Nor by the remission of sins does the Lord only once for all elect and admit us into the Church, but by the same means he preserves and defends us in it. For what would it avail us to receive a pardon of which we were afterwards to have no use? That the mercy of the Lord would be in vain and delusive if only granted once, all the godly can bear witness; for there is none who is not conscious, during his whole life, of many infirmities which stand in need of divine mercy.
John Calvin, 1509-1564, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book III, Chapter 1, 21 (translated by Henry Beveridge, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1973, Volume II, p. 298)
To what extent does God preserve us despite our sin? How should this affect how we live?
It is the job of a shepherd to protect his flock. But he needs to be careful of how he tries to protect them. It is possible, in our effort to protect people, to make them too dependent on the leadership.
The ancient church was besieged by those with contrary teachings. It was also a poor and persecuted church, often made up of uneducated people. How then do you protect them from false teachings? They were told to listen to their bishops. (Bishops then were what pastors are now.) But the false teachers had their leaders too; how do you know which bishop is right? It was pointed out that Jesus had taught the apostles and they, in turn, had taught those after them. Now if someone comes out of nowhere, claiming they have the correct teaching, who are you going to believe, the church descended from the apostles or this upstart? Those who said this were good men trying to protect the flock. And it makes sense, as one principle to consider. But over time it became a magic talisman: the church organization that can trace its descent to the apostles cannot err. This allowed the established church to drift away from the truth without anyone being able to question it. And when the church organization became corrupt, there was no easy way to correct it. It took the Protestant Reformation to break away from this kind of thinking.
It is important to protect people, but the best way to protect them is to help them to understand the issues for themselves. We live in an era that is becoming increasingly hostile to historic Christianity. The idea that we can protect people by somehow insulating them from the world around them is long past. That people should let their leaders do their thinking for them was always wrong but is fast becoming unworkable. There are too many other voices out there that want to influence them. We need to help people understand what we believe and why we believe it. Now there is a danger in this. If we teach people to think, they might not end up not thinking like we do. Now I would much rather someone disagreed with me on the details but understood why they believed what they believed than have anyone agree with everything I held just because I held it. And if teaching someone to think through the basic teachings of the Christian faith causes them to reject those teachings, then those never had that deep a hold on them in the first place. Now I do believe in the importance of good Christian teachers. But the job of a teacher is to pass on what that teacher knows, not hoard it. We should teach people to understand things for themselves and not trust some magic talisman.
Thrice Holy God by Seraphs Adored
by Mike Erich
to the tune of “There Came Upon a Midnight Clear" (Carol)
Thrice holy God by seraphs adored,
What could there be in me?
That could merit Your great love,
That I Your face might see.
My righteous deeds are filthy rags;
I have not one good thing.
By law condemned and self accused,
I’ve no defense to bring.
My works cannot my sin erase
Nor I my guilt allay.
But there is One who bore Your wrath
And took my sin away.
He by His blood has washed me of
All my sin and stain.
In conquering sin, He conquered death,
And I with Him shall reign.
So not by my own righteous deeds,
Though numerous as the sand;
But only Christ’s own righteousness
Can meet Your law’s demand.
I stand clothed in the righteousness
Found only in God’s Son,
And this is Your own righteousness,
For He and You are one.
Now I still sin in thought and deed
And often break Your word.
I do not do the things I wish
But disobey my Lord.
While I am still defiled by sin
My comfort still is this:
I shall conquer death and hell
Though Jesus’ righteousness.
Thrice holy God by seraphs adored,
One day You’ll send Your Son.
Then mourning, sorrow, death and pain
Will be forever done.
Then I shall stand before Your throne,
Whom sin cannot behold,
And be absolved through Jesus’ blood,
More precious than all gold.
(Should anyone wish to use this song, permission is granted, provided it is not altered or sold or performed for monetary gain without the author's prior agreement.)
We live in society saturated in the idea of self-help. We have self-help books to help us do everything from losing weight to being better communicators. There may occasionally be some wisdom in these programs. But this is not what Christianity is. Instead, it is about how to deal with the fact that, at the most basic level, we cannot help ourselves. Scripture says that when we were sinners (Romans 3:23; Isaiah 64:6; Jeremiah 17:9) and unable to help ourselves (John 15:5; Romans 7:14; 8:8), Christ came to rescue us (Romans 5:6-8; Ephesians 2:1-10; Colossians 1:21-23). Therefore, He offers us salvation through faith in Him (Romans 4:4,5; Philippians 3:9; Acts 16:31). But there is a temptation, in the current atmosphere, to turn this into a self-help message. If we just follow the right procedures, we will be a better person.
The problem with self-help methods is that either they seem to work or they do not. If they do not, they can lead to discouragement and constantly looking from one self-help method to another, hoping to find one that really works. This can end up devouring large amounts of time and money and effort, often to end up feeling like a hopeless failure if nothing works. Or if we end up thinking the methods work, then we become proud and complacent. At least until something happens to spoil the illusion or another problem comes up, and then it is back to looking for a new self-help method. And given we are fallen people in a world under a curse, something usually does happen to spoil the illusion. But Scripture teaches us that in the most basic area, there is no way we can help ourselves, but we must trust in the work of another.
For I am convinced that it is only when we are forgiven by God (Romans 8:31:-39; John 3:16-18; Ephesians 1:1-14) and have become His child (Romans 8:14-17; John 1:12,13; 1 Peter 1:3-9), that we can begin to have an honest assessment of ourselves (Romans 12:3; Philippians 3:12-16; Proverbs 28:13). It is only when we see ourselves as we really are that we can see what needs to be done to fix the things that need to be fixed. And it is only then that we can evaluate what things may be useful to fix them. Then we can look at our self-help culture and decide what parts, if any, might actually be useful. But if we start in self-help, we will be mired in frustration.
Praise God with a strong faith; praise him with holy love and delight; praise him with with an entire confidence in Christ; praise him with a believing triumph over the powers of darkness; praise him with an earnest desire towards him and a full satisfaction in him; praise him by a universal respect to all his commands; praise him by a cheerful submission to all his disposals; praise him by rejoicing in his love and solacing yourselves in his great goodness; praise him by promoting the interests of the kingdom of his grace; praise him by a lively hope and expectation of the kingdom of his glory.
Matthew Henry, 1662-1714, Commentary on the Whole Bible, Psalm 150, III, 3 (Fleming H. Revel Company, Vol III, pp. 788-789)
Do our lives reflect praise to God? How should this affect how we live?
Tom pottered about his shop. It was a small shop, and nothing compared to the big combines. And there were those who called him lazy to settle for this, rather than pursuing corporate success. But he preferred it to backstabbing his way up the ladder. The shop supported him and his wife and daughter. Granted, they could only afford one child. But he had managed to put enough away for her higher education. As he looked at her arranging things on the shelves, he thought of what an fine young woman she was becoming
He turned with surprise to see a crowd of young men enter his front door, he estimated about twelve. Some looked vaguely familiar from around the neighborhood, but none were his regular customers.
"Mr. Horace sent us," stated the leader, a square jawed man who looked like he had been working out. Mr. Horace was the director of one of the wealthier nearby combines.
"Mr. Horace has noticed you have a good-looking daughter," continued a second man, squatter and covered with the scars of past fights. "He wants her for his stable."
"You can't take my daughter," sputtered Tom.
A suave looking young man with a silky voice came to the front. "You know how it is," he started. "The strong and powerful can take what they want. It's the law of competition that everyone goes after their own interests.It will all balance out for the best in the end."
"You can't take my daughter," Tom shouted.
They had boxed in Tom's daughter and were reaching for her arm. But there came a scream of "Noooo" from the back room. Tom's wife, like a bolt of lightening, ran at them, kicking and screaming.
It took three burly toughs to subdue her. Then the leader with the square jaw looked her searchingly up and down. "She's a bit old," he remarked, "but not bad. Take her, too."
"You can't take my daughter," yelled Tom, jumping at them with fists flailing. He liked to think he did them some damage, but they were younger and had him far out-numbered. They left him bruised and immobile on the floor. But he still glimpsed them as they hustled out the two women, wide-eyed with fear.
Later, while he was tending his bruises, two of his regular customers walked in. They were part of that strange sect called Christians, but seemed nice enough folks. They listened to his tale of woe and offered to pray for him, but he shooed them out. As they left Tom heard the man say to his wife, "We need to need to get past this idea of everyone for himself. We need to learn to help each other and not just promote ourselves." Tom just turned away and headed back toward his empty living quarters, eyes full of tears.
That night he went for a walk in the rain. As he returned to his shop, he wondered if he could bear to open it tomorrow. As he neared his door, a shadow approached him from behind a lighting device. "I hear you have a problem with Mr. Horace," the shadow whispered.
"Problem?" raged Tom, "I'd like to ring his neck and all his crew with him."
"Then maybe we can help each other," replied the shadow. "I am with Mr. Stanley, and we also have reason to dislike Mr. Horace. We are looking for some capable men like you, who are willing to do him some serious harm and maybe take back what he stole. Are you in?"
Community is a good thing. It is something Christians should work to produce. But by making community our chief end, we can end up sabotaging our goal. If we work for a perfect community, we can end up critical of every imperfection. We can also end up trying to fix people to fit in with our views of an ideal concept of how we should relate. We can blame people in charge for not fixing things so they work our way. And in the end, we can bring about the quarrels and dissensions that tear people apart and drive them away. But if we obey God (Romans 12:1,2; Titus 2:11-14; Galatians 6:9,10) and act in love for one another (Matthew 22:35-40; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13,14), we will have community. It may be imperfect and rough around the edges, but it will be real. And that is better than destroying the very thing we are trying to give birth to.
Is the United States a Christian nation? And was it ever? Now the only nation that is ever put forth in Scripture as chosen by God is the nation of Israel (Genesis 12:1-3; Isaiah 41:8-16; Romans 9:3-5). But I do believe there is a future in store for Israel (Romans 11:25-27; Zechariah 12:10; Ezekiel 39:25-29), but right now God is at work calling out a people from every nation, and none can claim the priority (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 1:8; Revelation 7:9).
Nor can we claim to have an established religion, as our constitution forbids the establishment of religion. But the claim is made that our nation is based on Christian principles. Is this true? One of the questions that arises out of this is, were the Founding Father's Christians or Deists? The answer to this is yes; some were Christians, some were Deists, and some were at various places in between. But Deism is just watered down Christianity, and if we trace back the idea of democratic government, we find it traces back to the English Puritans and that it was later adopted on more secular grounds. This makes sense, as this form of political system fits with the broader Reformed approach to church government. This, in turn, traces back to the Protestant principles that every person can approach God directly without any mediator except Christ and can interpret Scripture for themselves. Now there had been some experiments in democratic government before the Reformation, but it was the adopting of this form of government by the Reformed branch of the Protestant church that changed it from an interesting experiment to a movement. The reason was that democracy was not yet a principle that people were willing to fight or die for. But they would fight or die for the truth of God. Later, the idea was adopted by secular people, who made it an end in itself.
What I would conclude is this. There may be a basis here for a detailed, well-thought out argument which shows that our current liberties ultimately stem from a Christian worldview. We can ask, for instance, how we can believe all men are created equal without a Creator. But the argument needs to be made and may seem foreign to the hearers. However, as a simple appeal it falls flat. And we really need to recognize that we now are Christians in a Non-Christian society and approach this accordingly. I do not at all mean we should lose heart. But I do mean we need to let go of the past and rebuild from there. And while I do not want to limit the power of God, I believe we need to be prepared for the long haul of convincing people one individual at a time of God's truth. But we cannot expect to convince anyone but ourselves by the simple appeal to the United States as a Christian nation.
For who is "drawn," if he was already willing? And yet no man comes unless he is willing. Therefore he is drawn in wondrous ways to will, by Him who knows how to work in the very hearts of men. Not that men who are unwilling should believe, which cannot be, but that they should be made willing from being unwilling.
Augustine of Hippo, 345-430 AD, Against Two Letters of the Pelagians, Book I, Chapter 37 (Saint Augustin's Anti-Pelagian Works, translated by Peter Holmes and Rev. Robert Ernest Wallis, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, First Series, Volume V, Philip Schaff, T & T Clark and Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997, p. 389)
How important is God's work in the heart to someone's coming to Christ? How should this affect our approach to sharing Christ with people?
Some atheists claim believing in God is like believing in Santa Claus or leprechauns. The claim is that science has disproved such things. The truth is that science does not really address the issue. Now I have clear empirical evidence that Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy do not exist. I stayed and saw my parents putting out presents, and they admitted to the rest of it. What does this have to do with the existence of God, where there is no such proof?
There have always been claims by people to have mysterious encounters with unusual beings. The present versions are UFOs, Big Foot, ghosts, and the Loch Ness monster. I am skeptical of such things because the evidence is scattered and anecdotal. However, were there clear enough evidence to support them, I would be forced to believe in them. Now once we get beyond the modern, cutesy, obviously fictitious version, leprechauns, elves, and fairies are simply earlier versions of the same thing. People claimed to have run into mysterious beings on rare occasions. Now science does not really say anything about the existence of such beings. They might even be capable of some form of naturalistic explanation. The problems with them are the same as those with the modern ones. There is the added problem that people do not seem to run into them as much anymore. But the evaluation of their existence needs to be based on the evidence. It is difficult to see what this has to do with the existence of the God that Christians believe in. He is a God who has given detailed revelation to people and even became a man in the full light of history. Such claims may be doubted, but it is hard to see what they have to do with UFOs and elves.
Others invent ideas like the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn to ridicule the existence of God. Now no one really worships the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Invisible Pink Unicorn. And it is always easy to come up with a ridiculous caricature to use to make fun of something. But these are a response to those who put their major emphasis on proving God's existence. The idea is, if all you prove is God's existence, you do not necessarily know what kind of God it is. But if you have reason to believe there is a God, the logical place to look for Him is in the places where it is claimed He has revealed Himself. But it means studying these without the attitude of simply dismissing the evidence out of hand if it includes the supernatural.
But ultimately this is nothing but a red-herring. Just because counterfeit bills exist does not mean real money does not exist. Just because there are supernatural beings who clearly do not exist does not mean God does not exist. We need in all cases to look at the evidence.
There are various practices, such as spiritual mapping, which attempt to identify the demonic forces in particular areas and to pray against them. I have mixed feelings on this. Now I am totally in favor of concentrated and specific prayer and think it is a good thing whatever form it takes (Ephesians 6:18-20; Philippians 4:6,7; 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18). But this practice is based on the vaguest passing mentions in Scripture (Daniel 10:13). It also can easily become a gimmick to try to shortcut the often difficult process of actually reaching out to and praying for our neighbors. And it seems questionable to me that the Christian church has had to wait nearly 2000 years to finally figure out the right way to evangelize. Therefore, while I would encourage prayer, we should avoid letting any practice become a gimmick.
Psychology is a legitimate field of study. There are real sicknesses that affect the mind, and we need to know how to understand and treat them. But it is also a discipline which is still in its infancy. There are a variety of theories, and no one has satisfactorily proven which is the true one. This makes easy to read in one's own biases. And I have done enough introspection and counseling of others to know how easy it is to get lost in the depths of the mind. The most recent claim is that psychological illness is the result of an imbalance of the biochemicals in the brain. But whether this is the answer or is simply treating symptoms remains to be seen.
This leaves people open to the allure of mysterious, esoteric procedures that look for deep, hidden solutions that are not obvious from a straightforward approach.There is something intoxicating about believing there is some deep, hidden truth that ordinary people do not understand. I am convinced that such secrets are simply wrong and that the pursuit of them is a frequently dangerous indulgence. And psychology, and particularly psychoanalysis, in its original form is rife with them.
Freud claimed that our deepest motivation was the desire for sex. He claimed that our dreams and fantasies are really sexual desires in disguise and that psychological illness comes from the failure to properly channel our sexual desires. The idea is that I am so shocked by my sexual desires that I repress them and they reappear in my conscious mind in symbolic form. This may have made sense in 19th century Vienna, but it makes no sense at all in 21st century United States. We live in a culture where overt sexual material is readily available from a number of sources. We should not have dreams anymore. Nor does this seem to have eliminated all psychological illness. Now I realize it was infantile sexual desires, such as for our own mother, that Freud thought really shocking. But I question that even that would have the required shock value in our current society. Since I have been old enough to do so, I have fought off fully conscious sexual images in living color. But at the same time I also loved science fiction and fantasy, which according to Freud is just sexual desire in disguise. And whence comes this super-ego that is so shocked by sex that it has to repress it? If unfettered sexual desire is the normal thing, where does the shock come from?
Now Freudianism is one of the chief justifications for opposing all forms of sexual restraint. It has also, by adding a cryptic psychological significance to sex, produced an esoteric attraction beyond the normal human desire. While I certainly would not base the whole sexual revolution on it, it is a very useful piece of propaganda. And if we are to return to some idea of sexual restraint, it is a thing that must be jettisoned.
Now if I should rush in and abolish it (Luther is speaking of the Catholic Mass) by force, there are many who would be compelled to consent to it and yet not know where they stand, whether it is right or wrong, and they would say: I do not know if it is right or wrong, I do not know where I stand, I was compelled by force to submit to the will of the majority. And this forcing and commanding results in a mere mockery, an external show, a fool's play, man-made ordinances, sham-saints, and hypocrites. For where the heart is not good, I care nothing at all for the work. We must first win the hearts of the people.
Martin Luther, 1483-1546, Sermons, Eight Sermons at Wittenberg, 1522, Second Sermon, March 10, 1522 (Luther's Works, Volume 51, edited and translated by John W. Doberstein, Muhlenberg Press, 1959, p. 76)
Are there things we as Christians today must be careful not to impose by force? How do we recognize them?
Dan 1264 rose up with the morning claxton. He removed the sparse traces of hair from his young face and made sure his hair was regulation length and properly arranged. He knew from hard experience that any unnecessary individuality would be swiftly punished.
As he poured out with the other students to the parade field for roll call, he accidentally passed too close to Alex 4819. He had to work hard not to stare, as her standard issue coverall had begun to fill out in ways he found hard not to notice. But he managed to fall in with less unnerving company as they assembled before the main building, where the state motto, "All Persons Are Constituted Equal," was emblazoned in stone.
After the standard patriotic ceremonies, the principal rose from her seat with a scowl on her face. "Jon 7429, Bert 3021 and Alex 4819, front and center," she snapped.
She started with Jon 7429, "Young person, the equations on your math paper are two levels above your age, in violation of the principle of equality. Can you explain that?"
"I was trying to impress Alex 4819," he sputtered. "Bert was showing off how strong he was, and I wanted to show I could do something."
The principal turned to Bert, "Is this true?"
"Y-y-yes, principal," he stammered.
"Did you encourage this?" barked the principal at Alex.
"N-n-no, principal," she denied.
"Jon and Bert, you are sentenced to two months of reeducation," stated the principal. "As for Alex, I will take your word for it this time, but if I find out you encourage this type of behavior, you are in serious trouble." It was not said, but neither of these young men would ever be able to form any kind of sanctioned union with Alex 4819. And Dan wondered if Alex had any chance of growing up without getting in serious trouble.
Dan was glad the first class was history. When he was drowsy, he had a hard time maintaining equality in mathematics. They were learning of the evil Imperialistic Period when the Europeans conquered the world in the name of something called "Christianity." He was not sure what this was, except that it held to the superiority of some people, especially Europeans, over others. But while he was convinced these people were evil, he wondered what it would be like to get on a ship and sail to where no one had been before. He also wondered what it would be like to believe in something so strongly you were willing to fight and die for it. His own life seemed drab by comparison.
After morning classes he hurried to meet Paul 4389 in their usual place. He had known Paul since childhood and considered her a special friend. She did not have the maturity of Alex 4819, but she was easy to talk to. He had even wondered if they might contract some kind of sanctioned union when they were older. But he dared not mention such a thing for fear of getting in trouble.
As he approached, he saw Paul 4389, but she was flanked by two teachers. "It has come to our attention," said the foremost teacher, "that you and Paul 4389 have been spending an unhealthy amount of time together."
"I'm sorry, Dan," whimpered Paul 4389, "but I had to tell them."
Six months later Dan 1264 studiously avoided Paul 4389. That was over, anyway. He was sure he was a better citizen and a better person for having undergone reeducation. So why did he feel like something valuable had been taken from him?
What should we think of heresy and heresy hunting? It is a question that leads to extremes. There are those so consumed with finding heresy that they make points of minor issues or even see issues where none exist. But there are people who cry "heresy hunter" if anyone disagrees with their opinions. The word "heresy" originally referred to a school, sect, or opinion. It was used of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Acts 5:17; 15:5; 26:5). It was also used by outsiders to describe Christianity (Acts 24:5,14; 28:22). But it was used in the New Testament (2 Peter 2:1; Titus 3:10; 1 Corinthians 11:19; Galatians 5:20), and much more after the New Testament, to refer to those who substantially differed from accepted Christian teaching. (Needless to say, there has been disagreement on what has been accepted Christian teaching.) But over time the word has acquired an enormous amount of baggage. There are those who oppose its use and feel anyone who uses it must be a narrow-minded, suspicious nitpicker. There are others who feel that if you refuse to use the word, you are a person who refuses to stand up for any Christian principles. It does not help that there are real people who seem to fit these stereotypes.
Sometimes, in dealing with highly freighted words, it is best to start with the thing itself. The Bible states that there is a definite Christian truth that is to be proclaimed (John 14:6; 8:32; Galatians 3:1). If this is not so, if we have no message, then we should stay home on Sunday and sleep in. But the Bible also says that those who correct people should do so with love and gentleness (2 Timothy 2:24-26; Ephesians 4:15; Jude 22,23). We should also look for those teachings the Scripture emphasizes as crucial (Galatians 1:8,9; Acts 4:12; Isaiah 43:10-13). Now it does not help here that there is commonly confusion over the meanings of words, so people misunderstand each other. Also, it would be naive to conclude there are not those who deliberately tell people what they think they want to hear (2 Timothy 4:3,4; Romans 16:18; 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). But charity requires us to not jump to conclusions about people and their motives too quickly (Exodus 20:16; Proverbs 18:19; Deuteronomy 25:1).
Now I do not oppose the use of the word "heresy," but suggest it be used advisedly. It is often better to calmly discuss the issues involved, whether small or large. If you want to impress on someone the seriousness of the issue involved, it is often better to paraphrase. If it is used, it should be reserved for major differences, not incidental matters. Perhaps the same degree of discretion should be used in calling someone a "heresy hunter". It is better to discuss matters of substance than fight over names.
When modern sociologists talk of the necessity of accommodating one's self to the trend of the time, they forget that the trend of the time at its best consists entirely of people who will not accommodate themselves to anything. At its worst it consists of many millions of frightened creatures all accommodating themselves to a trend that is not there.
G. K. Chesterton, 1874-1936, Heretics, Chapter 8, The Mildness of the Yellow Press, (Barnes & Noble, 2007, p. 62)
Is it true that trends are made by those who do not follow trends? How should we respond to this?
There are different approaches to spirituality and the worship of God.
1. There are those who moved by elaborate approaches and historical continuity. They feel it is worthwhile to do rituals that stretch back to the early days of the church, and they like what is said and done to be detailed and thought out. They appreciate God's greatness and holiness and believe they need to approach Him carefully. But they can become caught up in the details and believe that God will reject them or others if they do not do things exactly right. They can come up with detailed doctrinal confessions which emphasize and enforce many secondary items.
2. There are others who emphasize common sense. They do not want any of this nonsense of extreme ritual or extreme emotion, but test things based on whether they make sense. Their no-nonsense approach can protect them from pitfalls and help them to get things done on a practical level. But this can also result in throwing out valuable things that do not make sense to them. They can end up being known mainly for the things they do not do and enforcing strict practical rules to promote order.
3. There are those who emphasize the necessity of a deep personal experience of God and are opposed to going through the motions or worrying about what others think. They tend to emphasize the real joy of knowing God and see following Christ as a celebration. But the problem is that they can end up seeking stronger and stronger experiences, which can lead them to extremes. They may also end up looking down on others who do not have the same experiences they do.
4. There are those who emphasize informal relationships. They see God primarily as their friend and emphasize close personal ties to other believers. This view can avoid the extremes and pretentiousness of the other views. It can avoid stiff formality and promote honest relationships.But it can lead to a fairly shallow understanding of Christianity, which can be bowled over by adversity or the bad behavior of part of the group. And in encouraging people to be themselves, it can lead them to allow free rein to their questionable impulses.
I am convinced that these viewpoints come together in the cross, where we learn that God is holy but also loves us. It is there we find that there is real evil in the world, but also cause for rejoicing because it has been overcome by what Christ has done. And it is there we learn we are part of an assembly of people that goes down through history but includes the people we know, people who are not perfect, but who are forgiven and have God at work in their lives.
I am convinced that all four perspectives have something valuable to contribute, but we will not find the perfect balance between them in this life. But we can all profit from gaining a clearer understanding of all the different approaches.