Logical Fallacies From a Biblical Perspective: Appeal to Authority

A logical fallacy is the use of faulty reasoning in the construction of an argument. It’s usually the rule, rather than the exception, that logical fallacies come into play in modern discourse. It’s far too common. Few people care to be internally consistent, form their statements properly, or in some cases use basic logic at all. It’s much better to copy the beliefs you think you’re supposed to have from the people you’ve been told are in the right, right?

No. That’s what today’s fallacy is about. I’ll be going through a bunch of these, but first on the agenda is the appeal to authority.

Appeal to Authority

It’s a very popular tactic to appeal to an authority figure (on the subject at hand, hopefully) when making a point. If the authority figure agrees with you, then it’s settled, right? After all, they must know better than us because they’re an expert on the matter. Maybe, but not necessarily.

When making an appeal, we argue that our position is the correct one. We claim it’s rooted in truth. But truth doesn’t care about authority. Truth stands alone, available for anyone of any status, any fame, any ability, any age, any gender, any location, any appearance, or any wealth to possess it. It cannot be held captive by any one person or group.

Truth in the Bible

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.'”

John 8:31-32 (ESV)

God is the only one who has an unequivocal claim to truth.

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

John 17:17 (ESV)

In John 17, we read that God’s word is truth. It doesn’t say God’s word is “true.” It says God’s word is literally “truth” itself. We ought to read the Scriptures if we desire to align ourselves with truth.

“Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.”

Psalm 25:5 (ESV)

God speaks the truth, but people in authority are just people. They’re fallible and imperfect. Sometimes they’re right, but other times they’re wrong. What makes them valuable, then? Well, that depends on the authority.

The Value of Authority

Some authority figures are experts, meaning we trust them because they’ve done the research or have the experience to back up their claims. Others are leaders, meaning they know how to effectively direct people to action. The former is more likely to offer valuable insight on a given topic than the latter, but many still trust leaders because they inspire us on an emotional level.

Either kind of authority figure may know better than us, but they won’t always. This is why experts meet together on a regular basis to exchange ideas and information. If they were already individually perfect, there would be no need for this. But even after doing the research and discussing it with other professionals, authority figures in the same field still disagree with one another on a regular basis.

The Problem

The problem with appealing to authority is that truth is not inherent in any authority apart from the divine. Not even the apostles claimed to be perfect.

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

1 Corinthians 1:10-13 (ESV)

In 1 Corinthians, Paul rebukes the people for aligning themselves with specific authority figures and forming divisions among themselves. This passage is primarily about church unity, but there’s also a lesson to be learned about human authority. Paul asks, “Was Paul crucified for you?” No, of course not. Jesus was crucified for us. Rather than align ourselves with Paul, we should align ourselves with Jesus.

This fallacy betrays that the person using it probably doesn’t have an argument of their own. They either don’t have the truth or they don’t know how to express it. Pointing at someone else to do the job for them is irresponsible, ignorant, and risky. At best, the authority figure is correct and the person committing the fallacy is revealed to have taken a shortcut to truth with little to no idea why they believe what they believe. At worst, the authority figure is wrong and the person committing the fallacy is revealed to be incorrect, using confirmation bias to recklessly latch on to a claim they find attractive while forgoing an honest search for truth.

The Solution

What then should we do? If an authority figure claims something to be true, our goal should be to discover that truth for ourselves so we can understand it and make our own arguments based on it. Truth should be our appeal, not the person we hope possesses it.

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Acts 17:11 (ESV)

Only by doing our due diligence will we be able to argue aright, with educated opinions of our own rather than appealing to someone else. By doing our own research, we learn so much more about the subject at hand. We’ll be better equipped to argue our position and we’ll be arguing from an informed perspective.

And guess what? If, after looking into something, you find yourself disagreeing with the opinion you previously had from an authority figure, so much the better! That’s called thinking for yourself and it’s a good thing. Don’t let your biases constrain you. Pursue truth relentlessly, holding God’s truth above all. In doing so, you’ll strengthen your worldview and ensure its foundations are solid.

That’s all for now. I’ll write about more logical fallacies in the future. Let me know which fallacy you want to see next by commenting below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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How to Find Lasting Positive Change

Last time, we talked about what it means to acknowledge who you truly are. Far from self-centered affirmation, this entails the voluntary dissection of your very soul, the opening up of yourself to God. He created us. We ought to have the courage to face him and admit our shortcomings. That doesn’t mean it won’t be difficult, of course.

Today, I want to talk about some steps we can take to move towards lasting change in our lives. Acknowledging your sin and your tendencies is one thing, but repenting and moving unto action is another entirely. Let’s begin.

“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”

Revelation 3:19-20 (ESV)

This verse shows us what it really means to let conviction move us to be more like Christ. Repentance isn’t just saying we’re sorry. Jesus stands at the door. He knocks, asking us to let him into our life. We cannot reap the benefits of a proper relationship with Christ unless we open the door and let him in. But letting him in requires us to surrender ourselves to him—not just the most attractive parts, either. We’re talking about everything. But “everything” is a rather unimpressive word on its own. Let me paint you a picture.

Jesus Pays a Visit

Imagine for a moment that Jesus knocks on the front door. We think of ourselves as a pretty good Christian, so we have no problem letting him in, right? We undo the lock. We turn the handle, slowly swinging the door open. We greet our Lord and Savior. He asks if we would like him to step inside. Oh, of course! How silly of us. So we step aside and allow him access to our living room. It’s organized fairly well. There’s a couch on the far side and a welcome mat laid before the door with a coat rack and a place for shoes. The room is well-lit and inviting.

This is nice, we think to ourselves. Jesus in my house? What a privilege! Pleasantries are exchanged. We shuffle our feet and stare up at the ceiling, wondering what to say next. Then Jesus asks if he might take a look around the house. What? We weren’t expecting this, but that’s okay. We lead him into the office and show him our projects. We lead him upstairs to the guest room. We show him where the bathroom is. We might even comment on the kitchen as we pass through it. But then Jesus speaks up.

“What about your closet?” We stop, stunned for a moment. Why on earth would he want to look in there, we ask ourselves. We weren’t planning on letting him see every part of the house. This is most irregular. Jesus asks where the bedroom is. We stare at our feet for a moment, trying to think of an excuse. “Oh, still tidying up in there. Sorry about that!”

Jesus still wants to see it. He waits, standing patiently. We swallow the lump in our throat and force our legs to move us towards the bedroom. This isn’t fun anymore. We weren’t prepared for this! How rude of Jesus to insist on seeing the parts of our house we obviously don’t want anyone snooping around in. We open the door to the bedroom, revealing a bit of a mess. The bed isn’t made. Clothes hang over the side of the hamper. There’s a stray pair of underwear peeking out from beneath the bed. Jesus looks around the room. Then he asks again to see the closet.

The Inner Conflict

What would you say? Would you let him see what you have hiding in the far reaches of your mind? Would you allow him access to the sins you hold most dear, the grudges you’ve held onto for years, or the bad habits you still try to ignore? Maybe you’d say, “Enough! Get out.” Most people do.

One of the hardest things in the world is to let someone else see the most intimate parts of you. It’s why divorce is so common and friendships can be so fragile. It challenges your ego, forcing you to come to grips with your weakness as others see it openly. We hate dealing with our flaws and sins. We hide them away beneath layers of veneer—the Facebook posts, friendly smiles, and displays of virtue we hope distracts onlookers from the complicated mess underneath.

Yet this internal struggle is one we must face if we hope to pursue a life that honors Christ.

“You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine.”

Leviticus 20:26 (ESV)

Lest you think of this as the grumpy, domineering God of the Old Testament, here it is again in the New Testament. God does not change.

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:48 (ESV)

Christ confirms the Leviticus passage here in the Sermon on the Mount. Peter confirms it in his epistle.

“As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy.'”

1 Peter 1:14-16 (ESV)

There is no such thing as a “drifting” Christian, a man of God who does not seek his face. If you let yourself drift, you will invariably find yourself moving closer to sin. So what are some practical ways to start opening up your life to Christ and letting him sanctify you?

Confess

It starts with confessing. In a therapy session, clients might be asked to verbalize their desires and their realizations about themselves. This might seem unnecessary. After all, we already know how we feel. But there’s something powerful about using audible words to confess inner realities. So confess your sins to God out loud. Admit your faults. Don’t skip this part. Remember, you can’t start with changing yourself. You have to let Christ reign first.

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Luke 5:32 (ESV)

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9 (ESV)

“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

2 Chronicles 7:14 (ESV)

Center Yourself in Truth

Next, center yourself in the truth. Don’t just jump into self-help books or temporary, emotional effort. You won’t get far. You have to keep your eye focused on what matters in order to get out of the wilderness. Part of this is reading God’s Word and dwelling on his truth. You have to saturate yourself with it if you expect to see its fruit in your life.

“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:32 (ESV)

The truth is the answer to your problems. But what is truth?

“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”

John 14:6 (ESV)

“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”

Psalm 46:10 (ESV)

Ultimately, God is truth. Only by pursuing Christ will we find that truth. Dwell on God’s nature and become intimately familiar with Jesus and his teachings.

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”

John 17:17 (ESV)

Only when you become a real man of God—a student of theology, someone who’s “bananas for Jesus” as Keith Green said—will you become a man God uses to do great things.

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

James 1:25 (ESV)

Go Forth Unto Action

This leads us to action that is supported by faith, deeds that are backed by love, and a changed life as the result of a changed heart. Don’t put the cart before the horse. This kind of thing can’t be manufactured. It has to be genuine, overflowing out of the new creation God has made you into.

“The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”

Luke 6:45 (ESV)

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

2 Corinthians 5:17-18 (ESV)

“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness.”

Romans 6:13 (ESV)

Persevere

But that’s not the end. The true test is consistency and perseverance. This is perhaps the least glamorous part of the process. Everyone loves stories of people who turned their life around, saved relationships, or overcame addictions. But nobody gets excited about the prospect of a long life of honest living in obedience to God, showing his love to strangers, coworkers, and family. We want the adventure and the drama without the commitment.

“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

1 Corinthians 15:58 (ESV)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1 (ESV)

If you feel like giving up, like putting a stop to this uncomfortable process of exposing your heart for replacement and sacrificing your whole being to God’s purposes, just remember Christ. Center yourself back to the truth. This last passage convicts me regularly that I have it far too comfortable in America to be complaining. I need to persevere, keeping my sights set firmly on Christ.

“Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

Hebrews 12:3-4 (ESV)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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Who You Truly Are

Last week, I began a series about being true to yourself. No, I’m not talking about the self-love hippy dippy nonsense. I’m talking about boldly confronting yourself and making a choice—the choice to acknowledge who you are today, admit your shortcomings, see your potential, and move forward towards what God desires for you. We’ve already talked about recognizing the real you. Today, we tackle the next step.

Acknowledge Who You Are

Allowing yourself to think honestly about who you are can be quite the task, but it takes a bit more effort to accept the truths you find and acknowledge who you are, to yourself and to others. It’s easy to ask yourself what you enjoy, what makes you tick, and why you have certain tendencies. It’s a lot more difficult to say “I’m impatient,” “I care a lot about what certain people think of me,” or “I have potential I’m not realizing.”

You need to acknowledge where you are before you can get somewhere else. Nobody ever got good at playing the guitar by saying “learning guitar seems neat.” No. They first had to acknowledge their lack of ability, then let that drive them to learn. Only then did they grow and change for the better, gaining something new and valuable. The same holds true for character.

Words Have Power

I’ve noticed that the smallest of phrases can sometimes make a huge difference in living more authentically. When I got saved, I realized God had given me a heart for people I didn’t have before. So I started saying “thank you” a lot more often. I felt convicted to communicate gratitude to people, both as a form of encouragement and an acknowledgement that they met some of my needs. It was part of how I put my salvation into practice.

Another huge one for me was admitting fault or ignorance. Instead of coming up with excuses, I started saying “I was wrong.” Instead of guessing the answer to a question, I started saying “I don’t know.” It was weird at first. I was so used to putting up my guard to keep my pride and ego intact. Now I was fighting against that instinct. At first, it was uncomfortable. Then I realized it was freeing. I could be more honest with myself and others. I didn’t have to pretend. Being me was easier than fitting into the costume of a fictional character who was always right and always smart.

God Made You Special

One essential part of acknowledging who you are is accepting that God created and loves you. This is hard for some people. Whether it’s feeling like we’re unwanted, unloved, or unworthy, Christians regularly struggle with their identity in Christ. It’s something we overlook far too often. Here are some truths you can hold onto.

“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.”

Psalm 139:13-16 (ESV)

God created us. He formed us with love and care, designing a purpose and future for each of us. The Bible is clear about this. Paul reinforces that God not only made us, but predestined us for salvation and worship.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.”

Ephesians 1:3-6 (ESV)

The most important part of our identity in Christ is the work Christ did on the cross. This is when God truly proved his love for us and put it on magnificent display.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

John 3:16-17 (ESV)

“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Romans 5:8 (ESV)

Jesus is the proof of God’s ultimate love for us. The cross is where God’s goodness and mercy finally win over mankind’s wickedness, forgiveness wins over judgement, and we gain new life in Christ rather than being condemned to death. Praise God for all that was accomplished. So what do we do now?

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.”

John 15:5, 10-11, 16a (ESV)

We obey. We follow. We live our new lives for Christ. It only makes sense. He gave us a second chance. He loved us from the very beginning and saved us despite our rebellion and hatred for him. Now that our eyes are open, we look to God and do our very best with the short time we have to serve and worship our Lord. So acknowledge who you are, but more importantly, acknowledge what God has done for you, how he loves you, and what he desires for your life. Only there will you find true purpose and peace.

Next time, we’ll look at what it means to take the knowledge of who you truly are and move forward unto action. Let me know your thoughts about this series in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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Be True to Yourself

Nothing annoys me more than someone fake.

I’d rather talk to a newly saved Christian who’s confused about why Jesus had to die on the cross than an educated theologian who tweets that “Jesus was a socialist.” The difference is that one of them is being honest, acknowledging their ignorance and seeking truth; the other is putting on a show to score political points. The theologian has no excuse. He knows better, yet still chooses to propagate a lie.

You see it every day. Maybe your dad has convinced himself that buying more gadgets will make him happy when you know he’s empty inside. Maybe your friend follows the latest trends and always seems to agree with whatever the news is saying. Maybe you’ve found yourself pressured by your peers, only to give in and conform to their preferences for the sake of feeling valued. It’s hard to resist. It’s hard to be true to yourself.

Isn’t That Sinful?

What complicates this further is that being true to oneself has gotten a bad rap in some Christian circles today. This is for good reason. When most modern media tells us to be true to ourselves, what they’re really saying is that we are the god of our own hedonistic pursuits. “Do what makes you happy! Live for you! Follow your heart!” This kind of thinking is purely selfish and runs counter to the truth of the Bible and the person of Jesus Christ.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jeremiah 17:9 (ESV)

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Luke 12:15 (ESV)

“He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John 3:30 (ESV)

But let’s leave pride and pleasure-seeking aside for now. Today, I want to talk about being true to yourself in the context of following Christ. I’m talking about vulnerable authenticity and self-reflection followed by diligent sanctification and accountability.

Merriam-Webster defines authenticity as being “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” But if we stopped there, we’d be left in our own selfishness, authentically sinful. We have to go further. Recognize and acknowledge who you are, but proceed then to bold action in living out your potential as God’s child, remaining vigilant to combat temptation and darkness within you.

My goal is to take this process and address it one step at a time. Bear with me. I know some of this might sound like self-help mumbo jumbo on the surface, but I’m convinced this is an essential part of maturing in your faith and identity as a genuine Christian.

Recognize the Real You

The first step is to recognize the real you—not what you present to your friends, not what your social media shows, and not who you wish you were. Just you. Confront yourself and really dig deep. Who are you? What fulfills you? What makes you cry? What do you daydream about? What tempts you to sin? What do you spend most of your free time doing? What do you believe about the nature of God, your purpose on this earth, and the purpose of those around you?

If you have friends you can trust, ask them what they observe about you. What would they say are your habits, values, or fears? What would they say are the things you talk most passionately about and the weaknesses you display?

Some people live their whole lives without ever answering these questions. It’s too easy to live on autopilot, pretending that what matters most is what you’re doing right now and what form of entertainment or frivolity is waiting around the corner. But life’s substance doesn’t consist of Marvel movies, mocha lattes, or Instagram. Life’s substance consists of real people, real choices, and real consequences. If you don’t take ownership of your life, you’ll quickly find yourself drifting in a sea of mediocrity, bereft of purpose or identity. Don’t let it happen. You have to nail it down. Who are you?

This isn’t to say you have to figure everything out all at once. In fact, most people will give up if they try to handle too much too quickly. Instead, just challenge yourself a little bit every day. It’s part of how we all grow up. But while most people avoid the big questions until they’re staring them in the face, I’d argue the better approach is to seek them out and deal with them head on.

Talk to Yourself

An easy way to do this is to answer those questions in a journal or other creative outlet. For me, I wrote poems. Boy, did I write poems. I would whip out my phone wherever I was and write down exactly how I felt, what I was struggling with, or who I was becoming. It was immensely helpful in figuring out who I really was and what demons I needed to wrestle. I didn’t care if it was embarrassing. I would write down my sins in all their ugly detail. I didn’t care if I was immature. I would write the most edgy stuff sometimes. I didn’t care if I had all the answers yet. I would frequently have dialogues with myself about things I wasn’t yet decided on, just to get a better grasp on the issue or situation. It was therapeutic. I highly recommend it.

Revealing these hidden parts of your identity and turning them inside out is a key step on the road to being true to yourself in a way that honors God more fully. Next week, we’ll talk about what it means to acknowledge who you are and really own up to it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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Do All Christians Have to go to Church?

I’ve seen some rather frustrating takes on the internet recently about church. It seems the obligation to go to church has all but died out with the general population, and many people who call themselves Christians have given up on church as well. But why is this?

I think, in part, it’s a natural progression of our increasingly secular society. Over time, America has turned from a very traditionalist, “Christian” country into a progressive melting pot of all kinds of ideas, religions, lifestyles, and peoples. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, per se. It’s definitely made it harder to be openly Christian, but we still have it great compared to most of the world. We can still worship, study the Word, and meet together without fear in the vast majority of situations. And one thing we consider all too infrequently is that genuine faith shines brightest in the darkness (check out this comic from Adam4d).

But this isn’t meant to be a post about the evolution of religion and Christianity in America, as fun as that would be to talk about. So let’s get back on track. Church. It’s a word that inspires indifference, disgust, or guilt for many. If you feel this way, you’re not alone. Let me tell you about my time wrestling with this issue; then we’ll look at what the Bible says about it.

My Experience Growing Up in the Church

As a kid, my parents always made us attend church on Sundays, and sometimes Sunday nights too. I knew it was something I was supposed to do. I knew it was a place with people I knew, and occasionally things to do or food to eat. But that was about it. Church wasn’t something I desired or enjoyed, in most cases. I always grumbled when dad got us out of bed early every week.

Then I got saved. At about age 14, I came to the realization that following in my parents’ footsteps was dumb. Either Christianity was right or it wasn’t. If it was, I needed to actually read the Bible and obey the God who was willing to die for me. If it wasn’t, the only logical thing to do would be to abandon the faith and not look back. After all, what’s the use of a religion if it isn’t true?

After reading through the entire Bible for the first time, praying more than I ever had in my life, studying practical and scientific objections to the Bible, and reading book after book, I came to the conclusion that the Bible is true. All the evidence pointed to Jesus. At this point, I felt I had no choice. To pursue truth was to pursue God’s words. The Bible clearly established church as something important (we’ll get to that). I now had a concrete reason to go to church. But as I grew up, I moved away to college. The drive to church was longer and my sleep schedule became downright irresponsible at times. I didn’t go every week, and many times I’d leave immediately after the service was over. I felt disillusioned at this time with more than just church, for more than a few reasons.

After a while, a lot of things improved for me, but I still wasn’t satisfied with church. Was it just me? Was I a bad Christian? After talking with my brothers, I realized they felt similarly. The church I was going to at the time felt a bit disconnected and aimless, especially for young people. This isn’t meant to discount the church as a whole. There were, and still are, some incredible Christians there. But I realized it wasn’t working for me, so I looked for a new group of Christians to meet with.

Today, I’m very thankful to God for the church I’ve found. I’ve had more opportunities to serve, hear truth, and meet fellow young Christians than ever. Part of this is because I matured over time. I realized I had to be more involved than I was. But part of this was the church itself. Why do I tell you this? Because I want you to know that even a “church kid” like me has had ups and downs. I’ve felt obligated, annoyed, and discouraged. I’ve skipped church to sleep in. I’ve avoided people and struggled finding my place. Despite the face a lot of Christians put on, church isn’t just a wonderful festival of joy every week for everyone.

What Does the Bible Say About Church?

Now that you know where I’m coming from on this issue, let’s take a look at what the Bible says regarding church. It’s important to note that the New Testament was written at a time when the early church was still developing. Today, we talk about buildings, potlucks, music teams, schedules, and special services. But to early Christians, church was a lot more simple than all of that. It was about meeting together to worship God and encourage one another. And remember, none of these letters were addressing individuals, but rather a whole group of Christians.

“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.”

Ephesians 2:19-22 (ESV)

Here, Paul gives us a beautiful picture of the church as a temple. Christians are the building blocks and Christ is the cornerstone. We are all joined together as one. We cannot fulfill this alone. To be a lone brick is to be useless. A brick is designed to come together with hundreds of other bricks to build a home. The same is true for how God designed us. This theme is throughout the New Testament.

“For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.”

1 Corinthians 12:12-14 (ESV)

More common than the brick analogy is Paul’s idea of a body with many limbs or “members.” Though many, we are one body of believers. This is the definition of the church. It’s the gathering of believers in the name of Christ. Now notice the last line: “The body does not consist of one member but of many.” This is undeniably proof that you cannot be a church-less Christian. It’s impossible. To be a Christian is to be a member of a body. If you aren’t a member of a group of believers, you simply aren’t living the life God has called you to.

“And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

Christ is the head of the body, just as he is the cornerstone of the temple. His place as God’s Son, having all things created through him (John 1), and having risen from the dead, is what makes him worthy of our worship. He is why we gather together.

“And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.”

Colossians 3:15-16 (ESV)

Here, we get a better idea of what church ought to look like. We are called to peace and thankfulness to God. We should know his words. We should be teaching and keeping each other accountable. We should be singing together. You can see this pattern of the early church reflected in many churches of today. This is why we meet the way we do. This is why we have liturgies and music and sermons. This is why church cannot be appropriated to just you, a Bible, and nature. No matter how spiritual or helpful your solitary experiences are, they are not and can never be “church.” Don’t fool yourself.

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)

It’s not just Paul commanding us to meet for church. This passage from Hebrews is one of the clearest commands in the Bible to meet together regularly. The reason I saved it for last is because, on its own, it doesn’t fully define why we meet or what that looks like. But with the context of the other passages, it’s easy to see that this is a command not just to have more baby showers or game nights, but to have more church. A key part of that is encouraging one another towards love and good works. In today’s world, I think we could stand for a lot more of that kind of encouragement.

There are so many more passages we could talk about. We could look at church discipline, sacraments, baptism, persecution, unity, and much more. I encourage you to read the letters of the New Testament (as well as Acts) for more clarity on these issues. In all honesty, I’m convinced that those who choose not to belong to a church have little to no experience reading the Bible. It’s such a pervasive and dominant topic that it’s extremely hard to miss and impossible to deny its importance.

What Should Church Really Look Like?

Now, we might ask ourselves: What should church look like for us today? What are we actually called to do? Do we really need all these traditions and rituals? It’s clear that many aspects of modern church are rooted in Scripture. Some examples might be church leaders (Titus 1:5-9), music (Eph 5:19), baptism (1 Cor 12:13), prayer (Matt 18:20, James 5:16), public readings of the Bible (1 Tim 4:13), encouragement (1 Thess 5:11), and the sharing of food, resources, and money for the betterment of the church (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37).

But there are, of course, some things that go unmentioned in Scripture. There is no command to meet in a fancy building, to market your church to the world to boost attendance, to give exactly ten percent of your income, to meet on Sunday mornings, or to host social events. All these things, and more, are ancillary at best and heretical at worst. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor who was killed for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler, had some harsh words for the churches he saw when he visited America.

“So what stands in place of the Christian message? An ethical and social idealism borne by a faith in progress that—who knows how—claims the right to call itself ‘Christian.’ And in the place of the church as the congregation of believers in Christ there stands the church as a social corporation.

“Anyone who has seen the weekly program of one of the large New York churches, with their daily, indeed almost hourly events, teas, lectures, concerts, charity events, opportunities for sports, games, bowling, dancing for every age group, anyone who has heard how they try to persuade a new resident to join the church, insisting that you’ll get into society quite differently by doing so, anyone who has become acquainted with the embarrassing nervousness with which the pastor lobbies for membership—that person can well assess the character of such a church.

“All these things, of course, take place with varying degrees of tactfulness, taste, and seriousness; some churches are basically ‘charitable’ churches; others have primarily a social identity. One cannot avoid the impression, however, that in both cases they have forgotten what the real point is.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Christians today have a responsibility to meet together in a way that honors our Lord rather than grieving him. In a time when church has become a dirty word and religion a bad taste in the mouth of the populace, it’s all too tempting to transform our churches into something more appealing and modern. But Jesus didn’t declare Peter to be a business tycoon. Paul never rebuked anyone for having small attendance numbers. Church was never supposed to be a social club.

“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.”

Acts 17:11 (ESV)

It all comes back to the Bible. Hold it higher than any word spoken by men. Hold the Bible’s standard for church higher than your desire to make church into something more fun, attractive, or convenient. It’s not about you. It’s about Christ. It’s about meeting regularly to honor, worship, and serve our God together. “Let us go to the house of the Lord! (Psalm 122:1)”

Let me know your thoughts about church in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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Entertaining Demons

Most people say they’re “fighting their demons” by overcoming weakness, addiction, or trauma. Recently, I’ve been fighting my demons in another way—by silencing the inner voices that I love to hear the most.

That Little Voice

If you mention an inner voice, most people immediately think of their conscience. This voice bugs you to stop before doing something wrong or encourages you towards something you ought to do. But I’m not talking about your conscience today. I’m talking about what some people might associate with self-esteem or ego.

This other voice is the one telling you that your significant other isn’t worthy of you, that you should be annoyed at your lazy roommate, or that you deserve more respect from your coworkers. In short, this voice is concerned with your pride and has an incredible talent for torturing you without your awareness.

The Inner War

Let me give you an example. This last week, I gave a presentation. I had been working on it for a while and I wanted it to go well. It did. Once it was over, I heard a soft voice in the back of my head.

Wouldn’t it be great if people congratulated you? That’s not too much to ask, is it? They should praise you. You deserve recognition for your hard work. Invite it. Bask in it.

At first, it sounds reasonable enough. I did work for this. Maybe I do deserve something for it. I can take a compliment, right? That’d be nice. Our culture loves this mentality. It’s easily disguised as confidence or healthy self-esteem. In reality, it’s usually nothing more than conceit.

“Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Proverbs 26:12 (ESV)

“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished. Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

Proverbs 16:5, 18 (ESV)

I hope you can see now what I mean. I’m not disparaging confidence, assertiveness, or a healthy mental attitude. Those are all great qualities to have. I’m simply trying to unmask the sinful pride we so often hide behind other labels.

“For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.”

Romans 12:3 (ESV)

In my example, my inner voice is tempting me towards pride. It mixes truth in there to encourage me to justify it as something neutral or positive. The truth is that I gave a successful presentation, that I am valued, and that I’m using the gifts my Savior gave me. The lie is that I got to where I am independent of God, that I deserve praise, and that I need man’s approval to be satisfied in my work.

I like to think of that tempting voice as a demon of selfishness I have to constantly fight off or an enemy I have to guard against. But the thing is, it’s not a demon or a fiend. It’s me.

“But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

James 1:14-15 (ESV)

This is the true culprit. It’s my selfish nature, my sinful flesh, the “old man.” But it doesn’t feel like it’s me. It just feels like a comforting resentment, a gentle push towards quick satisfaction, a quenching of my thirst for self-gratification. It feels good. And that’s the hardest part.

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.”

Romans 7:15, 18-20 (ESV)

We have to challenge this voice. We cannot let it go unrestrained. It will lead us away to death by continuously pulling us down into sin. So how do we fight it? What can save us from ourselves?

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:9 (ESV)

Only by confessing and offering ourselves to God can we escape our enslavement to sin. We cannot live without a master. We must serve something. We are incapable of apathy, unable to rid ourselves of a desire to worship. So we must find something worthy of our worship, a substitute to our worship of self.

“Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.”

Romans 6:12-14 (ESV)

I’ve taken to using a unique strategy in being mindful about combating my inner voice. When I hear it tempting me, I yell at it… in my head, of course. “Shut up!” “No!” It’s a way I can interrupt my autopilot thoughts and refocus my attention in the moment. I question what I’m telling myself rather than accept it automatically. It helps. Obviously, there’s more to it than that. I have to offer myself to God and confess my sin if I want to keep it from gaining a foothold. Daily commitment to scripture reading and prayer, along with a church community willing to keep me accountable, is essential.

I love the way the King James Version puts these verses:

“That ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; And be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.”

Ephesians 4:22-24 (KJV)

That’s the key to this process of fighting off our inner voice of selfishness. We must put off the old man and renew our spirits, allowing the new man to take control and lead us towards holiness. Only with God’s help can we become people who truly serve him and are satisfied in him alone.

“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

2 Corinthians 7:1 (ESV)

So stop listening. Stop letting your inner voice lead you down paths of logic towards the gallows. Stop bargaining with yourself to see how much sin you can get away with before it catches up to you. Refuse to let it bind you. Run towards freedom. Freedom from our inner demons doesn’t come through acceptance of sin, blind positivity, or being self-sufficient. It comes through Christ.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Galatians 5:1 (ESV)

Let me know your thoughts about battling inner demons in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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Should Christians Pay Tax?

Yes, we should. But why? And what about when our taxes go towards things that aren’t right?

“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God… For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”

Romans 13:1, 6-7 (ESV)

I think most of us would agree that paying taxes is right for a Christian. After all, it’s outlined pretty clearly here. God establishes government to keep law and order. We obey him in paying taxes. We should not do this begrudgingly. We should see it as our due to the institution God has given to serve us and keep us safe.

Paul goes further by saying we should honor and respect our leaders, not merely tolerate them. This can be hard in our current age of partisan hatred and vitriol, but it’s our job as Christians to be different from the world. Resist the temptation to fall in line with how everyone else is acting.

“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Romans 12:2 (ESV)

Jesus offers us another angle on paying taxes when the Pharisees challenge him.

“‘Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, ‘Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin for the tax.’ And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, ‘Whose likeness and inscription is this?’ They said, ‘Caesar’s.’ Then he said to them, ‘Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.'”

Matthew 22:17-21 (ESV)

Jesus confirms Paul’s words (perhaps the other way around), but as usual, he goes even further. Have you ever stopped and really thought about that phrase before? “…to God the things that are God’s.” That’s the real kicker. Not only should we offer up our taxes to the government, but we should offer up ourselves to God. He rightfully purchased us on the cross. We owe him our time, our money, and our lives. That’s a tall order.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ESV)

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Romans 12:1-2 (ESV)

It is a far higher and more difficult calling to give God the things that are God’s than to give Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Yet the Pharisees saw it the other way around. They were shocked Jesus would support this tax. They hated their government, and for good reason. This brings us to another point. Should Christians pay taxes to corrupt governments committing evil acts?

“If Christians can support Rome, what government could they not support? This is the government that killed Christ and almost all the apostles. And here Jesus is telling them, pay for it. Pay that tax that is going to pay the salary of the very men who are about to drive the nails into My hands, not because what they are doing is right, but because government reflects the character of God. God will deal with them.”1

Mark Dever

The key principle here is not about where your money eventually goes, but about respecting the role of government as God has laid it out. Our role is obedience. It’s not ultimately up to the church to keep authorities accountable. It’s up to God.

Does this mean we should never try to improve our government or work to prevent evil from being committed with our tax dollars? No. There’s absolutely a time and a place for making a positive difference, especially in America where we have the privilege to participate in our government. Some of us are called to be godly missionaries, some to be godly office workers, and others to be godly civil servants. My goal is not to dissuade anyone from upholding justice or acting according to their convictions. My goal is to make it undeniably clear that Jesus instructed his followers to pay a tax to their tyrannical ruler and to give themselves up to their glorious Creator.

Let me know your thoughts about taxes in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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  1. Mark Dever, God and Politics: Jesus’ Vision for Society, State and Government (Leyland, England: 10Publishing, 2016), 27.

Heavenly Minded, Earthly Commissioned

As I’ve been teaching a Sunday School class on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I’ve noticed that he and I have a lot in common. He pursued a greater understanding of theology, yet continually felt that head-knowledge wasn’t enough. He was disgusted at American churches with their love for liberal Christianity, social relevance, and conformity to the world. He wasn’t scared to criticize his contemporaries or entertain radical new ideas. He believed love was well worth the risks it brought and the fear of loss. He had bouts of depression. He could be rather intense at times and felt that some people were put off by him.

But what we’re going to address today is his view that the Christian life is so much more than going to church, reading motivational books, and putting on a good face. He believed the Christian is called to take their faith out of church and into the world.

“In Jesus Christ the reality of God has entered into the reality of this world. The place where the questions about the reality of God and about the reality of the world are answered at the same time is characterized solely by the name: Jesus Christ. God and the world are enclosed in this name. . . . we cannot speak rightly of either God or the world without speaking of Jesus Christ. All concepts of reality that ignore Jesus Christ are abstractions.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

We start with the fabric of reality itself. Bonhoeffer believed the incarnation of Christ supports the framework of one reality. To speak of “the world” as if it’s some foreign realm isolated from Christianity is not accurate. Christ came to the world. We are in the world. We’re not called to Paradise just yet. We ought to live to fulfill our earthly commission rather than wait around for the second coming.

“As long as Christ and the world are conceived as two realms bumping against and repelling each other, we are left with only the following options. Giving up on reality as a whole, either we place ourselves in one of the two realms, wanting Christ without the world or the world without Christ—and in both cases we deceive ourselves”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

So many people gravitate to the extremes. For some, this means love of the world at the expense of their walk with Christ. They can’t get over their habits. They can’t reject addiction. They can’t break off their relationship with materialism, pride, and selfishness. They might be heard saying things like “Don’t judge,” “Nobody is perfect,” or “I’m not into legalism.”

For others, they love their “Christian” life more than their “real” life. They just want emotional spirituality without having to worry about getting their hands dirty. They ignore the fate of their unbelieving friends in the name of keeping themselves “pure.” They scoff at certain activities, labeling them “worldly” so they can rally behind others in ostracizing those who practice them. They might be heard saying things like, “Don’t be conformed to the world,” “I can’t stand people like that,” or “I’m trying to be more heavenly minded.”

“There are not two realities, but only one reality, and that is God’s reality revealed in Christ in the reality of the world. Partaking in Christ, we stand at the same time in the reality of God and in the reality of the world. The reality of Christ embraces the reality of the world in itself. The world has no reality of its own independent of God’s revelation in Christ. . . . [T]he theme of two realms, which has dominated the history of the church again and again, is foreign to the New Testament.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

As the YouTube channel Blimey Cow once said, “Your real life is your spiritual life, and both are going to be awful until you realize that they’re not separate things.” Obsessing over Christian culture and religion to the exclusion of obedient action for Christ is sin. Obsessing over the world and amusement to the exclusion of obedient action for Christ is sin. It boils down to the object of your worship. God doesn’t care what it is; if it’s lower than him, it has to go.

“I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.”

John 17:15-19 (ESV)

Here, we witness our Lord and Savior speaking to the Father. He prays that we are kept from sin, sanctified in God’s truth. Yet he also says we are sent into the world. Here, the two realities meet in perfect harmony. We are in the world, yet not of the world. Perhaps even this phrase requires some deconstruction, as David Mathis proposes. Ultimately, we ought to imitate Christ in our actions, pursuing truth and holiness. This should lead us towards the world, not away from it. We should see the broken chaos around us and feel a deep desire to be the hands and feet of Christ to those among it. We should step out in faith, without fear.

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”

James 1:25 (ESV)

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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The American Christian’s Idol of Freedom

This week’s post will be shorter, as I’m busy with a few things at the moment, one of which is teaching a Sunday School class at my church about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was killed for his involvement in the plot to assassinate Hitler. As I’ve read about this fascinating figure, I’ve grown to fall in love with his approach to theology, his unwavering commitment to Christ, and his demand for action on behalf of faith.

Before Hitler rose to power, Bonhoeffer visited America. The land of the free impressed upon him a number of contemplations. Here is one.

“Freedom as a possession is a doubtful thing for a church; freedom must be won under the compulsion of a necessity. Freedom for the church comes from the necessity of the Word of God. Otherwise it becomes arbitrariness and ends in a great many new ties. Whether the church in America is really ‘free,’ I doubt. They are lonely Sundays over here. Only the Word makes a true community.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

What I take from this is that Bonhoeffer was annoyed at how highly American churches valued the ethereal concept of “freedom.” The term carries with it the weight and potential of nationalism, for one. Such ties are not of Christ and can only lead away from the truth. As Americans, it’s all too easy to feel a holy sense of entitlement to freedom. But as Christians, the only freedom we are promised is freedom in Christ from the bondage of sin.

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free… So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.'”

John 8:31-32, 36 (ESV)

We can see that we’re offered spiritual freedom in Christ, but what does the Bible say about physical freedom? It’s important to remember our identity. To think of ourselves as “Americans” is earthly and temporary. We are truly citizens of the kingdom of heaven (Phil 3:20), and Christ tells us what to expect.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.”

John 15:18-20 (ESV)

The idea that American Christians deserve physical freedom is undoubtedly extra-biblical. We are promised opposition, not freedom. We are promised God’s loving discipline and the shaping of character through hardships of all kinds, not comfort or safety.

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

John 16:33b (ESV)

“For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

2 Corinthians 12:10 (ESV)

It is a trap to pursue earthly freedom above the Word of God. Our chains are not physical. Many a red-blooded American lies upon their bed this night as free as any man has been in a thousand years on this earth, yet bound ever tighter to their pride, their lust, their gluttony, their greed, their adultery.

Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and hanged for his part in the conspiracy against Hitler. This is what was said of him at his end.

“I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”

H. Fischer-Hüllstrung

When he saw the path God set before him, Bonhoeffer gave up his high status in Germany, his reputation in the church, and his personal safety to do what had to be done. He valued his usefulness to God far above his earthly freedom. Yet he was free.

Choose this day to look down at your wrists and see the cuffs keeping you captive. Back away from the bars and see just how small your cell is. Our only hope is to open our eyes to our sin and repent, lest we be lulled into a slumber where our flesh keeps us tied to the depths of hell.

“We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

Romans 6:6-7 (ESV)

Let me know your thoughts on Bonhoeffer in the comments below. Enter your email if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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The Fundamental Difference Between Socialism and Capitalism

Two topics that rarely seem to collide nowadays are religion and economics. It seems Christians are content to separate “church life” from the world we live in every day. We may receive God’s Word on Sunday, but we receive whatever the world is feeding us the rest of the week. It’s all too easy to believe the TV and fall into whatever worldview fits our friend group the best.

But why do we do this? Why is it that so many Christians are content to view the world through the lens of the world rather than the lens of the Bible? I say we ought to apply God’s truth to all aspects of our lives and allow it to shape our worldview accordingly. Today, we’ll attempt to do exactly that regarding an important part of the conversation on macroeconomics.

“Thus says the Lord: ‘Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.’ The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

Jeremiah 17:5, 9 (ESV)

The Problem of Evil

Everyone knows about the problem of evil, and I’m not speaking lightly. Literally everyone knows about the problem of evil. We’re surrounded by it every day. It’s in our very bones, slowly rotting us to death and aching beneath our skin. We know something is wrong. We know we aren’t what we should be. We know the world isn’t what it should be. We see it in war. We see it in homelessness and starvation. We see it in the greed and lust of humanity for money and power. We see it in the hatred between people groups. We see it in the abuse between a husband and a wife. We see it in ourselves in our selfishness, our carelessness, and our anger. What can be done about it?

Now, I don’t plan to answer that question today. It’d take a bit more time than either of us planned, I wager. Instead, let’s take this premise and apply it to another topic. What does the problem of evil mean for economics? That’s still a large question, but the idea is that it does matter. Evil affects every aspect of our lives. Surely it’s important when talking about our economy as well.

Capitalism & Socialism

Let’s take two economic systems and look at how they deal with the problem of evil. Note that I’m speaking very broadly here. This isn’t an economics class and I’m not an expert. This is philosophy class and your teacher needs to make a point.

Capitalism is known for greatly rewarding those who are ambitious and able to sell products or services to the masses. It also does a decent job of creating a fruitful society for those who just want to work for those people and take home a paycheck. It isn’t very favorable to those who are inactive in the market, as it’s centered on capital and trade between private parties. As such, the unemployed, broke, or disadvantaged can fall behind. The government usually focuses on enforcing law and order, fighting off outside threats, and maintaining things like currency, roads, and market competition. It’s historically the most successful economic system in the world. It promotes growth of economy and wealth of all citizens, though it does skew over time towards the rich and those with the most dominance in the market. We usually see it supplemented with social programs such as welfare and public services. Common criticisms include lack of care for the lower class, unfettered corporate greed, and unchecked profit motive leading to the abuse of the working class.

Socialism is known for taking power away from private parties and placing it in the hands of the government, though most realized forms of it utilize a pseudo-free market to a large extent. The government is generally in charge of the means of production and uses high taxes in order to provide goods and services to all members of society. It’s common to work for companies that are either integrated with the government or part of the government. This system rewards those who are in power in the government and attempts to treat everyone else as equals. This discourages ambition, but allows for the government to support the unemployed, broke, or disadvantaged with the money they make taxing the general populace. Sometimes the government uses its power and money to pursue social causes such as progressivism, feminism, or environmentalism. I think it’s safe to say this economic system has seen its fair share of historical failures, while also producing some successful outcomes when combined with a healthy dose of the free market, not to mention international support. Common criticisms include lack of motivation to innovate and produce wealth, unfettered corruption of the state, and unchecked wealth mismanagement leading to crashing economies and worthless currencies.

The Difference

The fundamental difference between capitalism and socialism is that socialism assumes man is basically good, while capitalism assumes man is basically evil. Only one of these is supported in the Bible.

Capitalism exploits the natural selfish desire to succeed and build wealth. It does this by allowing a free market to determine what rises to the top. Only the best (and most crafty) survive. It’s a terrifying, yet brilliant concept. Take the people who tend towards selfish ambition and put them to work for society by allowing them the space to work as hard as they want on whatever motivates them. Their success is determined by what the general populace wants. This usually leads to amazing leaps in technology and luxury. Just look at the rise of the smartphone. The only reason we have this tech today is because Apple decided to take the concept of a touchscreen phone and make it simple and marketable to everyday people. Their success in creating an appealing product led to a staple of modern life. Capitalism is effective at delivering new and exciting things while making the people behind them very rich. The two balances to this system are the market and the government. If a company does something reprehensible, they can be boycotted by the people or punished by the government. This keeps selfish ambition in check to some extent.

Socialism does not take this natural selfish desire into account. In fact, it willfully ignores it in favor of wishful thinking. Instead of creating a space for fierce competition to check itself, it tries its best to eliminate the chase for wealth by controlling the means of production for various industries, imposing high taxes on successful people, and eliminating some of the downsides of being lower class. The end result is that the most ambitious and successful people are active in the government (if they haven’t left for a capitalist country already). When you remove the profit motive, the only thing left to grasp is power. You see, socialism assumes that the state knows what’s best for the people. The state will provide for their needs. The state will restrict what is harmful. Thus, the state is given all the power. But this assumes the state is not corrupt. What is a government except a collection of people running a country? People are fallible and selfish. They will eventually turn to their own interests.

In capitalism, selfishness only works as long as you provide value to society. You will be abandoned and your profits reduced if you become unpopular with the masses. This cannot happen to a government because there’s nobody to compete with. There are no checks or balances. The government can hold a gun to your head and tell you to shut your mouth and get in line. They can take as much of your money as they want and use it to do whatever they want. The general populace has no say. It takes a coup or violent revolution to undo the effects of a tyrannical government. We’ve seen it happen time and time again throughout history. I think it’s safe to say market upsets are preferable to bloodshed and anarchy, but maybe that’s just me.

This is also the fundamental reason why government programs and services are usually stagnant, inefficient, and generally awful. Without a profit motive, there’s no reason to improve wait times at the DMV. There’s no reason for the USPS to stay out of debt. There’s no reason to fix the potholes all over Michigan. The government gets your money whether they use it to help you or not. This means they usually spend enough to keep you quiet, then take the rest for their own interests. Private companies only get your money when they’re actively creating value. They’re motivated to improve because competition is fierce and there’s profit up for grabs. This is why I lean libertarian when it comes to privatization of industry. Greedy businessmen always do better work than the government.

Now, you might say I’m being unfair here. Not every socialist state ends up in ruin. Not every capitalist society checks itself very well. That’s true. But the trends are unmistakable. Socialist countries that display success are inevitably using the free market in some fashion. They have to allow some aspects of capitalism in order to function properly. They’re usually smaller countries relying on outside help in regards to military power and innovation. Capitalist countries can struggle to keep corrupt businessmen in line, but this frequently goes hand in hand with government influence and corruption via subsidies, loopholes, and bribes. Keep the government smaller and you have less of these problems, though any government attracts corruption.

No matter what system of economics you use, society will never evolve into utopia. Both capitalism and socialism have major issues. My goal here isn’t to argue that capitalism is perfect. Only that it does a better job of taking selfish motives into account and harnessing them for the betterment of society rather than tyranny.

Man is Basically Evil

Let’s finish by taking a look at what the Bible has to say regarding evil.

“God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”

Psalm 53:2-3 (ESV)

There are no exceptions. All of humanity is evil. If you ascribe to the Bible, this point cannot be argued. But what is evil? This verse gives us a clue by identifying those who do not understand and do not seek after God. What does this mean? We are all naturally inclined away from God. We don’t care to understand the mysteries of his nature. We seek to understand the world and how we can best exploit it for our personal gain. We see this in economics and we see it in our private sins.

“For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”

Romans 3:22b-23 (ESV)

Sin is how we demonstrate our evil. We actively oppose God in our actions of selfishness and hatred. This is what condemns us. Even something as “innocent” as hurling an angry insult is out of alignment with God and is enough to justify damnation. Jesus makes this clear.

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”

Matthew 5:21-22 (ESV)

This was, no doubt, a shock to many of the practicing Jews in Jesus’ day. They followed the letter of the law, seeking to live a life technically meeting all the requirements to be in good standing with God. What they missed was the heart motive. Hatred may not produce the same earthly effects as murder, but it is equally as evil.

“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”

James 2:10 (ESV)

This might seem harsh, but it’s only right and just when we’re talking about a perfect and holy God. We have no right to stand on equal footing with our Creator, for we have all rejected him. Where does that leave us?

The Solution

“The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.”

Psalm 118:22 (ESV)

As Jesus makes clear in Matthew 21, this verse is a prophecy referring to him. We have all rejected Christ, but he has become the cornerstone, the foundation, the rock. This thread is woven throughout the Bible. You can read more about it in 1 Peter 2. What it boils down to is that Jesus is our only salvation. We can only hope to find redemption through him. Rather than deny or ignore our sin, we ought to acknowledge it, repent from it, and throw ourselves at the feet of the Lord. He promises to make us whole.

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

1 John 1:8-9 (ESV)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 6:23 (ESV)

Leave a comment if you have thoughts about the nature of evil as it relates to economics. Enter your email below if you want to be notified when my next post goes live. Thanks for reading. Godspeed.

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