Category Archives: Selective Biblicism

Selective Biblicism: The Apostle of Love Part 4 and Conclusion

This is the last of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Revelation 3: 14-22

The most famous passage in evangelical evangelism is found in verse 20, which says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him, and will dine with him and he with Me.” Unfortunately for the evangelical evangelist, this verse has got nothing to do with evangelism.

The first three chapters of Revelation contain letters written by John under the inspiration of the Spirit of Jesus to seven different churches in Asia. This particular passage is written to the church in Laodicea. It is crucial to understand that John is writing to churches, not to unsaved individuals. These churches are filled with people who have made professions of faith. To this particular church Jesus, through John, has some very difficult things to say.

Verses 15-17 contain the heart of the message to the believers in Laodicea. I find it chilling that these verses seem to have a direct application to the churches in the United States. John says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I would that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, ‘I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,’ and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked,…” Universally American churches believe that they are under the blessing of God. They believe that they are prospering, rich, and in need of nothing. They are wrong (see my essays on “Authority”, “Assimilation” and “Unity”). The reality is that they are spiritually wretched. They are miserable, poor, blind and naked. John’s words to the Laodicean church have direct application to the American church.

After informing the church in Laodicea of their spiritual condition, John goes on with a dire warning. He says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent.” (vs. 19) All is not lost for the church in Laodicea. It is not too late. But, they have to repent of their sin. They have to return to the Jesus that they have already professed faith in. It is in that context that the famous verse quoted above is delivered. It is only in that context that the verse can be properly understood.

Jesus is knocking at the door. He has come to judge the church. If the church repents (opens the door and receives Him in), then He will once again dine (a clear allusion to the Lord’s Supper) with them. If they do not repent (open the door) then he will not longer dine (celebrate the Lord’s Supper) with them, thereby excommunicating them. Revelation 3:20 has nothing to do with evangelism. It most certainly has nothing to do with establishing a doctrine of the free will of man in which Jesus will politely wait for an individual to make a personal decision to accept Him into his heart. The entire passage is filled with the threat of judgment for disobedience. That is not a popular message, so it is changed into one that is more popular.

The Apostle of Love?

A complete reading of the writings of the apostle John forces one to the conclusion that John does say a tremendous amount abut the doctrine of love. However, the doctrine of love that John expounds is nothing like the doctrine of love in evangelicalism. Is John the apostle of love? The answer is yes and no. Yes, John says more about love than the other writers of the Bible. But no, his message of love is always couched in terms of a full doctrine of God that includes sin, the necessity of repentance, and the eventual judgment of God on all people according to the terms of His law. That doctrine of love is too hard. It is too harsh and demanding for the modern church attendee to hear, who comes to church to experience an uplifting family sermon that will help his kids stay off drugs and help heal his relationship with his wife. So, the true doctrine of love is corrupted and the biblical doctrine of love is ignored.


I conclude with the assertion I made in the introduction to this essay: the practice of selective biblicism has brought about a state of apostasy in which a false god is being worshiped in many of our churches. I have only selected about 50 passages of Scripture to make my point. I could go on with hundreds more. I believe I have made a strong enough case to prove my assertion.

What are we to do? Repent! We need to repent of our selective reading of Scripture. We need to repent of our disdain for the Old Testament. We need to repent of our hatred of the law of God. We need to repent of our practice of going to the Scripture to support false doctrines that we create for the purpose of making us feel good about ourselves. Elders need to repent of preaching and teaching only a portion of the full counsel of God. Elders need to repent of the fear of preaching the entire counsel of God. Elders need to fear the wrath of God for creating a false image of Him more than they fear the wrath of the congregation for telling them the bad news about themselves. Layman need to repent of the practice of accumulating false teachers to themselves who will tickle their ears with pleasing doctrines that convince them they are going to heaven, even though they live like hell. We all need to repent before it is too late because the god that we have created cannot perform the deeds of salvation that we attribute to him. We need to repent because many of us are still in our sins.

Selective Biblicism: The Apostle of Love Part 3

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

I John 4

This chapter contains some of the most famous and oft quoted passages in all of the Bible. John begins the chapter by speaking to his audience as “beloved” and he also addresses them in everybody’s favorite salutation, “little children”. What is not to love about this chapter? Here are some of the favorite verses:

Verse 1 says, “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God.” That verse is popular with charismatics in that it gives them a justification for the practice of speaking in tongues.

Verse 2 says, “By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God;…” In addition to being popular with the charismatic crowd, this verse is also loved by evangelicals who relish the opportunity to emphasize the importance of walking the aisle and making a confession that Jesus is God. Anybody who does make the decision to walk the aisle and make the magic profession of belief is then deemed to be saved forever, despite the presence or absence of spiritual fruit in the future life of the confessor.

Verse 4 says, “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.” I have heard Oral Roberts repeat that verse dozens of times. It supports the charismatic idea that all believers are in a daily battle with Satan himself and all that needs to be done to have victory over him is to speak that verse.

Verse 7 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and every one who loves is born of God and knows God.” This verse encapsulates the theology of love for evangelicalism. God loves us. We love God. We all love each other. As a result of all this love we all are guaranteed to be saved forever. Love, of course, is never defined. But whenever someone dies we are all able to rally together and confess how that person had loved somebody and, therefore, is surely in heaven today.

Verse 10 says, “In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” This verse is popular with the reformed branch of Christianity. They love to preach sermons on the doctrine of propitiation. They also love to emphasize the fact that God loved us before we loved Him.

Verse 11 says, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” This verse is used by evangelical preachers in what is perhaps their best example of a strong exhortation. It is assumed that God loves everyone. Since God loves everyone it therefore follows that everyone ought to love everyone else. We end up with a big bunch of loving going on. Everyone feels warm and fuzzy. The band plays and songs are sung that whip us into an emotional fever of love. As a result, we can have confidence that if anyone dies, especially if he was a member of our church, he is in heaven as we speak.

Verse 16 says, “….God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” This is probably the most famous verse of all. God is love. What does that mean? Evangelicals rarely define it. We are left to ourselves to ponder the meaning of the verse. One thing we believe to be true is that since God is love, He must love us unconditionally. Since He must love us unconditionally, He loves us just the way we are. Since He loves us just the way we are there is very little incentive for change. All we know for sure is that since God is love, everybody gets into heaven (except Hitler, of course).

Verse 18 says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear,…” This verse is consistently used to reinforce the grandfatherly image of God. Since He is love and His love is perfect, there is no reason to fear. All we need to do is crawl into the lap of our grandfather and let him take care of things. When we feel fearful it must certainly be because we have wandered too far from our grandfather’s lap.

There is a kernel of truth in most of the things that are said about the verses quoted above. However, they are only half-truths. John has much more to say. By only reading and emphasizing the things that John says about love it is probable that his real message will be lost. Allow me to quote some of the other things that John has to say in this letter:

John has something to say about sin. In the first chapter he says, “If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth;…If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us….If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us.” Those statements of John are not nearly as popular as his assertions about love. In fact, what John has to say about sin is downright unpopular, even disliked. The major problem comes when John goes on to define what sin is. He does not use the evangelical definition of sin which simply states that sin is something that exists out there somewhere (not intrinsic in our nature and being) that causes us to fall out of our grandfather’s lap. John says, “And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him;…” (2: 3-4)

What is this? Does John believe in the law of God? (Isn’t that in the Old Testament?) It certainly seems to be the case. In fact, John not only believes in the law of God but he says that obedience to the law of God is one of the primary evidences of love for God. This assertion that the law of God is binding upon New Testament believers is too much for the modern antinomian evangelical to take. So, he ignores it. But John goes on:

“The one who says he is in the light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now….But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness…” (2: 9,11) How does one hate his brother? By not behaving lawfully towards him. For John, the law always determines the propriety of behavior. All behavior is either loving or hateful, depending upon its conformity to the law of God. Evangelicals, most of whom despise the law of God, have no means by which to determine the right or wrong nature of behavior (other than how it makes them feel) because they are largely ignorant of the terms of God’s law. So, they ignore these passages and rush to speak about an amorphous feeling called love.

For John, not all is sweetness and light in the local church. In fact, not all members of the local church are even true believers. He says, “…just as you have heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen; from this we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, in order that it might be shown that they all are not of us.” (2: 18-19) Contrary to the erroneous belief of dispensationalists, antichrist lived in the time of John. In fact, there were many antichrists. They were the false professors in the church. They were known to be false professors because they did not remain within the church. No doubt they had been subjected to the discipline of the local church and had chosen to make a speedy exit when things got tough. Does that behavior sound familiar to anyone?

John goes on in his second letter to tell his “little children” how they should treat the people who had been drummed out of the church. He says, “If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds.” (II John 10-11) Evangelicals are accustomed to being mean to each other and occasionally using the “freeze out” treatment to punish someone they do not like. But what John is describing here is very different than that sinful behavior. John realizes that false believers exist within the church and he orders the true believers to shun them. How many evangelical churches practice that? Even worse, John clearly states that anyone who refuses to shun the apostate believer becomes guilty of the apostate’s sin. Wow!

Not only does John instruct his beloved little children that there were antichrists in their presence, he goes on to make the audacious claim that they were easily discerned! He says, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious; any one who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (3:10). In over thirty years of being a Christian I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on that passage. Why would that be? Let me suggest that the reason that passage is consciously ignored is because it makes the simple claim that it is possible to easily discern between true and false believers by their obedience to the law of God. Today’s preachers and teachers want everyone to be saved. Today’s elders walk and talk as if it is practically impossible to discern between true and false believers. After all, they say, it is not our position to judge anybody! Instead, they choose to emphasize the love passages, which they erroneously interpret to convince themselves and others that everybody is saved, even if they never bring forth any spiritual fruit. John does not share their opinion. Those portions of John’s letters are ignored.

Lest you think I am reading into the text, here is one verse that proves the point. John says, “By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and observe His commandments” (5:2). Could it be any clearer? Why do we persist in believing that people are saved from their sins when they hate the law of God and make no attempt to even understand it, much less practice it? The heresy of antinomianism has destroyed our ability to discern between right and wrong, good and bad, true and false believers.

I will wrap up the teaching of John by quoting I John 4: 20 where he says, “If some one says, ‘I love God’, and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This verse tragically condemns most of evangelicalism. Hatred for the brethren (properly defined as not behaving lawfully toward one another) is endemic in our local churches. It is largely suppressed due to the cowardice of the elders in not wanting to deal with the sin of hatred and due to the ignorance of the terms of the law that define it. John could not be any clearer. Nobody can make great, showy, emotional statements about his love for God and hate his brother. If a professing Christian hates his brother that he sees every week, it is impossible for him to love God, whom he has never seen. That makes discerning true and false believers very easy.

John says a lot about love. However, without reading and understanding what John has to say about sin, it is impossible to know what he is talking about. Evangelicals have made the conscious decision to ignore half of John’s message in order to reinforce their own corrupt doctrine of love. As a result, a false god is constructed and worshiped. This false god is not able to save anyone from his sins.

Selective Biblicism: The Apostle of Love Part 2

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

John 10

This chapter contains the popular story of the Good Shepherd. This chapter has been the source of countless paintings of Jesus showing Him walking around with a lamb thrown over His shoulder. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a very good image. However, the image must be viewed in its entirety or it will be misunderstood. There is great comfort for the sheep in the concept of Jesus as the Shepherd of His sheep. But the story of the Good Shepherd is not primarily about the comfort of the sheep. It is about the goodness of the Shepherd, especially in comparison to the wretched shepherds of the covenant people (Jewish religious leaders) who had abrogated their responsibilities to shepherd the sheep.

Jesus had recently been involved in heated arguments with the Pharisees in which they had accused Him of being born of fornication. Then, after He had healed a blind man, they had attacked Him for doing it on a Sabbath day. The Pharisees were the spiritual leaders of Israel. They were the shepherds. It was their duty to guide the flock of God properly by ministering the Word of God to them at all times. However, rather than ministering the Word of God (at this point, the Old Testament), they had committed themselves to ministering the traditions of men contained in the Talmud and the Midrash. Many of those traditions were in direct contradiction to the Word of God. The Pharisees believed that healing on a Sabbath broke the 4th Commandment. They were wrong. It is in that context that Jesus tells the story of the Good Shepherd.

The story of the Good Shepherd must also be seen in light of Ezekiel 34. Every Jew who heard what Jesus had to say that day would have thought about Ezekiel 34. I would suggest you take a moment and read it. John 10 really only makes sense in light of Ezekiel 34. The primary thrust of Ezekiel 34 is that the shepherds of Israel had abandoned their responsibility to shepherd the flock of God. Not only that, they had actually turned against the flock and were making a living from them by preying upon them. God, through Ezekiel, promises that He will shepherd His flock Himself. When Jesus speaks of being the Good Shepherd, He is the fulfillment of that prophecy.

Jesus begins the story by mentioning the false shepherds, whom He calls “thieves”. This is perfectly consistent with Ezekiel 34 and what the Pharisees were doing to the people of Israel at this time. Jesus uses hyperbole when He says, “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers;” (vs. 8). He is making His point. There have been very few faithful spiritual leaders in the history of God’s covenant people. Most of those in leadership positions had exploited their position of authority for personal gain at the expense of the people. Jesus declares that He, on the other hand, is the true Shepherd who does not come to exploit the sheep.

In verse 11 He says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This is the primary point of the story. Unlike all those who had gone before, Jesus was the true Shepherd of the sheep and He was going to prove it by sacrificing His life on their behalf. What of the other shepherds (Pharisees)? “He flees because he is a hireling, and is not concerned about the sheep.” (vs. 13)

The story of the Good Shepherd is primarily a story in which the stark contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees is being played out. It was done in the context of an Old Testament prophecy of judgment upon false shepherds that the Jews would have been familiar with. In short, although there is great comfort in knowing that our Shepherd is a true Shepherd, that is not the point of the story. The point of the story is that the Pharisees were false shepherds and they were going to be judged for their sin. Furthermore, the climax of the story is that the true shepherd, the Good Shepherd, proves His identity by sacrificing Himself for the sheep.

The tale of the Good Shepherd is really just another description of the battle that went on between Jesus and the religious leaders of Israel. I would suggest to all painters that when they try to capture the essence of this story, they should go ahead and paint Jesus standing there with a lamb over His shoulders. But, also have Him holding a sword with which He is running through a Pharisee. That would capture the entire story of the Good Shepherd.

John 15

John 15 contains the great passage on love that was a part of Jesus’ farewell discourse to the disciples. Many of the verses are very popular. Verse 9 says, “Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love.” Verse 12 says, “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” Verse 13 says, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Verse 17 says, “This I command you, that you love one another.” These verses are good, right and true. They present truths and commandments that are vital to the Christian life. However, the selective reading of John 15 only presents half of the truth about the doctrine of love as it is described here. Other verses fill out the doctrine.

Jesus begins this discourse on love by talking about the vine and the branches. In order for His people to love one another it was important that they abide in Him. He chooses to describe the action of abiding in terms of a vine with branches. Just prior to exhorting the disciples to abide in His love He makes one very important comment about abiding. Verse 6 records, “If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch, and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.” This is not a very pleasant picture of the future of one who does not abide. It is easily skipped.

Jesus (and John) almost always connects the doctrine of love with the doctrine of the Law of God. It should not surprise us that He does so in this context. Verse 10, which is usually ignored, says, “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.” Interpreters try to argue that Jesus’ “Commandments” are nothing more than the commandment to love one another but that is not borne out by what He says about His abiding in His Father’s love. “The Father’s commandments” must refer to the Ten Commandments.

Antinomian believers have an intense emotional dislike for the law of God. To connect their favorite doctrine of God’s love to their least favorite doctrine of the law of God is abhorrent to them. Nevertheless, that is what Jesus does. Love (agape) is not a feeling. Love is an action. As an action it must be motivated by obedience to God’s moral standard, the law. A loving action is one that is consistent with the law of God. An unloving action is one that is not consistent with the law of God. Antinomian believers are usually pietists and are also quite frequently mystics. They believe they are loving others when they have warm, fuzzy, comfortable feelings about their behavior. They believe they are loving God when they envision Him as a grandfather who loves to sit around and tell them how much He loves them. It makes them feel warm and happy. That conception of love is not found in John or in the words of Jesus.

Verse 16 is also usually skipped over. It teaches that hated Calvinist doctrine of predestination. Jesus says, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you…” The idea that we did not exercise our sovereign free will to elect to receive Jesus into our hearts is too much to bear for the evangelical. Therefore, when Jesus straight out declares that none of us chose Him, we prefer to gloss over that passage in favor of the more “practical, family oriented” stuff.

Strangely enough for the pietist evangelical, Jesus concludes this section about love by talking about hate. Verse 18 says, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you.” Verse 23 says, “He who hates Me hates My Father also.” All of this talk about hate is so unpleasant to the modern ear. Certainly it is better for all concerned to just let it slide by? After all, the world does not hate us. We are pleasant, warm, kind, forgiving, easy-going, fun-loving, evangelical Christians. The world, at the very worst, should be ambivalent towards us. In all likelihood, the world will consider us to be pretty nice chaps. And what does Jesus mean by all of this talk about the world hating Him? Hate is such a harsh word. Would it not be better to say that some people just made the bad decision to not open the door of their heart to Him? Let’s just give all of this talk about hate a nice, quiet funeral.

Selective Biblicism: The Apostle of Love Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

I believe it is fair to assert that John is the favorite biblical author of the modern believer. More of what he wrote is found in popular Christianity than any other biblical author. It is John who has brought us the “John 3:16” that shows up at sporting events around the world. I am told that John 3:16 is the most translated, the most memorized, the most popular verse in the entire Bible. I believe it. John 3:16 says that God loves the world. What a great, uplifting, affirming, popular message.

Among those modern believers who have read the New Testament at least once (a very small percentage I would suppose) there is even more raving about the great content of John’s messages. Not only did John tell us that God loves the world, he also told us “God is love” (I John 4: 16). I John is a popular book because it is filled with statements about love. Not only does John constantly talk about love, both for and from God, but he also talks about love for one another. He speaks in a delightful grandfatherly fashion when he refers to the readers of his letter as “little children”. Isn’t that what we want from all of our pastors and teachers? Who can resist the wise, gentle old pastor who addresses us as his “little children”. It kind of makes you just want to crawl into his lap and fall peacefully asleep, doesn’t it?

Lastly, John introduces us to the Jesus of evangelicaldom in Revelation 3:20. This famous verse says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him, and will dine with him, and he with Me.” Now that is the Jesus we have been looking for. That Jesus politely knocks on the door of our hearts. He recognizes that we are sovereign over our wills and He needs our permission to enter. He really wants to come into our hearts and make our lives happy, if only we will let Him. The Jesus of John does not offend anyone! He does not go around picking fights, mocking religious leaders, or calling people stupid and hypocritical. This is the Jesus the mega-church needs to sell their product.

Unfortunately for evangelicals, the nature of God they attribute to the apostle John is inaccurate. We have another serious case of selective biblicism going on when the writings of John are read. In fact, I believe John is the most dramatic example of selective biblicism. John was very black or white in his writings. He would speak about opposing issues and ideas right next to each other. He would speak of love and hate at the same time. Unfortunately, modern believers have only read the passages about love and have made the conscious decision to completely ignore what, in many cases, is the very next sentence that John wrote! Some select examples from John’s writings will make my point.

John 1: 11-13

Verse 12 is a very popular biblical statement. It says, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name…” This phrase is used to support the evangelistic technique of calling people to walk down the aisle and surrender their hearts to the idol-Jesus. After all, this statement does talk about the importance of “receiving” Christ. It clearly seems to indicate that each individual has the power and the ability to receive Christ. Jesus is knocking at the door, will you open it, receive Him, and be saved? Unfortunately, both the verse that comes before this passage and the one that comes after it are entirely ignored. They paint a very different picture.

Verse 11 says, “He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.” This sentence is the context for the concept of “receiving” Jesus. Verse 11 sounds very familiar to the statements that the other gospel writers made about Jesus when they described how He came to the Jews but the Jews rejected Him. John begins by asserting that Jesus came declaring the Kingdom of God to the covenant people, the Jews. The Jews, however, continued in their longstanding practice of killing the prophets that God would send to them. They would go on to kill Jesus the Prophet as well. Jesus came to the Jews but they did not receive Him as the Prophet that He was. That is what is meant by “receive”. “Receive” has got nothing to do with an individual, pietistic, spiritual experience in which a man with a sovereign will decides to let Jesus in the door of his heart.

Verse 13 rounds out the passage. It says, “…who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” No wonder the sentence that began in verse 12 is never finished by reading verse 13! Verse 13 clearly states that the will of man is not sovereign. Verse 13 clearly states that those who receive Jesus and believe on His name are only able to do so because God willed that they do so. Their own wills were unable to receive Jesus. Jesus is going to knock on the door forever if He has to wait for man to will to open it. This decidedly “Calvinistic” conclusion to verse 12 is repugnant to the evangelical so it is ignored. Verse 12 is ripped from the context to support theological conclusions that are exactly the opposite of what the entire passage is teaching.

John 3: 16-21

This passage is in the context of Jesus’ instruction of the Pharisee Nicodemus. Jesus has already insulted Nicodemus, a respected theological intellectual and scholar (verse 10), by asking him if he is too stupid to understand the concept of being “born again”. Jesus then goes on to preach a little sermonette to Nicodemus that includes the famous passage in 3:16.

John loves stark contrasts. I think he chose to include this story because it illustrates a dramatic contrast between believers and unbelievers. Everybody knows what 3:16 says so I will not reproduce it here. What almost nobody knows is what follows immediately after 3:16. John records Jesus as continuing to say, “…he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (vs. 18b-20).”

Now I ask you reader, why is John 3: 16 translated into every language in the world and John 3: 18-20 is virtually ignored? Are verses 18-20 not true? Are they less important? Do they not add to the understanding of 3:16-17? Why, why , why are they ignored? Let me suggest it is because they present to us a Jesus that we do not want to know. We want a Jesus that loves the world (and that necessarily includes us). We do not want a Jesus who says that those who do not believe in Him are judged already. We most certainly do not want a Jesus who flatly asserts that evil men hate the light because it exposes their evil deeds. All this talk of evil and hate makes it very difficult to preach an uplifting family sermon. All of this talk about judgment makes it difficult to build a mega-church. So, we ignore what Jesus said, except for the “good” parts.

Presenting John 3:16 as the whole truth about God when it is only half of the truth about God is an untruth. Those who do so are perpetuating a false doctrine of the nature of God. Those who do so are contributing to the worship of the idol-Jesus who is unable to save men from their sins. Think about it. Do you want to be a part of that?

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 7

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 12: 18-27

This is the story where the Sadduces come to Jesus and try to trap him with a trick question about the resurrection. They come to Jesus and quoted a passage from the law (Deuteronomy 25) in which a man is required to marry his brother’s wife if his brother had died. The purpose behind the law was to preserve the inheritance of the dead man’s family within the tribal inheritance system of Israel. The Sadducees used the passage to illustrate what they believed to be an insurmountable problem. The Sadducees did not believe in physical resurrection. Therefore, the story of a man having numerous wives was nonsense if resurrection was true since he would have to be married to multiple women in heaven. They came to Jesus with this question expecting to befuddle Him with their theological brilliance. They conclude their argument with the question, “In the resurrection, when they rise again, which one’s wife will she be?” No doubt the answer they expected from Him was something like this, “By golly, you got Me there! I guess all this talk about resurrection is wrong after all. Good job!”

Unlike His previous encounter with the elders, Jesus does answer their question. It is a very simple answer. He begins by publicly insulting them and then instructing them on a basic theological truth. He says, “Is this not the reason you are mistaken, that you do not understand the Scriptures, or the power of God? For when they rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” That answer should have been enough. Jesus had called these spiritual intellectuals stupid. He had instructed them in simple theology. The kind thing to do would be to let them slink away without any further embarrassment. That is not what Jesus did.

Jesus continued, “But regarding the fact that the dead rise again, have you not read in the book of Moses…” Jesus was not satisfied with publicly humiliating these stuffed shirts. He went on to answer a question they did not even ask. In fact, He directly attacked one of the cornerstones of their theological system. His verbal attack was direct and merciless. Certainly Jesus knew that the Sadducees had read the books of Moses. Nevertheless, He begins by mocking them and asking them if they had indeed read the book of Moses. He concludes by telling them that they “are greatly mistaken”.

This little verbal exchange is important for one huge reason. Jesus committed an evangelical sin. He impugned the motives of the Sadducees. They came to Him with a direct question. He answered their question and then proceeded to expose the real reason, the real motive, behind their behavior. This type of behavior between believers today is considered to be reprehensible! A modern day Sadducee would respond to Jesus with something like this: “How dare you impugn our motives! We came to you with a simple question. Did you answer our question? No, you insulted us and then went on to accuse of having hidden motives behind what we asked you. How dare you!” Would Jesus impugn the motives of others? Apparently so.

Mark 12: 38-40

While He was in the Temple, surrounded by throngs of pious worshippers, Jesus could not pass up opportunities to insult the leaders of the people. This passage is an example of that behavior. Here Jesus attacks the religious piety of the scribes. These men were highly respected experts in the Law of God. They were consulted by the people of Israel on a regular basis. They were specialists in conflict resolution between various disputant parties. They provided a valued service in mediating disputes and instructing the people on the Law.

The scribes were men of honor and dignity. They wore long robes when they were in public so the people could recognize who they were. They were greeted with great respect when they were seen in the marketplace. They were given the best seats in the synagogue on Saturdays. Whenever someone was throwing a banquet, these men were invited and they were given seats at the head of the banquet table. While in public they were frequently seen offering up long prayers on behalf of the people. Their dignity, honor and piety were unquestioned…. well, almost unquestioned. Jesus had something to say about them.

Jesus’ opinion of the scribes was brief and to the point. He publicly stated that they were hypocrites and thieves. He told the people that they were going to be subject to the condemnation of God. The significance of Jesus’ statements cannot be understated. He was tackling some of the most respected people in all of Jerusalem. The scribes were adored by many of the people. Nevertheless, Jesus dismisses them with two quick sentences of condemnation. Imagine the impact that must have had in the Temple that day.

Mark 14: 27-28

I conclude this examination of some of the behavior of Jesus that is frequently ignored or overlooked with a passage that fits into both categories. Jesus had just finished initiating the Lord’s Supper with the disciples. They sang a hymn and departed for the Mount of Olives. The disciples were under tremendous stress by this point in time. They knew that there were many people who were hunting the head of Jesus. They were thoroughly confused by Jesus’ behavior. He wasn’t doing anything that would result in the establishment of a political messiahship. Instead, He had angered the people and the leaders of Israel. Now, He had told His disciples that He would be betrayed. The last thing He should have done was go out in public. But that is precisely what He does.

At this point it would be very nice for some words of comfort. The disciples were emotionally needy. This was the most desperate moment in their lives, up to this point. The Good Shepherd could take this opportunity to speak some words to them that would calm and comfort their souls. They were going to need it given what was about to happen. What did Jesus do?

The last thing that Mark records Jesus having said to all twelve of the disciples was this, “You will all fall away, because it is written, I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” Peter, of course, denies that he will fall away. Peter, of course, falls away just hours later. Here, on the cusp of the crucifixion, Jesus delivers His last words to the disciples. He tells them they will all fail! How depressing. Jesus knew that they would all fall away so He couldn’t lie to them and tell them all sorts of encouraging things about their immediate futures. But why did He have to tell them they were going to fail? Wouldn’t it have been nicer, kinder, and more gentle to just let it happen? Apparently Jesus was more concerned with brutal honesty than He was with the emotional sensitivities of the disciples. Does that sound like the Jesus of evangelicalism?


I would suggest that evangelicals know very little of the historic Jesus. The conscious decision to take a handful of kind, loving, sheep/shepherd-like passages from the Gospels and present them as the entire truth about Jesus has taken a dreadful toll on theological accuracy. The Jesus of the Gospels is dramatically more confrontational, belligerent, straightforward and hard than the Jesus of evangelicalism. What I have done with Mark can be done with the other writers of the synoptic gospels as well. The story does not change. Most evangelicals have no comprehension of the Jesus of the Bible. Selective biblicism has created an idol-Jesus. This mega-church yuppie Jesus is unable to save people from their sins. This idol-Jesus talks about love all the time, but when it comes right down to it, he has no power to save. Those who trust in him will be disappointed.

What about the fourth gospel writer? What about John? We are told that John is very different from the other three gospel writers. We are also told that John is very different from the other preeminent apostles (Peter and Paul). We are told that John is the “Apostle of Love”. In the last portion of this essay, let’s examine the assertion that John is the apostle of love.

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 6

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 11: 12-14

This passage is unique in that many interpreters ignore it on the grounds that they believe it is too obscure to be understood. It is indeed a strange story if you begin with the presupposition that most evangelicals hold; namely that Jesus loves everybody and is politely waiting for them to turn to Him as their personal savior. Once that erroneous assumption is discarded, the passage becomes quite clear. This passage is the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree.

Verse 13 recounts what happened when it says, “And seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.” Verse 14 describes the curse that Jesus put upon the tree and verse 20 describes the tree as they found it the next day, withered from the roots up. This passage is perplexing to most interpreters because they simply can’t figure out why Jesus would curse a fig tree for not having figs when it was not the season for figs.

Interpreters have suggested different ways to get around the apparent interpretive problem. Some believe that Jesus did not know that it was the season for figs and that is why Mark adds that little bit of information to the story. Some think that Jesus was faint from hunger and cursed the tree because He really needed something to eat. Others think that Jesus was just under a lot of stress at the time and was not really sure what He was doing when He cursed the tree. Lastly, some use the narrative in verses 22-25 as a means to try and understand what Jesus had done. According to them, Jesus cursed the tree in order to perform another miracle in the presence of the disciples. When they inquired about the miracle He took the opportunity to instruct them that they too could perform such miracles if they just had faith in God.

While it is certainly true that Jesus took the opportunity of the withered fig tree to instruct His disciples on several items (faith, prayer, miracles, forgiveness), that was not the reason He cursed the tree. The key to understanding the verse is Mark’s observation that “it was not the season for figs”. Why would Jesus curse a fig tree for not producing figs when it was not the season for figs? Put another way, why would Jesus curse something for not producing fruit when it was not even capable of producing that fruit? Put yet another way, why would Jesus curse a man for not having the fruit of faith in Him when it is not even possible for that man to have the fruit of faith in Him (apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit)? The message that Jesus was conveying to His disciples was very clear. Jesus had full power and authority to curse something for not producing the good fruit that it was designed to produce, even when it was utterly incapable of producing that fruit. Jesus is creating a dramatic illustration that He is the Lord of the Universe and He is free to curse any and all men for not bringing forth the good works that they were created to bring forth, even when they are incapable of doing so due to the effects of original sin.

Jesus was about to usher in His kingdom and bring the wrath of God upon the apostate Jews in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. The Jews were expected to bring forth the fruit of good works toward God. They had not done so. Apart from the regeneration of the Holy Spirit they were incapable of doing so. When He cursed the fig tree for not bearing figs, Jesus made it abundantly clear that He would not be held captive to the charge of being “unfair” for condemning men for not doing things that they are incapable of doing. His cursing of the fig tree was a dramatic statement that whatever He would do was right. He was accountable to nobody. He was the Potter and the covenant people were the clay. If He decided to throw the clay into the trash pit, that was His business. That point could not have been lost on the disciples. Due to the influence of Arminian “free will” theology, that point is entirely lost on evangelicals. Evangelicals do not want a Jesus that goes around cursing things, especially when those things are not capable of doing what He commands. They want a meek and mild Jesus who calls Himself the Bread of Life and invites them to eat Him. Hence, this passage is ignored.

Mark 11: 15-18

This section of Mark contains the narrative of Jesus going into the Temple and cleansing it of the apostates who were conducting business there. It is frequently read and taught in our churches. It is often used as a positive example of “righteous indignation”. It is also used to illustrate the zeal Jesus had for doing what was right. Numerous good applications are drawn from the passage such as we too should become indignant when the name and honor of God are being profaned and we too should have a great zeal to do what is right. However, the sheer ferocity of what Jesus did that day is often lost in the translation.

What did Jesus do when He cleansed the Temple? His behavior is actually quite shocking. Jesus went to the most holy place in all of Israel. The Temple was sacred to all Jews. It was the one place that all Jews were to be on their absolute best behavior. As a service to the worshippers who were bringing sacrifices to the Temple, a series of businesses had developed that allowed the Jews to exchange money for animals to be sacrificed on the altar on their behalf. Jesus entered into this area and engaged in a violent attack against the businessmen. He destroyed their property and even went so far as to “not permit anyone to carry goods through the Temple”. When this story is told it is often recounted as a brief, quick attack. However, it must have taken a good deal of time to establish a physical barrier that served as an embargo against the trade that was taking place there. This attack of Jesus was long and violent.

To make matters worse, while He was prohibiting trade from taking place, He began to teach. What was the content of His teaching? He insulted the religious leaders of Israel! He seized the opportunity that He had created by attacking the moneychangers to call the most important spiritual leaders of Israel a bunch of “robbers”! The disciples must have been horrified. They would have realized that what Jesus was doing was going to make it impossible for an alliance to ever be forged between them and the established religious leaders. How was their movement ever going to prosper if Jesus continually went around disrupting the most holy services of the Jews? How were they ever going to garner popular support when Jesus seemed to be going out of His way to insult the leaders that practically all Jews admired? It should come as no surprise that Mark records that the chief priests and scribes “began seeking how to destroy Him”.

Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ, did a good job of showing the stark reality of Jesus’ crucifixion. We need another movie to illustrate the stark reality of His cleansing of the Temple. It was a prolonged, violent event filled with angry words and shouting. When evangelicals ask the question, “What would Jesus do?”, do you ever suppose they answer the question with, “engage in a violent physical and verbal attack against the respected religious leaders of the time”? I doubt it.

Mark 11: 27-33

Jesus’ demonstration in the Temple the previous day had aroused the attention of the elders of Israel. When He came back the next day they had a couple of questions for Him. Of primary interest to them was the question of authority. That is a legitimate question (see my essay on “Authority” for the importance of this idea). They were unable to interpret His actions if they did not understand what authority He was operating under. So, they asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things, or who gave You this authority to do these things?”

At this point the disciples probably breathed a huge sigh of relief. At last, Jesus had an opportunity to explain Himself. The elders were at least willing to listen to Him and really wanted to know why He was doing what He was doing. The olive branch had been extended. Now, all Jesus had to do was accept the branch and deliver a soft answer. Remember, a gentle answer turns away wrath. The religious leaders were pretty upset. Jesus had thrown a major tantrum in the middle of the Temple just the day before. However, the disciples probably believed that once Jesus explained to them the impropriety of their money changing activities in the heart of the Temple they would be constrained by reason and common sense to acknowledge that He had a right to cleanse the Temple the previous day. This could be the first step to forge an agreement and avoid disaster. At last, peace could be obtained between Jesus and the disciples and the established Church of Israel.

Theologian Francis Schaeffer wrote about the importance of giving “honest answers to honest questions”. Apparently Jesus did not consider the question of the elders to be honest. No doubt to the dismay of His disciples, Jesus refused to answer a direct question from the leadership of the Jews. To make things worse, He decides to play a little game with them knowing full well that the game would publicly humiliate these elders. So, rather than answer their question, Jesus asks one of His own. He says, “Was the baptism of John from heaven, or from men?” Jesus knew that the elders would not be able to both answer the question and save face. His clear intention was to humiliate the elders. He succeeded. They refused to answer His question and He responded by telling them that He would likewise refuse to answer their question. They were publicly humiliated. Because of the attitude and behavior of Jesus, another opportunity for reconciliation with the spiritual leaders of Israel was lost.

Do you think when evangelicals ask the question, “What would Jesus do?” they ever answer that question with “publicly humiliate the leaders of the church”? I didn’t think so. We have to pretend that Jesus never did that.

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 5

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 8: 31-38

As time went on Jesus disclosed more details about His ministry to His disciples. Immediately after Peter had made his famous assertion (in response to Jesus’ question about who He was) in which he said, “Thou art the Christ”, we find a tale which conveys the reality of the continuing ignorance of the disciples in general and Peter in particular. Jesus decided that it was time to inform His disciples that He was not going to be the political deliverer Messiah that they were expecting. In fact, He told them that He was going to suffer at the hands of the religious leaders, be rejected by the elders and chief priests, and be killed and resurrected after three days. This statement was more than Peter could stand.

Verse 32 records that “Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him.” Now that is a fascinating concept. Peter is rebuking Jesus for sin! This is a popular story to tell but the fact that Peter was rebuking Jesus is often ignored. How could Peter possibly believe that he was justified in rebuking Jesus? Certainly Peter knew that Jesus had not, would not, and could not sin. How in the world could Peter rebuke him?

I would suggest that Peter rebuked Jesus because of Jesus’ frank admission that He was going to be killed. That did not fit in with Peter’s plan. Peter expected Jesus to be the conquering Messiah who would deliver His people from the tyranny of the Romans. All of this talk about being tortured and killed just did not fit into his plan. As a result, Peter took it upon himself to speak to Jesus about this terrible plan that He had concocted. Jesus’ plan required a rebuke from the mouth of Peter because, if it were true, there was no way that Jesus could be the type of Messiah that Peter and the rest of the disciples wanted Him to be. Quite frankly, Jesus’ conception of the future is not what the twelve of them had signed up for.

How would the evangelical Jesus respond to Peter’s rebuke? I think we all know. He would slowly and dramatically turn his head toward Peter. He would have red streaks from tears in his blue eyes. He would have a weak, faint smile on his strained lips. He would begin by saying, “My precious, precious child”. They, he would slowly and tenderly explain to Peter and the rest of the disciples that they really needed to stop expecting Him to be something that He was not and to accept Him for what He was. What did the real Jesus do?

Jesus’ response to Peter was short and abrupt. He said, “Get behind Me, Satan; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interest, but man’s.” He then went on to lecture the disciples on their need to stop being a bunch of selfish little pigs. He further told them that unless they too were willing to sacrifice their lives, as He was about to do, they were not worthy of His kingdom. It is important to realize that Peter was one of Jesus’ “best friends” (if we can speak that way). Nevertheless, showing absolutely no regard for Peter’s tender emotional state (or the rest of the disciples for that matter), He severely rebukes him by calling him “Satan” and then delivers a sermon on self-denial. He concludes all of that with a warning about not being ashamed of the Son of Man and the reality of the future judgment. That is not exactly the sort of tender, warm, compassionate, caring, loving, gentle Jesus that we like to think about. So we don’t.

Mark 10: 17-22

This passage is known as the “rich, young ruler”. It tells the story of a fine, upstanding Jewish man who wanted to be a part of Jesus’ band of disciples. This young man was educated, hard working, respectful, rich, moral, and highly desirous of a position of authority and influence with the covenant people. In short, he was the perfect candidate for membership in an evangelical church! I suspect that there is not one church in a million in our land today that would not fall all over itself in quickly accepting this man into membership and elevating him to a position of authority.

It is highly significant to note that this is one of those very rare occasions in the Gospel accounts where it is recorded that Jesus actually says that He loved someone in particular. Verse 21 says, “Jesus felt a love for him.” Wow! This guy is the perfect candidate for membership in the band of disciples and the object of Jesus’ love, how could anything possibly go wrong in this situation? No doubt the disciples were shocked by what happened. Something did indeed go horribly wrong.

The young man kneels before Jesus and asks Him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Rather than first answering his question Jesus begins by informing Him that God alone is good. That set the tone for the rest of the proceedings. Jesus then tells the young man to obey the law. To that answer the young man responds that he had done so from an early age. At this point I suspect most of us would have been satisfied and admitted the young man to membership. Jesus, however, was not satisfied. In fact, He imposes a nearly impossible condition upon the young man as a condition of his membership in the group. Jesus says, “…go and sell all you possess, and give it to the poor,…and come, follow Me.” Now why would Jesus do that? Why would He take this opportunity to create a condition of membership in His group that virtually guaranteed that the young man would not be able to join? Would it not have made a lot more sense to allow the young man to join the group and then begin to gently work on his few remaining character flaws? Why would Jesus drive a worthy candidate away? How could Jesus say that He “loved” this man and then treat him that way?

The answer to that question is simple. The young man may have been very moral, but he was a materialist. He treasured his material possessions more than he treasured a relationship with the Messiah of Israel. He was sad and disappointed by the way things turned out, but he made the decision to walk away rather than give up his material possessions. Jesus makes the clear point that following Him is not a half-hearted decision. Jesus makes it perfectly clear that following Him means giving up everything. That type of sacrifice is more than we want our Jesus to ask. Don’t ignore the fact that the one person Jesus professes to love in the Gospel of Mark is a man who walks away from His presence condemned.

Mark 10: 23-25

After Jesus spurned the rich young ruler it is highly likely that the disciples were once again in a state of shock. Jesus just was not doing anything right, in their eyes. Jesus takes that opportunity to deliver a sermonette on the topic of wealth. It is short and sweet. He says, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Modern church growth strategy emphasizes the fact that it is important to get into the good graces of the rich, powerful, and influential members of a community. These people are the movers and the shakers. It is considered to be practically impossible to grow a church without the support of at least a couple of rich, influential people. Jesus does not agree with modern church growth strategy. In fact, He says just the opposite. As He was building His Church He said that it is practically impossible for rich people to get into it! In fact, in an example of wild exaggeration, He says that camels will go through the eyes of needles before rich people get into the kingdom of heaven. How likely is it that camels will go through the eyes of needles? Jesus seems to be going out of His way to offend the rich. Why would He do that?

God’s ways are not our ways. He does not need our money. He does not need anything. He does demand our total devotion. We cannot serve both God and mammon. He will build His Church with people who serve Him, regardless of their financial condition. If a man serves money, he is of no value to the Church. Let me suggest that this message from Jesus needs to be preached again in our churches. If a man will not tithe (and thus declare himself to be a servant of mammon), he should be put out of the church. If a man will not tithe, he declares himself to be a materialist, and of no value to the Kingdom of God. If a man will not tithe, he has no place in God’s kingdom. It is very hard for a materialist (one who does not tithe) to enter the kingdom of God. We should follow the pattern that Jesus established and require financial responsibility (tithing) as an immediate condition of membership. But we won’t. We don’t like that Jesus.

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 4

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 7: 1-8

Jesus was creating such a commotion in Galilee that the religious leaders in Jerusalem determined it was important to send some representatives to gather information about Him. One of the first things that this group of Pharisees noticed about Jesus and His band of disciples was that they did not perform the ceremonial washings that were required of them by rabbinic tradition. Certainly, they thought if Jesus had any aspirations to being accepted as a legitimate rabbi, it was important that He follow and practice the teachings of the rabbis.

It is important here to understand that the laws that Jesus were ignoring were not the laws proscribed in Scripture. Jesus made it very clear in His Sermon on the Mount that He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. He lived a perfect life and He never broke a single one of the laws of God recorded in the Old Testament. That includes all moral, civil and ceremonial laws. However, the law of God, as recorded in the Torah (the books of Moses) had grown considerably since the time Moses recorded them. By this point in time there were other traditions of men encapsulated in works known as the Talmud and the Midrash. These books contained hundreds of additional laws that were all created for the purpose of trying to ensure that no religious leader ever came close to breaking one of the laws in the Torah. It was for transgressions against the additional laws of the rabbis that the religious leaders rebuked Jesus and His disciples.

When the Pharisees saw that Jesus and His disciples were not following rabbinic tradition they asked an innocuous question, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the traditions of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” There is no indication from the text that this was in any way a mean-spirited question. There is also no indication that these Pharisees were in any way trying to trap Jesus in some sort of trick question (that would come later). By all indications they asked a simple question about the behavior of Jesus in light of their understanding of what was required behavior on the part of a religious leader.

The questioning of the religious leaders from Jerusalem provided Jesus with an excellent opportunity to do some consensus building. In many ways this was His first big opportunity to influence the truly powerful leaders of the land. If He played His cards right He could find Himself as an invited guest to Jerusalem and the Sanhedrin as a guest lecturer on why He did not follow the traditions of the elders. Proverbs 15: 1 says, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Could there have been a better time for Jesus to practice the gentle reality of that proverb? What would Jesus do?

Verses 6-8 record His response. He said, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” What an amazing response! Certainly Jesus knew that the Pharisees were coming to pay Him a visit (He is God). Certainly He knew they would be offended by the lack of respect for the traditions His disciples were showing. Why didn’t He at least try to deal gently with the Pharisees? Then, when they ask a simple question, He thunders insults against them by calling them hypocrites and false believers! Is that any way to build a church? How is Jesus ever going to gather people to Himself if He continually insults those who ask Him questions about what He does? This image of Jesus is too hard for us to bear. Therefore, we make the conscious decision to just ignore this passage.

Mark 7: 17-18

Immediately after delivering a severe tongue lashing to the Pharisees who had come down from Jerusalem to visit Him, Jesus launches into a parable designed to illustrate the folly of the Pharisees with respect to their conception of ceremonial cleanliness. After telling the parable He departs from the public eye and enters a house with His disciples. As was usually the case, the disciples were in shock at what they had just seen. They did not understand what Jesus had done nor did they understand the parable that He had told. So, in private, they asked Him what it meant.

We would expect the Jesus of private discourse to be very different from the Jesus of public confrontation with the religious leaders. After all, He is speaking to the twelve that He had previously chosen to be His disciples. No doubt we would expect Him to smile, turn to the disciples, and begin His answer with something like, “My precious, precious children….” Then, He would gently instruct them on what He had just taught. What did Jesus do?

Jesus did answer their question. He explained the parable to them. But He began His answer with a very interesting statement. Evangelicals universally ignore this statement because it does not fit with their conception of the smiling, blue-eyed Jesus. Jesus began His answer by saying, “Are you too so uncomprehending?” (vs.18). Do not be confused by the translation. Jesus began His answer by asking His disciples if they were too dumb, too stupid, or too ignorant to understand what He had said! Here, in private, Jesus begins His answer to a question from the disciples by insulting them! Of course, He did not really insult them. But who among us, if He had answered that question in that fashion to our face, would not have felt insulted? That kind of harsh reality from the mouth of the Messiah is more than we can muster. So, we ignore it.

Mark 7: 24-30

After His public confrontation with the religious leaders and His private confrontation with His disciples, Jesus decided to get out of Israel for a little while. He went down to the seacoast town of Tyre, which was in Phoenicia. Mark tells us that He “entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it…” (vs24). Obviously, Jesus was looking for a little peace and quiet. But, the word soon got out about the fact that He was there and a Gentile woman from the area dropped by to pay Him a visit. It turns out she had a daughter who was demon possessed. She took this amazing opportunity, as it must have seemed to her eyes, to ask this Man she had heard about to cast the demon out of her daughter.

Mark records that “she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” (vs26) Why did she have to keep asking Him? Did He not hear her? Was she too far away? No, she had to keep asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter because Jesus was ignoring her! When this story is told, and it is told a lot since Jesus ends up casting the demon out of the little girl, it is always conveniently forgotten that the woman had to persevere greatly with Jesus because He made the conscious decision to ignore her requests. That type of harsh, intolerant, and downright rude behavior demonstrated by Jesus is no way to gather a following and build a church. But it gets worse.

When Jesus finally relents to her endless nagging He responds to her in a most unfriendly fashion. He says, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (vs27) Both Jesus and the woman knew exactly what He was saying. Jesus had come to deliver the lost sheep of Israel. This woman was a Gentile. She had no part in the Kingdom of God. Quite rightly, Jesus was ignoring her. She was not His concern. Finally, in response to her verbal badgering, Jesus responds by essentially saying, “You are not worthy of this exorcism you Gentile dog!”. What an insult! All this woman wants is for her beloved daughter to be well. She does not care about the Jew-Gentile division. She just wants a healthy daughter and Jesus has the audacity to insult her by calling her a dog! A dog, as most of you probably know, was considered to be the lowest form of life. It was the strongest insult that Jesus could use.

The woman responds to Jesus by asserting that she was, in fact, a dog. She did not deserve His time and energy. Nevertheless, she pleaded for her daughter once again. Jesus heals her daughter and sends her home. This discourse is not the type we like to talk about in polite evangelical society. We believe everyone is basically good and that God loves everybody and has a wonderful plan for his or her lives. We believe that Jesus can’t wait to do nice things for us. The Jesus that is portrayed in this story is unlike the Jesus that we like to imagine. As a result, we ignore crucial parts of the story.

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 3

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 4: 10-12

All evangelicals summarily ignore this passage because it fundamentally contradicts their primary presupposition that God loves everybody. The power of presuppositions is such that it becomes necessary to reinterpret some biblical passages to make them fit with our preconceived theology. In cases where reinterpretation just does not work it becomes necessary to pretend that the contradiction is not there by simply ignoring the passage entirely. That is what has happened with this passage. When was the last time you heard a sermon or a Sunday school lesson on this passage? I would suggest that most Christians could live an entire life in a mega-church evangelical congregation and never even come to know that this passage even exists.

The disciples were perplexed and disturbed by the fact that Jesus continually spoke in parables. They could see that His use of parables was making it difficult for many people to understand what He was saying. Since they had a vested interest in securing His popularity, it was vitally important to them that everybody understands him, as they believed great popularity was necessary for a political/religious leader. Jesus, however, had other plans. In response to their query He says, “To you has been given the mystery of the kingdom of God; but those who are outside get everything in parables, in order that while seeing, they may see and not perceive; and while hearing, they may hear and not understand lest they return again and be forgiven.” Most of His answer is a direct quotation from Isaiah 6:9.

No wonder this passage is ignored by evangelicals! Jesus straight out admits that there are people who are now and forever outside of the kingdom of God. Furthermore, He admits that He keeps them in a confused state so as to guarantee that they will not repent! But, but….stammers the evangelical…. doesn’t Jesus love everybody and want all men to be saved? Apparently not. Otherwise He would have spoken clearly so that the people would have understood, repented and been forgiven. The Jesus of the Bible does not love everybody. He does not have a wonderful plan for everyone’s life. He is not weeping outside of the door to our hearts, begging for us to let Him in. In fact, entrance to His kingdom is clearly on His terms, not ours. Even more, He will bring those into His kingdom that He wants, and He will keep all others away. One of the ways He will keep them away is by confusing them with parables. Of course, modern day Marcionite heretics can and do dismiss this passage because it quotes something said by the Old Testament God. Since He no longer exists or has changed His mind, it necessarily follows that what Jesus said does not really reflect present reality.

Mark 6: 1-5

This passage is not relegated to the dustbin of statements made by Jesus like the previous passage is. In fact, the phrase “a prophet is not without honor except in his home town” has become a bit of a colloquial expression in our time. However, this passage is another example of the type of passage in which what Jesus says is not fully considered in light of the context.

Jesus had been preaching, teaching, and performing miracles throughout Galilee when He decided to make a stop in His hometown of Nazareth. As was His custom, He waited until the Sabbath day and went to the local synagogue to teach. He also performed some minor miracles (vs. 2 and 5) in the presence of the locals. The locals, however, were greatly disturbed by the fact that Jesus was so wise. He was such a good teacher that they “took offense at Him”! After all, was He not just a carpenter? Why does He consider Himself to be such a big shot when His all His brothers and sisters live here with us? Just who does He think He is anyway? How dare He come into our synagogue and try to show us up! Does He think He is better than us?

You get the picture. Envy is a normal pattern of thought and behavior in all people. When a stranger comes to town and does great things we are not threatened by his presence since we do not know him. Clearly, in our unthreatened minds, he is a greater person than we are. However, when one of our own attempts to rise above the squalor that we all live in and enjoy, it is time to take him down a notch. I feel insecure about myself and the attempt by this other person that I know to rise above me only makes me feel worse. The best thing to do is to tear him down. Everything he does is offensive to me. Why does he not just go away and leave me alone?

We know that Jesus was sinless. We know that giving personal offense is a sin. Therefore we know that Jesus never gave personal offense. We also know that thousands of people “took offense” at Jesus during His ministry on earth. That is an important distinction. There is a huge difference between giving offense and taking offense. A person is in sin when he gives offense. In the same fashion, a person is in sin when he takes offense and no offense has been given. Jesus’ family, friends and neighbors were all in sin for taking offense at who He was and what He said.

It is in this context that Jesus utters His now famous words, “A prophet is not without honor except in his home town and among his own relatives and in his own household.” This statement is a powerful assertion about who He is and who they are. Notice that Jesus describes Himself as a “prophet”. A prophet deserves to be heard. A prophet deserves honor and respect. A prophet is bringing the message of God to the people and anybody with a lick of sense knows that the only thing to do in the presence of a prophet is keep the mouth shut and the ears open. Jesus tells his family, friends, and neighbors that He is a prophet. They all understood that He was therefore deserving of honor and that they were unwilling to give it to Him.

Jesus further acknowledges that prophets like Himself do receive honor in other towns. In His hometown, however, He is given no honor at all. What is the conclusion to be drawn about the people of His hometown? There is only one conclusion that can be drawn from His assertion. The family, friends and neighbors that He was speaking to were wretched, hard-hearted sinners who did not know the first thing about proper sanctified behavior in the presence of a prophet of God. They were sinning against Him by refusing to honor Him, as He deserved! To make matters worse, they converted the entire situation into one in which they had convinced themselves that He was sinning against them! Mark records that Jesus “wondered at their unbelief”.

Jesus rightly demanded the honor of His family, friends, and neighbors. They did not give it to Him. He concluded that they were unbelievers. Unbelievers go to hell. Not a very pretty family reunion, is it?

Mark 6: 7-12

The gathering together of the twelve disciples and the delivery of the first missionary instructions are given great emphasis by evangelicals, as they should be. Unfortunately, one of the most important parts of the instruction is totally ignored. This passage is popular because Jesus expands His ministry of mercy and healing through the use of the disciples. They too are going to be able to cast out unclean spirits and perform miracles of healing among the people. They were successful in their endeavors as Mark records that “they were casting out many demons and were anointing with oil many sick people and healing them.” This passage is used to emphasize the fact that Jesus utilizes the division of labor in the Church to empower others to do merciful, kind, helpful things for other human beings. This passage has been used to recruit, educate, encourage, and exhort missionaries to go into all the world and preach the gospel. That is a good thing.

There are two problems, however, with the application, or rather mis-application, of this passage to evangelical missionary theology. The first is that, as we saw in Mark 1: 14-15, the content of the gospel message is the preaching of the doctrine of repentance. The disciples were not sent out to build homes for the homeless. The disciples were not sent out to do dental work or perform medical examinations for people in other lands. The disciples were not even sent out to tell people that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their lives. No, the disciples were commanded to go into the cities of Israel and preach the doctrine of repentance from sin. That has never been a very popular doctrine. It is certainly not popular today. I doubt that it was much more popular then. Although the disciples no doubt had a lot of fun performing miracles, they had to have some doubts about the content of their message. How, after all, could Jesus build up a grassroots following that would propel Him to the political Messiahship by preaching that the people were infected with original sin and needed to repent?

Even more disturbing were the instructions Jesus gave them about how they were to be provided for while they were preaching. Missionaries love to tell stories about how they ministered among a group of people for years before they saw their first convert. Prospective missionaries are fortified with the patience required to go into the mission field with stories of how the “greats” who went before them often preached for years before a single person repented. Dramatic stories are told about how the original missionaries to an area were brutally murdered, but other missionaries were still sent in their place. Then, miraculously, after years of fruitless ministry, somebody repented. These stories are told through many tears. Everybody seems to agree that this sort of sacrifice is precisely what is required by those who are going to the mission field. Jesus has a different opinion about the matter.

Verse 11 says, “And any place that does not receive you or listen to you, as you go out from there, shake off the dust from the soles of your feet for a testimony against them.” These words convey a very different understanding of missionary perseverance than what we are taught in missionary schools. Jesus did not call the disciples to minister for years in towns that had no interest in what they had to say. He certainly did not call them to sacrifice their lives in some sort of misguided attempt to curry the emotional favor of the people they were trying to reach. In missionary instructions given near the end of His ministry He actually tells them to carry weapons of self-defense in the likely event they are attacked by the pagans they are preaching to! (Luke 22: 35-38)

If the disciples were not received for their message and physically provided for by those who accepted the message of the gospel of the kingdom, they were to shake the dust off their feet in that town. That is not just a nice little symbol that they were to do before leaving town. Shaking the dust off their feet dramatically symbolized the fact that the refusal of the people of that town to repent will most certainly bring the wrath and judgment of God down upon them. Lest any of the dust of that town be carried anywhere else, and any innocent be harmed, it had to be removed from the feet by shaking. Furthermore, the disciples were in agreement with the plan and purpose of God. By being the instruments of the “foot shaking” they were testifying against the residents of that town that they had refused to repent and believe in the Son of God. By shaking their feet they were actively invoking the presence of God in judgment against the hard-hearted, God-hating people who had refused their message of repentance. Now that is powerful preaching!

The view of missionaries as spiritual conquerors who have the right to demand to be heard because of the message that they bring has been lost in today’s churches. No, we are told that missionaries have to “earn the right to be heard” by bribing the locals with food, water, and medical care. The fact that Jesus commanded His disciples to focus their efforts in areas where they were bearing positive fruit has similarly been lost. No, we are told that the longer you work with no fruit the more your reward will be in heaven. The fact that a missionary is not to be a passive, “hope I don’t get killed today”, sort of fellow is ignored. By ignoring the complete text of Jesus’ missionary instructions we have abandoned His clear instructions on how to spread the Church. We have also created a false image of who Jesus is.

Selective Biblicism: WWJD Part 2

This is part of a series of posts on the sin of Selective Biblicism. Click here to see the entire series.

Mark 1: 14-15

Mark introduces Jesus in the following fashion, “And after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came in to Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.'” This introduction sounds very strange to the ears of modern evangelicals. Could this possibly be the same Jesus that adorns the walls of the foyer at church? What is all this talk about repenting? Repenting from what? And what is all this talk about a kingdom? How does Jesus being my personal savior have anything to do with the establishment of a kingdom? Since Mark introduces Jesus in this strange and indiscernible way and then quickly moves on to Jesus’ calling of Simon, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples, it is easy to skip right over it and tell nice, funny, entertaining stories about how Jesus calls people to Himself. Members of the congregation can also be encouraged to get up and tell their funny story of how Jesus called them to Himself. This makes for a great church growth tool!

We are not free to ignore Mark’s introduction of Jesus. Jesus is clearly described as saying three important things. First, the “time is fulfilled”. Second, “the kingdom of God is at hand”. Lastly, men should “repent and believe the gospel”. The fact that these three simple statements sound like another Jesus in the ears of today’s evangelical is a strong indication of how far the popular image of Jesus has departed from the historic Jesus. We need to enter into relationship with the historic Jesus, not a Jesus of our own creation.

Since evangelicals have little or no understanding of the covenantal nature of the ministry of Jesus, they have little or no ability to interpret His opening assertion that the “time is fulfilled”. As a result, the “time is fulfilled” comes to mean little more than “now is the time I have come to bring personal salvation to all men who will answer the door of their hearts, outside of which I stand politely knocking.”

“The time is fulfilled” means that the Old Covenant is coming to an end and the New Covenant is being initiated. As we saw in Matthew 3, Jesus is coming to judge the members of the Old Covenant, national Israel, for their unfaithfulness to the terms and stipulations of the covenant. However, His judgment is not going to bring about the end of human history (as was the opinion of many in the apostolic church). National Israel is going to be replaced with the Church Universal. Elect from all nations are going to be brought into the Kingdom of the Messiah of Israel. The Church is going to be established and built and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. The “kingdom of God” is truly at hand in the Person of Jesus Christ who has come to throw out the old and bring in the new. Jesus the King is establishing His kingdom in heaven and on earth and, as He taught His disciples to pray, His will is to be done in both places.

The message of the gospel of the kingdom is a powerful message of the conquering rights of King Jesus in coming to earth to put all His enemies under His feet. His kingdom continues to work itself out, in heaven and on earth, until the last enemy, death, is put under His feet. That event will bring about the end of human history. The first thing the King will do is destroy His harlot wife (national Israel) for her continual, blasphemous, rebellious harlotries. The next thing He will do is betroth Himself to His new bride. The new bride of Christ is the Church. We know, from other passages of Scripture, that Jesus and His Bride will be united in the eternal state forever. In this intermediate state the betrothed bride is anxiously awaiting the wedding day and the future marriage supper of the Lamb that begins the eternal state of wedded bliss between the Bride and the Bridegroom. Jesus announces unequivocally that the time is at hand and the kingdom is being established. What should be the response of mankind to His announcement?

“Repent and believe”. Jesus does not politely request the honor of our presence at His marriage supper. He commands that we repent and believe. Those who do will be saved. Those who do not are judged already. There are no other alternatives. Jesus does not give us any other options. His command is simple and straightforward: repent and believe. We are commanded to repent of our sins (defined by His law) and to believe in Him and everything He says in His Word (the Bible). Evangelicals are totally ignorant of the fact that Jesus always commands that we believe in Him. He does not politely wait outside the door, greatly saddened when we refuse to open it and let Him in out of the rain. He pounds on the door and commands us to open it, under penalty of eternal judgment if we refuse to do so.

Repentance, also, is not an option. Furthermore, repentance is more than admitting that you yell at your wife and occasionally kick the dog. Repentance is an admission that there is no good in you whatsoever. Even worse, repentance is an admission that everything that is in you is evil. To top if all off, repentance is a promise to turn from all the evil thoughts and deeds that you have ever committed and positively obey the law of God. Now that is a very hard thing for today’s evangelical to do, especially in light of the fact that he hates the law of God. No, the Jesus portrayed in Mark 1 is far too stern and demanding for public consumption. It is not possible to grow a mega-church while preaching the things that Jesus said at the start of His ministry. It is best just to skip over that part and get to the fun stories about healings and exorcisms, all the while forgetting that the reason for the healings and exorcisms is not to feed the flesh of mankind but to establish the authority of the King.

Mark 3: 1-6

This is an example of a story about Jesus that has been told hundreds of times, but rarely understood. As is usually the case, the emphasis is put upon the healing that takes place and the primary reason for the healing is ignored. This passage records an early miracle of Jesus in healing the withered hand of a man on the Sabbath day. The two things that are emphasized when this passage is preached are the facts that Jesus had compassion upon the sick and injured and that the Pharisees were hard-hearted legalists who would rather see a man suffer than break their incorrect understanding of the law. The emotional conclusion that is generally drawn from the story is that we too should be compassionate upon the sick and injured (support the Americans with Disabilities Act, for example), and that we should never allow some strict reading of the law to get in the way of our beneficence. Is this understanding of the passage an accurate appraisal of the primary point of the healing? Not at all.

It is fascinating that one of the first things that Jesus decided to do was confront the religious leaders. Why would He do that? Did Jesus not know that public confrontation with the established religious leaders was no way to build a consensus? Did Jesus not understand that He would never befriend the established religious leaders by humiliating them in public? And why did Jesus perform the healing on a Sabbath? Certainly He could have healed the man on a day other than the Sabbath. Why did Jesus specifically choose to heal this man on a day that He knew would provoke a confrontation with the authorities? Was He just trying to be a troublemaker? Was He just trying to stir up the passions of the religious leaders? How could that benefit anyone? Furthermore, if Jesus came in order to bring us personal salvation, why did He have to deal with the religious leaders at all? Certainly, if He believed that they were bad people, it would have been far less confrontational if He had just gone about His business and ignored them, all the while hoping that maybe they would learn from His meek and mild manner and convert to His side.

Mark tells us that Jesus was “angry” (vs. 5). Evangelicals do not like their Jesus to be angry. An angry Jesus is so much harder to sell to affluent suburbanites than a smiling, blue-eyed one who feels their middle class pain. How would an evangelical church counsel Jesus? He would be told that it is always best to go to your quiet place when you feel anger. Most certainly He should never go to a public meeting and deal specifically with those who have cultivated His anger. He would be told to wait for a few days, to allow His anger to subside, before He decides to speak. He would be told that He could catch many more flies with honey than He can with vinegar. Perhaps He would be told to write down His feelings, wait for a few days, read what He had written, and then throw it away.

Jesus was angry with the Pharisees because they had misinterpreted the law of God. He asked them a simple question “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good…?” The lawful answer to that question was also very simple, “Yes, it is”. The Pharisees, however, believed that it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath. They were wrong. They did not understand the law of God. To make things worse, they were teaching the Jews that it was unlawful to do good on the Sabbath. As religious leaders they should have known better. As religious leaders they were to be held accountable for their false teaching. As religious leaders who were leading the Jews into error, Jesus angrily confronted them about their sin. What was their response to His confrontation? “…they kept silent” (and plotted how to kill Him).

This passage in Mark 3 is primarily about the righteous anger of God toward His covenantal representatives who sinfully misrepresent His law. In order to understand the primary purpose for the passage it is necessary to understand that God deals representationally with His people (see my essay on “Authority”). It is also necessary to understand that the law of God is eternal. It has not been abrogated. It is also vital to understand that God gets very angry when His law is changed or set aside in order to follow the traditions of men. Lastly it is crucial to understand that God will judge those who misrepresent His nature and character. For the Pharisees, the time had come; the axe was already laid at the root of the tree. The message of this passage does not play very well in our churches today.

Mark 3: 31-35

Evangelicals usually ignore this passage. On those rare occasions when it is addressed, just like the passage we just examined, the main point is missed. Usually, however, it is ignored. We are told that the passage is obscure. We are told that we can’t understand what takes place because of our vast cultural differences when compared to that time. We are also told that when Jesus says, “Behold, My mother and My brothers”, that He is making a statement about how great His love is for those who have allowed Him into their hearts and given Him the opportunity to be their personal Lord and Savior.

There is no getting around what actually took place in this passage. Jesus had finished calling the twelve disciples. He had gone into the mountains and personally summoned the twelve men that He wanted to constitute His inner sanctum. These were to be twelve men of tremendous privilege. Do not forget that those who were following Jesus at this time expected Him to be a political deliverer who would lead them into a glorious earthly kingdom. Those who could get close to Him the earliest in His ministry were most likely going to have the greatest part of the spoils later. These twelve stood in line for a great amount of political booty and power.

It is likely that many in Jesus’ family were offended by the fact that He did not chose a single one of them for a privileged position. After all, isn’t nepotism an accepted standard when political graft is being distributed? After Jesus came back from the mountains, with the twelve disciples by His side, He went home (3:20) and began to preach against the religious leaders. He didn’t even bother to check in with His family before He started preaching. They examined what they considered to be very strange behavior and came to the conclusion that He had “lost his senses.” Apparently Jesus was preaching inside a building and it was a standing room only crowd. As a result, His family was unable to get inside. So, “they sent word to Him” that they were standing outside. What did they expect Him to do with their message?

Of course they expected Him to acknowledge it. Furthermore, they most likely expected Him to quickly apologize for the fact that they had not been granted admission to the room. In fact, it is not hard to believe that they expected Him to issue an order for them to be brought inside and ushered into the seats of privilege at the front of the room. After all, they were family! It was the least that He could do for them after slighting them by not appointing any of them to His inner circle. No doubt they were eagerly anticipating being moved forward through the throngs and taking their places in the positions of honor. What would Jesus do when presented with an outstanding opportunity to honor his family?

He ignored them! No, it was worse than that. He went further and disallowed that there was any family privilege at all! “How offensive”, screams the evangelical! What about the commandment to “honor your father and mother”? It is easy to see why this passage is usually ignored. It smacks the popular doctrine of the preeminence of the family right in the face. It is not possible to grow a mega-church while preaching that the Church is the preeminent institution in society. But that is precisely what Jesus does. He does not mince any words. He says, “For whoever does the will of God, he is My brother and sister and mother.” Jesus says that blood relationships have no standing in the Kingdom of God. What an offensive concept for the modern evangelical who builds his entire worldview on the doctrine of the preeminence of the family.

Imagine how His family must have felt! Here, they send word to Him, probably thinking that He had just been too busy to remember to save the front row for them. When He receives their word He not only ignores what they have to say but He takes the opportunity to preach a mini-sermon on how the family is secondary to the Church. It is hard to believe that they were not horribly offended by what Jesus did. It is hard to imagine that some of them did not become very angry. It is hard to think that He might not have reduced some of them to tears with His words. But, no doubt, those things happened. Jesus makes it very clear, very early in His ministry, that there is no privilege in the institution of the family. The family is always secondary to the Church. For evangelicals, who strive to preach “family oriented sermons” week after pathetic week that is too much to bear. Instead, they recreate Jesus as the advocate of the family. They recreate the church as the servant of the family. Both reconstructions are idolatrous.