Cannon Beach Q&A

August 6, 2008

During my week at Cannon Beach, we devoted the Friday morning session to questions from the audience. They could either write their questions down or ask them live. Mark Rice moderated, I answered as many questions as I could, and Jim Altizer handled questions relating to worship and trends in the contemporary church. Here are some of the questions:

1) What Bible translations do you use?

I usually preach from the New International Version or the English Standard Version, but I use many different translations in my own reading and personal study. I enjoy the New Living Translation, The Message by Eugene Peterson, the Amplified Bible, the Contemporary English Version, and all the translations I can find at Bible Gateway and Online Translations of the Bible.

I’m also a fan of study Bibles because the notes give you a virtual commentary on the whole Bible. I like the MacArthur Study Bible, the Ryrie Study Bible, the NIV Study Bible, the Life Application Bible, and especially the NET Bible, which has over 60,000 notes.

2) How do you reconcile free will and God’s sovereignty?

This is one of those questions that you either answer in 30 seconds or you take 100 hours—and the question still isn’t answered. I think it was Spurgeon who said you don’t reconcile friends, only enemies. Human freedom and God’s sovereignty are not enemies. We have our choices to make, and those choices are free in the sense that we are under no sense of duress. We are not puppets on a string. However, because of our innate sinfulness, apart from God’s grace we continually choose the wrong course. We are sinners through and though, much deeper than we imagine. As one writer put it, if sin were blue, we’d be blue all over all. Our “free will” consistently leads us away from God, not toward him. If God doesn’t intervene somehow, no one would ever be saved.

God is not the author of sin, he does not tempt us to sin, and he cannot sin. Yet he works in, with, through, above, beneath, because of, and in spite of our choices in order to accomplish his will in the world. Is there a mystery here? Yes, and it is the mystery that separates the creature from the Creator. It is very hard to improve on the statement Joseph made to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 about God’s providence in the light of their treachery. “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good.” There is perfect balance in that statement. What the brothers did was wrong ("you meant it for evil’), but God overruled it and used their sinful acts to accomplish a greater purpose ("God meant it for good"). This means that when evil happens in the world,  it is still always evil but God is at work behind the scenes in ways we can’t imagine, and there is something bigger going on that we can’t see at the present time. That’s why I say that human freedom and divine sovereignty are not enemies that need to be reconciled. Just because we can’t see a purpose for some terrible event doesn’t mean there isn’t one. It just means that we can’t see it — and in most cases we won’t understand until we finally get to heaven. And then we will see clearly, not through a glass darkly as we do today. See Be Still and Know and Chapter 2 of my book Why Did This Happen to Me?

3) Can a Christian be a Democrat?

This is a short version of a longer question. The answer is yes. Being a Christian is about following Jesus, not about party affiliation. This November Christians will vote in many different ways across the political spectrum. My plea is that you take your Christian convictions with you into the voting booth. Study the issues, listen to the candidates, evaluate everything in the light of biblical principles, pray for wisdom, and then cast your ballot. If Christians vote their convictions, we can have a huge influence for good in America. See Christian Boldness in an Age of Tolerance.

4) If you feel drinking alcohol is wrong, would you have an alcoholic drink with the unsaved?

The first part of the question settles the issue. Why do something you feel is wrong in order to build rapport with a lost person? We should never violate our own conscience in order to do evangelism. “If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning” (Romans 14:23 NLT). If you ask the question on a personal level, I will say that I don’t think drinking alcohol is always a sin. However, I still wouldn’t have a beer or drink wine just to make someone else feel comfortable. I’m going to drink my Coke and not worry about what other people think. See A Warning to Wine-Drinkers.

5) Are the Jews still God’s chosen people?

Yes. I believe the promises made to Israel in the Old Testament have never been canceled. Romans 11:26 tells us that when Christ returns, “all Israel will be saved.” Romans 11 is very important in helping us understand God’s plan for Israel. At the present time a partial blindness has come upon the Jewish people so they cannot see their Messiah. And we Gentiles have been grafted into the tree of God’s salvation in the place of the Jewish people. But the current move of God among the Gentiles does not cancel his plans to bring salvation to the Jews. “On that day a fountain will be opened to the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and impurity” (Zechariah 13:1). See Does Israel Have a Future?

6) In your opinion, has the Antichrist begun his reign?

No, I don’t think the Antichrist has been revealed yet. The Bible gives us a great deal of information about the final end-times ruler who will unite the nations in a world empire that is set up in opposition to the Lord. We know that he must in some way be related to the remnants of the old Roman Empire, but exactly how that will play out in terms of modern political alliances, we can’t say for certain. He begins as a man of peace who unites the nations around his charismatic personality. But over time his true nature will be revealed as the ultimate tool of Satan. No one knows who the Antichrist is (or will be) and all speculation is useless. Every guess made so far has proved to be wrong. In God’s time, the “man of lawlessness” will be revealed and will deceive most of the world. See Who is the Antichrist? and the chapter on “Cataclysmic Times” in my book Stealth Attack.

I’ll have more Q&A from Cannon Beach tomorrow.

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