Uninvented: Jeremiah Doesn’t Make Up the New Covenant

Uninvented: Jeremiah Doesn’t Make Up the New Covenant

There are so many angles to the uninvented argument, and one of the most important is theological, something I don’t get into much in the book. The Bible looked at in 20/20 Jesus Hindsight is theological genius (see Luke 24), and I would argue impossible to be made up by human beings and mere human imagination. It is stunning when you consider the consistency of Genesis to Revelation written over approximately a 1500-year timespan by 40 or so different authors. Most of the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, with a bit of Aramaic thrown in (the language of the Babylonians similar to Hebrew that became the language of the Jews by Jesus’ time), and the New Testament in Greek. Yet through all that time and with all those differences, the coherence of the message is astonishing. It’s almost as if there was a “conspiracy” of an Almighty all-knowing God who decided to reveal himself and his plans to his creatures this way through the words of men. In fact, it is the only logical and plausible explanation for the Bible. Mere human invention doesn’t read this way, and it’s not even close.

Which brings me to Jeremiah 31. In my reading through this time I was struck by how impossible it would have been for these words to have been made up by Jeremiah or anyone else:

31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
    “when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to them,”
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“     and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

To understand how impossible it would be for a human being to make this up you have to be familiar with redemptive history. It is critical for Christians to know their redemptive history because it is only that context that gives all the details their psychological, emotional, and transforming power in our lives. The main subject of the Old Testament is Israel, or God’s covenant people. Their entire 1500-year history would point forward to the true Israel, Jesus (Matt. 2:13–15). Jesus was also the second or the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45-49). What these two, Adam and Israel, had in common was that they failed the test, which points to why a Jeremiah 31 type of salvation was necessary, one that would be inner, spiritual, and transformational verses one based on external obedience to the law.

 Man, created as man and woman, was given a dominion mandate to rule over God’s abundant, and good, created order (Gen. 1:26-28). This is also called the cultural mandate, and the purpose whichever term is used, is to bring God’s kingdom rule (thy kingdom come thy will be done (Matt. 6:9-13), to earth. Adam failed miserably in his assignment (it was his fault the serpent was in the garden and able to tempt the woman in the first place), as we read about the fall in Genesis 3. The seed that would crush the serpent’s head was God’s promise of the good news to come in his Son, who would be God himself come to save His people from their sins (Matt. 1:21). First, there would be a period of time leading eventually to God calling Abram from Ur of the Chaldeans, and founding the people of Israel through his offspring.

 After the little blip of 430 years in Egypt (God is never in a hurry), most of that time in slavery, God in the Exodus rescued his people from slavery to bring them into a land of their own and introduce them to His law. They were also introduced to the blessings of obedience and curses of disobedience (Deut. 11) to God’s law. That didn’t turn out well. Starting with the book of Judges, it’s all downhill. But what’s the point of the miserable failings of the Israelites? To show us just what horrible sinners they were? No! They are us! That is the message of Israel, that our own obedience to God’s perfect law is impossible for fallen sinners alienated from God. But God wants to bless His people, so He in the person of Christ obeyed God’s law perfectly in our place, so that we by mere faith, by trust in Jesus, can have Christ’s righteousness, God’s very own righteousness as our righteousness! (Rom. 3)

 Which brings us to Jeremiah 31. The two covenants are fundamentally different, but the same. They are the progressive outworking of one eternal covenant in the Triune God, one promise to Adam and Eve, eventually leading to one legal, covenant agreement between God with Abram in Genesis 12. Since Abram was childless, he asked the Lord God how he could know His promises would come true. He, like all of us, needed some sign, some evidence. So the Lord told him to get some animals and He performed a ceremony with Abram showing He would accomplish both sides of the covenant promise since no human being or group of human beings could attain what was required, which was the perfect righteousness of God. That would require, as we see here in Jeremiah 31, the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation of a holy God and sinful man. That was accomplished in Christ’s body given for us on a tree. We are told through Isaiah (53) 700 years before it happened how this would be accomplished:

5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.

 And some 600 years before anyone would have a clue what this meant, God through Jeremiah tells us. God himself in and because of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit (given to the church, His people at Pentecost, Acts 2) would transform their the hearts and minds, completely changing their inner being from one of hostility to God to love for Him and His law (I John 4:19, we love because he first loved us). The only way this inner transformation could take place is if our sin was paid for, and God’s wrath fully satisfied (propitiation). God would now no longer be hostile toward us because our sin, our offense against him, was wiped away, Christ become our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:31).

 None of this could have been known or predicted until Jesus rose from the dead. He rebuked the disciples on the road to Emmaus on the first Easter Sunday because they didn’t understand that the entire Old Testament was about Him, and told the rest of the disciples the same thing later as he ate with them (Luke 24). Now we know from Jeremiah that our affections have been completely changed from self to God, from our desires to His law, and we now know Him in Christ our Savior and Lord. And we all want to now go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and far away!


Yes, Experience is Evidence for the Truth of Christianity

Yes, Experience is Evidence for the Truth of Christianity

I recently heard John Lennox say that Christian experience is a real way to prove the truth of Christianity. If Christianity doesn’t in some way reveal its truth in lived experience, then it can’t be true. For those of us who distrust the subjective, the emotional, the ego and the id, in Freudian terms, this is not an easy thing to buy into. But it stuck with me, and it wasn’t long before I exclaimed to myself, of course, he’s right! If God in Christ is some theoretical construct that doesn’t transform lives in an obvious way proving Himself to the person in the process, then Christianity’s not worth much. 

One reason I was open to Lennox’s declaration at this time in my life is because I’ve been listening to Christian testimonies consistently over the last three or four years, hundreds of them by this point. I’ve concluded we have two choices when considering their experiences. Either they are real, and God ordained, or they are not. If they are not, then it’s just human psychology. I would argue that mere human psychology can’t explain the consistent transformation of lives for the last 2000 years of Christian history. I think of the Apostle Paul. The phrase “road to Damascus experience” has come down in Western history to mean conversion because his was so radical. The only plausible explanation for his complete 180 on Christianity, from persecuting Christians to the great Apostle to the Gentiles, is that the risen and ascended Jesus Christ really did appear to him on that road, as he testified for the rest of his life. Mere psychology doesn’t do that.

What’s even more remarkable about all the transformed lives over all that time is that they come from every corner of the earth, from every language and nation and tribe. As Yahweh promised to Abraham, all nations of the earth would be blessed through him. I learned something from Tim Keller that should have been obvious to me before, that Christianity is the only universal religion on earth, which also profoundly speaks to its truth.

And it’s not just that human psychology alone can’t account for all these transformations, but if it’s not real, then what transformed all these lives, and Western civilization itself, are lies. Christianity makes some astounding claims and declares them to be truth; if they are not, they are lies.  And it is literally impossible for lies to do what we’ve seen Christianity do for people since Jesus’ disciples claimed they witnessed Him resurrected from the dead and were transformed by that fact. As I argue in my book, Uninvented, only a real, actual, historical bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead can account for pious Jews completely changing their religion overnight. Consider these radical changes of what they gave up because they claimed Jesus’ resurrection:

  • The sacrificial system.
  • The importance of keeping the law.
  • Keeping of the Sabbath.
  • Non-Trinitarian theism.
  • A human Messiah.

 Lies or made-up stories do not do this.

 Skeptics are fond of claiming there is little or no evidence for the veracity of Christianity. In fact, we have an embarrassment of riches of evidence, as the history of apologetics makes abundantly clear. Transformed lives, including those of the very first Christians, and civilizations, add to that embarrassment of riches (Tom Holland, a non-Christian, in Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World argues that Christianity is the only explanation for the modern world). If Christianity isn’t true, then what’s happened in these lives, including yours and mine, has to either be explained away or explained some other way. But as my book argues for the historicity of the biblical accounts, and their divine origin, I would also argue for the divine origin of transformed Christian lives: they can’t be our own inventions. That they are of God is a more plausible explanation than it’s wishful thinking, or in Marx’s phrase, the opiate of the masses to help us deal with the difficulties of life.

 Keep in mind that changed lives don’t prove Christianity is true, but if Christianity is true, it will change lives. This makes sense when you look at the entire scope of redemptive history. Something is very wrong with the world and the humans who in inhabit it, and it culminates for each one in the ultimate indignity of death. Followers of religions and philosophies have been grappling with the why and how of this for thousands of years, but the best you get from them is speculation and conjecture, that is until Judaism and Christianity. There we learn that God is a transcendent all-powerful Creator who made the world good, in fact, very good. Then man rebelled by disobeying God, and was instantly alienated from his Creator, which was how all the suffering, misery, and death came into the world. Alienate is a perfect description of the consequences of that rebellion:

 to cause to be estranged: to make unfriendly, hostile, or indifferent especially where attachment formerly existed

 In Genesis 3 we read of this rebellion, and because of it the man and woman hid from God when he visited them in the garden. Something had gone terribly wrong. He tells them because of their disobedience, their lives will now be very hard (painful toil, sweat of the brow, thorns and thistles), and in the end they turn to dust. Sounds promising. Then in the very next chapter, Cain kills Abel, and the misery of human existence is off and running. All of history proves that because man is alienated from his Creator, he’s alienated from himself and others, as well as the created order he was meant to have dominion over.

 In that same Genesis 3 account of what we call the fall, God shares the solution, and what would become redemptive history begins. God told the man and his wife the seed of the woman will crush the serpent’s head which was accomplished by Christ in his life, death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension to the right hand of God. He accomplished the redemption of his people (in Matthew 1:21, Jesus is given his name because He will save His people from their sins, not try, but will), and he sent the Holy Spirit at Pentecost to apply it in their lives. When it is, Christians are no longer alienated from their maker, their God, who has become their Savior, and that begins a healing from all the other alienations in their lives wrought by sin.

 If this is true, and it is, then the lives of Christians will reflect the transforming power of reconciliation, first with God, then themselves, then others, and finally all of creation. We call this love. When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he answered that the entirety of the law and the prophets, the whole Old Testament, is about love, first loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and loving our neighbor as ourselves. Love is efficacious, and because he first loved us, we too can love. That is the biggest miracle of all, that self-absorbed, self-interested, self-obsessed sinners can love others, the 1 Corinthians 13 impossible type of love. Only something very real does something like that.

Post-Mill Optimism and the Victory of God in Christ

Post-Mill Optimism and the Victory of God in Christ

In my previous post about the Postmillennial conference I attended, I remarked how surprised I was by how many families with children there were, and especially the size of the families. That makes total sense when you understand that post millennialism is a positive, optimistic eschatology. Large families and hope for the future go together like, well, love and marriage (Thanks, Frank!). Why would anyone bring children into the world when they think the future offers only misery and suffering? Or if they don’t believe in God. And speaking of misery and suffering, our secular cultural elites embrace and promote a worldview of fear. Everything is a threat, apocalypse just around the corner, dystopian Hollywood fantasies our cultural touchstones. I’m not participating in their pessimism. It’s unfortunate so many Christians do, albeit the catastrophes are of a moral nature.

I must confess that not long ago I was a certified doomer. All I had witnessed for forty years was Christian and conservative cultural and political defeat. Secularism and political liberalism was ascendant everywhere, and all we did was lose. And while the people on our side didn’t appear to want to lose, they seemed to accept it as a foregone conclusion. To them the forces against us, like gale force hurricane winds, are too much to withstand. The tide of history is against us. At best we can defend ourselves and not try to lose too much ground, but hey, if we’re Christians, Jesus is coming back soon, right? I had no idea until recently how eschatology, the study of end times, drives peoples’ view of things, be they religious or secular. Almost all Christians get their pessimism from their negative eschatology.

I’ll never forget the church service where our pastor said those who are focused on the “culture wars” are just rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s a supreme irony how much Christians complain about the cultural rot all around us, but if we focus too much on “the culture wars” we’re wasting our time. Got it. As an amillennialist, which I was previously, our pastor was doing what they always tend to do, over spiritualize everything. He was preaching on what to him is the most important thing in existence, the spiritual and moral transformation of the individual, as if that is somehow mutually exclusive from Christian cultural engagement. It is not. In fact, everything is spiritual, and participating in the salvation of Christ’s people from their sins (Matt. 1:21) is a required part of Christianizing the culture. Most Christians because of their eschatology, whether they can even articulate what that is or not, have no idea how intimately connected those two things should be. The post-millennial awaking in the church is changing that, and it is a thrilling thing to be a part of.

It may surprise you that until World War I postmillennialism was the majority report in Protestant Christian eschatology. Unfortunately, this was highjacked by a growing Enlightenment secularism infatuation with science (nothing is impossible and everything will get better and better), and liberal Christianity’s focus on man’s moral improvement and the social gospel. These two melded together into what became post-millennialism. That is why I rejected this eschatological position without giving it a moment’s consideration, even though all my theological heroes of the 19th century and earlier embraced it. I thought the actual theological position was the highjacked version; it isn’t! Not even close.

As the lamentable twentieth century progressed, post-millennialism became increasingly discredited in the eyes of most Christians. Not realizing the position had nothing to do with an arrow-like progress through history, they embraced the new eschatological kid on the block, the fundamentally pessimistic dispensational premillennialism, first articulated by John Nelson Darby in the mid-nineteenth century. This speculative eschatology, I’ve heard it described as newspaper eschatology, was what I was born-again into in 1978. This was time of the incredibly popular Late Great Planet Earth (talk about pessimism!) by Hal Lindsey, and The Left Behind series of books that would come later.

I’ve discovered in my short time on this side of the eschatological divide that pre and a-mill Christians believe in large part that suffering is the lot of Christians in this fallen world, and that Satan in some way has the upper hand in the spiritual war that is human existence. The victory Christ won on the cross over sin is a spiritual victory with primarily eternal significance; we are saved to heaven. In this material fallen world, Christians are the losers, and salvation a kind of eternal spiritual fire insurance. Instead of transforming this fallen world with God’s kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven, our desire is to escape it.

Even though this is true of most Christians, they all believe Christ is indeed seated at the right hand of God, and as Paul says in Ephesians 1, is “far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” Unfortunately, they do not believe his rule will in any way fundamentally transform life in this world. They miss the implications of his rule for all of creation as God through the Apostle Paul reveals to us in Colossians 1:

19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.

All things is a lot of things! And notice the implication of the reconciliation of the cross extends to “things on earth.”

Paul is clear: there are material implications of these spiritual realities. The Great Commission Jesus gave the eleven in Matthew 28 is to all nations, in Greek ethnos-ἔθνος, not just all individuals (transformed individuals transform nations!). And they were to first baptize them, and then teach them to obey everything he had commanded them. I challenge any pre or a-mill Christian to carefully go through just the gospels (this “everything” command applies to the rest of the New Testament as well) and tell me that what Jesus commands will not transform and renew cultures and civilizations. It has to

Unfortunately, over the last few hundred years a dualistic Pietism has exerted a huge influence on Evangelical Christianity, with Christians valuing upper story spiritual things over lower story supposedly non-spiritual things. To the contrary, the Bible teaches what the Puritans of old believed, that true Christians are the agents of Christ’s renewing activity for all of life, the family, church, state, business, art, education, every single thing.

In I Corinthians 5:17 Paul points to the salvific transforming power of what Christ accomplished on the cross.  He says, “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new has come.” I always thought of this as just referring to the person who is the new creation, but as new creations we are in a real way renewing this fallen creation because Christ came not just to save us, but the entire world! And we do this with our Lord who reigns over all of it. Paul says in I Corinthians 15:25 and 26, “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” We are currently living in the “until,” and as his kingdom goes forth, we are his instruments, his body, to put those enemies under his feet. This is why I am optimistic and excited because the victory of God in Christ is guaranteed now and forever!


Chapter 11: The Resurrection

Chapter 11: The Resurrection

  • The Myth of the Dying and Rising God
  • What About That Empty Tomb?
  • How Did an Empty Tomb Turn into Christianity?
  • The Jews and Resurrection
  • Did They Steal the Body?
  • Other Options?
  • What Does the New Testament Actually Say About the Resurrection?
  • Why Are There No Depictions of the Resurrection?
  • The Criterion of Embarrassment
  • The Effect of the Resurrection
Tim Keller RIP

Tim Keller RIP

The Lord took another one of his faithful servants all too soon. We all know time is a mist and passes more swiftly than we have the ability to convey or comprehend, but that doesn’t make the end of it any easier to convey or comprehend, or accept, but we have no choice. Death sooner or later comes for us all, and all of us feel it comes way too soon no matter when it comes, at one or one hundred-and-one. As Christians, though, our encounter with the Grim Reaper, for us and the ones we care about, is different than those who don’t trust Christ. As the Apostle Paul says in I Thessalonians 4:

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.

Paul gives us further Christian perspective in Philippians 1 on this most unpleasant and unnatural fact of life when he tells us about his own inevitable coming encounter with death:

21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

How many of us can say, honestly, we are “torn between the two.” I’ll confess, I’m not terribly torn, although I pray to learn how to be as that encounter comes ever closer. When contemplating my own departure, my “falling asleep,” I always go to Jesus’ words to Martha at the tomb of her brother Lazarus whom Jesus would bring back to life only moments after he said these words (John 11):

 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”

I do! The word for believe in Greek is trust, and trust requires faith. All human beings live by faith, or trust in some things and some ones, and it’s a requirement for daily existence for finite human beings. For ultimate things, as well as our everyday mundane life, Christians trust in our Almighty sovereign Creator God, and that makes all the hardness a little less hard.

Speaking of trust, I often think of the father in Mark 9 whose son was possessed by an evil spirit when he asked Jesus if he could do anything to help heal his son. Jesus’ response was priceless and speaks to our natural lack of trust in God’s almighty power on behalf of his people: “‘If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” I love how Jesus gently rebukes him, although it’s impossible to know the tone of the rebuke when he gave it. He’s basically saying, you can trust me! If you do, anything is possible. Yet the man knows his weakness and with tears pleads with Jesus (in the poetic King James version): “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” I love that! It’s so hard to trust, but I so badly want to trust!

For those who know me, I attended Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia where I met my future wife, Sarah. It so happens that Tim Keller was a professor there at the time, and prior to our getting married he was our premarital counselor. I still remember, and recite to others, little gems of marital wisdom he gave us in those sessions. The most common and often repeated by me are the very first words he spoke to us after we sat down for our first session: The only sinner bigger than the one you’re marrying is you! That’s a hard one to forget because it is so obviously true. How many marriages have failed because one spouse thinks the other is the bigger sinner? A lot!

But it isn’t just that personal connection that makes Keller’s life special to us. His theological and apologetics teaching over the years has been a profound help in us maturing in our Reformed faith. It’s a testimony to his vision and persistence that he could go into the heart of the secular Christian hating Gotham and build not only a successful church (he preferred the word fruitful), but a world-wide church planting movement. I’ll never forget visiting New York City for a business trip in 2016 and visiting one of his churches. I was hoping to see him, but Redeemer Presbyterian didn’t advertise which church he would be preaching at, so I attended one closest to my hotel. The sermon by another pastor on the righteousness of God by faith in Romans 3 brought me to tears and the amazing depth of God’s grace for me. It didn’t surprise me coming from a Keller led church because the gospel of God’s good news of unmerited favor in Christ was his north star. Even though I had a problem with his thinking and writing on political and cultural engagement in recent years, he will be sorely missed.