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|Publisher:||Tyndale House Publishers|
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A Compassionate Call to Counter Culture in a World of Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Abortion, Persecution, Orphans, and Pornography
By DAVID PLATT
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2015 David Platt
All rights reserved.
THE GREATEST OFFENSE: THE GOSPEL AND CULTURE
The gospel is the lifeblood of Christianity, and it provides the foundation for countering culture. For when we truly believe the gospel, we begin to realize that the gospel not only compels Christians to confront social issues in the culture around us. The gospel actually creates confrontation with the culture around—and within—us.
It is increasingly common for biblical views on social issues to be labeled insulting. For example, it is offensive to an ever-expanding number of people to say that a woman who has feelings for another woman should not express love for her in marriage. It doesn't take long for a Christian to be backed into a corner on this issue, not wanting to be offensive yet wondering how to respond.
But this is where we must recognize that a biblical view of homosexuality is not the greatest offense in Christianity. In fact, it's nowhere near the greatest offense in Christianity. The gospel itself is a much, much greater offense. We need to start, then, with exploring what the gospel is, and we need to ask ourselves, Do we actually believe it? Our answer to this question fundamentally changes our lives in our culture.
IN THE BEGINNING, GOD
The gospel's offense begins with the very first words of the Bible. "In the beginning, God ..." (Genesis 1:1). The initial affront of the gospel is that there is a God by, through, and for whom all things begin. "The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth" (Isaiah 40:28). Because all things begin with God and ultimately exist for God, nothing in all creation is irrelevant to him.
What is this Creator like? "I am the Lord, your Holy One," God says in Isaiah 43:15. In other words, he is wholly unique—unlike us and incomparable to us. He is of another kind. God is absolutely pure, and there is nothing wrong in him. Nothing. Everything God is and everything God does is right. He is without error and without equal.
This holy God is also good. "The Lord is good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made" (Psalm 145:9). God's goodness is evident from the start of Scripture, where everything he creates is called "good," culminating in man and woman, who are called "very good" (see Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The universal grandeur of creation testifies to the undeniable goodness of the Creator.
God's goodness is expressed in his justice. "The Lord judges the peoples" (Psalm 7:8), and he judges them perfectly. God justifies the innocent and condemns the guilty. Consequently, "he who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 17:15). As a good Judge, God is outraged by injustice. He detests those who say to the wicked, "You are good," and those who say to the good, "You are wicked." God is a perfect Judge.
God's goodness is also expressed in his grace. He shows free and unmerited favor to those who could never deserve it. He is compassionate and patient, desiring all people everywhere to know and enjoy his kindness, mercy, and love (see 2 Peter 3:9).
Consider, then, the confrontation created by the reality of God in each of our lives. Because God is our Creator, we belong to him. The One who created us owns us. We are not, as the poem "Invictus" describes, the masters of our own fate or the captains of our own souls. The Author of all creation possesses authority over all creation, including you and me. And we are accountable to him as our Judge. One of the core truths of the gospel is that God will judge every person, and he will be just. This puts us in a position where we desperately need his grace.
Now we see the offense of the gospel coming to the forefront. Tell any modern person that there is a God who sustains, owns, defines, rules, and one day will judge him or her, and that person will balk in offense. Any person would—and every person has. This is our natural reaction to God.
OUR NATURAL REACTION TO GOD
Look at the opening pages of human history, and you will see the ultimate problem of the human heart. When God creates man, God puts him in the Garden of Eden and says, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die" (Genesis 2:16-17, NIV). Here we see God's holiness, goodness, justice, and grace on display. God has authority to define what is right and wrong, good and evil, based upon his pure and holy character. God makes clear to man that he will be judged based upon his obedience to the command God has given. God's grace is evident, for he does not hide his law. In love, God tells man the way to life and exhorts him to walk in it.
So how does the created respond to the Creator? Within a matter of only a few verses, temptation to sin sits on the table. The serpent asks the first woman, "Did God really say, 'You must not eat from any tree in the garden'? ... You will not surely die.... For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:1, 4-5, NIV).
Do you see the role reversal here? It all begins when the command of God is reduced to questions about God. Is God really holy? Does he really know what is right? Is God really good? Does he really want what is best for me? Amid such questions, man and woman subtly assert themselves not as the ones to be judged by God but as the ones who sit in judgment of him.
The serpent's question revolves around the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. We may read the tree's name and think, What's so wrong with knowing the difference between good and evil? But the meaning of Scripture here goes beyond information about good and evil to the determination of good and evil. In other words, for the man and woman to eat from this tree was to reject God as the One who determines good and evil and to assume this responsibility themselves. The temptation in the Garden was to rebel against God's authority and in the process make humans the arbiters of morality.
When we understand this first sin, we realize that the moral relativism of the twenty-first century is nothing new. When we attempt to usurp (or even eliminate) God, we lose objectivity for determining what is good and evil, right and wrong, moral and immoral. Noted agnostic philosopher of science Michael Ruse echoes this when he says, "The position of the modern evolutionist, therefore, is that ... morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth.... Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, it is illusory." Similarly, noted atheist Richard Dawkins writes:
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no other good. Nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.
Godless worldviews thus leave us with a hopeless subjectivity concerning good and evil that is wholly dependent on social constructs. Whatever a culture deems right is right, and whatever a culture deems wrong is wrong. This is precisely the worldview that prevails in American culture today, where rapid shifts in the moral landscape clearly communicate that we no longer believe certain things are inherently right or wrong. Instead, rightness and wrongness is determined by social developments around us.
But aren't the implications of this approach to morality frightening? Consider sex trafficking. Are we willing to conclude that as long as a society approves of this industry, it is no longer immoral? Are we willing to tell young girls sold into sex slavery that they and the men who take advantage of them are merely dancing to their DNA, that what is happening to them is not inherently evil, and that they are just products of a blind, pitiless indifference that's left them unlucky in the world? Surely this is not what you would say to one of these girls. But this is the fruit of the worldview that many people unknowingly profess.
"Doing no harm to others, be true to yourself," a friend and self-identified pagan suggested to me as a philosophy of life one day in the French Quarter of New Orleans. This supposedly simple philosophy was sufficient, so my friend thought, to make value judgments and moral decisions in all of life. The glaring problem behind his worldview, though, is who defines harm and to what extent we should be true to ourselves. Wouldn't a pimp in northern Nepal claim that he's creating a better life for a young girl whose chance of living was slim to begin with? Might he also claim that she has a job that he believes she enjoys? And what's to keep the pimp from arguing that he and this girl are helping scores of men be true to the sexual cravings they have within themselves?
Such a godless perspective on morality proves utterly hollow when faced with the harsh realities of evil in this world. Thankfully, the gospel is completely countercultural in this respect. For God's Word tells us that God has beautifully and wonderfully made each precious girl in his personal image, and he loves her. He has uniquely and biologically formed her not for forced sexual violation from countless random men but for joyful sexual union with a husband who cherishes, serves, and loves her. This is the good design of a gracious God, yet it has been grossly debauched by sinful humanity. Sin is real rebellion against the good Creator of all things and the final Judge of all people. Sex trafficking is unjust because God is just, and he will call sinners to account before him.
Such an understanding of sin helps inform why Christians and churches must work to end sex trafficking. Yet a quick perusal through the previous paragraph reveals why these same Christians and churches must also work to oppose abortion and defend marriage. Isn't the God who personally creates every precious girl in his image also the God who personally forms every precious baby in the womb? Isn't the design of God that makes sexual violation wrong in prostitution also the design of God that makes sexual union right in marriage? And isn't sin in all its forms—whether selling a young girl into slavery, ripping a baby's body from the womb, or disregarding God's prescribed pattern for marriage—real rebellion against the good Creator and final Judge of all people?
THE SIN OF SELF
Here again we're confronted with the countercultural offense of the gospel. For even as the gospel grounds the definition of good and evil in the character of God, it also claims that evil is not limited to certain types of sin and select groups of sinners. Evil is unfortunately inherent in all of us and therefore unavoidably a part of any culture we create.
Though we have all been created by God, we have also been corrupted by sin. As much as we would like to deny this, our nature constantly demonstrates it. We possess both dignity and depravity; we are prone to both good and evil. This is the irony of the human condition. John Stott expresses this well in his summary of basic Christianity:
We are able to think, choose, create, love and worship; but we are also able to hate, covet, fight and kill. Human beings are the inventors of hospitals for the care of the sick, of universities for the acquisition of wisdom, and of churches for the worship of God. But they have also invented torture chambers, concentration camps, and nuclear arsenals.
This is the paradox of our humanness. We are both noble and ignoble, both rational and irrational, both moral and immoral, both creative and destructive, both loving and selfish, both Godlike and bestial.
Why is this so? The gospel answers that although God created us in his image, we have rebelled against him in our independence. Though it looks different in each of our lives, we all are just like the man and woman in the Garden. We think, Even if God says not to do something, I'm going to do it anyway. In essence we're saying, "God's not Lord over me, and God doesn't know what's best for me. I define what's right and wrong, good and evil." The foundation of our morality thus shifts from the objective truth God has given us in his Word to the subjective notions we create in our minds. Even when we don't realize the implications of our ideas, we inescapably come to one conclusion: whatever seems right to me or feels right to me is right for me.
In the end, for each of us, it's ultimately about me.
This is why the Bible diagnoses the human condition simply by saying that we "all have turned aside" to ourselves (Romans 3:12). The essence of what the Bible calls sin is the exaltation of self. God has designed us to put him first in our lives, others next, and ourselves last. Yet sin reverses that order: we put ourselves first, others next (many times in an attempt to use them for ourselves), and God somewhere (if anywhere) in the distant background. We turn from worshiping God to worshiping self.
Now, we probably wouldn't put it that way. Most people don't publicly profess, "I worship myself." But, as John Stott points out, it doesn't take long as we look at our lives and listen to our language for the truth to become evident. Our dictionary contains hundreds of words that start with self: self-esteem, self-confidence, self-advertisement, self-gratification, self-glorification, self-motivation, self-pity, self-applause, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, self-righteousness—on and on. We have created a host of terms to express the extent of our preoccupation with ourselves.
The tragedy in all this is that in our constant quest to satisfy ourselves, we actually become slaves to sin. This is why Jesus teaches, "I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin" (John 8:34). We know this to be true. This is easy to see in the alcoholic, for example. He becomes drunk, believing it is the path to personal satisfaction, only to find himself enslaved to an addiction that leads to his ruin.
But sin works similarly in each of our lives—in small ways and in big ways. We tell ourselves, no matter what God says, that a lustful thought, a harsh word, or a selfish action will satisfy us. We persuade ourselves, no matter what God says, that the money we have (regardless of what it takes to get it) and the sex we experience (with whomever we want to enjoy it) will gratify us. We convince ourselves, no matter what God says, that we will be pleased with this person or that possession, this pleasure or that pursuit. We chase all these things, thinking that we're free. But we're blind to our own bondage. For in all our running to serve ourselves, we're actually rebelling against the only One who can satisfy our souls.
In the end, we are all guilty of rebellion against God. Not just the pimp in northern Nepal, but you and me. All of us have turned from God, all of us are guilty before God, and all of us know it. We feel this guilt, and although we inevitably deny it, we instinctively experience it.
Some deny guilt altogether, saying there is no such thing as right or wrong, that all ethics are illusory and arbitrary and only personal preferences remain. However, people who believe this often turn around and argue that it's right for you to agree with them and wrong for you to disagree with them. Ironic, isn't it?
Others try to remove guilt by shifting the standards of right and wrong in the name of cultural progression. One of the easiest ways to assuage guilt is to convince ourselves that our moral standards are impractical or outdated. Greed is not wrong; it's necessary in the good of ambition. Promoting ourselves is the only way to be successful. Lust is natural for contemporary men and women, and sex is expected regardless of marriage or gender. We attempt to remove our guilt by redefining right and wrong according to cultural fads.
Yet guilt remains. No matter how hard we try, we can't successfully erase the sense of "ought" that God has written on the human soul. One need only look in the eyes of a little girl being sold into sex slavery to know that this "ought" not to be, for right and wrong do exist as objective standards for all people in all places at all times. We cannot remove the reality of guilt before God, and this is why we need Jesus. Yet this is where the gospel counters culture in an even more offensive way.
IS JESUS UNIQUE?
Almost all people in the world who know anything about Jesus, including the most secular of scholars, would say that Jesus was a good man. People find Jesus easy to identify with—a man familiar with sorrow, struggle, and suffering. Moreover, people like Jesus. He was loving and kind. He championed the cause of the poor and needy. He made friends with the neglected, the weak, and the downtrodden. He hung out with the despised and rejected. He loved his enemies, and he taught others to do the same.
Yet alongside Jesus' remarkably humble character, we also see wildly egocentric claims. You don't have to read very far through the stories of Jesus' life before you start to conclude that he sure does talk a lot about himself. "I am this, I am that," he says over and over again. "Follow me, come to me," he calls to everyone around him. Stott describes this best:
One of the most extraordinary things Jesus did in his teaching (and did it so unobtrusively that many people read the Gospels without even noticing it) was to set himself apart from everybody else. For example, by claiming to be the good shepherd who went out into the desert to seek his lost sheep, he was implying that the world was lost, that he wasn't, and that he could seek and save it.
Excerpted from Counter Culture by DAVID PLATT. Copyright © 2015 David Platt. Excerpted by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc..
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Table of Contents
Introduction: Countering Culture xi
Chapter 1 The Greatest Offense: The Gospel and Culture 1
Chapter 2 Where Rich and Poor Collide: The Gospel and Poverty 23
Chapter 3 Modern Holocaust: The Gospel and Abortion 57
Chapter 4 The Lonely in Families: The Gospel and Orphans and Widows 79
Chapter 5 A War on Women: The Gospel and Sex Slavery 107
Chapter 6 A Profound Mystery: The Gospel and Marriage 131
Chapter 7 Bought with a Price: The Gospel and Sexual Morality 157
Chapter 8 Unity in Diversity: The Gospel and Ethnicity 185
Chapter 9 Christ in the Public Square: The Gospel and Religious Liberty 213
Chapter 10 The Most Urgent Need: The Gospel and the Unreached 237
About the Author 267