THE PRESENT TRUTH, Martin Murphy, Theocentric Publishing Group, 1069 Main Street, Chipley, FL 32428 www.theocentricpublishing.com
My friend, Martin Murphy, has just released this new book. I managed to obtain a copy, and though I have said before and still maintain that I am not and will not be a book reviewer, I will relate to you what I think about this book, or better yet, what this book made me think about. Any book that provokes us to think about ourselves, what we believe, and why we believe it, is worthy of sharing with others. Murphy managed to provoke me to think. Occasionally, I thought, smugly, that Murphy got a few things wrong. When I would get this feeling, it would quickly subside in the face of challenges that were not dismissed with the same smugness with which they were received. That’s a funny thing about smugness. Our smugness tends to say more about US than the things we are smug about.
This book tackles a lot in its short 154 pages. Many of the topics introduced are worthy of a lifetime of study and can hardly be covered in a book this short, or even covered in a lifetime of writing (Think St. Augustine!). Yet some of those topics, which were already familiar to me, cried out for more exploration, demanding, since I was reacquainted to them through this book, that I spend some more of my own time on their study. I am thankful for each and every challenge presented to me. If one were looking for a book on theology which outlines things that are worthy of further reading, this book can point one in the right direction.
What is truth? We all look for it. We all hope to obtain it. We sift through mountains of information and knowledge to strive for the truth, but it is very elusive. Like Murphy, I believe there is an objective truth, unaltered by our experience or vision, that exists independent of our understanding. That truth is immutable, unchangeable. That is the truth I am looking for. That is the truth I want to grab hold of. I am not interested in the relative truth, though, sometimes, that is what is presented to us as truth. I am looking for the absolute truth, wanting to measure it on a Kelvin-esque scale. I think I will try to reprogram my Truth-O-Meter to accept a scale like the Kelvin scale for temperature. The Kelvin scale is the one where zero is absolute zero, or the complete absence of heat. Zero degrees Kelvin is pretty cold. It is in excess of minus 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Anything above zero degrees Kelvin is HEAT! Anything above zero degrees Kelvin measures something. Zero degrees Kelvin measures NOTHING, which is quite hard to measure . . . much like the truth Murphy describes that I am searching for. Zero degrees Kelvin measures the complete absence of something. A scale that measured truth would also have to have an absolute point, perhaps two; one for the complete absence of truth, and the other for the complete, immutable truth. If we had such a scale, what tools would we use to take the measurement? Accuracy might be impossible with the imprecise, flawed tools we have (MAN!).
I like the book’s discussion of the visible and invisible church. I am part of both, however, being a member of the latter is much more important, though the former should not be neglected. As the visible church has struggled to stay relevant, through man’s interpretation of relevance, it has adopted truth which is relevant to the times, which is frequently not truth at all, but a convenience invented by man, sometimes as a lazy approach to theology (bad) and sometimes as license (worse). When we seek license for behavior we know is inappropriate, we must resort to relative truth for our own justification. Anytime Christians resort to some legal justification of their behavior, you can rest assured that the behavior they are justifying is one their heart does not condone. Grace or law? Which one do we rely on every day? Careful, now, or we may get the one we are asking for.
Murphy says this:
The purpose, mission, and ministry of the Church does not call for political activism. The church ought to work to change the culture, not set up a Christian dictatorship.
In Jesus’ time on this earth, the Zealots were a Jewish sect that wanted to secure the overthrow of Roman dominion over Israel. They welcomed this by the force of arms if necessary. The Zealots carried swords and were ready to follow their promised messiah in the political liberation of their holy land. Simon Peter was a Zealot. So was Judas Iscariot. Jesus’ talk of the establishment of His “Kingdom” was music to their ears. Was He the promised messiah to deliver them from their oppression? When they learned that the Kingdom of God that was at hand, the one Jesus was telling them about, was not the immediate overthrow by arms of Rome, they were sorely disappointed. Eventually, Peter yielded to the Kingdom Jesus was actually delivering. Judas was unable to do so. This led to his betrayal of Jesus to protect the very thing he held most sacred. Men often make unwise choices for all the right reasons. This is what happens when we have the relative truth. It’s hard to make the wrong decision armed with the complete, immutable truth, but this is so seldom available to us. If Judas had it, would he have behaved differently? Surely. He would have behaved differently if he had merely had hindsight, which is not worth very much. Imagine the value of the complete, immutable truth, if you can, and what we could accomplish were we armed with it and able to deliver it to others in a manner akin to our receiving a chicken sandwich at a fast-food drive through? Unfortunately, it is not so easy.
Jesus was armed with the truth. What did He accomplish thus armed? So much relativism springs forth from that rhetorical question as to be useless for any practical purpose, since that would be based on our view of just who Jesus is. One thing is for certain . . . Jesus is who He is; my opinion about Him does not change Him or His nature one bit, nor does yours. There are so many things that we must take on faith. If we were armed with the facts, we might be very much like the church Murphy indicates in the quote, above. We would be as long-range effective and remembered as fondly by history as those Roman emperors who demanded that they be worshiped as gods by those they put to death for their refusal to do so. Is the visible Church capable of this? I will let history speak for itself. It does not speak kindly.
In their zeal for the truth, men can perpetrate complete perversions of it, which speaks to the depravity of man. Murphy discusses this subject at length. The world view is that man is basically good, and through enlightenment, education, and the provision for his basic needs by kind, benevolent governments, man will become that goodness that is his nature. I reject this notion out of hand, embracing, like Murphy, man’s total depravity.
If you believe in the doctrine of total depravity, you are a likely candidate to believe that Jesus Christ died for your sin nature and the actual sins you commit.
I was a likely candidate, since that is exactly what I believe, and it is what the bible teaches. I accepted, accept, and will continue to accept the free gift of the redemptive mercy of God through the sacrifice of Jesus. I am not any better than anyone else, because my humanity is an indication of my total depravity. This is so hard for many to accept, but the recognition of our failure to favorably measure on an absolute scale is the starting point for all of us. The scriptures say that there is none righteous, that all men have sinned, and all men fall short. When measured, we are found wanting. The bible offers no hope of being measured in the manner that men cling to; that our good deeds will outweigh our bad deeds, for all deeds are motivated by self-serving interest, even if that self-serving interest is that we did the right thing because we wanted to do the right thing, or were fearful to do the wrong thing. By some indication, everything we do we do out of self-interest, even if love is our motivation. Even our most seemingly altruistic actions tend to make us feel good about ourselves. Was this not the reward we sought?
Ultimately our redemption is initiated by God, provided for by God, and completed by God, as a gift to us from God. This leads me to my own real and present struggle which this book reminds me of, since by background and training, I am an Arminian. I have provided the link here for your convenience. You can study and see for yourself what constitutes Arminianism, which stands in juxtaposition to Calvinism. For the life of me, as is so obvious from page after page of entries in this blog, I cannot escape John Calvin. He is a constant thorn in the side to me and my Arminianism. OK, I repent . . . I cannot just leave you with the link. I must provide a few things about Arminianism here. This is from the WikiPedia link above.
Arminianism is based on the theological ideas of the Dutch Reformed theologian Jacobus Arminius (1560–1609) and his historic supporters known as the Remonstrants and is known as a soteriological sect of ProtestantChristianity.  Dutch Arminianism was originally articulated in the Remonstrance (1610), a theological statement signed by 45 ministers and submitted to the States-General of the Netherlands. The Synod of Dort (1618–19) was called by the States General to consider the Five Articles of Remonstrance. The Five Articles of the Remonstrance asserted that:
1. election (and condemnation on the day of judgment) was conditioned by the rational faith or nonfaith of man;
2. the Atonement, while qualitatively adequate for all men, was efficacious only for the man of faith;
3. unaided by the Holy Spirit, no person is able to respond to God’s will;
4. grace is not irresistible; and
5. believers are able to resist sin but are not beyond the possibility of falling from grace.
The crux of Remonstrant Arminianism lay in the assertion that human dignity requires an unimpaired freedom of the will.
An “unimpaired freedom of the will.” I am no more able to lay that aside than I am able to dismiss John Calvin, who asserted that God has established some to be elect, and some for damnation, leaving our human will out of the equation entirely. The bible teaches that we must seek God, and that we are to seek Him while He may be found. To do that, we must believe that He exists, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. Ultimately, our having chosen to seek God will yield a relationship with Him from which we will be the beneficiaries (Who else, for what does God need?).
On page 85, Murphy puts forth
Man-made religion is like a thief. It will steal the truth about the law and grace of God.
Then on page 86 he goes on to say
Teachers of man-made religion will teach wrong doctrine, such as faith precedes regeneration. If that is true, the man literally saves himself.
The bible teaches that we must approach God by faith. It also teaches that the only thing we have as humans which we can offer to God which He finds acceptable and pleasing is our faith. Abraham had faith, and his faith was accounted to him as righteousness, the writer of Hebrews tells us. Abraham’s faith was that he simply believed what God had told him, and acted on it, which was a display of true faith, for faith must be accompanied by actions if it is to be realized. Is our faith given to us by God? The bible teaches that every man has been given the measure of faith, so its seeds are within us all, and this is the basis for our relationship with God. But does that mean that we are the initiators? Well, we seek Him. We sometimes seek Him for years. Some of us will seek Him for a lifetime. At what point does God allow Himself to be found? God will have to answer that one, since I am no longer smart enough to be able to speak on His behalf.
This is why Calvin cannot be dismissed, though I give it every effort and resist him with every fiber of my theological understanding. I am just not able to do so. He thwarts my Arminian views at every turn. The moment I think I have a handle on him, he reappears like a bad dream, reminding me, challenging me, and forcing me to consider that which I had rather not. In essence, I DO NOT KNOW.
I know that I must have faith. I know that if my faith is the basis of my receiving redemption, then I have to admit that I have literally saved myself, and I cannot do that either. God has a significant role in this personal process, somewhere, and I cannot ignore that; nor can I abandon the idea of an unimpaired free will. I am not the first person to wrestle with this. The very nature of the discussion about it that has caused nearly five hundred years of recorded debate among theologians is proof that this is a cause for struggle, and I am not immune from it. In fact, I am caught up in the debate, and at best am sorely perplexed by it. Perhaps my perplexity is that I am exploring eternal things with my finite mind, caught up in trying to understand the nature of God with such inadequate tools as I have available to me. You’ll excuse me if I don’t have a good answer here. God does what He does. He thinks like He thinks. I am OK with the idea that there may be some things I cannot get a handle on. In truth, it would be highly arrogant for me to think that I have the correct understanding of the mind of God. I used to be able to tell you, on the spot, exactly what God was thinking, but somewhere along the way, this confidence failed me. I have been better for it, and certainly, better company for others.
Perhaps it is our SEEKING of God that motivates God to draw us closer to Him. If so, are WE the trigger to our own salvation? You tell me, if you can. I know what John Calvin would say, which is that my will had nothing to do with it . . . that I was predestined (foreordained) for my experience with God. (Foreordained sounds less threatening, doesn’t it?) Calvin is laughing at me right now. He is wanting to put in an appearance, but seems content to lurk in the background with a smirk on his face. Any minute, he is liable to be right before me pointing and howling with laughter until tears are streaming down his face. My ludicrousness is the one thing the normally stern Calvin will allow himself to laugh out loud at.
When I first got this book, I tried to read it. I gave up after having read a few chapters, laid it aside in my pick-up truck, where it got covered over with other items in the backseat. I wanted to get it out and give it another try. I suppose I was not ready to read it, yet. While I do not know what transpired to make me ready to read it and receive the challenges it held for me, it suddenly sprang to sight from its new location in the back floorboard of my truck. The Lord said, “Read this now.” Now, apparently, I was ready to read it. Once I started the second time I could not put it down.
Murphy and I think about much the same things, though we may have different thoughts about them. Ultimately, we agree that inferior man-made doctrines hamper us in our relationship with God. Murphy’s rejection of Arminianism does not come so easy to me; I would rather reject Calvin. However, the rejection of Calvin does not come so easy for me, either. Murphy has caused me to challenge some of my own man-made doctrines. Never, for a single instant, did Murphy cause me to question any thing about God that is VALUABLE, only those things with which I already wrestled whose value was already questionable in my eyes. Those things SEEMED to have value, but their value I cannot rightly discern. There are so many things I cannot rightly discern.
Like a pebble in my shoe, Murphy has caused me no small amount of discomfort, much like John Calvin. Calvin is simultaneously a rose and a thorn, but we already knew that roses are always accompanied by thorns, didn’t we? It seems we can’t have one without the other. If we had just the roses, perhaps we might get to thinking too highly of our own theology, then continuously refine it through our own experience and understanding until it was a sublimation of the purest man-made excellence, serving us only as far as our man-made excellence can take us, which, is not very far.
I think I’ll keep the thorns.