Your First Opportunity for a “Brutal Critique”
Foreword: Discovering God’s Love for Us,
George Barna has given us an excellent description of a typical American couple today. In the Prologue of his 2001 book, Boiling Point, Barna imagined Jill and Carl into existence and then described their hopes, dreams and daily habits. They were lost, wandering souls, searching for meaning, hope reality. In their early 50’s they had both been through a divorce and a few live-in arrangements before deciding to marry each other. Their efforts to blend their families were not entirely successful but they stumblingly continued their search for meaning and reality in their lives.
I recognize Barna’s imaginary couple. People just like them attended the church I pastored in Huntsville, Alabama, and they occasionally joined. It should not surprise you that I met Jill and Carl just as often while I was a missionary in Ukraine. Only the language and the economics were different. There they were on the streets of Odessa and Kiev struggling to make some kind of sense out of life – just like Jill and Carl in Huntsville.
Barna wrote his book in an effort to help the Jills and Carls of this world. That is why I am writing this book. I am convinced that God also wants to help the Jills and Carls of this world. I am convinced that he wants to help them because he has helped me; and I was just like Jill and Carl, stumbling around in the dark, looking for “meaning, hope and reality”. In that sad state of confusion, I did not find God: He found me. He found me because He loves me, and His love for me has become the joy of my life.
God found me when I was facing a terrifying dilemma in my 19th year, my sophomore year in college. That dilemma was mental illness in my own family. It is sadly appropriate to bring it into a book where Barna’s Jill and Carl play a part because mental illness is such a common threat in the average American family as well as those Ukrainian families whom I knew. I am convinced that we must regard mental illness like we regard alcoholism, drug abuse and a variety of sexual abuses. These are all dreadful behavioral dysfunctions which overwhelm us with a kind of sorrowful confusion which seem to defy all hope of finding true happiness in this life. There appears to be little help in secular psychology with its dismal record of failure becoming so clear in our day. I am fully convinced that only God can meet our needs when we face these kinds of horrors.
The great good news is that God does meet our needs. He loves us and reveals that love to us!
Because God has so wonderfully revealed His love for me in the Bible, and because he tells us in scripture that He loves all mankind, I have become convinced that God is doing wonderful things for us on a world-wide scale “God so loved the world” John 3:16. That means me, Jill and Carl and all our fellow strugglers.
The Bible, God’s Key Initiative
The Bible, of course, is God’s grand initiative, his gracious offer to love us forever and to give us eternal life. It is possible that I could leave it there, emphasizing the glorious reality of scripture as all we need to find God and discover meaning in our lives. I could do that, but I want to go one step further. I want to signalize a powerful theme that runs through scripture, a theme that can captivate your heart and hold you spell-bound for the rest of your life.
That theme is what we recognize in scripture as God’s Covenant of Grace. It begins to develop in response to man’s need in the 3rd chapter of Genesis, near the beginning of the bible. In brief the Covenant of Grace is God telling Adam and Eve that he loves them and their children in spite of their fall into sin. This theme shows itself in the story of Noah, Genesis 6 – 9. It then becomes the dominant chord in the life of the patriarch Abraham, Genesis 17. Throughout the rest of the Bible the Covenant is the instrument God uses to show the fullness and grandeur of his love for sinners. God’s Covenant comes to its beautiful climax in the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ – his victory over sin and Satan on the cross, his glorious Resurrection from the grave and his grand Ascension into Glory. Then by that same wonderful Covenant God’s Holy Spirit continues to display God’s love for us in the Epistles, finally revealing to us the eternal glory of heaven in that magnificent final book of the Bible, Revelation.
Now that was a really quick trip through the entire Bible. Did you stay with me?
Admitted Complexities of the Bible
My fear is that people can read their Bibles, but lose their way in its complexities. Yes! I am admitting that there are complexities in the Bible, complexities that can seem overwhelming to honest people, genuinely seeking for a way through its intricate and often puzzling narrative. It is God’s COVENANT OF GRACE that helped me sort this all out. It is the Covenant that helped my wife and I build our marriage and our family. It helped us follow a calling in life, a calling that helped us enable the Jills and Carls whom we met in my pastorate and on the mission field. And it is that same Covenant that I believe can be a great help to you. Through the Covenant of Grace you will discover God’s love as an ever deepening river of his grace at work in us struggling sinners.
But why should you trust us to help you in this way? I will not give you our Academic pedigrees, but I will just tell you briefly about our working career, 57 years of it to this date. I spent 43 years as senior pastor of one church, Westminster Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama. My wife Lorraine was my close working companion in this labor of love. While we were in Huntsville, we helped start a K-12 Christian day school which now enrolls over 700 students. In 2001 I resigned from the pastorate and accepted the Directorship of our Mission to the World ministry in Ukraine. My wife and I were there with some breaks for 11 years. And that is about the shortest summary possible for the 54 delightful and challenging years which God gave us together in ministry.
I am convinced that the COVENANT OF GRACE can be like a roadmap through the Bible for you as well as a roadmap through life, a roadmap at last to eternal life. Give it a chance! Read this book!
Facing the Challenges of an Unbelieving Culture
Along with the Jills and Carls of this world, you and I are living in an age of deepening doubt regarding the Bible and all the awesome realities it describes. The question this age is posing is: Is God’s love for us a reality? Is his Covenant a reality or are God’s love and his Covenant just a fantasy-land invented by religious dreamers?
Contemporary atheistic thinker Richard Dawkins says it all a fantasy-land. He has expressed his view that in our universe there is “no design, no purpose, no evil, and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference”. 1. Most people today such as Barna’s Jill and Carl would reject such an idea as way too radical, and quite beyond the pale of the average citizen, the common man. I think most of us feel that way.
But the sad fact is that so much of the world seems to be carried along by the kind of awful cynicism represented in Dawkins’ opinion: “no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference”. Neither politicians nor Supreme Court justices, nor even most college professors would ever say such dreadful things, at least in public, but, at the same time, many of these leaders seem to act and vote this way and much of our electorate follow these ways that reflect the hopelessness described in Dawkins’ dreadful statement.
This is the BAD news! And that bad news is hurting us and our world.
But there is also GOOD news!
The good news is that the Kingdom of God is alive and well. God’s Covenant helps us believe this good news. It is a wonderful truth that people in God’s Kingdom recognize Satan as the great LIAR in our world. He is a great liar who has led atheists like Dawkins to believe such BAD news, and to inflict massive horrors on each other all over the world because they believe such BAD news.
God is the TRUTH-TELLER who is giving us magnificent good news through the Bible and through the Covenant. This good news is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the reality that God’s Kingdom is coming. Through the love and power of the Risen/Ascended Lord Jesus Christ, God is building his Kingdom. While the old serpent Satan experiments with one lying failure after another, our gracious Lord quietly and modestly continues to build his Kingdom – in the church, in missions, in charitable labors among addicts and all kinds of suffering, struggling people of every race and language all around the world.
The people of the Kingdom simply use the promises of God’s Covenant to win poor sinners to our Lord. Then together we use those same wonderful promises to build each other up in our understanding of the beautiful life we share together in His Kingdom. Our gracious Lord is giving his people victory after victory through the power of His Covenant.
With the help of my dear wife and many friends I have written this book: Discovering God’s Love for Us. My prayer is that many of you will use it to deepen your relationship with our great God by the continuous process described in this title.
In Case You Want to Read More:
First, I will recommend a recent book, The Gospel as Center, edited in 2013 by Dr. Tim Keller and Dr. D. A. Carson. This book is a valuable description of several key issues in the contemporary church. The Gospel as Center will help you see the beauty and power of Jesus as he continues to do his great work of redemption in present history. It could help you choose a church where GOD’S COVENANT GRACE is clearly taught as I have tried to describe it in this book.
Second, I am going to give you a partial list of the books that have influenced me and helped me to understand the grand reality of the Covenant. About a third of these books go back to my early years in the pastorate; the other two thirds are books I have read in the last 10 or 12 years. I see all of them as part of God’s GOOD NEWS!
Read, enjoy, be blessed! And keep praying: “THY KINGDOM COME”.
Geerhardus Vos 1862-1940: 1. Biblical Theology, 2. Pauline Eschatology
- Palmer Robertson: The Christ of the Covenants
Michael D. Williams: Far As the Curse Is Found
Andrew Murray: How to Raise Your Children for Christ
Horace Bushnell: Christian Nurture
Walter Kunneth 1901-1997: The Theology of the Resurrection
Leslie Newbigin 1909-1998: Truth to Tell
George Eldon Ladd 1911-1982: The Gospel and the Kingdom
Richard Gaffin: 1. Resurrection and Redemption, 2. Perspectives on Pentecost, 3. By Faith, Not by Sight
Sidney Greidanus: 1. The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 2. Preaching Christ from Genesis
Graeme Goldsworthy: 1. Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture, 2. Goldsworthy Trilogy
Bryan Chapell: Christ-Centered Preaching [Covenant Seminary Textbook]
G.K. Beale: 1. Commentary on Revelation, 2. A New Testament Biblical Theology, 3. The Temple and
the Church’s Mission
- T. Wright: 1. Trilogy, 2. Paul, 3.The Climax of the Covenant
Christopher Wright: The Mission of God
Sam Storms: Kingdom Come
Cornelis Venema The Promise of the Future
John V. Fesko Last Things First
- John Collins Genesis 1-4, Commentary
Oliver O’Donovan: Resurrection and Moral Order
- F. Torrance: 1. Space Time and Resurrection, 2. Theological Science, 3. Incarnation
Gerrit Scott Dawson: Jesus Ascended
Tim Chester and Jonny Woodrow: The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God
Richard Bauckham: Jesus and the God of Israel
Paul H. Alexander, August, 2015
- Page 56, The Dawkins Delusion? by Allister McGrath and Joanna Collicutt McGrath, Inter-Varsity press, 2007.