Archives for August 2011

Radically Corrupt!

I saw a news headline this week which reads, Ron Paul: Mobs in Europe a Sign of Things Coming.  Political ideology aside, Paul’s prediction regarding America’s future is probably spot on.  He and other fiscally conscious leaders base their predictions on our economically irresponsible policies.  Paul said, “There’s going to be an inflation tax to hit us and I am just afraid there will be people in the streets when they don’t get what they want.”

Ron Paul is an American medical doctor, author, and U.S. Congressman of the House of Representatives

Again, his prediction is probably accurate, but he hasn’t probed deeply enough – to the root of the issue – to reveal the true cause of people’s angst.  Political conservatives point to failed economic policies as the culprit, but the true question centers on what lies behind these selfish, misinformed policies.  A simple reading of God’s word reveals the root problem: sin.

Unless and until our country re-embraces the destructive, life altering, eternity ruining nature of sin, we will follow Europe’s example, post haste.  American life and culture lag behind that of Europe for the mere fact that our nation is younger.  Give us time.  Like a younger brother, we are falling for the same pitfalls, just a bit later.  Unless we embrace the reality of sin, which Europe cast to the wasteland, look for riotous mobs and chaos to fill our streets in the coming days.

And Christian, before you nod your head knowingly, please understand that the church is by and large the chief culprit for America’s ignorance regarding sin and its destructiveness.  Our pulpits and people have treated sin as a mere problem, a nagging nuisance to be pushed aside or worked on.  When 77% of professing evangelicals (see George Barna’s surveys) agree with the notion that mankind is basically good, you know for certain that the church is ignorant of sin.

People are not good.  As the apostle Paul warned, “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom. 3:10).  As he said later in the same chapter, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).

I think I hear a few Amens, but hold on.  What is it about sin that we are nodding our heads to?  Is sin just a pesky personal problem?  Is it limited to those things about us that we can’t quite exercise control over – lust, overspending, overeating, bad temper, lying?  Is sin something that a bit of therapy will fix?  Or is sin a diabolical plague that is eating away like cancer at individual lives – from the inside out – encroaching daily upon our entire culture?  The only explanation for bad economics and riotous mobs is sin; it is our nation’s greatest problem.  Let me explain.

Theologians once used a phrase to capture the essence of man’s understanding of God, himself, life, and the afterlife: total depravity.  Mankind is a sinner, the phrase suggests; therefore, everything else in life follows suit.

Modern man can’t quite swallow this, though, for at least a few reasons.  For starters, we believe that people are inherently good.  Few reject the notion that we do bad things, but, in life’s grand balance, we are more good than bad.  So, if people are basically good, how can we be totally depraved?  The word total seems to leave no room for any goodness.  Surely, one’s elderly grandmother who is the sweetest person imaginable is not totally depraved.

Eva Braun and Adolf Hitler with their pets. The German Shepherd is Blondi.

But total is not to say that we are utterly depraved.  Utter means complete, with no room for any goodness.  Think of one of history’s most evil persons: Adolf Hitler comes to mind.  But wouldn’t you agree that Hitler, as evil as he was, could have been even more evil?  Reports verify that he was fond of children and dearly loved his German Shepherd dog.  While Hitler was a heinous madman, he could have descended even more deeply into depravity.  So, to say that he or anyone is totally depraved does not suggest that we are as evil as we can possibly be.

The Bible teaches, in fact, that evil would flood the earth in unspeakable ways if the Holy Spirit did not continuously restrain its presence.  Imagine a dam containing a vast reservoir of water, but the dam is precariously and structurally damaged – ready to break.  Only the Holy Spirit’s restraining hand holds it together.  Water leaks from the jagged fissures and cracks, but the millions of gallons stay contained….unless and until God’s Spirit releases His hand.  Bible prophecy teaches that He will indeed release His restraining hand as the days grow short, and many commentators speculate that this is already beginning.  But as of now, the Lord keeps sin at bay; nevertheless, sinners are totally depraved – just not utterly.

But what does the Bible mean by totally depraved?  Perhaps a better phrase is that we are radically corrupt.  Consider both the ancient and modern meanings of the word radical.  Our English word radical comes from the Latin word, radix, meaning, root.  And our modern word radical has come to mean extreme.  Both meanings wonderfully capture the Bible’s description of mankind: we are radically corrupt, to the extreme, at the root of our being.

Does this sound like a mere problem, one we need to work on?  Does this condition sound like something modern therapy can fix?  Does it sound like a condition that inherently “good” people can cure by using pragmatic, psychological tools?  No, these views of mankind’s ailments lie on the surface; they don’t go to the radical root of who we are as people, affecting us to the extreme.

God describes us sinners as radically corrupt in our very natures, the essence of who we are.  Just as the furthest leaf of a majestic oak tree is tied inextricably to the roots, so every facet of our being is affected by our innate sin nature.  Sin sits behind us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.  Like a cancer, it mars our root, from which all of our thoughts and actions spring.

The apostle Paul described mankind in our natural, unsaved state: “…they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools” (Rom. 1:21-22).  Further, Paul warned the new Christians in Ephesus:

“You must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity” (Eph. 4:17-19).

We see here clear evidence that unsaved people are radically corrupt.  Emanating from our root, our whole person is extremely affected by sin.  Our mind is affected, our reasoning ability, our capacity for emotions and feeling; each of these in turn affects us physically.

Before Adam’s great fall in the Garden of Eden – before his radically corruptive fall into sin – he would have been what we would call a superman, a mental giant, a man of untiring disposition.  His thinking and reasoning were unclouded by sin.  With amazing insight, harnessing every brain cell and exercising unfettered wisdom, Adam tirelessly lived the freest life imaginable.

A single bite of fruit; however – representing direct rebellion against God, an attempt to control his own fate – marred him to the core.  At his root, Adam was now stained by sin.  No longer did he live free and unfettered.  Even his labor became tiresome; work – in the “four letter word” way we think of our tasks today.

The Fall depicted in the Sistine Chapel by Michelangelo

Adam, our ancient father, passed on his radically corrupt sin nature to us.  Our daily lives are affected in ways we fail to comprehend.  Our eternity in hell is secured by it.  Today’s headlines manifest it.  Europe’s mobs attest to it, as do America’s of tomorrow.

In the final analysis, I find satanic irony lying behind the church’s response to our current life setting in the U.S.  At a time when but a match could inflame the chaotic powder keg of national life, the church – which alone has the answer – has forgotten it; worse, it has grown ashamed of the answer, sweeping it beneath the rug.

We are fearful to tell people that they are sinners, to the core; they are radically corrupt.  We are afraid to speak authoritatively on God’s behalf, telling them that ultimate truth is real and that God’s truth declares that His wrath burns against man’s sin.  We are ashamed to point to sin as the culprit behind people’s problems.

Absent the church’s voice of warning, our culture grows inevitably worse.  At the one moment in U.S. history when the gospel alone is powerful to rescue and save, the church has fallen prey to pragmatic business and marketing methods for growth, methods which render calling someone a sinner the greatest mistake imaginable.  Rather than thundering with the voice of the prophets and apostles, “Repent and believe in the gospel,” we have turned our pulpits and churches into venues for self help.  We dole out human-based therapy, having thoroughly bought off on the idea that mankind is basically good and that bad is the mere product of environmentally caused factors.  We treat each other as innocent victims who merely need to be rehabilitated from bad experiences, most of which wasn’t our fault.

We are now a nation of over-indulged victims who have no idea that we are radically corrupt at our root and that we ourselves are to blame for our problems.

I believe God is challenging His church to re-embrace the truth.  Ironically, we carry the worst news imaginable as well as the best news imaginable.  The worst news, obviously, is that we are sinners, totally depraved, set with a collision course for eternal hell.  The best news in human history, however, is that Christ died for sinners.  His death and perfect life alone turn away God’s wrath.  God, who is rich in mercy, is willing to save sinners and to embrace them as adopted children.

The mobs are already forming, I fear.  Each week carries news stories of young thugs who assemble as flash mobs, wreaking havoc born from radical corruption.  Let’s change our churches right now.  For those in leadership positions, stop bowing to the gods of marketing, growth, and tolerance.  Fall before a holy God and renounce your love affair with the world.  Embrace God’s word – all of it.  Preach it, live it, boldly proclaim it.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, Pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church – Tulsa, OK

Beyond Belief – What Lies Behind Today’s Disturbing Headlines?

Many Americans now rely on the Internet as their primary source for news.  Online sites such as the Drudge Report collect headlines from around the nation and world, enabling users to point and click their way into the leading stories of the day.  The following are samples of news headlines from Tuesday, August 9, 2011.

Rioting in London

Police lose control of London's streets for THIRD night...

Rioters rob people on street, force them to strip naked...

Cops: Youth pastor secretly filmed teen girls showering at church...

Obama to scrap testing requirements; too many students failing...

Army approves atheism-themed concert at Fort Bragg...

Philadelphia Implements Strict Curfew To Combat Violent Mobs...

Thieves Lift Six A/C Units Over 6-Foot Fence At Church...


CURSED: S&P falls 6.66%



What in the world is going on?!  People are rioting in the streets in multiple countries around the world.  Mobs of violent teenagers are harnessing social media’s instantaneous messaging capabilities to schedule flash mobs in numerous U.S. cities.  Utopian government programs are failing.  Ridiculous, irresponsible economic policies are being adopted.  Crimes which were unimaginable yesterday are now committed weekly.

It seems that the top has blown off the world’s sanity.  Nothing seems to matter anymore; no one seems to care.  Culture’s basic courtesies and protections are no longer reliable.  As uncertainty grows, so do people’s fears, all of which provokes even more senselessness.  What in the world is going on?

I believe the answer is tied to a fancy-sounding term called post-modernity.  I’ll describe what it is and how we landed in the middle of it in a moment, but let me just say that we now live in a post-modern culture.

If you’re the type who keeps your eye on culture and questions why society moves and shifts in certain directions, then perhaps you have come across this term, post-modern.  Astute cultural observers introduced it a few years ago as a way of saying that Western culture has now moved beyond what we once called modern; it is now post-modern.

A little background might be helpful.  Let’s oversimplify Western culture’s development over the past five hundred years (and by Western culture, I mean primarily European and North American culture).  During that time, we progressed from traditional to modern to post-modern.

The traditional viewpoint regarding life, meaning, and eternity was shaped by the pervasive influence of the Holy Bible.  Its teachings permeated every corner of European civilization in the years following the Protestant Reformation.

Up until then, mankind had been kept largely ignorant, illiterate, ill-informed, and powerless.  The Reformation, however, sparked a revolution that swept through Europe.  The masses were soon educated; they were taught to read.  And thanks to the printing press’ recent invention, scores of books were available.  Scholarship, exploration, and science soared in the aftermath.

The proliferation of the Bible and its cohesive story of the meaning of life, man, and eternity provided a sturdy foundation from which cultures flourished.  People believed in God, and they embraced their role as His creatures.  They read in Scripture that all of life was to be lived to His glory, so they embraced this God honoring path and lived life to the fullest.

They saw meaning in their individual lives and decisions.  Each person held inestimable value, because they bore God’s imprint.  Right and wrong were absolute, because God declared them to be so in Scripture.  Life on earth resonated in eternity, because, as Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment.”

In short, man’s view of life in the traditional era was shaped by the Bible.  He recognized that he was God’s creature and needed, as such, to place his belief in the gospel as the only means to enter heaven.  This was the driving force that swept through Europe.  It was the wind in the sails of the Pilgrims’ Mayflower.  It is the bedrock upon which the United States was founded.  Ultimate meaning was found in God alone.

Gradually, however, Western culture began to shift.  It became, in time, modern.  In spite of the shift, however, mankind’s ultimate goal remained consistent; in other words, he still believed in life beyond death; he believed in God; he believed in mankind’s amazing capacity for growth and advancement; he believed that life holds great meaning; he believed that life on earth resonates in eternity.

Lady leaps to safety in London riot

What changed with modernity was the path to reach heaven; what it takes to achieve ultimate meaning.  As opposed to embracing the literal gospel story, modern man substituted other means for reaching God.  This gave birth to what is called The Enlightenment Period.  Educated man now saw himself differently.  He was no longer ignorant and oppressed.  He was free to think, learn, create, and build.  He observed his great inventions.  He saw the rapid change of the world, as it transformed from ancient to modern before his very eyes.  Vast advances in science, medicine, travel, technology, production, and education prompted man to see himself as his own savior.

Make no mistake, people still thought transcendent thoughts; in other words, they still believed by in large in a higher power (He might or might not be the God of the Bible) and eternity.  They just shifted their view of what it takes to attain the splendor of the afterlife (and many still considered this to be the paradise of heaven).

Modernity’s radical shift essentially lowered God’s status and elevated man’s.  People still believed in God, but He was no longer needed in any real, practical way for everyday life.  Nor was He needed for reaching heaven; Enlightened man was fully capable of forging his own way.  In short, man was in love with man; he was in love with his innate goodness and his ability to reach new heights and solve any world problem.

Then, World War II happened.  Mankind was suddenly forced to acknowledge humanity’s dark side; we were not as pure and pristine as we had thought.  The presence of evil popped up around the globe, whether it was Hitler’s Holocaust, or Stalin’s wholesale slaughter of millions of Russians, or Mao’s atrocious tyranny in China.

Allied troops forced SS officer Eichelsdoerfer, the commandant of the Kaufering IV concentration camp, to stand among the corpses of prisoners killed in his camp

Whereas Western culture had believed it could create its own path to heaven (modernity), it now realized that it could not.  Modernity had built its own ladder to heaven, leaving behind the gospel (tradition) as the only means.  But when mankind’s wickedness kicked the modern ladder away, what died as a result was belief.

Enter post-modernity.  In the aftermath of man’s atrocities in the 20th century, entire cultures lost their belief in transcendence.  God “died” as a result.  Absolute truth – right and wrong – which had been embraced for centuries, was no longer believed.  Heaven and hell, once seen as literal realities, were increasingly seen as myths.  Human beings, once esteemed as God’s precious creatures, were now seen in existentialist ways; in other words, “might makes right”; survival of the fittest explains life; evolution makes sense; the afterlife is a naïve myth for weak people; life doesn’t resonate in eternity, because there is no eternity – here and now is all there is.

These thoughts represent post-modernity…and we are living smack-dab in the middle of it in the U.S. and around the world.  God has been kicked aside, as has any semblance of moral truth taught in the Bible.  Mankind no longer believes in anything…so anything goes.

I contend this is what lies behind today’s troubling news headlines.  Young thugs live packed together in urban jungles where they have never known traditional families and timeless values.  Ultimate meaning eludes them.  They have never seen the fruits of hard work.  They know only darkness and “might makes right.”  With no meaning to cling to, no God to love, and no hope, why wouldn’t they organize into roving bands of violent thugs?

Looting in London riot

Around the world, as one economy after another topples as a direct result of socialist driven economics, why should we be surprised by rioting?  When nations ignore God’s timeless wisdom which says, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10), why should we be surprised that recipients of entitlement programs are now angry that their “cut” of someone else’s tax money is being cut?

We have created selfish, lazy beasts, and they are now hungry!  They rattled their cages for a while; now, they’re racing through the streets, looting businesses and ruthlessly attacking people, and they have no idea why they’re behaving in such manner.  They are responding on impulse, because they never learned that many impulses are sinful (tradition).  Remember, once God was “killed,” His morality and truth died with Him.  Once ultimate meaning and longings for heaven were dashed on the altar of post-modernity, man no longer saw the direct tie between his present behavior and his place in eternity.  With God “dead,” there was no place for His role as Creator anymore; meaning that mankind no longer sees value in those around him.  Just as one beast attacks a weaker one, savage, godless humans follow suit.

What a grim picture I paint!  But this is where we are.  We live in a post-modern world.  I suppose I could accurately substitute the word “godless” for post-modern.  And this brings me to the only ray of hope in this otherwise dreary article.

What has never changed in the midst of the endless cultural changes is that God is alive!  His word is as true today as when He first breathed it.  His power is as matchless today as when He spoke the universe into existence.  Demons still fear Him, kings are still subservient to Him, weather patterns still obey Him, and His gospel is as alive today as the day Christ rose from the dead.

Rather than running in fear, Christ’s followers today should press on with greater intensity than ever with the risen Lord’s final charge: “Go…and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19).  Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16:18, I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

Our powerful Holy Spirit has not faded even a shade.  Our marching orders have not been rescinded.  God’s gospel is powerful unto salvation.  If the Lord can save the savage man within whom the legion of demons dwelt (see Mark 5), He can save anyone!  Our dark, post-modern times desperately need the gospel.  It is their last hope and our only hope for restoring safety and order to a disordered world.

Written by Todd Ragsdale, pastor of Winnetka Heights Baptist Church in Tulsa, OK