Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Equivocating Evangels

Last week as I was preparing for my Sunday morning message on the ministry of John the Baptist (Mark 1:2-8), I couldn’t help but think of two interviews I heard earlier in the week. In the first interview, emerging church guru ,Doug Pagitt, was being quizzed by Way of The Master Radio. In the second interview, Joel Osteen was being queried by Larry King.

The interview with Pagitt was as revealing as it was disturbing. When questioned on sin, heaven, hell, and salvation Pagitt was evasive and tried to avoid any certain implications of the doctrines queried. What was painfully obvious was that Pagitt doesn’t believe heaven and hell are real places. I am not sure what he does with passages like John 14:3 where Jesus tells the disciples “I go and prepare a place for you”! In fact, Pagitt sounded a lot like 20th century liberals who maintained that hell is a state of mind.

For someone who lauds and extols tolerance as a cardinal virtue, Pagitt grew increasingly intolerant and hostile with the direct line of questioning. When asked about the eternal destiny of Buddhists, Hindus, and Muslims, Pagitt tried to escape into hyper-space by hiding behind a curtain of verbal fog. On this issue he was more illusive than the Loch Ness Monster. Bottom-line, he sounds like a universalist—all will eventually be saved.

The only thing certain in Pagitt’s mind is that nothing is certain. Of this he is certain.

For his part, Osteen had a 43 minute interview with Larry King. As King pressed concerning issues like sin, salvation, heaven, and hell, Osteen countered with a certain “I don’t know” 39 times! One thing listeners can be sure of is that Osteen doesn’t seem to know much. Yet, every week in Houston, Texas 47,000 people crowd around to hear Osteen pontificate about something, that by his own admission, he doesn’t know much about. Go figure!

I wonder how many of Osteen’s fans would go to a doctor who admitted he didn’t know much about the basics of medical science and human physiology? Yet, every week millions entrust their eternal destiny to those, like Osteen and Pagitt, who confess ignorance on such matters. This is all reminiscent of what Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3-4,

“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires; 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths.”

The over-arching similarity between Pagitt and Osteen is that both promote theological ambiguity as a cardinal tenant of their faith. They don’t know and they are proud of the fact that they don’t know. They both seem to think that ambiguity on cardinal, central doctrines is some how more humble than certitude. Old Testament prophets they could never be, because they would be unwilling to say “Thus saith the Lord”!

The example of Jesus is most instructive for us. In Matthew 4:1-11 when the Lord was tempted by the Devil, how did He respond? On three rapid fire occasions He declared “It is written”. In like manner, the Lord’s forerunner, John the Baptist, was introduced with same formula of certainty, “It is written” (Mark 1:2).

The “It is written” construction was used in Hellenistic times of legal orders and proclamations. Such a formula conveys both certainty and authority. When used in the Bible, it declares the absolute, permanent, divine record of God to man. This record is forever settled in heaven—the same heaven Pagitt isn’t quite sure about. Where sin, salvation, and the Savior are concerned, there can be no ambiguity. There are no loopholes or exception clauses for those who try to by-pass Jesus Christ as the way, the truth, and the life. Human ingenuity and artistic imagination cannot successfully remove God’s exclusive demands for the sinner.

Just as John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s earthly ministry by preaching the message of “repentance” (Mark 1:4), we are called today to prepare the way for the Lord’s second coming by preaching the same message. To equivocate here, as both Pagitt and Osteen do, is to commit spiritual malpractice, which has eternal consequences for those who listen.

Paul warned Timothy about such non-sense (theological ambiguity) when he said that such men are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 8 And just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth,” (2 Timothy 3:7-8).

In the end, there is no virtue in avoiding the truth, and there is no real humility in equivocating on issues of eternal significance. Jesus considered John the Baptist to be the greatest among men (Matthew 11:11-12) not because he was ambiguous, but because he obediently proclaimed the message of repentance. True humility is found in the obedient proclamation of the gospel. Of this I am certain!

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