“You know how to discern the face of the sky, but you cannot discern the signs of the times.” (Matthew 16:3, NKJV)
I am continually frustrated that Christians, even pastors and theologians, seem to have an overwhelming inability to discern the times. The Christian world is continually making false assumptions about reality, then making decisions based upon those assumptions. A continued downward spiral is the only result.
Why is it that discernment has disappeared? I will share three reasons.
An inability to explain basic prophecy
If you don’t know where you’re going, it will be impossible for you to discern what the results of any particular action will be. Not knowing your destination, you have no clue whether or not your left turn will delay you, be a shortcut, or be a dead-end.
For someone with a godless world view, the world isn’t going anywhere. A turn is simply a turn. Christians, however, have a worldview in which the Creator of both time and space is purposeful, and will guide to this world to any intended end.
So why is it that most Christians cannot even give a basic outline of Biblical prophecy? How is it expected that we can interpret history or evaluate current events if we are clueless about the trajectory of history? Given a set of prophetic events, most Christians would have a hard time even putting them into some semblance of order, and couldn’t explain and defend their positions even if they managed to get them in order. I am convinced that a knowledge of the future is a fundamental piece of information for a discernment of the present.
Daniel 9:24-27 is one of the most important passages of Scripture for understanding a Bible time-line and order of events. It describes a period of time from Israel’s return from exile to the arrival of Israel’s Messiah, and looks forward to the time in which everlasting righteousness is ushered in. It speaks of the Antichrist, and is the passage from which a seven-year Tribulation is calculated. However, more and more theologians are using the English Standard Version of Scripture (ESV), which I have said is, “allergic to prophecy.” If one reads Daniel 9:25 in the ESV he would have a completely different time-line than if he read in KJV or any other trustworthy version. The unacceptable translation in the ESV simply adds to the inability of modern believers to understand Biblical prophecy. (For more on the ESV’s allergy to prophecy, click here).
The inability to explain the present age theologically
The Pharisees and Sadducees could tell what the weather was going to be, but had no ability to explain the current activity of God. Such seems to be true of religious leaders of our age as well. The theology from the seminary to the pulpit is a mish-mash of Bible casserole that makes a mockery of a literal reading of the text.
With this inability to explain the present age theologically, several theological screw-ups are prominent in the church today, including—
The “How to Define Israel” screw-up
If a professor of literature or grammar or etymology or linguistics or English read the Bible, they would define Israel as a nation created by God composed of the descendents of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. But when a professor of Theology reads the Bible, unable to explain what God is doing in the world today, he has multiple definitions of Israel. He will use these at his personal whims. When Israel is disobedient, it is is a nation of Jews. When Israel is blinded and rejected, it is that same Jewish nation. When Israel has promises, it is now redefined to include….me. These redefinitions range from the typical historic replacement theological position of the church as the “new Israel,” to the more recent but ever-popular view of the new Calvinists (like the folks at the ERLC or the Gospel Coalition) who teach that “Jesus is the true Israel.” The bottom line of these definitions is all the same: the nation of Israel and the Jewish people are incidental to anything happening in history today. So much for the ability to discern the times.
The Law and Grace screw-up
Only when one understands God’s current activity and soteriological plan can a clear understanding of the Law and Grace be determined. Without knowing what God is doing today, the theologian (armchair or Seminary variety) will take a few parts law and a few parts grace, mix them together and create a Baptist. The Scripture may say that we are dead to the Law, but since we like certain laws, we create an explanation of why we are still obligated to these particular laws.
Some of my favorite made-up explanations:
- “Since this practice pre-dates the Law, we are still obligated.” If this is all that is required, let’s get back to our sacrifices (which go to Genesis 4) and our Sabbath rest (which goes to Genesis 1-2).
- “Since this is a part of Israel’s moral law and not her ceremonial or civil law, we are still obligated.” And with this, the theologian begins slicing and dicing the Law (again based on their own whims). The sliced and diced Law is the same one of which James says, “whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10).
The Gospel – Morality screw-up
With no comprehension of God’s activity and plan in today’s world, the theologian confuses morality with the Gospel. It seems like anything moral has now become Gospel. Consider a few examples from Southern Baptist denominational ethicist Russell Moore:
- When World Vision announced (later unannounced) that it would hire those in same-sex marriages, Moore said, “At stake is the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
- In the heat of the ongoing immigration debate (in which Moore continually presses for an Obama-esq non-amnesty amnesty), he states clearly that, “This is a gospel issue.”
- In an article on “Gospel or Justice,” Moore speaks of, “the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor.” In the same article, he states that “the gospel is holistic in its restoration—personal, cosmic, social, vocational.”
- At his recent visit to the Vatican, Moore proclaimed that marriage is, “a picture of the very mystery that defines the existence of the people of God—the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Until we are able to clarify what God is doing in the world today, we will not have a clear understanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the Gospel will increasingly become anything good, moral, and lovely. Our proclamation of the Gospel will increasingly be a message of peace, justice, and reform, rather than one that tells of a Savior who provides personal restoration to God.
The inability to give Biblical explanation to current events
We have swallowed two pills which have robbed us of the ability to analyze current events.
First, we don’t know right from wrong because we’ve clouded the issues with post-modern thinking, which removes absolutes. When an issue arrises, one needing a moral judgment, we say, “let me gather the evidence.” From there, we look at the myriad of circumstances that led to the actual issue. After we know causes and effects and motivations and experiences and ad infinitum, then we can determine whether the action itself was right or wrong. Meanwhile, those who are able to discern the times look at the action, compare it to the character of God as revealed in the pages of Scripture, and are able to quickly make a judgment.
When you were a child and got caught doing something you knew you were not supposed to do, your mother scolded you. Likely, your response was something like, “But Timmy did it first,” or “Timmy did this so I did that.” Your mother’s response was simple: “I don’t care what Timmy did.” She didn’t accept your moral equivalence arguments nor did she care about the events that led up to the wrongdoing. Your mother had a worldview that was based on absolute truths, not moral relativism.
Second, we cannot analyze current events because peaceful co-existence has been prioritized over serious debate. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been told, “If you say that, you’ll really take some heat.” Why are we so concerned about speaking the truth? It is because we’ve been conditioned to believe that disruption of unity is worse than the current ill, even though the unity is dependent on a disconnect from reality.
The religious leaders of Jesus’ day could take opinion polls and jump in front of the crowd. They were good enough observers to be able to know the trends. What they could not do was discern the signs of the times. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of those who “have their senses trained to discern” (NASB). I can think of few other areas of training more needed for our day.