Saturday, March 28, 2009

Faith Building

"Faith is not built by preaching introspectively (constantly challenging whether they have faith); faith is not built by preaching moralistically (which has exactly the opposite effect of focusing attention on the self rather than on Christ, in whom our faith is placed); faith is not built by joining the culture wars and taking potshots at what is wrong with our culture. Faith is built by careful, thorough exposition of the person, character, and work of Christ."

"The pulpit is the place to declare the fitness of Christ's person, and that adequacy of both his humiliated and exalted work for sinners."

T. David Gordon, Why Johnny Can't Preach, p.75-76; 91.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Lord is My Shepherd

This is another Dueling Duo:

I wonder if those who are critical of Young's fictional description of divinity have ever contemplated that one of the Psalm-writers used a similar literary method when he wrote, "The Lord is my shepherd …"

Did Psalm 23 collect critics when it was released? Was anyone offended when Israel's God was portrayed as a shepherd?

If I've got it right, shepherds in ancient times were not the clean, pacific, romantic figures that we cast in our Christmas pageants. As I understand it, shepherds in ancient times were, more often than not, skuzzy, unkempt people that one might prefer to avoid. My perception is that most shepherds did not own their sheep but were merely hirelings (temps, if you please) who did the messy work of flock-tending for sheep-owners who probably lived in town. Bottom line: shepherds lived on the underside of society.

So how does one convey to ancient people the splendor of a redeeming God who is good, gracious, caring, and patient to a fault? How does one describe a God who is not aloof, not capricious, and not cruel or vindictive as most ancient divinities were perceived to be? In short, how does one celebrate a God who is ever-present, always guiding, constantly nurturing and restoring? (source)


[Y]ou've heard sermons suggesting the Twenty-third Psalm is in some way "about" God's being a shepherd. This view is actually fairly wrongheaded. Shepherd is obviously a figure of speech, and as with other such figures, we should attempt to understand it as its own culture did. In the ancient Near Eastern culture, monarchs were commonly referred to by this image of a shepherd, and ancient Israel was no exception. But the Twenty-third Psalm is not an agricultural psalm; it is a royal psalm, and it begins with a profound irony: King David, Israel's "shepherd," acknowledges that Yahweh is his shepherd, his king. The psalm goes on to demonstrate that just as Israel's royal shepherd celebrates and rests in God's royal reign, so Israel should trust in the royal Yahweh also (Why Johnny Can't Preach, p. 47-48).

There are three things that strike me as rather wrong headed about Gordon MacDonald's argument in the first quote.

First, MacDonald fails to acknowledge the real critique some have against Young's work. MacDonald acknowledges "a sense of shock when I realized in the course of my reading that Young had chosen to portray God our Father as an absolutely enchanting, powerfully-mothering, African-American woman" but then describes how the story has drawn him in and was powerful. He then argues that the Psalmist used pictures (cf. Psalm 23) and so can modern day writers. While I am not going to evaluate the theological and literary quality of the Shack. I would simple point out for most critiques the issue isn't the use of images its when the images point to a picture that is unlike the Biblical picture. MacDonald defends the uses of literary imagery and pictures to describe God--no one would deny such things in the Biblical text. The issue is: do our modern descriptions run contrary to the text or not? One can portray God as compassionate, patient and gracious [attributes God has] with a whole host of literary images some of them Biblical, others unbiblical. One should not get lauded for highlighting biblical attributes of God when one has used unbiblical images or added unbiblical attributes to make such a point, no matter how great one's literary skills. MacDonald seems to completely miss the contentions of Young's critics [at least the articulately written ones] and so his argument falls flat.

Second, pointing to Psalm 23 and saying "David was a contrarian so what's wrong with Young doing it?" strikes me as more than a bit immature. Modern writers are hardly writing under the hand of the Holy Spirit as the writers of Scripture. The Word of God is contrary to the natural bent of man's heart, we should expect that. Someone may be a contrarian and push the limits and 'think out of the box' all they want but the real test of what they said is the Word of God. There is a difference between being provacative because you've stuck fast to Scripture and being provacative because you've been theologically inovative leaping away from the pages of Scripture. I am not making a critique of the Shack as a pro or con here but rather MacDonald's defense lacks some clear thinking. It amounts to "David did it so can we."

This brings us to our third contention: was David's imagery really as provacative has MacDonald would have us believe? The issue I was trying to get at with juxapossing the two quotes is that MacDonald does not even get the point of Psalm 23 right. His argument is that people might have got offended that God was portrayed as a shepherd because "shepherds in ancient times were, more often than not, skuzzy, unkempt people that one might prefer to avoid". But if you realize the royal imagery associated with a Shepherd the Psalm would have been hardly as offensive in its Ancient Near Eastern content as we are led to believe. The second quote is part of a larger argument complete alien to anything MacDonald said. However, the snippet provided illustrates that the imagery of a Shepherd to describe God would hardly be as offensive in the ANE as MacDonald would have us believe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Josiah and Pharoah Neco

(ESV) 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh Neco king of Egypt went up to the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates. King Josiah went to meet him, and Pharaoh Neco killed him at Megiddo, as soon as he saw him.

Notice the difference between our text here and some of the older translations of this passage:

KJV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

Darby Bible 1884/1890 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-Nechoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; but Nechoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

Douay-Rheims 1899 American Edition 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharao Nechao king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josias went to meet him: and was slain at Mageddo, when he had seen him.

Geneva Bible 1599. 2 Kings 23:29 In his dayes Pharaoh Nechoh King of Egypt went vp against the King of Asshur to the riuer Perath. And King Iosiah went against him, whome when Pharaoh sawe, he slewe him at Megiddo. [sic]

Jewish Publication Society 1917 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates; and king Josiah went against him; and he slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.

ASV 2 Kings 23:29 In his days Pharaoh-necoh king of Egypt went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates: and king Josiah went against him; and Pharaoh-necoh slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.
Here is the Hebrew phrase "בְּיָמָיו עָלָה פַרְעֹה נְכֹה מֶלֶךְ-מִצְרַיִם, עַל-מֶלֶךְ אַשּׁוּר". Translated roughly it reads "In his [Josiah's] days, Pharoah Neco King of Egypt went up to the King of Assyria." The issue is how to translate the preposition 'עַל'"to". In the context of a battle it can often mean 'against'. So it might read 'Pharoah went up [עָלָה] against the King of Assyria.' This would be to attack or fight against. It is a possible translation. Or it could mean that they are going up to fight in at the aid of the Assyrian king.

For a long time it was assumed that the best traslation was "against". The events of this battle take place around the fall of the Assyrian Empire as she was being rooted out by the ascending Babylonian dynasty founded by Nabopolassar. The Assyrian city of Ashur fell in 614 BC and Niveveh in 612 BC. This caused the last Assyrian king to flea to the west and set up his government at the city of Harran. The Assyrians were crushed in Harran in 609 BC.

It is at this point that Pharoah Neco sends his troops in 609 BC to aid the Assyrians and King Josiah sets up his armies in Meggido to thwart the Pharoah. Thus, Pharoah goes to aid the Assyrian king and not fight against him. Josiah's actions cost him his life but did delay the Egyptian who did not reach the Assyrians until the city had fallen. This lead to a four year stand off in Charchemish.

Our translation was not aided until the discovery of the Babylonian Chronicles which records the events of the fall of the Assyrians and the aid that Pharoah Neco gave to the Assyrians. It is clear that the translation 'against' is a mistranslation. The KJV and older translations are wrong. It should properly be translated "to" indicating the aid Pharoah Neco sought to give. This is of course the way that all contemporary translations render the passage.

Peoples of the Old Testament World. (Baker Books, 1994) p.61

K.A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament, (Eerdmans, 2003). p.43.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary Vol 4. p. 289.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

St. Augustine on Blogging

"...For I am the sort of man who writes because he has made progress, and who makes progress--by writing." --St. Augustine. (Ep. 143, 2 and 3; qtd. Peter Brown Augustine of Hippo, p.354)

Ok, so Augustine is not for or against 'blogging' per se. But I do think there is wisdom to what he say about writing. It should go without saying that his writing was that of substance, rhetorical and reasoned. It was impassioned. It was both doctrinal and devotional. It was neither fluff or the stuff of superficial technicalities. Too much writing today (especially in the blogdom) is about is either chatty or catty. It is either cranky or lanky. The only writing that will make progress is going to need to be thought out and articulate. The only writting that will catch must be imbided with deep flames that bring heat and light. I, like Augustine, though, find that if I give my thoughts substance rather than just spewing them out in raw form, then I make progress. There is something refreshing about going somewhere both in terms of the flow of thought from my pen and in terms of the thoughts that flow from my soul.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Ephesians 5:10: Judge your Steps

Walking in the light is doing what is pleasing to the Lord.
Ephesians 5:10 10 trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

The word “trying” means to test, examine, approve. While ethics are defined by the Bible and they are black and white, often times considering how to act in a certain situation takes wisdom. Without consideration the answer may not appear to us to be black and white. Part of walking in the light means weighing our options in a moral decision. Consider the implications of your action, consider outcome and effects of your action. The word ‘what is pleasing’ ‘what God approves’ ‘euva,reston’. It is used in Romans 12:1:
Romans 12:1-2 1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove [same verb]what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Walking in the light may mean that before you decide on a course of action: you put it to the test! –Does this violate a clear command?; Does is violate a principle? Is it wise? What will it say about my Christian character? What will be in the impact on my heart? Will it increase desire to sin? Will it increase desire to be like Jesus?

I believe this process works like a funnel. You start with the broadest category: does it violate a command? Then work to the narrowest category, for example: you may lastly want to ask "what is my calling" or "where has God given me a passion". The reality is that God's commands are black and white. Our applications of the commands may at times fall into gray areas. But as the Lord causes us to grow in sanctification and in wisdom I believe those gray areas become less and less. Growth in godliness does not increase the 'gray' area in the applications of moral principles to ethical decisions, it decreases. You see the Word of God is clear but often my heart is the one that is shady and covered in a layer of filth that blocks the light. Growth in these areas enables me to see the light and walk in the light.

Friday, March 20, 2009

What about God?

Edward Current is a Youtube user who posts videos announcing his hatred towards God. His videos are chalked full of sarcasm that ridicules and mocks people who actually believe in a God. One of his videos is entitled "What if God disappeared?"

A friend of mine has posted his own video response to Current's arguments.

What we'd like to ask you is go to the video and rate it. We'd like to get as many people as possible seeing the response.

Go here to vote for the video. You can help us by spreading the video through your blog too.

Ephesians 5:11-12: Exposing Sin

Walking in the light means spotting evil.
Ephesians 5:11-12 11 Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; 12 for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret.

The commands are clear: walking in the light means wickedness and sin must be put off. Notice deeds of darkness are “unfruitful”—They are not in producing the good and pure fruit of true Christian transformation.

Paul has said such wickedness should not be ‘named’ among us. We are to expose it. Do not talk about sin—do not gossip, do not reveal in dirty juice about it. How often to Christians say they avoid certain sins but they soak up the stories about them—we sit in the putrid juices of wickedness. “I didn’t do anything”. We must expose wickedness. This doesn’t mean with gossip or become a tattler. But as we have opportunity we must call evil evil. Consider above: church discipline; or exposing false belief. Warning rebuking (2 Tim. 3:16-4:5)

Christians should expose wickedness because God will one day expose wickedness. That sin you do in secret, that no one knows—God’s judgment will bring it to light. God will shine a perfect light on sin. In that day, the evil doers will scatter light cockroaches. Wickedness cannot stand light! We are to walk in such a way that our light exposes wickedness.

Exposing wickedness does not mean we must become a sort of 'holier-than-thou' type in our attitude. It also does not mean we become a divine tattle-tailer. I also think Paul does envision us sitting in our basements blogging about who is doing what vile deed of wickedness this week. It does however mean that we call evil what it is. We should be clear in pointing out sin. In fact, in a day and age where ethical ambiguity abounds being the light and walking in the light means we should be zealous at pointing out those things which are contrary to God's law and Biblical principles. Often times pointing out sin does not mean finger waging but comely standing and saying "I will not do that" "I will not go there" because it is wrong.

Moral ambiguity abounds. No one denies that we face a whole range of issues in our culture that our complex. We face ethical issues that even two hundred years ago would have been technological unimmaginable and so we have complex factors to weigh. However, this should not stop us from being the light. The light of Christians anchored on Biblical prescriptions and principles needs to shine more brighly. It is time we wake up! Evangelical Christians have been sleeping far too long! We have been lured by the dreams of every cause under the sun and so we fail even today to stand for the gospel and stand in obedience.

(1) What areas in my life must I recover to the light? (2) Where do I delight in evil deeds? (3) Where can I take a stand up? (4) If the Lord was to return today, what deeds would he expose in my life? Do not be satisfied with where you are. Consider the cross of Christ: he has died to awaken you so that light may shine in your life and walk.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

No More Groupies!

Christianity Today has reported on a concerning ruling in California by the U.S. Court of Appeals 9th Circuit.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled yesterday that a California law school could lawfully bar the school's Christian Legal Society from being recognized as a student group for requiring its members to sign a statement of faith. The ruling could set a precedent for the way Christian organizations can or cannot retain their distinct religious beliefs at public colleges with nondiscrimination policies.
You can go to Christianity Today's site and read a portion of the argument the Christian Legal Society made. I would like to point out the actual ruling the court made:

The parties stipulate that Hastings imposes an open membership rule on all student groups — all groups must accept all comers as voting members even if those individuals disagree with the mission of the group. The conditions on recognition are therefore viewpoint neutral and reasonable.
Of course, I am not a lawyer so I am untrained to read such incredibly complex legal-eeze. But according to the words, I can establish a group and say "The mission of my group is X" but then I have to allow everyone to join my group even when they do not agree with the mission of the group. So I cannot impose membership requirements and restrict access to people who might have ideas utterly alien and hostile to what my group seeks to accomplish. Thus, when I accept everybody, they might out vote me on the purpose of the group and utterly redefine the mission of the group.

I know this is very complex and tough so let me use an example. I could start a Star Trek Club. Our mission statement could be: "To promote the good of Star Trek and its philosophies". But I have to let everyone in--including those evil Star Wars fans who find Star Trek utterly reprehensibly and morally suspect. In fact, to be fair and open I cannot say anything such as "Members shall not bad mouth Star Trek" or "Members shall uphold the ideals of Star Trek in all realms of society, in belief and practice." So any old Star Wars hack must be allowed to enter my group. They must be allowed to proffer their views. They must be allowed to disagree with the ideals upon which the group was founded. In fact, I cannot even say "Because we are promoting Star Trek, members of the group must live as faithful Trekkies" and then define with any concreteness what a Trekkie does, how he acts. I cannot impose stipulations, such as membership removal for those who do not act like good Trekkies. To say those who hate Star Trek are not welcome in my group is now discrimination.

Again, I'm no legal scholar but the whole purpose of a group is to distinguish yourself from a larger society. The whole purpose of a group is to band together with shared common ideals and distinguish yourself from those who do not share your ideals. It isn't mean or hostile to say "We are united for this cause and if you do not agree with us do not unite with us."

I am all for non-discrimination rightly understood but defining your group and your group's mission means that you will have to distinguish. A group ceases to be a group if it can't delineate those who are different from their ideals and respectfully and civilly say: 'you are not in keeping with our goal and mission'. Even the California Bar has standards for admissions and ethical standards to maintain membership.

Again, I'm no lawyer but this strikes me as Sociology 101. A group has to be able to define it's position. A group has the right to be able to define itself and its standards. A group should be allowed to say up front that if you do not agree with a certain set of standards, you really cannot unite with the group. To think otherwise makes such groups and uniting to groups a sham.

The next question: will this standard be fairly applied to all groups? The Christian Legal Society suggests that the policy is already being applied discriminatory in terms of who is and is not allowed to have group standards. The reality is that as the Christian Legal Society tried to argue Hastings does not impose an open membership on all groups:
Hastings allows other registered student organizations to require that their leaders and/or members agree with the organization’s beliefs and purposes. . . . Outlaw [a pro-gay rights group] is free to remove officers if they fail to support the organization's pro-gay rights purpose; Silenced Right: National Alliance Pro-Life Group may require its members to support its pro-life purposes; . . . Hastings’ nondiscrimination policy is viewpoint discriminatory, as it allows a vegetarian club to require that officers and members not eat meat, but prohibits an Orthodox Jewish group for requiring its officers and members to abstain from pork for religious reasons.

I guess all groups are not created equal.

(HT: R. Scott Clark)

What's So Different?

Denny Burk has linked to this report from Brian McLaren's visit to Louisville. According to the report:
But McLaren said old forms of presenting religion -- by proclaiming one's own as true and everyone else's as false -- no longer resonate today.
"You bring more credibility to Christian faith by appreciating your Buddhist neighbor than by critiquing him," McLaren proclaimed. "It's a very, very different world, and a lot of people don't understand it."
The article ends:
"It is not a faith that takes sides," [Diana Butler Bass] said. "It is just loving God and loving neighbor. … It forms new communities. It sets new tables. It calls people who had nothing to do with each other to sit at table together and break bread."
Dr. Burk is write to conclude:
Both McLaren and Butler Bass are clearly chaffing against any notion of exclusivism—the belief that salvation only comes to those who have conscious faith in Jesus Christ. Moreover, they are both clearly contending against any form of evangelism that relies on an exclusivist evangel. Instead, they reduce Christianity and its mission to social justice causes.

Make no mistake. This is old liberalism reincarnated, and it’s just as dangerous and as irrelevant as ever.

Here's my question: at what point in human history did proclaiming "one's own as true and everyone else's as false" ever resonate with people? Certainly not even in Jesus' day. He promised that because people hated him they would hate his loyal disciples. Proclaiming to be the Son of God and the only way of salvation was a message rejected by His own people. In the earliest centuries of the Christian church, believers were known as atheist precisely because they despised the gods and said that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were the only God. They believed that salvation was found in Christ along. The reality is that in 2,000 years of church history such a 'strong' stance has rarely ever truly resonated with the masses. It was precisely the exclusive beliefs of Christianity that made it so centered on loving others. Tim Keller writes:
The Greco-Roman world's religious views were open and seemingly tolerant--everyone had his or her own God. The practices of the culture were quite brutal, however. The Greco-Roman world was highly stratified economically, with a huge distance between the rich and poor. By contrast, Christians insisted that there was only one true God, the dying Savior Jesus Christ. Their lives and practices were, however, remarkably welcoming to to those that the culture marginalized. The early Christians mixed people from different races and classes in ways that seemed scandalous to those around them. The Greco-Roman world tended to despise the poor, but Christians gave generously not only to their own poor but to those of other faiths. In broader society, women had very low status, being subjected to high levels of female infanticide, forced marriages, and lack of economic equality. Christianity afforded women much greater security and equality than had previously existed in the ancient classical world. During the terrible urban plagues of the first two centuries, Christians cared for all the sick and dying in the city, often at the cost of their lives.

Why would such an exclusive belief system lead to behavior that was so open to others? It was because Christians had within their belief system the strongest possible resource for practicing sacrificial service, generosity, and peace-making. (The Reason for God, p. 20)
History has shown that the relationship between inclusive love and exclusive belief has by and large been connected. Critics would have us believe that they are inverse: when one is up the other is down. And so we are told if we want to be more loving we must be less exclusive in our beliefs that Christ is the only way. This may be true if one defines love according to the flimsy notions of modern 'tolerance'. However, history has shown that when the church has thrived in its understanding of grace (including its exclusivity in Christ) the church has further thrived in love. When the church has lessened the exclusivity of Christ in one generation it has invariably lost its love and service in the next.

This should serve as a warning for us. Many who are rejecting the exclusive claims of Christ in this generation still seek to persevere in love--yet it is doubtful that this trait can be truly passed on to the next generation. Why? Let us suggest that the root cause is selfishness and self-idolatry. When we allow ourselves to define the beliefs of Christianity and we rule that we might include alternate faiths, suddenly we seek to become masters of the faith rather than being mastered by it. No doubt this attitude is capped and covered in the guise of humility but it is not true humility before God. However, when we allow God in Christ and the Bible to define the Christian faith in exclusive terms, we realize we have no right to such forgiveness and redemption. We realize that in all things we are just loyal bond servants bought by the blood of Christ. This increases our desire for self denial. Where Christ is exclusive, Christians will exclusively take up their cross and follow him. This breeds sacrificial love and generosity that spreads like an infectious virus.

What we need in our day and age is clear and Biblical thinking on these issues. The thoughts recorded by Louisville Courier-Journal make at least one false dichotomy: equating acceptance of persons with acceptance of alternate beliefs. This failure to distinguish is all to common mistake in certain circles that champion the removal of the exclusive claims of Christianity. Of course, it cannot be found in the Biblical text.

In the Biblical text, it is quite clear that Christianity creates a new community. It brings people from every background. They are welcomed into the community and given the rights of table fellowship. When there isn't such extension the very notion of justification by faith is at stake (cf. Gal. 2). Nevertheless, the Christian community is not tolerant of evil in the modern sense (cf. 1 Cor. 5:9-11; Eph. 5:7; 1 John). The Christian community freely welcome all you come to faith in Christ. The apostles and evangelists invited all to repent--but they did not reduce for one second the exclusive claims of Christ.

As a Christian, I can and must love my Buddhist neighbor. I can and must show compassion and grace towards him. But I cannot for one second love him more than I love Christ. My critique of his religion does not have to be mean and nasty and spewing hatred but it does have to be clear: one cannot serve both Buddha and Christ. This humble apologetic must be wedded to a humble, meek godly character (1 Peter 3:15-17). Salvation is found in Christ alone.

For those who want to read up more on the concept of the exclusivity of Christ I would recommend starting with Harold Netland's essay "One Lord and Savior For All: Jesus Christ and Religious Diversity." and Adam Sparks' "Salvation History, Chronology and Crises: A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions" Part 1 and Part 2. Somewhat related you can find my essay: Christological Monotheism: A Foundation for Religious Debate.

For more on the blog: See my Justification by Faith: an Inclusive Doctrine and Justification by Faith: Not Ecumenical.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Ephesians 5:7: Guard your Associations

Ephesians 5:7 7 Therefore do not associate with them;

The word for 'associate' is used in Ephesians 3:6 to describe the reality that Jews and Gentiles are fellow partakers of an inheritance in Christ Jesus. Paul is talking then about Christian associations. The "them" is 'sons of disobedience. The context then is clear that the Christian should not have deep associations of Christian fellowship with those who walk in disobedience. This would include those who are sexually immoral, impure and greed. Such people despite their claims do not inherit God's kingdom (Eph. 5:5). This is crucial because it is easy to become persuaded by all manner of empty words both in proclamation of new doctrines and new morals. People might have many fine sounding arguments for their 'Christianity' but the reality is if they are living habitually immoral lives and condone such things in others they do not belong to God. God has created us to live in truth and righteousness (Eph. 4:24)

Example: There is a need in the church for Church discipline. When a member continues in unrepentant sin we are to remove that person after attempts to reconcile and bring repentance fail. Why? We cannot have close associations of intimate fellowship with a son of disobedience.
1 Corinthians 5:9-13 9 I wrote you in my letter not to associate with immoral people; 10 I did not at all mean with the immoral people of this world, or with the covetous and swindlers, or with idolaters, for then you would have to go out of the world. 11 But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES.

(a) You do not have to break off relationships with unbelievers. We want to welcome unbelievers into our church. (b) A church does have to break of relationships with some one who says “I’m a believer” but they list as immoral, coveting, idolater, etc. Paul assumes here the person has been approached, Matt. 18 has been followed. When Jesus says “Judge not lest you be judged” is he very clear that how you judge will be how you are judged. But the Bible is clear there are proper times and places for judgment.

Walking in the light means keeping the light pure. Walking in the light means we do not share Christian fellowship with unbelievers. (1) We do not let them serve in our ministries [which is a new trend]; (2) We do not take them into membership; (3) Unbelievers are barred from the Lord’s supper. It is a tough balance: we must show Christ’s love; we must be warm, welcoming, and friendly. They should see our fellowship and desire the real relationships that are privileged to the body of Christ. But these real relationships are privileged within the body of Christ.

Interestingly we can associate with immoral people who are ‘in the world’—we cannot associate with immoral people who are ‘in the church’. You should be quicker to break of a friendship with a Christian who is characterized by habitual unrepentant sin, than you should be to break off a relationship with a non-Christian who lives just as bad. Why? Because you do not associate Christian fellowship with the non-Christian; the relationship with the ‘Christian’ would be considered a deeper level of ‘Christian fellowship’ and it is obvious the person is not a Christian.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Extreme Purity: A thought on Matthew 5:27-30

Matthew 5:27-30 27 "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

We all recognize that these verses have in the history of the church been taken too literally. I believe it was Origen who actually castrated himself because of his problem with lust. This brings up a two fold issue: (1) Jesus is often quite clear that cleaning the outside does little good without cleaning the inside; and (2) Jesus is using obvious hyberbole.

Whenever we talk about sanctification there is a danger of replacing method with miracle. The work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts to sanctify us is a miracle. He brings life to my dead heart. It is the life of Christ's resurrection that begins working inwardly and will one day transform my entire person. Today's evangelical culture is obsessed not with the miracle of the gospel but with the method of the gospel. We love to craft new methods that will "work". Thankfully, we never go to this extreme like Jesus (so much for WWJD) but we love giving a method that can take care of keeping us from any besetting sin if you just have a stronger accountability group, avoid this or that scenario, or eat this power bar (ok, scratch that last one). I never want to deny that my sanctification will evidence itself in the concrete actions I take or do not take in the physical world. But what I wish to highlight is that it has to flow from a transformed heart. No method will ever work reversely from the outward to the inward. This is not behavior modification; it is the gospel.

Now with that caveat in place, I do want to ask the rather obvious question: given that this is hyberbole what should we take from it? I would suggest that a proper application would be that we should at times take extreme measures to cut out sin from our life. One obvious example would be that if a person is prone to drunkenness he should avoid and all occassions to consume alchoholic beverages. That too me seems rather obvious (particularly if you come from a tea-totalling background in evangelicalism). But I would suggest there are other areas of our lives it may be beneficial to cut off certain opportunities to sin.

For example: does the internet or TV cause you to get a little imaginative and lusty when you preview a certain 'harmless' show? We love to say "well it's not the really bad ones" but what if we unplugged the net or the TV? What if we got rid of the cable? What if we had our wives control the computer passwords or TV remote? (That last one is tough because I love to channel flip but I can't stand when my wife does the same thing... it's a control thing).

Of course we need to be careful... radical asceticism has never been a real path to sanctification (Col. 2:18-19, 23). The irony is that just because we 'cut off' the physical 'flesh' does not neccessarily mean that we've curtailed 'fleshly indulgence'. [1] Certain things restricted on the outside do not automatically translate into transformations on the inside.

In terms of applying Matthew 5:28-29, I would suggest this principle without neglecting the intent of sanctification which is to be more like Jesus on the inside: we should be willing to remove those things from our lives that have been occasions for us to sin so that we might consecrate the whole of our life to the Lord.

Here is a couple links to some pastors who set up some rather "strict" boundaries for their personal lives and ministries (HT: Josh Reich). I would not want to legislate these one people simple because I do not think we should bind people where the Word of God does not bind us. However, I do think there are a number of wise principles from these men. The call to discipleship is radical. In our day and age we tend to neglect the radical steps we should sometimes take in personal restrictions if we are prone to sin in a certain area. I would charge that we flee from legalistic application but curtailing opportunities for license is hardly legalism.

My point is: Jesus speaks in obvious hyperbole but we should not let the hyperbole soften the degree to which he would have us go in order to keep our paths from sin. What are some ways that you might personally apply Jesus' radical call to obedience?

[1] Paul makes an obvious play on the word flesh and the range of meanings it can have. The word flesh can refer to our body, or physicality [Jesus took on flesh], or as in Romans 8 'flesh' can refer to that sinful "nature"/identity that is inherent in Adam/the old man. Here of course Christ has the likeness of sinful flesh... i.e. physical flesh withouth the inherent sinful state of those who are 'in Adam'.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Calm Demeanor vs. True Sanctification

I've been meaning to post this quote for quite a while. I think there is a common misunderstanding between civility and sanctification. Just because one is a calm and restrained person does not mean one is growing in the grace of sanctification. Consider this:
The mortification of sin consists not in the improvement of a quiet, sedate nature. Some men have an advantage by their natural constitution so far as that they are not exposed to such violence of unruly passions and tumultuous affections as many others are. Let now these men cultivate and improve their natural frame and temper by discipline, consideration and prudence, and they may seem to themselves and others very mortified men, when, perhaps, their hearts are a standing sink of all abominations. Some man is never so much troubled all his life, perhaps, with anger and passion, nor does trouble others, as another is almost every day; and yet the latter has done more to the mortification of sin than the former. Let not such persons try their mortification by such things as their natural temper gives not life or vigor to. Let them bring themselves to self-denial, unbelief, envy, or some such spiritual sin, and they will have better view of themselves. (Mortification of Sin, John Owen in Overcoming Sin and Temptation, p. 70).
You see just because your temperament is a Clark Kent and not a Wolverine does not mean that you have progressed further in your sanctification. This is personal to me because I tend to be rather reserved in my display of emotions. I would not say I am emotional distant or detached however, I do appreciate the benefit of being in control of my emotional state. I prefer reasoned discourse and clear headed thinking as opposed to obsessive outbursts and displays. Even as a young man I tended to hold less respect for those who did not have self control. Self-control is of course a fruit of the Spirit but it is easy to manufacture personal outward control particularly if we have a mild demeanor. Manufacturing personal control over our state and responses does not automatically entail personal sanctification and mortification of the flesh. In other words, just because I seem controlled on the outside does not mean I am not a torrid mess of scummy sins on the instead. Don't confuse controlling the outside with cleaning out the inside. We should turn inward and take stock of our heart being careful to identify its true ailments that do indeed run deep.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I'm not sure how people do not see these two lines of reasoning as contradictory:

On the one hand Obama says 'human cloning is "dangerous, profoundly wrong" and has no place in society.' He is reported as saying 'he would ensure that the government never opens the door to the use of cloning for human reproduction.'(source)

On the other hand he says via Harold Varmus co-chairman of his scientific counsel:
"We view what happened with stem cell research in the last administration as one manifestation of failure to think carefully about how federal support of science and the use of scientific advice occurs. This is consistent with the president's determination to use sound scientific practice, responsible practice of science and evidence, instead of dogma in developing federal policy." (source)

OR he says:
"It is about letting scientists like those here today do their jobs, free from manipulation or coercion, and listening to what they tell us, even when it's inconvenient--especially when it's inconvenient." (source)

Here's my questions: So why not apply that to cloning? Why not open the door if that's where the science leads?

SO why is it not a dogma to say 'human cloning is dangerous and profoundly wrong' and promise to ban federal funding in this area but it is a dogma to impose limits on the spending of federal funding in stem cell research. Keep in mind Bush was the first president to fund stem cell research and he only banned federal funding on embryonic stem cell research. (see here and here)

It doesn't take a science fiction geek to think of a host of possible advances available with cloning. We might well be able to save lives in untold ways. Now I am not in favor of cloning. I am just calling to question the idea that 'we won't let dogma define our policy' when very clearly everybody defines their policy by some set of standards, ideology and dogma.

Lest I remind people to call anything "wrong" is a dogmatic statement that cannot be proved by science itself. There is of course a worldview driving these decisions but was it extremely frustrating is the naivete that assumes itself to be unbiased and uninfluenced by a deep abiding worldview. This naivete is something both side is too often oblivious to.

(HT: Frank Turk)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Pastor, His Pulpit and His Personal Life

Several years ago I received a helpful but pointed criticism from a person in my church. Since the criticism came in writing I have kept a note of it hanging on my office wall as a reminder against my own personal weakness. While I agree with the criticism there is one line in the otherwise convicting note of a suggested solution with which I strongly disagree. The person wrote:
"Let them [the congregation] in on what God is teaching you in your personal life, from the pulpit. Then they will trust you."
I was reminded of this a while ago when someone I knew in college recently wrote on his blog about the need for personal leadership. He describes the need for a pastor to be feed for himself from God's Word:
Being a pastor is not what I expected it to be. It is harder than I ever imagined it would be. The highs are higher than I could ever dream and the lows are lower than I can often bear. One of the things that has kept me moving are my calling. When I am alone with God I work through this question: Is my calling sure? Am I good in my relationship with God? What do I need to learn right now? What is God trying to tell me right now?

This is called self-leadership.

Too many pastors, the only time they spend in the bible is when they are writing a sermon. I shared last night that right now, God is teaching me things I will probably never preach in a sermon. It is for me. (emphasis mine)

Obviously if I am studying the text of Scripture thoroughly, I will be learning the text for my sermon. God will be teaching me from that passage in preparation for my sermon. I must also preach the sermon to my own heart first. I must learn from it. I must let it sink into my heart. I must be a doer of the Word and not merely a hearer. All these things are good and true. As Richard Baxter reminds us:

Content not yourselves with being in a state of grace, but be also careful that your graces are kept in vigorous and lively exercise, and that you preach to yourselves the sermons which you study, before you preach them to others. (The Reformed Pastor, 61).

First, we need to be spending time in God's Word on our own for ourselves. We must take care of our own souls. While we must preach sermons to our heart first, the only nourishment we care about getting should not be from sermon prep. When life gets the busiest it is too often easier to go to bed early and get some rest than it is for me to rest in God's Word and feed upon His Word. I long to be like Jesus who could stay up all night in order to commune with His Father.

Second, what is the role of preaching in the pulpit? Where does my authority come from? My job in the pulpit is not to tell people what God is teaching me... my job is to proclaim what God says in His Word. A particular application of a particular passage may not be the exact same application that someone else needs to hear. God charges the minister not to share what God is teaching him but to share what God says.

2 Timothy 4:1 I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

Now the minister is not to make himself superior to the text. The minister is to have his heart warmed by the text and as Baxter reminds us: "When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold..." (The Reformed Pastor, 61). Yet the minister is also not supposed to allow his people to turn away from listening to the truth. The quest for authenticity can be so inauthentic that we actually turn our people away from following the text to following our personable stories, honest confessions, and open sharing about what God is doing for us. The listener hearing my sermon is to trust God's Word. They are to trust me as I point and say "This is what God's Word says." They should be so able to see that what I said is actually what God's Word says. This is the true way to develop trust.

The minister is supposed to me be so focussed on the gospel that his ministry abases himself and exalts Christ crucified. I am all for being personable and friendly from the pulpit in my communication but it is not the time for me to share what God is teaching me. It is the time for me to proclaim the Word that God has for all of us. It is time for me to exalt in Christ work in the gospel.

Third, while it is important not to be distant from people--a shepherd cannot shepherd without relationships--it should be recognized that everything the Lord is teaching me, convicting me and reforming me in should not be lauded for public consumption. I'm not saying this to advocate hiding things, being distant, inauthentic or a whole mess of other buzz words. I'm not saying this because we shouldn't be honest about our failures. We should be honest that we are sinners too. We should be clear about the work of the gospel in our hearts. We should be championing the work of the gospel. But too often in our quest for authenticity we pursue it as an idol. We don't champion the gospel, we champion our lives. If the failure of by gone years was to champion our successes to show people 'you can do it too'; the failure of today is to champion our sins so people can authentically see just how messy we are. Only then are we "real" and "accessible." It becomes a reverse boast and false humility. We create a kind of voyeuristic attitude and culture so that people do not want to hear the objective: God says/does but rather the subjective: what is God doing for you. The focus quickly moves away from the actual work of the gospel.

Pointing people to Jesus means showing how distant the gap is between God and man. God is wholly other. God is also infinitely holy and I am wicked. My job is not to show God as accessible by making myself as "real" and "authentic"--in this I fear we still fall into the trap of exalting the pastor. My job is to point to Jesus as the Word made flesh. Jesus has condescended; Jesus has bore the wrath due my sins. JESUS. JESUS. JESUS.

If I had one word to pastors I'd say this: check your authenticity. Why are you doing? In the pulpit, I am not to draw attention to myself. I am not to share personal stories about what "God is teaching me". Sure, like any pastor I occasionally illustrate from my family life I have been honest about my failings. As I point to Jesus as Savior, I bluntly say "I need this Savior too." But I try to follow the advice of my preaching professor in college: on a scale of 1 to 10 (10 highest) I disclose about a 2 or 3. Again, it isn't that my sins should be secret or stifled away so people think I am closer to sainthood. The issue is: do I point to Jesus and His gospel or myself?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Dueling Duo over Pelagius

From time to time I like to post what I call "Dueling Duos".

Pelagius wanted Christians to live according to the Gospel instead of according to the Roman Empire. His theology demanded change. It questioned the status quo of the increasingly institutionalized Church in Rome. It made those in power uneasy. It made the morally lax look responsible for changing their own lives. It made people realize they were wasting the gift of life, which God gave humanity, by choosing sinful behaviors. It made this charge to every Christian: "You must avoid that broad path which is worn away by the thronging multitude on their way to their death and continue to follow the rough track of that narrow path to eternal life which few find."

Pelagius' theology was a realistic description of human responsibility and God's graciousness. It wasn't perversely optimistic like the Social Gospel movement and it wasn't perversely pessimistic like Augustine. It was a "third way" between the two extremes. Pelagius says it well in his own words: "I did indeed say that a man can be without sin and keep the commandments of God, if he wishes, for this ability has been given to him by God. However, I did not say that any man can be found who has never sinned from his infancy up to his old age, but that, having been converted from his sins, he can be without sin by his own efforts and God's grace, yet not even by this means is he incapable of change for the future."


Peter Brown, Rollins Professor of History at Princeton University:

"Pelagianism had appealed to a universal theme: the need of the individual to define himself, and to feel free to create his own values in the midst of conventional, second-rate life of society. In Rome, the weight of convention was particularly oppressive. The families, whose members Pelagius addressed, had lapsed gradually into Christianity by mixed-miarriages and politic conformity. This meant that the conventional 'good man' of pagan Rome had quite unthinkingly become the conventional 'good Christian' of the fifth century. The flamboyant courtesies of Late Roman etiquette could pass 'Christian humility'; the generosity traditionally expected of an aristocrat, as 'Christian almsgiving'. 'It is better to give than to receive' was a popular tag; but, like all Biblical citations used to ease the conscience, no one could quite remember where it came from! Yet these 'good Christians', 'true believers,' were still members of a ruling class committed to maintaining the Imperial laws by administering brutal punishments. They were prepared to fight tooth and nail to protect their vast properties, and were capable of discussing at the dinner-table both the latest theological opinion, on which they prided themselves as experts, and the kind of judicial torture they had just inflicted on some poor wretch.

In this confusion, the harsh, firm message of Pelagius came as deliverance. He would offer the individual absolute certainty through absolute obedience...The Emperors use the same desperate language when insisting that their laws must be observed, that Pelagius will use when speaking of the laws of his God. ...To him [Augustine] it seemed that the new claims made by the Pelagians, that they cold achieve a church 'without spot or blemish', merely continued the assertion of the Donatists, that only they belonged to just such a church...[T]he victory of Augustine over Pelagius was also a victory for the average good Catholic layman of the Later Empire, over an austere, reforming ideal." (pp.346-349)

"For, no matter how self-consciously Christian the Pelagian movement had been, it rested firmly on the bed rock of the old ethical ideals of paganism, especially Stoicism. Its moral exhortations had appealed to a classical sense of the resources and autonomy of the human mind" (p.369).

"As we have seen, the difference between Augustine and Pelagius was capable of ramifying from the most abstract issues of freedom and responsibility, to the actual role of the individual in the society of the Later Empire. The basic difference between the two men, however, is to be found in two radically different views on the relation between man and God. It is summed up succinctly in their choice of language. Augustine had long been fascinated by babies: the extent of their helpflessness had grown upon him ever since he wrote the Confessions; and in the Confessions, he had no hesitation in likening his relation to God to that of a baby to its mother's breast, utterly dependent, intimately involved in all the good and evil that might come from this, the only source of life.

The Pelagian, by contrast, was contemptuous of babies. 'There is no more pressing admonition that this, that we should be called sons of God.' To be a 'son' was to become an entirely seperate person, no longer dependent upon one's father, but capable of following out by one's own power, the good deeds he had commanded. The Pelagian was emancipatus a deo; it is a brilliant image taken from the language of Roman family law: freed from the all-embracing and claustrophobic right of the father of a great family over his children, these sons had 'come of age'. They had been 'released', as in Roman Law, from the dependence on the pater familias and could at last go out into the world as mature, free individuals, able to uphold in heroic deeds the good name of their illustrious ancestry: 'Be ye perfect, even as Your Father in Heaven is perfect.' (p.352-3).

Peter Brown Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (University of California Press, 2000)

Challenging the empire? If we take Peter Brown seriously, hardly. Not "perversely optimistic"? Ludicrous. Pelagianism did not offer the gospel; it offered human security contingent upon my own ability to act. As such it did not 'challenge the empire' or what Scripture calls pattern of 'the world' rather it wholeheartedly embraced it.

Certainly Pelagius believed in sin, even the liberal believes in sin. The issue, as with modern day liberals, is the definition of sin. For Pelagius it was a minor flesh wound of sorts from which one could recover, enabled post-grace to persevere and rise above such incomperances based on one's own efforts and abilities. As Peter Brown puts it: "For Pelagius, human sin was essentially superficial: it was a matter of choice. Wrong choices might add some 'rust' to the pure metal of human nature; [cf. Pelagius ad Dem. 8] but a choice, by definition, could be reversed [cf. Pelagius ad Dom. 3]" (Brown, p.368).

So here's the question: what kind of historiography is at work in the first quote?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Star Trek XI 3rd Trailer

Here's the third trailer for the new Star Trek movie. I've got to say, it has me quite excited. I think the movie is going to be great. I think it will be great in two ways, as Abrams' has been promising: (1) for the fans and (2) for a general audience. The latter is something that for all my enjoyment of Star Trek I must admit it must seek to recover.

My review in a nutshell: the music creates great drama. You get a sense of the scope of the action and you get a sense of a real threat from a deadly villain. Like the previous trailer it is clear this is an origin story and from the snippets you see from the trailer it looks like a story that will make you fall in love again for the first time with the ship and crew. I simply love the spot where Kirk sits in the Captain's chair. Some of the shots of the Enterprise look delicious for eye-candy.

One of the best spots in the trailer is when McCoy says "We've got no Captain and no first officer to replace him." And Kirk says "Yeah we do!". It just struck me as classic Kirk ethos. You can't help but get misty when he sits in the Captains chair (but maybe that's the music, talk about dramatic timing).

Here is what is reporting about the reception of the trailer. Looks good across the board. Star Trek might not be just for geeks anymore.

You can download and view all the Star Trek trailers on Apple's Star Trek site.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Community Schmunity

Why is it that those who talk the loudest about validation by the whole community also gripe the loudest when an aberrant minority is marginalized?

It is not secret that the trend in modern theology, particularly among Emergent groups, is to allow the community to regulate belief. So for example, Scripture is accepted because of the role it played in the community. I, of course, do not deny the historical processes of defining the canon. The Lord did not see fit to inspire an official canon list. Nevertheless, the authority of the Word does not arise from the community. The community recognized certain things to be inherently true to those books it labeled 'canon'.

Furthermore, with respect to the orthodox creeds, the church did not determine willy-nilly what statements accurately reflected Biblical teaching. It was not an ecclesiastical game of 'spin the bottle'. This is not to deny that the messiness of the historical process. Indeed, the champions of orthodoxy were not always shining lights of piety in their defense of truth--in some cases they truly were. Yet, orthodoxy did not triumph merely because of personal opinion and random validation by the community. One simply has to read Athanasius to recognize the depth to which he probes Scripture in defending orthodoxy. Today the authority of the creeds lies not in their acceptance by the community but their accurate summary of the actual words and doctrines taught in Scripture. This means that if I faithful study Scripture and submit to the Word and the Spirit's work in the Word I will arrive at the same conclusions with respect to the summations of orthodoxy. This is not to say I might never handle a particular passage different then the pillars of orthodoxy. Yet we agree that it is Scripture that guides us to hold the same conclusions.

In this way we belong to a community of saints down through the ages. Yet for any community to define itself it must by definition distinguish itself from the masses. Hence, false beliefs and false practices are excluded at being unorthodox. All communities by definition have common beliefs, practice and values by which they distinguish themselves from others who hold differing beliefs, practices and values.

Of course if only community makes this decision without references to an external authority, then the question quickly arises whose community? All one has to do is find a segment of the population that agrees with your opinions and you open things up 'to the community'. Christianity by its definition is not defined by its community but rather has norms outside itself that define the community. These norms are both the Word of God written and the Word of God enfleshed. The true community is united to Jesus Christ and is in fellowship and communion with Him. The community receives instructions for assembling itself, defining itself and even policing itself in the written Word of God. When establishing a community is a redemptive work of the gospel Christ and His Spirit have chosen the means of the written Word to carry this out. The people of the kingdom are ambassdors and they have been given a kingdom treaty in the absence of the king.

Unfortunately the common practice today is to champion loudly the right of the community to decide. Surely we agree that no one fallen person can become the sole test of orthodoxy. Rightly, the community must mediate and even police. The community guides and governs. under the obligation of our Lord. Far too often this is the theory but not the practice. This is how it goes until we actually want to affirm a false doctrine.--then the tactic changes Suddenly, the orthodoxy of the community becomes 'powerplays' and we worry about the non-affirmed. So in effect, community reigns until I don't want it to. By this manner of thinking and action we are able to include ever manner of unbelief and impiety because we can find a small group that affirms such values. And if they affirm such values while calling themselves 'Christian' they must be in. So the community rules until it actually has a decision to make then that is a power play and we all poo-poo those. This attitude in itself becomes a new power play--a sort of guerilla warfare--against true community.

Here is a post that represents this well:
Quaker theologian Parker Palmer suggests that "truth is an ongoing conversation about things that matter." In much the same way, I think we could call orthodoxy an ongoing conversation about theology that matters. In this perspective, there is neither orthodoxy nor heresy. That's right. No orthodoxy. No heresy.

After all, "heresy" is simply a new theology that hasn't been accepted into the elite club of "orthodoxy" yet. Those with power hold the keys to the club. Those with keys have the power to open and close the gate. It's all political. And by political I simply mean that it's all about power dynamics.

Knowledge is not power. Power is knowledge. Those in power get to decide what is considered knowledge.

Truth is not power. Power is truth. Those in power get to decide what is considered truth.

Orthodoxy is not power. Power is orthodoxy. Those in power get to decide what is considered orthodoxy.
This kind of thinking is, of course, an unorthodox way of thinking about orthodoxy.

There is according to Christianity a difference between an inclusivism of persons and an inclusivism of beliefs.

What we should note is that it is indeed the Reformers who considered themselves to be seriously listening to the 'tradition'. They did not strike out in their reforms to depart from the historic teaching of the church, particularly the Fathers. They, of course, objected to the traditions that Rome had adopted in addition to the gospel. They also recognized where the Fathers got some things wrong. But from Reformers like Calvin to latter Puritans like John Owen were well versed not only in Augustine but also men like the Cappadocian Fathers. The irony that is often missed is that it was the fact that they took the Bible as their sole authority and gave the right to settle disputes to the Bible alone that actually allowed them to listen to the community of the saints down through the ages.

They were not naive to some of the complicated history. They were not obtuse to the differing interpretations through the centuries. They did not swallow the past hook-line-and-sinker. Yet neither were they men in power who were merely hoisting their opinions upon the masses. Let's not forget in the life time of the first reformers and beyond they were rarely if ever the truly powerful. Yet they understood themselves to be seeking to preserve the larger community of God's people. They believe that God established and determined the boundaries on the community.

Let's be clear not all levels of theological differences call one's orthodoxy into question. We need to differentiate levels of community within various church communities. To borrow from C.S. Lewis, there is one house but different rooms in the house and we cannot all live in the hallway. We need to have a sort of theological triage approach. For example, we should question someone's orthodoxy over issues like paedo vs. credo-baptism. Issues of complementarianism and egalitarianism may be important particularly in the practice of a local body--but differing views in these areas do not equal competing orthodoxy. It does not mean that we do not have real differences or that these are not issues that the Word of God regulates.

However, while we seek to balance this positively with a spirit of grace so as not to be on a constant heresy hunt, this is a far cry from accepting ever form of belief in every doctrine. Some issues are big and are more integral to orthodoxy. Yet there have been bigger issues that the church has decided upon like the Godhead, the deity of Christ, original sin and Pelagianism. Welcoming all sorts of beliefs to the playing field in these areas makes a mockery of true Christian community. The very nature of Scripture shows us that these issues are more fundamental to a Biblical worldview.

When a community does not have boundaries, and when we do not see those boundaries as established by someone over and above--dare we say 'Lord' of--the community, it quickly becomes a free-for-all. The free-for-all does not become a mysterious vacuum of power where suddenly everyone is mysteriously equal and on the same plain. Instead it becomes a sort of rumble in the Bronx with every fist trying to punch harder than the rest crying out 'hear me, I belong to the community'. Such ruckus is no community and is not true love. It is a self-narcissism that seeks to make your own voice a respected voice. In the end it can only cry "Community Schmunity."

For a more humorous response alone the same line: see my "Emerging Baseball"

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To Marry My Daughters...

Voddie Baucham Jr.'s new book is What He Must Be:... If He Wants to Marry My Daughter. It looks like it should be good. Frank Turk over at TeamPyro reviews the book. He also is giving a copy away to the person who can describe in the meta in 50 words or less why they, their family or their church needs the book. I thought I'd try something different to answer why I want to read the book. I'm posting a video of why I could use it.

So here's my answer in 50 words or less:

You can also read a review and an excerpt over on Tom Ascol's blog.

Preaching and Belief

Over the weekend I read this blog post by C. Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen. It was one of those "aha" moments. I had been think along these lines for quite some time but I had not articulated quite as nicely as he did. He writes:

It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do...

What is it?

“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.

“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”

In preaching, it goes like this:

“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”

I must say, that I have received criticisms like this in the past about my preaching. While I always try to look for the good in such remarks and I try to assume criticisms come from a heartfelt concern, my theology of preaching seeks to go deeper than just 'here's what you do'. Why? Because Christianity is more than just a list of things to do. Application must flow from right belief. There is a sense that even the Pharisees lived right by the letter of the law and yet their hearts were far from God in belief. Paul describes his pre-Christian experience as blameless under the Law yet his heart was dead in belief. The problem I see in some preaching today and in our theologies of preaching is that having begun the Christian walk by faith we are content to exhort people to grow by obeying in the flesh (Gal 3:1ff). In short, I've already believed now I need to go on and work hard.

Patton goes on to summarize the thought this way:
The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?
Where is God's heart in these matters? Patton is quite blunt about the issue:

God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.

The “why” is more important than the “what.”

The “how come” is more important than the “when.”

The “because” is more foundational than the “so that.”

In fact, I believe the “what?” “when?” and “so that?” have no meaning outside the “why?” I also believe the “what” can exist alone in many cases and serve to bring great glory to God.

What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves. Yes, this “end” will, more often than not, have natural consequences that will produce certain effects (i.e. good works), but the substance is in the truth understood and believed.

This of course, reminds me of Machen's trenchant reminder in Christianity and Liberalism. Christianity is first and foremost a doctrine. It is first and foremost to be believed before it is a pattern of life. Patton concludes:

Preaching right belief and understanding, unfortunately, has become the red taped taboo of our generation. Avoidance of such is justified in the name of baseless pragmatism. It is the Evangelical and Emerging misdirection that could alleviate the church of the only legitimate reason we have for boasting. I believe that it is the crisis of the church today.

Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.

I do believe that evangelicalism is in the sorry state that it is because practice has become more important than belief. The lingo is orthopraxy not orthodoxy. First, it is obvoious God, Jesus and the Bible care very much about how we live. However, they care equally more about what we believe. Certainly the evidence of a true faith is a transformed life (James 2, Galatians 5, etc.). Yet true othrodoxy will always produce a robust orthopraxy. It is the legacy of some fundamentalist views that faith is watered down in to a strict set of beliefs you merely like off 'yes' I assent to this. True Biblical faith grounds itself in the person--but to describe this person you need certain doctrines. We confess that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-10); we must believe that Jesus came in the flesh (1 John 4:1-3 et al).

Here's the rub, some forms of preaching never lead us into deeper belief and deeper trust. Having begun by faith we now show people how to move on to the deeper more surrendered spiritual life which sadly often has little to do with deeper belief, faith and trust but better practice. It is no wonder Christians become discouraged and point to growing hypocrisy within our post-evangelical world. In some places young people are leaving the church faster than a muscle car on a sprint track.

We need to be careful that legalism does not abound in our preaching. That of course doesn't mean that we do not preach and teach obedience. Avoiding legalism is not about flaunting license. Yet the purpose of preaching should be to feed and nourish faith building people up. Simple telling people how to work harder does not accomplish this end.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Preaching and Complexity

In a recent article by Ed Stetzer and Jason Hayes they bring challenge to what has been traditional models of preaching. The standard rhetoric for too long has been "break it down" or "K.I.S.S." --Keep It Simple Stupid. Far too often these has led more to a "Keep it Stupid" approach. The difficult issues and complexity of the text are ignored. This can bring overly reductionist and simplistic applications. Sermon points follow cutesy acronyms and 'Ten Steps of Healthy Living' kinds of approaches. Theology is considered taboo. Over time this can lead to a steady diet of junk food rather than meat. It can challenge people to order their own lives and fit God in rather than the radical call of discipleship that requires mortification and self-denial.

Hayes and Stetzer actual point out that this approach does not work for reaching a younger generation:

Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is not length of life, but depth of life.” Interestingly enough, our research shows that young adults agree. The survey data confirms that the younger unchurched maintain a high level of interest in theology, apologetics, worldview, and other religions.

Many churches have chosen to lessen their emphasis on depth in order to complement their inaccurate stereotypes of this generation. This isn’t working now, and it certainly won’t in the future. In fact, most young adults are turned off by shallowness and are beginning to walk away from environments (including churches) that foster it.

The days of spiritual clichés and cuteness were never wise, but we can afford to engage in superficiality even less today. No matter your worship or preaching style, study the Word deeply and seek to communicate it thoughtfully. We know you’ve heard the common wisdom to “make it simple,” “make the application your points,” and “make it simple to apply” —and these are not necessarily bad approaches—but many young adults are finding simplistic communication less helpful than their Baby Boomer counterparts.

What young adults are interested in, however, is preaching that engages on several levels, provokes deeper thoughts, and reveals complexity. This doesn’t mean watering down the truth; it means teaching the truth in all its challenging fullness. Preaching that engages the younger unchurched is deliberate preaching crafted with depth of thought and delivered with conviction. Think and rethink. Evaluate and reconsider.

If there is one thing I think people in my church and church in general need to realize is that, contrary to popular opinions, statistics show that simplistic preaching does not attract more people it attracts less, particularly when it comes to reaching and keeping young people. But we are to be driven by more than just statistics. Faithfulness to the Word in preaching is paramount and the Word instructs us to grow by digging into God's Word deeper. While we are to constantly crave the Word like a baby craves milk (1 Peter 2:2) and this craving never ends, the Word of God also warns us not to be infants in our understanding of Scripture's teachings. While we never loose the craving for God's Word (like a baby craves milk), with respect to growth we are to be partakers of solid food--the meat of God's Word (Hebrews 5:12-14).

Simplistic preaching can produce unrealistic expectations. It is easy to smooth over the difficulties of life in a way that keep us from wrestling with the text and wrestling with what obedience looks like. The Bible is not an owners manual for life in the pattern and structure of contemporary 'owner's manuals' and 'how to's'. It is however a record of God's acts in history for the redemption of His people and as such it rebukes, corrects and instructs us how to live. So often the temptation of contemporary preaching is not to let the text drive the structure of the message but to recreate the text around a sort of 'do it yourself home/self improvement' method. When this happens the method and medium begins to drive the message. What can be at stake is the very message of the gospel.

The message of the gospel is not a 'how to fix your life' or 'do it yourself'. Such approaches creates boastful Christians who pull themselves up by their boot straps. The message of the gospel is my radical depravity needs a radical Savior. And guess what: as Savior he does all the work! So in our preaching we have to ask ourselves: who is the Savior? Jesus or the individual? Being to cutesy and pat may actually undercut Jesus as the Savior.

Stetzer and Hayes continue:

Young adults are looking for something real – something that issues real challenges, reflects real struggles, and prompts real examination. This level of depth, as described by young adults, is characterized by a continual pursuit of knowledge, experience, wisdom, intellect, understanding, and exploratory learning.

This means that the moralizing of our preaching past is out like the 80s. Our preaching should encompass more than do’s and don’ts. It should reach to the why and the how behind our proclamation. Great preaching requires mining truth down to its deepest core and assigning it to resonate within the hearts of our listeners. As a result, our preaching must go beyond appeals to behavior modification, beyond pithy platitudes on being happy and living well. Our preaching must wrestle with the meat and marrow of human existence, because this is what young adults are already doing. Otherwise it becomes like tossing a fortune cookie to a man starving in the desert.

Obviously there is a reverse danger. We do not preach to impress. We do not spout theology and textual obscurities in the pulpit in order to obfuscate and pontificate. We do not handle complex topics to look like an intellectual giant and have our people feel like mere peons who are lucky to here our academic prose. In the words of Paul: Me genoito. The goal is to bring the Word of God. That word can be like a steak grilled to perfection but we do not revel in the chef and his preparation or the complex spices he uses in preparation. Rather we are to be satisfied by God's Word. Indeed, too many fancy spices adorning the meat can ruin the natural flavor and the hearty satisfaction it brings on its own.

Stetzer and Hayes even offer insight into why Biblical shallow preaching and teaching occurs.
We realize very few Bible teachers set out to provide shallow teaching. No sincere pastor desires to develop biblically ignorant Christ-followers, and none deliberately set out to disseminate false teaching. But it’s happening. Our hunch is that these things aren’t happening because of bad motives but, instead, are the result of weak and inadequate preparation. If this is the case, we each must look long and hard at our approach to studying God’s Word and evaluate our need to improve in this area.
Whenever I take stock of my own preaching, I must say it is always either to describe what I want to do in each sermon than what I actually accomplish in each sermon. My goal in preaching is not so much to have people say to me "great sermon" but rather "I saw what he said in my Bible." My goal is not to have people say "Wow, pastor is so smart" but "wow, God's Word says that." Whats more sermons as a whole should not just stick to text but they should be God-Christ-gospel centered. While a text may demand things to be obeyed, obedience must flow from a gospel heart. Preaching must not just touch the mind or the hands it must flow into the heart. This is ultimately not my work but the work of the Spirit--this is the power of the gospel. This is what God's delights in doing through that wonderfully foolish and simply complex message: 'Christ Crucified.'

Read Stetzer and Hayes Article here.

Check out Ed Stetzer's blog here or follow him on Twitter here.

"The Voyages..." Forays into Biblical studies, Biblical exegesis, theology, exposition, life, and occasionally some Star Trek...