For God So Loved

We love because He first loved us,
On that we can depend
A verse of the Bible near and dear
To the broken hearted His love He does send.

For God so loved the world
That the greatest sacrifice
Was His one and only son
Who paid the ultimate price.

True Love

Love can always conquer
Whatever discord brings
and love can also cover
a multitude of things.

Don’t you underestimate
what love can ever do,
for love is God eternal
and His love can renew.

What is cold and lifeless,
now lost all hope and died,
for love can breathe new meaning
and give it back new life.

Please don’t give up on love
when it seems that all is lost,
for there is always hope
if we’re prepared to pay the cost.

For love is always worth it
no matter how much the price,
for love will be much stronger
when we trust in Jesus Christ.

So let God have full reign,
let Him live within your heart
then you will know true love,
for this He will impart

Derek Webb, Wrestling with the Category of “Ex-Christian,” and the Nature of True Saving Faith

dustinjcoleman dustinjcoleman2 years ago

fingers-crossed-derek-webb

Derek Webb is an ex-Christian.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Derek Webb, he is a musician that played in the Christian band Caedmon’s Call in the 1990s and early 2000s before embarking on a solo career. Derek wrote songs grappling with theological truth, ranging from topics about God’s sovereign election (“Thankful”), the depravity of man (“Crooked Deep Down”), and the priority of love as a mark of true Christianity (“The Church”).

He is a songwriter with depth and honesty to his lyrics. He looks at the world and tells us what he sees. For me and many of my friends in college, we listened as he worked out his theology in a deeply personal way that made him a representative figure for many of us on the same walk.

And yet a few weeks ago I listened with deep sadness to a podcast where Derek vehemently rejected Christianity. He spoke with vulgar language. He explained how he found more comfort in alcohol than he did in the truths of the gospel. At one point, he expresses that, in light of the suffering in the world, either there is no God or the one that exists is a “f***ing ***hole.”

What happened?

Derek Webb is just one among an ever-increasing category of those who identify as “ex-Christian.” They grew up in the church, many even gave their lives in various roles in the church, and yet today they reject Christianity as a delusion at best or oppressive and even evil at worst.

How can we understand what is going on in their lives? There are only three options before us: 1) They were once genuine Christians but have fallen away; 2) At least some of them are still genuine Christians in a deep state of spiritual confusion and error but will eventually return by God’s grace; 3) They were never genuine Christians to begin with.

Option number one is untenable with biblical truth. I sincerely pray that option 2 is the case for Derek and for all who are in his current camp. But, sadly, we know that this is not true for all of them; some of them have genuinely rejected the gospel and will not return. That leaves option 3 as the only possibility: they were never genuine Christians.

At this point the conversation can diverge into two unhelpful ditches. On the one hand, we can try to start picking at the person’s life and saying, “See, we should have seen this coming.” Some may point to Derek’s salty language in some of his songs or his affair and subsequent divorce. But this is completely unhelpful and displays a lack of grace and humility. Christians have affairs. Adulterous thoughts rage in most of our minds even if we don’t physically have affairs (which to Jesus makes us equally guilty). Christians have different standards of what words are acceptable for what purposes. We ought not use his apostasy to point fingers at the struggles in his life or his views with which we do not happen to agree.

But an equally unhelpful divergence is to deny that ex-Christians were never genuine Christians. Many of these ex-Christians argue adamantly, “No, I was a Christian. I believed it. I was a pastor/song leader/youth worker/conference speaker/musician/committed church member. I was a Christian and now I am not.” The same doubts may arise in our minds: How could someone that I was so sure was a Christian, someone from whom I even learned a great deal, how could they never have been a Christian at all?

The answer lies at what is the true nature and cause of genuine saving faith. Jonathan Edwards is helpful for us here:

“Men may have a strong persuasion that the Christian religion is true, when their persuasion is not at all built on evidence, but altogether on education, and the opinion of others; as many Mahometans are strongly persuaded of the truth of the Mahometan religion, because their fathers, and neighbors, and nation believe it. That belief of the truth of the Christian religion, which is built on the very same grounds with a Mahometan’s belief of the Mahometan religion, is the same sort of belief. And though the thing believed happens to be better, yet that does not make the belief itself to be of a better sort; for though the thing believed happens to be true, yet the belief of it is not owing to this truth, but to education” (emphasis mine).

Edwards makes a vital distinction here between two kinds of belief. There is a way to “believe” in Christianity that is not genuine saving belief. You can believe in Christianity because you are educated in it, because those around you believe it, and because you are genuinely convinced in your mind that it is a true religion. You can be convinced of and committed to Christianity in the same way you can be convinced of and committed to false religions or sports teams or opinions about which James Bond movie is the best. And yet this is not saving faith, no matter how committed it looks on the outside. This is a kind of belief that can be altered or even abandoned.

True saving faith, as Edwards explains, looks like this:

“A spiritual conviction of the truth of the great things of the gospel, is such a conviction, as arises from having a spiritual view or apprehension of those things in the mind. And this is also evident from the Scripture, which often represents, that a saving belief of the reality and divinity of the things proposed and exhibited to us in the gospel, is from the Spirit of God’s enlightening the mind” (emphasis mine).

True saving faith is not being exposed and educated in the Christian religion and coming to a conviction that such things are true. True saving faith happens when God by His Spirit enlightens the mind and helps us see not only the truth of the gospel but the loveliness and divine nature of it. It is beholding not only the truths of the gospel but also having God work on our souls to rejoice in the glory of God as He is revealed in these truths. True conversion happens when God shines “in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis mine). It is a divine work done by a God who never changes His mind or alters His purposes in history. And thus it will always, always persevere.

I don’t deny that Derek Webb or ex-pastors, ex-missionaries, ex-ministry workers, and those who define themselves as ex-Christians were at one time completely convinced of the truth of the gospel. Their belief in its truth is evidenced by the fact that they built their entire lives around it. But what I deny is that the eyes of their hearts were opened by God to truly savor the glory of God revealed in those truths. I’m not saying they didn’t believe that God was glorious. I’m saying that their conviction was a human conviction and was based upon education and circumstances and not the supernatural work of God to shine in their hearts the beauty and glory of gospel truths.

And that is why they were able to lose the faith they had.

** Due to a number of criticisms of this post, I’ve attempted to show a biblical justification for the idea that some faith is not of God and thus not true saving faith in this follow-up post.**

Fair, Balanced, & Well-Rounded Summer Reading List

I am writing this petition as someone who is a complete 100% outsider to the cause. I have never been a student at student at Tome School and have never set foot on the campus. In fact, I only know a few people with any involvement at the school at all. They are adults who have their children at the institution. So there’s no personal dog in this fight for me.

What I am, though, is someone who has a conscience, a background in education, and a desire for a balanced, holistic approach to educating children, one that is not totally void of bias (is that even possible?) but rather grouded in the understanding that there are multiple perspectives to nearly any subject, particularly ones that fall into the category of social sciences. With our country’s future at stake I believe that how we educate our children is paramount. They are our future. And as it stands, more often than not, one perspective and one perspective only is being promoted campuses of both higher and lower education, public and private. Students often discover that there are different perspectives on subjects once they leave school grounds. Sadly, even as adults, many people never realize that there are different ways of looking at a given subject matter. They have, sadly, never developed the critical thinking skills necessary to critique their own thoughts and consider the possibility that their way of thinking is not the only way of thinking – let the person telling me what they are telling me is simply a human being who is prone to bias and confirmation bias.

My fear as an everyday ordinary citizen, who has multiple degrees in education, is that the boys and girls of the Tome School in North East, Maryland are being deprived of a balanced perspective on the current hot topic subject of racial equality and racial injustice. From what I gather the summer reading list which they have been given is a collection of books written from a left-leaning political perspective. The fact that students are being given an opportunity to hear about an important subject matter from a left-leaning, progressive perspective is wonderful. I have no complaints  in regards to students  being taught and challenged  to consider  how they view the world through a lens that would be described as liberal. However, there are many other perspectives on the subject, and a lot of them fall in the moderate to right leaning area on the political spectrum.

If the subject of racial equality and injustice is as important as the Tome School believes it is (few would disagree) then my hope is that the school can reconsider the books it is mandating their students read this summer. My personal hope is that some of these books can be taken off the list and replaced with other books written by other authors on the exact same subject. There are excellent books on this subject written by the likes of Larry Elder, Thomas Sowell, Booker T Washington, and Ben Carson to name a few. For no other reason than providing balance and perspective, I believe it would behoove the students of this educational institution to enter the upcoming school year knowing that “not everyone thinks the same way on this topic.” I for one wish I would have realized that just because someone has their name on the front of a book cover doesn’t mean that their opinion is irrefutable gospel. 

So please, for the sake of the children at the school, I urge you to reconsider your summer reading list. I would be happy to help choose additional books and authors from which to choose.

Yours in Education,

Neil Dembeck

Updates

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Jesus Christ belonged to the true race of prophets. He saw with open eye the mystery of the soul. Drawn by its severe harmony, ravished with its beauty, he lived in it and had his being there. Alone in all history, he estimated the greatness of man.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?
Were you in the yard with your wife and children
Or workin’ on some stage in L.A.?
Did you stand there in shock at the sight of that black smoke
Risin’ against that blue sky?
Did you shout out in anger, in fear for your neighbor
Or did you just sit down and cry?Did you weep for the children, they lost their dear loved ones
Pray for the ones who don’t know?
Did you rejoice for the people who walked from the rubble
And sob for the ones left below?
Did you burst out with pride for the red, white, and blue
And the heroes who died just doin’ what they do?
Did you look up to heaven for some kind of answer
And look at yourself and what really matters?I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The diff’rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is loveWhere were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?
Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
Or drivin’ down some cold interstate?
Did you feel guilty ’cause you’re a survivor?
In a crowded room did you feel alone?
Did you call up your mother and tell her you love her?
Did you dust off that Bible at home?Did you open your eyes and hope it never happened
Close your eyes and not go to sleep?
Did you notice the sunset for the first time in ages
And speak to some stranger on the street?
Did you lay down at night and think of tomorrow
Go out and buy you a gun?
Did you turn off that violent old movie you’re watchin’
And turn on I Love Lucy reruns?
Did you go to a church and hold hands with some strangers
Stand in line to give your own blood?
Did you just stay home and cling tight to your family
Thank God you had somebody to love?I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The diff’rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is love
I’m just a singer of simple songs
I’m not a real political man
I watch CNN, but I’m not sure I can tell you
The diff’rence in Iraq and Iran
But I know Jesus and I talk to God
And I remember this from when I was young
Faith, hope, and love are some good things He gave us
And the greatest is loveAnd the greatest is love
And the greatest is loveWhere were you when the world stopped turnin’
On that September day?

Come Together, Right Now

What if most of us aren’t “either/or” but “both/and”?

I can simultaneously hold the truth that white men have done great and amazing things AND that they have built and perpetuated broken systems

I can simultaneously hold the truth that changes need to be made within our law enforcement AND still have a deep respect for our law enforcement

I can simultaneously hold the truth that #blacklivesmatter AND that the black community will need to do some work within themselves to aid in their full healing

I can simultaneously hold the truth that the science may be inconclusive AND still wear a mask on the decent chance it is correct in order to love my neighbor well and protect them-especially when wearing a mask doesn’t hurt my health it’s just uncomfortable.

I have had many tell me I’m too liberal. I have had many tell me I’m not liberal enough. What if it isn’t conservative vs liberal but in fact it is HUMANS desiring to be heard and understood and the deep reality is until we are all willing to come to the table to have a constructive conversation about the real issues that face us we will never see good, true and lasting change

The reality is we will all need to make sacrifices and adjustments.

What’s one thing you are willing to actually listen to the other side of the issue on? I’ll listen to you anytime and every time if you want to have a constructive conversation. If you just want to convince me you are right without hearing the nuance and mess that is the truth of living as a human I’ll pass but I will love you deeply.

Some of my dearest friends and even family differ greatly from me but guess what? We still love each other. We still engage in the conversations and ….turns out…we have learned from one another.