, it was my free will that made all the difference.” No, he will describe how utterly hopeless his situation was, how grateful he was to see the rescue ship, how wonderful those three men who pulled him aboard were, how excellent the navigator was to find him, and so on.[†]

Again, while our choice isn’t nothing, it’s not much. And it’s far less, for example, than a rich man giving away his entire fortune! As I told Tom, “From your perspective, I might feel insecure, never quite knowing whether I’d repented thoroughly enough, or ‘done enough’—or done whatever equivalent action that the Lord asked me to do—in order to be saved.”

Even with the inner witness of the Spirit, my tender conscience might still nag me: “Have you done enough?”

Thoughts, anyone?

Mark Galli, God Wins (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 73-74.

Sermon 11-09-14: “Your Boss Orders You to Take a Break!”

November 13, 2014


In our culture, we imagine Paradise as a place free from work, and that work, at best, is a necessary evil. In fact, most of us want to make enough money some day so that we can stop working entirely. Today’s scripture is literally about Paradise—the Garden of Eden—and what do we see the first humans doing in Paradise? Working! The truth is, we were made to work. Work is good gift from God. If this is true, however, why does work so often become harmful to us? How can we work in the way that God intended—in a way that enables us to also enjoy Sabbath rest?

Sermon Text: Genesis 1:26-2:3; 2:7-9, 15

The following is my original sermon manuscript.

Most of you have probably heard about NFL players such as Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson who have faced legal trouble recently over the problem of domestic abuse. A lot of people are wondering if there’s a connection between playing this seemingly violent sport of football in the NFL and domestic abuse. Is there something about the job that contributes to the problem? Last week, an editor at Christianity Today used these high-profile stories to shed light on a more widespread problem at home—a problem that very likely affects you or someone you love. It’s not domestic abuse but domestic neglect. And we know for sure there’s a strong connection between our jobs and this problem.

For example, how many of you remember the 40 hour work week? According to one Washington think-tank, 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women now work more than 40 hours a week. We already get far fewer vacation days than our European counterparts, for instance, and we rarely take all the days that we’re entitled to. Most of us believe it’s bad for our careers to be away from work for very long.

Then there’s the related problem of not really being away from work, even when we’re away from work. I liked this headline in the satirical “newspaper” The Onion: “Laid-Back Company Allows Employees to Work from Home after 6 P.M.” The CEO of the company is quoted as saying, “If it helps them be efficient and get more done, I have no problem with people working remotely once they’ve left the office for the day.” He noted that as long as they’re doing their jobs, the location where his staff members choose to work between 6 p.m. and 9 a.m. is ‘completely up to them.’”

Some of you probably work for companies like that! Read the rest of this entry »

The Grinch who stole Lent

March 4, 2014

Just in time for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the season of Lent, Christianity Today editor Mark Galli reminds us what a lousy program for self-improvement Lent really is.

I know, I know… We’re not exactly “giving up something” or fasting in order to improve ourselves: whatever the reason we practice more intense forms of self-discipline during Lent, it’s supposed to have something to do with God, not us. But, good heavens, suppose we do fast one day a week during Lent, or give up chocolate or beer, shouldn’t there be some payoff on the bathroom scale?

As Galli well knows, it’s hard to avoid these sorts of “what’s-in-it-for-me” thoughts during Lent. Besides, there must be some payoff, right?

Maybe not. Galli would say that I tell myself (and my congregation) “white lies” when I extol a couple of so-called “benefits” of Lenten discipline.

As we discipline ourselves in small things (eating sweets), it will inevitably help us discipline ourselves in large things (like being generous to the poor). We get this from Jesus, of course (Luke 16:10), but it’s theinevitably that’s the problem. You see, when picking the small thing for self-discipline, we sometimes fail to recognize that it’s not all that small. We pick it because it plagues us, and has plagued us for years. This means it’s likely to continue to plague us for years to come. And so instead of helping us to move on to loving others, our life energy is spent trying to not eat little pieces of candy.

Fasting doesn’t even necessarily lead us into deeper prayer, which is the big twofer of fasting for some people: We discipline the body while immersing ourselves in prayer. But when I fast, prayer is the last thing I feel like doing. I’m tired, weak, and thinking about food the whole time I’m praying.

So, instead of the small thing helping me become faithful in the big thing, it just makes me focus more and more on the small thing. Fasting just reminds me how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways. I believe, but O Lord, help the enormity of my unbelief.

Fasting just reminds me how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways.

That’s pretty much my experience—except when I accomplish a fast I feel really good… as in proud of myself. And that brings me back to Galli’s point: I’m reminded how little I love God and how seldom I live according to his ways.

I’ve read Richard Foster on the subject of fasting, in his excellent book Celebration of Discipline, and Foster would nod sympathetically at Galli’s words. He writes about all our temptations to make fasting (which would also apply to its less severe form, “giving something up”) about us. He warns us that it’s not about self-help. He says we don’t even fast in order for God to bestow some blessing on us. He would probably also say that it’s helpful for us to be reminded how little we love God, etc.

But I’ve never heard Foster say anything like what Galli says here:

Here’s the one invaluable thing that Lent teaches: Yes, Martha, you are the undisciplined, self-centered human being you suspected you were. Yes, Frank, you are in many respects a miserable excuse for a human being. Yes, we are sinners, and sinners without hope. When it comes to the really important things—like learning to have faith, hope, and love—we can’t do a blessed thing to improve ourselves. These come as gifts or they don’t come at all.

To me, participating in a Lenten discipline is my chance to do a little play acting. What would it be like to live as if the law were in fact sufficient? How about for 40 days I pretend that I really can improve myself in the sight of God? Let’s see how that works for me.

What I find Lent after Lent after Lent is that Lent is a miserable way to live! This is one reason we’re so glad when Lent is over! If Lent were such a great idea, if it really did make us better Christians, you’d think we’d want to turn Lent into a lifestyle. But no, we don’t want to do that precisely because Lent is an onerous form of existence. It’s the life of duty. Life under law. Life as a death march…

So I end this little essay by grabbing two more pieces of candy, for Ash Wednesday comes tomorrow! It will be time to give myself again to disciplines great and small. I do that partly because, in the end, it is probably better to be a little more disciplined or loving and self-righteous than undisciplined, unloving, and merely lazy. And who knows, by God’s grace, I may lose track of what my left hand is doing!

But I do it mostly to prove once again the impossibility of living up to God and the gracious necessity of being down to earth, of remembering that I am dust and weak and desperately in need of a Savior.

And recalling that I have one.

We observe Lent, including Lenten practices of fasting or giving something up, in order to remind us how sinful we are and desperately we need a Savior.


God isn’t surprised by our sin

June 26, 2013


This thought-provoking post by Jonathan Merritt (thanks to Scot McKnight’s blog) makes me wonder whether I’ve used language about “disappointing” God in the past. I probably have. But I confess that it’s a sloppy word that probably can’t apply to God without cutting God down to human size. As Merritt writes:

The two elements that comprise disappointment are surprise and frustration. Accepting the first—that God is surprised with our most tragic failures—tests our belief in His sovereignty. God knows the events that will unfold tomorrow, and they never take Him off guard. Additionally, He created our “inmost being” (Ps 139:13) and knows our hearts better than we do. We cannot take God by surprise.

Many people, when confronted by the gravity of their own recent sin, feel as if God were so disappointed with them that he couldn’t possibly still love, forgive, or accept them. If this describes you, let me ask: Did God ever love, forgive, or accept you? Because if God ever did, then he did so with the full knowledge of all the sins of your life—past, present, and future.

Or think of it like this: Have there been moments in your life when you felt especially loved and accepted by God—perhaps at your Christian conversion, baptism, or confirmation? Then consider this: you have done nothing since then that has surprised God. In that moment when you felt God’s pouring out his love on you, he was doing so knowing all the ways that you would rebel against him in the future. Yet he loved you anyway.

This is why Mark Galli, in this article from Christianity Today, calls God’s omniscience (including his foreknowledge) a “revelation of God’s grace.”

God in his foreknowledge knew that when he drew me into his family, I would lust and lie and gossip and slander and practice all manner of immorality through the years ahead. He knew the particular sins and the particular people I would sin against. He has known for some time the particular evil inclination that I recognized for the first time yesterday in worship. He knows this morning how I’m going to fail him before the morning is out.

Yet despite his complete knowledge of the darkness of my heart and the wickedness of my future, he accepted my initial sinner’s prayer and has held me to that commitment. He has remained committed to me despite his full knowledge of my deeds, words, and motives, past, present, and future. 
As Paul put it, “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself” 
(2 Tim. 2:13, esv).

All I can say to this is, Amen and Hallelujah.

It’s enough to preach Christ crucified

January 22, 2013

Unlike with several other episodes this season, the writers of last Saturday’s Saturday Night Live episode didn’t appear to have taken the week off. It was unusually funny, with the delightful Jennifer Lawrence as host. And the musical guest, the Lumineers, killed. The TV was still on as I was getting ready for bed—and there on my TV was none other than Andy Stanley.

I forget that he has a show on after SNL. Of course he does! How cool is that? How hip! What better way to reach the unchurched, his passion in life, than by catching them right after Saturday Night Live?

I’m trying not to be jealous.

I’ve said so many nice things about him recently—in the wake of my recent sermon inspired by his book Deep & Wide—that I forget that I’m not supposed to like him. As a United Methodist pastor, I’m supposed to complain that he “waters the gospel down,” that he compromises the message, that instead of offering the Good News, he offers the “news that you can use.” He hears this stuff from preachers like me all the time.

So there he is on TV, in front of a relatively large, young, post-SNL audience, talking about personal finance, credit cards, consumer debt… And I’m sure he’s giving good, practical advice—like he’s a regular Dave Ramsey.

Andy, you’re killing me!

First, he’s 50-something, and he looks like he’s 27. How is that possible? Second, while I fight the temptation to imagine that I have to compete with him on Sunday mornings, he constantly reminds me of how overmatched I’d be if I tried.

I don’t know jack about personal finance. Not only did I not take that class in seminary, seminary itself messed up my personal finances for years! So I would never feel qualified to preach about it.

I’m sure that Andy relates personal finance to the gospel in that clever, creative, and relevant way of his. Trust me: I’m only being a little snarky here. Andy’s approach works beautifully for him. My point is, I’m not him. I can’t be him.

I mostly only feel qualified to stick with the gospel—and the Cross. Even in the midst of last Sunday’s sermon, in which I related the prodigal son to Lance Armstrong, I had this to say about God’s grace:

Do you know why God has an infinite supply of grace? Because God—by coming into the world through Jesus Christ—has paid an infinite price for it: he’s paid for it with the gift of his own precious life! He didn’t have to, but he chose to out of love.

I’m always coming back around to the Cross. As Paul says, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are being destroyed. But it is the power of God for those of us who are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18-19). To me, it’s the best news of all.

So preachers like me can take heart in this new article from Mark Galli in Christianity Today. He writes in response to the dust-up between Louie Giglio (an Andy Stanley friend and associate) and the political opponents who pressured him to step down from offering the benediction at yesterday’s Presidential inauguration.

Giglio got the gig in the first place because he’s mobilized so many young Americans against sex trafficking—a cause everyone can get behind. (And from the White House’s perspective, being associated with a popular, “friendly” evangelical leader is never a bad thing.) The gospel will rarely be so congruent with our culture as it is in the case of sex trafficking—which is also why Giglio ended up losing the gig: out of faithfulness to that same gospel, he preached a sermon many years ago against homosexual behavior.

David Kinnaman’s UnChristian signaled that many Christians have concluded the big problem is that the evangelical church has aligned itself on the wrong side of some social issues, or with social issues that have little or no cultural cachet—and thus they move to champion more popular social causes to win a hearing for the gospel. It would uncharitable and unfair to suggest that Giglio and his church have done this, but if other evangelicals are like me, it remains a temptation for any who have a heart to introduce Jesus to others. Sometimes it works, as Giglio’s invitation to pray suggests. But as a strategy, it will invariably backfire, no matter how much we try to hide our work on unpopular causes, as the fury against Giglio’s 20-year-old sermon illustrates. The degree to which we employ this approach merely as a tactic to gain a hearing is the degree to which we will eventually be spurned by the very people we hope to attract.

Galli says that we don’t need to gain a hearing with our culture by any means other than the Cross.

Need-driven preaching… communicates that Jesus is just another way to solve our problems. It is no wonder that the culture looks at us, pats us on the head, and says, “But we’ve found other, equally valid ways to solve our problems, thank you.” We tend to think that postmoderns have brought relativism down upon us, but it seems, we Christians have been the culprits the more we make our message about meeting people’s needs.

The most needful and difficult task of the church today is to again preach the message of the Cross, and to do so in a way that alarms, surprises, scandalizes, challenges, invigorates, and inspires a 21st century world. What that would look like exactly is hard to say; our theologians and pastors need to help us here. In the most general terms, it has to be about Christ first and last. It has to be about the Christ who came into the world not to improve generally good people, but to resurrect the dead, not to bolster our self-esteem but to forgive us, not to make people successful but to make them loving, not to win the culture but to establish a kingdom without end. Even more scandalously, the message of the Cross is about a universe saturated with grace, where nothing we have done or can do earns us the right to participate in this stunning new reality; all has been done for us. The best we can do is acknowledge the reality (faith) and begin to live as if it is reality (repent).

The current state of our preaching is driven by an admirable desire to show our age the relevance of the gospel. But our recent attempts have inadvertently turned that gospel into mere good advice—about sex, about social ethics, about how to live successfully. This either offends or bores our culture. A renewed focus on the Cross, articulated in a culturally intelligent way, is the only way forward. Some will be scandalized by it, others will call it foolishness, and yet some will cling to it as salvation. But at least everyone will be talking about that which is truly First and Last.

So my challenge as a preacher is not to look at some other preacher and wonder, “How can I do that?” Rather, I need to look at what I’m doing and wonder, “How can I do that better?”

Christianity Today’s take on near-death experiences

December 6, 2012

ct_decemberIf you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know that I’ve softened my stance on near-death experiences. Like the most hardened philosophical materialist, I used to think that NDEs were merely ephemeral impulses of an oxygen-starved neocortex. I now believe that they are, in many cases, gifts from God that have some value for those of us who are interested in Christian apologetics.

Christianity Today editor Mark Galli, whose book-length response to Rob Bell’s controversial Love Wins I recommended last year, shares my point of view. In this cover story, “Incredible Journeys,” he addresses the biggest obstacle that Christians face in accepting the validity of NDEs: What if the God revealed in these experiences isn’t quite like the God revealed in Jesus Christ? Because of these discrepancies, he writes,

many Christians dismiss them as mere hallucination or a deceptive work of the Devil. I, for one, find the latter unconvincing. In most cases, people who have had near-heaven experiences return to earth and give themselves in love and service of others. If the Devil is inspiring such godly work, he’s confused about his job description.

As for the cultural and theological anomalies: First, it is hardly surprising that people interpret their experience through a particular cultural or religious lens. What other way do they have to process what is happening to them? Besides, all who’ve had this experience acknowledge Neal’s point: Words are inadequate to describe what they saw and heard. They really have no choice but to try to describe what happened in the language of their time and culture, and it is no wonder that so many of the descriptions seem to be at odds.

As for the confused theology, we have to remember that those who experience these things are not theologians. We are not required to accept every one of their insights as dogmatic statements of received doctrine. What they experienced is, at best, the anteroom to heaven. We have no idea what happens after the initial 90 minutes or so, what their experience of God will be like, what will be revealed to them if they remain.

And we must guard ourselves against the Prodigal Son’s elder brother syndrome. Too many of us are troubled when non-Christians enjoy an overwhelming experience of unconditional love in NDES. I would hope that we would all hope that the God we preach is in fact the God of prodigals, and that he reveals himself to us while we are yet sinners, sometimes on earth, sometimes during NDES.

Galli, careful theologian that he is, deals with the chief theological problem I had with Todd Burpo’s Heaven is For Real: What about future bodily resurrection? Our ultimate Christian hope isn’t heaven when we die, but fully embodied life in a renewed world on the other side of resurrection.

Galli couldn’t agree more, but he identifies the pastoral challenge we face when talking about resurrection versus an immediate, intermediate state that begins when we die.

In general, when life-after-the-afterlife folks talk about this future state, the language gets global and the vision abstract. There is a lot of talk about how “justice will reign,” and “evil will be defeated.” There are sweeping statements about “the culmination of history” and “the coming reign of God” and “the renewal of the whole earth.” This is heady stuff, and, as stated above, true as true can be.

But it doesn’t always connect with the widow whose husband was struck by a fatal heart attack. It doesn’t always speak to the 10-year-old whose mother just died of cancer. It doesn’t necessarily help those who wrestle with a question that troubles millions: “What happens when I die?” Some of us (usually the highly educated among us) may be most interested in life after the afterlife, but most people in the pews are deeply concerned simply with the afterlife—the one that comes right after this one. Their highest existential priority is not that justice will reign in all the earth, but to hear some good news about “what will happen to me next.”

Truer words… Even N.T. Wright, who’s done more than anyone to bring the Church back to a fully orthodox and full-bodied understanding of resurrection, tends to get fuzzy on resurrection. If our biggest fear is death, which I believe it is, then it’s enough for most of us to know that there’s an afterlife, never mind life after that afterlife. The distinction between the intermediate state and resurrection just isn’t important to most people.

When it comes to NDEs, Galli gets to the heart of the matter with this conclusion:

Despite their varied accounts and sometimes confused theology, there are moments when it is apparent that many of these people have had a remarkable encounter with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ. In the end, these are not so much near-death or near-heaven experiences, but, as a friend noted, near-God experiences. And when we see that people, even those who do not share our biblical assumptions, experience the God revealed in Jesus Christ—that is, the God of unconditional love—we cannot help but be thrilled and gratified. And to see it as an opportunity to talk about the full counsel of God.

Forgive me for being nerdy Methodist guy, but…

August 31, 2011

I love Mark Galli’s analogy of what we Methodists (and many other Christians) frequently call prevenient grace: the sense in which God’s Spirit enables human beings to respond to the gospel. As the analogy makes clear, we are free to accept or reject eternal life. But the very limited role we play in our salvation is hardly the point.

The point is that a loving God initiates and provides the means by which we can be saved. I made a similar point in Monday’s post about freedom: simply having freedom of choice, however good and necessary that is, hardly solves our human problem.

A man finds himself in the middle of a vast sea, treading water. There is no land in sight, no boat on the horizon. He is hungry and thirsty and rapidly tiring. He’s headed for death. This man may have free will to swim in one direction or another. He may choose to swim or to tread water. But when it comes to the most important thing, he has no choice—he cannot choose to survive. He’s going to drown.

Then along comes a rescue ship. When the ship gets close, it lets out a raft with three men on board. Rowing over to the desperate man, they stretch their arms out over the edge of the raft and grab him. He grabs their arms as they pull him into the boat. They take him on board the ship, give him medical attention, and get him home. The man is saved.

When this man then recounts his story to his family, how will he describe it? Will he say, “Well, the rescuers loved me so much, they pretty much let me decide my fate. And, really, it was my free will that made all the difference.” No, he will describe how utterly hopeless his situation was, how grateful he was to see the rescue ship, how wonderful those three men who pulled him aboard were, how excellent the navigator was to find him, and so on.

Galli employs this analogy to counter what he perceives as Rob Bell’s overemphasis in Love Wins on human choice in relation to salvation or damnation—heaven and hell are mostly a matter of God’s giving us what we want. Never mind, Galli might say, the ways in which sin offends God’s holiness. Never mind the ways in which hell is what we deserve. Never mind that hell is what we would get apart from God’s saving work in Christ.

Do we have a problem with hell because we underestimate our problem with sin?

Mark Galli, God Wins (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2011), 73-74.