Defend Your Holy Week

In the haze of holy week there will be, without doubt, many reasons to lose focus on the Passion of Christ.

In recently memory, there have been scandals, political turmoil, theological disputes turned into public brouhahas in the days leading up to Resurrection Sunday.

Given the present political climate and the regular barrage of scandals, it is nearly unquestionable that there will be a scandal.

Often, news outlets choose to post articles arguing against the historicity of Jesus. Theologically liberal denominations publish posts on how, if Christ’s death was ordained by God for our redemption, it would be tantamount to cosmic child abuse. Others, like the book I discussed in a recent post, will argue that Christ’s death on the cross could not have paid for our sin because they think it has negative ethical outcomes. (Spoiler: The book does not do well at making this argument.)

In our constant battle for joy in holiness we are beset on all sides by the world, the flesh and the devil. There are few times this is as apparent as in the days leading up to Easter Sunday.

Watch this week. You’ll see a hundred attempts to derail your focus and distract from this holiest of weeks.

I’m neither a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but I would bet a cookie that there is going to be a significant attack on Christianity this week.

That’s not superstition, it’s an acknowledgement that the last thing Satan wants is for Christians to revel in the wonder, mystery, and power of the resurrection. There is little that makes Christians more effective in living out the gospel than being enraptured by the miracle of Christ’s sacrificial death, burial, and resurrection in our place.

Perhaps the worst thing about the disruption to the possibility of our spiritual advancement in this week of particular focus is that we will allow it to happen. Or, at least, we will take few measures to present it.

Make Resurrection Sunday Bigger

Used by CC License:

Used by CC License:

Our culture has turned Christmas into a blowout holiday. Crass commercialism is creeping into everything, with stores pushing junk months ahead of previously little-celebrated holidays. But during Christmas we do a billion things to keep in mind that Jesus is the reason for the season.

Our culture loves Christmas because they have turned the incarnation into a chance to make money, eat rich foods, and hang out with family in tacky sweaters. Christians have gotten sucked into many of the bad aspects, even as we celebrate the goodness of Christ’s incarnation.

For most of us, however, the celebration of Christ’s atoning work on the cross gets a smaller budget, less build up, and a shorter celebration.

I would argue that Resurrection Sunday should be the pinnacle of the church calendar. That we should use the Lent season (with or without some of the trappings) to build to the glorious heights of the most important hours in the history of the universe: when Christ—the spotless lamb of God—took the penalty for our sin in our place. This is better accomplished at Easter since it lacks the commercial trappings of Christmas.

The atonement could not have taken place without the incarnation, which is why celebrating Christ’s birth is a good thing to do. But without the atonement the incarnation is incomplete. Christ’s work on the cross completed the work he did in this life. He lived a perfect life, showed people what the new heavens and new earth will look like, and pointed people toward the renewed creation that will be finally inaugurated when he comes again. Christ’s resurrection gives testimony that his work on the cross—his sacrifice for our sin—was accepted by God.

This is the capstone moment in Christianity and ought to bear the brunt of our interest and celebration.

Defend the Holy Week

However, when we begin to recognize the importance of the resurrection, the world, our flesh, and the devil will get in the way of being enraptured by its power.

If you don’t believe me, try meditating on the resurrection for a few minutes. The phone will ring, a kid will have a crisis, you’ll decide you desperately need to check social media.

Don’t be surprised that even if you set aside some time this holy week to focus on the cross, to participate in contemplation of the atonement, or to spend hours with your brothers and sisters in Christ that distractions will kick in.

There will be a scandal that directly pokes at the Christian faith. The media will release articles with conspiracy theories to convince the people you are sharing Christ with that the gospel is really fake news. Something will arise in the political sphere that seems designed to take your eyes of the cross. Your car will break down. Whatever.

It’s coming. Defend the Holy Week. Be prepared for battle.

Share the Good News

This is one of those weeks that it’s easier to have meaningful gospel conversations than others, because people are talking about Easter. Use the time wisely.

Skip over the political jabber and skip to the cross. Explain what Easter really means and why it has very little to do with bunnies, marshmallow chicks, or oodles of chocolate.

You would be surprised, I think, how few non-Christians actually understand the gospel. The Passion week is an excellent time to bridge those gaps, explain the real meaning of the cross, and point people to the life that can only come through Christ.

Don’t get distracted by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Preach Christ so that others might know him and celebrate new life even as we remember how the way was paved for us to share in that new life, too.

We Need the Substitutionary Atonement

Not too long ago someone told me in an off-hand manner that the Conservative Resurgence of the Southern Baptist Convention should have never happened.

The Cross by Michael Craven. Used by CC License.

The Cross by Michael Craven. Used by CC License.

I tend to agree, but for different reasons. I’ve heard the Conservative Resurgence objected to based on it being divisive. Inasmuch as it was divisive (and for some it certainly was just a power play), it is a shame that the split happened.

However, most of the people I’ve heard object to the Conservative Resurgence do so because they don’t think that the doctrines in question were worth dividing over. Typically, these are individuals who are sympathetic with revising gender roles in the church and who want to undermine belief in the reliability of Scripture.

Those two issues were certainly the most discussed issues during the controversy in the SBC, which has become known as the Conservative Resurgence. In reality, though, they were simply the tip of the iceberg for a deeper theological debate. There were legitimate heresies that were being tolerated in the seminaries and churches of the SBC and the denomination needed to be called back to doctrinal faithfulness.

One of the major outcomes of the Conservative Resurgence was the formation of another association of Baptist churches. The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) formed to support those churches who disagreed with the SBC on key doctrinal disputes. The CBF became a home for theological liberals and moderates.

The moderates were those who were willing to tolerate the erosion of traditional Christian doctrines, as long as they didn’t go too far. At least, that was the general idea. In truth, many moderates ended up tolerating outright theological liberalism, which eats at orthodoxy and the essentials of Christianity like a canker.

A Recent Example

A case in point is a recent opinion article by a Kentucky-based CBF pastor, who is a regular contributor to Baptist News Global, a partner organization to the CBF. The author, Chuck Queen, argues against the substitutionary atonement:

Popular Baptist preachers and evangelists over the years have emphasized trust in Jesus’ substitutionary death as essential for salvation. It is such a staple in many Baptist churches that pastors, even though they don’t believe it themselves, refuse to touch it.

He goes on:

Many Christians believe this to be the gospel truth. To deny this truth is to deny Christ. But this theory of the redemptive significance of Jesus’ death is seriously flawed. The major problem with substitutionary atonement is the way it imagines God. This interpretation of Jesus’ death makes God the source of redemptive violence. God required/demanded a violent death for atonement to be made. God required the death of an innocent victim in order to satisfy God’s offended sense of honor or pay off a penalty that God imposed. What kind of justice or God is this? Would a loving parent make forgiveness for the child conditioned upon a violent act?

His argument against the substitutionary atonement is actually a portion of a known heresy called Socinianism. It has huge theological and Christological problems. Sam Storms has helpfully posted a summary of this doctrine previously, in which he notes that the Socinian rejection of the substitutionary atonement requires a rejection of the essential justice of God. That is, Socinians must reject the idea that God must be just; instead he can simply ignore sin. Here is Socinus in his own words:

“If we could but get rid of this justice, even if we had no other proof, that fiction of Christ’s satisfaction would be thoroughly exposed, and would vanish” (De Servatore, III, i).
“There is no such justice in God as requires absolutely and inexorably that sin be punished, and such as God himself cannot repudiate. There is, indeed, a perpetual and constant justice in God; but this is nothing but his moral equity and rectitude, by virtue of which there is no depravity or iniquity in any of his works. . . . Hence, they greatly err who, deceived by the popular use of the word justice, suppose that justice in this sense is a perpetual quality in God, and affirm that it is infinite. . . . Hence it might with much greater truth be affirmed that that compassion which stands opposed to justice is the appropriate characteristic of God” (Praelectiones Theologicae, Caput xvi; Bibliotheca Fratrum Polonorum, I, 566).

The Problem of Justice

The CBF pastor contends that God does not have to be consistent in his justice in order to be just. He argues,

If God is sovereign, as advocates of substitutionary atonement contend, then God is the source of all justice. God is not subject to some sort of cosmic principle of justice outside of God’s own nature. If God chooses to simply forgive sin the way a loving parent would forgive sin, without requiring some sort of pay off or sacrifice, there is no one to tell God that God is violating the demands of justice. God sets the standards of justice.

This sounds good to some, but what Queen has essentially done is simply picked one of the two wrong choices in the Euthyphro Dilemma. He is right to note that moral justice is not an absolute imposed on God, but he is 100% wrong to assert that God simply makes up what is just. This is a huge theological problem.

If God can simply change the rules at any point, then your sin today could be tomorrow’s self-sacrifice. There are many within the ranks of the sexual revolution that hope this is true: they hope that earlier condemnations of sexual immorality have been revised by God to say that more sex is good as long as it is “loving.” Or, they might hope that despite the clear prohibition of killing innocents as a private individual in the Ten Commandments, it is now a good thing to commit an abortion. This would be convenient.

The proper answer to the Euthyphro Dilemma is “none of the above.” God isn’t bound by a moral law that existed prior to him. Neither can the moral law—and the just application of that law—change. Instead, the moral law is a reflection of God’s character. There is a reason that many times during the giving of the law, God commands the Israelites, “Be holy as I am holy.” (e.g., Leviticus 11:44) Since God does not change (cf. James 1:17), the moral law that reflects his character does not change.

But apart from the logical problems that Queen faces in trying to create a God that changes, he has many scriptural problems. The most obvious is Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

In contrast, let us compare Queen’s comments:

Jesus didn’t have to die in order to make atonement to God for sin.


Jesus didn’t die because God needed a sacrifice. Jesus died because the powers that be had him killed.

Paul claims that the atonement is of first importance. Queen claims that the real issues is that “the sacrificial images employed by Paul and other New Testament writers carry a lot of baggage.”

This should not be overlooked. Queen is arguing that Paul got the core of Christianity wrong and that he has misled the vast majority of Christians since his time. 

In other words, what Queen is saying is that Scripture is wrong. He is also saying that orthodox Christianity for millennia have been wrong.  And they are wrong not about something that resides on the edge of Christian conviction, but the very heart of the message of Christianity.

Queen is arguing that the definition of the gospel—that Christ died for our sins—is wrong.

This is why I am thankful for the Conservative Resurgence. We may spend time fighting about politics, but at least we can all agree on the gospel. As for Queen, we should pray that he repents and places his faith in Christ for the propitiation of his sins. I'm not sure what he places his hope in otherwise.

No Legitimate Support is Offered

The strongest part of Queen’s defense is that he has struck first and anticipated the logical response of orthodox Christians. He anticipates that those of us foolish enough to accept Scripture and traditional Christian doctrines will argue that the atonement that is at the center of the gospel is at the center of the gospel. By anticipating the argument, he is inoculating some of his readers against the response. But careful readers won’t fall for his trap.

Queen never explains why his capricious, ever changing god is consistent with the God of the Bible. Instead, he simply asserts that “the God of Jesus, however, does not need to be propitiated.”

He also inserts an ahistorical fact with no evidence that the so-called Constantinian shift pushed substitutionary language to the forefront of the Church’s discussions of God. This is a theory in search of support, which Queen can’t provide because it doesn’t exist.

The reason the Eucharist has been a part of the Church’s liturgy since the beginning is because it remembers the significance of Christ’s death on the cross. It isn’t just a nice way to remember a nice guy that died because of injustice. If that were the case, there are a lot of Christian martyrs we should remember with meals.

Similarly, baptism, when properly performed, recalls the significance of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection.

It’s almost as if Jesus Christ himself and the authors of the New Testament anticipated the false gospel Queen and others like him present. In fact, they did.

Instead of making an argument, Queen makes some assertions based on a twisted, anemic idea of a false god that provides no justice. He makes no effort to deal with significant texts of Scripture, like the letter to the Hebrews, which makes it clear that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” and that Christ is the sacrifice that enabled our sins to be forgiven. (Heb 9:15-28)


The cross is absolutely necessary for the forgiveness of our sins. If you lose the substitutionary atonement, you lose the gospel. There are certainly other aspects and significances of the atonement, but if we miss Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf, then we’ve missed a central truth of Christianity. I'm thankful for the SBC where, despite our warts, we aren't arguing about gospel basics.

As we celebrate Christ’s death on the cross, his burial, and his resurrection, ponder the truth of the substitutionary atonement. It is bloody and horrid. It’s meant to be. He took our place. We deserved that fate. However, it’s also joyful, because God used Christ’s sacrifice to make a way for our redemption.

Hallelujah, what a savior.

Our Focus on the Cross

For Christians, this is one of the most religiously significant weeks of the year. This Sunday we will celebrate the Messiah’s victory over sin, death, and hell. Along with that, we will celebrate our participation in that victory by the grace of God.

The truth and power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection for the world is the most important reality that Christians have to communicate to the surrounding world. My hope for myself is that I will allow myself to live in this moment of remembrance and demonstrate the truthfulness of the most significant fact of available redemption for all of creation, including those who believe. The challenge is to keep the cares of the world from choking out this all important message at this very focused time.

The Superlative Reality

Doorway to Holy Week, used by CC license, Alves Family. 

Doorway to Holy Week, used by CC license, Alves Family. 

Many pastors begin their weekly sermon by commenting why this week’s passage is “the most important” or “my favorite” more than occasionally. No doubt after the pastor has labored over the text that week, there is a sense of familiarity and appreciation for it that makes a regular lapse into superlative language forgivable. Likely the label simply means that the pastor is excited by the content or that this is a truth that should press home to the congregation. This is a foible that can be quickly passed over.

However, when the apostle Paul, who was not prone to abuse the superlative, declares something to be of first importance it should cause us to sit up and listen.

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. I Cor 15:3-8

Paul’s message that is of first importance is simply that the atonement has come and that due to Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection humans can be freed from the penalty of their sin.

The Trap of Complacency

For those of us that have been in church, the Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday (maybe), Good Friday, Easter Sunday pattern can seem mundane and repetitive. In fact, if a congregation is not careful, the celebration of these events can become mundane. Complacency is a real human danger, where we fail to recognize the importance of what we are doing.

In the years that I worked in nuclear power, complacency was a constant enemy and a visible concern. There were signs posted around the training building that declared, “Complacency will kill us.” Working in an industrial environment, and with powerful technology like nuclear power, made that truth especially valid. But everything becomes routine when we become familiar with it.

At times, we have to intentionally focus on the special nature of a particular truth so that its power comes home to us once again. That’s what the week leading to the celebration of Easter is supposed to do.

Making it Special

Leading up to this Easter season, our family has been focusing on the names of Jesus using a series of daily devotionals that my wife wrote. This has helped keep Christology at the heart of our discussions for the past weeks.

We will likely read and watch parts of the Jesus Storybook Bible in the coming days. We will read passages of Scripture from the passion accounts. All this to make the season memorable and worshipful, as much as we are able.

Even these things can become another flourish in an already-too-busy life, though. The challenge for all of us is to find a way to make the celebration significant and focus on the powerful reality of it without making it just another thing to do.

Avoiding Distraction

The world seems to seek ways to distract from the gravity. This week already, we’ve seen a terrorist attack. There is an ongoing political spectacle that has dragged on for eternity and seems like it will go on forever. If history repeats itself, there will be a well-timed controversy over religious revisionism—both through articles rejecting the historicity of Scripture and from voices seeking to protest traditional Christian morality on some hot-button topic.

The pattern of these events is all too regular for them not to be timed, if not by humans, then perhaps by some of the spiritual forces that we forget about sometimes.

Whether these are simply more notable distractions because they occur during a time of more intentional religious devotion or somehow orchestrated is irrelevant. What is significant is their power to pull our gaze away from the cross, its power, its meaning, and its historicity.

The reality of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection is of first importance according to Paul. Do not allow anything to tear your focus away from pondering that profound truth this week.

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 5 - Light of the World

This is the fifth (and final) preview day of the series of Lenten Devotionals that my wife, Jennifer wrote. If you have found these beneficial, you may consider purchasing the e-book here. We both hope you've enjoyed them and have deepened in your love of Christ through them. There is another free day scheduled for Feb 16, 2016, but we were limited to 5 days free.

5. Light of the World

 John 8:12

 Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

 Optional – John 1:1-9, Matthew 5:14-16

When God created the world, the first thing he made (and the only thing on the first day) was light. Without light, you can’t see anything else! It makes sense that God made light first. Before that, there was no way to see. Do you think that would make you afraid? Being in total darkness without even light from stars in the sky or a neighbor’s house is very scary. Our eyes play tricks on us in the dark, and we think we see sparkles or colors. We lose our sense of direction and fall on something or run into something. So light is one of God’s wonderful creations and a gift to us.

Light is so important and good that it is also a way for Jesus to describe himself. Jesus says he is the “light of life.” He’s not just talking about daylight, or an electric light, to help us see with our eyes. He’s talking about light to guide us in how to live – how NOT to be lost and away from God forever.

When we don’t know what to believe or who to trust, that’s like walking in darkness. Things may seem fine for a while. But there are many dangers we can’t see, and it’s just a matter of time until there’s a big problem. Following Jesus in his light means we will never be totally lost. He will guide us to God in the end, through himself, and we will be saved. No darkness can ever be too much for him.

Jesus also told his disciples that they are lights in the world, and they should let their light shine by doing good deeds. But just like Jesus – the true Light – the disciples are to point people to God and bring glory to him. As Jesus’s followers, we don’t do good works to get other people to praise us. We do them so that others will see Jesus, the light for the nations, offering salvation to the ends of the earth (Isa. 49:6). Let’s praise him that he has made us walk in light!

 Key idea: Helps us to see

Forty Names of Jesus - Day 4 -

4. Immanuel

 Matthew 1:22-23

 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).

 Optional – Isaiah 7:14, Psalm 139:7-12

 Where does God live? God is everywhere – there is nowhere you can go to escape from God. Anywhere you can go, God is already there. But at times throughout history God has especially revealed himself in certain places. In the Garden of Eden, God used to walk with Adam. God had created a perfect home for the first people, Adam and Eve, and God himself would be there in that place with them. That is amazing, and something none of us have ever experienced.

But you know what happened. Adam and Eve sinned, and they had to leave God’s presence. They had to leave the beautiful, flawless garden, and nothing has ever been completely, totally right since then. Because of Adam’s sin, God said that everything would be cursed. That means things are broken and messed up. Nothing is the way God designed it, with no death or problems. God put this curse on the whole universe and everything in it, including nature, animals, and people. The brokenness reminds us that we need God to send a rescuer. So ever since that time, people have not been able to be with God in the way Adam and Eve could be with him before their sin.

Because people aren’t perfect and sinless anymore, it would kill them to be in God’s perfect and holy presence. It would be dangerous – and deadly! Moses had to be protected from seeing God’s face when God spoke the ten commandments and the rest of the law to him. When God’s glory was with the Israelites, the tabernacle and the temple had to be surrounded by courtyards and walls and curtains. God’s glory was in the center room, called the Holy of Holies, and his holiness would destroy any sinful people who came near unprotected.

Think about how sad it would be, to know there is a wonderful, powerful, awesome God that we have no chance of ever meeting. But we can be with God, because Jesus came to be Immanuel – the name that means “God with us.” He came as God in a human body, to live just like humans, with other people, living the same kind of life. And he promised to someday take all who believe in him to be with God, forever, with no more sin or brokenness or sadness. Immanuel is the name that reminds us God has been with us and will be with us again! Let’s thank him and tell him how we look forward to that.

 Key idea: God with us

To read day five, click here. 


Forty Names of Jesus - Day 1

As some of you may know, my wife Jennifer has put together an e-book of forty devotionals for families with children. I posted about it earlier on the blog to announce the book launch.

A sample of five days will be posted to give everyone a chance to try before they buy. Additionally, there will be some free and discounted days in the mix.  

You'll find the first entry below, and a link to the second day at the end. 

1. Jesus

 Matthew 1:21

 She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.

 Optional – Luke 2:21, Matthew 1:18-25.

 Soon it will be springtime, and we will celebrate Easter. As we get close to Easter, each day we are going to spend some time thinking about who the Bible says Jesus is, and what we should know about him, and why we should worship and love him.

Easter, or Resurrection Day, is a very important day because we celebrate how Jesus died and rose again! That’s the best news ever, in all of history, and the best news we can ever share with other people. But something else happened first – something called the Incarnation. That word means Jesus was born as a baby, and lived as a man, for about 33 years before he died. We hear about this most often at Christmas. But before we get into all the names of Jesus – names the Bible uses in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and what those names teach us about him – we’re going to find out how he got the name everybody called him, every day. His whole life, from the time he was a baby, and a child like you, to a grown-up adult like me, his family and friends and anybody talking to him called him “Jesus.”

Now, you know Jesus was special from the time he was born – you know how it happened with angels in the sky, and shepherds, and wise men. But actually it begins before then. He was given a special name before he was even born! It was unusual because an angel told Joseph in a dream that Mary, his promised wife, was going to have a baby, and the baby’s name was to be JESUS. The angel gave Joseph God’s message to call the baby Jesus because the name meant something. The words and sounds that the name Jesus comes from mean “God saves.” The angel told Joseph that that was Jesus’s name, because for him, it meant, “He will save his people from their sins.” So while Jesus’s resurrection is the biggest news, and the most important thing to remember, the importance started a long time before that. Even before he was born, Jesus had a name that told what he would do when he grew up. He would save his people from their sin. And he does! Let’s pray.

 Key idea: Saves his people from their sins

To read day two, click here.