Category Archives: Sin in Culture

On Dispensing Religious Jargon

Here’s a wise caution for all preachers, teachers, and writers who frequently draw from the vocabulary of the faith — words like sin, grace, Christ, and a host of other sanctified terms that emerge over time within our particular circles — but who are tempted to use the terms without ever stopping to explain their meaning. Helmut Thielicke explains the danger, and then proposes one helpful practice, in his book The Trouble with the Church: A Call for Renewal (Harper & Row, 1965), pages 36–38:

Where is the average person today who, when he hears the word “sin,” really hears what the New Testament meant by that word? For whom today does this word still say that here man is being addressed at the point of his resistance and opposition to God, that this means man in his will to assert his autonomy, his insistence that everything centers in man, his incredible passion for security, his lostness in preoccupation with the moment and that which is tangible and immediately at hand? And yet all this must be heard when we hear the word “sin,” if for no other reason than to understand that it is possible for a sinner to be at the same time an example of moral perfection and that he need by no means be a criminal, an antisocial, or even a person who lacks seriousness. Were not the Pharisees ethically very respectable people? And yet for Jesus they were more drastic examples of sin than publicans and prostitutes.

And the word “Christ” itself? What would really be the result if we were to investigate the exchange value of that term in the psychological substructure of the average man today? What we would come out with would probably be some idea of a fabulously wise man or a perfect human being.

The point is that we need to say what we mean by these terms; we dare not throw them at people as supposedly valid coins whose value is immediately recognized. Otherwise we shall all too thoughtlessly reach out for them with the notion that they are perfectly familiar, whereas the truth is that the metal begins to glow and burn only when we have some idea of what these coins really signify. …

I once experimented with students, having them prepare sermons in which the conventional terms like “God,” “sin,” “grace,” etc. did not appear. The words had to be paraphrased. I think this is a good exercise, even though it has importance only as an interim practice. For we should not discontinue the use of these words in the pulpit; all we need is a withdrawal-cure because of the thoughtless use we make of them. We need to learn to overcome the temptation to string together the old words in different variations, because then souls remain underfed and are lost.

Sin and Worldview

“The great danger is always to single out some aspect or phenomenon of God’s good creation and identify it, rather than the alien intrusion of human apostasy [sin], as the villain in the drama of human life. Such an error is tantamount to reducing direction to structure, to conceiving of the good-evil dichotomy as intrinsic to the creation itself. The result is that something in the good creation is declared evil. We might call this tendency ‘Gnosticism’… In the course of history, this ‘something’ has been variously identified as marriage and certain kinds of foods (the Gnostic heresy Paul warns Timothy against in 1 Timothy 4), the body and its passions (Plato and much of Greek philosophy), culture in distinction from nature (Rousseau and much of Romanticism), institutional authority, especially in the state and the family (philosophical anarchism and much of depth psychology), technology and management techniques (Heidegger and Ellul, among others), or any number of things. There seems to be an ingrained Gnostic streak in human thinking, a streak that causes people to blame some aspect of God’s handiwork for the ills and woes of the world we live in.”

Albert M. Wolters, Creation Regained: Biblical Basics for a Reformational Worldview (Eerdmans, 2005) p. 61.

Laughing at Sin

By now you know David Letterman publicly admitted to committing adultery with multiple women on his staff. Apparently he announced this on his show under the pressure that someone else was planning to break the news. It is a very sad situation, but apparently not scandalous to a live audience. The crowd didn’t boo or rise up in protest or walk out of the studio. In fact, as Letterman publicly confessed of his adultery to his audience frequent laughter erupted from the audience. The confession was really just another platform for his jokes, the audience was entertained, and (after a short commercial break) the show continued on as planned.

There is no need to dwell here. Scripture tells us that fools mock sin’s guilt (Proverbs 14:9).

It was laughter from a different crowd that grabbed my attention.

On Sept. 16th John Piper spoke to a large gathering at the American Association of Christian Counselors. At the beginning of his message (“Beholding Glory and Becoming Whole: Seeing and Savoring God as the Heart of Mental Health”), Piper opened his message by talking frankly about personal sin.

Piper’s blunt talk about sin generated repeated laughter from the audience. If there is one speaker in the world who is not easily mistaken for a comedian, it’s Dr. Piper. Piper is a serious preacher in the lineage of Jonathan Edwards. And this fact alone makes the first five minutes of his message, well, bizarre. Have a listen:

Of course I was not at the conference. And I’m not quite sure how Piper’s message was set up or how the conference atmosphere was crafted. (If you were in attendance, I would appreciate your perspective.) Yet I am perplexed when a man goes much deeper in addressing sin than merely addressing particular sins (like Letterman), but exposes his lifelong battle with sin and honestly acknowledges the depth of sin entrenched in his own heart and gets a laugh for it. Especially because his address was delivered before several thousand men and women who have seen with their own eyes the wicked fruit of sin, who have watched alcoholism destroy lives, who have seen the dark realities of suicide, who have watched men and women toy with sin and destroy themselves, their families, and their churches as a result. If there is a room full of people that should not confuse honest talk about sin with a punch line, this was it.

But I want to capture this moment to check my own heart. Do I laugh at sin? Do I take seriously the sins of others? Do I laugh at sin portrayed in fictional sitcoms? Before a holy God, is this any less serious than laughing at Letterman or laughing at Piper?

My sin—our sin—insults a holy God. God hates sin. And we should hate even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:23). If there is an inappropriate response to sin, it is laughter. May the Lord help us not to follow the pattern of the world. In the sight of sin and its guilt, may he turn our laugher into mourning (James 4:9). For no response is more appropriate.

Ringwraiths and Industrialized Evil

“Tolkien is a very subtle author, and you can say there is a distinction in his work between what happens to the Wraiths and what happens to the Orcs. They are both images of evil—one being more dangerous than the other—but they seem to operate in different ways. In some ways the idea of a Wraith is a very 20th century one. You feel that Wraiths don’t get much fun out of evil, they are not doing this for simple human motives like anger, or revenge, or bloodthirstiness, or lust, or whatever. The fact is, it’s not at all clear why they are doing it. They seem to have lost their personalities, they have turned into nothing, and yet they are powerful forces. This has a resonance with a century in which you could say that evil has very often been carried out by bureaucrats, by people in nice offices with white collars who listen to the stringed quartet in the evening, who are kind to their kids and dogs. But, just the same, they sign the orders, they put people on the trains, and those people never come back again. It’s all been industrialized.”

—Tom Shippey, in “Maker of Middle-Earth.”

Bavinck: ‘Man is an enigma’

I blog to learn. It’s really that simple. And so I love thought-provoking questions like this one. After reading the last post (“The Gospel + Culture”) our friend Tom asked:

Hi Brother, this is good stuff. I wonder how Bavinck might respond to the cultural phenomena of the 21st century? To what extent should the contemporary Christian expose himself to the ungodliness of cultural expressions in order to appreciate the good they have to offer? How many times must a Christian hear the name of our Lord taken in vain before he gives up on discovering the value of a particular form of art?

What shall we endure in the name of cultural appreciation? Where is the line? How much adultery, fornication, violence and deceit can we wade through in order to find what is genuinely lovely? 60/40? 20/80? 10/90?

I don’t have the answers. In fact, I think culture is very, very important. But I wonder how Bavinck might judge the direction of contemporary culture, and especially Hollywood. How do Christians contribute to and perpetuate the ungodliness of Hollywood (and the ruined lives of actors) by their insatiable appetite to be entertained? As I said, I don’t have the answers.

“Ephraim mixes himself with the nations; Ephraim has become a cake not turned.” Hosea 7:8

Excellent question. And let me concur with you Tom—I don’t have any answers here either. Though I think that anyone struggling to see where worldliness is prevalent in contemporary culture will benefit greatly from the critical thinking and discernment modeled in the new book Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World (Crossway, 2008). There is never any excuse for Christians to be attracted to the sinful standards and practices of the world.

But I think Bavinck himself can help us because, while he was never exposed to a Super Bowl halftime show ‘malfunctions,’ or sleazy MTV videos, he was fully aware of depravity of the heart.

Notice back in the original quote how Bavinck balances an appreciation for culture, and a level of disdain for the sin in culture—“the cross is the condemnation of the world and the destruction of all sinful culture. But it is wrong to educe from this pronouncement that the gospel must be at enmity with culture.” From what I can guess by reading Bavinck, he hesitates to draw a fractional separation between the sin/righteousness of culture. This full black-and-white separation of sin/righteousness, sheep/goats, wheat/tares awaits the return of Christ. Hold this thought.

When I first read your question, Tom, I was reminded of Bavinck’s teaching on anthropology. This is what he writes:

…The conclusion, therefore, is that of Augustine, who said that the heart of man was created for God and that it cannot find rest until it rests in his Father’s heart. Hence all men are really seeking after God, as Augustine also declared, but they do not all seek Him in the right way, nor at the right place. They seek Him down below, and He is up above. They seek Him on the earth, and He is in heaven. They seek Him afar, and He is nearby. They seek Him in money, in property, in fame, in power, and in passion; and He is to be found in the high and the holy places, and with him that is of a contrite and humble spirit (Isa. 57:15). But they do seek Him, if haply they might feel after Him and find Him (Acts 17:27). They seek Him and at the same time they flee Him. They have no interest in a knowledge of His ways, and yet they cannot do without Him. They feel themselves attracted to God and at the same time repelled by Him.

In this, as Pascal so profoundly pointed out, consists the greatness and the miserableness of man. He longs for truth and is false by nature. He yearns for rest and throws himself from one diversion upon another. He pants for a permanent and eternal bliss and seizes on the pleasures of a moment. He seeks for God and loses himself in the creature. He is a born son of the house and he feeds on the husks of the swine in a strange land. He forsakes the fountain of living waters and hews out broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jer. 2:13). He is as a hungry man who dreams that he is eating, and when he awakes finds that his soul is empty; and he is like a thirsty man who dreams that he is drinking, and when he awakes finds that he is faint and that his soul has appetite (Isa. 29:8).

Science cannot explain this contradiction in man. It reckons only with his greatness and not with his misery, or only with his misery and not with his greatness. It exalts him too high, or it depresses him too far, for science does not know of his Divine origin, nor of his profound fall. But the Scriptures know of both, and they shed their light over man and over mankind; and the contradictions are reconciled, the mists are cleared, and the hidden things are revealed. Man is an enigma whose solution can be found only in God. (Our Reasonable Faith, pp. 22-23)

In a similar way, it appears to me that culture is a similar enigma. On the one hand the gifts and powers God has built into athletes, artists, politicians, musicians, etc. far exceed the value a non-Christian can ascribe to them.

A non-Christian fan of Yo-Yo Ma watching his cello sing at a concert can be amazed at his musical gifting. A Christian fan can watch the same concert and be amazed at his divine gifting. The fan aware of divine grace is more capable of appreciating the arts, and actually raises the dignity of the cellist far higher than one unaware of God’s general grace active in the giving of his gift.

So there is a raising of culture on one hand but on the other hand, the Christian fan in the audience is also aware of the deep sin in each of our hearts that requires the intervention of a Savior—famous cellists included.

Culture is an enigma, being both simultaneously a great display of divine endowments and creativity only explained by being made in the image of God and also hellish in it’s filthy depravity.

There are clearly things that are sinful and to be avoided in this world. No question. But culture is an enigma and this makes me wonder if Bavinck would even view culture from a fractional perspective? Thoughts?

Piper: Physical Horrors + Moral Evil

Yesterday may family spent the day at the new Civil War museum and driving through various battlefields in Gettysburg. It was an excellent opportunity to reflect on the war and especially the role these rocky battlefields (like Little Round Top) played in the outcome. It was a sobering reminder of the 620,000 young men and boys that died in the war and of haunting sounds that once filled this little town as thousands of men groaned from the pain of battle.

Leaving the battlefields left a sorrow in the heart and a residual question in the mind—what is the eternal purpose of wars like this one?

As we drove from battlefield to battlefield viewing thousands of memorials littered all over what is, in my mind, the worlds largest cemetery, the words of John Piper in his second and final message at the Resolved conference in Palm Springs were ever-present.

In his message on Monday evening—The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth—Dr. Piper said the following:

Every human has died. Animals suffer. Rivers overflow an inundate hundreds of city bocks in Cedar Rapids. Avalanches bury skiers. Tornados suck the life out of little Boy Scouts. Tsunamis kill 250,000 in a night. Philippine ferries capsize killing 800 people in a moment. AIDs, malaria, cancer, and heart disease kill millions. A monster tornado rip through cities. Droughts and famines bring people to the brink, and over the brink, of starvation. Freak accidents happen in ways you would not want to describe. Little babies are born with no eyes, six legs, horrible deformities. That is because of ONE SIN! The universe was subjected to futility and corruption in hope (Romans 8:20).

This is very important for you to answer: Why did God subject the natural order to such horrific realities when nature did nothing wrong? Souls did something wrong. Adam and Eve’s volition did something wrong. The earth didn’t do anything wrong. Why is the earth bursting with volcanoes and earthquakes? Animals didn’t do anything wrong. What’s the deal with this universal subjection to corruption, when one man and one woman sinned one time, and the whole natural order goes wrong? Disorder everywhere in the most horrible ways, a kaleidoscope of suffering in this world, century after century.

Here is my answer—and I don’t know any other possible answer biblically—God put the natural world under a curse so that physical horrors would become vivid pictures of the horror of moral evil.

Cancer, tuberculosis, malformations, floods, and car accidents happen so that we would get some dim idea of the outrage of moral evil flowing from our hearts. Why did he do it that way? Ask yourself an honest question: How intensely outraged are you over your belittling of God compared to the engagement of your emotion when your child is hurt, or your leg is cut off, or you lose your job, or some physical thing happens? Everything in you rises to say, “No!”

How often does your heart say “No!” with the same emotional engagement at your own sin? Not very often. Therefore, what God says, “Alright, I know that about fallen man, therefore I will display the horror of his sin in a way that he can feel.” That’s why Jesus, when the tower fell on the 18, said simply “Unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” The point of the falling of the tower and killing of 18 people was your moral evil (Luke 13:4). That was the point.

All physical evil has one point—sin is like that morally, we don’t have the wherewithal to feel it appropriately, therefore were going to get some help from the physical order. That’s the point of the world we live in, it’s pointing to the horror of moral evil. O, that we would see and feel how repugnant and offensive and abominable it is to prefer anything to God—and we do it everyday.

Adam and Eve brought the universe into this present horrific condition by preferring their own way and fruit to God. All the physical evil the universe is not as bad as that one act of treason. …

The ultimate reason that there is a new heavens and a new earth is not that there might be new bodies for saints. That’s true. That’s just one of the reasons. The reason there is a new heaven and a new earth is because when God conceived of a universe of material things he conceived of everything: It will be created perfect. It will, by my decree, fall. I will labor patiently for thousands of years with a people recalcitrant showing the depth of human sin and I will at the center and apex of my purpose, send my Son to bear my wrath on my people. And then I will gather a people who believe in him for myself. And then I will return and I will cast all of the unbelievers into hell, which will demonstrate the infinite worth of my glory and the infinite value of my Son’s sacrifice, which they have rejected. And I will renew the earth and I will make my people so beautiful and then tailor this universe for them with this purpose—that when my Son is lifted up with his wounds, they will sing the song of the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the world in the mind of God who planned it all.

Therefore, be it resolved: We will endure any suffering. We will endure any assault, any slander, any reviling, any disease, precisely because we have a great reward in heaven, namely, Jesus Christ crucified.

-John Piper, sermon transcript, “The Triumph of the Gospel in the New Heavens and the New Earth” taken from the 11:20-19:20 and 44:09-47:00 markers. You can listen to the entire message delivered at the Resolved conference here ( June 16, 2008 ) and you can listen to an earlier version of this message delivered at the Gospel Coalition here ( May 24, 2007 ).

Calvin on the Cross

A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness by Jeremiah Burroughs

Book review
A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
by Jeremiah Burroughs

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Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646) is one of my favorite Puritan authors and (I dare say) one of the most overlooked.

In his extensive writings, Burroughs authored a very helpful book on discerning worldliness in a book now titled A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness. It was retypeset and edited by Don Kistler and published in 1991 by Soli Deo Gloria.

Burroughs builds his argument from Paul’s sobering ‘enemies of the Cross’ statement — “their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Phil. 3:19-20).

Contents

Burroughs first discerns the seriousness and dangers of worldly thinking (pp. 3-92). His goal in this first section is to call this earthly-mindedness what it really is – adultery, idolatry and enmity. This earthly-mindedness suffocates the work of grace, opens the soul to further temptations (1 Tim. 6:9), stifles the hearing of preaching, breeds foolish lusts in the soul, spreads roots for future apostasy, deadens the heart for prayer, dishonors God, hinders our preparations for death, and ultimately drowns the soul into perdition.

The second section covers the implications of our citizenship in heaven (Phil. 3:20), and is filled with helpful practical advice on to living as foreigners in our sojourning through life on earth (pp. 93-178). This theme continues in the final section which helps discern what walking with God looks like in everyday life (pp. 179-259). The final chapter contains very useful wisdom on walking with God when His presence seems distant (pp. 254-259).

Grace

Throughout his works, Burroughs avoided a common Puritan pitfall. The Puritans frequently narrowed in so tightly on a particular topic that surrounding contexts and connections were forgotten. It’s not uncommon to read a Puritan on the topic of sin continue on and on without any mention of the Cross, God’s grace, and living in freedom and victory over sin. Even some of the great Puritan classics (such as the works of Richard Baxter and The Life of God in the Soul of Man by Henry Scougal) woefully assume the Cross.

Burroughs is quite the opposite. He’s hardly begun a lengthy diagnosis of worldliness in the heart before breaking into a short digression on the glorious work of grace in conversion (pp. 29-30)! This work of God transforms enemies of the Cross into those who now have quickened souls. Those once veiled by sin and blinded by the world now see the light of God’s glory! We are new creatures, creatures no longer content with worldliness but now transcending the circumstances of the world and clinging to eternal hope. This new life enlarges our heart and our spiritual appetite becomes so large that no earthly means could fill it. This grace severs our grip on the world, and we begin to experience God’s sanctifying grace in our souls. For Burroughs, even when discovering the depth and darkness of sinfulness in the heart, God’s grace is ever in view.

With careful pastoral balance, Burroughs encourages us to pursue excellence in our earthly calling, while exhorting us to carefully avoid the snares of worldly-mindedness.

“Considering what has been delivered, I beseech you, lay it seriously upon your heart, especially you who are young beginners in the way of religion, lest it proves to be with you as it has with many who are digging veins of gold and silver underground. While they are digging in those mines for riches, the earth, many times, falls upon them and buries them, so that they never come up out of the mine again. … Keep wide open some place to heaven, or otherwise, if you dig too deep, noxious gas vapors will come up from the earth, if it doesn’t fall on you first. There will be noxious gas vapors to choke you if there is not a wide hole to let in the air that comes from heaven to you. Those who are digging in mines are very careful to leave a place open for fresh air to come in. And so, though you may follow your calling and do the work God sets you here for as others do, be as diligent in your calling as any. But still keep a passage open to heaven so that there may be fresh gales of grace come into your soul” (p. 85).

Conclusion

Fitting of Burrough’s classic, Soli Deo Gloria published A Treatise on Earthly -Mindedness with an attractive dust-jacketed, durable cloth cover and Smyth-sewn binding. It’s an excellent work for those of us who sometimes find ourselves surrounded by the cares of this world, asphyxiating on temporal toxins rather than breathing fresh grace.

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Title: A Treatise on Earthly-Mindedness
Author: Jeremiah Burroughs (1599-1646)
Editor: Don Kistler
Reading level: 2.0/5.0 > easy thanks to excellent editing (includes nice section and subpoint headings)
Boards: hardcover, embossed
Pages: 259
Volumes: 1
Dust jacket: yes
Binding: Smyth sewn
Paper: white and clean
Topical index: no (would have been very useful)
Scriptural index: no (would have been very useful)
Text: perfect type
Publisher: Ligonier; Soli Deo Gloria
Year: original ed., 1649; edited ed., 1991
Price USD: $18.00 from Ligonier
ISBN: 1877611387

Ravi Zacharias sermon jam

tss-well-done.jpgAs you know, I love sermon jams. Sermon jams are where sermonic highlight meets background music. Sermon jams are excellent for the gym, excellent for personal devotion, excellent to share with other listeners less likely to listen to entire sermons, and overall just an excellent way to reach the lost and share the faith.

One of my favorites is by Relevant Revolution. They took a Ravi Zacharias message and created the jam, Christ as Lord. We say ‘Well done!’

“Have you ever wondered what you would do to frighten Lazarus after he’d been raised from the dead? What would you do to threaten him? Lazarus, I’m gonna’ kill you? Caligula says, ‘I’m going to kill you.’ He says, ‘Ha, ha, ha.’ He says ‘stop ha, ha, ha-ing. I’m going to kill you as I’m killing all the Christians.’ He doubles over in uncontrollable laughter, comes up for air and says, ‘Caligula haven’t you heard? Death is dead! Death is dead!’

How do you frighten somebody who has already been there and knows the one who’s going to let him out? …

Behind the debris of the fallings of our solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists lies the gigantic figure of one person, because of whom, by whom, in whom, and through whom, mankind may still survive. The person of Jesus Christ.”

Download the free mp3 here.

God’s wrath and horror films

best-horror-films.jpgIn light of our recent discussion over Jonathan Edwards’ famous sermon (Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God) it occurred to me that John Calvin may help us answer the following questions:

- Where does a fear of God’s judgment arise in the natural man?

- Are sinners fearful of His wrath because the preacher builds up to a rhetorical climax of graphic content or is something greater at work?

- In our contemporary society — saturated with horror films, horror books and graphic entertainment — will a sermon on God’s wrath be marginalized to fictional fairytale?

These are serious concerns for the preacher and evangelist.

Early in the Institutes of the Christian Religion (1559) Calvin addresses God’s judgment as a way to prove that knowledge of God is etched on the hearts of all men. He writes,

“One reads of no one who burst forth into bolder or more unbridled contempt of deity than Gaius Caligula [Roman emperor between A.D. 37-41]; yet no one trembled more miserably when any sign of God’s wrath manifested itself; thus – albeit unwillingly – he shuddered at the God whom he professedly sought to despise. You may see now and again how this also happens to those like him; how he who is the boldest despiser of God is of all men the most startled at the rustle of a falling leaf [cf. Lev. 26:36]. Whence does this arise but from the vengeance of divine majesty, which strikes their consciences all the more violently the more they try to flee from it? Indeed, they seek out every subterfuge to hide themselves from the Lord’s presence, and to efface it again from their minds. But in spite of themselves they are always entrapped. Although it may sometimes seem to vanish for a moment, it returns at once and rushes in with new force. If for these there is any respite from anxiety of conscience, it is not much different from the sleep of drunken or frenzied persons, who do not rest peacefully even while sleeping because they are continually troubled with dire and dreadful dreams” (1.3.2; 1:45).

God’s presence remains close enough to even the hardest of sinners, close enough that God occasionally fills the sinners thoughts with a foretaste of His coming wrath. It may be silent for a time, but then this knowledge “rushes in with new force” like God’s immediate presence overcoming the Old Testament sinner (see Lev. 26:36). To put this more biblically, Paul in Romans 1:28-32 writes,

“And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.”

After explaining that “death” here cannot be limited to physical death, John Murray writes, “The most degraded of men, degraded because judicially abandoned of God, are not destitute of the knowledge of God and of his righteous judgments” [The Epistle to the Romans (Eerdmans: 1959) 1:52]. There are ever-present reminders that God is holy, that all sin must be punished, and that sinners are rightfully consumed by the second death. Somewhere in the recesses of the conscience, all sinners are reminded that a propensity to gossip is quickening God’s wrath. And this wrath is fully justified.

What all this suggests is that – while we appropriately stand in amazement at the work of God in blessing the sermons of Jonathan Edwards to spark revival – the true power of a sermon on God’s judgment is the divine whisper in our conscience that all of us rightfully deserve God’s wrath. Because of this profound universal truth, we cannot think that preaching graphic sermons on God’s judgment compete with the entertainment industry, or that these sermons will be marginalized by our hearers to the status of fiction.

As creatures of God, we are etched with His image. When the movie concludes, we resume our busy lives. When the sermon concludes, sinners remain under His authority and bound to the inescapable reality that all sinners deserve to face God’s wrath.

I cannot help but pause for a moment to note what incredibly dead hearts we have as sinners! We even encourage and approve of other sinners in their self-condemnation (v. 32). It must be a great Savior to save great sinners, self-condemned and patting others in approval of their self-condemnation. Indeed, Christ has saved us from ourselves, saved us from God’s judgment, saved us from our guilt and due penalty! He was crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5, 10). What grace and mercy that sinners self-condemned now live in hope!

My simple conclusion is this: Sermons on God’s judgment will remain distinct from horror film entertainment because terrifying fiction and terrifying wrath are not easily confused. If anything, the horrors of graphic imagery seen on the big screen will stretch the sinner’s minds to the unfathomable terrors of God’s wrath to come. Preachers should unashamedly expound all of Scripture — which includes the graphic nature of hell — with the confidence that our sovereign God is already at work speaking to every soul.

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