Defending the Faith in the Public Arena

Thesis

  1. The supremacy of God is an increasingly public issue and embracing the supremacy of God biblically is crucial for displaying and defending the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  2. Embracing the supremacy of God biblically means pursuing an all-satisfying, self-sacrificing passion for God’s self-exalting, and therefore loving, supremacy in all things.

Starting Point

The London Financial Times, article by Michael Prowse:

Worship is an aspect of religion that I always found difficult to understand. Suppose we postulate an omnipotent being who, for reasons inscrutable to us, decided to create something other than himself. Why should he . . . expect us to worship him? We didn't ask to be created. Our lives are often troubled. We know that human tyrants, puffed up with pride, crave adulation and homage. But a morally perfect God would surely have no character defects. So why are all those people on their knees every Sunday?

First, this raises a tremendously important issue about the nature of God, and his supremacy: Is it a character defect, as he says, that God demands worship? Is it a character defect that God is so God-exalting?

Second, it raises this profound doctrinal issue not in a theological text book or in a Sunday morning sermon but in the London Financial Times—in public.

My Approach

  1. To illustrate the increasingly public nature of the issue of the supremacy of God and ponder how we should respond for the sake of defending the gospel.
  2. To answer the charge that God’s self-exalting purposes are a character defect and to draw out from this answer some implications for the defense of the Christian faith in the media.

________

First, illustrating the increasingly public issue of God’s supremacy and how to respond to it.

Four illustrations

  1. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ: Question: Who killed Jesus?
  2. September 11 and the World Trade Center calamity: Where was God?
  3. Islamic resurgence and relevance for our lives: Do we worship the same God? Who is Jesus Christ in Islam?
  4. Israel and the Palestinians: Whose land is it? Just beneath the surface, did God give it to Ishmael or Isaac? Does God have right to do that any way? Do such questions have political bearing?

How should we respond to this increasingly public issue of God’s reality and supremacy?

We should realize that the postmodern, multicultural, pluralistic, relativistic atmosphere of all this is a friend and foe to defending the Christian faith in the media (as everywhere else).

Friend

Because of this atmosphere it is politically incorrect to say blatantly bad things about anybody’s holy book or anybody’s faith. Debunking the Koran in public is verboten  and by implication the Bible gets some reprieve from scorn and rejection. This opens a window for a season where we can make a case for God’s supremacy on its own terms and its own merits for the sake of the gospel.

Therefore, this should be happening in the public arena, especially through the Christian media.

Four examples

  1. Gibson’s movie: Go further and say God killed him. (Isaiah 53:10) Essence of the gospel.
  2. September 11: God was on is throne. And let the gospel of the cross answer: Hebrews 4:15 (he tasted suffering) and Romans 8:32 (he bought Romans 8:28 for sinners)
  3. Islamic resurgence: Christ not being God incarnate and not dying is a gospel issue! Hebrews 2:14 (incarnation); Galatians 2:21 “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if justification were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”

    Therefore: Don’t ask: Do we worship the same God? But If you deny that God sent his Son into the world and that he died to justify sinners by faith and thus nullify the grace of God, what meaning does it have to say you worship this God?
  4. Israel and Palestinians: Christians should make it a gospel clarifying issue, which also illumines the political issue. Romans 11:28 “As regards the gospel, they are enemies of God for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.”
  5. Therefore: First, Israel desperately needs the gospel and is perishing without it; second, a covenant breaking people does not have present rights to God’s promises. The land issue must be settled another way.

Conclusion: Seize all these opportunities to make a case for the supremacy of God in Jesus Christ.

Foe

In creating space for us, relativism undermines the very claim to truth that makes the supremacy of God in the gospel of any worth at all.

Therefore: Constantly Christian media should constantly draw attention to the simple fact that nobody can live from day to day on the assumptions of postmodernism: Professors may say it at the university but when they balance their checkbook, or get on an airplane they want nothing to do with “your truth is as good as my truth.” There are facts in the universe and why my money and my life are at stake you better not pretend play any postmodern games with me.

Summary

  1. The article from the London Financial Times showed, with the other illustrations>, that the issue of God’s supremacy is increasingly a public issue.
  2. And our response should be to seize the opportunity to give a Biblical interpretation of God’s supremacy and relate it to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

________

Second, we turn to answer the charge of the London Financial Times article that God’s self-exalting purposes are a character defect and to draw out from this answer some implications for the defense of the Christian faith in the media.

Why Focus on This?

Seeing it is crucial to displaying and defending the “gospel of the glory of Christ” (as Paul calls it, 2 Corinthians 4:4)

  1. Crucial to displaying the gospel: Because we won’t see the gospel in its fullness without grasping why God is not defective in being radically God-exalting,
  2. Crucial to displaying the gospel: Because there is a power here for unleashing the kind of radical, sacrificial love that shows the world what Christ is like and how powerful he is.
  3. Crucial to defending the gospel: Because written on every heart is the supremacy of God: God is God and I am not.
  4. Crucial to defending the gospel: Because as important as intellectual and philosophical and historical arguments are to meet objections to the faith—and they are very important—nevertheless the well-grounded certainty of the soul that Jesus is who the Bible says he is does not finally rest on discursive arguments but on the self-authenticating revelation of the glory of God in the gospel. And that glory includes God’s radical God-centeredness.

Michael Prowse tasted this and did not like it at all. C. S. Lewis before he was a Christian didn’t like it either.

Does God Have a Character Defect?

So what is the answer to the charge that God’s self-exaltation and his demand for worship is a character defect?

First, God is God-centered. God's own glory is uppermost in his own affections. In everything he does, his purpose is to preserve and display that glory. To say that hsi own glory is uppermost in his own affections means that he puts a greater value on it than on anything else. He delights in his glory above all things (Isaiah 46:9-10) [see chapters 1-3 (PDF) in The Pleasures of God].

Second, is this a flaw, or is it the essence of his love? What is his love: John 17:1-6 and 17:1-5 and 24. God is most glorified in us when we are most glorified in him. John 11:1-6 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. 3 So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." 4 But when Jesus heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." 5 Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6 So, when he heard that Lazarus1 was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Third, therefore: God must exalt himself if he is to be loving. And this is not a character flaw. It is character excellence.

The Implications

What are the implications for the defense of the Christian Faith in the media?

First, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies that the Christian media need to go to the essence of what makes the good news ultimately good, namely the enjoyment of God himself forever because of his all-satisfying beauty and greatness. (1 Peter 3:18 – "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.")

God is the gospel. (Hard for fallen man. Spokesmen who have gone deep with God and seen his beauty in his word and works and have gifts to say it.). (Display of divine beauty is defense of divine truth.)

Second, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies that Christian media people—people who write and speak on behalf of the Creator of the Universe—should really know him well. They should study him and walk with him and tremble before him. This will be a lonely road in America where there is an almost suffocating pressure not to study but to be ever talking. (You can’t defend the truth of God if you don’t know the beauty of God.)

Third, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies, third, that Christian media should prepare people to embrace the supremacy of God in suffering.

Three reasons for this:

  1. God does not stop seeking and demanding our worship when life falls apart. And in the media life falls apart every day. 167,000 Christian martyrs in 2004 (a 9/11 every week). Job 1:21 and Matt Redman’s song: “Lord, you give and take away, you give and take away. My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name.”
  2. Because the supremacy of God in suffering is our only rock. “When all around my soul gives way . . .
  3. The readiness to suffer flows from the all-satisfying supremacy of God and therefore witnesses to it most powerfully. (Hebrews 10:34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.) Therefore: helping Christians suffer with joyful faith is one of the greatest apologetic achievements possible. (Graham Stains, Martin Burnham, Bonnie Witherall)

Fourth, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies that Christian media should portray horizontal love among people in a God-centered, Christ exalting way that cuts across the grain of a God-neglecting, self-esteeming church and culture. “Love labors to enthrall the beloved, no matter the cost, with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying, namely, God.” What better defense of God’s infinite worth in the public arena than acts love that seek to savor and share that worth even at the cost of our lives?

Fifth, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies that Christian media should help the church and the world regain a sense of history where most of the best displays and defenses of the faith are found.

Sixth, the loving self-exaltation of the supremacy of God in all things implies that Christian media should move away from so much levity to holy cheerfulness.

I take the words from Charles Spurgeon, Lectures to My Students,

We must conquer—some of us especially—our tendency to levity. A great distinction exists between holy cheerfulness, which is a virtue, and that general levity, which is a vice. There is a levity which has not enough heart to laugh but trifles with everything; it is flippant, hollow, unreal. A hearty laugh is no more levity than a hearty cry. (212)

Many media people know they are to be joyful. The Bible says so. But where is the substance that makes the joy solid? Where is the majesty of God that makes our happiness serious and deep? Why is there so much slapstick? Empty banter? Jesting? General silliness. It can’t help but come across as a pitiful attempt at happiness.

Notice I am not appealing for somber, sullen, dull, dismal, gloomy, sad, voices and faces and writing. Christians should be the happiest people in the world. And it should show. But Spurgeon is right: there is a world of difference between levity and holy cheerfulness.

I think the solution is not any technique or any style. The solution is seeing and savoring the self-exalting, and therefore loving, supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. This is the ballast we need in boats as we sail through the waters of suffering. “The soul would have no rainbow if the eye had no tear.” Or as Paul says in 2 Cor. 6:10, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing.” Or as Isaiah said it: Isaiah 11:3, “And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.”

Seventh, I close with one last implication of it all: our need for grace in all our labors in media or in the pulpit. I end the way C. S. Lewis ended his essay on “Christian Apologetics,"

One last word. I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist. No doctrine of that Faith seems to me so spectral, so unreal as one that I have just successfully defended in a public debate. For a moment, you see, it has seemed to rest on oneself: as a result, when you go away from that debate, it seems no stronger than that weak pillar. That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments . . . into the Reality—from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need one another’s continual help—oremus pro invincem [Let us pray for each other]. (Essay Collection and Other Short Pieces, 159 [out-of-print]).

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